This page covers Railway History in Victoria from 1839 through to 1899. See also:
- Victorian Railways History 1900 – 1924
- Victorian Railways History 1925 – 1949
- Victorian Railways History 1950 – 1974
- Victorian Railways History 1975 – 1999
- Victorian Railways History 2000 – 2014
Victorian Railways History 1839 – 1899
1839 – Government Surveyor Robert Hoddle makes provision for railway linking Melbourne and Hobsons Bay.
1851 – September 7th Public meeting calls for a railway linking Melbourne to Sandridge [Port Melbourne]
1853 – January 20th Government approves the establishment of the Melbourne and Hobsons Bay Railway Company.
1853 – February 8th Government approves the establishment of the Geelong and Melbourne Railway Company and the Melbourne, Mount Alexander and Murray River Railway Company.
1854 – September 12th opening of the Melbourne and Hobsons Bay Railway using a locally constructed locomotive. This is possibly the first locomotive hauled train in the Southern Hemisphere.
1854 – December 25th first imported locomotive of the M&HBRCo enter service.
1855 – Victorian Colonial Government conducts various enquiries and surveys are carried out for country railways
1856 – April 1 Victorian Government Railway Department established as part of the Board of Land and works. George Christian Darbyshire appointed as Engineer in Chief.
1856 – May 23 Government takes over the MMR&MtARCo.
1857 – May 13th M&HBRCo line to St Kilda Opened
1857 – June 25th Geelong and Melbourne Railway opened.
1857 – June Government approves the establishment of the St Kilda and Brighton Railway Co.
1857 – November 24th Government approves the establishment of the Melbourne and Suburban Railway Company. On the same day a series of Acts were passed approving the construction by the Government of railways linking Melbourne to Echuca and Geelong to Ballarat.
1858 – March Contracts let for the construction of railways between Melbourne and Bendigo [Cornish and Bruce] and Geelong and Ballarat [Evans, Merry and Co].
1858 – May 12th & 31st First five locomotives for the Victorian Railways delivered from George England & Co
1858 – June 7thWork begins on the Melbourne Bendigo Line
1858 – July 23rd work commences on the Melbourne and Essendon Railway Company
1858 – July Second batch of ten locomotives ordered from Beyer Peacock &Co. Five passenger engines [7/1858] and five goods engines [4/1859]. Later J and P Classes.
1858 – August26 Work begins of the Geelong Ballarat Line.
1858 – First Spencer Street Station constructed.
1859 – January 13 Opening of the Government Railway from Melbourne to Williamstown and Melbourne to Sunbury.
1859 – June, Third order for locomotives, ten saddle tank locomotives placed with George England & Co  and Slaughter Gruning & Co . Possibly for the Williamstown branch. Later L Class.
Railway History 1860 – 1879
1860 – May 17th Thomas Higinbotham replaces Darbyshire as Engineer in Chief.
1860 – September 3rd Colonial Government takes over the G&MRCo
1860 – Second order of locomotives delivered during this year.
1861 – July 8th Sunbury to Woodend opened
1861 – Additional orders for goods and passenger locomotives [B Class & O Class] placed with a number of British manufacturers The first of these locomotives were delivered in July/ August 1862. Successive orders were placed for locomotives of these classes into the 1880’s
1862 – March 29th Geelong to Ballarat line completed.
1862 – April 10th Geelong to Ballarat Line opened.
1862 – March 31st M&SRCo is purchased at auction by the Melbourne Railway Company.
1862 – April 25th Woodend to Kyneton opened
1862 – May MRCo takes over the operation of the StK&BRCo.
1862 – October 7th First locomotive reaches Bendigo.
1862 – October 20th Official opening of the Melbourne to Bendigo Railway. Another Official Opening was held at Castlemaine on 15th October
1863 – Tenders called for the railway from Bendigo to Echuca.
1864 – July 1st M&ERCo closes and locomotives disposed of to South Australia and New Zealand. Colonial Government eventually purchases the line in 1867.
1864 – September 19th Railway to Echuca opened.
1865 – June15th StK&BRCo taken over by M&HBURCo
1865 – June 30th MRCo amalgamates with the M&HBURCo.
