By Kate Taylor
Lal Lal’s historic railway station will be restored to its former glory with the help of a grant possibly worth close to three-quarters of a million dollars.
The station is probably most famous for its use during the time of the Lal Lal races on New Year’s Day – an event second only to the Melbourne Cup in the late 1800s, and which saw 30,000 racegoers attend in its heyday.
Although the station will not be re-opened to trains, it will be restored through the VicTrack program which restores rail assets to a condition that they can be used by the community.
As part of the deal, Moorabool Shire Council will be required to hold the head lease on the site, and a report on the matter tabled at the June council meeting explained how the grant eventuated.
“Interest in restoring the Lal Lal Railway Station began eight years ago. The (now defunct) Friends of Lal Lal Railway Station Group entered into discussions with VicTrack over potential new uses in 2012,” the report read.
“Out of this group, the Lal Lal Railway Committee was formed in March 2017. They then joined the Lal Lal Catchment Landcare Group forming a sub-committee in June of the same year.”
VicTrack then reviewed the proposal completed by the sub-committee and it met the required selection criteria.
“The only component that requires confirmation is in relation to the proposed lease arrangement in regard to Council’s level of support for the project.”
It was there that the project met opposition, from East Moorabool Ward Councillor Dave Edwards.
“I have questions… we struggle with small community halls at the moment and we are taking on another one, is this needed in the community?” he asked the meeting.
“There is community want and need for this,” a council officer replied.
“Simply, there is no evidence… the state government gives these communities great facilities and then handballs them to council who can’t fund them. I am not convinced,” Cr Edwards replied.
Other councillors pointed out the potential economic development opportunity it could provide for the area, including jobs.
“This has potential for jobs in our community. An investment of $500,000-$800,000, it is a no-brainer really – it used to deliver up to 10,000 people to the races, this has so much potential for the community,” Woodlands Ward Councillor Pat Toohey told the meeting.
Councillors voted to take on the head lease, with objections from Dave Edwards and Jarrod Bingham.
The preparatory work will involve initial site investigations including structural evaluation, features survey, and a geotechnical report, with an architect then appointed by VicTrack to work with council and community stakeholders on the concept design.
The 12-month process, including tenders, is expected to result in work beginning mid-next year.
However, the scope of the works is subject to the architectural design, structural engineering reports and other site investigations that would be conducted in the pre-planning stage, resulting in the range of the grant amount being between $500,000 and $800,000.
The annual cost to council is expected to be $1200, with maintenance performed by VicTrack.
Potential uses for the building, once restored, include visitor information, photographic displays, a museum of local history, historic railway society displays, local school use and possibly as a tea room.
And while the tracks may be silent for now, there is one proposal that could see the long-lost sound of steam engines echoing once again through the Lal Lal bush.
“…as a destination for train tours from Ballarat,” read one suggestion contained within the report.