Steamrail and the Heritage Listed Newport Railway Workshops and Museum Under Threat.

The State of Victoria was firmly established with the introduction of the Railways. Small, private companies running individual rail lines and routes were combined to form the Victorian Railways. And the epicentre of all rail activity up until the 1970s and ‘80s was the Newport Railway Workshops.


Ultimately, the Railway Workshops built the rolling stock, the Steam Engines, and serviced all locomotives. When the suburban system was electrified, the main works still occurred at Newport. The new Diesel Locomotives were also serviced and maintained there.


The Golden Age of Rail was essentially in the early 20th Century through to the 1950s and ‘60s. Luxury trains like the Spirit of Progress, the Daylight Express and the Overlander all departed from the former Spencer St Station, now known also as Southern Cross. The actual trains themselves – the steam engines, the saloon cars and carriages were all built at Newport. Newport currently houses the Railway Museum in Champion St Newport, with its incredible collection of Steam Locomotives, and Steamrail Victoria.

The Railways ensured that produce was shipped to the ports – Port Melbourne, Victoria Dock, Appleton Dock and other Melbourne locations (Williamstown, Yarraville). Provincial Ports located at Geelong, Portland, Warnambool, Hastings and other less known locations accepted grain, wool, timber and produce bound for the Northern Hemisphere. It was a massive system and represented the State’s biggest employer.

Screen Shot 2019-08-16 at 4.19.53 pm.jpg


Passenger Travel was the only means of movement for most of the population in earlier times with busy timetables enabling students, businesspeople, the sick and infirm and young families to travel to provincial cities throughout the State of Victoria and beyond. There were literally hundreds of stations servicing many obscure branch lines deep into regional Victoria.


Much of the original freight infrastructure has gone. Frankly none of it was very attractive, yet parts of the grand design still remain. The Spencer St Goods Yards are no more, the Electric Train Workshops in Batman are now an Art Gallery.

Many suburban Railyards have been sold off to developers. There are still intriguing buildings such as the Goods Shed on Docklands, the old Yard control tower down on Dudley St West Melbourne and many other unique and historical station buildings around Melbourne.


Goods Shed on Docklands

Newport Workshops and its huge parcel of land represent the last vestige of this great rail empire. Today it houses the historical working locomotives and rolling stock of Steamrail Victoria.


Dedicated Volunteers restore and maintain these beautiful old trains and provide the renowned Steamrail journeys for the public. “Riding living history in beautiful timber panelled carriages, many still with fantastic Edwardian pressed tinwork on the ceilings. up front is the real deal – a fully restored steam locomotive up to 127 years old – or a heritage Diesel dating from the 1950s ready to take you on your way.” – Steamrail website.


Victoria’s state railway agency, VicTrack, is refusing to guarantee the renewal of the Heritage Group’s lease, due to expire in 2020.

VicTrack has engaged Consultants to develop and oversee a ‘new strategy that includes the possible relocation of all trains, the workshops and rail groups.

Steamrail have stated that a shift to Regional Victoria will basically shut them down. Read about it here…

Heritage train groups fear wipe out from Newport rail yards


Screen Shot 2019-08-16 at 3.52.19 pm.jpg

Joe Kellett runs heritage rail group Steamrail Victoria in Newport. Credit:Eddie Jim

Perhaps you wouldn’t expect to find a Millennial restoring a century-old train at a Newport workshop for fun.

But Sam Barnes is one of several 20-something men and women volunteering at the historic rail workshops in Melbourne’s industrial west, soaking up the history of Victoria’s old steam locomotives and learning from their seniors how to take care of them.

Screen Shot 2019-08-16 at 3.52.31 pm.jpg

Vintage trains at Newport Credit:Eddie Jim

“There’s generational knowledge that you can’t pick up from a book,” 23-year-old Mr Barnes says.

“It’s a dying art”.

Mr Barnes is part of several self-funded rail preservation organisations operating out of the old Newport rail workshops for over 40 years.

The volunteers come on weekends, or before or after working shifts, to protect and restore the vintage stock without charge to the government.

