100 Years Since West Linked East By Railway

100 Years Since West Linked East By Railway

100 Years Since Completion Of The Transcontinental Railway Line

Victor P Taffa

Transcontinental Railway Line was completed at Ooldea on 17 October 1917 and on 22 October 1917 the first train left Port Augusta, South Australia for Kalgoorlie, Western Australia.


Prime Minister Billy Hughes opened the line which was a remarkable surveying and engineering feat cutting through some of the harshest and most remote terrain in the world.

First sod of the line was turned at Port Augusta on 14 September 1912 and at the opposite end of the line in Kalgoorlie on 12 February 1913.

Nullarbor Plain

  • Nullarbor Plain; Latin: nullus, ‘No’ and arbor, ‘Tree’.

Nullarbor Plain is part of the area of flat, almost treeless, aridor semi-arid country of southern Australia, located on the Great Australian Bight coast with the Great Victoria Desert to its north.

Nullarbor Plain has the world’s largest single exposure of limestone bedrock, and occupies an area of about 200,000 sq km (77,000 sq mi).

At its widest point, it stretches about 1,100 km (684 mi) from east to west across the border between South Australia and Western Australia.

At no point along the route does the line cross a permanent fresh watercourse. Bores and reservoirs were established at intervals, although the water was often brackish and unsuitable for steam locomotive use, let alone human consumption, so water supplies had to be carried on the train. In the days of steam locomotion, about half the total load was water for the engine.

Prime Minister Billy Hughes Opened the Transcontinental Railway Line 100 Years Ago










Federation Of Australia 1 January 1901

An implied condition of Western Australia entering the Federation on 1 January 1901 was that the state had to be connected to the east by rail.

Up until the opening of the Transcontinental Railway Line all freight and passengers went by ship across the Great Australian Bight that was known for rough seas.

When the Federation of Australian colonies was being considered Western Australia was the most reluctant colony. Premier, Sir John Forrest, believed that a railway linking Western Australia to the other states would help to unify the various Western Australian factions.

In 1896, when the railway reached Kalgoorlie from Perth, Forrest promised the Goldfields residents that the railway would not stop at Kalgoorlie. This was a promise they did not let him forget.

Thus the lure of a trans-continental railway did become the ‘carrot’ which led Western Australia to join the Federation of Australia on 1 January 1901. Unfortunately it was only a promise and not a cast iron guarantee.

This resulted in many years of lobbying by Western Australia to see it come to fruition. Despite a preliminary survey in 1901 it was not until 1908 that Western Australia and South Australia, each to their side of the border, undertook a full survey across the desert. However the enormous cost was a significant difficulty for the fledging nation.

Engineering difficulties were minimal as there were no mountains or rivers to cross however there were the problems of flies, typhoid, heat, cold, shortages of materials and the immense distance.

Port Augusta to Kalgoorlie is 1,036 miles and across the Nullarbor Plain is 330 miles which is the longest straight stretch of railway line in the world.

Between Kalgoorlie, Western Australia and Port Augusta, South Australia remained a missing gap in railway line of 1,996 km. On 17 October 1917 one construction team left Kalgoorlie and the other team left Port Augusta at which they met and joined the track. When the two teams met they were less than a metre apart on a north-south line.

Both teams joined the line at the South Australian siding of Ooldea on the Nullarbor Plain. Taking 5 years to complete the longest straight stretch of railway line in the world was now completed. Basic construction tools included Pick and Shovel, Cart and Camel.

At 10.15 am on 25 October 1917 the first eastbound passenger train, the Transcontinental Express departed Kalgoorlie for Port Augusta.



In September 1911, Minister for Home Affairs in the Fisher Government, King O’Malley, introduced the Kalgoorlie to Port Augusta Railway Bill, which after passing through both Houses, received the Governor General’s consent on 12 December 1911.

On 1 January 1912, Henry Deane, the retired Engineer-in-Chief of New South Wales Government Railways, began work as Engineer-in-Chief of the new railway.

Deane was faced with a huge task. He had to build a 4 complex railway organisation from scratch and at the same time organise the largest construction project ever undertaken in Australia.

Quantities of material required to construct the railway included:

  • 2, 300, 000 sleepers,
  • 136, 000 tons of rail,
  • 10, 000 tons of fishplates.

