A desire to bring about a systematic arrangement to promote the technical education of the railway employees resulted in a recommendation for the formation of an Institute “with accommodation for classes on technical subjects connected with railways working”, by the Commissioner of Railways, John Matthieson, in 1899.
The Minister of Railways, the Hon. Alfred Outtrim, approved the scheme and suggested the Institute should be located in the proposed new Flinders Street Railway Station Buildings. The entire third floor was proposed to be set aside for the Institute which would house the educational areas and the social activities area along with Offices for the staff and the Institute Council.
The first meeting of the Institute was held in the Masonic Hall, Collins Street, Melbourne, on 22nd October, 1909.
The Institute was officially opened at a meeting held in the Ballroom of the Institute at Flinders Street Railway Station on 22nd January, 1910.
More than 3,000 employees joined. The object of the Institute was “to promote the intellectual, social and physical well-being of the members of the Institute, and to keep the officers and the employees of the Victorian Railways in touch with railway practice throughout the world”
Growth in Membership
At its maximum the Institute had 30,000 members, along with their families. Members were spread in all areas over the State and as a result District Centres were established over the years, the earliest being Ballarat in 1916 with latter Centres such as Sunshine in 1962.
During the 1970’s the railway industry was challenged with great change from within and also from the community in general. Modern technologies, computerization, along with closure of unprofitable services saw a decrease in railway staff numbers.
During the 1980’s there was a lot of change in how the Victorian railways system was managed. The metropolitan system was separated from the country system, and a policy of a more business like operation saw the rail industry being operated as a State Owned Enterprise.
The flow on effect of this new approach saw the traditional funding of the Institute challenged. The Victorian Railways had traditionally funded the Institute from their finances. With privatization of the Victorian rail industry in 1999 the Institute had to become a stand alone, self funded body.
The Institute moved from its traditional home as it downsized its operation and is now housed on Level 5 of 276 Flinders Street, directly opposite Flinders Street Railway Station.