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Railway employee records

Railway construction in New South Wales commenced under two private companies, the Sydney Railway Company, incorporated 1849 and the Hunter River Railway Company, incorporated 1853.

Railway service provision commenced on 26 September, 1855 when the first trains operated on the Sydney-Parramatta or the 'Great Trunk' line. In its first full year of operation over 350,000 passengers had used the service. Passenger traffic continued to be the largest single purpose for train journeys in the nineteenth century, and accounted for more than half of all train miles traversed. By 1871 of a total of 931, 333 miles travelled 537, 846 miles were by passenger trains. In 1880 the Commissioner for railways observed that the number of passengers had risen from 776,707 to 5,440,138 in a decade during which time the miles of railway line had increased from 339 to 849 miles.[1]

Thousands of people were needed in order for the trains to run on time. Employment with the Railways covered a large range of positions, including working as a driver, cleaner, engineer, draftsman, inspector, timekeeper, porter, ganger etc.

C3814 locomotive 'Newcastle Express' enroute through Cowan. View larger image in Photo Investigator Class AD60 'Garratt' locomotive going across the Hawkesbury Bridge. View larger image in Photo Investigator Class No.1 locomotive steam engine. View larger image in Photo Investigator

How do you know if your ancestor worked on the Railways?

Establishing if your ancestor was employed by the railways is the first step to researching the records. A death certificate may indicate whether your ancestor worked for the railways. There may be family stories handed down through generations, or from surviving relatives who knew that a member of the family was working on the railways.

Online Indexes

State Records have a number of searchable indexes relating to railway employment records:

Main Series of records

Important!Many of the records listed below are Closed to Public Access for 30 years. If you would like to access any records that are less than 30 years old (i.e. 30 years from the date the employee left the organisation) contact: RailCorp, GIPA & Privacy Office (02) 8922 1313.

Please note some of the record series are still identified by the State Rail 'R' number. This number will be replaced by a NRS (New South Wales Record Series) number in due course.

NRS 12922: "Personal History Cards - Employees born before 1900, Card for Harold Wilton showing limited detail that is on some of the personal history cards." NRS 12922: "Personal History Cards - Employees born before 1900, Reverse side of card for Harold Wilton with example of his signature" NRS 15936: "Mechanical Branch, Part of a file for Daniel J. Gleeson, a Fireman from Casino, dealing with his service with the Australian Defence Forces during World War 2. Over 7000 NSW railways and tramways workers enlisted for active service (Gunn, p.284)."

NEW! NRS 19333 Personal history cards - Railways employees born between 1900 and 1962 These cards records appointment and service history details of railways employees born post-1900.  The cards were kept by the Finance Branch for superannuation purposes and include employees from a range of metropolitan and country locations.

NEW! NRS 19375 Personal history cards - country and metropolitan employees 1928-86 These cards cover people primarily from country regions and workshops.  Noted dates of birth range from 1898 to 1967 and almost all entries on the cards, with a few exceptions, are prior to the end of 1986.

NRS 12922, Personal History Cards - Employees born before 1900
The cards show details relating to an individual's employment e.g. name, date of birth, educational qualifications and details of service.
If you are unable to visit the Western Sydney reading room you can order a copy from this series of the Personal History Cards via the Copy Service page.

NRS 19407, NSW Government Railways and Tramways (1888-1890); Register of salaried officers, 1856-1890
Lists employment details of salaried officers working for the NSW Government Railways and Tramways during the period 1856-1890, including name, office, date of appointment, authority, remarks and a 'Remarks' column which notes salary changes, promotions, resignations, retirements, and acting position.
Search the entries in the register |

NRS 15905, Chief Commissioner of Railways and Tramways; First Railway Section Australian Imperial Expeditionary Forces (AIF) Nominal Roll, 5/02/1917-29/01/1920
This volume provides details of railway employees who formed the 1st Railway Section of the Australian Imperial Expeditionary Force, including name, rank, age, marital status, trade or calling, address at date of enrolment, next of kin and address, religion, date of joining, unit for those already serving in the military, per-diem paid before and after embarkation, daily rate of deferred pay, name and address of allottee and remarks. Included is a group photograph of the 1st Railway Section taken at the Sydney Show Ground prior to departure for France.
Search the indexView a digital copy of the photo |

NRS 15895, Traffic Branch [Department of Railways]; Personnel Register, Darling Harbour, 24/04/1909 - 7/07/1932
This volume details the employment history of workers at Darling Harbour Goods Yard. Information recorded includes employee's name, date of birth, position, station and salary. Industrial relations issues relating to the strike of August 1917 and subsequent employment of temporary staff are also documented. The records of employees who did not participate in the Railway Strike of 1917 have their entries stamped '6/8/1917. - Remained loyal. All prior offences expunged.'
Search the index |

