Trans-Australian Railway

The Trans-Australian Railway, opened in 1917, runs from Port Augusta in South Australia to Kalgoorlie in Western Australia, crossing the Nullarbor Plain in the process. As the only rail freight corridor between Western Australia and the eastern states, the line is economically and strategically important. The railway includes the world's longest section of completely straight track.

Trans-Australian Railway
Route map

Adelaide-Port Augusta line
Port Augusta
branch line to Whyalla
Tent Hill
branch line to Woomera
Tarcoola–Darwin line
Mt Christie
SA - WA border
Eastern Goldfields Railway

The inaugural passenger train service was known as the Great Western Express; later, it became the Trans-Australian. As of 2020, two passenger services use the line, both of them experiential tourism services: the Indian Pacific for the entire length of the railway, and The Ghan between Port Augusta and Tarcoola, where it leaves the line to proceed north to Darwin.

History edit

The single-track Trans-Australian Railway at Cook, once a major station and servicing point

In 1901, the six Australian colonies federated to form the Commonwealth of Australia. At that time, Perth, the capital of Western Australia, was isolated from the remaining Australian states by thousands of miles of desert terrain and the only practicable method of transport was by sea. The voyage across the notoriously rough Great Australian Bight was time-consuming, inconvenient and often uncomfortable. One of the inducements held out to Western Australians to join the new federation was the promise of a federally funded railway line linking Western Australia with the rest of the continent.[1]

In 1907, legislation was passed, allowing for the route to be surveyed. The survey, completed in 1909, endorsed a route from Port Augusta (the existing railhead at the head of Spencer Gulf in South Australia's wheatfields) via Tarcoola to the gold mining centre of Kalgoorlie in Western Australia, a distance of 1,063 miles (1,711 km). The line was to be built to the standard gauge of 4 ft 8+12 in (1,435 mm), even though the state railway systems at both ends were narrow gauge at the time. Its cost was estimated at £4,045,000.

Legislation authorising the construction was passed in December 1911 by the Fisher Commonwealth Government. Work commenced in September 1912 in Port Augusta.

Work proceeded eastwards from Kalgoorlie and westwards from Port Augusta through the years of the First World War. Tracklaying proceeded briskly when materials were available. At its peak, up to 2+12 miles (4.0 km) of track were laid each day, and 442 miles (711 km) were completed in one calendar year – both Australian tracklaying records.[2] By 1915, the two ends of the line were just over 600 miles (966 km) apart with materials being delivered daily.[3] Construction progressed steadily as the line was extended through mainly dry and desolate regions until the two halves of the line met at Ooldea on 17 October 1917.[4][5]

Under the aegis of the federal department of transport, the Commonwealth Railways was established in 1917 to operate the line. Once passenger trains started to run, maintenance staff found that the high mineral salt content of bore water available along the route was playing havoc with steam locomotive boilers: repairs to boilers at one time accounted for an extraordinary 87 per cent of all locomotive maintenance. The problem was only arrested with the introduction of barium carbonate water treatment plants at watering points.[6]

In 1937, the eastern end was extended 90 kilometres (56 miles) south to Port Pirie. Soon afterwards, the South Australian Railways extended its 1,600 mm (5 ft 3 in) broad-gauge line 47 km (29 mi) north to Port Pirie from Redhill. These two projects made redundant the indirect 290 kilometres (180 miles), 1,067 mm (3 ft 6 in) narrow-gauge connection from Terowie via Peterborough and Quorn, resulting in a much shorter and more comfortable journey to Adelaide. These two projects eliminated one break of gauge in the journey across Australia, but they turned Port Pirie Junction yard into a complex three-gauge facility.[7]: 109  Railway engineers, however, were able to construct the new yards with no more than minimal dual-gauge track and the complex signalling that would have been incurred.[8]: 25–26 

The long-anticipated conversion of the entire line between Sydney and Perth to standard gauge occurred in 1970.

In 2004, the gap in standard gauge connections between the mainland state capitals was finally closed with a connection between Port Pirie and Adelaide, thence Melbourne, and by completion of the northern component of the Adelaide–Darwin railway line, which diverges from the Trans–Australian Railway at Tarcoola.

