Railway electrification in Australia

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A Sydney Trains A set below catenary lines at Campbelltown station

Electrification of Australian railways began with the Melbourne and Sydney suburban lines. Melbourne suburban lines were electrified from 1919 using 1.5 kV DC. Sydney suburban lines were electrified from 1926 using the same system.

Later Australian systems used 25 kV AC electrification, which had been introduced in the 1950s in France, and by the 1980s become the international standard. Hence they differed from earlier systems, although as each suburban system is centred on a main city and are not interconnected this is not a problem.[1] Later suburban systems were Brisbane from 1979, Perth from 1992 and Adelaide from 2014. There has also been extensive non-urban electrification in Queensland using 25 kV AC, mainly during the 1980s for coal routes.

Electrification systems[edit]

Electrification of Melbourne routes was considered as far back as 1896, and in 1903 and 1907. In 1908 British engineer Charles Merz of Merz and McLellan recommended a 200 km system to St Kilda, Port Melbourne, Sandringham and Broadmeadows using 800 V DC from a third rail. However his later 1912 report recommended 1500 V DC from overhead catenaries, although at the time the system was not used anywhere in the world. This proposal was approved, and his firm was appointed to supervise the work. .[2] Conversion to DC was by rotary converters, but Melbourne extensions in the 1920s from Croydon and Ringwood used mercury arc rectifiers.

Electrification of the Sydney network had been recommended by a Royal Commission in 1909, and in the Bradfield plan of 1915. John Bradfield recommended using 1500 V DC; and this was supported by a conference of Railway Commissioners in 1922 who were anxious to avoid a repeat of the different track gauges used in each state. By this time the 1500 V DC system was used on railways in England, the Netherlands, France and America. [3] The same system was also recommended for the Brisbane suburban system in 1947-1950 although this proposal was abandoned in 1959.[4]

In the 1950s with the standardisation of Australian industrial power generation at 50 Hz, Melbourne substations were converted to 50 Hz within the life of the 25 Hz power station at Newport (originally of 60,000 kW output. In Sydney the substations were converted between 1960 and 1963.[5]

New South Wales[edit]

Rail electrification in Sydney commenced in 1926—see Sydney electrification. From 1956 regional lines around Sydney to a radius of approximately 160 km were progressively electrified. Now the entire Sydney metropolitan area, and the intercity lines to Kiama (south), Lithgow (west) and Newcastle (north) are electrified, and are served by EMU trainsets.

Electrification is at 1.5 kV DC.


Queensland has the most extensive electrification in Australia. It includes the entire Brisbane metropolitan area, the North Coast Line to Rockhampton and the central Queensland coalfields.

Electrification is at 25 kV AC.

South Australia[edit]

Rail electrification in South Australia did not become a reality until the 21st century. Plans were announced in 2008 to have all four suburban lines electrified by 2018, but were delayed and later scrapped. The Seaford and Tonsley lines were the first to be electrified with services commencing in 2014,[6] while original plans to electrify the Gawler line first were delayed in various forms until partial electrification was finalised, due to start construction in late 2018.[7]

Electrification is at 25 kV AC.


There are no electrified railway lines in Tasmania.


Australia's first rail electrification was opened in Melbourne in 1919 - see Railways in Melbourne Electrification. Electrification is limited to the Melbourne metropolitan area. Previous electrification to Traralgon (opened 1956) was removed in 1987.[8] Electrification was subsequently truncated to Pakenham in Melbourne south east.

Electrification is at 1.5 kV DC.

Western Australia[edit]

The first line in Perth was electrified in 1991—see Transperth Trains.

Electrification is at 25 kV AC.

Northern Territory[edit]

There are no electrified railway lines in the Northern Territory.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ IEC 60850:2000 - "Railway Applications. Supply voltages of traction systems"
  2. ^ Churchman 1995, pp. 45,46.
  3. ^ Churchman 1995, pp. 80,81.
  4. ^ Churchman 1995, pp. 131,132.
  5. ^ Churchman 1995, pp. 48,52.
  6. ^ Lia Harris (2014-02-23). "First electric train on Seaford line rolls into the Adelaide train station". The Advertiser. Retrieved 2015-09-29.
  7. ^ Probert, Oliver (22 January 2018). "$615m Gawler electrification deal signed". Rail Express. Retrieved 7 July 2018.
  8. ^ "Infrastructure: Traralgon". VicSig. Retrieved 2015-09-29.


  • Churchman, Geoffrey B. (1995). Railway Electrification in Australia and New Zealand. Wellington & Sydney: IPL Books. ISBN 0-908876-79-3.

External links[edit]