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Technology in Australia 1788-1988Australian Academy of Technological Sciences and Engineering
Table of Contents

Chapter 7

I The First 100 Years 1788-1888

II Railways
i Location of the Railway
ii Track
iii Bridging and Tunnelling
iv Dams for Engine Water
v Locomotives and Rolling Stock
vi Signalling and Telecommunications
vii 1900/1988-The New Century
viii The Garratt Locomotive
ix Steam Locomotive Practice
x Motor Railcars
xi Signalling
xii Electric Tramways
xiii Electric Railways - Direct Current
xiv Electric Railways - 25 kV ac
xv Diesel Traction
xvi Alignment and Track
xvii Operations

III Motorised Vehicles

IV Aviation

V Modern Shipping

VI Innovative Small Craft

VII Conclusion

VIII Acknowledgements

IX Contributors



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The steam engine was a British invention introduced in 1705 by Thomas Newcomen, and subsequently improved by James Watt, who in 1765 patented a steam locomotive, although he did not, in fact, build one. The beginnings of the railway as we know it, date from Trevithick's first primaevel steam locomotive on the Penydarren Tramroad in 1804.[1] Throughout the mid Victorian years (1860-1880) of pioneering and the late Victorian years (1890s) of transport expansion in Australia, most of the fundamental technology used was British, or more precisely, what was termed at the time 'British Colonial'.

American ideas in areas such as track, locomotives, air brakes and bogies, were applied in Australia only where they were seen to be relevant. This introduction of ideas came largely through the Pacific mail steamer link.

Technological innovation is generally a risky business in a new country -especially with parochial colonial politicians constantly interfering in railways matters. Thus the early Australian railway engineers tended to develop skills of selection, adaptation and application of technology, rather than those of pure innovation. As a result, very few of the Victorian era railway engineers adopted solutions that were uniquely Australian, particularly as for many years the 'high technology' equipment of the time was imported, almost invariably from Britain. But not always -the very first locomotive-hauled train in Australia (1854) ran from Flinders Street, Melbourne to Sandridge (Port Melbourne) behind a hastily-built local improvisation of a steam locomotive.[2] This was because the engines on order from the U.K. arrived late. The late delivery was a landmark precedent but its consequence was not, alas, to become the prototype for an Australian industry for many years to come. Nevertheless, the other Australian States followed Victoria's lead. Railways appeared in N.S.W, in 1855, in S.A. in 1856, in Queensland in 1865 and in Tasmania and Western Australia in 1871.

At the time of Federation in 1901 Australia had six separate railway systems, one for each State. The seventh system came into being when the Trans Australian line between Port Augusta and Kalgoorlie was constructed -and Commonwealth Railways ran their first train in 1917.

Most of the State systems began as private railroad companies, except the Queensland and Western Australian systems. Every private system soon ran into financial straits -and was acquired by the Government.

The individual systems simply could not agree on railway gauges -the distance between the rails. Some were built to 1600 mm (broad gauge) 1435 mm (standard gauge) and 1067 mm (narrow gauge). An even narrower gauge of 762 mm was popular for certain tasks and the sugar cane industry in Queensland used extensive permanent networks of 610 mm.

Getting primary produce to the seaboard became of paramount importance to the settlers for without railways Australia could not possibly supply the markets of the world. Railways were also important for rural development, for development followed the major rail routes. Towns and villages mushroomed along the railways -and people could move quickly and safely. By 1901 a vast network stretched from capitals and key ports, ready to serve the emerging nation.

Despite the differing gauges of railway lines within the individual States, the need for gauge unification was always recognised. The more the States developed and came to rely on rail transport, the more difficult became the break-of-gauge problem at the borders. Trans-shipment of freight caused delays, added to costs and interfered with free flow of trade between States.

Organisations in Australian Science at Work - Commonwealth Railways; Trans Australia Railway

People in Bright Sparcs - Macfarlane, Ian B.

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© 1988 Print Edition pages 459 - 460, Online Edition 2000
Published by Australian Science and Technology Heritage Centre, using the Web Academic Resource Publisher