Emerald Messenger

Lakeside upgrade on track

Despite the disruption caused by coronavirus, construction of the new $20m state-of-the-art Lakeside Visitor Centre in Emerald is steaming ahead. The new facility will include a café, function space, significantly upgraded toilet facilities, retail, food and drink options and interpretation spaces for school groups and families.

Following the development of The Puffing Billy Railway Master Plan 2017, the Lakeside upgrade was one of the key projects identified to garner a sustainable future for the Puffing Billy Railway. The railway is an important part of the hills communities with the company reporting 487,000 visitors in the 2018-2019 financial year, 64% of which were from overseas.

Following ground breaking in November 2019, Minister for Tourism and Major Events, Martin Pakula and Member for Eastern Victoria, Harriet Shing visited the site last December. “Puffing Billy is one of Victoria’s favourite tourist attractions and this new visitor centre will ensure that it has the facilities it needs to attract and support even more visitors,” said Minister Pakula.

“Puffing Billy is a major driver of the local economy, generating around $16 million in direct benefits and supporting over 100 jobs. We’re making sure that these jobs continue and in fact can be expanded. That’s great news for the railway, it’s hundreds of volunteers and the many people employed directly and indirectly due to its operations,” he said.

Ms Shing said the project was a game changer for the railway and the new upgrade will ensure it has a future as prosperous as it’s past. “For more than 100 years, families from around the world have made life-long memories here and this new centre will help ensure that continues well into the future.” The project will also enable all-year-round operation of the Lakeside to Gembrook spur.

In July, Puffing Billy released a community update about progression of works.

Although the COVID-19 pandemic has dramatically disrupted many aspects of life and production all around the world, the construction industry in Victoria has thankfully remained largely unaffected and hence, the Lakeside Visitor Centre (LVC) continues to make great progress.

Assisted by the availability of grant monies from the Victorian State and Australian governments, work is continuing across the site thanks to the ongoing efforts of the LVC project team and construction company, Kane Constructions. This includes the long-awaited installation of the visitor centre’s first key interpretation piece, the unrestored 3A locomotive.

Built in 1900, 3A is the first NA [class] locomotive to be assembled at the Victorian Railways Newport Workshops. Painted in the then standard Victorian Railways two-tone green, this locomotive was deployed to the Upper Ferntree Gully to Gembrook line and was used on the line’s construction.

Over the years, it saw service on the Colac to Crowes and Moe to Walhalla lines, but it saw more service on the Gembrook line than any other. In 1954, it hauled the first ‘Young Sun Specials’ between Upper Ferntree Gully and Belgrave as part of what was meant to be the farewell of Puffing Billy Railway. The immense popularity of these farewell trains led to the formation of the Puffing Billy Preservation Society and the continued operation of the Railway.

3A was installed on July 1st, prior to the frame and roofing installation in this area with special guest Chanel Nine News coming out to capture this significant moment

Other LVC related works completed, or near completion, include:

Construction of Stage 1 of the project, being the main building, undercover walkway, platform, related civil works and trackside landscaping, is approximately 40% complete.

A new high-pressure water main diversion has been installed and the old pipe removed.

All structural concrete slabs and the alfresco dining area and building walkways have been poured.

Structural steel portal members and main building steel framing sections have been erected in the south entry, staff wing, retail areas, café and café walkway, with the Great Hall, Multipurpose Room, Kitchen & Amenities planned to be completed by end July.

Roofing is complete to 50% of the building and wall cladding has commenced to the staff wing and south entry sections.

The undercover walkway is structurally complete, roofed, timber lining and asphalt paving installed.

External landscaping works have begun in the rail corridor with the first stages of preparation complete for asphalt and timber decking.

Kane Constructions, alongside the Emerald Tourist Railway Board, Terroir architects, AECOM and our key external stakeholders continue to plan the remainder of the works.The Lakeside Visitor Centre is still on track for handover by early 2021.

Take a virtual tour

Due to coronavirus Puffing Billy has been closed since March. If you are missing your Puffing Billy fix, the Puffing Billy team recorded a series of Virtual Tours in early May which are available to watch on the Puffing Billy Facebook page. Life in lockdown is tough and a nostalgic tour on the old narrow gauge railway might just be what we all need right now – even if you have to do it virtually.

Categories: September 2020