Note: Where available, the PDF/Word icon below is provided to view the complete and fully formatted document
Friday, 24 November 1911


Senator McCOLL (Victoria) .- When the debate on this measure wastemporarily closed yesterday, I had dealt with several points which I desire to againmention. In the first place, I said that the question of constructing this transcontinental railway should not be settled without consulting the wishes of the States.I thought it was an assumption of authority by the Commonwealth Government to adopt the gauge of 4 ft. 8½ in., which would be practically the gauge for Australia forall time; because that was essentially a business and engineering proposition which should be submitted to experts before a' final decision was come to. I also showed that there was no Commonwealth promise that the line would be constructed. That statement has been repeated over and over again ; but I read letters which showed that there was no promise binding the Commonwealth. I stated that, up to the present time, the best engineering authorities and experts had been ignored. I pointed out that the State of Queensland was constructing transcontinental railways, and not asking any help from the Commonwealth Government. I reminded the Senate that the States had constructed their railways at their own expense. I urged that we need a specific policy as to a unification of gauges. I mentioned that, during the last twenty years, countries similar to Australia had, as a rule, ignored the 4-ft. 8^-in. gauge, and adopted a wider gauge after due inquiry, and on the authority of the- best engineering experts. I stated that America bitterly regretted that it had not adopted a wider gauge. I urged that this transcontinental railway cannot be expected to be a success unless it is associated with an immigration policy. I showed that, in America and Canada, the railways had been carried out mainly by private enterprise or corporations, and had always been associated with an immigration policy which had tended to the settlement of the land, and the -success of the railway policy. I contended that, unless our railway policy is associated with immigration, it is bound to be a failure. Further, I showed how the 4-ft. 8j-in. gauge came to be adopted in Australia : it was adopted on the authority of not of engineering experts alone, but also of laymen. I also expressed the opinion that the proposed cost of the line is far too low. I referred to the cost of lines throughout Australia, and the fact that no lines of this character have been constructed at anything like the proposed cost. I expressed the view that if the line were constructed at anything like the estimated cost, it must be at the expense of efficiency and profit. I also drew attention to the very vagueness of the information which has been supplied regarding the question of water supply. I pointed out that we did not know the quantity which would be available, that the water which was available had not been analyzed, and that probably it would be found unsuitable for use in railway engines. I read that part of the Minister's speech in which he referred to the question of using internal combustion engines, and so doing away, to a considerable extent, with the necessity of providing a water supply.


Senator Pearce - Do you say that in Australia no railways have been constructed on the 4-ft. 8J-in. gauge for the amount per mile which we estimate in the case of this line?


Senator McCOLL - Yes.


Senator Pearce - The line from Parkes to Condoblin and the line from Dubbo to Coonamble were constructed by New South Wales for less than ^2,500 per mile.


Senator McDougall - By day labour, too.


Senator Pearce - If the honorable senator will look at 713 of the Official YearBook, he will see the particulars.


Senator McCOLL - Later the Minister will have an ample opportunity to complete his case. In His speech he quoted this passage from the report of Mr. Deane -

If the internal combustion principle can be applied to the locomotives used on the railway, the provision for water can be much reduced, and it might be safe to reckon on bringing the cost down to, say,' £250,000, as the water requirements would then be confined to station purposes and household use.

Referring to that report, the Minister made these remarks -

The question of using the internal combustion engine is being closely inquired into by Mr. Deane, who believes that at present the outlook is very promising, and that he will be able to recommend the use of the engine on this railway. If that is so, there will be very important developments in railway construction' in the dry areas of Australia. I confess that, until recently, I knew little or nothing about the internal combustion engine, but possibly what I have learned may be of information to some honorable senators. It seems that it is an engine which uses oil, and the explosion caused by the ignition of the oil supplies the driving force. It does not use water for steam power as in the case of an ordinary locomotive. It only requires water for the cooling of the cylinder in which the explosion takes place. It is really an oil engine applied to a locomotive, and as the water for cooling the cylinder can be used over and over again, a locomotive will have to carry only a small quantity, and therefore the question of water supply will be a very simple proposition. Previously the difficulty has been that they have never been able to get in one engine more than 200 horse-power. On an ordinary train that would not be sufficient, because some of our trains require 1,400 horse-power. But in America they are carrying out an experiment ; they attach an internal combustion engine to each truck or carriage, and therefore get a multiplication of 200 horse-power. By employing five vehicles you would therefore get 1,000 horsepower, and by using ten vehicles you would obtain 2,000 horse-power, and so on:

