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Thursday, 23 November 1911


Senator McCOLL - Here the Minister in charge of the Bill behaved little better. It is true that he gave us a fair amount of information, but the great bulk of it was derived from reports. It was second-hand information, and there was little in it to indicate the bearing which the proposed line would have on the rest of the States. Up to the present time the States have constructed all the railways in Australia. The latter are the assets for which money has been borrowed, and they are the security of the money-lender for the repayment of interest. I find from official sources that New South Wales has constructed 3,643 miles of railway of 4-ft. 8^-in.. gauge, at a cost of ,£48,925,348, or £13,43° Per mile. Victoria has built 3,383 miles of railway of 5-ft. 3-in. gauge, at a cost of ;£42,453>8oi, or £12,549 per mile. South Australia has constructed 599 miles of railway of 5-ft. 3-in. gauge, at a total cost of £6,670,794, or £11,136 per mile. South Australia has also built 1,313 miles of railway of 3-ft. 6-in. gauge, at a cost of ;£7,737>738> °r an average cost .of £5,892 per mile. In the Northern Territory there are 145 miles of railway on the 3-ft. 6-in. gauge, which cost £1,180,155, or £8,m per mile. Queensland has constructed 3,661 miles of railway of 3-ft. 6-in. gauge, at a total cost of £24,336,372, or ,£6,648 per mile. Western Australia has built 2,144^ miles of railway of a similar gauge, at a total cost of £11,377.262, or £5,305 per mile. Tasmania has constructed 4454 miles of railway of 3-ft. 6-in. gauge, at a total cost of £3,949,441, or £8,860 per mile. Throughout Australia the 3-ft. 6-in. gauge railways have been constructed at an average cost per mile of £6,144. In Tasmania the same gauge has cost £8,860 per mile; in New Zealand, £10,494; in Cape Colony, £9,055; and in Natal, £12,861. We are asked to believe that the proposed transcontinental line, which will be 1,066 miles long, can be constructed upon a 4-ft. 8^-in. gauge for. £3,75° per mile, Or a little more than half the average cost of the 3-ft. 6-in. gauge lines, which have been laid down in this country. That is what we are told, despite the fact that the line will be a long one, that it will traverse new country, and that, during recent years, the cost both of the raw material required in its construction, and also of labour, has increased. Yet we are asked to believe that this line can be built for £3,750 per mile. To me, as a layman, that does not seem reasonable. This information has been supplied to us by engineers who have been engaged in laying down lines in their own States for years past But all those lines have been built at a very much higher cost per mile.

Senator Pearce - On the eastern goldfields of Western Australia, they have not.

Senator McCOLL - That may be so. But we do not know how those lines are ballasted - indeed, we know very little of them. We are entitled to look with a certain amount of suspicion upon estimates which have not been realized throughout this continent by the engineers, who now tell us that the proposed railway can be constructed for £3,750 per mile.

Senator Pearce - Even a layman knows that it costs more to build a railway over a mountain than it does to construct it over a plain.

Senator McCOLL - To me, this seems to be the most vital economic question we have to consider, and upon it, the prosperity of the States largely depends. Yet the Commonwealth Government are treating the States as if they were mere cyphers. The former are determined to construct this line without considering the latter in any way. They will not make any definite statement as to who is to bear the cost of the conversion of our Australian railways, if this line be constructed. They merely say that they will give consideration to the requests of the States after it has been constructed.

Senator de Largie - It is a States question - not a Commonwealth one.

Senator McCOLL - That is quite true. It is not a Commonwealth question, and it is a piece of arrogance for the Government to say that they will construct this line how they please, and where they please. We have a right to consult the States in this matter.

Senator de Largie - They are consulted - they have their representatives in this Parliament.

