Grade or Gradient: Gradients can be specified in different ways such as percentage and ratio. The Victorian Railways used ratio. The Permanent Way is seldom flat or level and contains uphill or downhill gradients. Stations are generally sited on relatively flat terrain. Gradients dictate the maximum train loads. In the case of the Sandhurst-Wandong line, gradients were generally limited to 1:40 maximum. This means that any section of track will not rise or fall any more than one measurement unit per 40 measurement units travelled. To put it another way, no more than 1 metre within 40 metres, or whatever measurement unit may be used. Cyclists would probably understand a 1:50 grade as 2%.
Bank: The built up earthworks required to fill depressions between two other levels.
Cutting: The opposite of a bank. Here a formation such as a hill is cut into to allow the line to pass through on a shallower grade or lower level than it otherwise would.
Surface Forming: This is where the line runs neither through a cutting or along a bank. It is essentially on the normal ground level.
Curve: The transition from one straight heading to another. The degree of curve is shown as a radius, in chains, and the line curves left or right.
Occupation Crossing: >A simple crossing over the line usually provided when the line passes through open properties. It will normally be provided with gates to prevent stock entering on the line.
P.C.R. Crossing: Public Carriage Roadway Crossing, provided so that vehicular traffic can cross the line. Used to be provided with gates operated by Gatekeepers. Except for one at Kilmore, which was the last, and one at Axedale, second last, they were all removed by 1900 on this line.
Up and Down: The term Up or Down is used to provide an unambiguous description or identifier for train running direction, the tracks on which they run, and the rails used in those tracks.
Trains: When referring to trains, all trains towards the state capital are Up trains and have an even identifying number (example 186 Goods or 72 Passenger, etc.), and all trains away from the state capital are Down trains and have an uneven identifying number (example 119 Goods or 75 Passenger, etc.).
Tracks: When referring to tracks, where there are double lines, the Up track is the left hand one when heading towards the capital, whereas the Down track is the left hand one when heading away from the capital.
Rails: When referring to rails, the Up rail is the left hand rail when heading to the state capital and the Down rail is the left-hand rail when heading away from the state capital.
Locomotives and Rolling Stock: Rolling Stock refers to the vehicles hauled by the locomotive and they were designed for general or special roles such as firewood or perishables. Steam locomotives were generally designed to be able to run funnel first or tender [where the fire fuel, wood, coal, is stored and carried] first. Locomotives, of necessity, ran tender first if there was no turntable to turn the locomotive at one end of the journey or the other. Locomotives were certified with a maximum load and speed limit, as were the vehicles they hauled. These limits were also affected by the gradients of the lines over which they travelled. Not only did they require a continual supply of fuel for the fire, they also needed access to water which was lost through steam expiration.
Rail Motor: Some lines did not require a dedicated passenger train due to light passenger loading. This was often the case with small branch lines. Light passenger traffic was initially handled by mixed goods trains consisting of goods vehicles and passenger vehicles until the 1920s. They were generally replaced by rail motors which were sort of motorised passenger carriages. Some consisted of a driving cab each end and others had detachable trailers for varying passenger capacity.
Line Construction: The general process was to excavate where necessary from culverts, cuttings and side ditches and, using the spoil if it was satisfactory, to construct intermediate banks where necessary, progressing towards the End of Contract point. Ballast for the track itself was required to be of a minimum quality and was obtained from identified ballast reserves along the way.
There are significant differences between the countryside that was surveyed in 1886, and that which exists today, to the point where it can be a tedious process to identify relativity. These differences include roads that had been surveyed earlier by Municipalities, but never came to fruition due to their interruption by the railway line, others that were subsequently closed by the line or diverted around it, only to be re-instated, if only partly, once the line was closed. There is also the situation where there are many roads now, that never existed during the life of the railway line.
I had intended to thread complete grade information through the track alignment commentary, but the grade transitions are far too many, and in some places, of little consequence. Including all that information would make for tedious reading. A grade of 1 in 526 for example, is that close to level that it probably would never be obvious. As an alternative, I decided to include the high spots and the low spots.
Terminus: The terminus is either end of the line and normally would have maintenance and management facilities as well as spare rolling stock and equipment. In the days of steam locomotives, turntables were necessary for turning the locomtives to reduce the need to run tender first.
Permanent Way: The railway line itself is called the Permanent Way. It starts out with a rough or flying survey, followed by a permanent survey, excavations, culverts and bridges and track laying. It is necessary to limit gradients. During construction, cuttings were made through high spots or hills, and low spots or valleys were built up by banks. Bridges were placed over larger waterways such as washes, creeks, rivers or gullies, and culverts were used for smaller water courses.
