Full steam ahead: Puffing Billy tourism back on track

Published: 3 Dec 2021

All Aboard Puffing Billy Lakeside Visitor Centre

[Delivering for Victoria - Victoria State Government / All Aboard Puffing Billy Lakeside Visitor Centre]

[Vision: View of Puffing Billy blows its whistle as it passes through station. View of the Lakeside sign and a close-up of the whistle blowing and people exiting carriages. View of the Visitor Centre building showing access ramp.

Billy Crombie - Belgrave Traders Association

I think it’s fantastic to see the new Visitor Centre.

Wow! It’s a really significant building with the beautiful trains inside, a fantastic cafĂ© and it’s something that Emerald and Puffing Billy has really been lacking and it’s awesome to see that it’s finally come together.

[Vision: View of people standing outside the entrance to Puffing Billy Lakeside Visitor Centre and cutting the ribbon to open the Centre officially]

Peter Abbott - Chief Executive Officer, Puffing Billy Railway

The Centre itself has this beautiful interpretive centre which essentially tells the Puffing Billy story all the way through from when it was first opened in the 1900s through to when it was saved by the Preservation Society in the 1950s.

[Vision: Views inside the Centre of antique trains and signage, photos of the train and staff]

The Centre itself also has function rooms, we have a new restaurant, the potato chips come from Gembrook.

[Vision: View of people in the restaurant. View of lady and children in restaurant and examples of available foods.

The trout that we use on our salads comes from Buxton.

[Vision: view of small boy in the retail shop looking at a train]

So there’s a big focus on trying to use local suppliers, there’s a great retail area as well and the facility will provide a much greater experience for people that do come to our beautiful Puffing Billy.

[Vision: View of conductors on platform talking to people and train’s fire being stoked. View of people enjoying the train ride through the rainforest and arriving a Lakeside Station]

Billy Crombie - Belgrave Traders Association

Puffing Billy has been a part of our lives and our parents’ lives and our grandparents’ lives for riding up through the mountains, up through the little villages, through the rainforest from Belgrave up to Emerald.

[Vision: View of parents and children enjoying the experience at Puffing Billy]

Jeff Gazzard - Puffing Billy Conductor

It’s a wonderful thing to do, it’s so convenient for all the people in Melbourne to come to.

[Vision: View of children having photo taken with train driver and people exiting carriages]

Geoff Barnes - Puffing Billy Conductor

I think particularly grandparents love to bring up their little grandchildren.

It’s a part of our culture here in Victoria, you just met [Puffing Billy whistle blows], there you are, everybody in the mountain hears that.

[Vision: View of train whistle and train leaving station]

[Victoria State Government / Delivering for Victoria. Authorised by the Victorian Government, 1 Treasury Place, Melbourne]

Please note: Images in this article were taken before current COVID-19 safety measures were in place.

Trains are part of David Rashleigh’s DNA. Five generations of his family have worked the railways so it’s no surprise that David has found his home with Victoria’s iconic Puffing Billy Railway.

Volunteers standing infront of locomotive station master and driverGrowing up just down the road from the tourist attraction in Belgrave, it was a natural step for Mr Rashleigh to take on the role of Volunteer Passenger Services Officer after retirement in 2012.

“When I started, we were lucky to send 20 passengers out on the third train of the day in the middle of winter,” David said.

“As the tourist side of it built up and the international tourists built up, the numbers built up, the services built up and it became just a totally different operation.”

In 2019, Puffing Billy attracted over half a million visitors, but like many of Victoria’s much-loved tourist attractions, it has faced significant disruptions throughout the COVID-19 pandemic.

The new $24.8 million Lakeside Visitor Centre will help Australia’s premier preserved steam railway regain its place as one of Victoria’s most iconic tourist attractions.

Puffing Billy visitor centreThe state-of-the-art facility tells the century-old railway’s rich history with a collection of expertly curated steam artifact displays and an immersive multimedia experience. It offers a range of dining options, as well as hi-tech function spaces for workshops, conferences, private dinners and school groups.

“It’s a magnificent building. It’s something the railway not only needed, but the local community also needed,” David said.

The centre will help develop the end of the railway between Lakeside and Gembrook and bring new business to the region.

“It’s heightened the visitor experience for our passengers and now gives us something positive to promote at the other end of the line,” Daid said.

“Even by having this new facility in the park itself, it’s brightened up the whole park, locals can walk up from the down the lake and have a look through.”

The Lakeside Visitor Centre was backed by a $12.7 million from the Victorian Government and jointly funded with the Federal Government and Puffing Billy Railway.

Page last updated 23 Jun 2022
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