30 December 2010

From the east

And now for the third way to get to Coonamble.... from the east.

A Mudgee to Coonamble railway was first seriously studied by the NSW colonial parliament at the end of the Whitton era.  As early as 1880 the Legislative Assembly had voted on legislation for the Mudgee line’s extension to Coonamble.  At that time, the decision of the Assembly was to reject the proposal by 57 votes to 13.  Despite the comprehensive rejection of the proposal in this vote, in the 1890s two serious proposals for a railway line from Mudgee to Coonamble emerged.

The first proposal involved a short extension from Mudgee to Gulgong, then north-west through Cobborah (now Cobbora) and Munderoon (now Mendooran), before traveling west to Gilgandra, the north to Gulargambone and Coonamble.  It is notable that this proposal extended the railway from Coonamble, northward onwards to Walgett.  Survey work commenced in 1890 and the 1891 Annual Report of the Railway and Tramway Construction Branch of the Department of Public Works noted that an exploration of an improved route had been made.  By mid-1892 the proposal for the Cobbora route was in final form including the extension from Coonamble to Walgett.

The Department of Public Works also reported that 1891/92 brought a trial survey of an alternative route from Mudgee.  It is not clear whether this proposal involved Gulgong as parliamentary debates note that the Parliament’s Standing Committee on Public Works eschewed Gulgong on the basis that it was reputed to have ‘sufficiently sound roads to meet demand for transportation’.  However departmental records concerning this route appear to clearly contemplate Gulgong as part of the route.

This small uncertainty aside, the general direction of the route was to be much to the east of the Cobbora route.  Instead the line would travel through Leadville in order to ‘tap the Mount Stewart Mines’.  From this point, the railway was proposed to cross to Caigan, then north to Gulargambone and onwards to Coonamble.  Apparently this route was to remain on the eastern side of the Talbragar River, whereas the earlier proposal shadowed the western side of the river as did the eventual line from Dubbo.  This proposal is also notable for its advocacy for a separate spur from Gulargambone to Coonabarabran as part of the overall scheme of railway development.

By mid-1894 the Department of Public Works had finalised both surveys of the Mudgee to Coonamble railway.  While additional surveys were undertaken subsequently by 1898 the second Mudgee to Coonamble proposal appeared then to be the only politically viable alternative to Dubbo to Coonamble route.

18 December 2010

From the south west

It is the series of proposals to link Coonamble with the railway from the south-west which best sums-up the length of time of deliberation over a line to the Castlereagh district.  During the 1870s the proposal was not from the south-west but the south south-west, with a line from Narromine.  No departmental records reviewed indicate that survey work was ever performed.

As the construction of the railway line to Bourke continued westward from Narromine a subsequent proposal for a railway from Nevertire to Coonamble developed.  This proposal was debated by the NSW Parliament in the early 1890s but then delayed by the Parliament for further consideration.  It appears that the agitation for an intermediate railway along the same route, linking Nevertire with Warren, may have somewhat overshadowed the larger Nevertire to Coonamble proposal.

Serious work exploring the intermediate railway from Nevertire to Warren commenced in 1892 with the commencement of a trial survey.  By 1894 survey work to Warren was complete.  Survey teams pressed onward to Coonamble and had the entire route surveyed by mid-year.

Legislation authorised the construction of a 21 kilometre (13 mile) branch line from Nevertire to Warren in 1896.  It would bring Coonamble to within 103 kilometres of rail-head at Warren by the time the intermediate line was opened on 24 January 1898.  Thus what had commenced as a proposed 175 kilometre branch line from Narromine in 1879 had been nearly halved to 100 kilometres over the nine year period of debate.

The extension of the railway beyond Warren and eventually to Coonamble was clearly contemplated at the time of construction of the branch line.  The 1897 Department of Public Works Annual Report notes that ‘station accommodation will be provided at Warren and, as this may not remain as a terminal station for any great length of time’ a triangle of trackwork was provided for the turning of locomotives rather than a more expensive locomotive turntable.

The Warren to Coonamble proposal was supported initially by the Railway Commissioners during the mid-1890s.  However it appears that this support was withdrawn during 1897 in favour of the proposed Mudgee to Coonamble railway.

The proposal for this connection appeared to have been removed from all political consideration in 1897 when it was rejected by the NSW Parliament’s Standing Committee on Public Works.  While this rejection of the Warren to Coonamble route removed it from further political consideration in the short term, work continued at a departmental level on exploring a railway from the south-west.  The following year, the Department of Public Works reported that it expended ₤15 19s 3d on a trial survey over this route.

The year 1898 had appeared to be the last in which the Department of Public Works would expend effort in relation to this route.  However in late 1899 the original Narromine to Coonamble proposal resurfaced.  The Department conducted a full survey from Narromine, at a cost of ₤57 17s.

This last glimmer of bureaucratic effort coincided with Premier Lyne’s expressed view as part of the parliamentary debates over the Dubbo to Coonamble Railway Bill 1899 in November of that year.  He expressed a personal preference for the Warren route but noted that as the Parliament’s Standing Committee on Public Works had demurred the time for its championing had passed.

