|For a long time in Australia, there were no less than three railway
In the 1930s, if you wanted to travel
across Australia from Perth in Western Australia to Sydney (New South Wales)
you would need to do the following: Board the narrow gauge (3’6”) Western
Australian Government Railways train to Kalgoorlie in Western Australia.
Changing to standard gauge, you would have taken the Commonwealth Railway
across the Nullarbor Plain (which incidentally contains the longest straight
stretch of rail at 297 miles or 478 km) to Port Augusta in South Australia. A
change to narrow gauge on the Commonwealth Railway you ride to Port Pirie in
South Australia. Yet another change of gauge, this time to broad gauge, you
travel to Adelaide and on to Melbourne in Victoria. Then journey to Albury
(Victoria)/Wadonga (New South Wales) still on broad gauge. Then it's back
to standard gauge to Sydney, little wonder the movement of people and goods was
largely by ship.
The building of railways in Australia started in the 1850s. The
colonial government oversaw several private companies which undertook railway
construction projects. Very few railways got beyond the construction stage
before going broke or being taken over by the colonial governments.
South Australia, Victoria and New South Wales had agreed upon the emerging
standard of 4' 8-1/2" gauge. In 1852 the new Chief of Engineering in New South
Wales, Irishman Francis Shields, convinced the three colonial administrations
that Irish Broad gauge of 5'3" was the way to go.
After only a year in the job, Shields was replaced by James Wallace from
England. Wallace promptly changed the New South Wales back to 4' 8-1/2".
Victoria and South Australia were already committed to an order for 5’3" gauge
locomotives from England. But, several colonies would go with the smaller
gauges, which they were free to do. Western Australia, Tasmania and
Queensland all decided to build their state railways at the cheaper narrow gauge
of 3' 6". These states also developed smaller narrow gauges of 2' to 2'6" to
serve the mining, logging and sugar industries.
First South Australian horse drawn tramway, Goolwa to Port Elliot, 1854.
Photograph courtesy of the
State Library of South
Australia SLSA:B 32222/30
As it turned out, the colonial administration in South
Australia was short of cash . Also, development of the colony started from
the coastal ports and went inland. The result was that the administration built
cheap narrow gauge railways (3'6") from these ports without consideration for an
intra-colonial network, let alone an inter-colony rail system. None of
these systems were connected at this stage. In the 1880's, when the railways did
eventually reach the colonial borders, there was a break of gauge.
After twenty plus years of bickering, in-fighting, and just plain bad temper,
comes nationhood. On 1 January 1901, the 6 colonies which made up Australia
became the Federation of the Commonwealth of Australia . Some commentators
expressed the opinion that Australia achieved nationhood without a war of
independence or a civil war. However, if they had looked closely at the 20
plus years of bickering, in-fighting, and what was loosely called civilised
debate, maybe they would have had second thoughts. It took a referendum,
which was narrowly won, for the various colonies to finally agree to federation.
Western Australia nearly seceded, but agreed on federation, on the provision of
the railway between Kalgoorlie in Western Australia and Port Augusta in South
Australia. In South Australia, the colony agreed to federation, on the
condition that the commonwealth government build two railways - one from
Kalgoorlie, Western Australia to Port Augusta, South Australia and the other
from Marree, South Australia to Darwin, Northern Territory.
The first of these two railways was completed in 1917 as standard gauge and
connected at both ends to the state system, which was all in 3'6" gauge at that
time. The second was opened in February 2004 and is standard gauge all the way
through (which just goes to show you that you can't trust the bloody
politicians, unless you nail them to the nearest tree).
In South Australia, the broad gauge has remained in the suburban network and
in one or two rural lines. The once extensive rural network has been closed and
ripped up and goods, such as wheat and fertiliser, have been shifted to road.
The rest of the system has been privatised with the Commonwealth Government
retaining the trunk routes and the State holding the closed railway formation.
Various private companies are running the trains, ie. Freight Corporation, Great
Southern Railway, Western Australia, Tasmanian and Queensland have all retained
their narrow gauge (3’6”) suburban and rural networks, but with the closure of
some rural routes.
In Victoria, there was an extensive broad gauge system. Since standardisation,
there remains a broad gauge network and standard gauge system existing, in some
places, side by side. There has been a conversion of broad gauge to
standard gauge of the interstate lines, whilst the Melbourne suburban network
still exists as a broad gauge system, along with some rural networks. In the
State of Victoria, prior to standardisation, the railway network remained
largely a broad gauge except for a small network of 2’6” gauge logging and
goldfield railways, of which the
Puffing Billy Railway is the last remaining well know example. The
state capital of Victoria, Melbourne, was eventually linked by standard gauge in
the 1950’s, previously there was a break of gauge at the border town of Albury
(Victoria) / Wadonga (New South Wales). It was then possible to travel
between Melbourne (Victoria) and Sydney (New South Wales) without changing
trains and gauges at the border. One could in the 1880’s take a train
between Adelaide and Melbourne on the broad gauge.
- Queensland Government Railway
- various 2’0” gauge sugar cane railways, serving local sugar mills
|South Australia Broad Gauge
- The Broad gauge radiated out of Adelaide (Capital City) to the copper mining
centres of Burra Burra an Kapunda (the first workable find of copper), then to
Port Pirie and Port Broughton. Followed by the links to Melbourne (Victoria) in
the late 1880s. Also from this line were the links to the Riverland and Murray
Mallee, to bring out the goods like wheat, sheep and wool.
|South Australia Narrow Gauge
- Eyre Peninsular (This still remains doing, what it was intended for the
shipping of wheat wool and fertiliser.)
- The Northern division once consisting of the Broken Hill to Port Pirie-Port
Augusta to Alice Springs system is no more. All that remains is the
Pichi Richi Railway and Steamtown.
- South East division from Naracoorte on the Broad Gauge line to Melbourne, to
Mount Gambier Kingston SE and Beach Port and Robe.
These last three (Eyre Peninsular, The Northern division and South East
division) were port for the transport of wool cheese and wheat and timber. After
the first and second world wars there was a shortage of softwoods plantation of
the Radiata pine were established. In the South East of South Australia the
network was converted to Broad gauge between 1955 and 1956. This gave an outlet
to Adelaide or Portland (Victoria), via Mount Gambier. This division was close
with the standardisation of the Adelaide to Melbourne line although there is a
push to re-open the railway to Portland for wood chip freight. The State
government is being asked to come up with the cash to service this route.
Railway locomotive 350 miles south of Alice Springs.
Photograph courtesy of the
State Library of
South Australia. SLSA: b 32222/30