The permanent way must also interface with other line sections at various locations such as junctions which provide a means for branching to other destinations.
Ballast: This term refers to the gravel or other material on which the track sits. It provides drainage and support for the loads that the track carries. Some of our early railways were laid without ballast.
Rails: These are what the train wheels run on. They guide the train through its wheel flanges that keep it generally centrally located between the rails. The Victorian Guage was termed Broad Guage and was 5ft 3in [1,600mm] between the inside of the rails as opposed to the New South Wales Narrow Guage which was 4ft 8½in [1,435mm]. The rails on small branch lines were generally placed directly on the sleepers and held in position with pins called dogspikes. The rails were not vertical and leaned inwards at the top, or head, to match the profile of the wheel rimss. The angle was an approximation and was made by profiling where the foot of the rail was to sit, with an adze.
Fishplates: Fisplates are used in pairs, one on either side of the rails. They bridge across the joint between the ends of the rails and are secured by 4 or more bolts through the rails. They were fitted with spring washers and nuts.
Points: These are the parts of the track that are used to provide a means of causing the train to take a different path where required. They were either manually operated at the site or controlled from a signalbox. Associated signals gave an indication to the approaching Driver as to the state of the points at high-density locations. Many small sidings did not have signals associated with the points. Facilities and operating procedures prevent inadvertant points operation.
Turntable: This was an apparatus whereby a locomotive or other vehicle could be turned around. It consisted of a pit within which there was a horizontally rotatable section of track. The vehicle was run onto the turntable track, the track was rotated and the vehicle was then rolled off, having been rotated 180 degrees. Unlike running lines, locomotive and servicing depot turntables had multiple tracks converging on the turntable.
Singles: There were two different types of signals in use - those given by hand by employees (generally shunting and emergencies) and those that were mechanically controlled either by the movement of points or by a Signalman from either a station platform or Signalbox. They provided an indication from a distance as to the state of the track ahead. The railway line is separated into shorter, independent, signaled sections. More information in the Safeworking section.
Water: Steam locomotives need water and fuel for the fire. Water was supplied either from specifically provided tanks at certain stations or from wherever they could get it if caught short.
Maintenance: Any system requires maintenance and this runs to all railway infrastructure - buildings, equipment and tools, permanent way, rolling stock, locomotives, etc. Workshops were used for maintaining rolling stock and locomotives.
Stations, Sidings and Crossing Loops: Stations generally consisted of one or more platforms for passengers or goods, crossing loops for allowing trains to either pass or cross, sidings for shunting or loading vehicles for transit, livestock yards, watering cranes for locomotives, offices, goods sheds, goods platforms, staff housing, etc.
Track Gangs: These are the people in small gangs who maintained the Permanent Way. They generally consisted of a number of Repairers who were managed by Gangers. On branch lines they generally maintained about 14 miles [22.4 kilometres] of track. In addition to line repairs, they provided a small pool of readily available helpers for all manner of things. They travelled up and down the line on hand-propelled trolleys, later engine-driven, carrying their tools of trade and sleepers where required.
Loading Ramps: These were used to permit the loading and unloading of machinery, livestock, and other goods that were carried.
Stockyards: Used for the holding of sheep, cattle, etc., while they were unloaded, waiting for collection, or loading. They were usually associated with a specific siding section.
Station to Station Communication: Staff at the various stations need to be able to communicate with each other either for general day-to-day activities or critical signal or safeworking requirements. This was provided for by either telephone, telegraph, or electrical safeworking instruments.
Safeworking: This is the term given to the signalling associated with train running. They were semaphore [mechanical arms] with kerosene lights for night viewing. The kerosene lamps ran 24 hours/day between weekly attention - trimming, cleaning, refilling. Shunting operations were mainly hand signals with either flags, handheld kerosene lamps or plain hand signals. The normal position of fixed signals is the Stop position or aspect. They are placed at Proceed to permit trains to pass. The signals at each end of a station yard are called Home signals and must not be passed at the Stop position - except for certain emergency or breakdown conditions.
Trains are run to strict regulations and rules. These were advised through the Book of Rules and Regulations, The General Appendix thereto, General Orders, with amendments being provided by circulars and/or entry in the Weekly Notice.
Distant Signal: A Distant Signal is a two-position semaphore signal with a yellow arm, a fishtail end and it also has a black fishtail or chevron band. Such signals are usually placed where drivers do not have a clear view of the signal ahead such as curves and hills when approaching stations. Indications are: Caution (horizontal) and Proceed (lowered to an angle of approximately 45 degrees). Caution means that the Driver can expect to find the next signal at Stop. Proceed means that the Driver has a clear path through the station and all following signals are at Proceed.