But many fear that it will all come to an end, which would put a stop to the 60 days a year that members of the public can board the old trains as they run on the state’s railways.

Screen Shot 2019-08-16 at 3.52.42 pm.jpg

Victoria’s state railway agency VicTrack is refusing to guarantee the renewal of the heritage groups’ lease, which is due to expire next year.

VicTrack is reviewing the site, and has brought in consultants to oversee a new strategy, which includes the possible relocation of the trains and rail groups.

The heritage-listed workshops would not be relocated, the agency’s spokesman said.

“This work is ongoing, and no decisions have been made about the future of the Newport workshops at this time,” the spokesman said.

Screen Shot 2019-08-16 at 3.52.51 pm.jpg

Railway workshops, Newport Credit:State Library of Victoria

Joe Kellett, the chairman of the biggest rail heritage group Steamrail, says relocating to a regional area (which the groups believe is most likely) would force them to shut down.

Groups like Steamrail rely on volunteers to service the trains, but the bulk of these people live in the city and won’t travel to the country.

It would also cost double the price to run the trains on the railways if they are based in the country, he says.

The trains would have to do two extra trips, as most of their customers are from Melbourne.

“Our future would be very uncertain,” Mr Kellett says.

“We would probably have to end up curtailing the business or just go out of business.”

John Green, who heads up another heritage group called 707 Operations, says that he faces the same fate.

Screen Shot 2019-08-16 at 3.53.03 pm.jpg

Painters at Newport Workshops in 1973 put finishing touches on the Victorian Railways new luxury twinette carriage which will be operated with the Spirit of Progress train. Credit:The Age archives

“If we relocated to regional Victoria, we won’t exist,” he says.

VicTrack argues that as the government runs more train services, it will become increasingly difficult for the steam trains to depart from inner-city Newport.

However, rail experts have denied that this is a pressing problem.

The uncertainty hangs like a cloud over 23-year-old Mr Barnes, the rail enthusiast who showed up at the workshops a few years ago after moving from Sydney to offer his services.

Screen Shot 2019-08-16 at 3.53.14 pm.jpg

Jim Martin with Spirit of Progress’, 38 class in 1990. Credit:The Age archives

“Newport was built around these workshops,” he says, as we tour the cavernous sheds. “The inner west owes its history to these workshops.”

The Newport workshops, which opened in 1888, is not the only location in the state where old steam trains are stored, but it is certainly the biggest.

When constructed, it was the largest industrial centre in Victoria – the cutting-edge of new railway technology, where locomotives and carriages now at the Puffing Billy Railway were made.

It houses a navy blue steel carriage belonging to the Spirit of Progress, a steam locomotive built in 1937, fitted out with Art Deco seating booths, cast brass luggage racks and polished wood and glass sliding doors.

The train ran from Melbourne to Albury, and was the first fully air-conditioned train in the southern hemisphere.

Two stripes of yellow painted across the centre of the carriage were was once made out of 24 carat gold leaf.

“That’s how proud they were of this train,” Mr Barns beams.

Not far from the Spirit of Progress is a severe-looking black loco with polished brass and exposed copper, which used to belong to the Victoria’s railway commissioner, Mr Barns says.

This commissioner had his own sleeping quarters, a buffet dining area and separate quarters for the press and his minders.

Screen Shot 2019-08-16 at 3.53.31 pm.jpg

Spirit of Progress’ parlour coach  Credit:Economy & ingenuity

It’s a world away from the current commuter experience, which comes sharply into focus as 18 or so faulty and graffitied Metro train carriages lie at the edge of the workshop site.

The street artists have turned their cans away from the carefully restored locos, targeting only the newer stock.


There is a degree of cynicism and/or pragmatism here depending on your perspective. There is a huge land parcel involved, worth literally billions. However, before it could be sold for residential or commercial usage, it would require a massive expensive environmental clean-up.

The Steamrail group and the Railway Museum deserve Government funding. The sound of the steam train whistle echoing through the CBD is still amazing and the old trains have now formed part of our character.

