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Tuesday, 30 October 1956

Mr CRAMER (Bennelong) (Minister for the Army) . - by leave - I move -

That the bill be now read a second time.

The purpose of this bill is to amend the Commonwealth Railways Act 1917-1955 to empower the Commissioner, with the approval of the Governor-General, to close any railway or part of a railway which is no longer required as a railway, and to empower the Commissioner -

(1)   to dispose of the railway or part of a railway on such terms and conditions as the Commissioner thinks fit; or to lift, take up, dismantle and remove the same or any part; and

(2)   to sell or otherwise dispose of the land or any of the land appur tenant thereto.

The Commonwealth Railways Commissioner has been given legislative authority for the construction in the State of South Australia of a standard-gauge railway from Stirling North to the Leigh Creek North Coal-field, and for its extension to Marree. This authority is contained in the Stirling North to Brachina Railway Act 1952-1954; the Brachina to Leigh Creek North Coalfield Railway Act 1950-1952: and the Leigh Creek North Coal-field to Marree (Conversion to Standard Gauge) Railway Act 1954.

The construction of this railway has reached the stage where the section from Stirling North to the Leigh Creek Coal-field has been opened for traffic and coal is now being conveyed direct to the power station at Stirling North in standard-gauge vehicles. To provide for the transfer of general goods and live-stock coming from or consigned to stations on the narrowgauge line north of the coald-field, temporary transfer facilities have been established at Copley, 12 miles south of the Leigh Creek North Coal-field. Arrangements are also in hand for passenger traffic between Port Augusta and Alice Springs to be transferred at this point. These facilities are only temporary as it is intended to transfer them to Marree when the construction of the standard-gauge railway reaches that place. As a result of this progress, that section of the 3-ft. 6-in. gauge Central Australia Railway which lies between Hawker and Brachina, a distance of approximately 41 miles, has now become redundant, and the principal reason for this bill is to provide the means for its closure.

So that honorable members may understand why it is now proposed to close this section of the Central Australia Railway, 1 shall briefly outline the history of the legislation which has governed this railway. The -Northern Territory Acceptance Act 1910 approved and ratified an agreement made on 7th December, 1907, between the Commonwealth and the State of South Australia in which are set out the terms under which the State surrendered the Northern Territory" to the Commonwealth. Under this agreement, the Commonwealth undertook to - give and continue to give to the State and its citizens equal facilities at least in transport of goods and passengers on the Port Augusta Railway to those provided by the State Government at the present time and at rates not exceeding those for the time being in force on the railways of the State for similar services.

In the 1907 agreement the Port Augusta Railway was defined as the then existing railway between Port Augusta and Oodnadatta, of which the 3-ft. 6-in. gauge line between Hawker and Brachina formed a pa rt. In 1949, the Commonwealth undertook to convert to standard gauge the existing 3-ft. 6-in. gauge line from Port Augusta to Alice Springs. The agreement embodying this undertaking was authorized by the Railway Standardization (South Australia Agreement) Act 1949. There was a difference of opinion as to which was the most suitable route for the Stirling North to Brachina section of the standard gauge railway, and this matter was referred to a royal commission, the form of which was agreed to by the State of South Australia. Section 3 of the Northern Railway (Alteration of Route) Act 1950 of South Australia, reads -

3.   The recommendation of the Commission o» the question referred to it shall be binding uponthe State, and the construction of a standardgauge line of railway between Stirling North andi Brachina on the route recommended by the Commission shall be deemed to be a discharge of the. obligation of the Commonwealth under the Agreement to convert to standard-gauge that part of the Port Augusta to Alice Springs railway which lies between Stirling North and Brachina.

The route adopted was that recommended by the royal commission. This route, which skirts the Flinders Ranges to the westward, by-passing Quorn and other stations on the narrow-gauge line, is the route on which the standard-gauge line to Brachina has been constructed. It follows from this, Mr. Speaker, that the State has by legislation freed the Commonwealth of its obligation to run trains on the narrow-gauge line Stirling North-Quorn-Brachina. The section of the 3-ft. 6-in. gauge railway between Hawker and Brachina which it is now proposed should be closed, serves only three intermediate sidings - Hookina, Mern Merna and Edeowie, all of which are less than 10 miles by direct route from the nearest station on the new standard-gauge railway. The redundancy of this section of the narrowgauge railway is clearly evidenced by the following statistics which relate to the period of twelve months ended 31st March, 1956:-


lt will be seen that most of the traffic to and from the three sidings on the line is in livestock, a proportion of which in any case would be more conveniently served by the new standard-gauge railway; and that the cost of maintaining the track and structures alone for the year was £13,000 in excess of earnings. Fifteen station properties are at present served by this section of the railway, five to the east of the line and ten to the west. The small inconvenience that would be suffered by the few settlers in the area if the section were closed would be more than outweighed by the advantages gained by others who are more conveniently served by the new railway, and by the benefits of faster and more frequent services on the new line.

When the findings of the royal commission were made public, the town clerk of Quorn addressed a letter to the Prime Minister requesting, inter alia, that the narrow-gauge line between Stirling North and Brachina be kept open. The reply contained the following -

In its conclusions the Commission recommended that the route proposed by the Commonwealth Railways Commissioner, i.e. construction of a railway west of the Flinders Ranges between Stirling north and Brachina, should be adopted. As a consequence, it has been decided that on completion of this railway, the existing 3' 6" gauge railway between Quorn and Hawker will be maintained and a service conducted in keeping with the requirements of business offering. However, the section between Hawker and Brachina (41 miles) should be closed as there is no justification for the expenditure of public funds to retain this portion of the railway which passes through an area in which very few persons are resident and who will still be provided with a service within a reasonable distance.

The request made by the townspeople of Quorn through their town clerk was in the hope that " through " railway traffic might continue to flow on the narrow-gauge line through that town. However, whether or not the line were closed as recommended, " through " traffic would be routed over the new line via Stirling North. lt could be argued, Mr. Speaker, that if the section of railway were distant from any transport services, it should remain open as a government contribution to the development of the country, but I wish to emphasize to honorable members that this section is parallel to, and for most of its length not more than 10 miles away from, the new standard-gauge railway. Another important consideration is that if this section of line were closed, valuable materials could be released for use elsewhere on the railway. For example, immediate use could be made of materials in the tracks, particularly rails, for re-laying in other sections, for telephone poles, stock yards, culverts and storage sidings.

I am confident, Mr. Speaker, that honorable members will agree that no reasonable objection could be raised to the proposal to close this section of the railway, but as under section 36 of the Commonwealth Railways Act the Commissioner is bound to maintain the railways and all works in connexion therewith in a state of efficiency, it is necessary that legislative authority be obtained for the dismantling and removal of the line.

Provisions such as are sought in this bill are not new to railway legislation. Foi example, under section 84 of the South Australian Railways Commissioner's Act 1936-J950, it is provided that if any land or other property of any kind vested in the commissioner for railway purposes, or for the purposes of any railway, is not required for the said purpose, the commissioner may. with the consent of the Governor, sell, exchange or dispose of such land or other property, " for such price or other consideration as he deems proper ". Similar provisions also exist in the legislation governing railways in the States of Queensland and Tasmania.

I submit to honorable members that the powers it is proposed to confer on the Commonwealth Railways Commission under this bill are, particularly in view of existing circumstances, essential to the efficient and economic operation of the railways under his administration, and I commend the bill to their favorable consideration.

Debate (on motion by Mr. E. . laine, Harrison) adjourned.

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