24 April 2011

Dubbo's planned branchlines to 1920

Happy Easter to one and all... its time for an Easter double dose.  Here's the first half...

The previous post described the Dubbo to Coonamble railway within a wider historical context.  It mentioned the popularity of pioneer branch lines radiating from trunk routes.  This posting lists some of the more significant or advanced proposals for pioneer railways around Dubbo, the Coalbaggie and Castlereagh districts, or servicing those districts.  It does not quite justify Dubbo as the ‘Chicago of NSW’, but it demonstrates a level of activity perhaps only equaled in the Werris Creek and Junee areas.

Pioneer lines were recognised as likely to generate low levels of traffic, except in seasonal peaks.  Consequently, few were expected to prove profitable in recouping the operating expenses or the cost of capital construction. 

At the time of construction of the Dubbo to Coonamble railway, work was also proceeding on the following proposed railway lines:

Warren to Coonamble – during 1898 another trial survey of this line was commenced;

* Narromine to Coonamble – during 1899 a full survey was completed between these locations;

* Mudgee to Coonamble– during 1898 a trial survey of this line continued; and

* as part of the Mudgee to Coonamble proposals considered in the Legislative Assembly, the extension of the railway from Coonamble to Walgett.

Of these, only the Mudgee to Coonamble railway could be considered to be as anything greater in status than a pioneer line.  Nonetheless, the completion of the Dubbo to Coonamble railway encouraged reconsideration of these railway proposals, and the development of others.

After a slight hiatus between 1905 and 1910 the subsequent decade brought forth numerous proposals for railway lines associated with the Dubbo to Coonamble railway.  With one exception, none of the proposed railways deviated from the Coonamble line while it passed through the Coalbaggie district.  However if built all of the planned railways would have generated additional traffic through Eumungerie, as all were planned to link from Gilgandra or further north.  Some of the proposed lines were no more than reincarnated proposals from the 1880s and 1890s, while others were planned to exploit countryside to the north and west of the new railway.

Amongst the first of these proposals involved three competing lines to Quambone which lies to the west of Coonamble on the eastern edge of the fertile Macquarie Marshes.  The Department of Public Works reported that a good deal of effort had been allocated to assessing the competing routes from Warren, Gulargambone and Coonamble during the 1909/10 financial year - the latter two branching from the Dubbo to Coonamble railway. 

The Department had yet to reach a decided view over the superiority of any of the claims by June 1910.  Two years later in 1912 the NSW Parliament was informed that the route from Warren to Quambone would cost ₤183,000 to construct, and operate at a starting loss of ₤3,000 annually.  Presumably as the Gulargambone and Coonamble routes were shorter these proposals would likely have been of a lesser cost.

More came of the Gilgandra alternative than its more northerly rivals.  The genesis of this line can be traced to April 1911 where the Railway Leagues of Bullagreen, Collie and Gilgandra endorsed this route.  In June and November of the same year the State Parliament received petitions in support of this railway’s construction.  In 1912 the NSW Parliament had been informed that this railway would cost ₤277,000 to construct and would operate at a modest annual loss of ₤2,000.

So, Gilgandra seemed to be close to being the epicentre of this phase of railway boosterism.  In 1910 the Department of Public Works enhanced this status by surveying a line eastward from that town, going north-east to Tooraweenah.  Shortly after this one of the most-developed railway lines destined never to be built involved the proposal for a westward spur from the Coonamble railway at Gilgandra.  This proposal was developed to the stage where funding for the railway was authorised by the State Parliament, in the Gilgandra to Collie Railway Act 1915.  This legislation proposed a line proceeding west from Gilgandra to cross Marthaguy Creek and Calf Pen Creek, then proceeding north-west to Collie.  The total distance of the line was approximately 39 kilometres (24 miles), and the estimated cost was ₤105,000.  The 1917 Annual Report of the Railway Commissioners noted that this ‘extension of 24 miles is authorised for construction but work has not yet commenced’.

Dithering over the construction of this railway continued into the 1920s.  Its failure to be delivered did not prevent the consideration of additional branch lines.  For example, the Gilgandra to Tooraweenah route was seen as an alternative to the more easterly Mendooran to Tooraweenah route.  The matter was referred to the Public Works Committee on 20 December 1920.

It took more than four years for the Committee to determine that the construction cost of the Gilgandra to Tooraweenah line was anticipated to be ₤220,089.  The Committee also estimated that an annual expenditure would approach ₤15,250, and would return a paltry ₤3,000 in revenue.  On this basis the Committee voted that it was ‘not expedient to construct this railway’ at this time.  Thus was the end of the Gilgandra to Tooraweenah railway.  Incidentally, its rival suffered the same fate – while the 1928 Annual Report of the Railway Commissioners notes that the trial survey and permanent pegging of Mendooran to Tooraweenah route.  This was perhaps its last mention in those pages.

Further impetus for the expansion of railways in western New South Wales arose due to the 1917 Royal Commission which proposed a number of pioneer railways to encourage closer settlement of the Castlereagh region.  One railway proposed built on the earlier work of the Gilgandra to Tooraweenah pioneer line.  It resulted in the Gilgandra to Curlewis Railway Act.  This proposal evolved into more than a pioneer line as should be more properly classified as a cross-country railway however its initial plans were proposed only a as pioneer line from Gilgandra to Tooraweenah and Coonabarabran.  Work on this railway commenced shortly thereafter the passage of the legislation but ceased apparently due to the First World War.

Another railway recommended by the 1917 Royal Commission was the Gilgandra to Quambone railway, travelling via Collie using the 1915 legislation.  It probably came as a surprise that the Government of the day did not act upon the Royal Commission’s recommendation as similar marginally unprofitable lines were constructed.

In the next post the post war expansion years will be considered.

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