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Wednesday, 31 October 1956

Mr WENTWORTH (Mackellar) (1:45 AM) . - I share the regret of the honorable member for Blaxland (Mr. E. James. Harrison) that this bill has come before the House at such a late hour when honorable members are not really able to pay sufficient attention to the important principles involved in it, which, I believe, warrant the careful attention of the House, t shall be very brief. I want first to mention the short length of railway which is being closed and the new line that will replace it. This change will increase the importance of Marree, and the Government should be thinking, in terras of developing an important transfer point at that centre, which will be the junction of the 3-ft. 6-in. line and. the new 4-ft. 8£-in. line. In addition, it will be the point at which road traffic down the Birdsville track from the. Queensland Channel country will reach the nearest point in the Australian railways system. This will tend to make Marree the terminal point for a most important road traffic, and therefore the Commonwealth Railways should be thinking in terms of developing a large and highly efficient transfer point at Marree.

The second point 1 should like to mention is that the new railway cannot become fully efficient until it is linked with the main standard-gauge system. The new length of line is itself of standard gauge, but it will not be possible to travel to Adelaide without a break of gauge unless the line from Port Pirie to Adelaide is converted to standard gauge. The break of gauge presents a problem in terms of the movement of cattle to the Adelaide market from the interior. There is also a considerable trade across the border into New South Wales which at present entails a large number of transfers, all of which hinder the proper flow of traffic. This could be overcome; if the line from. Broken Hill to Port Pirie were converted: to standard gauge. This trade between South Australia and New South Wales is becoming increasingly important with the development of big mineral deposits in centralAustralia and the Northern Territory, particularly at Tennant Creek. The minerals obtained in these areas earn much foreign exchange and provide a great deal of revenue, and it is to be hoped that the Commonwealth will think in terms of reducing production costs and providing trie most efficient transport system possible by eliminating the transfers necessitated by the. break of gauge.

These are important matters, although, they are perhaps of less importance than the other matters mentioned by the honorable member for Blaxland, in respect of most of which I find myself substantially in agreement with him. Diesel-electric locomotives will pay for themselves, and it would be prudent for the Government to make available to the States in some form the capital funds needed to. purchase them. This capital expenditure would be selfbalancing over a very short period. After only a year or two in service the dieselelectric locomotives would pay for themselves. The House will- remember that some time ago I suggested that, we should have a revolving fund for the purchase of dieselelectric locomotives into which the profits from the operation of locomotives of this type could be paid so that more of them could be purchased. In this way, as the honorable member for Blaxland has rightly said, the whole of our railways system could be converted to diesel-electric traction.

The last point I should like to make is that it is well worth while to construct new lines to high standards. It would not be possible to take trains of 5,500 tons gross weight over the new line between Stirling North and Brachina, as the Commonwealth Railways Commissioner proposes to do, if the line had not been constructed to veryhigh standards. I do not believe that the day of the railway is done, lt may be that for the short haul and the small haul it is done, and I think that is why the railway mentioned in this bill is to be closed, and quite rightly. But for long and heavy hauls railways can perform a valuable function which cannot be performed nearly as efficiently by road transport. We must rationalize our transport system, perhaps by closing railways, as on this occasion, where they carry purely local traffic, and we should at the same time develop our main trunk lines to high standards in order to give the people proper transport services.

Question resolved in the affirmative.

Bill read a second time.

In committee:

The bill.

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