‘Stopping All Stations’ by Rick Anderson

2010, 155 p plus 59 pages fascinating notes!

I have some news for you next time you’re sitting on the Eastern Freeway with a long ribbon of red brake lights ahead of you.  Or perhaps if you’re stopping and starting, stopping and starting behind one of those grey and orange Smart Buses travelling -why! from Altona to Mordialloc- shucks, the journey only takes four hours.  And here’s the news- Melbourne almost had the makings of an inner circle railway that would delivered efficient east-west rail travel – and we ditched it!

I like trains, actually.  I live close to a station and on quiet nights if the wind is blowing the right direction, you can even hear the beep of the train doors closing and the station announcements.  I’ve always enjoyed looking at the inner-city backyards as you speed over Collingwood and Richmond on the limited express between Jolimont and Clifton Hill. They’ve changed over the decades: the outside dunnies have all disappeared and backyard living-room extensions leave just a small courtyard with enough room for an outdoor dining table and that’s it.

Stopping All Stations is a history of Melbourne’s trains, written by a suburban train driver.  He starts with the early private railways of the 1850s, bubbling along with the riches of gold-rush Melbourne.  There’s a string of acronyms here: The Melbourne and Hobson’s Bay Railway (MHBR) , our first, that ran to Sandridge (Port Melbourne) which had been so inconveniently distant from the settlement on the Yarra;  the Melbourne, Mt Alexander and Murray River Railway Company (MMA&MRR) that never really got off the ground;  the Geelong and Melbourne Railway Company (G&MR) that only lasted four years before being taken over; the Melbourne and Suburban Railway (M&SR)  that operated between Flinders St and CremorneAfter myriad re-combinations of their acronyms, they, along with later railways to St Kilda and Brighton, and Essendon had all been swallowed up by the  Victorian Railways  by the early 1880s..

The book is subtitled (rather clumsily) “Melbourne’s unfinished transport work/opportunities lost” and this was the most fascinating part for me- the little railways and circuits that emerged and then disappeared.  There was the Outer Circle Railway that in 1892 ran between Fairfield Park and Oakleigh (map here) and an Inner Circle that existed between  1901-1942, on paper at least, that connected Rushall, North Fitzroy, North Carlton and Royal Park.

You can just detect the remnants of these lines at Fairfield, near the paper mills; and along the bike track in North Fitzroy.

Closer to home, there’s the Mont Park rail spur that connected to Macleod station, battling manfully up the hill to what is now a new housing estate. Lost opportunities indeed- LaTrobe University, which opened within a year or two of the Mont Park spur closing, would have provided the patronage that the small line lacked. Our three 1960s universities- Melbourne, Monash and La Trobe, have all been poorly served by train services, and I note that there are plans for a Melbourne University station under yet another grand transport scheme that will probably never see the light of day.

One of the real joys of this book are the little hand-drawn maps that show these now-you-see-it, now-you-don’t lines.  There’s a terrific graphic of the boa-constrictor nature of Victoria Railways as it swallowed up smaller private lines, and the text is sprinkled with the author’s own paintings of trains, signals and stations.  The book is a real labour of love, and Melburnians- even those not enamoured of trains per se- can find plenty to regret when considering the public transport that could have been.

I bet you thought that I couldn’t find a connection between Judge Willis and Melbourne’s train system which, after all, was not even thought of until some ten years after he left.  But in the spirit of Six Degrees of Separation between Judge Willis and the Railways,  the house that Willis leased while in Melbourne (which, incidentally was next door to my childhood home- hence my initial interest in him)was owned by Malcolm Macleod.  Macleod provided land to the railways on condition that the station was named after him- hence Macleod station.

Read because: I wanted to learn more about the Mont Park spur line. And because I really do like trains.

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7 responses to “‘Stopping All Stations’ by Rick Anderson

  1. Sadly it was a Labor government that sold off the inner circle railway land. While some of the land remains and could once again have a train line, much has been built upon, ensuring the inner circle train can never return. A friend when he was very young, used to get a ride on the freight train with the guard and a pot bellied stove warmed both the guard’s van and their Milo.

    • residentjudge

      It’s tragic, isn’t it- so short-sighted. Although I think that even if the land were there, they’d have an unholy fight on their hands re-establishing a railway through residential areas.

  2. At least one of the private railway companies cannot accuse Victorian Railways of swallowing it up boa-constrictor-like. The Melbourne and Essendon Railway Company was badly under-capitalised, and the expected passengers, both two and four-footed, failed to materialise (where was the market survey?). The company begged and begged the Victorian Government to take the private rail off their hands. The Gov held aloof until the time and the price suited them, and only then relieved the desperate shareholders of their asset, at a considerable loss to all concerned but the original contractors. Makes you think. In this case the Victorian Railways was a saviour, but a very parsimonious one. Thanks for the tip, I shall have to have a look at this interesting sounding volume.

    • residentjudge

      He mentioned the Essendon Railway- I think from memory they were hoping for livestock cartage, as you say. I suppose that, from the shareholders’ viewpoint, the other takeovers were an act of mercy too- at skinflint prices. The tables in the book showing the takeovers are very well done- in the end there’s just one man standing!

  3. A good, indeed an excellent book, which, having been strapped for cash, I have waited several months to buy.

    There is probably only so much that can be said about the history of the Melbourne Suburban Railway System: and as an original subscriber to “Victorian Railways to 1962”, much of what has been said here has been said before: albeit in a different voice.

    It’s pretty clear from the text where the author comes from: why are we spending more money on extra freeway lanes when we still have over 50 km of single track in our “suburban system”? Although the book doesn’t mention it, especially with peak oil, global warming and other considerations to weigh on your mind?

    “Stopping All Stations” compares the Melbourne system, essentially, just with Sydney. As of 2011, it’s worth noting just what has happened in terms of development of urban rail infrastructure world-wide over the past decade or two: on that scale, neither Mebourne nor Sydney would rate consideration at all.

    Getting back to the original Document: Rick Anderson has done an excellent job of both mapping and illustrating the history of the Melbourne Suburban Railway System. If you ask me, Rick is rather over-opiniated at times, or, to put it more subtlety, could have got his message across better if he hd been a little more subtle.

    The tables incorporated in the book are excellent, sufficient to make this volume an essential volume for anyone interested in the history of rail in Melbourne. A criticism I could make, however, is that, amongst the many lists and tables, I was unable to find when the line from Richmond to South Yarra was quadruplicated (though it was clear when it was sextuplicated), though the date of the quadruplication from South Yarra to Caulfield is clearly stated.

    Likewise, thought the triplication of the Box Hill line can be traced out (in stages), such triplications on the Frankston line seem to have evaded mention. I’d suggest- if there is a second edition- that a history of each line (opening- duplication- electrification- quadruplication or whatever- be incorporated, and, moreover, rather than just list lengths of single track, and stations with single platforms, a dispassionate author should give us the whole picture.

    Great job, anyway: and one that won’t be forgotten or discarded.

    • residentjudge

      Thank you for such a considered post! I wondered about the rather topical ‘digs’ he has at current railway policies.
      I suspect that they will date the book as controversies are raised and then forgotten (just as policies were raised and forgotten in the past, as he shows). The information he gives stands on its own two feet: the political commentary won’t in the future.
      By the way, I am in Toronto at the moment VERY MUCH enjoying their transport system!!!

  4. The author just hopes people are enjoying his book and the government is getting the message on public transport in Melbourne.

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