Our diary of September journeys explores moments in
the history of Australia’s biggest railway and, beyond State
borders, tells of its influence on tracks, trains and travel.
Standard gauge figures as the common thread. Starting with Federation’s great achievement, the gauge of New South Wales is chosen for the Trans-Australian Railway, while NSWGR designs are adopted for its first locomotives.
A hesitant beginning to the unification plan later allows the Brisbane Express to travel on the same set of wheels from Sydney into south-east Queensland where, ironically, many years before New South Wales politicians had resisted having their railway cross the border at Tweed Heads.
Bill Wentworth’s plan for a national standard gauge network finally unlocks Federal money to permit freight and passenger trains from Sydney and beyond to reach Melbourne, Adelaide and beyond – eventually to Perth and Darwin. As if to remind observers of the big railway’s long arm of influence, the magnificent 3801, a product of New South Wales workshops, steams across the
All these events have a connection with the days of
September, the month when railway history seems to
happen. Read of Ben Chifley, the locomotive driver who
became Prime Minister of Australia, of Dr John Job Crew
Bradfield, the visionary engineer responsible for the Sydney
Harbour Bridge and trains to the city underground; of James Fraser, the first Australian-born Chief Commissioner who presided over a remaking of the New South Wales railway system and harsh confrontation in the 1917 strike; of Harold Young, the man from Scotland who designed big engines, especially the C38 and also the sleek Silver City Comet; of William Randle, builder of the 1855 line to Parramatta, who ran the colony’s first trains; of Orlando Brain and a youthful ADJ Forster, assistant commissioner engineers in an exciting age of railway electrification and sharp political knives; of the
forgotten Northern Line guard whose failure to find a simple
metal pin led to a night of death and destruction at Murulla.
Their names reside in those 30 eventful days when railways
and history intertwine.