So how expensive did train travel use to be?

Following on from my post yesterday on how trains services in country Victoria are actually better than they were in 1880 and 1905, I thought I’d look at the comparative costs.

Both the 1905 Bradshaw and 1880 Victorian Railways helpfully list the price of a first class single (in shillings and pennies) to Melbourne from Beechworth:

1880 28s6d
1905 33s1d

Written out in pounds, shillings, and pence format, 28s6d is £1:8:6 and 33s1d is £1:13:1.

The Reserve Bank of Australia have an inflation calculator allowing you to work out what a pre-decimal sum of money would be in today’s dollars. The sum needs to be entered as pounds, shillings, and pence (being old enough to have learned how to calculate money in pre-decimal days helps) we get the following result

So we can say that in 1905 a first class single would have cost around $260 in today’s money.

Working out the 1880 costs is a little more complex.

The RBA calculator only goes back to Federation in 1901.

Prior to Federation, Australia, or rather the six colonies that were to become the Commonwealth of Australia used British money (and British coins – this is why our 10c and 20c coins are still the same size as the pre decimal British 1s and 2s coins).

So, making the assumption that a pound in London in 1880 had the same purchasing power as a pound in Melbourne we can use a British inflation calculator

Just to make things fun, this calculator wanted the amount entered as if it was in post 1971 decimal currency, so £1:8:6 is £1.43 rounding to the nearest penny.

We of course don’t use pounds any more so the second fudge is to convert the amount in British pounds to Australian dollars using an online converter

which gives us a cost of $312.29.

So what does the equivalent journey cost today?

Or a rather more modest $48.


So, we can say that train travel in country Victoria in 2022 is considerably cheaper than it was either in 1905 or 1880.

The distance from Beechworth to Melbourne is a little under 300km. Just for fun I used an English train booking website to see how much the same journey (say from London to York) would cost

The website helpfully calculated the fare in Australian Dollars for me so we can see that a LNER economy ticket is on average roughly twice a V/Line first class ticket for the same distance, and that in most cases a first class ticket is more like the 1905 cost of a first class ticket on V/Line’s predecessor, Victorian Railways.

About dgm

Former IT professional, previously a digital archiving and repository person, ex research psychologist, blogger, twitterer, and amateur classical medieval and nineteenth century historian ...
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