1867 – August 27th Government purchases the M&ERCo. As prelude to the construction of the North East Line to Wodonga.
1869 – Surveys conducted for the North East Line.
1870 – tenders let for the North East Line
1870 – October 18th Thomas Higinbotham submits a series of proposals for lines to link towns in Western Victoria. Because the lines were colour coded on the map the resulting discussions become known as “the Battle of the Coloured Lines
1871 – January 9th Government resumes services to Essendon
1872 – April 18th North East Line opened to School House Lane, just south of Seymour
1872 – August 26th North East Line reaches Seymour following the completion of the Goulburn River bridge.
1872 – Victorian Railway builds its first locomotive at the old Williamstown Workshops. No100.
1873 – November 21st North East Line completed to Wodonga
1873/74 – Phoenix Foundry of Ballarat builds ten goods locomotives[ Q Class} for the North East Line. The Phoenix Foundry was ultimately to build 352 locomotives for the Victorian Railways by 1904.
1873/79 – Most of the lines built in the 1870’s were far lighter in construction than those built in the 1860’s. This created a need for locomotives designed for light lines. Between 1873 and 1879 various attempts were made to find suitable designs. While a number of unsatisfactory locally built attempts were produced, Thomas Higinbotham was sent overseas to Britain and the United States to find a solution. Two pattern locomotives [F Class and T class] were delivered from Beyer Peacock in 1874. A number of the F Class were constructed by Phoenix between 1876 and 1880. An example of both an F and a T Class are in the Museum collection. However, Higinbotham was convinced that American practice was better suited to Australian needs. Two American passenger locomotive[Rogers D Class] were delivered in 1877 and two American Goods locomotives [W Class]were delivered by Baldwin Locomotive Works of Philadelphia in 1880. Additional goods locomotives were ordered in 1882/3 and a modified version built by Phoenix in the same years. In a political turmoil in 1878, Higinbotham was dismissed and his influence did not last beyond the appointment of a Board of Commissioners in 1884. At that time orders were placed for local copies of the Beyer Peacock locomotives.
1874 – July 7th Line from Castlemaine to Maryborough
1874 – American bogie carriages introduced many were subsequently built locally.[ Carriage 11AA is an example of this style of carriage]
1875 – As a result of the ‘Battle of the Coloured Lines” lines were completed from Ballarat to Maryborough [2nd February] and Ballarat to Ararat [7th April]
1876 – July 4th Victorian Government bridges the Murray River to link with the privately owned Deniliquin to Moama railway. The Victorian Government ultimately bought this line in 1923.
1877 – July 27th railway extended from Geelong to Colac
1877 – December 19th railway extended from Ararat to Portland.
1878 – January 8th Thomas Higinbotham dismissed along with many other civil servants in a constitutional crisis.
1878 – July 1st Colonial Government purchases the M&HBURCo as a means of obtaining access for the Gippsland Railway to Melbourne. Victorian Railways operate the former private system.
1879 – April 2nd Gippsland railway completed. This line was opened in sections, Morwell to Sale [June 1877], Oakleigh to Bunyip [October 1877], Moe to Morwell [December 1877], Bunyip to Moe [March 1878] South Yarra to Oakleigh [April 1879].
Railway History 1880 – 1899
1880/1884 – In this period the Victorian Railways were directly under Ministerial control, and following the events of January 1878, few dared to challenge the minister. Higinbotham was one of few public servants who had not been re-instated after his sacking and it was commonly believed that this was because he had frequently clashed with his ministerial head.
1880 – December 28th Railway Act authorizes the construction of 23 new lines in metropolitan and country areas
1882 – The Victorian Railways begin experimenting with a Rowan Steam railcar, intended for use on lightly trafficked lines.
1884 – February 1st Railway Commissioners were established and the first Railway Commissioners appointed, Richard Speight, Alfred Agg and Richard Ford. Speight, The Chairman, was formerly an assistant manager of the Midland Railway in England. Speight set about a virtual re-equipping of the Victorian Railways, upgrading existing light lines, replacing older locomotive stock with a series of standard designs, providing new passenger rolling-stock. Much of the re-equipping was based on Midland Railway practice.
