|Description of this GroupDescription of this Group|
The Railways Group is dated from the appointment on 26 November 1860 of the first Commissioner of Railways who took over ministerial responsibility for railways from the Commissioner of Public Works (VRG 28). During the period 1861 to 1880 the Commissioner responsible for railways also assumed ministerial responsibility for roads and bridges, taking over this role at the end of 1861 from the Commissioner of Crown Lands and Survey (VRG 18), when the position was retitled Commissioner of Railways and Roads. Ministerial responsibility for roads and bridges passed to the Commissioner of Public Works (VRG 28) in 1880. Thereafter the position reverted to Commissioner of Railways until February 1886 when it was retitled Minister for Railways. In 1934 all responsibility for the State's railway services were taken over by the new Minister of Transport (VRG 49). This appointment reflected a move from the 1920s toward greater co-ordination of transport matters, especially rail and road services.
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 (VRG 18) 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 1856 the Government made its first purchase of a railway company, the Melbourne, Mt Alexander and Murray River Railway Company (see Act 19 Vic., No.15).
During this early period railway matters were administered by a Railways Branch of the Surveyor-General's Department (VA 2921), later the Department of Crown Lands and Survey (VA 538).
Role of the Board of Land and Works (VA 744) 1857-1884
From 1857 the Board of Land and Works 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 (see the Main Trunk Line Act 1857 (21 Vic., No.35), Railway Loan Act 1857 (21 Vic., No.36), Railway Act 1857 (21 Vic., No.38), Railway Supervision Act 1857 (21 Vic., No.40) and Public Works Act 1865 (No.289)).
By the 1870's most companies had been taken over by the Government and the last large enterprise, the Melbourne and Hobson's Bay United Railway Company, was purchased in 1878.
Until early 1862, whenever the Board of Land and Works met to determine railway matters the Commissioner of Public Works presided. Subsequently the Commissioner of Railways and Roads (from 1880 the Commissioner of Railways) presided over such meetings.
Actual operational responsibility for railways matters was exercised during this period by the following agencies:
VA 2877 Department of Railways I 1858-1871
VA 2875 Department of Railways and Roads 1871-1877
VA 2965 Department of Railways II 1877-1884
Each of these agencies operated as a branch of the Board of Lands and Works (VA 744).
Appointment of Victorian Railways Commissioners 1883
Under the provisions of the Victorian Railways Commissioners Act 1883 (47 Vic., No.767), the Victorian Railways Commissioners (VA 2876) were appointed in 1883, taking over all the responsibilities of the Board of Land and Works for railways in 1884. Constituted as a statutory authority, the Victorian Railways Commissioners reported directly to the Commissioner (from 1886 Minister) of Railways.
Railways Act 1891
In 1891 the Parliamentary Standing Committee for Railways recommended that construction of railways be separated from their management. Under the provisions of the Railways Act 1891 (No.1250), which became operative from 1 January 1892, the Victorian Railways Commissioners (VA 2876) continued to be responsible for the management of railways, while responsibility for their construction was resumed by the Board of Land and Works (VA 744) and its operational arm the Railway Construction Branch (VA 690). (NOTE: This arrangement continued until 1964 when the Board of Land and Works was abolished and the Railway Construction Board (VA 691) took over its responsibility for construction of railways.) 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 which had existed until 1883 when the Board ceased for a time to have any responsibility for railways.
From 1888 the Minister of Railways also became responsible for the development of tourist facilities associated with railway services, involving the operation of tourist bureaux and the management of the Mt. Buffalo Chalet and other Alpine resorts from 1924.
From July 1911 the Minister took over from the Minister of Mines (VRG 30) responsibility for the State Coal Mine (VA 720), which had essentially been developed to meet the railways' requirements for coal. Similarly, the Minister took on responsibility for the development and operation of the Newport Power House (from 1921). Railway refreshment services, and complementary road motor passenger and goods services were also developed during the 1920's.
In 1933, following proclamation of the Transport Regulation Act 1932 (No.4100) the Minister of Railways became responsible for the establishment of the Transport Regulation Board (VA 2738) which was to prepare reports concerning the efficient co-ordination, better regulation and control of railway, tramway, motor, sea and air transport.
ROADS AND BRIDGES 1861-1880
Early History to 1861
Prior to the establishment of the Board of Land and Works (VA 744) in 1857, responsibility for roads and bridges rested with the Central Roads Board (VA 2803) and local municipalities (see VRG 12). Ministerial responsibility for roads and bridges was exercised by the Commissioner of Public Works (VRG 28).
After the abolition of the Central Roads Board in January 1858, the Department of Roads and Bridges (VA 2964) emerged by late 1858 as the operational arm of Board of Land and Works in the administration of this function. From 1858 to 1861 ministerial responsibility was exercised by the Commissioner of Crown Lands and Survey (VRG 18).
From 1861 the Commissioner of Railways and Roads took on ministerial responsibility for the construction and maintenance of main roads and bridges. Under the 1865 Public Works Act (No.289) the Board of Land and Works (VA 744) was given additional responsibilities and powers relating to main roads and bridges construction and maintenance, levying tolls and the regulation of use of roads, bridges and punts. Responsibility for local roads remained with local road districts, shires and boroughs (see VRG 12).
Actual operational responsibility during the 1858-1913 period was exercised by the following agencies:
VA 2964 Roads and Bridges Branch, Board of Land and Works 1858-1871
VA 2875 Department of Railways and Roads 1871-1877
VA 669 Public Works Department 1877-1913
Although operational responsibility for roads and bridges matters passed to the Public Works Department in 1877, ministerial responsibility was not assumed by the Commissioner of Public Works (VRG 28) until March 1880.
NOTE: Statutory and operational responsibility for roads and bridges passed from the Board of Land and Works (VA 744) and the Public Works Department (VA 669) respectively to the Country Roads Board (VA 722) in 1913 under the provisions of the Country Roads Board Act 1912.
Location of Records
See List of Holdings 2nd edition 1985, sections 3.14.1 (roads and bridges), 3.19.0 (roads), 3.21.0 (railways and State Coal Mine).
Commissioner of Railways 1860-1861
Commissioner of Railways and Roads 1861-1880
Commissioner of Railways 1880-1886
Minister of Railways 1886-1934