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A GHOST of Victoria’s railway past will be brought back to life in a new documentary inspired by personal memories of a bygone era.
Historian Ron Killeen and colleague Andrew McColm are producing a film tribute to the Outer Circle Rail Line, a now defunct railway that ran through Kew, Deepdene, Camberwell, Ashburton and Malvern East.
It closed in 1943 due to a lack of traffic, but remnants of the railway can still be seen today as linear parks and urban forests. The Alamein Line is the sole surviving section of the original route.
Mr Killeen said the researchers wanted photographs or personal anecdotes from people who could remember the railway in its heyday.
“There are lots of wonderful personal insights into the rail line.
“Our challenge is to find as many of those as we can to find that human element of the story.”
The Outer Circle Line is infamous among railway buffs, in that it was doomed from the beginning.
It was originally conceived by the Victorian government in the 1870s as a route to Flinders Street Station for the Gippsland Line, but was superseded when the Government bought out the privately-owned Melbourne and Hobson’s Bay United Railway Company in 1878, which ran the lines from Flinders Street station to South Yarra, therefore giving a more direct route.
But the outer circle line was still approved in 1884 and by 1891 the entire route was running.
Despite only limited demand for the route, vested interests intervened.
“Because of the wheeling and dealing, and what we would today call corruption, the line was still built,” Mr Killeen said.
“Where it ran through, hardly anyone was living there at the time. It was paddocks, market gardens and orchards. There was no way they could have sustained a passenger service.
“They tried to keep it running, but it was closed because it was a bottomless money pit.”
The line had mixed success and was closed and then reopened in sections.
A section of the line stayed open between Deepdene, near Balwyn and Ashburton, known as the Deepdene Dasher. Good services to Kew East closed in 1943.
Mr Killeen said the extent of the political intrigue and corruption surrounding the line had surprised him
“We have to be careful when we judge it, because our judgment is through our standards in the 21st Century,” he said.
“But back then politicians weren’t paid. They were expected to have other jobs and financial interests outside being politicians
“But what also surprised me was the lessons we can learn in terms of planning public transport infrastructure today, especially making sure we do our due diligence and plan things properly. There is always a level of bureaucracy in large projects, this is a precautionary tale that we need to keep an eye on things with independent oversight.”
Mr Killeen said remnants of the line could still be found today.
“There are things people see or drive over every day,” he said.
“The most obvious one is the Chandler Highway bridge, which was originally a railway bridge designed for two tracks.
“It was an enormously over-engineered structure of brick and steel. But the irony is if it was built conservatively at the time, we wouldn’t have the structure today.
“People can still find rail remnants on the cycling trails and bluestone ballast.”
Anyone with memories of the railway line is encouraged Mr Killeen and Mr McColm, who are also seeking donations for the project.
Details: 9859 5844 or email firstname.lastname@example.org
This article first appeared on www.heraldsun.com.au
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