Senator McCOLL - I wish the honorable senator would not interject. The States have already constructed 15,500 miles of railway at a cost of £144,000,000, thus laying a burden of debt on their people of £33 per head, and an interest bill of £5,500,000 annually. In these circumstances, are they to be ignored until the proposed transcontinental railway has. been built? It is only fair that the Commonwealth should come to a proper understanding with them immediately. If there be any place where the rights of the States ought to be considered, that place is this Chamber. The Senate is the States' House, and honorable senators ought to look at this matter from the point of view of the whole of Australia. I hope that we shall not allow the Bill to pass until justice has been done to the States. I am not opposed to the construction of the line. We have to link up the east and the west, but I wish to see them linked up on terms which will be just to all Australia. - We do not desire any "hifalutin " of the kind that was indulged in in another place, where the Minister of Home Affairs spoke of the " unsurpassed beauties," of Marathon, and of the Seven Hills of Rome. We do not wish to view the proposal, which is embodied in this Bill, in the light of a fanfaronade of words, but merely from a business standpoint. It is a commercial proposition, and we must view it from the point of view of business principles. It is a business and engineering proposition. National considerations will come in afterwards. The military conditions are most important in considering the proposal, but they involve the same features, and have to be considered in the same light, as commercial efficiency. That which will make for commercial efficiency will fulfil the highest military conditions, and vice versa. Never before have I known a Parliament or a corporation to be asked to construct a gigantic scheme like this one on such flimsy reasons and explanations as we have before us. In one sense, it will fix the gauge for Australia for all time, and yet it is not consulted on the subject. It proposes to involve the States in an enormous expense, yet it does not say to them " By your leave." I do not know that we would have had the correspondence unless I had moved for its production a little while ago. It was certainly not produced until I took action. We are told that the Commonwealth is committed to the construction of this railway. There was no one in power to commit the Commonwealth. Any promise which was given in the matter was made before the Commonwealth was created.

Senator de Largie - It is too late in the day to argue in that strain - that matter is settled.

Senator McCOLL - It cannot be settled; it never happened. There has been no guarantee given on behalf of the Commonwealth that this line would be constructed. What was given was the following letter by Mr. F. W. Holder -

Chief Secretary's Office,

Adelaide, 1st Feb., 1900.


Following our conversation as to the possible blocking of the construction of a railway line from Kalgoorlie to Port Augusta by the Federal Authority, by South Australia refusing consent rendered necessary by section 34 of clause 51 of the Commonwealth Bill, to the construction of the line through her territory, I regard the withholding of consent as a most improbable tiling, in fact, quite out of the question.

To assure you of our attitude in the matter, I will undertake as soon as the Federation is established (West and South Australia both being Stales of the Commonwealth) to introduce a Bill formally giving the assent of this Province to the construction of the line by the Federal Authority, and to pass it stage by stage simultaneously with the passage of a similar Bill in your Parliament.

I have, &c,

F.   W. Holder.

That is the guarantee which we are told was given to Western Australia to induce her to come into the Federation. Mr. Holder had no power to give any guarantee on the part of the Commonwealth. He was simply the Premier of the State of South Australia, and that was all that he could do. The following letter was ad dressed to the Prime Minister of Australia by Mr. J. G. Jenkins, Premier of South Australia : -

Premier's Office,

Adelaide, 31st July, 1901.


In reply to your letter of tlie 23rd instant, I have the honour to inform you that prior to the submission of the Commonwealth Constitution Act for the approval of the people of Western Australia, namely, on rst February, 1900, the Hon. F. W. Holder (then Premier of South Australia) wrote to the Premier of Western Australia (copy of letter herewith) undertaking on specified conditions to introduce a Bill formally giving the assent of this State to the construction of a line of railway to Western Australian border.

On 11th June I telegraphed to the Western Australian Premier as follows : - " Re Kalgoorlie railway. A Bill will be introduced into our Parliament as agreed by Mr. Holder, rst February, 1900, but we strongly insist upon line joining your State forty to sixty miles north of Eucla."

The Bill has not yet been introduced. 1 have, &c,

J.   G. Jenkins,


That is all the correspondence on which the alleged . promise stands. There was no promise by the Commonwealth. There was only a promise by the Premier of South Australia to do his best to get the line constructed and to bring in a Bill guaranteeing to give the land and facilitate the construction of the railway.

Senator de Largie - What about Mr. Deakin's promise at Albany?

Senator McCOLL - Admitting that a promise was given, is that any reason why we should not be prudent, why we should not look carefully at the whole question, and do the best we can for Australia?

Senator de Largie - Yes ; but we should be honest.

