The main Melbourne-Bendigo line reached Castlemaine in October 1862 with a branch to Maryborough (from Castlemaine) under construction soon after.
As work progressed on the Maryborough line the citizens of Maldon started to press for their own railway. By the time the Castlemaine-Maryborough line opened (July 1874) they were petitioning their parliamentarians with demands for railway connection to further open up land in their district.
In 1876 a preliminary survey was undertaken for a railway from Castlemaine to Maldon and on to Newbridge. In 1881, Parliament authorized a number of new lines including a 10 mile (16 kilometre) branch from Maldon Junction (about 1 km from Castlemaine on the Maryborough line) to Maldon. In August 1882 the contract was let for the construction of the Maldon line to A. Nicholls and Co. The line opened for traffic on 16th June 1884.
Bushfire damage to several bridges in 1969 resulted in official closure of the Maldon - Shelbourne Extension in 1970. With the closing of the Shelbourne extension little reason remained for keeping the Castlemaine - Maldon line open. The Maldon line officially closed in December 1976.
Even prior to the closure of the Maldon Line preservation moves were underway. The rapid demise of the branch lines throughout Victoria dictated that preservation of at least one line was vital. The choice would be governed by two main considerations, firstly the suitability of the line for restoration and ongoing maintenance by a volunteer workforce and secondly the line's potential as a tourist attraction.
Under this criteria the Castlemaine to Maldon branch line presented itself as most suitable. Within the same month as the official closure of the line, the Castlemaine & Maldon Railway Preservation Society was formed at a meeting held at Maldon.
With membership drawn from both rail enthusiasts and local residents the Society set about the task of securing the line, obtaining rolling stock, gaining legislative changes to permit the operation of the line as a tourist railway and seeking financial support. Progress was slow through the early years.
Track restoration commenced at the Maldon end with the line between Maldon Station and the Bendigo Road Crossing available for trains by Easter 1986.
Reopened in Stages
The official re-opening was on Easter Saturday, 29th March 1986. Trains operated between the Station and the Bendigo Road, a distance of about 1 kilometre only, with the engine pushing the train out from Maldon and pulling it back in.
As track restoration progressed the trip length increased. By Easter 1996 Muckleford was reached. The track at Muckleford had been re-laid, the platform road and the points in heavier rail and the station platform reinstated. The loop siding enables the locomotive to 'run-around' its train and so haul the train in both directions of the journey.
With funding from the State and Federal Governments restoration of the 8 kilometre section of line between Muckleford and Castlemaine was commenced in 2001. The works in this section included relaying the track and extensive repairs to the one iron and five timber bridges. Work at Castlemaine reconnected the West Yard, reinstated the locomotive turntable and upgraded the mechanical signaling in the West Yard.
The first VGR train to Castlemaine Station ran on Saturday the 18th December 2004 and public trains commenced the following day. The Official Opening into Castlemaine was on the 20th March 2005.
Source: Reproduced with the kind permission of The Castlemaine & Maldon Railway Preservation Society. Visit www.vgr.com.au for the full history of the Victorian Goldfields Railway.