IT may seem hard to imagine now, but 100 years ago on Thursday 2 December crowds gathered at Red Hill to welcome the arrival of dignitary-packed passenger train.
After the official ceremony, the dignitaries were looked after in newly-built cool stores near the station and picnics were held nearby by the crowd of an estimated 1000 people.
The train eventually pulled out to take the passengers back to Melbourne along the recently-completed tracks from Bittern to Red Hill, but the celebrations by the public continued into the night.
The reign of the train as a major means of getting to and from Red Hill was relatively short lived, with the line closing on 1 July 1953.
However, although never financially viable, the train had served its purpose and is credited with “opening up” the district.
After initially running on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays and going through to Melbourne on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays the train was down to a once-a-week service by the time it closed.
Ilma Hackett, of Balnarring and District Historical Society, said the train had carried passengers and goods.
“Fruits, vegetables, timber, firewood, and livestock left for Melbourne while fertiliser, bran, pollard, chaff, cement and construction materials came to stations along the route,” she said.
“Each station became a focus point for the communities along the line and nearby land was subdivided in anticipation of growth.”
Ms Hackett said crowds had been arriving all morning to greet that first train at 11.45 on 2 December 1921.
“People of the district, especially the fruit growers, had been pushing for the line ever since rail had linked Frankston with Stony Point back in 1889. They saw the railway as a quick and reliable means of getting their produce to Melbourne markets,” she said.
The Red Hill line, through Balnarring and Merricks was given the go-ahead in 1915, with land being bought in 1919 and the “turning of the first sod” by the Railways Minister Samuel Barnes at Balnarring in July 1920.
“Construction between Bittern and Merricks was fairly straightforward as the land is relatively level, but Red Hill sits at 192.5 metres above sea level, a short and steep climb from Merricks at 41.5 metres,” Ms Hackett said. “Five curves were needed in the last mile and the line gradient was 1 in 30. Six horse teams were called in for the final section, to assist the 60 workers contracted to build the line.”
The first train was behind schedule, but that did not dampen the spirits of the cheering crowd whose members had come by “motors, drays, buggies and jinkers” or on foot.
“One train carriage brought the dignitaries, another carried the ordinary passengers and tourists who paid a special excursion fare for the day,” Ms Hackett said.
Mr Barnes cut a ribbon and speeches were made before the official party moved indoors for lunch and more speeches. The picnickers were entertained by the naval band and the train made a special run to Merricks and back for the children.