Lake Macquarie History

Toronto-Fassifern Rail Line

March has been an important month in the history of the Toronto branch railway line. The line opened in March 1891, closed almost 100 years later in March 1990, and control of the space was handed to Lake Macquarie City Council in March 1993.

A branch line for Toronto

photo: train at toronto foreshore

A branch line connecting Toronto township to the main North Coast railway line was first considered in 1889, when the Excelsior Investments and Building Company acquired around 1000 acres of land bordering the Lake at Toronto, thus opening up the area for development and tourism. Government permission for construction of a private railway line was given in October 1889. While the intention was initially to build a narrow three foot gauge tramway line, after realising the potential for use by the government railways this specification was changed to the standard gauge.

The line was formally opened on 7th March, 1891 with the first train leaving Newcastle station bound for Toronto at 8.15am. The Newcastle Herald reported

"Upon arrival at Fassifern they were met by the company's tram, and the distance to Toronto was covered in six minutes. Upon reaching the Toronto Hotel a handsome and commodious steam launch was found to be in waiting, and the visitors were taken for a run round the lake. The tram then returned to Fassifern, and met the Sydney express, by which a large number of gentlemen, including Messrs. Cary,Thornley, Renwick, and Rofe, directors of the company, and Wheeler and Slattery, MPs, with Mr Fehon, Railway Commissioner, came to join in the day's festivities. Upon arrival, Mr. Vary smashed a bottle of champagne on the wheel of the locomotive in the orthodox manner, and declared the line officially open for traffic. At half-past 1 o'clock the company, to the number of fully 100, sat down to a splendid banquet, which had been prepared by Mr Samuel Fisher, manager of the hotel."

photo: coffee pot

photo: pygmyl

The first engine to run on the line was a former NSW Railways pannier tank locomotive No.29, which had formerly run on the Blacktown-Richmond line in outer Sydney. This was provided by Thomas Saywell, who operated a similar venture in Brighton Le Sands in Sydney. This locomotive pulled a side loading platform car which held 50 passengers. The comfort of passengers was not a high priority in those days, and a variety of passenger carriages from enclosed vehicles with no suspension, to open carriages were used. At times of exceptionally high demand goods vans were even pressed into service. It was still preferable to walking the almost 4 miles to the junction at Fassifern. However, the most famous engines to run on the Toronto line were the "Coffee Pot", named for the distinctive shape of the smoke stack, and "Pygmy" a 0-6-0 tank engine owned by Saywell. The locomotives also pulled goods carriages to and from Toronto.

photo: horse drawn tram

During times of high demand, passenger carriages were rented from the State Railways Authority. At times of less demand, the steam train service was sometimes suspended and horse drawn trams were used to ferry passengers and goods to Fassifern.

photo: toronto station

The Excelsior Company promoted Toronto as the "Riviera of Australia", and it became a major tourist destination throughout the 1890s. With the Toronto Hotel and Pleasure Grounds opening in 1887, many workplaces and churches came to Toronto for their annual picnics. It was also a pleasant and very easy trip for families and other day trippers from Newcastle.

The Toronto Hotel and Tramway Company leased the line from 1905 to 1909, but pressure was mounting for the government to take over operation and upgrade the line. This eventually happened, and after extensive track work during 1910 and 1911, regular government railway services commenced in 1911, using steam tram motors No.64A and 61A and sixty seat trailer car No.602 which were transferred from Sydney. These direct railway services operated until the main line was electrified, when the 'un-electrified' Toronto branch line was again relegated to a shuttle service using a diesel engine. This sealed the fate of the line, and it was only a matter of time before it closed on 10th March 1990, despite fierce opposition and protest from the community.

Stops along the line

Station Opened Closed Notes
Fassifern 1888 Still operational The station is still in use, although the branch line which once operated to Toronto has been disconnected from the main.
Blackalls Park 7-Mar-1891 Unknown The station was a platform on the up side of the line.The platform is now being used as a small park. Only the toilet block (closed) remains on the platform.
Fennells Platform 7-Mar-1891 29-Aug-1910 -
Bowers Platform 7-Mar-1891 29-Aug-1910 -
Toronto 7-Mar-1891 10-Mar-1990 The platform and station building are still present, and are being used by the Lake Macquarie and District Historical Society. The station building and platform have been preserved exactly as they were when the line was operational. The Up Home signal is still present.

Greenway One

photo: cycleway

Shortly after the closure of the line in 1990, the Fassifern and Kilaben Bay Progress Association floated the idea of using the rail corridor as a cycleway and green space connecting Fassifern with the Toronto foreshore. They lobbied Lake Macquarie City Council to lease the land from the State Rail Authority and formed a committee - "Lake Macquarie City Greenway Steerage Committee" - to manage the project. Control of the disused railway line was formally passed from the state government to Lake Macquarie City Council in a ceremony on Toronto Station platform on 25th March, 1993, and work commenced that same year with funding from Federal, State and Local government sources. Several young, unemployed Westlakes residents were employed under a commonwealth employment scheme as part of the project.

The cycleway - known as Greenway One - was officially opened on Friday 21st June 1996.

Coffee Pot Tramway

In 1992, when the State government called for submissions on possible uses for the recently closed rail corridor, there was a proposal put forward to establish a tourist tramway running alongside the cycleway with a steam tram replica of the original “Coffee Pot” locomotive pulling the carriages. This proposal was eventually abandoned, due to the difficulties and expense involved in complying with necessary upgrading of the line.

Sources:

The Toronto Line by Reverend Dean Wesley in Tin Hare Gazette: Newsletter of the Royal Motor Society No.31 May 1990

Newcastle Morning Herald and Miners' Advocate, Monday 9 March 1891, page 8

Rail Trails website http://www.railtrails.org.au/trail?view=trail&id=157