Melbourne and Hobson's Bay Railway Company

The Melbourne and Hobson's Bay Railway Company was a railway company in Victoria, Australia. The company was founded on 20 January 1853 to build the line from Melbourne to the port of Sandridge (now Port Melbourne). It was constructed to the 'Irish' broad gauge of 1,600 mm (5 ft 3 in), as the result of an agreement between the then-colonies in Australia to adopt that gauge. This was the first common-carrier railway to operate in Australia.[1] It opened on 12 September 1854, more than a year before the Sydney–Parramatta Railway in NSW, which opened on 26 September 1855.[2]

The first engineer for the line was William Snell Chauncy, but he was forced to resign in 1845 due to problems with his work, such as the failure of piles on the railway pier. James Moore C. E., a nephew of Sir William Cubitt (under whom he was engaged on the South Eastern and Great Northern railways in Britain and presumable learnt his trade there) was then appointed in March 1854 as Chief Engineer for the Hobson's Bay Railway company. It was said of Moore that he was a man of whose abilities rumour speaks favourably[3] and was responsible for designing the railway line between the city and the pier main deep-water pier on Hobson's Bay at Sandridge.

Work began on laying the railway in March 1853. Trains were ordered from Robert Stephenson and Company of the United Kingdom, but the first train was hauled by a 2-2-2WT locomotive built by local engineering works Robertson, Martin & Smith, because of shipping delays. Australia's first steam locomotive was built in ten weeks and cost £2,700.[4][5] The line was opened in September 1854 (three years after the discovery of gold at Ballarat) and ran for 4 kilometres (2.5 miles) from the Melbourne (or City) Terminus (on the site of modern-day Flinders Street station), crossing the Yarra River on the original Sandridge Bridge to Sandridge (now Port Melbourne).[6]


The opening of the line occurred during the period of the Victorian gold rush – a time when both Melbourne and Victoria undertook massive capital works, each with its own gala opening. The inaugural journey on the Sandridge line was no exception. According to the Argus newspaper's report of the next day: "Long before the hour appointed ... a great crowd assembled round the station at the Melbourne terminus, lining the whole of Flinders Street". Lieutenant-Governor Sir Charles Hotham and Lady Hotham were aboard the train – which consisted of two first class carriages and one second class – and were presented with satin copies of the railway's timetable and bylaws.[7]

The trip took 10 minutes, none of the later stations along the line having been built. On arriving at Station Pier (onto which the tracks extended), it was hailed with gun-salutes by the warships HMS Electra and HMS Fantome.[8]

Subsequent history

By March 1855, the four engines ordered from the UK were all in service, with trains running every half-hour. They were named Melbourne, Sandridge, Victoria, and Yarra (after the Yarra River over which the line crossed).

In 1857, the Company opened a 4.8 km (3.0 mi) line from the present-day Flinders Street station to St Kilda, to meet up with the St Kilda to Brighton line being built by the St Kilda and Brighton Railway Company. William Elsdon had been appointed Engineer in Chief, and designed the line. His name is engraved into the parapet of the bridge at Park Street.[9]

Melbourne and Hobson's Bay Railway Company absorbed two other private railways in suburban Melbourne, St Kilda and Brighton Railway Company and the Melbourne and Suburban Railway Company in 1865. The combined company was known as the Melbourne and Hobson's Bay United Railway Company. The combined company was in turn taken over by the Government of Victoria in 1878 to become part of Victorian Railways.[10]

Both lines became part of the Melbourne suburban electrified network during the 20th century.

Most of both lines were converted to standard gauge light rail in 1987 as tram routes 96 and 109.


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