Full steam ahead on the Puffing Billy! An accessible, fun filled day out for all ages!
Updated: Apr 19
In February, 2023 I went on the The Puffing Billy Railway with my Mum, my sister and some of my very good friends. We caught the train at the Belgrave Station and went to Lakeside and then back to Belgrave again. Our trip took about 4 hours. You can go further along to Gembrook, which takes about 6 hours, if you have enough time.
When we got to the station we lined up for the ticket booth. There were a lot of people there and it took about 15 minutes in the line. We had booked our tickets and paid online and our friends have booked theirs too. We had asked to sit in the same carriage when we booked.
It was a Sunday, which is a very popular day so we were very glad we had booked a few weeks earlier. The man at the ticket office was very friendly and helpful to us and told us we were on Carriage F with our friends and gave us our tickets to show the conductor. They accept the Companion Card so that someone can travel with you for free if you need support.
At the platform there were people to help us find our carriage and the station was very nice. There were chairs around to sit on and there were very nice clean toilets to use.
The Puffing Billy Railway has been going since 1900 and it travels through the Dandenong Ranges which is a part of Melbourne. It was very cold the day we went there so we needed our jackets on.
The Puffing Billy Railway is Australia's oldest stream train that is still running and it was really great to have a good look at all the carriages before the train started on its journey. There are lots of volunteers that work each day to keep it running.
The driver of the Puffing Billy told us about how the steam engine works and he was very friendly. He answered some questions my friend asked him and said he hoped we enjoyed our ride.
There was a handrail to hold onto when you walked up and down the step to get onto the carriage so it was easier and safer because there was a gap and you had to look carefully..
They do have some carriages that are accessible for wheelchairs and they have ramps people can use. If you need this you can tell them when you book.
There were very nice, comfortable seats facing the windows in each carriage.
The Puffing Billy is the only train in Australia where you can sit on the carriage sill and hang your legs out the window if you want to.
There were instructions on the doorway of how to sit safely on the sill and there were two rails to hold onto so you wouldn't fall out. Everyone who is older than 4 can sit on the sill but an adult must supervise children from age 4 - 13.
It was pretty easy to get onto the carriage sill because there were two rails you could hold onto to help you balance. I thought it might be scary but it wasn't and I really liked sitting there with my legs hanging out. I took everything out of my pockets and left my things in my backpack so I wouldn't drop anything onto the track.
As we were about to leave the Station Master walked up and down the platform and rang his bell to let everyone know when the train would go. He was wearing a very nice suit and hat from the olden days and he did a great job and was very nice.
Just after we left Belgrave we went across the Trestle Bridge, which was very awesome and and very high. It is a very beautiful wooden bridge and everyone liked taking photos of it.
The trip to Lakeside took about one hour and it was very pretty travelling through the Sherbrooke Forest. There were lots of pretty trees and ferns to see and nice houses and farms we went past. The sun was shining and everyone was very happy.
We got off the Puffing Billy at Lakeside and had a good look around. We saw some very pretty Crimson Rosellas that sat on the rails of the carriages once we got off.
There is a very lovely lake at Emerald, where the Lakeside station is, and you can walk around it or hire a paddle boat if you want to. There are playgrounds there too and a model Railway Centre.
We had a nice walk around but didn't have enough time to hire a boat or see the model railway centre because we were hungry and wanted to have a nice lunch. We went into the Lakeside Visitor Centre to have lunch at the Railway Cafe. It is a fully accessible building with ramp access and a Changing Places Adult Change Facility. Vehicle access to the building can also be arranged in advance if you need help.
The Cafe was very nice and big and there were lots of tables and chairs to sit on and it was nice and warm in there.
I had a very delicious gluten free burger and some yummy hot chips at the Cafe and I loved it. Everyone else enjoyed their lunches too.
It was very good that there were a lot of signs around the stations to tell you information and they had QR codes to use to look things up. There was also free WiFi to use for your phone.
There were some very cool souvenirs to buy at the gift shops at Belgrave and Lakeside. They had T-shirts, toys, books, whistles, magnets, hats, cups, Thomas the tank engine items and other things you could buy and some drinks and ice-creams.
There is a great Social Story on the Puffing Billy Railway Accessibility page that I read before I visited. It tells you what it will be like to go on the train and what you will see. There are lots of great photos and information, including a list of important things to remember.
There is also a very good Sensory Friendly Map to look at for the Lakeside Station and the Lakeside Visitor Centre area that gives information about which areas are noisy or busy and which areas are quieter. It also shows where the train goes and where the toilets are and the walking trails and some other things.
Assistance dogs are allowed to travel on the Puffing Billy too.
Tips from my travelling companion -
Our journey on the Puffing Billy was one we will all treasure for many years to come. Young, old and everyone in between enjoyed the trip! The novelty of sitting on the carriage sills with our legs hanging over the edge was both relaxing and exhilarating at the same time.
Flynn definitely loved this and the look of joy on his face as the train chuffed along the track was priceless. For me the memories of going on this train as a child came flooding back and I was so grateful to relive those happy times.
The staff and volunteers working on the day were friendly and professional and made sure everyone was looked after and everything ran smoothly. At one stage a lovely volunteer walking past our carriage stopped to tie Flynn's shoelace up when they noticed it was undone, happily chatting to him and saying they wouldn't want to see him lose his shoe along the way. So sweet!
The process of booking our tickets weeks in advance right through to arriving at the station and the whole journey was easy and streamlined. We received several helpful emails before our visit too with information about the trip and where to park, etc.
I recommend ringing to book your tickets if you have any special requirements, such as needing a Companion Card ticket, wheelchair assistance, requesting to sit with another family/group or any other help. The staff were more than willing to assist us.
Also make sure you arrive at the station 60 minutes prior to departure as it is often busy and takes a while to line up and get your tickets from the Ticket Office.
As the weather is often cool in the Dandenongs make sure you take a warm jacket because the open windows mean it can be quite fresh once the train starts moving.
The Social Story and Sensory Map on the website were great tools for Flynn to look at before we went as they helped him see what it would be like, which made him feel comfortable about having a new experience.
They have a locals pass available for those who live nearby, giving unlimited access for the year and they also have special events throughout the year such as a Day out with Thomas, The Train of lights and The Polar Express train ride, as well as a Dog Express train. Information on these special events is on their website.
Overall our journey on the Puffing Billy was a very enjoyable experience that we would highly recommend to all!
By Flynn's Mum, Jenni