15 March 2011

Constructing the railway

Planning for the Dubbo to Coonamble route had preceded the passage of the legislation.  During the earlier part of 1899 a further trial survey was commenced.  By mid-year the Department of Public Works had expended ₤131 on this work and the trial survey was completed prior to the completion of the legislative debates.

On 15 January 1900, less than one month after Royal Assent of the legislation, the Department of Public Works commenced a full survey of the route.  Two surveyors were assigned to the work and by 30 June 1900 the Department could report that 27 miles had been fully surveyed, with tangents for a further 50 miles ‘marked on the ground at the Coonamble end of the line’.

The same departmental annual report also announced that contracts had been let for 40,000 timber railway sleepers, along with ‘timber and ironwork for two timber truss bridges over the Talbragar River’.  This suggests that the 27 miles of surveyed railway had been completed from Dubbo end of the line – and also suggests that surveyors had already passed through the Coalbaggie district by this time.

The survey continued to make rapid progress throughout 1900.  By 24 November 1900 the Department could announce that the full survey was complete and that a railway of 95 miles and 40 chains required construction.

The conclusion of the survey nearly coincided with the commencement of construction of the railway, which involved work commencing at the Dubbo end of the line on 15 November 1900.  The construction work was to be performed throughout the construction period by the Department’s day labour force. 

The public servants moved quickly about their work as, by 30 June 1901, the Department had managed to spend nearly ₤42,000 in construction funds out of a total departmental construction budget of ₤207,285.  The Department’s 1900/01 Annual Report also provides the first assessment of the construction task.  It states that the ‘country along the line is almost level and that are no works of magnitude’, with the result that the earthworks were nearly complete, even at this early stage of construction. 

The same Annual Report noted that:

The Talbragar River and Colbaggie (sic) Creek are the only two places where bridges of any size are required.  The bridge over the Talbragar River consists of two 60 foot 1 inch timber truss spars, with two 24-foot and four 14-foot timber approaches… (while) over the Colbaggie, one 40-foot and two 38-foot 6 inch truss spans, and three 24-foot and two 14-foot timber approaches (are required).

The Report notes that the ‘Talbragar River bridge is complete, the Coalbaggie Creek bridge is underway’, and contracts ‘have been let for all the piles and timber required for the line, and also for about 140,000 ironbark sleepers’.

Rapid progress continued to be made throughout the construction period.  Construction was observed as being underway in the Coalbaggie district in November 1901.  The Department’s June 1902 Annual Report summarised the swift progress, noting that:

The rails are laid for a length of 90 miles.  The bridges and culverts are nearly finished.

A contract was let on the 23rd September 1901 to Mr W H Hudson for the erection of station buildings at Brocklehurst, Goonoo, Coalbaggie, Balladoran and Gilgandra, and the works are nearly finished.  In May 1902 a contract was let to Messrs McCarthy and Allibone for station buildings at Berida, Curben (sic), Gulargambone, Combera (sic) and Coonamble, and the works have been started.

Trucking yards are in the course of erection at Gilgandra.

At Coalbaggie Creek an excavated tank has been made and the water diverted into it from the creek and from thence pumped into an elevated tank at Coalbaggie station yard.

At Gilgandra cylinders are being sunk in the bed of the Castlereagh River from which the water will be pumped to an elevated tank in the station yard.

At Gulargambone and Coonamble water supplies are also under consideration.

Despite a severe drought limiting the availability of quality timber for railway sleepers, by the start of 1902 the authorities could announce that trains would be running between Dubbo and Gilgandra by March of that year.  This proved to be the case.  Progress continued such that the Commissioners could commence unofficially operating goods, passenger and mail and works trains over the entire length of the line on 4 August 1902.

Of course, these trains were just works trains - elderly semi-repatriated locomotives, carriages no longer used in services on the seaboard - working to slow timetables.  The precarious nature of these operations can be gleaned in one of the first mentions of services connecting Gilgandra with Dubbo by the Sydney Morning Herald. The newspaper reported he breakdown of the locomotive on a special train of Gilgandrians returning home after visiting the Dubbo Show on 2 May 1902.  Apparently the locomotive failed somewhere near Coalbaggie.  The whole train was then returned to Dubbo in order to secure a fresh locomotive. Ah, the national ignominy of breaking down in Coalbaggie!

In the next post more stories of the coming of the railway will be relayed....

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