The first railway in Australia was the line from Flinders Street station to Sandridge, later named Port Melbourne, which was opened by the Melbourne and Hobsons Bay Railway Company on 12 September 1854. Other companies were also formed to build and operate railways around the same time, and a few other lines were opened by these companies, but on 1 April 1856 the government of Victoria established the Victorian Government Railway Department as part of the Board of Land and Works. This Department took over the construction of some of these private lines, and, before long, the ownership and operation of the lines that were completed and operated by the private companies.
The Victorian Railways was abolished and replaced with the State Transport Authority as from 1 July 1983. A few further organisational changes followed, until in the 1990s the goods operations were sold to a private operator and the passenger services were contracted to private operators, although remaining under government control.
The railways in Victoria were all initially built the the Irish broad gauge of 5'3"1,600.199 mm, this having been chosen as part of an agreement with the colonies of New South Wales and South Australia who were also planning railways at the same time. (New South Wales subsequently decided to adopt Standard Gauge.)
Near the end of the 19th century the government was looking to build railways into more mountainous regions of the state at cheaper cost, and instructed the Victorian Railways to investigate the use of narrow gauge railways. The Victorian Railways subsequently built four narrow gauge railways in different parts of the state, one of which is now the popular Puffing Billy Railway on the outskirts of Melbourne.
A few of the broad gauge lines met the standard gauge system of the New South Wales Railways, in particular at Albury. In order to facilitate the through transport of goods and passengers, the Victorian Railways built a standard gauge line between Albury and Melbourne adjacent to its broad gauge line. This line was operated by the Victorian Railways, with locomotives and crews being changed at Albury, but otherwise with the trains running through.
Additional standard gauge lines have been built and broad gauge lines converted to standard gauge since the demise of the Victorian Railways.
Rail motor stopping places
Following the introduction of self-propelled passenger rail vehicles known as "rail motors", the Victorian Railways allowed these to stop at places other than regular stations, the designated stopping places being labelled "Rail motor stopping places", and being distinguished by being given a number. Many of these were simply a suitably-cleared area adjacent to a level crossing, and provided with no more than a signboard to mark to spot, although many did receive full-height, albeit short, platforms to allow passengers to board and alight readily. In many cases, they seem to have been provided to cater for students travelling to and from school by train. Initially, the rules were that only rail motors stopped at these locations, and whenever a steam train was substituted for the regular rail motor, trains would not stop. As prospective passengers rarely knew in advance when this would be the case, the rule was changed to allow substitute steam trains to stop at such places, but trains that were regularly scheduled to be steam trains still did not.
Rail motor stopping places tended to be closed and new ones opened as required, with the result that some numbers were reused in more than one location. Some Rail motor stopping places also received a name instead of a number, perhaps when the stop was considered to be more permanent, or in a few cases became proper stations.
Safeworking and signalling
Safeworking used by the Victorian Railways included Staff and Ticket, Electric Staff, Double Line Block Telegraph, and automatic signalling. All are still in use in Victoria, although the first three have few examples left.