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Friday, 2 August 1946

Mr WARD (East Sydney) (Minister for Transport and Minister for. External Territories) . - by leave - I move-

That the bill be now read a second time.

Since the first railway was built in Australia, in 1854, the growth of Australian railways has not progressed according to any national plan, and State boundaries have accentuated thedifficulties arising out of the absence of any national railway policy. In Australia to-day we have 6,114 miles of 5 ft. 3 in. gauge, 7,300 miles of 4 ft.8½ in. gauge, and 13,649 miles of 3 ft. 6 in. gauge railways. The difficulties of interstate rail transport have been apparent for many years, but the war brought home to us very forcibly the necessity for a. stock-taking, and the need for planning future railway development, particularly to meet defence requirements. Accordingly, the Government instructed Sir Harold Clapp, who was then Director-General of Land Transport, to prepare a report on the subject, and, as this report has already been presented to Parliament, I do not. propose to repeat now the many reasons contained therein for proceeding with this great national project. It is sufficient for me to say that the report has been widely accepted as one of the most complete and comprehensive statements ever made on this important subject.

As the argument has been frequently advanced in recent years that railways are an obsolete means of transportation, it may be appropriate at this stage to direct attention to the important role played by railways during the recent war, not only in Australia, but also in other parts of the world. In the United States of America, 97 per cent. of all troops, 93 per cent. of all army equipment, and 90 per cent. of navy equipment and supplies were transported by rail. The actual figures are astronomical, and include 39,200,000 passenger journeys on special troop trains, and 737,600,000,000 ton-miles of defence freight traffic. In Britain, the figures show that, in. 1944, oi er 3-2,000 freight trains were used exclusively for war purposes, in addition to 160,000 freight trains to meet other requirements. On special occasions, such as " D " Day, 17,500 special troop and freight trains were run. In all, 3,200 steam and diesel locomotives and 50,000 freight cars were landed in Europe. It is interesting to note that the Soviet built about 20,000 miles of railway 1 tracks during the war, and that on the German-Russian front Germany converted 12,000 miles of 5 ft. gauge to 4 ft. Si in., and Russia, following the advance of its forces, re-converted the' 4 ft. 8-i in. gauge lines to 5 ft., and also changed a total of 18.000 miles of additional lines to the 5 ft. gauge.

It is clear, from the lessons of war that, despite the development of other forms of transport, the. railways were the backbone of the transport organization of every participating nation. In Australia, we suffered a serious handicap in the transport of men and war materials hecause there are fifteen break-of -gauge points in our railway system. This diffi'culty was overcome to some extent by locating army service, ordnance, ammunition, engineers' stores, Air Force and other depots, at or near the point where the varying gauges met. However, the loss in time and in man-power in the transport of stores and equipment was considerable. Some indication of the very serious position which arose in 1943 may be gained from a message sent to the Minister for the Army by the Quartermaster-General, who had been in conference with other .authorities regarding the hold-up of army equipment. His message included the following words: -

Independent of any action by the Transport Board, Now- South Wales and Victorian Bailways obliged refuse all loading to relieve what is now complete blockage due to endeavour force through terminals and transhipping stations more than they can absorb in any circumstances.

In a later part of the message, he said -

To help in present emergency have deferred movement approximately two . Army trains each way per day into Brisbane.

It is not to be wondered at, therefore, that the Minister for the Army, in response to a request for an opinion by Sir Harold Clapp, stated in regard to the proposal to standardize the railway gauges- . ,

The defence aspect of this problem is of vital importance, if indeed it does not of itself present a real justification for an undertaking of such magnitude in the field of post-war construction.

I propose now to deal with the argument that from a defence viewpoint railways are vulnerable to bombing -attacks. It should be pointed out in this connexion that all transport facilities are similarly subject to this danger, but it is interesting to note that the .British railways, despite 13,800 bombing attacks and the destruction or damage of 482 locomotives, 13,000 passenger cars, and 16,000 freight waggons, continued to function- throughout the war. There were, of course, many delays to traffic, but they were mostly of short duration and usually did not extend beyond a fewhours. Since the advent .of the atomic bomb, some attention has been given to the dangers to railway traffic from this source, but in this connexion I point out that iri the raid on was found that the railways suffered less than any other public utility, and w,ere again operating 4S hours after the explosion.

One of the most important aspects of standardization of railways is that it. will permit the standardization of trucks, locomotives, and other railway equipment. In this way, in the event of a national emergency, the whole resources of the railway system could be marshalled for effective use. During the war it was found that the rolling-stock necessary quickly to transport troops required in Western Australia was not available in that State. Had the railway system been uniform, it would have been possible to relieve this situation by the diversion of rolling-stock from the eastern States. Great difficulty was also experienced in Queensland owing to the lack of sufficient locomotives and rolling-stock to handle the immense quantity of equipment required for the northern operations. Schemes were hurriedly adopted with a view to minimizing these difficulties, but the delay which frequently occurred may well have brought about national disaster. With the completion of the standardization of railways, a division nf troops could be moved in approximately onethird of the time taken under present conditions. From a defence angle, railway transport has the advantage of operating entirely on fuels locally produced, whereas any interruption of fuel supplies from overseas would completely cripple other forms of transport.

The report of the Defence Committee contains the following summary of the relation of standardized railways to defence requirements : -

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