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Thursday, 10 June 1915

Senator RUSSELL (Victoria) (Assistant Minister) . - I desire to make a statement, which I have received in reply to the articles complained of by Senator Needham. The reply is from Mr. Norman Bell, the Engineer-in-Chief for the Commonwealth, and is addressed to the Secretary of the Department of Home Affairs, under date 8th June. It is as follows: -

In reply to yours of 3rd instant instructing that I should inquire into and report on a leading article that appeared in the West Australian on the 19th May, which contained allegations in respect to the East-West railway, I have the honour to advise that five articles appeared in the West Australian, commencing on 16th April last, under the following headings:

1.   The Federal Line. A Trip on the Kalgoorlie Section: Some Aspects of Construction Work.

2.   The Federal Line. Industrialism and Politics: Some Effects of Workers' Control.

3.   The Federal Line. Method of Construction : Some Matters of Detail.

4.   The Federal Line. Changes in Construction Policy: Some Prejudicial Consequences: Protection of Health and Earnings.

5.   The Federal Line. Revised Ministerial Estimates of Time: Shifting of Officers: Culvert Construction.

In addition, there were at least two leading articles dealing with these articles, and with certain reports made by me. I am dealing with each of the five articles separately, so that a complete reply may be given to all the allegations.

Article No. 1. - Reference is first made to a statement of the Prime Minister in April, that the line would be completed in two and a half years. The correctness of this is questioned, and doubt is thrown on the possibility of the " last yard of ballast " 'being in place, and its being " nicely tamped around the sleepers " and sidings, and appurtenances necessary for a speed of 50 miles per hour being finished, &c. I desire to point out, however, that so far as the travelling public is concerned, the line will be " completed " when through trains can run between Kalgoorlie and Port Augusta with safety and comfort, and at a reasonable rate of speed. The completion of the ballasting which is largely necessitated by maintenance economies, the providing of station accommodation along the track which will become necessary as the traffic develops, the fencing of the line as the country becomes stocked, are some of the works, amongst numerous others, which will take some time to carry out, and do not concern the completion of the line as far as through traffic is concerned, which can commence shortly after the rails are connected.

The Prime Minister was well within the mark when he stated that thiswould be accomplished in two and a half years. I have reason to believe it will be accomplished in less than two years. The writer then states that " it is nearly three years since the work was commenced." But the tracklayer did not start at the western end until 18th November, 1913, prior to which date only113/4 miles of track had been laid by hand, there not -having been locomotives, rolling-stock, rails, sleepers, or appliances generally to do more. It will be seen, therefore, that practically only nineteen months have elapsed since a start was made, during which time the work was entirely at a standstill for thirteen weeks on account of a strike. In spite of this, the railhead has now reached the 258-mile.

The cost is then referred to, Mr. Deane's estimate of £4,045,000 mentioned, the expenditure to date given by the writer at £3,205,451, and the statement made that the results are poor " in comparison with the sums which have been lavished." The writer is, however, not aware of a number of facts. Some of these facts are -

1.   Mr. Deane'sestimates only allowed for lighter rails (70-lb.), as against 80-lb. now being used.

2.   Mr. Deane'sestimates did not provide for ballasting, or only an insignificant quantity.

3.   Large stocks of material are in hand, practically the whole of the sleepers and telegraph material required for the western section have been paid for, and there is a considerable stock of rails and fastenings.

4.   Plant and buildings have been purchased and erected which will be used throughout the section.

The writer has no knowledge on which to base any statement with regard to the cost to date, or for comparing that cost with the original estimate.

It is then stated that there are " methods and appliances galore," " there is a Traffic Department and a Construction Department." As a matter of fact, there is a Construction and Maintenance Branch, a Traffic Branch, and Mechanical Branch. Any one acquainted with railway administration will realize the necessity for such an arrangement. During the period of construction the line, as it is built, has to be maintained to carry the traffic, proper maintenance gangs have to be established, and the gangers and fettlers trained in maintenance work. They have to be made acquainted with the rules and regulations applying to open line working; this is now being supervised by the Construction Engineer, but will later have to be placed under a separate Maintenance Engineer. In the Traffic Branch, the safe working of the trains has been placed under a Traffic Superintendent, who during the construction period, trains a staff of stationmasters, guards, porters, shunters, &c, in the open line working. In the Mechanical Branch, the District Mechanical Superintendent has to get together a staff of competent drivers, firemen, cleaners, &c., and has to provide for the proper repair of locomotives and rolling-stock, &c. To wait until the rails were connected, when fast through passenger traffic had to be dealt with, before taking any steps to acquire and train a competent staff of both officers and men to deal with maintenance, traffic, and locomotive working, would be to seriously hamper the through working and endanger the safety of the travelling public. The staff employed is no greater than is absolutely required in spite of the statement to the contrary, and will be increased as construction advances.