Home Signal: A two-position Home Signal is a semaphore signal with a red arm, a square end and a square white band. Such signals are placed at the points controlling entrance to a station. While at the stop position, points can be freely moved. There is a locking mechanism that prevents points movement while the signal is at Proceed - lowered to an angle of approximately 45 degrees.
Staff Station: Under normal circumstances, in order for a Driver to be able to enter onto a signalled section of line between stations, he must not only have the appropriate signals at a Proceed indication, he must be also be in possession of an authority to enter the section such that only one train can be within that section at any one time. Such activities are controlled at what is termed Staff Stations and not all stations with employed staff were Staff Stations. The authority to enter the controlled section, is provided by either a Signalman or Stationmaster. Small branch lines generally used two main safeworking systems that were related to the line's traffic density:
Staff and Ticket System: The authority to enter the section with this system is a metal Train Staff with the section engraved on it, or, if there will be two trains in the same direction, a Train Staff Ticket that is written out. There is only one staff for the section. The Train Staff Ticket is used for all but the last train in a single direction. The tickets are kept in a locked box that can only be accessed with the Train Staff which must be locked away when a train is despatched on a ticket. If you are not in possession of the Train Staff, you cannot access the Train Staff Ticket box. Complete arrival of the train at the signalling station in advance is sent to the despatching station to indicate the section is clear once again. The Train Staff, or a Master Key if despatched on a Train Staff Ticket, is used to unlock intermediate points for shunting purposes. There may be times when the staff is at the wrong end of the section and trains cannot enter the section. In such cases, the staff may have been returned by road but, if this could not be done without significantly delaying a train, a Line Clear Report, issued with the assistance of the District Train Controller, may be used.
Electric Staff System: This system also requires the Driver to be in possesion of a staff (engraved with the section name) but, in this case, there are a number of them, held in an electrically-interlocked instrument. Physical co-operation of the Signalman at the other end of the section is required in order to remove a staff from the instrument. No other staff can be released while a single staff is out of the instrument.
Intermediate Electric Staff System: - This system is similar to Electric Staff but the staffs are smaller. It is used when there is an intermediate siding, such as a special service or private business siding, that requires random train or shunting provision from the supervising station. To put it another way, the servicing trains will not be proceeding all the way through the section. They will generally proceed to, and work in, the siding, and return back to the supervising station.
Timetable: All trains, goods, passenger or mixed (passengers and goods), ran to a timetable so that everyone concerned, including passengers, would know the expected time of arrival and departure. The internal timetable was known as the Working Timetable for the District concerned. In this case, it contained much more information such as train loads and signaling details.
Flying Survey: This is a rough survey that was used to see if a railway between two points would be a feasible undertaking.
Cattle Grids and Pits: These were used at P.C.R. Crossings or when gates were later removed. They are pits either side of the road with a grid that is supposed to stop cattle, etc., from straying onto the railway.
Whistle Posts: These were a white post with an angled cross, placed on the Drivers' approach side of a crossing, adjacent to the Up rail (left hand side towards Melbourne) to advise the Driver that the whistle must be sounded. The whistle was required to be sounded at the Whistle Post and again before passing over the crossing, or more frequently if deemed necessary.
Annett Key: An Annett Key is a special key that facilitates the unlocking of certain signals and/or points. Once the key is inserted in the lock, it cannot be removed unless the apparatus is restored to its safe position. To put it another way, you can't operate the apparatus unless you have the key to unlock it. If a signal is locked with the key, and the key is to be used to unlock points protected by the signal, the key cannot be removed from the signal until the signal is placed to the Stop position and, if the key is then subsequently used to unlock the protected points, the signal controlling movement over those points cannot be placed to the Proceed indication unless the points are restored, the key removed and replaced in the signal lever lock.
Kick Shunting: This is a particular type of shunting movement. The train is pulled up, the locomotive and the required vehicles are drawn forward well clear of the points. The points are set towards the siding, the vehicles to be shunted are uncoupled from the train and the locomotive accellerated in the direction of the siding. The locomotive is then stopped before reaching the points, and the vehicles continue on their way into the siding. Hand brakes are applied to stop and secure the vehicles. Once clear, the points are returned to the normal position and the locomotive backs onto the train. It is a tricky operation.
Westinghouse Brake: The Westinghouse brake is a compressed air brake system. The air is supplied under pressure from a compressor on the locomotive. The compressor charges air reservoirs on each vehicle via an air pipe, called the train pipe, that is continuous throughout the train. Connections are provided between individual vehicles by flexible hose couplings.
