|Description of this FunctionDescription of this Function|
Early History to 1857
Prior to the 1850's neither the population nor the extent of internal trade in the colony had warranted the construction of railways. In 1853, following the dramatic increase in population which accompanied the discovery of gold, several Acts providing for the incorporation of railway companies were passed. Each company was to be responsible for the construction and maintenance of particular railway lines.
Difficulties experienced by the companies led the Government to question whether it was appropriate for the responsibility for establishing the network of railway communication required by the Colony to be vested in companies. A Commission reported on 26 September 1854 that the construction of railways on a grand scale should be adopted and that such undertakings should be carried out by the Government.
Subsequently a Select Committee authorised the Surveyor General (VA 2921) to undertake surveys to determine the most suitable path for proposed main trunk railway lines. Surveying of the proposed lines appears to have begun in 1855.
In March 1856 the Government made its first purchase of a railway company, the Melbourne, Mt Alexander and Murray River Railway Company.
The appointment on 5 May 1856 of George Darbyshire as Engineer-in-Chief and Surveyor to 'Victorian Railways' marked the establishment of a sub-department of railways within the Surveyor General's Department. From November 1857 the railways sub-department became a branch of the Department of Crown Lands and Survey.
The Board of Land and Works (1857 1884)
From 1857 the Board of Land and Works (VA 744) assumed responsibility for all railways matters including railway construction and management; supervision and purchase of railway companies; power to regulate fares and tolls; and control over purchase, use and sale of property and equipment for railway purposes. (Refer to the Main Trunk Line Act 1857 (No.35) (Vic.), Railway Loan Act 1857 (No.36) (Vic.), Railway Act 1857 (No.38) (Vic.), Railway Supervision Act 1857 (No. 40) (Vic.) and the Public Works Act 1865 (No.289) (Vic.))
The first Commissioner of Railways was appointed on 26 November 1860 assuming ministerial responsibility for railways from the Commissioner of Public Works (VA 2877). On 30 December 1861 a Commissioner of Railways and Roads succeeded the Commissioner of Railways. When the Board of Land and Works met to determine railway matters the Vice-President of the Board presided. Initially there was only one Vice-President who was also the Commissioner of Public Works. However on 23 January 1862, the Commissioner of Railways and Roads was appointed as a second Vice-President of the Board, and thereafter presided over railway matters. From 1880 the Commissioner of Railways presided over such meetings.
Department of Railways I (1858 to 1871)
The first Department of Railways (VA 2877) emerged in January 1858, subject to the statutory control of the Board of Land and Works (VA 744). The Board of Land and Works' statutory responsibility involved deciding matters of dispute and policy, making regulations and generally authorising the business and finances of the Department.
The establishment of a Department of Railways reflected the Government's increased responsibility under legislation for the co-ordination and development of the State's railways.
In particular the Main Trunk Line Act 1857 authorised the State to construct main trunk lines of railway from Melbourne to the Murray River and from Geelong to Ballarat. The Railway Loan Act 1857 authorised the raising of money by debentures for the construction of certain railways. The Railway Act 1857 provided for the general construction of railways within the State. The Railway Supervision Act 1857 authorised the State's Railway Authority to inspect and supervise the operations of railway companies for the protection of railway passengers.
Also, in the Acts incorporating the various joint stock railway companies provision was made for the Government to purchase the rights and property of the company after a certain time period. By the 1870s most companies had been taken over by the Government.
Department of Railways and Roads (1871 to 1877)
Although a Commissioner of Railways and Roads had been appointed on 30 December 1861, railways, roads and bridges were dealt with by separate Departments, both under the authority of the Board of Land and Works (VA 744) until 26 April 1871. On this date John Steavenson, who was the Assistant Commissioner of Roads and Bridges, was also appointed to the position of Secretary to the Railways Department and henceforth the two Departments appear to have been jointly administered.
From the Department of Railways the Department of Railways and Roads (VA 2875) assumed responsibility for:
railway construction and maintenance;
supervision of railway companies and;
survey of proposed lines of railway.
During the period of combined administration, the Board of Land and Works continued to exercise its responsibility for authorising the business of the Department and for determining policy and regulations.
In 1872 the Department began to build and repair rolling stock.