Senator McCOLL - We should be prudent, careful, and honest to all Australia* We find that engineering experience has; been ignored. Modern engineering ex,perience has not been taken into considera-tion. We should act as if we were dealing with our own money. As the trustees of the public purse, we should see that public money is spent in the best interests of Australia. Other States have built all their railways. They have not asked the Commonwealth to carry out the work for them. Only last year the Queensland Parlia-ment authorized the construction of a num. ber of railway lines at a cost of almost £7,000,000. These have as good a right to be considered transcontinental lines as has this proposed line. Queensland is constructing these lines with her own money, and asking no help from any one. We have to consider that fact. We have had the Minister of Defence telling us about this wonderful State in the West ; its great production ; its magnificent promise for the .future ; and how this line is going to be a success. And yet he comes as a suppliant to this Parliament, and tells us that it is unfair to ask for any guarantee, or for any land to be given.

Senator Givens - Suppose that we got the land, what is the good of it?

Senator McCOLL - I have not come to that point.

Senator de Largie - There are only 400 miles of the line to be built in Western Australia.

Senator McCOLL - We have to be just to all the States. When another State is expending on transcontinental railways the enormous amount of £7,000,000 we must take that fact into consideration, because that State, with the others, including Tasmania, will have to bear the burden of this railway if constructed by the Commonwealth. We should see that the Commonwealth makes the best bargain it can.

Senator W RUSSELL (SOUTH AUSTRALIA) - This is parochialism with a vengeance.

Senator McCOLL - No. I am looking at the matter from the broadest aspect. The railways which are being constructed are running into the danger zone of Australia, much more so than will the line which we are considering. They will run away to the nearest point of danger which the continent has at present. We have to consider that any decision given on this proposal will be irrevocable, and that if we make a mistake the consequences will be very serious indeed. As regards the adoption of the 4-ft. 8£-in. gauge, it is right that we should know who is to blame for that economic blunder in order that we may do justice in the matter of unification. How this particular gauge first came in no one seems to know. It has no special virtue. It is a good gauge, and has done good service ; but it is not better than other gauges. What we have to consider is, Is this the best gauge for Australia, and how did it come to be adopted here? We know that railway construction in Australia was first mooted in Sydney in 1846. An application was made to the Home Government as to which gauge they would recommend, and the 4-ft. 8j-in. gauge was the one used in England. Just about that time New South Wales had received a Legislature, although with very limited authority, be cause she had no power to appoint public servants. Her leading officials were all appointed by the Crown, and, therefore, their sympathies were with England, and English customs. In 1850, the Australian Colonies Government Act was passed, and in due course Victoria was created a separate Colony, with a Legislature. On the first reference of the matter to the Home Government in 1846, the adoption of the 4-ft. 8j-in. gauge was recommended. It was going to be taken up, but the engineer of the Sydney Railway Company, Mr. Shields, very strongly recommended the 5-ft. 3-in. gauge. He went thoroughly into the matter, and his representations had such effect that the company wrote to Sir Charles Fitzroy, the Governor, asking if it might be allowed to adopt that gauge, and this it was allowed to do. The company, through the Government, communicated with Victoria and South Australia . and asked that, in order that there might be no break of gauge in the future, those two Colonies should fall into line, and construct their railways on the same gauge as New South Wales was adopting. Just at this time the question of gauge was exciting a great deal of attention throughout the world, India was going into the matter very fully, and after long deliberation and close examination she finally adopted for her trunk lines the 5-ft. 6-in. gauge. New South Wales, as I said, adopted the 5-ft. 3-in. gauge, and passed an extremely stringent Act, with very harsh penalties provided. I refer to an Act for regulating the gauge of railways which was assented to on 27th July, 1852, and which reads as follows -

Whereas it is expedient to define the Gauge on which Railways shall be constructed within the Colony of New South Wales Be it enacted by His Excellency the Governor of New South Wales with the advice and consent of the Legislative Council thereof as follows : -

1.   It shall not be lawful to construct any Railway for the conveyance of passengers on any Gauge other than a Gauge of five feet three inches.

2.   And if any Railway used for the conveyance of passengers shall be constructed or altered contrary to the provisions of this Act the company or person authorized to construct the Railway or in the case of any demise or lease of such Railway the company or person for the time being having the control of the works of such Railway shall forfeit ten pounds for every mile of such Railway which shall be so unlawfully constructed or altered during every day that the same shall continue so unlawfully constructed or altered and in estimating the amount of any such penalty any distance less than one mile shall be estimated as a mile.