In 2008, the engineering heritage of the railway was recognised by the Engineering Heritage Recognition Program of Engineers Australia when markers were installed on the platform at the Port Augusta station in South Australia and the ticket office at Kalgoorlie station in Western Australia.[9]

On 17 October 2017, centenary celebrations were held at Ooldea.[10]

Named services edit

When the line was inaugurated, the passenger service was named as the Great Western Express.[11] Later, the train became known as the Trans-Australian or, colloquially, "The Trans". After the Sydney–Perth route was converted to standard gauge in 1970, the railway was no longer flanked at both ends by narrow-gauge lines and an all-through service, called the Indian Pacific, was started. Although passengers no longer had to move to different carriages at change-of-gauge localities, Commonwealth Railways remained responsible for the service where it operated between Port Pirie and Kalgoorlie, with its crews and locomotives taking over at those stations. In 1975, Commonwealth Railways was absorbed into an enlarged federal government corporation, Australian National Railways Commission, branded as Australian National Railways and later as "Australian National", which continued to operate the Trans Australian.[12] In 1993, Australian National took over operation of the entire coast-to-coast service following agreement with the governments of Western Australia and New South Wales.[13]

In 1997, following the privatisation of Australian National, the Indian Pacific was sold to a company, Great Southern Rail (as of 2020 trading as "Journey Beyond").[14] As of 2020, the Indian Pacific is a weekly, all-through, experiential tourism service.[15]

From the start of construction until 1996, the Tea and Sugar supply train carried vital provisions to the work sites and localities, all of them isolated, along the route: a butcher and banking and postal services were among the facilities provided.

Terrain edit

The length of the line, as constructed, was 1051.73 mi (1692.60 km), slightly less than the original survey.

Although there are several hundred curves and gradients on the line, the route includes the longest length of straight track in the world – 478.193 kilometres (297.135 miles).[note 1] A Commonwealth Railways map marked the western end as 793 miles (1,276 km) from Port Augusta, between Loongana and Nurina, and states: "The 'Long Straight' extends from this point for a distance of 297 miles and terminates at the 496 miles [sic] between Ooldea and Watson."[note 2]

According to South Australian astronaut Andy Thomas, the line is identifiable from space because of its unnatural straightness: "It's a very fine line, it's like someone has drawn a very fine pencil line across the desert".[19]

At no point along the route does the line cross a permanent fresh watercourse. Bores and reservoirs were established at intervals, but the water was often brackish and unsuitable for steam locomotive use, let alone human consumption, so water supplies had to be carried on the train. In the days of steam locomotion, about half the total load was water for the engine. In later years, condenser plants were built at several major stations.[citation needed]

Names of stopping places edit

A map on one side of a leaflet provided to passengers showing all localities on the Trans-Australian Railway at the time and the origins of their names (click to enlarge)

Reflecting the line's ownership by the Commonwealth Government, eight of the localities were named (or renamed) after Australian Prime Ministers. Other prominent people's names were also allocated, as shown on the adjacent map.

Operations edit

The Trans-Australian proceeding from Port Pirie Junction to Port Augusta and Western Australia in 1938, soon after the Trans-Australian Railway was extended to Port Pirie
In 1986 the Trans-Australian at Rawlinna, WA is bound for Port Pirie. It would be another 18 years before all mainland state capitals were connected by standard gauge tracks.

Because of the inevitable problems of finding suitable water for steam locomotives in a desert, the original engineer, Henry Deane envisaged diesel locomotives for the line and made inquiries with potential manufacturers, although the technology was not well developed at the time. Unfortunately, a scandal involving the supply of sleepers led to Deane's resignation before the proposal had advanced.[20][page needed]

Initially trains were hauled by G class locomotives and from 1938 by C class locomotives, both steam.[21] From 1951, diesel-electric locomotives hauled passenger services, using the new GM class locomotives.[22]

The railway originally had 400 m (1,300 ft)-long crossing loops (passing sidings) every 100 km (62 mi) or so. As traffic increased the number of crossing loops increased. To handle longer trains, crossing loops were lengthened so that in 2008 they were all at least 1,800 m (5,900 ft) long and spaced about 30 km (19 mi) to 60 km (37 mi) apart.[23]

