The Whitfield railway was a 2 1/2 feet guage narrow guage railway built in the closing years of the 19th century between Wangaratta on the main North East railway line and the township of Whitfield. The Whitfield line was the first of 4 narrow guage lines to be built by the Victorian Railways around the early 1900s, the others being the Fern Tree Gully – Gembrook line (now Puffing Billy), the Moe – Walhalla line (partially re-opened as a tourist railway between Thompson and Walhalla in the early 21st century almost 100 years from its original commencement of operation in 1910), and the Colac – Beech Forest – Crowes line.
The Puffing Billy Website had this to say regarding the Whitfield line:
“The first narrow gauge railway to be built in Victoria was certainly the easiest. Laid as a surface tramway on nearly level ground, with few earthworks or bridges, the line extended southward from Wangaratta, through the farming area of the King River Valley to Whitfield, a distance of 30.5 miles”.
Above: NA class locomotive, example of motive power on the Whitfield line.
The motive power for the Whitfield and subsequent Victorian Railways narrow guage railways was the diminutive NA class 2-6-2Ts. A number of these locomotives are restored and operational on the Puffing Billy railway between Belgrave and Gembrook in the Dandenong Rangesd near Melbourne, Victoria.
Above: Wangaratta, where the Whitfield line interchanged with the Victorian broad guage network (now standard guage)
From as early as 1899 there was a push by residents of the region to have the railway extended to Mansfield ( http://trove.nla.gov.au/ndp/del/article/9538097 – Wednesday 24 May 1899, The Argus, Melbourne, Vic ), and there was also a proposal put forward by the various regional railway leagues in 1907 to have the line extended to Tolmie, in the hills to the south Whitfield. This was reported in the North Eastern Ensign on 20th September 1907:
“Tolmie Railway Line.
THE WHITFIELD EXTENSION. A meeting of delegates in connection with the railway to Tolmie tablelands was held at Whitfield on Friday evening last. The Mayor of Wangaratta (Cr Sisely) occupied the chair. The general consensus of opinion was in favor of the extension of the line from Whitfield to Tolmie, but this was resolutely opposed by the delegates of Boggy Creok. After some.discussion, the following resolutions were carried :1. That the Wangaratta, Whitfield and Tolmie Leagues unite for the purpose of furthering the extension of the existing line from Whitfield to Tolmie, on the lines of Mr Bents promise. 2. That this conterence heartily appreciates the decision of the Premier to open-up for closer settlement and give railway communication to the rich and heavily timbered tablelands between Whitfield and Tolmie, by means of the extension of the present system, and a short line from Benalla. 3. That a copy of these resolutions be forwarded to the representative of the district Mr John Bowser. 4. That a hearty vote of thanks be tendered to Messrs Bowser, Hunt and Carlisle, M.L.A., for their actions in the past. A vote of thanks to the chairman closed the meeting.”
(http://trove.nla.gov.au/ndp/del/article/70758918 – Friday 20 September 1907, The North Eastern Ensign, Benalla, VIC)
Above and below: Moyhu
In 1899, a mere 2 months after the railway opened, there was community desire to have the timetable changed and for a drop in fares to encourage traffic. This was reported in The Argus on 26 May 1899.
At a public meeting at Moyhu on SAturday night a number of matters concerning the Wangaratta to Whitfield narrow guage railway were discussed. Several resolutions were carried, and one was that the Commissioner of Railways be requested to reduce the high fares, so as to encourage traffic. It was stated that a great number of persons would travel by rail if the fares were reasonably low still use their vehicles in travelling to Wangaratta. The meeting also agreed to urge that the train which now leaves Whitfield daily at 10:30am be timed to leave at 7:30am and return at 4:30pm instead of 2:30pm as at present. The resolutions were framed in the form of a petition.”
(http://trove.nla.gov.au/ndp/del/article/9529253 – Friday 26 May 1899, The Argus, Melbourne, Vic)
The line had the following stops (some information from http://www.railpage.com.au/news-150.htm ):
- Wangaratta – junction with the broad guage (now standard guage) North East railway line
- Docker – Had a van shed for loading / unloading trucks
- Moyhu – Had a butter factory
- Edi – Only place between Wangaratta and Whitfield where the loco could take on water.
- King Valley – Freight included linseed, broom millet and produce.
- Whitfield – Freight included perishables from local farms and timber from the sawmills.
Above and below: typical condition of Whitfield railway line formations today, this one near Edi.
As early as 1934 it seems there were rumors of the line closing:
Residents Oppose ClosureWANGARATTA, Tuesday.-Residents of the Whitfield district, disturbed by a report that the Railways Commissioners Intended to close the Whitfield line, presented a petition containing more than 300 signatures to the Oxley Shire Council yesterday asking that the line be kept open, and that the service be improved. Another petition asked that there be a mail service on the line on Tuesdays. The council will send the petitions to the Parliamentary representatives of the district.
There is one train a week to Whitfield, and one train runs to Moyhu on Thursdays to carry butter to Wangaratta.”
(http://trove.nla.gov.au/ndp/del/article/10996843 – Wednesday 28 November 1934, The Argus Melbourne, Vic)
The line was closed in October 1953.
Above: Typical King Valley scenery. This is just south of a section where the railway right-of-way seemed to be below the road level between the King River and the Whitfield road.
Above: Whitfield, where the line ended.