That sounds very well, but on inquiry of experts I find that the Minister's contention is not very tenable. Such engines are used to a very limited extent and experimentally on branch lines abroad. They are not used as locomotives for hauling trains, but as engines attached to single cars. The Minister is quite right in that respect. They attach an engine to each car. If the American examples are quoted by the Minister on his own initiative, they are absurd, and if they are given on advice they are inexplicable. I am told on the best authority -

The proposal is unworthy of serious consideration.It cannot be admitted as a valid excuse for reducing the cost of the water service by some£400,000. It would require a skilled driver to each vehicle.It would thus enormously increase the working costs. If it is said that one driver could attend to several or all, think what that would mean in the case of the necessity for a quick emergency stop to avert accident. It would prevent all interchange of stock from the roads of States - fatal for military use.

It seems to me that, while the proposition is very attractive, it is very illusory. From what I can gather, it is not likely to be carried out, and hence the cheapening of the cost of water supply from £600,000 to £250,000 odd will not be justified. The Minister also dealt with the question of revenue and expenditure. He did not confine himself to indorsing the estimate of revenue and expenditure which has been put forward by the engineer. Nothing that we have before us will enable us to check the accuracy of the items. The only basis on which we could arrive at any conclusion would be the accuracy with which a non-constant and non-existent traffic could be estimated. We have not the least idea of what will be the volume of that traffic. We cannot tell what it will amount to either in passengers or goods. All the statements which have been made in regard to the development of Western Australia from the stand-point of agriculture merely show that the needs of that State in the matter of imports will not be so great in the future as they have been in the past. Consequently it will not require the same volume of goods from the Eastern States, and therefore the traffic which will travel over the proposed line cannot be judged with anything like accuracy. The estimates which have been submitted to us have been framed by engineers, and I ques- tion whether they are the proper authorities to inform us as to the volume of the prospective traffic. I have gone into the matter very carefully, but I have not been able in any way to check the figures which have been supplied to us, or to offer an opinion of my own. At the present time I do not think that any authority is able to gauge with any degree of accuracy what will be the volume of traffic over the proposed railway. The Engineers-in-Chief of the States, are no more fitted to make an estimate in this connexion than is any ordinary individual. I have before me an estimate of the number of passengers who travel from the Eastern States to the various ports in Western Australia. I was unable to obtain the tonnage of the goods which are carried to that State from the Eastern States, although I know the value of those goods. But the figuresgive very little indication of what the future will be. We cannot tell how many persons will prefer to travel by sea rather than by rail, and therefore it is impossible to say what will be the passenger traffic over this transcontinental railway. The Minister of Defence also touched upon the question of the gauge to be adopted on the line and of its influence in determining the gauge for Australia. He admitted that whatever gauge we adopt the States will be compelled to adopt. He also said that the Government "had to face this question and settle it." I fail to understand why that: is so. They have not a railway department. They have no railway experts except those who are temporarily employed by them; they have not made inquiries into the conditions under which the States arerunning their railways, or into the reasons why countries in which similar conditions prevail to those which obtain in Australia have declined to adopt a 4-ft. 8½-in. gauge. It is true that some countries have adopted a smaller gauge, but only for a special reason - because the territory to be traversed is of a mountainous character. In no other instance has a country sacrificed a larger gauge for a smaller one in respect of its main trunk lines.


Senator Pearce - What about Canada?


Senator McCOLL - I will deal withCanada presently. I would like to know by what authority the Government claimthat they have " to face this question and settle it," without even giving the States an opportunity to make inquiries into it.


Senator Pearce - That statement is not correct.


Senator McCOLL - It is.


Senator Lynch - Have not the States, through their experts, decided the question again and again?


Senator McCOLL - They have never settled it.


Senator Lynch - The honorable senator himself has proved it.


Senator McCOLL -No person has had authority to settle this question for the States.


Senator de Largie - What authority have we?


Senator McCOLL - None. There has been no definite pronouncement on the part of the States as to what gauge should be adopted.


