Building the first line

When the first passenger-carrying railway in Australia started in September 1854 the train ran on sleepers cut from the centre of the Mornington Peninsula. The timber was one of the area’s first industries and it would have been shipped to Melbourne.

First railway development to the Mornington Peninsula was when the railway opened from Melbourne to Frankston in 1882. Mornington Junction (Baxter) section was completed in 1888 and it went on to Mornington, Hastings and Stony Point in 1889.

Without transport to get produce quickly to markets, local settlers were agitating from 1882 for the railway to be extended further south, but it was another 39 years before their dreams were realised.

Victorian State Government passed the Bill authorising the Bittern – Red Hill construction in 1915 but it was not until after World War 1 had ended that work actually started. The first sod was turned in Balnarring on 9th July 1920 and a banquet was held in the Balnarring Hall afterwards. Construction to Balnarring was mainly by picks, shovels and wheelbarrows, but from there up the hill it was by 60 men and 6 horse teams.

The line from Merricks has a grade of 1 in 30 and 12 chain curves, which is the maximum for broad gauge track. A crowd of 700 people greeted the first train, D980, and after the opening ceremony conducted by the State Minister for Railways, Mr. Barnes, the train made a return trip to Merricks. The Red Hill Station is 631 feet above sea level and 51 miles from Melbourne.

The ribbon was held by two Red Hill citizens, the oldest, Mrs. Haig who had celebrated her 92nd birthday the day before, and the youngest was Mary Forrest. Mr. Richard McIlroy who was president of the Red Hill Fruitgrowers Association said that "this ribbon was all that separated the local fruit growers from the markets of the world."

In 1924 it was intended to take the line on a further four miles to a site opposite the Baldry’s road intersection with the Mornington – Flinders Road just north of Flinders. The development of road transport of both passenger and goods traffic made further rail extension unnecessary. Even though it had been surveyed, the Government of the day decided not to continue.

The Cool Store

As the Cool Store had a suction gas engine, charcoal was burnt in a retort to make the gas for ignition. In the months prior to the train coming, this charcoal was transported from Bittern by horse wagon. At least two local farmers supplied locally burnt charcoal. Refrigeration method at the time used brine.

The Cool Store was destroyed by fire in 1929 and the new building later housed a Ruston-Hornsby diesel engine driving a Werner compressor and using ammonia as a refrigerant.

The new building and adjoining packing shed saw hundreds of thousands of cases transported to Melbourne and overseas markets. The packing shed was leased to the International Fruit and Mercantile Company in 1932.

During World War 2 this complex was the local headquarters of the Australian Apple and Pear Board and employed a large number of fruit packers and handlers. All local apple and pear production went through these buildings during this period and when times came back to normal it remained a large centre of industry and a source of employment now long gone. Post war beer shortage saw the development of a press crushing apples for apple cider.

Near the end of World War 2 potatoes were railed from Melbourne to Red Hill for HMAS Cerberus and stored in the Co-op Cool Store. Sailors came and transported them back to Crib Point at regular intervals using a vintage Thornycroft truck.

The building which used to be the Cool Store still stands today.

Motor Trains

In August 1924 a rail motor was trialed and it had difficulty on the hill. An AEC Motor Train took over from the steamer in 1925. By 1929, passenger traffic had slowed and the regular train was discontinued and the service reverted to a weekly mixed train on Mondays. This usually departed Bittern at 11:00am ad arrived red Hill at 12:30pm, returning from Red Hill 2:45pm and arriving Bittern 3:35pm. These times slightly varied over the years.

Mornington Peninsula Shire


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