As part of Murtoa’s 150th-anniversary celebrations this year, a rare passenger train will visit the town this weekend.

Although the Overland passenger train operates twice per week in each direction between Adelaide and Melbourne, it does not stop at Murtoa, so this weekend will see passengers using the Murtoa platform for the first time in many years.

Operated by the Seymour Rail Heritage Centre (SRHC), one of several organisations accredited to run this sort of train on the Victorian railway network, this special train will depart Seymour early on Saturday morning and make stops to pick up passengers at Broadmeadows in Melbourne’s North and North Shore in Geelong before a scheduled arrival in Murtoa just after midday at 12.35.

Passengers are then encouraged to join in the 150th celebrations and visit the town’s attractions before overnighting in Horsham.

During the afternoon, the train will operate a shuttle trip out on the branch line to Warracknabeal and back, with Wimmera residents able to book a seat on this leg of the journey to experience travel on a line that has not seen a passenger train for over twenty-five years.
Wimmera Weekender Timetable

Saturday 21 May

dep 06 35 - Seymour
arr 12 35 - Murtoa

dep 13 00 - Murtoa
arr 14 15 - Warracknabeal
dep 16 15 - Warracknabeal
arr 17 30 - Murtoa

Sunday 22 May

dep 08 00 - Murtoa
arr 09 15 - Warracknabeal
arr 09 40 - Brim - view silo art
dep 10 40 - Brim
arr 11 20 - Beulah - lunch
dep 12 05 - Beulah
arr 12 50 - Warracknabeal
arr 13 15 - Sheep Hills - view silo art
dep 14 15 - Sheep Hills
arr 15 05 - Murtoa - servicing stop only
dep 15 20 - Murtoa
arr 22 37 - Seymour

NOTE: All timings are for guidance only and are subject to change at any time.
On Sunday, the main tour will venture out the branch again, where after a stop to allow passengers to view the silo art at Brim, the train will continue to Beulah for lunch.

The return trip will pause at Sheep Hills to view their silo art, and then after another brief stop at Murtoa, the train will retrace its route back to Seymour, with a detour to Southern Cross Station to drop off Melbourne passengers.

With no Victorian-based steam locomotives, the train has been scheduled to be hauled by heritage diesel-electric locomotives T357 and P22, but a recent teaser on the SHRC’s social media suggested that classic streamlined locomotive S303 (pictured) may join the train to form a triple-header.

This will be the first enthusiast special train to operate on the western standard gauge since February 2016, when a trip was operated to Leeor Loop west of Kaniva towards the South Australian border hauled by locomotive TL152 with six of the passenger coaches from the Steamrail depot in Dimboola.

The last scheduled passenger service to operate on the branch line out of Murtoa was operated by a diesel railmotor in July 1976, and although the occasional enthusiast special traversed this line in the following years, none have ventured north of Murtoa since the line was converted to standard gauge in 1995.

The last one was in March 1994 when the Australian Railway Historical Society ran a tour using a railmotor and a single passenger coach to mark the centenary of the opening of the railway line between Beulah and Hopetoun.

Murtoa has a long railway history, having briefly been the terminus for the line from Melbourne from December 1878 until it was extended to Horsham early the following year, and became a junction for the branch to Warracknabeal in May 1886, which was extended to Patchewollock in 1925.

The railway precinct in the town included the station, which was on an island platform at one stage, with tracks on both sides and accessible via an ornate footbridge that is now located in Rabl Park. Other features included a locomotive servicing depot, a Flour Mill, and the 13-metre high water tower to provide water for steam locomotives.

On the southern edge of the town is the Marmalake Grain Recieval Complex, one of the largest grain storage sites in Victoria and one of the few locations away from the ports that can both load and unload grain trains. This site also includes the famous ‘Stick Shed’.

The station building is currently under the guardianship of the Murtoa and District Historical Society and was refurbished as a museum display space in 2019, which complements this organisation’s other heritage buildings, including the Water Tower Museum and the adjacent historic Concordia College building, all of which are used to house their unique collections.

This article also appeared on the Western Victorian Railfan Guide website.