The Heritage Victoria Statement of Significance can be read here. It is a very long document, one of the longest on their website.

The situation calls for clever compromise. This is no small part of Victoria’s history and it must be protected in some form and in an effective manner. Much of the overall site is neglected with detritus of the 1960s ’til the present bringing disrepute to the much older more important sites and facilities on the entire land lot. This requires intervention from Heritage Victoria, the Government’s Planning Department Heritage arm – it is non-negotiable. We cannot lose this site or these incredible old trains. This Heritage belongs to all of us – let’s fund it properly and protect it for posterity. Time to get on board.

balance logo 20150209a

Balance Architecture recognises the importance of the preservation of Historical Architecture. We specialise in the renovation and restoration of Heritage Buildings.

6 thoughts on “Steamrail and the Heritage Listed Newport Railway Workshops and Museum Under Threat.

  1. I totally support the plan to preserve the railway workshops as they are. my father did his apprenticeship there and he along with many others that did their time at Newport, love going back to reminisce the past and fun hard times they had their, talking with old trades men, mates and friends. this is all part of their history and the future for the younger ones by passing on their knowledge and experience to them. unfortunately there is virtually no industry left in this so called smart country every one is expected to go to uni but not every one is for uni many of our smartest and clever people come from placed like Newport work shops, as it supplied many young people with work and this made the place many stayed until they retired. it is great to see people young and old helping to restore and maintain these beautify made peace’s of industrial age equipment and restoring lost trades like boilermakers, fitters carriage makers, the list go’s on and on. we in Victoria should be supporting these organisations and keeping Newport workshops the way they are instead of selling off to the highest bidder for short term gain. this alternately means things are lost for EVER. why don’t Vic track and others go to the regional areas with their fancy idea’s Bendigo, Ballarat etc. help promote work in reginal centres, but because we have no industry we have to get things from China like the new trains for the current work in and around the city. these where previously built at Newport workshops by tradesmen who where wonderful crafts men.
    every where in the rest of the world they are preserving wonderful living museums like what the current groups at Newport currently do for the whole community of Victoria to see and love. I bet you that the people and consultants who are making these decisions today will be long gone but these lovely early steam locos and rolling stock will be living long on past them breathing life into the hearts of young and old to come.


  2. This part of history must be protected at all costs, for to long Governments and private enterprise have come along and destroyed a large amount of Victoria’s heritage. The Newport Workshops site along with all the heritage societies located there must be protected so many generations to come can enjoy a part of Victoria’s past history. Once it’s gone it’s to late to bring it back ,it’s lost FOREVER.


  3. More should be done to ensure that Newport workshops remain In the public’s asset resgistra, and be fully protected as a working museum for heritage rollingstock of Victoria. The state government and heritage Victoria should recognise this as a high public value site and ensure that it can never be sold to developers to profit from our heritage. There are many other sites in Melbourne that can be used for this purpose. Many other cities around the world have gone to lengths to ensure heritage does not get destroyed, it’s about time Victoria get on board and do the same before it goes way to far, if it has not already done so.


  4. This article while it is acurate has totally missed the Mark on how significant Steamrail is to the tourism industy in Victoria changing the lives of thousands of tourists from around the country and also around the globe annually providing a much needed financial injection into regional areas and towns .
    The heritage rail operator Steamrail doesn’t just provide a train ride they have many different types of journeys and have formed partnerships With other tourism operators and business


  5. If New South Wales can preserve their heritage steam railways why can’t we??????? Why does heritage Victoria want to lose what little is of our railway history we have?? We no longer we have proper trains, they are rail motors!!!


  6. Are we a bunch of tourist hating people?

    Why are we killing our heritage icons when other states are promoting past historical icons: railways to impress tourists?

    In Victoria a lot tourist attractions are hours away from the city and travel time are lengthy. Stop heritage trains and no one Will want to keep going to casino and sports events all the time, surely we can offer more then that!

    Plus we want a little break from the norm, how a vintage train ride to a bit put of a sparkle to hum dum day? Plus doing Something out of the ordinary?


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s