Arthur Tonkin told us the interesting story of Melbourne's Outer Circle Railway and the reasons why it was redundant before it was even constructed.
We were able to follow his story with the help of some maps. The first railway companies in Melbourne were privately owned. They were the Melbourne and Hobson's Bay Railway Company, the St. Kilda and Brighton Railway Company and the Melbourne and Suburban Railway Company. They ran lines to the south and east of Melbourne to places like Port Melbourne, Brighton Beach and Hawthorn. These three companies were taken over in 1865 by the Melbourne and Hobson's Bay United Railway Company which then owned Flinders Street Station and Princes Bridge Station.
When the government started its own system it opened a station at Spencer Street. It ran lines to Williamstown and Geelong, and by 1864 its trains carried freight from Echuca via Bendigo to Geelong and to Melbourne.
Gippsland was isolated from Melbourne because of swampy and marshy land but eventually a track was laid between Sale and Oakleigh. It was then proposed that an Outer Circle Railway be constructed to allow government run trains to bypass the privately owned railway lines and the enter the city from the north-west into Spencer Street Station. It was also to serve future suburban development.
In the Act of Parliament which approved the new railway line, an allowance was made for a link between Flinders Street Station and Spencer Street Station. Also the government's acquisition of the ailing private railway company in 1879 enabled it to use the tracks to the east of Melbourne. These events meant that an outer circle railway was not necessary. Land speculators however encouraged the government to continue with its plans.
The railway never ran as one entire service from Oakleigh to the city. In fact it didn't go as far as the city. In Fairfield it met a line from Heidelberg which went as far as Collingwood. From there travellers could wait whilst the engine was unhooked and moved to the other end of the train, or take a cable car. Trains were changed at Norwood (Ashburton) and Riversdale. To travel from Oakleigh to the city took 4 hours.
The track was used in its entirety for only 26 months with the Fairfield to Deepdene end closing first. Next to close was the Norwood to Oakleigh section. In fact 5 years after its construction, for a 12 month period, no trains operated on the railway at all. The depression of the 1890's meant that development in the outer areas of Melbourne was delayed.
Eventually the section between Ashburton and Deepdene was reopened for passengers, with a few extra stations operating. Amongst these were Stanley* (Mont Albert Road) renamed Roystead; Hartwell Station renamed Burwood; and Hartwell Hill renamed Hartwell. The station for the latter came from Walhalla. Stations were not manned and passengers bought tickets from the guard. Trains were serviced in Camberwell. This line was very popular with its passengers and continued until 1927. There wouldn't have been much traffic on the roads, but when a main road like Whitehorse Road was reached, the train had to stop, the guard with his red flag would step out onto the road, the train would cross, stop again and wait for the guard to climb back on board.
Although part of the line was electrified, these were the days of steam trains; the wood depot at the Belmore Road and High Street corner in Kew used a section as a service line until 1943, whilst the Australian Paper Mill in Fairfield did likewise until 1996. Whilst sleepers are still being taken up in Fairfield, sections of land where the trains once ran are now well used as walking and cycling tracks. Where bridges were built, they were made wide enough for two tracks, so a bridge like that on the Chandler Highway is still used today for vehicle traffic.
It must have been a sad day when the 'Deepdene Dasher' did its last run in 1927; most probably the route would be ideal for a light train today.
* Note: Tony O'Shea, President of the Avoca and District Historical Society advises that this should be the 'Shenley' railway station and not the 'Stanley'. His great-great-grandfather, Charles Stanley Wentworth, had a plant nursery named 'Shenley' next to the station of the same name on the Outer Circle Railway. Did the confusion have something to do with Mr. Wentworth's middle name?
Simon Palmer read the above and advised - "Actually 'Stanley' and 'Shenley' were different stations, about a quarter mile from each other. 'Stanley' was at Mont Albert Road and indeed did open as one of the extra stations in 1900. It was renamed 'Balwyn' in 1902 and then finally 'Roystead' in 1924. 'Stanley' was named after Stanley Road, a nearby street. 'Shenley' was one of the original outer circle stations and was located at Canterbury Road."
Simon further advised "If anyone is interested in more information they should hunt out - "The Outer Circle : A History of the Oakleigh to Fairfield Park Railway" by Beardsell, David, 1949- ( Australian Railway Historical Society, Victorian Division, 1979. ISBN: 0858490242 ). Also there is a map on the Internet showing both stations at the VRHistory website."
Jan Hanslow also responded with information that these were in fact two stations and not two versions of the same name.
Contributed by Jan Hanslow ( PPPG Member No. 1057 )
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