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Wednesday, 10 October 1956

Mr ERWIN (Ballarat) . - I desire to direct my remarks to-night to the Commonwealth railways. I congratulate the Minister for Shipping and Transport (Senator Paltridge) and the Commonwealth Commissioner for Railways, Mr. Hannaberry, on the very fine job of work they have done in bringing the Commonwealth railways to their present high standard of efficiency, which is as high a standard as any to be found in the world. This year the Commonwealth railways made a profit of about £1,500,000, and that was achieved because -of the introduction of diesel-electric locomotives. The first of these locomotives was brought into service about four years ago, and during the last four years we have had to readjust our thinking about railway systems as a fast, efficient and economical means of transport.

Diesel-electric trains are able to operate at less than one-third the cost of the old steam trains, and, at the same time, give a faster service. Let us now look at the map of Australia and trace out where Commonwealth services operate. They operate from Port Pirie north to Port Augusta, thence to Kalgoorlie, a distance of approximately 1,100 miles. That service is known as the " trans " service. Our central railway line commences at Port Augusta and runs north to Alice Springs. Then there is a large gap across the centre of Australia to Birdum; and from Birdum to Darwin there is a 3 ft. 6 in. gauge railway. The present Government has commenced the conversion of the line from 3 ft. 6 in. to 4 ft. 8± in. - which is the world standard gauge - from Port Augusta for about 200 miles north; and as our economic conditions permit, we shall eventually have a world standard gauge line of 4 ft. 8i in. through to Darwin. In view of the comparatively small volume of goods carried and the unbalance of the goods traffic - there being a greater volume of goods taken west than is carried east - the profit made by the Commonwealth railways is remarkable. If the timber industry of Western Australia could be developed, that profit could be increased considerably, because a good deal of timber would be carried from the west to the east. So much for the Commonwealth railways.

Let us glance at the States' railway systems to see whether they could be greatly improved, to the advantage of the economy of the country. From Brisbane, in the north, there is a standard gauge line to Albury, via Sydney. Another standard gauge line runs from Sydney to Broken Hill, where there is a break of gauge. From Broken Hill to Port Pirie, a distance of approximately 240 miles, there is a 3-ft. 6-in. gauge line. But for that gap of 240 miles, we could operate a through railway service from Sydney to Kalgoorlie. If the line between Broken Hill and Port Pirie were converted to the standard gauge, goods could be carried by rail from Brisbane to Kalgoorlie, without being unloaded at any intermediate point. If the line from Kalgoorlie to Perth were converted to the standard gauge, we should have a true trans- Australia railway.

Let us consider for a few minutes a railway service which, I am sure, would return a handsome profit after gauge standardization. I refer to the service between Melbourne and Sydney. The line from Albury to Melbourne could be converted to the standard gauge and modern central traffic control systems could be introduced at a total cost of £9,000,000. I understand that the conversion could be done without interfering in any way with the operations of the railway system, of Victoria. The scheme proposed in the Clapp report would have cost something like £76,000,000 at the time the report was published, and to-day it would cost about £200,000,000. That was a scheme for the standardization of all the railway systems of the Commonwealth, but I feel that at this stage it would not be necessary to go so far. We must crawl before we walk. This is a young country, and we must make do with what we can afford. I believe that the cost of converting the line from Albury to Melbourne to standard gauge would have to be borne by the Commonwealth, owing to the financial difficulties of Victoria. The job could not be completed in less than three years. so a nominal sum of £3,000,000 a year could be allocated for the purpose. If there -are any men unemployed in Australia, their services could be used usefully on the construction of such a railway line.

The question that we must ask ourselves as: Can our railways be brought to such a standard of efficiency as to alleviate the severity of some of our road problems? 1 say most definitely that that can be done. The Hume Highway between Melbourne and Sydney, to take one example, is a quagmire in places. Millions of pounds have been spent on the construction and maintenance of that road, but the money spent on it in the last financial year at any rate has been spent unwisely. At present, 300 vehicles each carrying an average load of 12 tons travel over the road each day. So 24,000 tons of goods are carried over it each week. Those figures show that our bituminized roads, in their present form, cannot possibly stand up to the great volume of traffic that uses them. Many of us believe that if there were a standardgauge railway between Sydney and Melbourne, a great portion of the volume of goods now being carried by road between those two cities would be diverted to the railway, but the loss of time and the expense caused by the break of gauge at Albury is such that the railways are unable to compete effectively with the road-hauliers. Although almost 80 per cent, of the goods carried between Melbourne and Adelaide is carried by the railways and only 20 per cent, goes try road, road-hauliers are carrying almost 60 per cent, of the goods traffic between Melbourne and Sydney. The success of the railway between Adelaide and Melbourne is an indication of what would happen if we built a standard-gauge line from Melbourne to Albury. The cost of carrying goods between Melbourne and Sydney by rail would be less than lid. a ton-mile. Compare that with the charge of 4d. a tonmile made at present by road-hauliers.

I believe that our population now is sufficiently large to warrant the establishment of three more States. Two of our mair, problems at present are roads and decentralization. If a deep-sea port were established at Portland to serve a new State consisting of a part of the west of Victoria and a part of South Australia, if another deepsea port were established at Eden to serve another new State taking in the surrounding area, and if another deep-sea port were established at Iluka to serve another new State consisting of the New England district; many of our transport difficulties would be alleviated. With an efficient railway system, less money would be spent on main highways and more money would be available to town, borough and shire councils.

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