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 However it appears that this support was withdrawn during 1897 in favour of the proposed Mudgee to Coonamble railway.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.