Victorian Goldfields Railway - Take a trip on the amazing heritage Steam Train!
This week on Bollyoz.com we will take you on an interesting journey… that is not only exciting but can also be nostalgic for many!
It will remind you of the famous Bollywood song “mere sapno ki rani”… yes, Rajesh Khanna in his jeep, following Sharmila Tagore traveling in the Baby Sivok steam locomotive train, which is also well-known as the Darjeeling toy train!
Well, this time the tour is not going to be in India, but in our own backyard in Castlemaine Victoria, which is the home of the Victorian Goldfields Railway! Castlemaine is approx. 1 ½ hour drive up the Calder Freeway (M79) from Melbourne.
This authentic steam heritage train links the historic gold mining towns of Castlemaine and Maldon in Central Victoria.
There are two different experiences offered: One is the Excursion class ticket, which is great for a family outing, this is great for the kids to experience authentic steam-era carriages and experience living history firsthand.
You can open the windows, spot the kangaroos, listen to the engine huff, and puff up the hills!
The other is the posh First Class, but this is reserved only for adults, and no children are allowed in this carriage. You can choose the Edwardian elegance in the parlour car or art deco sophistication in the Pullman club car which is air-conditioned for your comfort.
This certainly provides you with an experience of the Golden Age of rail travel when the journey was as important as the destination.
The best part is that you can step outside and admire the scenery from the end viewing platform of the parlour car… Of course, what is better than being able to sample some of the wine and beer of the region in this plush carriage!
Another thing to note is that Disabled access is available on all regular VGR trains.
If you are of a bit adventurous spirit, then you should try riding on the engine with the train driver! The view and the experience will simply amaze you! On the way to Maldon, there is a brief stop at Muckleford, the only intermediate station on the line… and it provides a nice photo op session for the tourists!
Once you reach Maldon station – you can hang on to see the incredible engine turntable that moves the rail engine back in the direction to Castlemaine.
VGRs courtesy bus is available to take you into the town centre and bring you back in time for the departing train. The two and half hour stop at Maldon provides a chance to explore the historic village, which has some interesting Victorian-era buildings, and eclectic food and dining spaces.
Bollyoz’s Kirti Sehrawat also had a one on one chat with Andrew Reynolds from VGR –
Kirti Sehrawat (Bollyoz): Hi Andrew, would you be able to share the history of VGR?
Andrew Reynolds (VGR): Certainly the railroad was built in 1884, 127 years ago and it was one of the many branch lines through Victoria to open up the countryside for farming, but in particular Maldon are very gold mining a very rich gold mining area there were some incredibly valuable mines in Maldon and also Castlemaine so to join from the mainline at Castlemaine which is in central Victoria to Maldon was very important to bring in mining machinery and take out the gold, and the railway flourished for doing that for a while but of course as always the gold runs out and so Maldon reverted back to being a very sleepy country. By the time 1978 came along the railway was closed it was uneconomic it just wasn't worth running trains and at that time the preservation society took over which was us, and I was one of the very early members, and we within 10 years started running trains and finally, in 2004 we reopened the railway into Castlemaine the full 16 kilometers from Maldon to Castlemaine.
Kirti Sehrawat (Bollyoz): So what are the main attractions here that visitors can experience?
Andrew Reynolds (VGR): In this railway, we link two important places – Castlemaine and Maldon. Castlemaine is an incredibly rich gold mining area and a very wealthy town it's now become very popular; it's referred to as north Northcote. A lot of people commute from Castlemaine to Melbourne, it's about an hour and 20 minutes on the train. Maldon itself is a very sleepy town, but it's vibrant, there's so much happening here! In 1966 the national trust classified Maldon as the first notable town in Australia because of its old 1880s, 1890s architecture and the fact that the town was basically original, so now it's become very much a tourist town. But interestingly it keeps that old flavour of what it was back in the days.
Our trains leave from Castlemaine and take people to Maldon, they have a couple of hours in Maldon - two and a half hours to have lunch, walk around town, explore the town. The old gold mines are very close to town. There are some wonderful shops in town, one of the most famous is the lolly shop which everybody knows about. There's a couple of really good pubs, lots of cafes, beautiful gardens and two museums. There's plenty to do in town for that two and a half hours, and then we take people back.