3.   And over and above the penalty hereby provided if any Railway used for the conveyance of passengers shall be constructed or altered contrary to the provisions of this Act it shall be lawful for the Surveyor-General of the Colony or other officer or person authorized by the Governor of the Colony in that behalf to abate and remove the same or any part thereof so constructed or altered contrary to the provisions of this Act and to restore the site thereof to its former condition.

4.   All penalties under this Act may be recovered from the company or persons liable to pay or make good the same by or in the name of Her Majesty's Attorney or Solicitor-General for the said Colony and shall be paid to Her Majesty Her Heirs and Successors to be applied to the public uses of the said Colony and in support of the Government thereof in such manner as may be directed by any Act or Acts to be passed by the Governor and Legislative Council.

There could not be any stronger provisions passed in regard to the construction of a line, and, therefore, Victoria and South Australia, when representations were made that they should fall into line with that gauge, naturally thought that that gauge, having been deliberately adopted and carried on under such provisions as I have quoted, there would not have been the least chance of it ever being altered. Therefore we found Victoria adopting that gauge, and South Australia following suit. Victoria constructed the Melbourne and Hobson's Bay line, and began the construction of the Melbourne and Geelong line, on the 5-ft. 3-in. gauge. I believe that 40 miles of the Mr Alexander railway had already been commenced. South Australia had passed an Act adopting the same gauge, and began the construction of the Adelaide to Port Adelaide line. When Mr. Shields, the engineer, left the service of the Sydney Railway Company, his place was taken by an English engineer, Mr. N. S. W. Wallace. He had been connected in England with some of the large engineering firms, and naturally came out with proclivities in favour of the 4-ft- 81/2-in. gauge. He began to work for the adoption of that gauge in New South Wales; and so great was the influence whichhe was able to bring to bear that in August,1855, the Act of1852 was repealed, and the 4-ft. 81/2-in. gauge was adopted without any reference to Victoria, and without saying, "By your leave" to that Colony, or to South Australia, with which an arrangement had been made. I say that that breach of faith, deliberately made on the part of New South Wales, ought to be remembered now, when we have to build Commonwealth railways, because it is not the fault of either South

Australia or Victoria that we have to face a dislocation of gauges.

Senator de Largie - What in the name of Heaven have we to do with that !

Senator McCOLL - We have everything to do with it, because, as the cost of conversion has to be paid for by somebody, these facts ought to be taken into consideration. When representations were sent Home from New South Wales regarding the adoption of the 4-ft. 81/2-in. gauge, Governor Latrobe, of Victoria, entered a strong protest against it. He sent a despatch to Earl Grey, then Secretary of State for the Colonies, asking him to recommend the Queen not to assent to the Act, but to recommend the adoption of the 5-ft. 3-in. gauge as agreed upon. Governor Latrobe thus showed that he looked upon what had been done as a breach of faith; but some power was, I suppose, at work - probably the same power as enabled the Riverina to be snatched from Victoria - and was strong enough to get the New South Wales Act signed. That is how it comes about that to-day we have to face this break of gauge, and it is well that the public should know what occurred. Mr. Wallace was succeeded by another EngineerinChief, Mr. Whitton, and he begged New South Wales to revert to the 5-ft. 3-in. gauge. But he was told that it could not be done. In1857 Captain Martindale was Engineer-in- Chief, and he also recommended that New South Wales should go back to the 5-ft. 3-in. gauge. His representations, however, were not accepted. Later on Mr. Eddy several times brought the matter up, and tried to bring about an understanding amongst the States in order to secure uniformity of gauge.

Senator Walker - Does the honorable senator recollect what Mr. Eddy recommended ?

Senator McCOLL - I do not think that he mentioned any gauge, but he urged that the whole subject should be considered, and the best gauge adopted. There is no doubt that, as an English engineer, his sympathies would be with the 4-ft. 81/2-in. gauge; but he did not say so in connexion with these representations. There are questions of loading gauge and of clearances, technical considerations, which I do not propose to discuss just now, although they are of considerable importance. It is well to remember that the broader gauge lines will carry a greater traffic in proportion.

Senator Pearce - Does the honorable senator say that working expenses axe less on the broader gauge?

