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Thursday, 23 November 1911

Senator McCOLL - As a layman, I do. But I am not bigoted in the matter, and I desire that the question should be referred to the best men available. They should visit countries in which broad and narrow gauges are used, find out their experience, and whether those that have a narrow gauge would, if starting railway construction over again, retain the 4-ft. 8^-in. gauge, or adopt a wider gauge. I have had a good deal to do with the authorization of lines in the past twenty-six years in Victoria', and I can say that the main consideration has been to get lines constructed as cheaply as possible. They have been constructed with borrowed money on which interest has had to be paid, and the idea has been to get as many miles as possible constructed for as little money as possible. Considerations of grade have not in the circumstances received the attention they deserved. A very slight difference in grade makes a very great difference in the pull of an engine, and the economic working of a line. In Victoria and New South Wales many lines have had to be regraded in order to meet the increasing volume of traffic. In America hundreds of millions sterling have been spent in strengthening lines and bridges, and rectifying errors of the past due to the adoption of a narrower gauge than would be adopted in that country at the present time. Compared with older countries of the world we may be said only to be beginning railway construction. We have yet time to rectify the errors of the past, if there have been errors. So far as my reading goes power and efficiency depend upon a wide gauge and a level road, because it has been said that the law of gravitation is immutable, and it is a ruling factor in regard to railways. As we had to buy our experience in irrigation and other matters, so we have to buy our experience in railways, and we should take stock now that we have the chance, and before it is too late. I have already mentioned that in Canada and America the railway construction question was solved by the associationof railways with land. The companies gotland given to them, and as the railways did not pay they made a profit from the settlement of the land. Here our population has not been increased in the same way. We have constructed lines of railway throughout this great country, but have not taken similar steps to bring people here. If we are going to make our railways, and especially this line, pay, the Commonwealth will have to adopt a vigorous system of immigration, otherwise this line will be a loss to us for all time. I wish now to refer to the Conference of Railways Commissioners which was held in Melbourne in1897, and at which the 4-ft. 81/2-in. gauge was recommended. As I have said, the report of this Conference was really the basis on which all the later recommendations rest. They do not rest upon close inquiry by experts, but because the Railways Commissioners, who were not, I think, engineers, recom mended that gauge. I have here the minutes of that Conference, and they are very interesting reading -

Minutes of a meeting of the Railways Commissioners of New South Wales, Victoria and South Australia, held in Melbourne on Monday and Tuesday, 23rd and 24th August,1897, to consider and report on the unification of the railway gauges as desired by the Right Honorables the Premiers of their respective colonies, at Adelaide, on 8th April,1897.

Present :

Mr. JohnMathieson (Victoria), in the chair,

Mr. CharlesOliver (New South Wales),

Mr. AllanG. Pendleton (South Australia).

The memorandum of the Right Honorables the Premiers was read as follows : - "The question of a uniform gauge for Australia was discussed, and as it was agreed that it wasdesirable, looking at the annually increasing intercourse of the people, and the exchange of goods, that the adoption of a uniform gauge should be carefully considered, it was resolved that the Railways Commissioners of the three Colonies be requested to meet as early as practicable, and submit their recommendation : -

1.   In regard to the alteration of the existing lines in the three Colonies with a view to obtaining uniformity.

2.   The probable cost of carrying out the change.

3.   In what proportions they recommend the cost of the change shall be borne by the respective Colonies.

4.   The number of years the cost of the change should be spread over; and the amount of money to be set aside each year as a sinking fund.

5.   The date on which the commencement of the change of gauge might, with economy, be arranged ; and the probable length of time it would take to complete the work. "1. In regard to the alteration of the existing lines in the three Colonies with a view to obtaining uniformity."

The Commissioners, in view of the contemplated Federation of the Australian Colonies, and the desirability of providing the utmost facility for inter-communication, are impressed with the necessity of having as soon as possible a uniform gauge. " 2. The probable cost of carrying out the change."

The mileage (including double roads, sidings, and private coal lines) of 4-ft. 81/2-in. and 5-ft. 3-in. gauge in the various Colonies is as under : -


The cost of the unification of the gauges as estimated by the engineering officers would be as follows : -


In view of the great difference in cost, the Commissioners are strongly of opinion that the 4-ft. 8£-in. gauge should be adopted in lieu of the 5-ft. 3-in., as being at _ present the most economical method of securing the end aimed at.

That has been the ruling factor all through ; cheapness and the lesser cost of conversion. The Conference did not consider the interests of the future, and the fact that by not having the fullest railway facilities a tax would be imposed upon the producers of the country for all time. They looked at the present cost of conversion, and recommended accordingly. They were followed in this respect by other Conferences that sat subsequently. The Conference of Engineers said the adoption of the 4-ft. 8J-in. gauge would be the cheapest course to follow, and the War Railway Council took the same view. The question of commercial efficiency and the carrying of higher loads at lesser rates was completely lost sight of.

Senator Lynch - Does the honorable senator think that the members of those Conferences never took into consideration the utility of one gauge as compared to the other?

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