Kirti Sehrawat (Bollyoz): What kind of train engines you do have here?
Andrew Reynolds (VGR): We've got several steam engines, and we've got several diesel locomotives. Our steam engines are mostly very modern, it was built in 1953 by a company called Vulcan in Lancashire in England. Vulcan was also notable for building thousands of steam engines for India for the Indian railways. Our engine is the youngest steam engine still surviving in Victoria and we use it on most of our trains, we also have one other steam engine that is undergoing a major rebuild down in Melbourne, and that should be back here soon. We have access to another couple of steam engines from time to time. We also have several diesel locomotives and they're quite historic in their own right. the diesel locomotives we've got was built in 1960 and it's a very typical early diesels used on the railways.
Kirti Sehrawat (Bollyoz): Tell us about the train route from Castlemaine to Maldon?
Andrew Reynolds (VGR): We share the platform at Castlemaine with V-line, so the V-line trains come up from Melbourne take about an hour and 20 minutes, and all you've got to do is step off the V-line train and step onto our train. We have a branch line from Castlemaine, the mainline trains continue to Bendigo. We've got ample car parking at Castlemaine station, and so when you board our train you go back in time! There's no doubt about it, you come off a train that does 100 miles an hour, in my language 160 kilometers an hour, and you step onto our steam train which does maybe 40 kilometers an hour if you're lucky, so it's a step back in time. From Castlemaine, we go through some quite steep hills, in the early days it was a very difficult line to build and there are lots of sharp curves, lots of steep hills, and it runs for 16 kilometers, probably about half of it is through bushland that has been mined. We go through the bushland, which is pretty typical of the Australian bush, but then down in the valley at Muckleford, we go through beautiful farmlands. The steam trains did serve a purpose for the rural community, taking in raw materials, and taking out produce. The trainline is incredibly attractive and the engines work hard, so you can hear the steam engine huffing and puffing.
Kirti Sehrawat (Bollyoz): So, what would you recommend for visitors from the subcontinent?
Andrew Reynolds (VGR): It's a great place for visitors to come here, it’s so close to Melbourne, and an absolute taste of rural Australia it is such a quintessential Australian experience to come here. You've got gold… Australia was founded on gold; this town owes its prosperity in everything to gold. So, you've got the gold mining relics all around town there are old mines, there's a big chimney just out of the station, which was part of a processing plant. You've got the gold history which I think people from the subcontinent will enjoy, having a fascination for gold, which I totally understand. One can also get a taste of the Australian way of life of last century; the late 1800s the early 1900s, there's so much to do, there are wonderful shops like the lolly shop, unique pubs, fabulous cafes, gardens that you can go and sit in.
Kirti Sehrawat (Bollyoz): Do you also organize special trains, that people can hire for any specific occasion?
Andrew Reynolds (VGR): Absolutely that's one of our specialties, we do hire the train for occasions we do run a few specialty trains of our own. We run one that's Ales on Rails which is where we do craft beer tasting from central Victorian breweries as we're traveling along and traveling back, and we have lunch in Maldon. We have a Murder on the Orient Express movie train, where we show the movie, and the theme of the train is based around that. We do other special trains for birthdays anniversaries and things, and one of the most memorable we did was only just before COVID, there's very big engineering works up in Bendigo and a lot of their engineers are from the subcontinent and particularly from India. They decided to have their outing on our train, they charted the train one evening and they made it a Bollywood theme, they did the decorations inside the club carriages, and we had a couple of our excursion cars and we played Bollywood music throughout our sound system, and everybody had such a fabulous time. It was so lively, I loved it, I really enjoyed doing it. Then when we got here to Maldon, we had some local Indian caterers had set up the food on the platform. It was a wonderful experience, and we look forward to hosting such events on our special steam trains.
Kirti Sehrawat (Bollyoz): Many thanks Andrew for all your help with organising this tour, and showing us around. We certainly had a great time in the Victorian Goldfields Railway roundtrip from Castle Maine to Maldon.