The water supply question is then dealt with. The cost of Mundaring water at Kalgoorlie is 7s. 3d. for the first 20,000 gallons per day, and 5s. 6d. per 1,000 afterwards, not 7s. 3d. all round, as stated. I have not found this water " altogether unsuitable " for boiler purposes, as alleged. So far as I am concerned, provision for water at Cardonia was dealt with promptly. The possibility of getting surface water at 104 and 132 miles was discovered by- the present Supervising Engineer, Mr. Darbyshire, shortly after he took charge, and action was immediately taken. It would not have been possible to construct tanks at these places ahead of platelaying. No surface water can be obtained at any other place on the western section, and water will have to be procured from bores, the sinking of which is well ahead of construction. The conveyance of water from' the Mount Charlotte Reservoir, and the bore at 344 miles in pipes along the line has been fully inquired into, and is impracticable.

The balance of this article deals with the late running of the material trains, a matter which is constantly receiving attention, and which is daily improving, but which is, under the present condition, not such a matter of serious importance as the writer would wish one to believe, with the material depot at 126 miles. With regard to this depot, it is intended to establish a similar one at 235 miles, and at probably two or three points beyond. This was arranged after careful consideration, and is done so as to utilize the rolling-stock to its full extent throughout the construction period, and to employ as nearly as possible a uniform quantity of Tolling-stock for the carriage of material throughout, instead of an ever-increasing quantity, as the platelaying gets further and further from Kalgoorlie. and at the same time keep a stock of material as near to the head of the road as possible to avoid stoppage of the work through engine failures, or accidents which might occur during long runs.

Article No. 2. - This article deals first with the alleged centralization of administration, and states that the officers are " vested in such attenuated habiliments of authority that economy and efficiency are impossible," and that the present Supervising Engineer retains " the limited authority allowed the local Supervising Engineer." I can only answer such statements by saying they are absolutely false. The officers at Kalgoorlie have all the authority which similar officers have in State Railway Departments. The Supervising Engineer has sole power to engage or dispense with all labour. He has never been dictated to as to whom he shall engage, or whom he shall dispense with, either politically or by myself. He is responsible to me, as I am to the Minister, for the proper conduct and cost of the work of construction, and as such, he is intrusted with the employment of efficient workmen.

The writer then goes on to say that the command ' of the industrial side of it rests with a crowd of workmen who, for the most part, recognise neither responsibility to themselves nor to their employers, the taxpayers. The 'Government stroke' is carried on to an extreme which would be considered impossible, did not the lamentable facts testify to it"; and later, " and for the money they receive the men, on the whole, are not giving a fair return." Such accusations are not only grossly untrue and unfair to the men, but are a serious reflection on the supervising staff; they have been made without sufficient knowledge, and apparently for political purposes.

I have been occupied continuously for thirtyfive years on the construction and management of railways. For the last fifteen years I have had control of hundreds of miles of line built by day labour. I may therefore presume to nave acquired some knowledge of the subject, and from what I know of the conduct of the work and its cost, and from what I saw during my recent visit to the West, I can assure you that the men are working honestly and conscientiously; that they are working equally as well, if not better, than they would work for a private employer; that the supervising staff is probably as hardworking and efficient a staff as lias ever been got together in Australia on railway construction work; and that there is no doubt that the final result will compare most favorably with any similar work done under contract. The writer of this article quotes the tracklaying gang as an instance where the men are not giving a fair return for their money, and states that the men refuse to " do a stroke of work after a mile of rail has been laid." The method of track laying adopted is the method which has been in use throughout Australia for many years. A certain number of men are engaged to lay a certain length of track each day, the number of men to be employed and the length of track to be laid by them each day is a matter of arrangement, or the result of experience. The rail sleepers and fastenings for that length of track are sent out to the head of the road each day. When the work goes smoothly, the material sent out is frequently laid in less than the day. Not having more material to go on with, the men return to camp, and the invariable practice is to pay a full day's time for this. Such practice has been found to be the most economical and the best for all concerned.