Westinghouse's system has what is called a triple valve on each vehicle. It controls charging air into an air tank ready to be used, applying the brakes, and also releasing them. If the pressure in the train pipe becomes lower than the vehicle reservoir, air from the reservoir is fed to the brake cylinders to apply the brakes. This ensures that any break in the train pipe or flexible couplings through either a failure or a train divide, will cause the brakes to be applied - an automatic, fail-safe operation. If the pressure in the train pipe is higher than the vehicle reservoir, the pressure is used to charge the reservoir. The valve also causes the brakes to be released.
Once the pressure in the vehicle reservoir and the train pipe reach the same value, the pressures are maintained at that level. Simply put, brakes are applied by reducing the train pipe pressure, and released by increasing the train pipe pressure. It is thus fail safe. Vehicles left standing will have their brakes applied until any leak has exhausted the air. They must be secured by the handbrake if required. The vehicles, however, are fitted with a manual bleed system to permit moving by hand.
Tramway: A tramway is just another word for light duty railway. Non-railway people tended to use the term tramway for connections to the railway.
Trolleys, properly called track machines, were relatively lightweight machines used by track repairers in order to get out along the track to carry out their maintenance tasks. They were light enough to be easily removed from the line when necessary for trains to pass. There were several different types used. Initially they were hand operated and, later, motor driven. Machines that were only used for inspection purposes were generally tricycles - similar to a steel-wheeled motor cycle with an outrigger wheel, although there were also some four-wheel varieties.
Gatekeeper: Although most of the crossings on the Wandong, Heatcote and Sandhurst line were equipped with cattle pits to keep stock off the line, some had Gatekeepers, employed to control the crossing gates on roads considered busy enough to warrant them. The normal position of the gates was closed to road traffic or, to put it another way, open for the passage of trains. The Gatekeeper, if safe to do so, would close the gates across the line to allow road traffic to pass. The gates were equipped with red warning lights for night use.
Crossings not equipped with gates were known as priviledged crossings.
Navvies: A common or informal name given to those workers who work on construction or maintenance of the railway line. The formal title was either Ganger or Repairer.
Mixed Trains: >A mixed, or mixed goods, train is a train that caters for both passengers and goods. Passenger trains basically stopped at stations to pick up passengers. Goods trains are required to attach and detach freight wagons and their time at a given station can vary from no time at all, because there is nothing to pick up, to much longer times due to shunting and subsequent brake testing requirements.
Special instructions were issued for the running of mixed trains and an extract from the 1928 General Appendix (to the Book of Rules and Regulations) requires that:
1. Every Mixed train on the Wandong-Bendigo line must have the three vehicles next in front of the passenger vehicles screw-coupled. If there be less than three goods vehicles in front of the passenger vehicles, all vehicles on the train must be screw-coupled.
2. if one or more screw-coupled vehicles are detached at a roadside station, the screw-couplings must be transferred to the other vehicles so as to maintain the required number.
3. Stationmasters must ensure that a sufficient supply of screw couplings are kept on hand.
RMSP or Rail Motor Stopping Place: These letters stand for Rail Motor Stopping Place and each had an identification number. The number was 'recycled' and used elsewhere on abolition of a Stopping Place. Such names were used for places that did not have a station in the normal sense. However, due to a random need, a location where rail motors stopped to pick up or set down passengers on an as-required basis, were specifically identified. Such places were not timetabled.
Ruling Grade: The Ruling Grade is the grade of the steepest grade on the route. It is the steepest grade that ultimately decides the load hauling capacity of the trains that traverse the whole line. If the train cannot get over the steepest grade on a line, it will not make the destination.
Pinch Bar: A pinch bar is a crowbar-like implement that is placed between the rail and the wheel rim to provide leverage so that persons can move vehicles by hand.
Buffer Stop: A buffer stop consists of two upright posts and cross bars at the end of a dead-end siding. It is designed to prevent vehicles rolling beyond the end of the siding.
Notes from the Buffer Stop Standard Diagram: Suitable, condemned cattle pit logs and bridge piles are to be used for posts wherever possible. At the ends of sidings on which car stock is not stabled, timber baulks in accordance with Plan F449 may be bolted across the rails in lieu of buffer stops where directed by the District Engineer. Buffer Stops, not baulks, must be used at the end of each siding on a falling grade and at the ends of frequently used sidings.
Caretaker: A Caretaker, who may be a Woman-in-Charge, is a person who attends the railway station on an as-required basis. This is usually the last position before a station closes due to insufficient business.
Spalls: Small, at least basketball size, rocks that are used to shore up washaways, culverts and banks.
This site is hosted by CoffeeCup S-Drive.
Comments and suggestions may be e-mailed to