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Thursday, 23 November 1911

Senator McCOLL - It was his own opinion. Look at the indignation which is expressed in his letter, in which he complains that his dissent from the recommendation of the Conference in respect of the adoption of the 4-ft. 8J-in. gauge was no* made public.

Senator Lynch - He only expresses the opinion of the South Australian Government on the matter.

Senator McCOLL - He attended the Conference as the representative of that Government.

Senator Pearce - Mr. Moncrieff's dissent had reference to the report of the Conference which met in 1909, because the EngineersinChief were called together on two occasions.

Senator McCOLL - I have not been able to ascertain that Mr. Moncrieff took part in any Conference prior to the one I have mentioned. I come now to the War Railway Conference. I hold in my hand the proceedings of the War Railway Council, which assembled at the Victoria Barracks, Melbourne, on the 14th, 15th, and 16th February of the present year, and at the Commonwealth Offices, Sydney, on 19th May, 191 1. In regard to a uniform railway gauge, the nineteenth resolution of the Council reads -

In the interests of defence this War Railway Council affirms the desirability, as regards the main lines of communication, of a uniform gauge for the railways of Australia.

The Council in their last resolution recommended -

(a)   A uniform 4-ft. 81/2-in. gauge of railway linking up the capitals between Brisbane and Fremantle.

(b)   A gauge of 4 ft. 81/2 in. on the Transcontinental line from Kalgoorlie to Port Augusta,

(c)   That the cost of conversion be shared upon a basis to be determined between the Commonwealth and the States.

The members of the Conference accepted that resolution, because it had been previously agreed to by the Railways Commissioners, and because it recommended a cheaper method of effecting the conversion of existing gauges. But there was a dissent even from that resolution. Mr. Thallon, the Railway Commissioner of Queensland, requested that the following motion proposed by him, but which was not accepted by the War Railway Council, be noted in the proceedings, namely : -

1.   The members of the Railway War Council regret that a uniform gauge was not adopted in the inauguration of the railway system in Australia.

2.   That the Railway Commissioners in each State be requested to prepare an estimate of the expense necessary to convert existing gauges as follows : -

Adelaide to Melbourne, 5 ft. 3 in.

Melbourne to Sydney, 4 ft. 81/2 in.

Sydney to Brisbane, 4 ft. 81/2 in.

Senator Pearce - It is not correct to say that he dissented from the report, because he signed it.

Senator McCOLL - He was in favour of further inquiry being instituted into the matter, which is all that we ask for to-day.

Senator Pearce - I am in a position to say that he did not intend that addendum as a dissent from the report.

Senator McCOLL - He may not have dissented from the report, but evidently he wanted further information as to the cost of the conversion before he committed himself to it. I wish now to deal with a speech which was delivered by the Minister of Defence in moving the second reading of this Bill. In discussing the railways in Siberia, he said -

Even in Asia, bisected as it is with vast rivers, railways have been found a necessity, and the Government of Russia have planned and carried out that vast work, the trans-Siberian railway. Not content with a single track, they are duplicating the railway from one end to the other. It is reported that the railway has so far justified itself; it has opened up country which previously lay idle, and which was thought to be unusable, to such an extent that a duplication of the line was called for and the work is now proceeding.

Is not that an argument in favour of the adoption of a broader gauge? The very fact that the trans-Siberian line had to be duplicated shows that we should adopt a wider gauge.

Senator Lynch - It shows that even the wider gauge did not prevent the necessity for duplication.

Senator McCOLL - The Minister also said -

In 1903, as theresult of Federal action, the Engineers-in-Chief of the various States railways met in Melbourne. After going into the subject very fully, they recommended the construction of a line on a 4-ft. 81/2-in. gauge, and estimated the cost at£4,559,000. In1907, after a Bill had been previously introduced on two occasions - it was once defeated and once talked out in the Senate - a measure to provide for a survey was finally passed, appropriating £20,000 for the purpose.

In all these deliberations, technical officers were never consulted. The matter seems to have been left entirely to the War Railway Council, and to the business managers. The engineers were not called upon to offer their opinions on the subject.

Senator Pearce - In1908, the whole of the data collected by the survey parties was referred to the Engineers-in-Chief, and I have their report here. Are not they experts ?

Senator McCOLL - Yes; but I do not know that they are the best experts to deal with a matter of this kind. They are under the control of the Railways Commissioners, and they would naturally be very chary about acting in opposition to them.

Senator McGregor - Will any expert be right who does not agree with the honorable senator?