In retrospect the concept of a route from the south-west to Coonamble was the least attractive of all of the railway proposals.  From the nearest significant township of Dubbo it was 47 per cent longer than the direct route via Gilgandra.  Moreover once a railway left Warren there was no intermediate township of significance before reaching Coonamble.  This was in contrast to the direct route which at least boasted Gilgandra and Gulargambone.

Finally the Warren to Coonamble route posed logistical concerns not faced by the Gilgandra route.  Crossing only several minor creeks after leaving the Macquarie River at Warren the railway could not secure reliable supplies of water.  The alternative route through Gilgandra did not face this issue, as 96 kilometres of the railway would parallel the Castlereagh River.  It is also trite to note that the difficulties faced by the railways in securing a reliable water supply would also have been faced by any civilisation along the line.

It is notable though probably coincidental that the Standing Committee on Public Works received the report concerning the Warren to Coonamble railway on the same day that the final report on the Pilliga route was tabled.  While it was not a good day for the advocates of expansion of railways it did leave the two most meritorious options for a railway to the Castlereagh region alive for debate, which is a good spot to leave this story.

02 December 2010

Coonamble from the north

Given that there is a fair chance that sometime tonight parts of the township of Coonamble will subside into flood waters, I thought it timely to add a few words about the alternative railway lines proposed to get to that location. 

As I’ve blogged elsewhere, the line through Eumungerie to Coonamble was not the first option considered by colonial administrations.  The first route, one from the north, proposed a connection between Coonamble and northern New South Wales using the Werris Creek trunk line.  By 1882 this route had been extended from Werris Creek to Wee Waa.  From here, it was proposed that the 147 kilometres of railway line would proceed to the south and the south-west, following the southern bank of the Namoi River to Pilliga and then proceeding south-west through the great Pilliga forest.

While the initial agitation for this railway appeared in parliamentary debates in the mid-1880s it was to be a further decade before serious exploration of the route was undertaken.  The Department of Public Works undertook a trial survey at a cost of ₤150, bridging the two financial years to 30 June 1898.  The northern, or Pilliga, route was then considered by the NSW Parliament’s Standing Committee on Public Works.  It tabled its report to the Legislative Assembly on 13 August 1898.

Little parliamentary consideration appears to have occurred in relation to this proposed extension of the rail network following tabling of the Committee’s report.  The recommendations contained in the report and reasons supporting such recommendations did not rate a mention in either that year’s the Department’s Annual Report or the NSW Parliament’s consideration of the survey.  In the absence of such it is still possible to surmise that there was an equivocal response to the survey of this route – as trial surveys ordinarily led to permanent surveys if a firm endorsement was the outcome.

The demise of the Pilliga route could also be a by-product of the vocal promotion of the alternatives from Dubbo and Mudgee.  Nevertheless it is almost certain that the Standing Committee would have noted that the Pilliga route was a most circuitous way to reach the colonial capital.  It would place Coonamble at a very distant 744 rail kilometres from Sydney - the equivalent of the distance from Sydney to Cobar.

Hypothetically the demise of the Pilliga route may also be partially attributed to the fact that such an extension would have likely caused the produce of the Castlereagh district to flow to the north-east rather than the south-east.  This may have benefited commercial interests in Brisbane rather than those of Sydney and elsewhere in eastern New South Wales.

Despite these drawbacks the Pilliga route still had its supporters throughout the period of deliberation.  During the NSW Parliament’s eventual consideration of the Dubbo to Coonamble route in 1899 the Member for Barwon confirmed his continued view of the viability of such a line.  The Department of Public Works’ Annual Report for that year also records an additional ₤3 3s in expenditure on the trial survey, which was unlikely to advance its consideration too much further.

The eventual construction of the Dubbo to Coonamble railway line did not diminish the ardour of some parliamentarians for a northerly route into the Pilliga district.  Echoing the June 1898 proposal in August 1901 a Mr Collins of the NSW Legislative Council questioned the NSW Government as to:

in view of the large amount of settlements and enormous quantity of valuable timber on the south side of the Namoi … (would the Government)… take into consideration a line of railway from Wee Waa to Pilliga?

The Secretary of Public Works declined to commit the Government ‘this session’ of the Parliament.

It is worth noting that, while not linked directly to the Coonamble railway, in June 1898 a parallel proposal was advanced for a pioneer railway leaving the north-western line at more eastern township of Narrabri.  This line was also proposed to pass along the southern bank of the Namoi River before reaching Pilliga and eventually Walgett.

This later proposed route also involved traversing an area north of Walgett in order to pass through Eurie Eurie.  It was this proposal that formed the basis of what eventually transpired.  In January 1901 a trial survey of a direct route from Wee Waa to Walgett was explored along with a branch line to Collarenabri.  By January 1908 trains were running from Narrabri to Walgett with Eurie Eurie as the penultimate stopping location.

The connection of Walgett to the Werris Creek line appears to have created a final breath of life for the Pilliga route in 1909/10 as the Department of Public Works again inspected its earlier work along the Namoi River.  Nothing more eventuated apparently from this proposal in the lead-up to the Great War.

So that’s enough for tonight... happy sailing, Coonamble!