Local Interest 2: Old Willunga Railway

Old Willunga / McLaren Vale Railway


This page is for educational interest for all members and visitors to enjoy. Also to celebrate the heritage of our beautiful townships and surrounding district and also to acknowledge the people who made this possible through their great endeavor, hard work and hardships they endured.


Before the train line was established this was how you travelled to McLaren Vale / Willunga from the city.


For many years the old coach carried passengers and mail the 30 miles from Adelaide to Willunga and invariably ran on time. The service was disbanded shortly after the opening of the railway


Work started on the rail-line in 1912. Steam shovels were called in for the really heavy digging but when the machines couldn’t get in, like at Pedlar Creek, it was back-breaking hands on hard yakka. The Onkaparinga gorge at Noarlunga was another obstacle that took time and effort.

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The picture above shows the first explosion in the Pedlar Creek Railway cutting, from which a stone killed a horse owned by the photographer.

The work on the Pedlar Creek section was carried out by hand, assisted only by explosives. It is not difficult to appreciate the employment it created.

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Noarlunga Railway Bridge showing preparation work prior to construction of the concrete piers.

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Siting of the bridge rail girders.

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Noarlunga Railway Bridge nearing completion in 1914.


Engine used for the building of the Adelaide to Willunga railway line at Noarlunga 1914.

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Read the article in The Advertiser Friday 5 June 1914

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The Willunga railway line ran through the southern Adelaide suburbs from Adelaide railway station to Willunga, over 45-kilometre (28 mi) long (longer than the current Gawler line, 42.2 kilometres (26.2 mi)). The line was opened in Willunga by the Governor of South Australia Sir Henry Galway on 20 January 1915, and initially had 16 stopping places between Adelaide and Willunga. It closed beyond Hallett Cove in 1969 and was dismantled in 1972. The Seaford railway line continues from Hallett Cove along a different alignment.

Map of the line

The original corridor remains as the 34-kilometre (21 mi) long Coast to Vines Rail Trail. There is some evidence of railway track remaining on this trail, notably near the South Road crossing at Hackham, the top of the Seaford Hill and a small section of track in a paddock adjacent to Victor Harbor Road, McLaren Vale. Occasionally, rails surface through the bitumen at Field Street, McLaren Vale.

At the time of its opening, there was a proposal to extend it to Second Valley to connect with coastal steam shipping to Kangaroo Island for holidays, with the route already approved as far as Normanville and Yankalilla. This extension was never built


A railway line from Adelaide to Willunga was first mooted in the South Australian Parliament in the late 1850’s but the project was quickly shelved.  From the 1870’s through to the turn of the century, residents of the Willunga region campaigned for and lobbied government for the construction of a railway from Adelaide on the basis that it would boost the local slate quarrying industry and revive flagging agricultural pursuits in the region.

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After years of political procrastination, construction of the line was finally started in 1912 and the railway was officially opened on the 20 January 1915 with the Willunga Railway Terminus comprising a Railway Station building and platform, Engine running shed, Goods shed, platform and platform crane and turntable and Station master’s residence nearby.   The water tower was constructed in 1919.  After the opening of the railway Mrs Margaret Richards ran a tea room from her residence which adjoined the railway precinct.

The Adelaide to Willunga railway had a substantial impact on the region, increasing trade through the town from the surrounding agricultural region.  Local employment was boosted through the construction, operation and maintenance of the railway.  Stockyards, a stock-siding, sale-yards and selling ring were constructed adjacent to the railway.  Wheat stack-sites were established and leased to agents.  Willunga grew to become the largest stock and produce agricultural sales centre on the Fleurieu Peninsula and the local economy prospered.  As well as goods trains, a steam passenger train ran morning and evening services from Willunga to Adelaide until the 1950’s when it was replaced by a diesel engine.

The slate industry however was already in decline by the time the railway was constructed and local retail trade suffered as more local residents chose to shop in Adelaide.  By the post-war years the initial development and population growth brought by the railway had slowed.  Improved road services eventually led to the closure of the line in 1969.  The line, saleyards, fencing and turntable were removed in the 1970’s.  In 1986 the section of the former railway line from McLaren Vale to Willunga was proclaimed a linear park.


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The official opening of the Willunga Railway, with the engine moving slowly forward to break the ribbon.

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Commissioner of public Works Mr. G. Richie & the Governor Sir Henry Galway officially opening the Railway January 20th 1915.


A huge crowd saw the first train leave Willunga on January 21st 1915, local schoolchildren crammed into the carriages for a free ride to the coast and back. The last train left Willunga in May 1969, the victim of short-sighted government cost-cutting.

