Sunday, April 27, 2014

Melbourne Puffing Billy and Metro trains

While I was in Melbourne over the Easter break, I decided to ride the Melbourne Metro Trains and the Puffing Billy steam train!

Puffing Billy starts from Belgrave Station, deep in the eastern side of Melbourne, at the end of the current Metro Belgrave electric train line.

I first needed to pick up a Myki travel pass when we arrived at Southern Cross Station (we first travelled on day trip on the Overland train from Adelaide). Myki card is needed to travel on Melbourne Metro train lines.

Below you can see some of the Vline Country diesel trains waiting to depart from Southern Cross Station:

There was also an CountryLink XPT train about to depart to Sydney:

Here is the Myki recharging station at Southern Cross station. :

And here is the Myki pass I used while travelling in Melbourne.

Myki is rightly criticised by locals as very slow to validate and recharge. Coming from Adelaide, I was surprised just how slow it was to validate at entry barriers, with staff on hand at all barriers for the inevitable constant frustrations with the validation touch on and touch off process.

In Adelaide, Adelaide Metro card validation is quick and only has to be done once, when boarding. The only exception is if you are arriving into Adelaide Railway Station, where you need to validate at the exit barriers to exit.

Anyway, with our fully charged Myki cards we then caught the City Loop line from Southern Cross station to Flinders Street station, which takes a few minutes. The Metro train lines are mostly electric in Melbourne, with only a southern section on one of the lines having a diesel section.

The journey proper started at Flinders Street Station, and it makes sense to take a look around at a beautiful, busy, heritage railway station. Like Southern Cross Railways Station, Flinders Street station is large!

Metro trains in Melbourne are run in 6 car sets (2x3 car sets), rather than the 1 to 3 car sets in Adelaide Metro. Makes sense as Melbourne has 3 times the population of Adelaide. Here below is the join between two 3 car sets forming a 6 car set in the evening:

Metro Train arrived at a distant platform during the day:

View from the main concourse area in Flinders Street Railway Station after leaving the train platforms:

 Strange ad on the left of the photo though - "I solemnly swear to be safe around trains"...

Below is the entrance area of Flinders Street Railway Station at night, the exit to the corner of Swanston Street and Flinders Street. The picture shows the heritage clocks for each train line next departure time:

Beautiful details on the roof too:

Smaller exit on Swanston street:

Showing the ticket windows in the main entrance:

View of Flinders Street Station from outside the main entrance:

Here is a view of the large scale of Flinders Street Station from a high-rise building in Southbank:

Showing some of the Metro train action leaving Flinders Street Station:

Close up of the dome entrance section of the Flinders Street Station:

Final view is of Flinders Street station entrance further along on Flinders Street. This entrance has a subway through section that allows people to walk under the station platforms to the bridge that crosses the Yarra river on the other side.

So, from Flinders Street station I caught a Metro train on the Belgrave train line all the way to the end station of Belgrave, which is where Puffing Billy Steam trains depart from. It takes around 1 hour 20 minutes to get there. Here is the inside of the Metro trains:

Most of the Belgrave line is at least dual track, but as we get deeper into the mountain side of Ferntree Gully, the last few stations on the line have just the one track. Here is Belgrave Station, the end of the line - this is the view on the platform towards Melbourne:

This is the view towards Puffing Billy:

The Belgrave Station sign with the direction to Puffing Billy:

Basically you walk to the end of the Belgrave platform and go through a gate to enter the Puffing Billy entrance:

Being a Easter weekend, there was a seriously long line for tickets! I was there at 11am, and this was the sight that greeted me when I arrived at the back of the line to get in:

On the up side, while I was waiting it gave me some time to look at the rolling stock not in use at that time, but still looking terrific:

The carriage below is the most common type - and the most popular, as kids (and adults too) can sit on the window ledge and dangle their legs out the window while the train is running:

After over an hour waiting in the queue, we finally got to the booking ticket window, and were told we could make the final trip at 2:30pm, which was about 3 hours away, so we had plenty of time to browse for souvenirs and look around!

