The Railway Reserves Heritage Trail follows part of the Eastern Railway Deviation from Bellevue to Wooroloo in the Perth Hills. It’s unique in that the trail is a 41 kilometre loop built entirely on railway formations — however there are multiple entry points, so it’s possible to complete smaller sections. The trail passes through quaint communities including Darlington, Parkerville and Mundaring, as wells as the John Forest National Park. There’s also the opportunity to watch waterfalls and visit points of natural and historical significance, as well as explore the scenery, flora and fauna of the Perth Hills. The trail can be completed by walking, cycling or horse riding.
The Eastern Railway Deviation
The residents of the Swan River Colony became reliant on railway networks in the 19th century, to combat the large distances and open spaces in Western Australia. The Eastern Railway, which spanned Fremantle to York, was one of the major railroads built for this purpose and its construction was considered a major technical feat at the time.
The first stage of the line spanning Fremantle to Guildford was completed in 1881. Shortly after this, planning began on stage two of the line, which was supposed to cross the Darling Ranges by travelling parallel to the existing roadway at Greenmount Hill. However, the steep gradients and curves made this location less than ideal. Despite this, the work was completed in 1884, taking the railway out to Chidlow. Stage three of the project saw the railway extend to York — this was completed in 1885. In 1889 a branch was added to the railway line, so trains could travel south to Albany.
C.Y. O’Connor was appointed as Western Australia’s Engineer-in-Chief in 1891. The Eastern Railway had suffered many derailments and inefficiencies due to the challenging terrain of stage two, which meant the system was running at a loss. As a result, O’Connor commissioned a Victorian railway engineer to find an alternate route through the Darling Ranges. Construction on the new section began in 1893.
This major engineering project required large amounts of soil and rubble to be moved to construct embankments. Workers were also tasked with blasting and digging through granite to create Western Australia’s first railway tunnel. This was completed using only picks and shovels, dynamite and horsepower. The tunnel was an engineering feat in itself, and still remains the only rail tunnel of its type in Western Australia. Cut through 332 metres of solid granite, the two ends of the tunnel line up with remarkable precision, despite the engineers labouring under extreme difficulties.
The new section of the railway opened in 1896 and led to the creation of new settlements and industries in the Perth Hills area — such as timber cutting, quarrying and the cultivating of orchards. In 1897, another branch was added to the line, this time extending the railroad out to Kalgoorlie.
In 1961, the Western Australian government commissioned the construction of a new route, which would link Kwinana, Fremantle and Kalgoorlie. The completion of this new railway in 1966 meant the Eastern Railway Deviation closed. The tracks were removed in the 1970s and the route was turned into a heritage trail.