1928 Victorian Railways Map

Back to the future

The extent of the rail network in Victoria during the early 20th century was mind-boggling. Lines ran to every corner of the state, from Mildura to Orbost and from Port Fairy to Cudgewa.

These were largely the result of huge construction programs from the late 19th and early 20th century, such as the famous ‘Octopus‘ (Railway Construction) Act of 1884.

We reap the benefits of much of this foresight and planning today. However, most of the stations and lines shown on this map no longer exist. Many of them saw passenger or freight traffic until surprisingly recently.

What this map tries to do is build on this Victorian Railways map from 1927 and turn it into a schematic / diagrammatic map. I have combined this visual with 1928 timetable information from this fantastic website compiled by Mark Bau.

The Network

The report presented to Parliament by the Victorian Railways Commissioners for the year ending 30 June 1928 is fascinating reading. At the time, VR operated 156 million people in metropolitan Melbourne and over 8 million in regional Victoria across its huge network of 114 lines and 1,185 stations.

As the report notes, this was the year when the effects of the Great Depression began to hit. Passenger and freight numbers began to fall significantly, not assisted by a significant drought in 1927-28 that affected wheat yields.

The Map

This map has been designed around the several main lines in operation at the time. These were:

  • Melbourne to Port Fairy via Geelong
  • Melbourne to Serviceton via Ballarat
  • Melbourne to Bendigo via Castlemaine
  • Melbourne to Albury via Seymour
  • Melbourne to Bairnsdale via Traralgon
  • Melbourne to Woodside via Korumburra

I should note that the definition of a ‘main line’ has been defined by me for the purposes of this map. I based this on service levels, contemporary lines and the layout of the VR timetables and reports of the period. However, given the strong views that gunzels often have about these sort of things, I’m happy to hear out alternative suggestions.

These six main lines are the 15pt thickest lines. The other, thinner lines of 10pt show all other lines. I do not distinguish between gauges or energy sources. The only two other ways that lines are differentiated is the suburban network (shown in light grey) and by line group.

Line groups are in one of six colours according to the main line to which its timetable was aligned. For example, the Clarkfield – Lancefield Line is shown in the colour of the Bendigo Line because passengers wishing to travel on this service would take a Bendigo train to Clarkfield and change to another train bound for Lancefield. The timetables of both lines were harmonised so that waiting times were minimised.

The only exception to these rules is the Overland or ‘Adelaide Express’ as it was previously known. This is the single brown line that extends west along the Serviceton Line from Flinders Street Station. The reason for showing this separately is that it had a different stopping pattern specific to this service, and was designated as a separate line by VR (unlike the other interstate trains to Albury, Mount Gambier and Pinaroo).

Each separate line indicates a change in trains – i.e. where passengers would have to disembark and then board another train to continue on their journey. This is one of the main features of this map that distinguishes it from existing maps like this one. It’s worth mentioning here as a sidenote that I don’t think that there is necessarily anything wrong with these – just to point out that my map emphasises service patterns and connections rather than infrastructure or geographic accuracy.

Finally, there are five types of stations indicated on this map:

  1. Major interchange – station where four or more lines meet
  2. Minor interchange – station where three or two lines meet
  3. Terminus – the last station on a line
  4. Station – at least one train makes a scheduled stop
  5. Request stop – no trains make a scheduled stop

The definition of what constitutes a ‘minor’ or ‘major’ interchange is arbitrary for the purposes of this map, as usual.

There are no request stops left on the Victorian rail network, but as can be seen on the map they were a regular feature. The VR timetable describes it thus:

“Trains so marked will not stop unless required to pick up or set down passengers. If you intend to alight, tell the guard at the preceding stop. If you intend to join, tell the person in change of the station. If there is no one in charge show the signal provided.”

There are a few still in operation in other states.

Random observations

Making this map required a lot of research and trawling through timetables. I learned a lot about this period of history on Victoria’s railways that I did not previously know at all.

Some miscellaneous notes that I made during this time about the network:

  • Anstey Station used to be called North Brunswick until 1942, when it was renamed to honour Frank Anstey (a local politician)
  • Nunawading Station used to be called Tunstall until 1945
  • The line to Balranald extended a long way across the New South Wales border
  • Much like the ongoing confusion between ‘Glen Huntly’ and ‘Glenhuntly’, Springvale Station used to be ‘Spring Vale’
  • The Grampians Line was not shown on the official 1928 Victorian Railways map, despite still being in operation
  • My favourite station names are Wombat, Lake Charm, Galah, Wimbah and Mystic Park.

Future Development

I am not planning to expand on this map or continue it in any sort of series. There are quite a lot of maps out there showing what Victoria’s railways have looked like in the past – I think I will leave this topic behind for a little while and work on something else for my next project.

As always, if you have any feedback or suggestions for improvement, please let me know.