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Thursday, 17 November 1938


Mr MARTENS (Herbert) . - I wish to enlarge on the record given by the Minister for the Interior (Mr. McEwen) of what has been done in the past. In the particular State from which I come, an ex-Treasurer of this Commonwealth, Mr. E.G. Theodore, as Premier, had quite a number of bridges over large rivers between Brisbane and Rockhampton replaced by new structures. Every one of them was built to carry the heavier rolling-stock and the wider gauge of railway. To my way of thinking, that was evidence of considerable foresight on the part of that gentleman. I believe that we should have a standard gauge on at least our main' arterial lines. The distance from Brisbane to Cairns is 1,041 miles, and that coastline is a vulnerable portion of Australia. There should be one gauge from Western Australia to Cairns so that, if necessary, troops could be transported from one particular point to another at a quick rate. It has been suggested that the agitation for the standardization of our railway gauges is of recent development; but this is not so. As a matter of fact, before any railways were constructed in Australia, experts from overseas were asked to make recommendations on the subject, and the 4-ft. 8^-in. gauge was recommended as the most desirable standard. The historical background of the whole subject is covered by an article which appears on page 366 of Vol. 2 of the Australian Encyclopaedia. It reads as follows : -

The Government railway gauges of each State vary in gauge, so that it is impossible for rolling stock to be interchanged, except to a certain extent between Victoria and South Australia. If we take privately-owned railways into consideration, South Australia has six different gauges, Western Australia, Victoria and New South Wales four each, Queensland three, and Tasmania two. The Commonwealth territories (Federal and Northern) are the only divisions with one gauge each, and those gauges are not the same. The standard gauge in New South Wales is 4 ft. 8-J in., and the few miles of 5-ft. 3-in. gauge in that State are extensions from the Victorian systems. All other .4-ft. 8^-in. lines are federal. The standard gauge of Victoria is 5 ft. 3 in., and of Queensland, Tasmania, the Northern Territory and Western

Australia 3 ft. 6 in. South Australia adopted the 5-ft. 3-in. gauge for her lines around Adelaide and those running towards Victoria, and 3 ft. ti in. for the rest.- During the early days of railways, the question of gauge waB much debated in England. George Stephenson adopted 4 ft. 8 J in.: Brunei built the Great Western railway in 1838 on a 7-ft. gauge. A royal commission in 1846 reported in favour of a uniform gauge, and an act passed in the same year made 4 ft. 8A. in. the standard gauge for England, and 5 ft. 3 in. for Ireland. On the 5th October, 1847, the Legislative Council of South Australia adopted 4 ft. 8$ in. for all future public railways. On the 30th Tune, 1848, the Colonial Office suggested to the Governors of New South Wales and Western Australia that ' a uniform gauge should be settled on " with a view to the probability of the meeting at some future, though probably distant, period, of the lines, npt only in the same settlement, but by a junction of those constructed in the adjacent colonics:" the English commissioners of railways favoured 4 ft. 8i in., which had already been adopted by South Australia, and it would be as well for New South Wales (which then, of course, included Victoria) and Western Australia to conform. In 1848, New South Wales railway proposals were forwarded" to the- home Government, the 4-ft. 84-in. gauge was approved of, and the Sydney Railway Company contemplated building to that gauge the projected railway from Sydney to Goulburn. On the 21st May, 1850, however, F. W. Shields, the engineer of the company, strongly advocated the adoption of the Irish gauge of 5 ft. 3 in. The English commissioners said the matter was not of sufficient importance to justify opposition, and on the 14th February, 1851, the Colonial Office intimated that New South Wales could do as it liked. On the 27th July, 1852, 5 ft. 3 in. was fixed by legislative, act' as the gauge for the railways of that colony, and the Governors of Victoria (now a separate colony) and South Australia were so advised on the 23rd August. In November, 1.850, however, Shields had resigned and returned to England, and his successor, James Wallace, reported on the 8th September, 1852. in favour of the 4-ft. 8£-in. gauge; the company in turn induced the Government to repeal the act of July, and on the 4th August, 1853. a new act sanctioned the narrower gauge. This action, taken without the concurrence of Victoria and South Australia, was strongly protested against by the Victorian Government and condemned (but not annulled) by the Colonial Office. The Melbourne and Hobson's Bay Railway Company and the Geelong and Melbourne Railway Company had already placed indents for rolling-stock and crossings made to a 5-ft. 3-in. gauge, and Victoria and South Australia determined to adhere to 5 ft. 3 in. In 1857, John Whitton, Wallace's successor, pointed out that difficulties would occur when the New South Wales and Victorian lines met at Albury, and endeavoured, unsuccessfully, to persuade the Government of New South Wales to revert to the 5-ft. 3-in. gauge.

