June 25, 1954
In southeastern Australia, the final section of the Walhalla railway line in the Gippsland region of the state of Victoria was closed. This shutdown took place just over 44 years after the Walhalla railway — one of a few narrow gauge lines of the Victorian Railways (the operator of most of the rail transportation in Victoria from 1859 to 1983) — had officially begun operations.
Construction on the Walhalla railway line commenced in 1904. It took six years to complete the line, with work proceeding slowly because of the difficult mountainous terrain in that part of Australia. The line, covering a total of 26.5 miles (42.6 kilometers) between the towns of Moe and Walhalla in the area of Gippsland known as the Latrobe Valley (encompassing several mountain peaks collectively called the Baw Baw Plateau), was inaugurated in May 1910 to a great deal of fanfare. There were high expectations that the new railway service would especially benefit Walhalla and its gold-mining operations, which were engulfed in ever-growing financial hardships by that point in the 20th century.
“Walhalla’s splendid isolation, in the heart of the Baw Baw ranges, has been dispelled by the entry of one of the most remarkable railway lines in Australia, and certainly the most remarkable in Victoria,” asserted the Melbourne-based newspaper Australasian at the time. “There is nothing in the Victoria railway system to approach the grandeur and magnificence of the scenery through which the railway passes in the last section at the Walhalla end. Once it plunges into the mountains it makes the traveler dizzy with its daring flights.”
While providing passengers with breathtaking scenery and undeniable thrill-seeking appeal, the railway line was not able to serve as the desperately hoped-for economic savior of Walhalla. This struggling community edged even further into obsolescence as more goldmines there went out of business and the local population continued to shrink. By 1939, both freight and passenger traffic on the Walhalla railway line had plummeted significantly. The portion of the line between Walhalla and a small outpost named Platina was closed in 1944.
The last surviving segment of the Walhalla railway was the stretch of approximately 19 miles (31 kilometers) between Moe and the town of Erica. The final run along this segment was originally scheduled for June 24, 1954, with the train displaying a placard that stated: “Goodbye, Old Faithful.” Those on hand for that day’s planned valedictory ride included 78-year-old R.C. “Bob” Rumpff, who had been among the first to operate trains on the line when it opened in 1910. “For him, the closing of the little branch line was a personal sorrow,” reported the Melbourne-newspaper The Age.
Rumpff’s sorrow, however, readily turned to sheer exasperation after start-up problems with the steam locomotive resulted in the farewell run being postponed until the following day. “It’s these young chaps they have as drivers nowadays,” he complained while angrily waving his walking stick. “If they’d let me try, I’d guarantee to have that train blowing its head off with steam by the end of the first mile.” As Rumpff stomped away to return home, he remarked, “I’ll be back tomorrow to see the last of it.” (It is not clear from news reports whether he did, in fact, show up the next day to ride on the train.)
By 1960, the tracks and the buildings of the one-time Walhalla railway line had been removed; only the roadbed and several bridges remained. Over the next few decades, there were a number of efforts made to reopen the line for tourists. Success finally came in the early 1990s, when an enterprise eventually named the Walhalla Goldfields Railway was established to operate trains along a section of the route. This tourist railway began operations in 1994 and remains in existence today.
For more information on the Walhalla railway line, please check out https://www.walhallarail.com.au/history/ and https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Walhalla_Goldfields_Railway.