Compiled for OzSportsHistory by Brian Membrey


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ADDED : February, 2019

 



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Alphington to East Preston (1946)

Perhaps we could be excused for forgetting a few of the come-and-go lines of the nineteenth century, but perhaps not for the last grand railway scheme for Darebin.

Although barely remembered today, the final extension of the northern network was to be constructed under The Alphington to East Preston Railway Act passed in 1946.

The planned line was around three-and-a-half miles in length encompassing a double track from Alphington east of the Associated Quarries (now Pitcher Park) to Darebin Road where there was to be a bridge near Fulham Road and an elevated station.

A single track then extended north-west to pass under Dundas Street near Kerr Street then north parallel with Princess Street (now Chifley Drive) over Bell Street (where another overhead station was planned, and then to Wood Street near Hannah Street.

It was initially suggested there would be four stations, but this later became "four or five".   Given Alphington is due west of Merri Station and the proposed terminus at Wood Street ditto with Regent, the logical equivalents would have been Separation Street (Northcote), Darebin Road (Croxton), Dundas Street (Thornbury), Bell street (Bell) and Gower Street (Preston).

Goods sidings were planned for Darebin Road and Wood Street.

The estimated cost was £190,000 to be funded from a £1 million railway construction budget which also include the duplication of the track from Alphington to Heidelberg announced by the Premier (and member for Northcote), John Cain, senior.

Transport Minister Stoneham announced that construction would start "as soon as possible" and that the Chief Engineer of the Railways Construction Branch had been asked to complete the survey and prepare estimates "immediately".

Surveys and estimates notwithstanding, Cain just a couple of weeks later dampened expectations when he announced that construction could not start until the duplication of the Heidelberg line had been completed.

The announcement of the railway appears to have taken most people by surprise.

Cain himself had some eighteen months earlier introduced a joint deputation to the Transport Minister from the Northcote and Preston requesting a new tramway route be extended from Clifton Hill along Heidelberg Road and then north along Victoria Road in Northcote and Victoria and Albert Streets in Preston.

At the time the Act was passed, the Government claimed it proposed to eventually extend the railway "a few miles farther northward" to serve the Bundoora and Mont Park districts, but other "proposals" came thick and fast.

One that gathered considerable strength was to extend the line north-west from Wood Street to around the corner of Broadway and Boldrewood Parade.

It is not clear whether the extension was ever legislated, but it is known that there was a railway reserve running almost in a direct line from the planned original terminus in Wood Street west of Crevelli Street to Summerhill Road, later taken over by the Housing Commission for units.

One plan put forward was to extend the line parallel with Broadway to link with Reservoir station - almost inevitably, that was followed by another "plan" to continue the track just to the north of Edwardes Lake and through to Campbellfield.

Talk of an extension through to Bundoora and Mont Park (presumably along the south-eastern side of the Plenty Road corridor) continued under State Governments of both political colours until the early 1950s when it appears that the likelihood of the East Preston line ever being built was a faded dream.

It is probably significant that the legislation to allow passenger traffic on the spur line between the Mont Park Hospital and Macleod Station was passed around the same time as The Alphington to East Preston Railway Act and there would have been no prizes awarded for guessing that someone, somewhere had the grand dream of linking the Reservoir and Hurstbridge lines with a link through Mont Park.

The passing of the Act perhaps influenced the establishment of the Olympic Village for the 1956 Melbourne Games being established on the eastern side of the Darebin Creek in Heidelberg. This was also part of the Housing Commission "land grab" of 1946 and was also largely undeveloped, but free of any encumbrance of the proposed railway line.

The Preston Land Grab

Not a single sod of soil was ever turned under the statutes of The Alphington to East Preston Railway Act which was repealed almost with a word in 1960.

Was the Act simply a cunning sleight of land by Cain?

Almost simultaneously with the announcement of the new railway, the Government announced the annexation of 2,000 acres of land in Northcote and Preston by the new Housing Commission.

According to The Argus, who seemingly broke the story after a reporter saw a notice of the acquisition placed in the local Leader newspapers, the "area includes houses, factories (the largest of 8½ acres), shops, many concrete roads, is thickly populated in sections and is served by four bus routes; most of the houses are of modern construction, and many of them were acquired".  

"Building is being carried on in the area on a comparatively extensive scale, and, according to local estate agents, a large number of contracts have been let privately by individual owners for new home construction".

