On 12 September 1854, Australia’s first railway line opened in Melbourne, Victoria. It was a broad 1,600mm gauge, 4km-long track linking the newly built stations of Flinders Street and Sandridge pier (now Port Melbourne) to aid movement of evermore people and goods between the port and the city.
Progress in building the track and both stations (by Melbourne and Hobson’s Bay Railway Company, founded specifically for these purposes) was so impressive that another local company (Robertson, Martin and Smith Engineering Works) was commissioned to build a steam train in time for the opening of the track. (This was because the four steam trains ordered from Britain to operate on the track were not going to arrive until later the next year, in 1855.) Built in ten weeks, this Aussie steam train was the first produced in the southern hemisphere – a further testament to our early colonial focus and ingenuity.
Much pomp and ceremony accompanied the opening of this Australian first, with 300 of Melbourne’s gentry and “who’s who” invited on board the train’s inaugural 10 minute journey from city to port (that finished with a shed banquet dockside).
A year later, the first rail track in New South Wales was opened in Sydney. Over the next decades, rail tracks proliferated across the country to replace horse-drawn vehicles. This improved freighting of people, produce and inputs contributed greatly to economic development in the regions with many towns, business hubs and storage facilities springing up along the tracks. That said, the lack of gauge conformity between the colonies was not resolved until well into Federation.
This – Australia’s oldest railway line – is still in use today, being part of Melbourne’s extensive tram network (after its conversion to light rail in the late 20th century).
Celebrate this day of Aussie colonial ingenuity and development by:
- (if you are in/near Melbourne) taking a tram ride on this historic line from Flinders Street Station to the port of Melbourne
- exploring further (by foot or by look/book) the extensive rail and tram networks of Melbourne (at 250km of track, the latter is the world’s largest urban tramway network ahead of the next five, all of which are in cities of central and eastern Europe)
- taking a train to work or booking an Aussie train journey for your next holiday
- watching your favourite train movie or ranking them
- reflecting on the buzz and excitement of the times around these great rail engineering feats, in the middle of Victoria’s booming Gold Rush, and/or
- sharing this Action Plan post on social media with family, friends, engineers, commuters, farmers and those that marvel at the development of this country since our relatively recent colonial past.
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