Most crossing loops are unattended and train crew operate the turnouts as required. Crossing loops have self-restoring points, so that points are reset to the straight route when a train departs from a crossing loop. The loops are fitted with radio controls so that train crew can set the points as they approach. Locomotive cabs are fitted with an activated points system (ICAPS) to set the required route without having to stop the train.[24]

Safeworking is by train orders, using verbal communication.[24]

Disruptions edit

In the time of the operation of the railway, 'washaways' and 'flooding' in most cases rendered the railway inoperable at a range of locations. Washaways usually removed ballast, leaving rails suspended above the flooding areas.

In most cases the underlying ballast was removed, and required replacing. Significant events on the line were in 1921, 1930 1937 and 2022,[25]. The 1930 flooding had two trains held up on sections of the line.[26][27][28][29]

Notes edit

  1. ^ In the original survey of the track in the early 1900s, the length was recorded as 297 miles, 8.5 chains – equating to 478.147 kilometres (297.107 miles). In 1990, using recently acquired Global Positioning System (GPS) capabilities, Geoscience Australia measured the length as 478.193 kilometres, a difference of only 46 metres (50 yards).[16]
  2. ^ The metric equivalents to the mileages on the map are: western end 1276.2 km from Port Augusta, eastern end 798.2 km from Port Augusta; length 478.0 km. Details measured via Google Earth are: western end 30°58′33″S 126°40′07″E / 30.975912°S 126.668499°E / -30.975912; 126.668499, eastern end 30°28′10″S 131°37′37″E / 30.469521°S 131.627055°E / -30.469521; 131.627055[17] – a distance of 478.193 km.[18]

