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New signs along O'Keefe Rail Trail tell history of Bendigo/Heathcote line

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A joint signage project along the O’Keefe Rail Trail between the City of Greater Bendigo and the Friends of the Bendigo-Kilmore Rail Trail is keeping the history of the Bendigo to Heathcote railway line alive.

A series of 11 signs funded by the City of Greater Bendigo have been installed along the 49km O’Keefe Rail Trail to tell the story of the Bendigo to Heathcote line from its beginning in 1887 until its closure in 1958. 

City of Greater Bendigo Engineering Manager Brett Martini said Victoria has a great rail history and many of the lines built in the mid to late 1800’s and early 1900’s that criss-cross the state no longer exist so it is important to record this part of our history.

“Although the Bendigo to Heathcote line was mostly dismantled by 1962 there still remains some significant rail relics and bridges along the O’Keefe Rail Trail which have been highlighted through the new signs,” Mr Martini said.

“The O’Keefe Rail Trail is a wonderful asset for Greater Bendigo that provides unique opportunities for residents and visitors to walk and cycle a total of 49kms between Bendigo and Heathcote.

“While there is already plenty to see and do along the trail the new signs are important because they provide some important links with history which makes it more interesting for users.”

Friends of the Bendigo-Kilmore Rail Trail spokesperson Garry Long said the signage project has been an important one for the group and the community.

“The Friends members have worked to keep the history of the railway alive through this and other projects that have been undertaken. We know that people are interested in the history of rail and the signs provide some interesting imagery and information and guide them to where they can find out more,” Mr Long said.

About the Bendigo-Heathcote Line

  • The contract for the Bendigo-Heathcote line was awarded to Andrew O’Keefe by the Victorian Railways for the sum of £88,409 in January 1887. The line was officially opened in October 1888.
  • There were 50 bridges along the Bendigo-Heathcote section of the line, crossing many waterways including the Campaspe River, Grassy Flat, Mt Ida, Sweenies and Axe Creeks.
  • There were 13 stations and platforms located on the line but they were not all operational over the life of the line.
  • The Bendigo-Heathcote line was part of what was known as the timber line. Timber, along with mining, was a mainstay of the freight carried daily on the line. Builder of the line Andrew O’Keefe said the line “taps one of the best forests in this part of the colony”.
  • In its time the railway hauled timber for gold mining in Bendigo, firewood and charcoal for fuel, railway sleepers, quarried rock, clay, grain, produce and livestock.
  • The decision to dam the Campaspe and Coliban Rivers to build Lake Eppalock as a water supply to farms and towns in the north of Victoria confirmed the end of the line. Construction of the current Lake Eppalock began in 1961 and it was officially opened in April 1964.  You can still see where the railway was while on the O’Keefe Rail Trail, even when the lake is at a high or low level.
  • The last train to run on the line was a goods train drawn by a diesel electric ‘T’ class locomotive. The line closed on December 3, 1958 following a decline in service demand, severe maintenance neglect on the line itself and the construction of Lake Eppalock. By 1962, the Bendigo-Heathcote section of the line had mostly been dismantled.

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