Heritage Rail

Steam locomotive crosses wooden trestle bridge

Heritage Rail in Australia

Australia’s rail history goes back more than 160 years, before Federation. The first steam train ran between Melbourne and Port Melbourne in 1854 and ignited the rapid independent development of steam railways by the colonies. After initially importing equipment for these systems, by the 1880’s, the majority of track and rolling stock was locally made. By Federation in 1901, all States, except Western Australia were linked by rail, operating on approximately 20,000km of track however, the independent development of the railways resulted in the use of different railway gauges (width of track) which continues around Australia today.

Steam locomotives were solely used until the 1950’s when diesel-electric locomotives began to take over. Steam locomotives were completely withdrawn from commercial operations in the 1970’s but remained for tourism purposes. Before the advent of diesel-electric locomotives, during their century of operation, steam railways enabled the agricultural and industrial development of the country, the growth of our major cities and provided the birthplace of many country communities.

Today, more than 75 steam railways and street tramways continue to operate around Australia. On average, more than 630,000 day trips or visits are made to Heritage Rail operations around the country annually. The preservation of these heritage railways and street tramways provide a means of conserving, educating and demonstrating rail’s cultural significance to Australian history and society. 


Volunteer or visit a heritage railway today

The multiple heritage steam rail operations that exist and operate today rely on volunteers. New members are encouraged and always welcome.

The voluntary nature of heritage steam railways and street tramways provides significant social benefits to the Australian community, enabling people to work together to maintain an important part of Australia’s history.  The commitment of individuals to work as teams and offer their own time as volunteers, is generally coordinated through not-for-profit organisations.  These volunteers are trained and become professionals in their own right, learning and maintaining skills to operate, maintain and rebuild rolling stock, track and bridges.

Most organisations operate only at weekends and during holiday periods, providing steam services on exclusive track and sometimes operating on commercial networks. In addition, there are various heritage groups involved in providing comprehensive rail museums with operable rolling stock, research, publications, static preservation of vehicles and artefacts that may in future become involved in operations.

To get involved or for information on heritage railways around Australia, visit www.greatrailexperiencesaustralia.com.au.

This website has been prepared by the Association of Tourist and Heritage Rail, Australia who represent the sector nationally and are a member of the ARA.