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History of Rail in Australia

Railway History in Australia

Convict and Horse Powered 'Trains'

The first vehicles to be used on a series of lines were small carts pushed along by convicts around the new settlement of Sydney starting in around 1836. It was a crude but effective means of transport which was next replaced by horse drawn although in England Stephensons steam engine had already been operating since 1830.

The next progression in 'rail transport' was to be in South Australia in 1854 on May 18th where a horse drawn carriage was to provide transport along a 7 mile journey from Goolwa to Port Elliot on the states southern seaside mouth of the Murray River. This was to provide a connecting means of transportation for the freight coming from the river boats of the Murray, Darling and Murrumbidgee River system.

The Arrival of Steam

In 1854 the first Steam trail service was introduced in Victoria and operated between the city of Melbourne and the harbour at Port Melbourne.

Although a 14 mile rail line was started in New South Wales between Sydney and Parramatta the project ran into financial difficulty and it was not until 26 September 1855 that the line was actually opned and used.

Steam was introduced in 1856 to South Australia when a rail line was opned between the main city of Adelaide and the port harbour of Port Adelaide, a distance of seven and a half miles. In 1884 a steam engine replaced the horse drawn 'power' for the Goolwa line and thereafter a number of lines opened up the mid-north of the state.

Commercial Influences

As previously mentioned the need for freight to be carried across this vast continent was the first commercial purpose of the need for rail. Transport for people was also a need tho many relied on the horse-drawn Cobb and Co Road Coaches as it was more flexible for this purpose.

The next big influence was the shout of a single word "gold" that rang out from the Victorian towns of Ballarat and Bendigo in the 1850's and in 1893 from the Western Australian outpost of Kalgoorlie, some 370 miles from the state capital of Perth.

Growing Pains; Standardizing the Rail Gauge

The most significant problem the new settlements had in co-ordinating a rail system was the use of differing rail gauges for their lines. This was somewhat due to conflict of opinion and competition, mainly between the two new settlement 'states' of New South Wales and Victoria.

Although 1901 would see the Federation of Australia connecting all States to a common identity, it was not until 1930 that Sydney and Brisbane were finally connected by a Standard Gauge Rail. Melbourne would concede and link to the Sydney line in 1962 while Perth and Kalgoorlie would be upgraded by 1968.

The final East-West connection was completed when in 1969 the line between the lead smelter city of Port Pirie in South Australia and its primary ore supply of Broken Hill in far western New South Wales was upgraded.

Australian Trams

Many horse-drawn 'tram' services were founded in the late nineteenth century with significant historical relevance around the gold mining towns of Ballarat and Bendigo and the related state capital of Melbourne. Bendigo and Melbourne still operate historic as well as their modern trams conveniently along the main streets with extensions to both systems a big part of the future transport strategies of these cities.

Although trams were found over various periods of the last century in all other state capital cities and many regional cities, apart from the two above mentioned services the only other tram services operated are largely tourist inspired. In South Australia a tram still operates in Adelaide which runs from the city to the beautiful beaches of Glenelg with its adjacent cafes and shops and is particularly popular on weekends and in summer months and there is the horse drawn tram that crosses to the historic Granite Island at Victor Harbour on the Fleurieu Peninsula.

The Melbourne tram network is the largest in the world and is a shining example that these wonderful transport carriages re not only popular but commercially viable. Although Melbourne boats modern quiet and comfortable low-level and easily accessible trams the city is also restoring some of the old style historic trams as a means of a tourist attraction, with good reason because they are certainly a picture to be seen.

Signicicant Dates in Australian Rail History

•  1836

Sydney Settlement NSW

First convict 'drawn' rail carts operate

•  May 18 1854

Goolwa South Australia

Horse drawn freight vehicles start use

•  12 September 1854

Melbourne Victoria

First Steam train in Victoria [Melbourne - Port Melbourne]

•  26 September 1855

Sydney NSW

First Steam train in New South Wales [Sydney - Parramatta]

•  21 April 1856

Adelaide SA

First Steam train in South Australia [Adelaide - Port Adelaide]

•  1868

Northern Tasmania

First Steam train in Tasmania [Launceston - Deloraine]

•  1871

Lockville to Yoganup WA

First Steam train in Western Australia; a private timber railway

•  1875

Brisbane Queensland

First Steam train in Queensland [Ipswich - Grandchester]

•  1969

Port Pirie/Broken Hill

Last link to East-West Standard Rail Gauge finalised

•  1980

Tarcoola/Alice Springs

Alice Springs connected by rail to National Network

•  2004

Alice Springs/Darwin

Standard North-South Rail thru Central Australia completed


Australian Railway Historical Societies and Historial Railways

New South Wales ARHS
Queensland ARHS
Tasmania ARHS
Victoria ARHS
South Australia 'Steam Ranger'
Rail Heritage Weatern Australia

For more information on the history of rail please visit the following websites:-

Wikipedia - History of Rail Transport

NOTE: All links are to English versions of the websites. Most are in local languages. If links are broken (as websites often change their templates) simply go to the home page listed and search for the country of interest.


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