10 January 2011

From the south

And now folks, its time to start telling the tale of a railway line that actually ended up being built – the line from Dubbo in the south to Coonamble in the north. 

As with the proposed railway line from Mudgee, parliamentary support for a route from Dubbo was decades old.  A proposal for a railway line from Dubbo to Coonamble had been a feature of an 1880 political manifesto.  That proposal involved a direct connection between the two townships.

This proposal sought a southern connection with the Great Western Railway at the eastern end of Dubbo yard.  From there, the branch line would pass through the established townships of Gilgandra and Gulargambone.  However, to get to Gilgandra the railway would need to traverse approximately 40 miles of largely uninhabited country which was variously described to the colonial parliament as ‘scrubby, poor, sandy and ridgey’.  To the east of this land there lay huge forests of ironbark which were noted as being able to provide a source of revenue.

The existence of competing proposals over the railway to the Castlereagh facilitated local and parliamentary conjecture over the preferred route which delayed construction beyond the 1880s, which was the first golden period of railway construction.  The debate over the Coonamble line thus progressed from a decade of economic prosperity and optimism into the 1890s which was marked as a decade of drought, slowing settlement, economic recession and, at best, muted railway development. 

The 1890s brought sporadic periods of railway construction across NSW – varying from 242 kilometres (150 miles) in 1893 and 1894, to no new route miles being opened in 1896.  The citizens of Coonamble were not to be amongst those favoured by this period of construction.

Thus it is fair to conclude that the railway nearly did not arrive in Eumungerie not just because of the competition from other routes, but also from the delay in timing associated with railway construction brought about by the economic malaise afflicting the colony in the 1890s. 

Indeed, the construction of the railway line to Eumungerie was so delayed that it eventually came to occur, not as part of the 1880s golden age of railway construction, but as part of the next great period of railway building, at the dawn of the 20th century.

The parliamentary vote rejecting the extension of the Mudgee line in 1890 led the then Secretary of Public Works, the Hon William Lyne, to propose the alternative Dubbo to Coonamble route in 1881.   

The Department of Public Works duly reported in June 1892 that a trial survey had commenced, with 30 miles (48 kilometres) complete.  In the following year’s Annual Report the Department announced that a survey of the full line was complete.  It was hardly an expedited process, especially when one considers the speed of the surveys over the Mudgee and Warren alternatives.  The slowish pace is most likely reflective of the alternative routes preferred by both the Railway Commissioners and the Standing Committee on Public Works.  Over the next couple of posts I will cover off the views of both of these groups in much more detail - there are a few rogues worth watching.

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