Friday, April 25, 2014

Melbourne's Phantom Railways

Melbourne is a city of phantom railways.

There are those that were built and then removed, those that were built and then altered and those that were proposed and then left in purgatory, something that Government's of every stripe have done from time to time.

Some of these phantoms have left their mark on the landscape while others have simply disappeared, effectively into the footnotes of history.

A number of phantom railways are captured on this network map, from 1930.

Most of the train lines would be welcome in modern Melbourne, so they stand as a testament to the sometimes short sighted nature of public policy. The following is a brief study of some of these curious industrial artifacts.


Port Melbourne train station, circa 1890.

Present day.

When the city was founded in the 1830's it was an isolated outpost in the middle of a vast wilderness. The fledgling city's goods, communications and citizens came in via sea routes, lending Melbourne's port a particularly high significance. As the city itself had been built upriver, a link between port and township was also of high importance. Thus, the first major road in Melbourne ran from the city to the sea and the first rail route followed a similar path.

Painting of the Port Melbourne steam train by William Burn, 1870.

Driven by the explosion in Melbourne's population during the gold rush, a rail link to Port Melbourne from Flinders Street was built in 1853, and opened in September 1854. Large crowds turned out to watch the inaugural journey, where Lieutenant Governor Charles Hotham and his wife were presented with copies of the timetable printed on silk.

It was Australia's first steam railway.

The route ran direct from the city to the port, as none of the intervening stations had been built, a trip which took only ten minutes. By 1855, four British made locomotives were servicing the line, with trains running every half hour.

The line crossed the Yarra just east of William Street, over the specially built Sandridge Rail Bridge, and ran along a diagonal corridor of land through South Melbourne. Today, the bridge has been converted into a pedestrian walkway and the path of the railway into a light rail track, which still follows most of the old route.

The Sandridge rail bridge in the 1950's.

The bridge today.

The Port Melbourne railway line was closed in 1987, one of several to go as part of State Government cost cutting. The Heritage listed Port Melbourne station is still in it's original location and is now a cafe.


St Kilda train  station, shortly after opening.

Circa 1885.

The station today.

Sharing a similar origin, life span and fate to the Port Melbourne line, the St Kilda line was built over 1856-7 with both lines sharing the same crossing over the Yarra. Once south of the city, the two train lines diverged near what is now the Westgate Freeway flyover, and there were three more stops (South Melbourne, Albert Park and Middle park) before the end of the line at Fitzroy Street.

Shortly after the line opened, in 1859, an additional loop was added, that allowed trains to continue on from St Kilda to Windsor Station, a short distance away in Prahran. At the time, Windsor station (then called 'Chapel Street Station') was the northern terminus for trains serving the southern beachside suburbs, so the additional loop allowed train passengers direct passage into the city. A wooden bridge was constructed to allow these loop trains to pass over St Kilda and Punt Roads, already busy thoroughfares.

Rail bridge over St Kilda road, circa 1890 (some time after the rail line closed).

A map of Windsor circa 1860, showing a section of the
loop line and the bridge crossing Punt Road (centre left).

But the Brighton line was soon after extended into the city and the St Kilda-Windsor loop fell into disuse, before closing in 1862. The St Kilda line continued well into the 20th century, before being closed as part of the same program of cutbacks that caused the Port Melbourne line closure.

The St Kilda line was also transformed into a cheaper light rail version, and St Kilda station was significantly refurbished and is now home to a variety of up market shops.


A simple map from the 1940's showing the Inner
Circle Line stations; N.Carlton and N.Fitzroy.

Former North Carlton train station, now a community centre.

When Melbourne's train network was first constructed the two central hubs, as now, were the Flinders Street and Spencer Street stations. Trains ran to and from theses stations to different parts of the city, and there was no direct link between the two of them, or the services that they provided. They operated almost like two hemispheres of a brain; connected, inter-related, but quite separate.

Trains servicing the northern suburbs originated from Spencer Street, and traveled through North Melbourne before splitting off in different directions. To service the north east from this starting point, it was necessary to build a line that cut through Carlton and Fitzroy, before continuing onward through Northcote and Preston.

This was the Inner Circle line, built in 1888, prominent traces of which are still visible in the fashionable inner north.

Train tracks still visible, crossing Brunswick Street.

Signal posts still visible near Royal Park.

The Inner Circle line was also used by freight trains, utilising the rail yard in Fitzroy.