Department of Railways II (1877 to 1884)
On 1 September 1877 the Governor-in-Council severed the administration of matters relating to roads and bridges from the Department of Railways and Roads. Railways matters were subsequently assumed by a new Department of Railways II (VA 2965).
Over the next few years significant internal administrative changes took place as responsible positions were created, abolished and revived in relatively short time periods.
The Department initially reported to the Commissioner of Railways and Roads until 5 March 1880, and thereafter to the Commissioner of Railways. By 1878 the government had purchased the Melbourne and Hobson's Bay United Railway Company - the last of the major railway companies - although it appears that minor railway lines could still be constructed ly.
To carry out its main functions of the survey, construction and maintenance of railway lines and the management of the State's railway service, the Department of Railways on 12 July 1882 consisted of the following branches:
Administration Branch, responsible for the general supervision and administration of the whole of the railway service.
Engineer-in-Chief's Branch, responsible for the supervision of the survey and construction of all lines.
Engineer for Existing Lines Branch, responsible for the supervision and maintenance of all constructed railways.
Traffic Branch, responsible for the management of railway traffic including passengers, goods and live-stock.
Locomotive Branch, concerned with general railway practice and requirements.
Telegraph Branch, responsible for the supervision of telegraph and signalling matters, clocks and watches.
At all times the business of the Department was subject to the authority of the Board of Land and Works (VA 744).
Appointment of Victorian Railways Commissioners 1883
On 1 November 1883 assent was given to the Victorian Railways Commissioners Act 1883, (No.767) (Vic.) to make better provision for the construction, maintenance and management of the state railways. Although the provisions concerning the appointment of Commissioners were given immediate effect, the remaining provisions of the Act were not to become operative until 1st February 1884. The Act provided for the transfer of statutory responsibility for the state's railways from the Board of Land and Works (VA 744) to the newly appointed Victorian Railways Commissioners. The Commissioners, constituted as a statutory body, were to report directly to the minister responsible for railways and could appoint staff to assist in the execution of the Act. The staff of the Department of Railways thereafter became subject to the authority of the Commissioners and became commonly known as 'Victorian Railways' (although this title had been used interchangeably with Department of Railways since the first appointment of staff in 1856). It is not evident that any major changes were made to the Department's operation as a result of this rearrangement, however, Victorian Railways has been registered as a separate agency (VA 2876).
The Board of Land and Works thereafter effectively ceased to exercise responsibility for railways matters and it appears that the Minister responsible for Railways ceased to be, ex officio, a Vice-President of the Board.
The functions for which Victorian Railways assumed responsibility included:
survey and construction of new lines of railway
supervision and maintenance of existing lines
management of railway traffic including passengers, goods and livestock
superintendence of railway services
determining by-laws, rules and regulations concerning railway operations
construction and repair of rolling stock.
Railways Act 1891
In 1891 the Parliamentary Standing Committee for Railways recommended that construction of railways be separated from their management. The Railways Act (Amendment Act) 1891, (No. 1250) (Vic.) which became operative from 1 January 1892, provided for the Board of Land and Works (VA 744) to resume responsibility for the survey, construction and completion of all lines of railway. The agency responsible for railway construction subsequently became known as the Railway Construction Branch, Board of Land and Works. The 1891 Act provided that the officers and employees of the Engineer-in -Chief's Branch of Victorian Railways be transferred to the employment of the Board of Land and Works.
The Act authorised the Board to accept contracts for works to be undertaken and determined that once a line became completed the responsibility of the Board would cease and responsibility would be assumed by the Victorian Railways Commissioners. The Commissioners retained responsibility for maintenance and supervision of completed lines of railway as well as the general management of railway traffic. This included the management of goods, livestock and passengers, safety measures, the regulation of fares, the management of appropriated funds, as well as staff issues such as the allocation of salaries and employee compensation.
The 1891 Act also provided for the Minister of Railways to be, ex-officio, a Vice-President of the Board of Land and Works and tightened ministerial control over the Victorian Railways Commissioners - a return to the situation that had existed until 1883.
Railway refreshment services, complimentary road motor passenger and goods services were also developed during the 1920s.
Appointment of Minister of Transport 1934
In 1934 responsibility for the State's railway services was transferred from the Minister of Railways to a new Minister of Transport. This appointment reflected a move from the 1920s toward greater co-ordination of transport matters, especially rail and road services.
