The Victorian Goldfields Railway’s new accessible train carriage made its inaugural trip from Maldon to Castlemaine this month.

Six people supported by Scope, four of whom use wheelchairs for mobility, were aboard the heritage steam train that links the two historic gold mining towns.

The day marked the first time people with a disability have been able to properly access the remnants of the extensive branch line railway system which served rural Victoria from around 1880 through to the 1970s.

Christopher Loveless was thrilled to be able to access the service for the first time.

“It’s got a ramp so I can get on the train,” he said.

“It is a great idea to have access on the train in my wheelchair. I got to eat on the train using my tray and enjoyed the whole experience.

“I loved it, especially when the train was moving. [I’d like to see] more carriages on more trains in different regions so I can see more of Victoria.”

Scope North Division Customer and Service Delivery Manager Mary Sullivan is delighted people with a disability now have the opportunity to access the service winding through the forest and open lands of Central Victoria.

“Some people that Scope supports enquired about using the train some time ago, and while they were disappointed the train wasn’t suitable for people who use wheelchairs they were delighted to learn that Victorian Goldfields Railway was working to make their service accessible,” she said.

“It is so exciting that another community facility welcomes and includes all people.

“Inclusion requires things like ramps, wider doors, hearing loops and tactile paving, but even more important is an acceptance that our community should be open to all.

“The team at Victorian Goldfields Railway have shown that, through their hard work and perseverance, that they are truly inclusive. They should be thanked and congratulated for this.”

Victorian Goldfields Railway’s Ray Ruffell said the modifications marked another important point in the service’s long history.

“It will allow passengers in wheelchairs to travel with dignity and comfort,” he said. In the past there have been occasions when a person had to be carried or lifted into a carriage for them to travel on the train. Mostly they would travel in the guard’s van with the sliding door open to the weather and a very bumpy ride compared to a passenger carriage.”

Funding for modifying and restoring the 100-year-old carriage came from the Strategem Community Foundation (SCF), which supports non-profit/charitable organisations.

SCF Chairman Kevin Martin said the grant was in keeping with the foundation’s mission.

“The grant is part of the foundation’s vision of building a strong and vibrant community. Focusing on inspiring projects is a significant part of this vision.”

 Photo: Nicole McGregor of Fenton Street in Bendigo was able to get on and off the carriage easily with the use of the portable ramps.