The Newport Railway Workshops were the main railway workshops for the Victorian Railways for 100 years (1889 – 1980s), employing up to 5000 people at its peak.  The workshops built and maintained locomotives and rolling stock, as well as manufacturing much of its own machinery, tools, many railway items and tarpaulins.

Brief History of Newport Railway Workshops

1854      Australia’s first railway opens between Melbourne and Port Melbourne.

1857      First Railway Workshops were built at Port Gellibrand, Williamstown.

1882      A railway carriage workshop was built in Melbourne Road, Newport.

1884      Williamstown Workshops soon outgrew its limited site.  A new workshop site was chosen in Champion Road Newport to replace the small Williamstown Workshop.

1886-88   The Newport Workshops were based on the British Railway Workshop designs, practices and principles.  These buildings are now considered to be one of the finest surviving examples of late Victorian Railway Workshop Architecture in the world.

1887-90-1910   Tarpaulin shed was constructed in the Northern section of the site to produce tarps for perishable goods in open wagons.  In just four years in 1890, it was doubled in size. Twenty years later in 1910, it was doubled in size again.

1893      Manufacture of locomotives commenced at Newport Workshops greatly expanding the operations of the workshops.

1895      Carriage workshops transferred to Newport Workshops.

1902-15    this period saw a major expansion of the workshops, as the Victorian Railways modernised its operations.  Both East and West Block were extended to double the size of the workshop area.

1937      The Spirit of Progress was constructed at Newport Workshops.  This was Australia’s first fully air-conditioned all steel passenger train.

1939-45   Newport Workshops were used to construct military equipment during WW2 – including Bren Gun Carriers, aircraft fuselages, ship hulls and 3’ 6” gauge railway equipment used throughout Australia during the war.  The workshops worked around the clock, day and night shifts, and employed a staff of 5000, of which 35% were women.

1950s     End of manufacture of locomotives at Newport Workshops.  Its role reverted back to the maintenance of locomotives, rolling stock, and railway equipment.

1980s     The older parts of Newport Workshops had reached the end of its usefulness.  There was limited potential to turn a 19th Century workshop into a modern facility.  By the end of the 1980s, large areas of Newport were no longer in use.

1993      Steamrail, 707 Operations, and DERMPAV moved their operations into West Block at Newport Workshops.

The Heritage significance and importance of the Newport Railway Workshops

1988      V/Line commissioned C & M J Doring Pty Ltd, consulting engineers, to undertake a Heritage study of Newport Workshops from 1888 to 1988.  This report found: “There can be no doubt that Newport is one of the best surviving 19th-century railway workshops in the world and one of the country’s most outstanding items of Industrial heritage.”

1992      Joan Kirner, Australia’s first female State Premier and former State Member for Williamstown and her state Labour government, recognised the importance and Heritage significance of the Newport Workshops. 

A working party, established by the Kirner Government, recommended that the Newport Workshops be made a Heritage Rail Precinct called “Railworks”, where operating heritage railway operators and a railway museum could be established.

1993      Railworks was established and the Public Transport Commission of Victoria granted tenure to Steamrail, 707 Operations and DERMPAV in West Block at Newport Workshops.

1994      Heritage Victoria added the Newport Railway Workshops to the Victorian Heritage Register (H1000).  A citation from the heritage listing states that:  “The workshops are one of the best surviving 19th-century railway workshops in the world.”

1997        The National Trust of Victoria classified the Newport Railway Workshops B4019, stating that: “The magnitude and variety of buildings, industrial processes, and trade skills practiced at this site and the extensive collection of working machinery, qualifies the workshops to be of prime national importance.”  The Hobson Bay City Council has also listed Newport Workshops as heritage buildings (H065) under their planning scheme.

2000      Heritage Victoria, VicTrack, and the Department of Infrastructure on behalf of the Minister for Transport, commissioned Helen Lardner Conservation and Design to undertake a Conservation Management Plan for the Newport Workshops.  The report concluded that: – “The Newport Workshops are of high Local, State and National Heritage Significance.”

2018      VicTrack advised Steamrail and all other not-for-profit organisations at the Newport Workshops that their current leases would not be renewed when they finished in April 2020. 

2019       Following Steamrail’s representation to VicTrack, a new lease is currently being negotiated. For how long, and what conditions would apply is unknown, so Steamrail and the Newport Workshop’s future is uncertain.

The future of Newport Railway Workshops

The Newport Railway Workshops has the potential to become one of Victoria and Australia’s most significant tourist attractions, generating jobs, investment and growth locally, in the State, and throughout Australia. 

With such a strong link to Victoria and Australia’s heritage, Newport Workshops should be designated as Victoria’s Rail Heritage Precinct and used only for heritage rail activities. This would give Steamrail long-term tenure to enable it to remain viable and continue to undertake heavy steam maintenance for all heritage railways in Victoria.