Establishment of Railway Construction Board 1964
Under the provisions of the Public Lands and Works Act 1964 (No.7228) (Vic.) the Board of Land and Works was dissolved and a Railway Construction Board (VA 691) was established on 1 January 1965, assuming responsibility for railway construction from the Railway Construction Branch, Board of Land and Works.
Whereas most of the statutory responsibilities of the Board of Land and Works could be transferred to responsible Ministers this was not the case for the railway construction responsibilities of the Railway Construction Branch.
Two main problems existed. Firstly, as the staff had been employed by the Board of Land and Works as a statutory authority, and were therefore not subject to the Public Service Acts, a Minister could not become the 'employer' of such staff. Secondly, a Minister could not assume the Board's role in industrial awards. It was therefore necessary that the Minister responsible be removed from the administration of railway construction.
The Railway Construction Board was responsible to the Minister of Transport. In 1980 all functions of the Railway Construction Board were transferred to the Railway Construction and Property Board (VA 615) under the provisions of the Railway Construction and Property Board Act 1979.
The establishment of the Victorian Railways Board 1973
In May 1973 under the provisions of the Railways (Amendment) Act 1972 (No.8353) (Vic.) the management of the railways passed from the Victorian Railways Commissioners to a Victorian Railways Board. VicRail, as it became known in the 1970s, continued under the administration of the Victorian Railways Board until the Transport Act 1983 (No.9921) (Vic.) mandated a major overhaul of the Victorian transport system.
Abolition of Victorian Railways 1983
The Transport Act 1983 abolished the Victorian Railways and created two separate bodies. The State Transport Authority (VA 1038) assumed responsibility for the provision of country rail and road, passenger and freight services, while the Metropolitan Transit Authority (VA 1044) assumed responsibility for the operation of metropolitan rail services.
The establishment of the Public Transport Corporation 1989
Under the provisions of the Transport (Amendment) Act 1989 (No.44) (Vic.) the Public Transport Corporation was created. The PTC amalgamated the administration of metropolitan and country rail, passenger and freight, tramways and bus services.
Privatisation of Railways 1993-ct
As a result of the Governments Public Transport Reform Program in 1993 the railways function began to be privatised. Principal responsibility for the management of the program rested with the PTC.
In 1993 rail services in rural Victoria were put out to tender. Consequently in August 1993 the Hoys company began operating a rail service from Melbourne to Shepparton. Two months later another company, West Coast Rail, took over the former V-Line service between Melbourne and Warrnambool.
Since 1996, many of the functions that had traditionally been associated with the railways have been out-sourced. These include building and maintenance operations, distribution and refreshment services. Interstate freight services have been handed over to the National Rail Corporation.
Responsibility for railways was assumed by the Department of Infrastructure in 1996. Under a Transport Services Agreement, the Department contracts the Public Transport Corporation (PTC) to operate transport services in accordance with the Transport Act 1983.
Since 1997, responsibility for the management of country rail services for passengers and the employed staff has been assumed by a separate business known as V/Line Passenger. Similarly the transportation of goods and livestock has been assumed by V/Line Freight. The functions of Rail Vehicle maintenance and development of railway infrastructure have also become commercial services providing support services for V/Line Passenger and Freight Businesses.
Auditor-General of Victoria, Public Transport Reforms Moving from a system to a service, Special Report No. 57 in Papers Presented to Parliament, Session 1998, Volume 5
Department of Transport, Annual Report, 1993-96
Victorian Parliamentary Debates
Summary Guide to the Public Records of Victoria, 1990
Victorian Government Directory, 1997, 24th edition, pp.149-66
Main Trunk Line Act 1857 (No.35) (Vic.)
Railway Loan Act 1857 (No.36) (Vic.)
Railway Act 1857 (No.38) (Vic.)
Railway Supervision Act 1857 (No. 40) (Vic.)
Victorian Railways Commissioners Act 1883 (No. 767) (Vic.)
Railways Act (Amendment) Act 1891 (No. 1250) (Vic.)
Public Lands and Works Act 1964 (No.7228) (Vic.)
Railways (Amendment) Act 1972 (No.8353) (Vic.)
Transport Act 1983 (No.9921) (Vic.)
Transport (Amendment) Act 1989 (No.44) (Vic.)
Rail Corporations Act 1996 (No.79) (Vic.)