Published on : Saturday, December 21, 2019
The work has started on a major development for much-loved tourism icon Puffing Billy Railway – the Lakeside Discovery Centre at Emerald. Minister for Tourism, Sport and Major Events Martin Pakula and Member for Eastern Victoria Harriet Shing were at Emerald Lake Park this week to see early works on the $20 million, state-of-the-art centre which is due to open in December 2020.
The centre, adjacent to Puffing Billy’s Lakeside Station, will feature educational and volunteer facilities, a café and space to host events and meetings.
The development of a new visitor centre was one of the key projects identified in The Puffing Billy Railway Master Plan 2017 which was developed to guide the railway into the future, following extensive community consultation.
As part of the masterplan, the Andrews Labor Government announced $8.2 million towards a number of key projects designed to improve the overall visitor experience and allow the railway to accommodate growing visitor demand.
Puffing Billy Railway has experienced unprecedented growth in patronage over the past five years, driven largely by the expanding international tourist market in Victoria.
The railway boasts the highest patronage of any narrow-gauge steam heritage railway in the world that is a volunteer-based, not-for-profit operation. More than 487,000 people flocked to Puffing Billy last financial year, with 64 per cent of patrons coming from overseas.
The tourism is serious business in the Yarra Valley and Dandenong Ranges – creating around 7,200 jobs and attracting 6.6 million domestic and international overnight visitors, who spent upwards of $871 million a year.
The Minister for Tourism, Sport and Major Events Martin Pakula said that Puffing Billy is one of Victoria’s favourite tourist attractions and this new discovery centre will ensure that it has the facilities it needs to attract and support even more visitors. It is great news for the railway, its hundreds of volunteers and the many people employed directly and indirectly due to its operations. Puffing Billy is a major driver of the local economy, generating around $16 million in direct benefits and supporting over 100 jobs. We’re making sure that these jobs continue and in fact can be expanded.
The Member for Eastern Victoria Harriet Shing said that for more than 100 years, families from around the world have made life-long memories here, and this new centre will help ensure that continues well into the future.