Senator McCOLL - Less on the whole, in comparison with what the lines can carry.

Senator McDougall - Then why not have a 10-ft. gauge.

Senator McCOLL - That would be going too far. At the time to which I have been referring, India was looking into the question of gauges. The English engineers naturally desired to adopt the 4-ft. 8£-in. gauge; but Mr. Sims, then consulting engineer for India, reported as follows : -

The wider gauge of 5 ft. 6 in., which I would recommend for adoption, will give 94 inches more space for the arrangement of the several parts of the working gear of the several parts of the locomotive engines; and this, additional space will be more needed in India than in Europe, not only on account of the machinery itself, but it would lower the centre of gravity of both the engines and carriages, the result of which would be to lesson their lateral oscillation, and render the motion more easy and pleasant, and at the same time diminish the wear and tear.

The lowering of the centre of gravity, consequent on the adoption of the wider gauge, appears to me of great importance for another reason, namely, the fearful storms of wind so frequent at certain seasons of the year, and I think it very probable that in one severe nor'wester, not to mention such hurricanes as that of 1842, the additional 94 inches of width might make all the difference between the safety and destruction of the trains; and one such accident, attended, as it doubtless would be, with great loss of life, would probably retard the progress of the railway system in this country very considerably.

India adopted the 5-ft. 6-in. gauge, and when this report refers to " the gauge to be adopted " that is what is meant. Lord Dalhousie, then Governor-General of India, dealt with the subject at length. He wrote -

At one time this question was much before me ; and although I should not myself attempt to offer an opinion on so vexed a question, yet I may venture to form one on the recorded views of men competent in every way to judge. The evidence which has been given before the Gauge Commissioners in 1846, and evidence which has been given from time to time before the Committees of Parliament, backed, as it has been by very high authority abroad, is, I venture to think, sufficient to show that the narrow gauge of 4 ft. 8£ in. (a measurement adopted originally at haphazard, and from the accident of local circumstances), is not the best gauge for the general purposes of a railway, and that something intermediate between the narrow gauge of 4 ft. 84 in., and the broad gauge of 7 feet, will give greater advantages than belong to the former, and will substantially command all the benefits which are secured by the latter.

There is a great deal more on the same subject, all of which strengthens the claim for the wider gauge. India adopted the 5-ft. 6-in. gauge deliberately, after due investigation of the experience of other countries. Of course, I am aware that India also has some 3-ft. 6-in. lines, but they are feeder lines, chiefly in mountainous country, where a 5-ft. 6-in. railway would, of course, be very much more expensive than is the case on more level ground. After the refusal of New South Wales to adhere to the arrangement as to the 5-ft. 3-in. gauge, the subject came before the Legislative Council of Victoria. A Commission was appointed which took evidence from Mr. C. Pasley, colonial engineer ; Mr. C. Swyer, civil engineer; Mr. W. S. Chauncey, Mr. F. C. Christy, and Mr. A. Thomson. The result of a very careful inquiry, carried on over two or three years, was as follows : -

The Select Committee appointed on the 29th September, r8s3, " to take evidence and report upon the best gauge for railways in this colony," have the honour to report to your Honorable House : -

That in commencing their investigation into the important subject intrusted to them, your Committee addressed themselves to the correspondence with reference to the gauge of railways, laid on the Council table, on the 31st August last, by the Honorable the Colonial Secretary, and which was referred by your Honorable House to the consideration of your Committee.

From these and other documents it appears that the Government of New South Wales passed an Act establishing the medium gauge of 5 ft. 3 in. as the standard for that colony, and Earl Grey, the Secretary of State for the Colonies, addressed the Governments of the adjoining colonies, recommending the adoption of the same. This was accordingly done with respect to the Colony of Victoria, during the last session of the Legislative Council ; and two of the Railway Companies now actually carrying on their works have already forwarded extensive orders for rolling-stock,' and other materials, upon the faith of this decision.

It appears, however, that without due inquiry into the views and intentions of this colony, the Government of New South Wales have rescinded their former decision and determined upon the ' adoption of . the narrow gauge of 4 ft. 84 in.