The line ran in its original configuration only until 1901, when track connecting Flinders Street and Clifton Hill stations was laid. This more direct route, and easy access provided by trams along St George's Road and Lygon Street, meant much of the original passenger base for the Inner Circle Line was removed. But the line continued to be operated, now trafficking a variety of 'city loop' style services, for another forty years, before being closed to passengers in 1948.

The Fitzroy Goods Yard, 1980.

A small number of freight trains still used the line, which continued until 1981, when the Fitzroy goods yard was closed. No trace of the site remains, an apartment block currently occupies the spot.

A freight train on the Inner Circle Line,
shortly before it' final closure.

The line then fell into disuse and disrepair.

A section of the former railway in 1988

But a vigorous program of public works revitalised this old infrastructure, and it was converted into part of the 'Capital City Trail,' a thirty kilometre bike path and walking track circling the city. While the Inner Circle Line would undoubtedly be popular if it were running today, the scores of people who use it regularly for exercise are grateful for its current incarnation.


A basic map showing the stops on the Outer Circle Line.

Former train line in Kew, which saw service for just two years.

Black Bridge over Gardiner's Creek, Outer Circle Line.

The Outer Circle Line was a rail curve through the eastern suburbs of Melbourne, running from Fairfield station (formerly 'Fairfield Park') through to Oakleigh. It was first proposed in 1867, initially as a method of connecting the suburban rail network with the rural line to Gippsland, but was not built until the late 1880's, with services commencing in 1891. The line crossed the Yarra near Kew, and serviced 11 new train stations.

The Outer Circle crosses the Yarra.

A train on the Outer Circle near Shenley.

But in the 1890's this part of Melbourne was essentially still farmland, so the new train line attracted very little traffic, with the line running between empty fields. The Gippsland service was also eventually connected to the city by a different route, running direct through Caulfield. 

The Outer Circle was broken up into sections, with different train services running for a few stops on each, but this also proved unsuccessful. By 1893, sections of the railway had been closed down, and by 1897 the whole ten kilometre length was out of service.

In 1900, the growing suburban population caused one section to re-open. The track between Riversdale and Deepdene came back into service, with a steam train known as the Deepdene Dasher running between these stations at 90 minute intervals.

This was to be the last steam train to work a passenger route in Melbourne.

The Deepdene Dasher.

The electrification of Melbourne's rail network began in the 1920's and was completed by 1924, which spelled the end for urban steam trains. Due to low passenger numbers, it was decided not to electrify the section of track that the Dasher ran on, and this service continued until October 1926, when it was retired for good. It was replaced by a bus service.

Freight trains continued to use the Outer Circle Line until 1943, when these services were re-routed through more modern tracks, after which the line fell into final disuse. Today, the Outer Circle Rail Trail re-traces some of the old route, which clearly stands out on a modern map.


  1. Great post on railways. Especially interested in the Melbourne Hobsons Bay line being a Port Melbourne interested person. The images you have used illustrate the story well.

  2. Now can you please do a post on the missing tram routes? Where did the two, four, seven and nine go - for starters?

    1. Phantom Tram Lines! Really good idea, it's added to the list for future posts.

  3. A Most interesting article, tho sad to see so many other railway lines around Melbourne omitted from the Article.

    I'm amazed that The Rosstown Line is missing, as this ran from Oakleigh Station to Elsternwick station, Also missing is the Springvale Cemetary line, which provided visitors to Springvale Cemetary with their own platform inside the cemetary.

    The Mont Park line is also missing. This ran from McLeod Station on the Hurstbridge line to Mont Park Lunatic Asylum.

    On the Frankston/Stony Point line, the extention to Arthers Seat is missing.

    The Altona line is also missing as well as its branch to Williamstown Racecourse.

    Finally the Williamstown line used to continue on to Williamstown Pier and its associated yards, tho this was removed in 1987.

    As far as proposed lines but never built (1969) a glaring omission is the Belgrave to Emerald extension, it's the reason why Belgrave Station is an island platform.

    Finally there was never a level crossing on Chapel Street, Windsor. The line as built by The St Kilda and Brighton Railway Act of 1856 didn't allow for any level crossing and the entire route to North Brighton was either taken over roads by railbridges or under by roadbridges. (At the time the railway was built Geln Eira Rd and Glen Huntly Rd did Not exist).

    A little bit more research would have gone a long way. Some glaring omissions saddened the article for me.

  4. The current Alamein line is part of what used to be the Outer Circle. So it is not correct to say the line was closed, or disused etc etc.