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Wednesday, 1 October 1958


Mr FOX (Henty) .- It is not my intention to take up the time of the House at this hour, but I want to take the opportunity of complimenting the Minister for Supply (Mr. Townley) on achieving what so many other Ministers have failed to achieve. In saying that I do not wish to reflect on the capabilities of previous Ministers. The whole history of attempts to standardize the rail gauges throughout Australia is one of frustrations. Numerous conferences have been held over a period of more than 70 years, but parochial interests and the failure to face up to the task involved have resulted in a series of pigeon-holed reports. This bill is the first step towards linking Australia's capital cities with standard gauge railway lines. I hope that it will be the beginning of a plan to convert, ultimately, the whole of the railway system to standard gauge. This problem, which has faced Australia since the first line was laid between Melbourne and Sandridge in 1854, is not one which has been peculiar to this country. As late as 1871 railways were operating in the United States of America on 23 different gauges, from three feet to six feet. At that time, I believe, the United States had more miles of railway track than we have to-day. Even though the railways in that country were owned privately, it was realized that, in the interests both of the companies and of the country, it was essential that standardization be achieved. At a conference of the presidents of the different railway companies, which was held in 1885, it was decided to pursue a policy of standardization. Within two years all the railways in the United States were operating on standard gauge.

Experience in the United Kingdom was not very much different. There were so many gauges in operation in 1846 that a royal commission on railway gauges reported that it was imperative that a wider spread of the evil should be prevented. At that time rail gauges in the United Kingdom varied between two feet and seven feet. By 1892 the whole of the railway system had been converted to standard gauge.

There is no need for me to repeat the story of how Australia came to be burdened with so many different gauges. The first move for standardization was made in 1857, when the total mileage of tracks in this country was less than 200, and before any of the 3-ft. 6-in. gauge lines had been laid. Since that date, many committees have been appointed to inquire into the break-of -gauge problem. They have all delivered their reports and made recommendations but very little action has been taken. Since 1883, 75 years ago, passengers have had to change trains at Albury and goods have had to be trans-shipped there. It is estimated that the cost of trans-shipping goods at Albury is now in the vicinity of £800,000 a year.

In 1889, the Chief Commissioner for Railways in New South Wales, a Mr. Eddy, directed the attention of the then Premier, Sir Henry Parkes, to the urgent need for standardization. In 1897 the Railway Commissioners of Australia passed a resolution concerning the necessity for a uniform gauge. At that time the total length of track in Victoria, New South Wales and South Australia was less than 8,000 miles, and the total cost of providing a uniform system was little more than £2,000,000. In 1911 standardization was recommended as a defence aid by the war railway council. In 1913 a committee of the leading railway engineers of the Commonwealth and the States recommended the adoption of a standard gauge. At that time the cost of conversion had increased to more than £37,000,000.

In 1921 a royal commission reported to a conference of State Premiers and the Prime Minister, and it was resolved " That the adoption of a uniform gauge is, in the opinion of this conference, essential to the development and safety of the Commonwealth ". The estimated cost of the complete conversion was then more than £93,000,000. Again no action was taken. In 1945 the Clapp report was tabled. Although this report also recommended standardization, negotiations between the States and Commonwealth broke down. At that time the estimated cost of conversion to standard gauge was nearly £120,000,000.

The bill now before us is the first move of any consequence towards bringing about a standardized Australian railway system. Although it provides for the conversion only of the section of line between Albury and Melbourne, at a cost of a little more than £10,000,000, when the work has been completed there will be a standard-gauge line from Brisbane to Melbourne. Not only will this add to the comfort and convenience of passengers; it should also result in lower freight rates on this section of line, with a consequent increase in business for both the New South Wales and Victorian railways, and it should be a positive step towards enabling the railway systems of both States to operate eventually at a profit, instead of being continual drains on the pockets of the taxpayers. At the same time, it should divert to the railways quite a lot of the heavy traffic which is at present causing a great deal of damage to our interstate highways.

I wish to take the opportunity to congratulate the Minister on the work he has done in order to bring this bill before the House, and I confidently look forward to the future presentation of other bills for the linking of Broken Hill with Port Pirie, and Kalgoorlie with Fremantle, using standard-gauge lines.







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