Heed the ghosts of Melbourne's railway lines past, says historian
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Heed the ghosts of Melbourne's railway lines past, says historian

A railway historian says today’s politicians would be wise to learn the lessons of the past when building the 90 kilometre, $50 billion suburban rail loop.

Victoria is scattered with remnants of railways that were going to solve our public transport problems and are now defunct, and with plans for proposed lines that were never built.

Historian David Beardsell says a classic case of the former was the Outer Circle Line, which operated, mostly in parts, along 20 kilometres from Oakleigh to Fairfield from 1891 to 1943.

The Deepdene Dasher steam train at Deepdene station, 1926.

The Deepdene Dasher steam train at Deepdene station, 1926.Credit:State Library of Victoria courtesy of Victorian Railways

Built partly to try and attract new homes that didn’t eventuate, part of its failure was due to the fact that it was never directly linked either to the city or to Gippsland, as intended.

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‘‘Its only purpose was travel between the stations on it.''

Ghosts abound: defunct railway lines in Melbourne.

Ghosts abound: defunct railway lines in Melbourne.Credit:Fairfax Media

Dr Beardsell said the key to the success of the suburban rail loop announced this week could be that higher purpose — providing the public with connections between different lines.

He said an interconnecting railway could work – going round the whole of Melbourne giving access from one railway to another, letting people move around Melbourne by train, rather than car.

But it needs to be properly evaluated. ‘‘It seems like a reasonable proposal, but the costs will be horrific,’’ he said.

‘‘But it has some pluses about it, because of the way Melborne’s spreading so rapidly and we have such gridlock.’’

He said ‘‘closed railways’’ like the Outer Circle ‘‘weren’t a bigger picture thing, they were just branch lines’’.

Today, much of the Outer Circle route is a bicycle path.

So too  is the route of the long-defunct Inner Circle Line. It ran, in various incarnations, through Parkville, Carlton North, Fitzroy and Collingwood from 1888 to 1948 for passengers and until 1981 for goods.

A line but no commuters: A section between Ashburton and East Malvern of the long defunct, 20km Outer Circle Railway.

A line but no commuters: A section between Ashburton and East Malvern of the long defunct, 20km Outer Circle Railway.

Today, the North Carlton station building and a North Fitzroy electrical substation are among the line's few remnants.

Mr Beardsell said the Inner Circle failed due to the many other, more direct city-bound public transport options in the area, and the rise of the motor car.

Among other long-dead ‘‘ghost railways’’ are the 2.4km Kew railway line, a branch off the Lilydale line, which ran from Hawthorn to Kew from 1887 to 1957.

Frank Kinnersley, secretary of Rail Trails Australia, said Victoria had hundreds of failed rail lines, including the 40km Lilydale to Warburton line, which used to carry farm produce, timber and passengers when it ran from 1901 to 1965, and is now a tourist trail.

Dr Beardsell said among rail lines proposed in the past but never built are the ‘railway to Doncaster schemes’ that have existed for 90 years, including an early proposal from Kew to Doncaster, involving a tunnel under the suburb.

They failed due to factors including high expense, steep grading and the level of tunnelling involved, he said.