Other series of personal history cards

Personal history cards | Related records | Details on the General Strike of 1917

R320: "Trading and Catering Service, c.1920-1990, Card for Jack Benson, a junior useful at Central Station, Sydney" R324: "Division Engineer, Newcastle 1900-1999, Card for Frederick W. Frisk, workshop labourer in the 1940s" R320: "Trading and Catering Service, c.1920-1990, Card for Betty C. Ball, train waitress then cashier in the 1940s"

Personal history cards

This is a list of railway employment records that have been kept by various departments within State Rail over many years. Once you are sure your family member worked on the railways these records may help you to fill in the details of their employment.

Central Railway Station, Sydney - mobile buffet service. View larger image Wynyard Railway Refreshment Room - interior of kitchen. View larger image

Some of the record series are still identified by the State Rail 'R' number. This number will be replaced by a NRS (New South Wales Record Series) number in due course.

Accessing Personal history cards that are closed to public access

Many of the records listed below are Closed to Public Access for 30 years. If you would like to access any records that are less than 30 years old contact:

Transport for NSW
Information and Privacy Unit
Telephone: (02) 8202 3768

R319, Signals & Communications Branch, c. 1920-1990

R320, Trading & Catering Service, c. 1920-1990

R321, Stores Branch, c. 1920-1990

R322, Traffic Branch, c. 1900-c. 1990

R324, Division Engineer, Newcastle 1900-1999

NRS 17370, Operations Manager, Junee, c. 1913-1993

R350, Traffic Branch, c. 1926-1988

NRS 17419, District Superintendent; Lithgow c. 1915-c. 1989

R354, Support Services, c. 1935-c. 1988

R359, Division Engineer, Wagga Wagga, c. 1927-c. 1989

R361, Programme Engineer Branch - Prince Alfred Siding, Prior 1940-1985

R484, Superintendent, Newcastle, c. 1930-c. 1990

R517, District Engineer, Tamworth; c. 1940-c. 1980

R553, Mechanical Branch, 1920-c. 1988

R554, Mechanical Branch (Eveleigh Workshops), c. 1920-c. 1988

NRS 16445, Way & Works Administration 1921-88

NRS 16447, Electric Car Workshops Chullora (Elcar), 1926-1991

NRS 16448, District Superintendent, Orange 1912-1986

Related records

The records listed here are not as popular or extensively used as some of the other examples listed on the main page. Many of these records only cover a limited time period.

Class Z1222 (C79) No.148 locomotive at the Wellington Depot (NSW). View larger image New South Wales Railway Ambulance Corp Transport service vehicle - training exercise. View larger image

Some of the record series are still identified by the State Rail 'R' number. This number will be replaced by a NRS (New South Wales Record Series) number in due course.

Important! Many of the records listed below are Closed to Public Access for 30 years. If you would like to access any records that are less than 30 years old contact: RailCorp, GIPA & Privacy Office (02) 8922 1313.

NRS 12923, Time and pay sheets for railway employees on the Western line, 1-15 June 1882
These five sheets contain a description of work performed, days worked, name, occupation, and wages earned by each employee.

NRS 15936, Personnel Files of Staff Engaged in Military Service - Locomotive Depot, Casino, 14 September 1939-16 April 1949
Personnel files of staff employed by the Locomotive Depot, Casino while engaged in military service during the Second World War.

NRS 12921, Register of electrical engineers employees - extra staff, 1891-1908
Register detailing name, date of birth, duties, station, rate of pay, engagement (date, reference to authority, date of expiry), date of first entry into the service, details re extension of engagement and how dealt with.

R306, Ambulance Corps Roll, 1886-1923

R502, Traffic Branch; Staff Register-Traffic Branch, 1876-1882
Bound volume detailing name, date and details of appointment, promotion or resignation and salary. Details of disciplinary action and the date are also recorded.

R351, Railway Services Superannuation Board; Register of Deaths, Railway Services Superannuation Board, 1910-1985
Registers of deaths of retired employees. They list various employee details, including date of birth, proof of death, address of employee at time of death, next of kin. Female officers were included from 1968.

R352, Railway Services Superannuation Board; Retirement Entitlements, Payments and Pensions records, Railway Services Superannuation Board, 1910-1990
Records relating to the eligibility of payments / pensions for retired officers under various sections of the Railway Superannuation Services Act 1910 and the Government Railways Act 1912. Included are unclaimed pension books, information on refunds and the eligibility for widows of deceased male officers. Female officers are included in later registers.