On the 14th June, 1883, the railways of New South Wales and Victoria were brought intO touch by the opening of a railway bridge over the Murray at Wodonga; from that moment, the inconvenience and expense of transferring passengers, goods, livestock, &c., between the colonics became apparent. On the 10th January, 1888, the Queensland (3 ft. 6 in.) and New South Wales (4 ft. 8i in.) lines met at Wallangarra and the same inconvenience was experienced. Thenceforth, the question of unifying the various gauges, at least On the main lines between the colonial capitals, became one of practical politics. In 1889, E. M. Gr. Eddy. Chief Commissioner of the New South Wales railways, impressed on his Premier, Henry Parkes, the urgency of adopting a universal gauge; forthwith, conferences of Premiers, railway commissioners and engineers resolved, and continued for many years to resolve, that unification must come - there were such conferences in 1897, 1903, 1912, 1913, 1914, 1915, 1916, 1918 (2), 1920 (2) and 1921. The first of these that took practical steps towards the solution of the problem was that of July, 1920, between Commonwealth and State Ministers, which set up a royal commission - two experts from oversea and an Australian not connected with any Australian railways - to report on the whole question. R us tat Blake from England, Frederick Methven Whyte from the United States of America., and John Joseph Garvan, of Sydney, were accordingly appointed on the Sth February, 1921, and their report was discussed at a Premiers conference in November. They recommended the adoption of the 4-ft. 81-in. gauge, and estimated the cost of conversion of all Australian lines of other gauges (including the rolling-stock), and of the construction of certain new lines, at £57,200,000. the cost of conversion of the more important lines only - all Victorian and South Australian broad-gauge lines and the FremantleKalgoorlie line in Western Australia - together with the construction of new lines from Port Augusta to Adelaide and from Kyogle in northern New South Wales to Brisbane, they estimated at £2.1,600,000. The Premiers accepted this report in principle, deciding that the Commonwealth should bear one-fifth of the cost, the remainder being shared among the mainland States in proportion to population ; but Victoria aud South Australia afterwards withdrew for the time being insofar as their broad-gauge lines were concerned.

In 1924, the Commonwealth, New South Wales and Queensland decided to begin work on the Kyogle-Brisbane line, which will give through running from Brisbane South to Al hurT (1,014 miles) or south-west to Broken Hill (1,309 miles). This part of the scheme is now (1926) in progress. The construction of u 4-ft. 8A-in. gauge line from Port Augusta in South Australia to Redhill, 126 miles north of Adelaide, and the laying of a third rail from Redhill to Adelaide, is still under discussion ; this would eliminate two breaks of gauge and provide a clear run from Kalgoorlie to Adelaide (1,241 miles).

It is stated in that article that twelve conferences of Ministers of State have already considered this subject; yet this

Government has declared that it proposes to call another conference. This conference will consist of people of the same professional outlook and knowledge as those who attended the previous conferences. In elaboration of the remarks made about Queensland in . that article about Queensland, I direct attention to the fact that the coast of Queensland between Brisbane and Cairns is particularly vulnerable. Some attention should be devoted to it for defence purposes. Mr. Theodore no doubt had this in mind when he directed that the new bridges over the Burnett, Kolan, Calliope and Boyne Rivers should be such as would carry a railway of 4-ft. 8-J-in. gauge.


Mr SPEAKER - The honorable member's time has expired.







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