Railway employees guide

Employment with the Railways covered a large range of positions, including working as a driver, cleaner, engineer, draftsman, inspector, timekeeper, porter, ganger etc.


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.

Did your ancestor work 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.

Search the index

Eveleigh workshops 1917

Railway employment records 1856-1917

The index records the name, position, date of appointment and page number within the register. There are 763 entries

Access to railway employee records

Personal history cards of railway workers are Closed to Public Access for 30 years from the date of separation (the date the employee left the organisation).

For permission to access closed records contact:

Transport for NSW
Information and Privacy Office
Email: information@transport.nsw.gov.au
Tel: (02) 8202 3768

List of main record series

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

Personal History Cards - Employees born between 1900 and 1962
These cards record appointment and service history details of railway employees born after 1900.The cards were kept by the Finance Branch for superannuation purposes and include employees from a range of metropolitan and country locations.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.
Employees born 1900-1962
Personal history cards - country and metropolitan employees
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.
1928-1986Employees born 1898-1967
Personal History Cards - Employees born before 1900The 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. 
Employees born pre-1900
Register of salaried officers
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 »
Nominal Roll of the First Railway Section, Australian Imperial Expeditionary Forces (AIF)
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 entries in the register »
5 Feb 1917-29 Jan 1920
Personnel Register - Darling Harbour
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 entries in the register »
24 Apr 1909-7 Jul 1932

Other series of 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.

Signals & Communications Branch
 c. 1920-1990
Trading & Catering Service
c. 1920-1990
Personal History Cards, Stores Branch
Personal History Cards, Traffic Branch
Personal history cards for employees of the Division Engineer's branch, Newcastle 
Personal History Cards from Area Operations Manager, Junee
Personal History Cards, Traffic Branch
Personal History Cards from District Superintendent, Lithgow 
Personal History Cards, Support Services
Personal History Cards, Division Engineer, Wagga Wagga
Programme Engineer Branch - Prince Alfred Siding, Prior
Personal History Cards, District Superintendent, Newcastle
Personal History Cards, Tamworth Division
Personal History Cards, Mechanical Branch
Personal History Cards, Mechanical Branch, Eveleigh Workshops
Personal History Cards, Way & Works Administration
Personal History Cards, Electric Car Workshops Chullora (Elcar)
Personal History Cards, Orange District Traffic Branch

Related records

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

Time and pay sheets for railway employees on the Western line
These five sheets contain a description of work performed, days worked, name, occupation, and wages earned by each employee.
1-15 Jun 1882
Personnel Files of Staff Engaged in Military Service - Locomotive Depot, Casino
Personnel files of staff employed by the Locomotive Depot, Casino while engaged in military service during the Second World War.Above: "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)."
14 Sep 1939-16 Apr 1949
Register of electrical engineers employees - extra staff
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.
Revised roll of Ambulance Corps members [NSW Railways and Tramways Ambulance Corps] 
Staff Register - Traffic Branch
Bound volume detailing name, date and details of appointment, promotion or resignation and salary. Details of disciplinary action and the date are also recorded.
Register of Deaths, Railway Services Superannuation Board
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.
Retirement Entitlements, Payments and Pensions records, Railway Services Superannuation Board
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.
Land and Property Valuation Files
This series contains files relating to the valuation of railway land, property and residences. They include applications by employees (and their position in the railways) to purchase land, build or extend residences and requests for financial assistance.

NSW Government Gazettes

Lists of Railway employees were published every 3 years in the Government Gazettes from 1891-1939. We hold copies of printed lists up to 1909 in our Reading Room. You can also search the Government Gazettes online on the Trove website using the term “New south wales government railways and tramways list of persons employed”.

The General Strike of 1917

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, wharfies, factories and warehouses and into other States until about 100,000 workers were on Strike.1

A large group of men stand in front of a train carriage at the Eveleigh Workshops in 1917

Eveleigh Workshops during the 1917 railway strike

On 2 August 1917 the General Strike began. It started in the Randwick Rail Workshops & Eveleigh Carriage Workshops & quickly spread to other industries until about 100,000 workers were on strike


1. John Gunn, Along Parallel Lines: A history of the railways of New South Wales 1850-1986, Melbourne University Press, 1989, p.286.

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Copy of the first ticket issued on the Sydney to Parramatta line
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26 Sep 1855 - first railway line opened

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digitised personnel card

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