Article No. 3. - A large portion of this article is repetition, and has been previously dealt with. The cost, the water question, the alleged centralization in Melbourne, and the question of material depots, are again referred to. The only fresh subjects referred to are brake power on trains, preparing the road bed, and the number and the length of sleepers. So far as the brake power is concerned, the statement that with a train of thirty odd trucks, only the engine and van were provided with air brakes is a strange one, as instructions have been issued that all trains are to be marshalled so as to provide that trucks fitted with air brakes shall represent 25 per cent, of the total weight of the train. The brake fittings for the balance of the rolling-stock have been under order for a long period, and the supply has been delayed by the war. In any case, the goods stock in most of the Australian and New Zealand States -have only been recently fitted with continuous brakes, if, indeed, they are now all so fitted, so that the Commonwealth railway is in no worse position, especially in view of the absence of steep grades .on the East- West railway. The method of preparing 'tHe road bed in advance of plate-laying was specially inquired into by me during my recent inspection, and is the best and only way under the circumstances. One hundred and twenty-two men are employed forming the line ahead of rails - not eighty-six, as stated. No damage is done to the permanentway, and the work is completed as a contractor would be required to complete it. The Supervising Engineer is supplied with a specification, such as would be issued to a contractor, and he is required to work to it. With regard to the sleepers, the original number used per 33 feet was thirteen, and they were 9 feet x 10 inches x 5 inches. I altered this to fifteen sleepers per 33-ft. rail, and made them 8 ft. 6 in. x 9 inches x 5 inches, as my experience was I could get a better road by doing so. At the same time, I reduced the formation width from 18 feet to 17 feet. The Powellising Commission recommended sleepers 8 feet x 10 inches x 5 inches.

Article No. 4. - In this article, the first questions raised are the depreciation of the . plant and the altered length of rail. So far as the plant is concerned, it is kept in repair during the progress of the work, and each month a certain percentage is written down for depreciation. On the completion of the line, the plant- will be valued for transfer elsewhere, the East-West line credited, and the new line debited. Should there be no new line to transfer it to, it will be sold, and the EastWest line credited with the amount obtained. The alteration of the length of rail has no connexion with the plant depreciation, the 33- ft. rail waggons will be used for traffic purposes, or still used for carrying longer rails by loading alternate trucks with sleepers. The rails being rolled at Newcastle are 40 feet, not' 45 feet as stated; although, when the Broken Hill Company are in a position to roll 45-ft. rails, such length will be adopted on future lines constructed. If a longer length than 33 feet had been adopted in the first instance a very considerable saving would have been effected.

The next point raised is the ballasting question again, and the figures - are largely incorrect. Reference is again made to the line not being completely ballasted when opened for traffic, with regard to which please see my comments on Article No. 1.

The statements with regard to the several branches are again repeated, with the addition that the writer states - " The freight on every ton of railway material is, with all the necessary formalities, booked against the Construction Department, and a monthly bill is sent to the latter showing its indebtedness." The writer must surely recognise that this is necessary to enable an accurate record being kept of the various operations, and to distribute the cost of conveying material over the different works, such as earthworks, platelaying, bridges, culverts, water supply, &c, and that the method adopted is the most complete and accurate way of doing so.

The balance of the article is in praise of the provisioning, medical, sanitary, postal, savings bank, and .police arrangements, except a brief description of the country through which the line is now passing, . and a still further reference to the dates of completion.

Article No. 5.- The time of completion is again referred to at some length, but I have nothing more to add except that I am not aware if any railway in the history of Australia in which platelaying has proceeded at such a rapid rate as it has on the East-West line during the past twelve months.

The writer states, " the country offers no' obstacle." but he is not aware that altogether over . 4,000,000 cubic yards of earthworks will have to be moved, and. that for a long distance very heavy earthwork indeed exists, much heavier than exists to the best of my knowledge on any part of the Western Australian railways.

The substitution of Mr. Darbyshire for Mr. Smith is referred to; but, as you are aware, Mr. Smith never held the position of Supervising Engineer, but was temporarily transferred from survey work ahead, and merely acted as Supervising Engineer until other arrangements were made.

My opinion is asked if the delay in ballasting the line will adversely affect the rails; in reply, I have to state that there are many miles of unballasted lines in Australia, and that the rails are not affected as long as a reasonable running top is kept on the road.

Some reference is made to culvert construction, the meaning of which is not clear to me, except that twelve months or more ago, a dispute arose as to the quantity of stone carted by a contractor to certain culverts, and allegations were made as to a contractor using his dray for other purposes. I reported fully on the occurrence.

In conclusion, I would state that the writer mentions, in Article No. 2, that he did not see the Supervising Engineer, Mr. Derbyshire. It is to be regretted that he failed to do so, as, if he had, I am of opinion ° that these articles either would not have been written, or, if they had been, the conclusions arrived at would have been different, and the facts and figures more accurate. Instead of going to the responsible officer for information, the writer appears to have relied upon information obtained from juniors and assistants, and has been somewhat misled.

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