Senator McCOLL - This is too big a question to be treated thus lightly. It was the lay officers of the Railway Departments who determined this matter. The Railway

Commissioners are not appointed to investigate engineering facts, but to manage our railways, and to make them pay. They are not skilled in nice points regarding the width of gauge which ought to be adopted, and the steepness of the gradients, &c. The Minister of Defence told us that the gradient would be one in eighty, and he quoted from the surveyor's report to that effect. Now, it seems to me that where the gradient is a very light one, we ought to lay down the best possible line. I am told that even a gradient of one in eighty will make a very great difference to the cost of haulage. Unless we consider this question very carefully, our action will certainly result in the imposition of taxation upon al] our producers. While the reduced cost may assist the passenger traffic .to-day, the Commonwealth will have to pay the price of the saving at a later period. For that reason, it seems to me, as a layman, that a saving in the cost of construction can only be made at the cost of commercial efficiency byandby - at the cost of producers and passengers. The cheaper cost, of the line to-day will mean a lower standard of efficiency, and, apparently, the States are to be coerced into adopting that lower standard: The Minister has stated that the gradient will be i in 80, but I think I have read. that it is to be 1. in 70.

Senator Pearce - I quoted from the report.

Senator McCOLL - If 1 in 70 is to be the gradient, as far as my inquiries havegone it is a very steep gradient for a transcontinental railway. It will increase all haulage cost by 36 per cent, for all time, as compared with the ruling gradient of even 1 in 100. Such grades, it seems to me, are just a sign of cheapening the first cost of the work, and at the expense of efficiency and greater profit later. It has been said that Lord Kitchener supported the 4-ft. 8^-in. gauge. I have not been able to find in any report of his utterances that he was In favour of that gauge, as against the 5-ft. 3-in. gauge. He was simply against a narrow gauge ; but he was speaking in a country with a 3-ft. 6-in. gauge, of which he did not approve. Yesterday I questioned the Minister about procuring for the information of the Senate some photographs which have been taken of the route of this line. I do not know if he has heard whether they can be obtained.

Senator Pearce - They are private photographs, and we are obtaining copies of them.

Senator McCOLL - They will be very useful to honorable senators. The Minister of Defence seemed to be fairly optimistic in regard to the matter of water supply. I do not share his optimism. There is a long tract of country to be traversed, with a very light rainfall. There are no great catchments, no mountains, from which the water can be carried down. I am afraid that this will be a very difficult problem indeed. I do not know that the amount set down for providing a water supply will be sufficient. There may be an artesian basin, but I cannot find in the reports any chemical analysis of the water which is available. It is a most important question that we should know whether the water along the route is fit for use in locomotive engines. I know that the great trouble in going over the prairies in America was to get water free from alkaline. I do not find in the reports on this proposal full information as to the quality and the quantity of the water supply, and as to whether it is fit for use on locomotives or not. These are details which ought to have been supplied, because they have a very important bearing on the proposal. In fact, the whole question of water supply seems to be left obscure. The cost of providing water has been cut down from £609,000 to £456,000, thus showing a saving of £155,000. That seems to be in accordance with the policy of trying to put before Parliament the lowest possible estimate. We ought not to cut estimates down, but to keep them up as high as efficiency may require. It will only mean disappointment later, and will create a feeling of irritation if the line should cost more for construction and running than we are led to believe at the present time. We are told that wooden pipes can be used, which will not be subject to corrosion as iron pipes would be. We do not know how wooden pipes will act in a country where we have white ants to contend with. For a short distance, I dare say that they may be very useful ; but for a great distance we cannot tell how they will stand wear and tear, and the ravages of white ants and other insects. We are told that it is quite possible that internal-combustion engines may be used. I am not an expert in these matters, but I have been trying to gather information on various points as well as I can. I am advised that first-class engineers would not think of using internal combustion engines. We are told in the report of Mr. Deane that, if they can be used, the cost of the provision for water may be brought down to ,£250,000. I am informed that these engines are used to a very limited degree, and only experimentally, on branch lines abroad. They are not used as locomotives for hauling trains, but as engines forming part of single cars. If that is the case, they will bc bound to fail on the proposed line. I do not make that statement from personal knowledge, but as the result of many inquiries which I have made. That is a point into .which I would like the Minister to look into very carefully before he relies on the -estimates. We have been supplied with an estimate of the revenue and expenditure. On this subject the Minister of Defence told us -that, in an official report which was laid before the Senate in 1903, the State Engineers-in-Chief said -


I ask leave of the Senate to conclude my speech to-morrow.

Leave granted ; debate adjourned.

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