The Upfield railway Line – which then only went as far as Coburg – was opened on 9 September 1884.
People often wonder why the line takes a circuitous route through North Melbourne. This is because at the time the line was built, Parkville and Brunswick had been developed so taking a more direct route would have involved acquiring and demolishing a large number of buildings. The line to Coburg followed the Essendon line, which had opened in 1860, until a little past North Melbourne then followed the Moonee Ponds Creek and through Royal Park before arriving in Brunswick.
By 1884 Brunswick and Coburg were well-established suburbs with important industries. In 1886, sidings were constructed to Cornwell’s Pottery and the Hoffman Brickworks. The stations South Brunswick (later renamed Jewell), Brunswick, Moreland and Coburg were built in the late 1880s and the line was electrified in 1920. North Brunswick Station was built in 1926 and renamed Anstey in 1942.
The line was extended to Somerton in 1889 but the north Coburg section was shut in 1903 due to lack of use. A service to Fawkner to cater for funeral trains was re-instituted in 1906 and services to Somerton operated sporadically until 1959 when a station was built at Upfield (formerly North Campbellfield) to service the Ford factory.
The line has been threatened with closure several times. In 1980 this line was one of several recommended for closure by the Lonie report. Opposition from the community and Brunswick Council succeeded in preventing this. Nevertheless, in 1988 a proposal to replace both the railway line and the Sydney Road trams by light rail running along the railway line was adopted by the State Government. Again, there was local opposition and this, combined with a recession, meant the plan did not go ahead.
Meanwhile a heritage study in 1990 recommended protection of heritage features of the line. In 1993 the Kennett Government again proposed the closure of the line although without the light rail option. Brunswick and Broadmeadows Councils, as well as many community members, mounted a campaign of opposition and finally, in 1995 the Government resolved to retain and upgrade the line. It was closed temporarily in 1997 for the construction of City Link but reopened with increased services after that.
Because its future was always in doubt, the line retained many features long after these had been removed from other railway lines. Some of these heritage features included hand-operated gates at the level crossings and manually operated signals. The gatekeepers became well-known local identities. The level crossing gates were replaced by automated boom gates in 1998.
Reminders of the hand-operated gates can still be seen along the line in Brunswick. These include cabins at most of the level crossings, original timber signal boxes and some of the gates at crossings which are now closed. The Brunswick section of the line is one of the best-preserved examples of 19th-century rail infrastructure in Australia.
Preservation and restoration of these historic features will be an important consideration in planning for the elevated rail proposal.
Information from Down the line to Upfield by Jon Saul and Wendy Moore. 3rd edition 1994.
Cover photo: Upfield Train 1962 sourced from victorianplaces.com.au
Elisabeth Jackson, the author of this article, is also the President of the Brunswick Community History Group.
This article was written and published on the stolen lands of the Wurundjeri-woi wurrung People, whose sovereignty was never ceded.