Senator Sir Josiah Symon - That should be the result of a Conference of impartial experts.


Senator McCOLL - Statements have been made by persons who have met in conference, and who have been authorized to express an opinion there, but there has been no authorized expression of opinion on the part of the States. The EngineersinChief were requested by the Acting Prime Minister to meet early this year, not for the purpose of settling the width of gauge, but for the purpose of ratifying a decision in favour of the 4-ft. 81- in. gauge, which had been arrived at years previously by the Railways Commissioners. They declined to do that. The Minister of Defence scorns the idea of the Premiers settling this question. But I would point out to him that they would not settle it from their own knowledge. I recognise that this question affects the States of Australia commercially, industrially, and developmentally. It is only by a meeting of the Premiers of all the States interested that it can be settled. I am aware that it involves contingent interests - interests which are none the less actual and potent. I say that the States should not be subjected to compulsion in this question, because they are sovereign States, and should be able to settle it for themselves. If it be not settled in accordance with their desires, they may refuse to convert their railways to a uniform gauge. They may say to the Commonwealth, " Unless you enable us to get the best advice that we can, so that in determining the width of gauge of this line we shall be acting on the experience and advice of the best experts obtainable, we shall refuse to convert our railways to the gauge adopted by the Commonwealth." Inthat case the utility of the proposed transcontinental railway will be largely nullified, whilst for defence purposes its value will be enormously reduced. The States should be consulted in this matter. This can be accomplished either by a Conference, or by the appointment of a Commission, or by transmitting cablegrams to those countries which, as the result of experience,have adopted a broader gauge during recent times. Ireland was a long time before she decided the width of gauge which she would adopt. The same remark is applicable to India and Russia. We shall hold ourselves up to the scorn of future generations if we fall into error as the result of determining this question without due inquiry.


Senator Lynch - Why doesthe honorable senator refer to the case of a small country like Ireland, and omit to refer to Great Britain?


Senator McCOLL - The honorable senator must know that I point to Ireland because her decision in regard to the width of gauge of her railways was arrived at years after a decision was arrived at by Great Britain, and was also come to in the light of more experience and greater engineering knowledge.


Senator Keating - Even the originator of the 4-ft. 8½-in. gauge says that he does not know why he fixed that gauge.


Senator McCOLL - Exactly. I have before me his very words. George Steverson himself said that if he had to construct his own lines he would adopt a gauge a few inches wider than the 4-ft. 8½-in., as he regarded that as the best. The decision arrived at by the Government to adopt a 4-ft. 8½-in. gauge is practically a one-man decision.


Senator Lynch - Supposing that the honorable senator's opinion were called a one-newspaper opinion?


Senator McCOLL - I am not deciding the width of gauge which the Commonwealth should adopt. All I ask is that time should be allowed for due inquiry to be made as to which is the best gauge. That is all that Victoria and South Australia demand.


Senator O'Keefe - Does the honorable senator think that the 4-ft. 8½-in. gauge is the best?


Senator McCOLL - For a country like Australia I think that a 5-ft. 3-in. gauge is preferable. I repeat that the EngineersinChief at a Conference which met in Melbourne merely indorsed an arrangement which was arrived at by the Railways Commissioners years previously. As a matter of fact, that agreement was made before the Commonwealth was inaugurated. The Commissioners desired to adopt a uniform gauge with as little interference to the 'financial position of the States as possible. Accordingly they viewed the matter merely from the stand-point of the cheapness or otherwise of converting the lines. That fact in itself nullifies their decision upon this question. It has been affirmed during this debate that the War Railway Council was unanimous in recommending the adoption of a 4-ft.8½- in. gauge. But the facts are otherwise. Mr. A. B. Moncrieff entered a strong protest against that gauge, and Mr. Thallon wanted further inquiry to be made before any decision was arrived at. The Minister has stated that to his own personal knowledge Mr. Thallon did not object to the gauge which was recommended by the Council. But, as a matter of fact, the honorable gentleman was not present at that gathering except for a very short time. He merely opened its proceedings, and then retired. The Minister referred to the question of widening tunnels. He said -

The Railways Commissioner for South Australia was a member of that Council, as was also the Commissioner for Victoria. Both of them signed those recommendations.


Senator O'keefe - Were they unanimous recommendations?







Suggest corrections