0001 Celebrations at Willunga for the opening of the new railway 20 January 1915


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One of the rolling stock with wine barrels being transported



Train crossing the bridge over the Onkaparinga river at Noarlunga in 1915


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A derailment of the Willunga bound train at Pedlars Creek.

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Read the Advertiser article (Adelaide, SA : 1889 – 1931), Tuesday 19 May 1925


Remarkable Accident at Willunga. Check Rail Prevents a Terrible Crash. The passengers and attendants on the 9.30 a.m. train from Adelaide to Willunga had a remarkable escape from almost certain death yesterday morning. As the train was entering a cutting approaching Pedler’s Creek Bridge, the engine left the line, travelled on the permanent way across the bridge, and finally ran into the face of the cutting on the other side. But for the check rails on the bridge, which kept the engine to a fairly straight course, the train would have crashed into the creek fifty feet below. After the accident several flat stones were found at the point where the engine left the rails. It is surmised that they were placed on the line for the purpose of wrecking the train.

Nothing more thrilling has ever been placed on the screen than the experience of Driver W. T. Foster and Fireman S. E. C. Gay who, yesterday morning, rode their locomotive, with the wheels off the line, across a railway bridge on the Adelaide-Willunga run with the fear in their hearts that at any moment they might be hurled to death in the bed of the creek 50 feet below. How the huge engine weighing 75 tons ploughed its erratic course in safety over the narrow structure without sides is something in the nature of a miracle; and how the two carriages and the brake van attached to the locomotive kept to the track only to leave the rails once this dangerous gap had been passed, also reads more like fiction than fact. The sub- sequent happenings to the train—the nose dive of the engine into the side of a hill, and the rebound into the permanent way —were thrilling enough, but they fade be-fore that wonderful journey of the track- less engine across the bridge. Where the Accident Happened. The train to which the accident happened left Adelaide at 9.30 o’clock yester-day morning, bound for Willunga. It consisted of an RX engine, two carriages, and a brake van. Schedule time was made to Noarlunga, but as the train, which was travelling between 25 and 30 miles an hour, was coming round a bend which enters the cutting leading to Pedlar’s Creek-bridge, the bogey wheels of the engine left the rails. At the time no one on the train, not even the engine-driver and the fireman, was aware that anything very serious had happened. A shudder seemed to go through the carriages, but no one felt unduly alarmed. The enginemen at first thought that a piece of the mechanism at the bottom of the locomotive had become loose and was throwing up the stones on the permanent-way. The engine driver at once applied applied the brakes, and the next moment he and the fireman were horrified to see that the bogey wheels had left the rails and that the head of the engine was veering a little to the right, a course which if persisted in would hurl them all to destruction in a few moments. There is a fairly sharp downward grade at this point, and about 40 yards away was Pedlar’s Creek-bridge, which crosses a narrow ravine. Brakes Fail to Stop Engine. Though the brakes had the effect of steadying the upward rush of the train   the incline on which it was travelling largely discounted their effect, and as the engine, with, two carriages and a brake-van attached, careered on their wayward course it looked to the men in the “‘cab” that the train would pitch headlong over the side of the bridge into the creek. They had applied the brakes to their maximum power, so they sat grimly at their posts, prepared to accept whatever Fate had in store for them. About a chain from the Noarlunga end of the bridge check rails have been laid. They pass -over the bridge and extend the same distance on the McLaren Vale side.   Check Rail Does Its Work. The left front wheels of the locomotive struck one of the check rails, and the head of the engine was dragged to the left. As the bridge was reached the wheels on the left-hand side were running on the rail, while the wheels on the right were gouging the heads of the “dogs” which hold the right-hand main rail to the sleepers. At one stage of the perilous journey across the bridge it would appear from the marks left on the keepers and the permanent way that the engine almost regained the track, but as the check rail left the main rail the engine followed it, crashed into the metal, pushed the right-hand main rail to one side, and collided with the jagged point of the cutting on the McLaren Vale side. A big piece of rock was splintered from the hill face, and the engine re-bounded, coming to a dead stop in the permanent way. The two carriages and the brake van clung to the rails until after the bridge was crossed. The carriages, however, left the track when the engine suddenly veered to the right on reaching the end of the check rail. Though they tore up the ground for some distance, they were practically undamaged, and were later taken back to Noarlunga. The whole incident hastened so quickly that there was no panic whatever, the majority of the 20 odd passengers many of them women and children, being un-aware of what had occurred until the train came to a standstill. Train Hits the Hill. When the engine hit the hillside the concussion, though it did not throw the passengers from their seats, brought lug-gage down from the racks. The sudden stoppage of the train when it rebounded into the permanent way, however, threw the occupants of the first carriage to their feet, but the driver, the fireman, and another young man on the engine did not move from their positions. There were a number of women and children in the second