References edit

  1. ^ A history of Australian road and rail, Adelaide: Department for Transport and Infrastructure, South Australia, 2012, p. 2
  2. ^ Anchen, Nick (2017). Iron Roads in the Outback: The Legendary Commonwealth Railways. Ferntree Gully, Vic: Sierra Publishing. ISBN 9780992538828.: 147 
  3. ^ "The Federal line". The West Australian. Perth: National Library of Australia. 16 April 1915. p. 6. Retrieved 16 October 2013.
  4. ^ Chambers, T.F. (1968) 'The Golden Jubilee of the Trans Australian Railway' Australian Railway Historical Society Bulletin November 1968 pp267-275
  5. ^ "The Last Link". The West Australian. Vol. XXXIII, no. 4, 850. Western Australia. 18 October 1917. p. 4. Retrieved 17 October 2017 – via National Library of Australia.
  6. ^ Oberg, Leon (2007). Locomotives of Australia, 1850s–2007. Dural, New South Wales: Rosenberg Publishing Pty Ltd. p. 166. ISBN 9781877058547.
  7. ^ Fitch, Ronald J. (2006). Australian Railwayman: from cadet engineer to railways commissioner. Dural, New South Wales: Rosenberg Publishing Pty Ltd. ISBN 1877058483.
  8. ^ Vincent, Graham (2013). "South Australia's mixed gauge muddle" (PDF). National Railway Museum (South Australia). National Railway Museum. Archived from the original (PDF) on 28 February 2016. Retrieved 29 July 2021.
  9. ^ "Trans-Australian Railway, 1917". Engineering Heritage Recognition Program. Engineers Australia. Archived from the original on 30 June 2016. Retrieved 19 June 2016.
  10. ^ Taylor, Paige (17 October 2017). "Celebrating rail's united nation, 100 years on". The Australian.   subscription: the source is only accessible via a paid subscription ("paywall")
  11. ^ "Linking the Capitals - The East-West line". Observer. Adelaide, SA. 24 November 1917. p. 24. Retrieved 24 November 2015.
  12. ^ "Interstate cutbacks" Railway Digest July 1991 page 231
  13. ^ "IP to come under sole control of AN" Railway Digest March 1992
  14. ^ Great Southern Railway Consortium completes acquisition of Australian National Railways passenger business Archived 10 April 2011 at the Wayback Machine Serco Group plc 31 October 1997
  15. ^ Indian Pacific Timetables 2016-2017 Great Southern Rail
  16. ^ Ramsey, John (2008). "History of the Australian National Railways Commission, part 1: 1978–1990". Proceedings of the 2008 convention. Modelling the Railways of South Australia. Adelaide.
  17. ^ Google Earth (searches for "Ooldea, Cook SA" and "Loongana, Forrest WA")
  18. ^ Williams, Ed (2020). "Great Circle Calculator". Retrieved 12 September 2021.
  19. ^ Debelle, Penelope (10 October 2014). "Adelaide's own spaceman Andy Thomas". The Advertiser. Adelaide. Retrieved 19 October 2014.
  20. ^ Burke, David (1991). Road through the wilderness: the story of the Transcontinental Railway, the first great work of Australia's Federation. Kensington NSM: New South Wales University Press. ISBN 0868401404.
  21. ^ Oberg, Leon (1984). Locomotives of Australia 1850's – 1980's. Frenchs Forest: Reed Books. pp. 122, 164. ISBN 0-730100-05-7.
  22. ^ New Train Service Across Australia The West Australian 12 November 1951
  23. ^ "East west corridor network diagram – 3" (PDF). Australian Rail Track Corporation. n.d. Retrieved 21 May 2023.
  24. ^ a b "Overrun of authority involving train 6MP5". Canberra: Australian Transport Safety Bureau. 7 July 2014. Retrieved 3 May 2017.
  25. ^ "EXTENSIVE Washaways". Western Argus. Vol. 43, no. 2438. Western Australia. 9 March 1937. p. 4. Retrieved 5 February 2022 – via National Library of Australia.
  26. ^ The Trans Australian Railway line flooded on the Nullarbor, 1930, retrieved 5 February 2022
  27. ^ "TRAINS DELAYED". The Northern Herald. Vol. XLVIII, no. 522. Queensland, Australia. 5 March 1930. p. 22. Retrieved 5 February 2022 – via National Library of Australia.
  28. ^ "TRANS-AUSTRALIAN trains held up". Northern Times. Vol. XXV, no. 1250. Western Australia. 27 February 1930. p. 3. Retrieved 5 February 2022 – via National Library of Australia.
  29. ^ "THE TRANS-AUSTRALIAN SERVICE". Geraldton Guardian and Express. Vol. II, no. 341. Western Australia. 25 February 1930. p. 2. Retrieved 5 February 2022 – via National Library of Australia.

Select bibliography edit

  • Adam-Smith, Patsy (1974) The Desert Railway. Adelaide: Rigby ISBN 0-85179-675-3
  • Anchen, Nick (2017). Iron Roads in the Outback: The Legendary Commonwealth Railways. Ferntree Gully, Vic: Sierra Publishing. ISBN 9780992538828.
  • Avery, Rod (2006). Freight Across the Nation: The Australian Superfreighter Experience. Brisbane: Copyright Publishing Co. ISBN 1876344474.
  • Buckland, J.L. (1965) Canadian and American Locomotives in Wartime Service on the Trans-Australian Railway Australian Railway Historical Society Bulletin, September 1965.
  • Burke, David, (1991) Road Through the Wilderness: The Story of the Transcontinental Railway, the First Great Work of Australia's Federation. Kensington, N.S.W.: New South Wales University Press. ISBN 0-86840-140-4
  • Cree, Patricia (2012). The Trans-Australian Railway: Bringing the nation together. Canberra Airport, ACT: Australasian Railway Association. ISBN 9780646584249.
  • Henshaw, C.H. (1964) Overland to Perth in 1928 Australian Railway Historical Society Bulletin, April 1964.
  • Luke, Monte (1997). Riders of the Steel Highways: The History of Australia's Commonwealth Railways 1912-1975. Port Augusta, SA: VM & BM Luke. ISBN 0646346520.
  • Spear, R. Clarke (1917) The Golden West: Trans-Australian Christmas number Perth, Western Australia "The Golden West, Vol. 13, December 1917."

See also edit

External links edit

32°28′02″S 137°46′00″E / 32.46709079°S 137.76673101°E / -32.46709079; 137.76673101