After an attentive perusal of the various letters included in that correspondence, your Committee are unanimously of opinion that the Government of New South Wales was not warranted in abruptly changing the gauge from the uniform width of 5 ft. 3 in. (which had been generally adopted throughout the Australian colonies) to the narrow gauge of 4 ft. 84 in., without first having obtained the concurrence of the Government of the adjoining colony to a measure fraught with so much importance to the general interests of the whole of them.

Your Committee therefore suggests to your Honorable House the propriety of presenting an address to His Excellency the LieutenantGovernor, praying his Excellency to call the attention pf the Secretary of State for the Colonies to the enactment passed by the Legislature of New South Wales for altering the gauge of railways from 5 ft. 3 in. to 4 ft. 8£ in., and to respectfully request that the Royal assent may be withheld from that Act.

Your Committee, in the exercise of their discretion, have called before them competent persons to give evidence on the relative merits of the various gauges, from whose united testimony it appears to your Committee that a medium gauge of 5 ft. 3 in. is the most suitable gauge for the general purposes of railway transit that can possibly be adopted; that there will be no difficulty in procuring the necessary stock and machinery, as compared with that adapted for the narrow gauge ; that the expense will be no more, and that the safety, at equal rates of speed, will be much greater.

Your Committee, therefore, taking into consideration that the gauge of 5 ft. 3 in. had already been agreed to by the Governments of the Australian colonies ; that it had received the sanction of the Home Government, and the railways in course of construction in this colony are of that gauge, and that the balance of the evidence given before your Committee greatly preponderates in favour of the adoption of a uniform gauge of 5 ft. 3 in., your Committee feel no hesitation in recommending to your Honorable House that in all future enactments authorizing the construction of lines of railway in this colony a strict adherence to the gauge of 5 ft. 3 in. should in every case be insisted on.

Your Committee, bearing ' in mind that the best railway gauge for the Australian colonies had previously been decided to be 5 ft. 3 in., and that that gauge would not be departed from, except in deference to the opinion of the Government of New South Wales, or unless it could be shown to be inferior to the gauge of 4 ft. 8£ in., did not feel it necessary to prolong their sittings for the purpose of hearing other witnesses than those whose evidence is appended to this report, and which, in the opinion of your Committee, is sufficiently conclusive in favour of an adherence to the gauge already adopted in these colonies.

In closing their report, your Committee feel that they cannot too strongly deprecate the making of railways with various gauges, when the Governments of these colonies, by a unanimity of action, might establish and perpetuate a uniformity of gauge, and thereby entirely obviate the numerous evils incident to a want of uniformity in the railway communications of a country. (Sgd.) JOHN HODGSON,


Thursday, 20th October 1853.

It is just as well to put these facts into Hansard, because it should be recorded for all time to come how this break of gauge in Australia came about. Of course, every one knows what the gauge of a railway is. It is simply the distance between the tops of the rails on which the wheels of the trains run. Ireland, after careful consideration, adopted the 5-ft. 3-in. gauge. She did not adopt the English gauge, because, being an island, she had no railway communication with other countries. Russia adopted a 5-ft. gauge. At that time England was he home of manufactures, and especially of mechanical industries. Other nations went to her for rolling-stock, and, naturally, adopted her gauge. In those countries of Europe which were contiguous it was necessary that the gauge should be uniform, in order that trains might run from one country to another. But it is now a matter of regret to many countries that the 4-ft. 8J-in. gauge was adopted. There is no doubt that standardization must come in Australia some day; and I believe that it is practically upon us now that the Commonwealth is about to build railways. But it seems to me that the whole of the merits of the respective gauges should be inquired into. Practically only two gauges are in question, the 5-ft. 3-in. gauge and the 4-ft. 8^-in. gauge. A country like Australia, with its low altitude, its lack of very great mountain barriers, of these two. gauges the broader is very much the better. The train rate and length are determined by the width of gauge and the permanent structures. We know that in America to-day, and in Great Britain too, the train rate and length have over-reached their economic limit, and that is determined by the gauge and grade. In America the 4-ft. 8£-in. gauge would not now be recommended. We are not too far committed to that gauge. We can call a halt, and adopt another gauge if, after due inquiry, it is found desirable to do so. What I am asking now is not that we should adopt any particular gauge for this line, but that there should be an inquiry by the best modern engineering experts to guide us In the matter.

Senator Lynch - The honorable senator favours the 5-ft. 3-in. gauge?

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