carriage, but they all escaped without the slightest injury. Rails Twisted like Snakes. The permanent way on the McLaren Vale side of the bridge was badly torn up, and after the accident an onlooker said that the rails lay “twisted” like snakes.” Several sleepers were broken in half and the bolts which joined the rails together had been shorn off as if by some huge knife. When the report of the accident was received by the Railways Department a train was quickly dispatched from Adelaide with repair gangs. The passengers were taken on to Willunga by an engine and brake van sent from that place to Pedlar’s Creek, which is about two miles from McLaren Vale and five from Noarlunga. When the scene of the smash was visited yesterday afternoon by a representative of “The Advertiser,” the repair gangs were busy at work clearing away the debris and attempting to “jack” the loco-motive back on to the rails. Twisted rails lay round and bruised and broken sleepers were being torn out of the track. Over thirty yards of new line will have to be laid before trains will be able to pass over this spot again, and minor re- pairs will also have to be earned out. The engine bad its front wheels buried in the metal, but “jacks” were soon at work, and it was thought that it would probably be on the track again by midnight. No extensive damage appears to have been done to the locomotive. A Wrecker Suspected. There are several theories for thee engine leaving the rails, but the most convincing one is supported by a little group of flat stones, which were found lying by the right side line, just at the point where the derailment occurred. These stones are marked as if a wheel had passed across them, and what further confirms the suspicion that they had been placed or thrown on the line is the fact that they fit exactly into holes in the embankment from which flat atones had very recently been pulled. Several workmen and others yesterday who examined the stones were of the opinion that they had been placed on the the line the purpose of wrecking the train. Travelling Fast There was some comment also about the narrow margin allowed to drivers on the Adelaide-Willunga run. It was stated that it was necessary for the driver to take advantage of the incline leading to Pedler’s Creek bridge in order that the up-grade on the other side of the bridge might be negotiated quickly and Willunga reached in schedule time. Consequently the train comes round the rather sharp bend entering the cutting at about 30 miles an hour, which some consider 100 fast to be safe. Both the driver, Mr. W. T. Footer, of Fisher-terrace, Mile-End. and the fireman, Mr. S. E. C. Gay, of Main North-road, Prospect, were helping with the clearing- up operations. They looked none the worse for their nerve-racking experience philosophically remarking that it was “more exciting than the movies.” The Driver’s Story. Mr. Footer said the train left Adelaide at 9.30 a.m. yesterday, and reached Noar- lunga on time. Just as they were enter- ing the cutting leading to the bridge he heard stones rattling on the line, and thought something had come loose under the engine. Suddenly he realised that the bogey wheels were off the rails and applied the brakes hard. “It looked,” said Mr. Footer “as if we were going to pitch headlong over the side of the bridge into the creek below.” “Didn’t you feel like jumping?” Mr. Foster was askd. “No,” he replied. “the three of us on the engine were determined to stick it out. The check rail saved us. It altered our course and enabled us to negotiate the bridge in safety. No, we did not have a very bumpy ride, and when we struck the face of the cutting after crossing the bridge it did not disturb us. It was a very close call, and we are not looking for a similar experience again.” The Fireman. Mr. Gay described their escape as “phe-nomenal.” Directly they were aware that the bogey wheels had left the rails the driver applied die emergency air brake. They could do nothing else but just sit where they were and take the chance. They did not attempt to jump clear as the engine took its uncon-trolled course. How the Passengers Fared. One of the passengers, Mr. H. G. Storer, of Culvert-street, Adelaide, who represents the Singer Sewing Machine Company in the Willunga district, told a representative of “The Advertiser” that he and two other persons were sitting in the carriage next the engine. The first indication he had that anything was wrong was a sound as if the steam- box in the bottom of the engine was knocking against the metal. He did not take much notice of this, though a vibration, passed through the carriage. One of his companions had his head out- side the window, and he remained in that position until the train was brought to a standstill. Mr. Storer thinks he was too amazed or too horrified to utter a sound. “When the engine hit the face of the cutting,” said Mr. Storer, “we felt the bump. It brought my suitcase down on my head from the rack, but the train did not stop. We thought that the driver had jammed on the brakes very hard. The engine recoiled from the hill and came to a dead stop in the metal on the track. This sudden stop threw us all to our feet, but everything happened so quickly that I do not think we had time to be frightened. When we alighted we found that the two carriages, as well as the engine, were off the line, but that the back wheels of the van were still on the rails.” “Had the Wind Up.” Mr. R. Vogt, of McLaren Vale, the man who had his head out of the window at the time of the derailment, candidly admitted that he ”had the wind up rather badly.”‘ “Just, before coming to the bridge,” he said, “I saw the engine leave the line. It appeared certian that we would plunge into the creek. I can tell you I had the wind up.” I did not know what to do, so I simply stayed where I was. It was all over very quickly, but I am not looking for a like experience.” It is estimated that the train travelled fully 130 yards from the time it left the rails till it came to a standstill on the other side of the creek.


