The construction of Victoria's railway system has required one of the State's largest and most sustained investments in public infrastructure. Flushed with the tremendous wealth generated by the goldfields, the Victorian government invested £9 million over the first decade of railway development between 1854 and 1864 to build just 254 miles (409 km) of railway, while private railway companies invested another £1.8 million. Over the next sixty years the railway system continued to expand rapidly reaching 2,900 route miles (4,670 km) by 1891 and 4,700 miles (7,565 km) in 1931, representing a total investment of almost £50 million. By this time, every town in Victoria with a population of over 500 boasted its own railway station.
Railways provided the infrastructure that linked rural communities and enabled the early suburban expansion of metropolitan Melbourne. The long boom in Victorian railway development is characterised by five distinct periods: the private railway company era (1854-1865), birth of the government railways (1856-1864), the trunk lines & 'light' lines era (1871-1879), the Octopus Acts era (1880-1891) and the Construction Branch era (1892-1939).
Since the Second World War, the system has gradually contracted as rationalisations led to the closure of poorly patronised and non-paying branch lines, but major new investments have also occurred, most notably the construction of standard gauge links to Sydney & Adelaide and the construction of the Melbourne underground loops.