The most vocal criticism of the scheme came from local real estate agent, Mr E. V. Kingsbury (father of the Victoria Cross winner, Bruce Kingsbury, today's suburb named in his honour).

Kingsbury pointed out that to give effect to the legal requirements of acquisition, the Housing Commission had only to advertise only in local suburban newspapers with small circulation, and he believed, therefore, that many people who owned building blocks in the area would have no knowledge of the action that had been taken until The Argus broke the story.

The "official" explanation of the acquisition Preston was given by Mr J. H. Davey, the Housing Commission secretary, who claimed "the commission desired to establish at Preston a "suburb within a suburb," which would link up with the development planned by the commission at Heidelberg".

The conservative Argus newspaper attacked the plan vehemently, but Cain responded by suggesting that 1,200 acres in the area had already been acquired by the Housing Commission and 730 houses either built, or in the course of erection.

Cain repeatedly claimed that the area had been "blanketed" by the Government to prevent land agents and speculators making a "rake off" from the Government's decision to build the railway.

"The new line would serve more than 30,000 people when the Housing Commission's Preston - Northcote estate was fully developed, for about 7,000 new homes would be built on the 2,000 acres acquired. It would also serve a big area with limited transport facilities".

Neither of the Northcote or Preston Councils, both of which were strongly controlled by the Labor Party raised any major objections to the acquisition, perhaps looking forward to collecting a boost in rate revenue without having to carry any responsibility for development of land which had lain largely vacant for years.

The acquisition did not appear to have been an issue at the elections of 1947.  John Cain held his seat of Northcote with a reduced majority, but the Labor Party lost power to a Liberal Party led by Thomas Holloway.

With plans for what was now being called the East Preston - East Northcote Estate well-established, there was no concept of the acquisition plans being abandoned by the new Government, but neither was there any move to start construction of the railway line.

Virtually nothing was heard of either project until May, 1948 when the new Minister for Housing, Mr. Warner declared that the housing estate, now of 2,500 acres and accommodating 36,000 would start "as soon as possible".

At the same time, it was announced that a Bill authorising the construction of the railway line would be introduced into the next Parliamentary session, the cost now estimated at £240,000.

The Alphington to East Preston Railway Construction Act was formally passed by the Legislative Assembly with little debate on 6 December, discussions revealing that the additional cost resulted from a decision by the new Government to extend the original proposal from Wood Street (via Crevelli Street) to the junction of Boldrewood Parade and Broadway.

The Alphington to East Preston Railway Act passed in 1946 was repealed in its entirety in a sitting of the Legislative Assembly in late 1959, there was virtually no debate on the move.

Hardly coincidental, but the same sitting of trhe Assembly introduced the Alphington to East Preston Railway Construction Housing Act.

Just the single word "Housing" differentiated it from the name of the 1948 statute and the new Act simply transferred control of the land that had been set aside for the train line from the Railways Department to the Housing Commission.

There was little debate on the Bill - most of what there was concerned the performance of the Housing Commission rather than the pros and cons of a railway line - but it was suggested that the Commission had constructed 3,090 homes in the area which was by then serviced by four bus lines.

The discussions also revealed that the Railways Department had removed the line from its planned projects at the time of the 1956 deferment on the grounds that is was considered uneconomical with no revenue from freight likely; that funds were unavailable due to costs of replacing pre-war rolling stock and heavy expenditure in establishing new lines to the brown-coal centres at Yallourn and Morwell.

The likely cost of the line to Broadway was then put at £500,000 and of four new trains, £1,000,000.

There was brief argument as to whether the land should be handed to the Town and Country Planning Board for construction of an arterial road (aka freeway) linking Heidelberg Road in Alphington to Broadway, but it was pointed out that under the original Act, the Housing Commission had first call on the land if the railway did not go ahead.

One estimated that some 800 additional houses would be constructed.  Whether this number was ever achieved is problematical given the large section between Gower and Wood Streets was later sold off for construction of Northland and the later Homemaker Centre.


 



The "Preston Land Grab" as pictured in The Leader, 19 June, 1946 with the approximate route of the proposed railway, right through today’s Northland complex.

The red line indicates the extension via Crivelli Street through to the corner of Boldrewood Parade and Broadway added to the proposal in 1948. Princess Street is now Chifley Drive.

Despite the description used in most newspapers, about one-third of the acquisition as shown impacted Cain's own electorate of Northcote to the left of the blue line.




 Darebin’s Transport : Tall Tales and True