Adelaide Railway Station 1927

Adelaide Railway Station Dec 10th 1927


The station locations:
Reynella Station is now the site of a car park for the transport interchange just south of the old town opposite the garden shop.
Hackham was to the right of the South Road crossing which was immediately after Honeypot Road. There are some pine trees here.

THe Morphett Vale Station was just off Wheatsheaf Road, Morphett Vale
Noarlunga was just after the bridge over the Onkaparinga.
McLaren Vale was between Field Street and Kangarilla Road.
Willunga yard stretched from north of the station building to the Aldinga Road.


The Reynella Station 1968

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Last Goods train to use the line at Reynella Station 1969

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Former Morphett Vale Station Masters House 1979, now Southern District’s Working Men’s Club, just off Wheatsheaf Road, Morphett Vale.

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Last Passenger train passing through Morphett Vale Station in 1969



Willunga Railway station

The Willunga Railway Station precinct comprised of a Railway Station building and several surviving associated structures and elements of the original railway infrastructure.  The railway station building is a timber framed station building built to a standard South Australian Railways design in 1915.  It is clad in timber weatherboards and roofed in corrugated iron.  It is simple in form, rectilinear in plan and has a hipped and half-gabled roof which extends over the platform where it is supported by iron outriggers.  Surviving windows are double hung timber framed, doors are panelled timber and the original ticket window remains.  A section of the now shortened origina atl concrete siding to the platform also remains along with a timber strainer post.  A concrete block addition and a weatherboard addition were constructed to the rear of the station building sometime around the 1970’s.

An original crane, now partially dismantled, lies next to the station building.  The crane once stood opposite the station on a goods platform adjacent to a goods shed.  The goods shed has been removed but a section of the goods platform survives near the former Station Master’s Residence.

Further south the remnants of one of the two original concrete stone ramps is thought to survive under earth embankments.

Further south again, at what was the termination of the line, is the water tower.  A circular concrete structure with an elevated water tank finished with random render and dressed concrete trim to the small openings, it provided water to drive the early steam engines.

The Engine Running Shed which once stood near the Water Tower has been removed but a standpipe and hydrant remain as do the concrete abutments (footings) and pit which housed the original turntable.

A wrought iron gate remains near the Aldinga Road and elements of an iron fence survive along the Western border of the site.

Station Master Willunga

The former Willunga Station Master’s Residence as built in 1915 to a standard South Australian Railways plan also used for Station Masters residences at Morphett Vale, Noarlunga (since demolished) and McLaren Vale (surviving). The building is currently used as a residence.

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The first Station Master at Willunga was Alexander Jeffries.


The last train to use the Willunga Rail line 1969 crossing the Noarlunga Bridge.

Willunga Train last run



Railway workers cottages at McLaren Vale Railway Terrace between Field Street & Kangarilla Road.

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The McLaren Vale Station Masters House, 22 Railway Terrace. This residence was constructed in 1915 adjacent to the railway line as the home for McLaren Vale Stationmaster.  Goods and passenger trains ran on the line from 1915 until it was closed in 1969.  The building was sited to give a clear view of the now demolished station.


Railway crossing on Main Road McLaren Vale looking south. Note the crossing signage next to McLaren Hotel and the boom gates just past the hotel.

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The McLaren Vale Almond train used to be part of the rolling stock of the train that went from Willunga to Hallett Cove.

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The Almond Train is a 1920s train carriage sited at the old Main Road crossing junction, McLaren Vale  in 1985 (above)

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The Almond train 2016 (above). The Almond Train is now a tourist attraction and offers a vast selection of flavoured almonds, gourmet foods, old fashioned lollies, local crafts, gifts, quality Australiana, souvenirs, and more.



I would like to acknowledge the following for some contributions to this web page.

Onkaparinga Library ‘Local Studies’ site for photos 1) A.Jefferies: ref a233 2) Engine building line: ref 8500 3) Building bridge: ref 1103 4) Building bridge: ref 1104 5) Former Stationmasters house: ref 1364 6) Last train: ref 3232 7) Almond train: ref 3301 8) Last goods train: ref 8738 

Willunga library

State Library of South Australia

National Library of Australia

References to:-

Willunga Town & District 1901 – 25 by Martin Dunstan

The Observer

The Chronicle

The Advertiser


I am sure that there is more pictures / information / documentation out there. If you have access to any material that you would like to share on this web page please contact me. John Bates 8184 9140.























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