Here are the tickets, the original heritage tickets on the right and the actual tickets on the left:

Our train at 2:30pm travels to Lakeside Station. There is one train per day that goes to the end of the line at Gembrook, but that train was sold out by the time we got to the booking window.

I was surprised just how popular the steam train was, and the number of foreign tourists in fleets of buses coming and going while we waited:

With plenty of time to wait, I spent some time browsing the souvenir shop, which was well stocked with plenty of things to buy! I picked up some books about Puffing Billy, a pen, and a drinks holder:

Next I heard the familiar steam train horn and rushed out to the platform to see one of the Puffing Billy locos (6A) moving to it's position at the front of the carriages for the next run:

It is a beautiful train, very clean and looking great:

As you can see, Puffing Billy operates off a narrow gauge railway line:

A view of the Belgrave Puffing Billy platform towards the carriages:

People at the Belgrave station about to get on Puffing Billy for the next run:

Belgrave Station sign for Puffing Billy service:

Another steam train (14A - black) getting ready to do a run:

View down the long platform towards the Puffing Billy Belgrave Station building:

Work continues preparing Steam loco 14A for duty:

View past the end of the Belgrave platform into the hills beyond:

Loading the hopper for Loco 14A:

Final checks:

Finally 2:30pm rolls around, and it is our turn for our ride on Puffing Billy. Here is the view from our carriage looking back towards the station:

This is the view from our carriage to the front of the train, soon to depart:

And we are underway! So many excited kids hanging off the carriage windows, which gets more and more as the trip goes on:

Track manual crossover switches in view as we pass into the hills:

Crossing the famous wooden bridge soon after starting our trip. The view is really spectacular!

As we proceed into the hills, the train proceeds at a slow pace, which is a good thing considering the kids hanging out the windows and gives everyone more time to take in the scenery:

We get pretty close to trees and ferns during the trip, and kids have fun trying to touch them with their feet from the train:

Soon we arrive at Menzies Creek station, where we stop for a few minutes to allow people to transfer to the train on the other platform heading back to Belgrave, and for people wanting to transfer to this train - although since it was almost completely full that proved difficult! Here is a view of the other steam train 7A running in reverse at Menzies Creek Station:

Soon, we are on our way again.

We arrive and stop very briefly at an intermediate station called Emerald to pick up passengers:

The views as we wind through the hills are lush and green:

As we approach Lakeside station, our final destination, we are paused at the signals for a few minutes before proceeding:

Approaching Lakeside Station, with a returning train on the other platform, ready to go:

We had to quickly jump off our train and onto the waiting one to come back as we had to get back to Melbourne in time for our return trip to Adelaide in the evening, so I didn't get to take many photos of Lakeside station, but did fire off a few as we waited in the return train for departure:

Amazingly this Puffing Billy service is fully self-funded, with no handouts from the government to keep it running.

This is the view of the Lakeside platform towards the station:

In the photo below you can just make our the Lakeside station sign. The train we quickly jumped onto was completely full seconds later and no one else was allowed on board:

Our return train to Belgrave now underway. Surprisingly another steam train was at the back of our consist to "get us started" with a push, but dropped off soon after (not connected):

This time we made sure to be seated on the other side of the train carriage so we could see the views from the other side. The bench seats are arranged in the middle of the carriage along it's length, facing out to the windows.

Again you can see the kids are lined up on the carriage windows in force. Interesting that only the bars prevent a kid from slipping through the window and off the moving train!

Rounding a curve:

Approaching a crossover point with multiple tracks in evidence:

Views from the train are great:

We are almost back to the start point, crossing over the timber bridge again:

As we slow to stop at the Belgrave station platform again, we can see Loco 7A in the yard:

Arriving at Belgrave Station:

Seconds later everyone detrains and it is quite hectic for a few minutes!

As we walked back down the platform we noticed this carriage which allowed you to sit in comfort with real windows, protecting it's occupants from the cold.

Definitely bring a jumper if you plan to ride the Puffing Billy train - it gets quite cold in the hills. We were lucky it didn't rain at all for our trip.

Here is a close up of the steam loco 12A that brought us back to Belgrave station. As you can see they are separating it from the carriages:

Puffing Billy is an amazing train experience and definitely worth going to visit if you are in Melbourne.

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