Details on the General Strike of 1917

Background to the strike | Personal history cards and the Strike

Railway kitchen staff during the 1917 strike. View larger image Sub Foreman and Clerical Staff on Ash pits during the 1917 strike. View larger image

Background to the strike

The General Strike or the Great Strike of 1917 lasted for six weeks from 2 August until the 8 September. It started in the Randwick Workshops and Eveleigh Carriage Shops over the introduction of a card system to record what each worker was doing and how fast the job was being completed. The workers were not allowed to view or modify the card and the monitoring system could be used to identify 'slow workers'. The strike quickly spread from the railways in New South Wales to other industries such as coal mines, wharfes, factories and warehouses and into other States until about 100,000 workers were on Strike.[1]

Locomotive drivers during the 1917 strike. View larger image Railway staff waiting for dinner during the 1917 strike, NRS 15309. View larger image

A skeleton railways was kept operating with the help of 'Loyal' workers and voluntary help from the public. The photos on this page are images of those loyalists who continued to do their jobs over the six weeks of the Strike. It provides a snapshot of what life was like in what looks like grim times.

On August 14 1917 the Government dismissed the striking rail and tramways workers for misconduct. On the Personal History Cards that can be viewed on this page this act is referred to as "Dismissed by Proclamation. Left work on Strike." After the Strike ended many of these workers were rehired but about 2000 workers were refused re-engagement.[2] Many strikers found themselves in subordinate positions while Loyalists were given seniority and some strikers lost their accumulated superannuation.[3] There was a long-lasting feeling of bitterness and hatred in the railways. The railwaymen had to wait until 1925 for the Labor Premier, John T. Lang, to restore senority and lost rights to the striking workers.

Personal history cards and the Strike

Personal History Cards of Two Well Known Strikers

NRS 12922: "Personal history card for Ben Chifley"Ben Chifley, later Prime Minister of Australia, started work with the railways in 1903 and worked his way up to train driver by 1917. Chifley's personal history card reflects his participation in the Strike and his eventual return to work as a driver and a fireman on reduced wages. In reality though, the job of fireman was a loss of seniority and when he started driving trains again he was only a junior driver. Chifley was later to recall the Strike and its aftermath as "a legacy of bitterness and a trial of hate."[4]

NRS 12922: "Personal History Card for Joe Cahill" Joe Cahill, later Labor Premier of New South Wales, started work as an apprentice fitter and turner at the Eveleigh Workshops in 1907. Cahill was an active unionist [5] and his personal history card may reflect that with the notation under the 'Dismissed by Proclamation' stamp with the word "Agitator" in red ink. Cahill found work elsewhere before returning as a fitter and turner in 1922. He remained with the railways until 1925 when he was elected to Parliament as the Member for St George.

Personal History Cards of Loyalists

NRS 12922: "Personal History Card for George Welsh, contains blue inked stamp of loyalty near top of card. This stamp is the most commonly found indication of loyalty during the Strike." NRS 12922: "Personal History Card for William Sampson with loyalty stamp. Sampson worked for the railways for forty years, starting as a Porter in Junee. The stamp used to indicate loyalty on this card is rarely found on other personal history cards." NRS 12922: "Personal History Card for Charles Sankey. This rarely found notation indicates that Sankey was a strike breaker who resumed work early on 11 August 1917 and avoided the dismissal by proclamation."

Personal History Cards of Strikers

NRS 12922: "Personal History Card for Alfred Leslie. Leslie was a Head Porter before the Strike and when he returned to work it was as a Parcels Porter. He did not regain his position as Head Porter until 1924. " NRS 12922: "Personal History Card for William Sanderson. According to the red ink comment on Sanderson's card, during the Strike he used insulting language to those rail workers still on active service, in other words, strike breakers or scab labour. He was re-remployed after the Strike." NRS 12922: "Personal History Card for Ernest Sargent. This card contains a handwritten notation of Sargent joining the Strike and being dismissed by proclamation." NRS 12922: "Personal History Card for Edward Williams. Williams was not re-employed after the conclusion of the Strike."

[1] John Gunn, Along Parallel Lines: A history of the railways of New South Wales 1850-1986, Melbourne University Press, 1989, p.286.
[2] Ibid, p.288.
[3] Ibid.
[4] Brian Carroll, Australia's Railway Days: Milestones in railway history, Macmillan, 1976, p.70.
[5] Ibid.

For further information

Other records may be identified in Archives Investigator and the interim lists of records transferred from State Rail, available in the reading room. See Archives in Brief 54 for a introduction to the State Rail records held at the State Records NSW. It is also possible to view photographs from the rail collection which have been digitised on Photo Investigator.


For access to records within the State Records NSW collection researchers should consult the Register of Access Directions to confirm the public availability of records. State Records' staff can advise you on the availability of records if they are not listed on the register.