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1854 January. The prospectus for the £1,000,000 "Geelong, Ballaarat [sic] and North Western Railway Company" was advertised with the Francis Bell as the engineer.
Bell surveyed and designed the line, and lithographed plans were made available with the prospectus. Because private railway companies were unable to raise the necessary capital in London, the Victorian colonial government took over the construction of trunk railway lines to Ballarat and Bendigo. Bell's plans were used as the basis for the current railway alignment by the engineer-in-chief of the Victorian Railways, George Christian Darbyshire.
Construction work on the Geelong-Ballarat railway began in 1858 under the supervision of the Victorian Railways engineer Robert Watson
1862 April 10th. Official opening. The line was built to a high standard, with double track provided throughout, bluestone station buildings at all of the initial stations, a number of bluestone bridges for roads that crossed the line, and the substantial 1,450-foot (440 m) Moorabool Viaduct over the river of the same name.
The line remained the only rail route from Ballarat to Melbourne until 1889, when the Melbourne to Ballarat was opened.
The Geelong to Ballarat line connected with the Geelong railway at North Geelong station, and when the 'direct line' from Ballarat to Melbourne was opened, it branched off at Warrenheip station. Single-tracking of the Geelong to Ballarat line commenced in 1892, but the majority remained double-tracked until 1934, when the 53-kilometre section from Bannockburn to Warrenheip was singled.
In 1913 the Gheringhap - Maroona line was opened, junctioning with the line at Gheringhap.