1884 – December 12th Railway Act authorizes the construction of sixty-six additional lines. It was noted that there were railway extensions in virtually every electorate and that many were included purely for the electoral advantage of politicians. A number of the lines had little social or economic justification, but in the euphoric period of the 1880’s boom construction of these lines was pushed ahead. This created great pressure on the Railways Department and last of the lines were not completed until 1893.
1884 – construction of the Newport Workshops commenced and completed in 1888/9. Construction of carriages commenced in 1889. These carriages returned to a more traditional English pattern with full compartments and side doors.
1884 – Richard Speight arranged for the preparation of a series of standard locomotive designs [D, Y, New A, New R and E classes]. These locomotives shared many common parts. A pattern Y and E Class were imported from Kitson’s of Leeds, but the others were built to design drawings supplied by from Kitson’s.[ examples of the Y and E Class are displayed as part of the Museum Collection.
1884 – The North East line is extended across the Murray River to Albury, but because of the difference in track gauge between Victoria and New South Wales, through traffic is not possible, and all passengers, luggage and goods had to be transferred between trains. This situation continues till 1962 when the standard gauge line of railway is extended to Melbourne.
1887 – January 19th The Western line is extended to Serviceton and a direct link is established with the South Australian Railways. As both railways were built to the same gauge a through service commences using jointly owned rolling stock. These carriages had considerable influence on later carriages built for the Victorian Railways. Initially known as the ‘Intercolonial Express’ it was later called the ‘Adelaide Express’ and, from 1926, ‘The Overland”. [the former Commissioners Carriage, ‘Norman’, built as a sleeping carriage in 1890, was based on the design of the 1887 Joint Stock ‘Mann Boudoir’ Sleeping Cars. ‘Norman Car’ is a feature of the Museum Collection.]
1887/1894 – Large numbers of the pattern locomotives are constructed in Victoria Most are built by the Phoenix Foundry of Ballarat, but significant orders are also placed with David Munroe and Robinson Bros. Of Melbourne.
1892 – March 17th. The Economic Boom of the 1880’s was replaced by a financial collapse and a resulting depression that lasted for much of the 1890’s. The Railway Commissioners were seen to be to blame for the extravagances of the 1880’s and they were removed from office on this date and their positions abolished.
1892/93 – In an effort to contain costs a second Rowan Car motor is fitted to a small carriage body and three small tank locomotives are constructed for ‘Motor’ train operations. Most of these locomotives, were operated by one driver, assisted by a guard, who acted as fireman, and in addition sold tickets. These locomotives were classed as Z class. Two were built by Phoenix Foundry and the other was the first locomotive constructed at the Newport Workshops. This latter locomotive, Z 526 was later converted to a crane locomotive and used at the various locations. It was ultimately restored to original condition an is on display at ‘Scienceworks Museum’. [A similar Crane locomotive is displayed in the Railway Museum]
1893 – Two passenger carriages are constructed which incorporate the long body, end platforms, six wheel bogies and side corridor/compartment design of the Joint Stock ‘Mann Boudoir’ sleeping cars, but built within the design structure of the English based Speight carriages. No additional carriages of this design were built, but they led to the construction of the V Class group of carriages in 1897
1890/1911 – Over this period a number of older locomotives, largely tank engines, were converted for ‘motor’ operations. The last group being seven of the F class in 1910/11. [Of this group F176 is part of the Museum Collection.
1896 – July 1st A single Railway Commissioner, John Mathieson was appointed. He introduces a policy of financial stringency to reduce deficits, but is unsuccessful in his strenuous opposition of the construction of four 2 foot six inch [760 mm] narrow gauge lines.
1897 – The V Class group of carriages were introduced. While shorter than the 1893 carriages, they included the side corridor/ compartment layout and were the first to employ enclosed flexible passage-ways between carriages. Originally these carriages were built for the Victorian section of the ‘Sydney Express’, and were also used to supplement the Joint Stock vehicles on the ‘Adelaide Express’. In addition they were used on main line passenger trains within the state and additional carriages were constructed, based on this design, for use on branch line and mixed trains. These carriages saw their last regular use on the ‘ Wirth’s Circus Train’ in the 1950’s examples of these and the 1893 carriages are preserved by Steamrail Ballarat.