"Home of Puffing Billy" Belgrave by sirgaw

Belgrave Travel Guide: 23 reviews and 100 photos

It?s the end of the suburban train line, 41 kilometers from Melbourne, nestling in the Dandenong Ranges AND home to the famous Puffing Billy Railway (PBR).

Belgrave has a small but active main shopping street with a reasonable collection of food shops, cafes, couple of bakeries, supermarket, unique movie theatre, great book shop and a bit more, but it?s my view of Puffing Billy that is featured on this page. I was a volunteer conductor and used to ride the trains entertaining tourists from around the world ? lots of fun. I was ine of maybe 500 active volunteers who put in time on Australia?s premier tourist railway.

I?m not going to repeat what is written in other web sites and particularly the main Puffing Billy web site (link below), but rather concentrate on the my views.

I strarted as a volunteer in Feb 2011 and spent 5 months as a trainee conductor and was trained by head conductors with a variety of working backgrounds. One, Les, has been with the railway for 20 years and at 87 was still going strong and putting in 2 days a week. His ambition was to reach 90 and still be working the train ? that?s if health lets him. Sadly health issues caught up with Les and he is unable to work on the trains. Everyone knew Les as it seems, he?s trained almost everybody on the railway. He loved the Crimson Rosellas (small parrots, see photo 3) and likes to share his lunch with them.

Soon after I started on PBR, I discovered that almost everyone on board the trains just HAS to wave at anyone off the train. Every level crossing there is waves between passengers and those in vehicles of every shape and size. As we'd pass, local mums with kids, the elderly, local tradespeople, almost everyone all love to wave. The big exception is teenagers as it?s probably considered ?un-cool? to wave. One of my fondest visual memories of the ?wave culture? was a mid forty year old couple walking a large and seemingly well behaved dog ? all 3 were waving at the passing train, that?s if you consider a waging dog?s tail as a wave - I do!!

Opposite the Emerald station is a smattering of sheds where carriages are restored and maintained. There?s another shed and with passing of every train there are 2 workers from that shed standing outside waving. Most places of work have a coffee break; those guys have a waving break.

Again at Emerald the train line passes the Emerald Primary School and if it happens to be lunch or recess time, all the school kids run down to the fence and wave at the passing train. I believe once a year the whole school is treated to a free ride on the train.

OK being a conductor was not just about waving and entertainment, it?s a lot more. There?s the all important safety role, which includes keeping an eye out for passengers leaning too far out of the open sided carriages. We also have to assist disabled passengers getting in and out of the carriages (there?s a special carriage for wheelchairs ? double opening doors and a movable ramp at each station). Before trains leave for their journeys, there are the blinds to roll up, there?s seats and side rails to wipe down as required.

We are also issued with a float bag and do sell tickets ? mainly for those who get on at the different stations to Belgrave (Menzies Creek, Emerald, Lakeside, Cockatoo, Gembrook), but as nearly all of the tickets are sold for departure from Belgrave, luckily we do not have to sell too many tickets.

Having served for well-over 3 years on the railway, I strongly suggest to would-be-riders that the Gembrook train is the best of the scheduled trains, but the service does not operate Monday to Friday from April to October (except school and public holidays). Further, I would suggest taking the first train out for the day (usually leaves 10.30am) and travel on that train to Lakeside, enjoy a quick walk to the lake and then return to the station for the Gembrook train?s departure (check timetables). When the train arrives at Gembrook there is an hour and half before the train returns for the nearly 2 hour trip back to Belgrave. Plenty of time in that hour and a half to have lunch (yummy bakery suggested) and a quick look at the town.

If you would like a train ride but not prepared to go to Gembrook and return, then I?d suggest Lakeside as the turn around point. Usually first train leaves Belgrave at 10.30am and returns at 1.30pm. There is an hour turn-around at Lakeside and time enough for a quick walk to the lake and a picnic lunch (take your own is suggested). One of the real highlights at Lakeside is the wild Crimson Rosellas who are so tame they will land on outstretched hands when a small bit of bread is offered (wild bird seed is better).

Puffing Billy is a must for everyone and I strongly suggest a trip to Belgrave - even if that involves catching a tour coach and just getting a taste of PBR, however it is very easy to get to the railway by catching a suburban train to the terminus at Belgrave and then the very short walk to the PBR ? enjoy. Suburban trains from the city to Belgrave takes about 1 hour. I'd further suggest that the best side to sit on is the side closest to the Belgrave platform - although it can be 'competitive' to do so.

About the photos
1. Loco N14 (built 1914) heads back to Belgrave in winter. The cloud is closing in and mixing with the steam and smoke from the loco as the train crosses the famous trestle bridge built 1896. There is an Australian wattle tree about to bloom (yellow tinge). Front carriage is fully restored and dates from the early 1900?s. Latter carriages built as ?excursion cars? and date from the 1920?s and the beginning of the tourist trade.
2. Here I was aboard one of the excursion cars wearing my conductor?s hat and railway supplied winter jacket. The photo was taken by one of hundreds of thousands of passengers from all over the world, who ride Puffing Billy each year.
3. One of the attractions at the popular Lakeside station is wild Crimson Rosellas ? and yes, as the photo shows, they will eat out of your hand, but be careful as some of the little parrots can and do nip.
(click below for 4 travelogues for separate photo pages and musings)

Official Puffing Billy web site and suggest you read up on some of the history of the line too

Fascinating look at Puffing Billy in the 1950?s ? from a private collection



Pros and Cons
  • Pros:THE train - Puffing Billy
  • Cons:Rhymes with Billy, can get a bit chilly in winter, so take extra clothing!
  • In a nutshell:The train, THE TRAIN, THE TRAIN
  • Last visit to Belgrave: Jul 2011
  • Intro Updated May 9, 2016
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Reviews (3)

Comments (5)

  • wabat's Profile Photo
    Dec 26, 2015 at 1:18 PM

    Great page David with wonderful photos too. Are you still working on the train? I really should go for a ride when im nexxt in Melbourne.

    • sirgaw's Profile Photo
      Dec 27, 2015 at 1:45 AM

      Hi Albert, I'm still a PBPS member, but no longer a volunteer. Let me know when you are coming to Melb.

    • wabat's Profile Photo
      Dec 27, 2015 at 1:49 AM

      Nothing planned at present but its been a while since I've been down now. Will certainly let you know.

  • swissfondue's Profile Photo
    Mar 20, 2012 at 8:46 PM

    Hi David, just stopped by to say Hi. Thats sad about Jerry the Railway Dog. Have only been on the Puffing Billy once and that was many years ago. The train's enduring popularity is a testament to all involved with it. Funny how we like to travel afar when so much is on our own doorstep!

    Cheers from Heidi x

  • planxty's Profile Photo
    Dec 20, 2011 at 7:52 PM

    What a brilliant page, David. My maternal grandfather was a railwayman and I just love steam trains. Well done to you and your mates to keep the line alive. fergy.

  • glabah's Profile Photo
    Oct 11, 2011 at 9:58 PM

    We have the same problems on our tourist railways too. In fact, the Point Defiance Railway shut down this year as they were unable to find enough volunteers to operate and maintain the equipment. It is unfortunate, as their equipment came right out of the logging railroads in the 1960s, and therefore are truly original non-reproduction equipment.

  • wise23girl's Profile Photo
    Aug 10, 2011 at 1:52 AM

    Great page...now there is a direct link from The_Downunder_Mob .


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