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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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Locomotives and Rolling Stock

From 1854 to 1919 the steam locomotive reigned supreme and unchallenged as the primary form of railway traction in Australia, a few railcars excepted. Throughout the Victorian era, it came in numerous variations of the basic theme developed by George Stephenson and his son Robert. These locomotives had one to four driving axles, inside or outside cylinders and frames, 'simple expansion' from Britain and very rarely 'Vauclain compounding' from America. Tank and tender varieties were used with round topped and Belpaire fireboxes, and occasionally, with a variety of foreign patented ancillary gadgets designed to save fuel.[6] The steam locomotive in Australia burned local coal or firewood, and it drew vast quantities of water, often of dubious quality, from the creeks and wells of a very dry continent.

Every railway adopted its own design details, and within each railway the steam locomotive engineers favoured different and expanding themes of practice imported from elsewhere. Some ideas proposed by the locomotive builder were accepted as worthy of a trial. Locomotives were rebuilt and improved, and a small proportion were newly built in Australia, generally by copying a successful imported 'pattern engine', such as those built in Victoria at the Phoenix Foundry in Ballarat. Until the new century, it is hard to find a uniquely Australian contribution to steam locomotive technology.

Railway coach and wagon ideas were likewise imported. Locally built bodies soon appeared on English inspired underframes with two axles and, occasionally, rigid or radial 3 and 4 axle chassis, or along American lines with two 2 axle and later 3 axle bogies. It did not take Victorian era engineers long to realise that a passenger or freight railway vehicle running on equalised bogies was more amenable to relatively primitive Australian track, and less liable to derail, than a classic 2 axle British vehicle. However these chassis continued to be widely used, under both coach and wagon because of British influence and British trained engineers. Unfortunately some are still in service because of the operational convenience of sizing a small wagon for a small consignment.

It is tempting to try to identify a single reason for this continued adherence to British engineering practice. For the most part Australia's unique conditions were disregarded by London engineers as a result of their technical conservatism or lack of first hand experience. The risks of adventurist or ill-advised innovation are well documented, as in the unsuccessful use of the Fairlie patent double bogie steam locomotive in Queensland and Western Australia, which would have been widely known. In addition, political interference in detailed railway matters and the very high public profile of country passenger rail service generally, resulted in a pro-British outlook. Partisanship often ran high, and the use of 'Empire versus Yankee' engines was always a popular issue both here and in New Zealand, where it could be fairly said that the Americans won.

Underlying all this, a single fact should be noted. Throughout the Victorian era, virtually all the locomotive superintendents rose from the ranks of shed or workshop mechanics. Few had the formal tertiary education possessed by the civil engineers, and it was invariably the civil engineer who was the Chief Engineer and often the Commissioner for Railways. Thus few mechanical engineers had the stature needed to innovate in their own right. Those who did, near the end of the century, were of very high stature indeed.

Organisations in Australian Science at Work - Phoenix Foundry, Ballarat

People in Bright Sparcs - Macfarlane, Ian B.

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© 1988 Print Edition pages 464 - 465, Online Edition 2000
Published by Australian Science and Technology Heritage Centre, using the Web Academic Resource Publisher