Also required was all the other permanent way material such as:

  • Dog spikes,
  • Sleeper plates,
  • Turn-outs.

Over 1,030 working drawings for construction work and rolling stock standards had to be prepared.

Tenders had to be called for the whole range of railway equipment and rolling stock, including:

  • Accommodation coaches and water tankers,
  • Construction materials such as cement, water pipes, and telegraph wires,
  • Cranes,
  • Locomotives,
  • Wagons.

Workshops, locomotive sheds and store sheds had to be built at Port Augusta and Kalgoorlie, for both ‘temporary’ use during construction and for later operational use.

Work proceeded eastwards from Kalgoorlie and westwards from Port Augusta through the years of the First World War.

By 1915, the two ends of the line were just over 1,996 km apart with materials being delivered daily. Construction progressed steadily as the line was extended through dry and desolate regions until the two halves of the line met on 17 October 1917.


Western Australia Votes Yes To Join The Federation

Introduction of Compulsory Military Training and the visit by Lord Kitchener ultimately led to the construction and opening of the Transcontinental Railway Line on 17 October 1917.

However this is not to understate the promise made to Western Australia for construction of the Transcontinental Railway Line in joining the Federation on 1 January 1901.

Some 3 weeks after the Australian Constitution became law in Britain, a referendum was finally held in Western Australia at which an overwhelming majority of voters agreed to federate. In fact, the ‘Yes’ vote outweighed the ‘’No’ vote by a 2-to-1 margin.

Once it realised the other colonies would go ahead without it, the Western Australian Colonial Parliament reversed its opposition to federation. Public opinion in Western Australia had also shifted.

By 1900 there was widespread support for federation, particularly among the large number of new settlers from the east who had moved to the colony as a result of the gold rush.


Compulsory Military Training

Defence Acts of 1903 and 1904 saw all male inhabitants between the ages of 18 and 60 years were made liable to serve in Australia with the defence forces in time of war.

More recent Acts make training and service compulsory in time of peace.

Defence Act of 1909 saw the principle of universal liability to be trained was made law for the first time in any English-speaking community.

It prescribed junior cadet training for lads 12 and 13 years of age, followed by senior cadet training for lads from 14 to 18 years of age; and thereafter adult training for 2 years in the citizen forces, to equal 16 days annually, followed by registration (or a muster parade) each year for 6 years.

Arrangements for registration, enrolment, inspection, and medical examination of persons liable to be trained were made. Latter Acts introduced necessary modifications, the principal being the extension of adult service to 8 years.

On 1st January, 1911, by proclamation, compulsory training was established. The already existing militia (voluntarily enlisted) were free to complete the 3 years for which they had engaged to serve, but conformity to the new system was essential. Officers and non-commissioned officers might re-engage.

All male inhabitants of Australia, who are British subjects, and have resided in the Commonwealth for 6 months, are liable to serve.

Exemptions exist for certain individuals and classes of people, and may be granted in the case of unpopulated and sparsely populated areas. The training was as follows:

  • Junior Cadets from 12 to 14 years of age,
  • Senior Cadets from 14 to 18 years of age,
  • Citizen Forces from 18 to 26 years of age.

At the end of 1909 and before the Act of that year came into operation, Lord Kitchener visited Australia at the invitation of the Government.

Chief of the Imperial General Staff, Lord Kitchener visited Australia in 1911 and was aware of the importance of the Railway to the defence of the nation. Federal Parliament also recognised the importance of the Transcontinental Line in the defence of the nation. Hence the introduction of a bill into Federal Parliament by the Minister for Home Affairs, King O’Malley and a vote for the new Transcontinental Railway was passed on 6th December 1911.


World War II

Transcontinental Railway was to fulfill Kitchener’s prediction of its importance for Australia’s defence during World War II. During the years 1942-44 the railway was generally unavailable for any non-military use, due to its vital role in the transport of troops and equipment.


Track Gauges

Measurement of a Track Gauge is the distance measured between the two rails. Previously train bogies (Wheels) had to be changed in order for a train to use a different gauge.

Third rail that is not an electrified track is placed between the two rails and gauge convertible bogies are fitted to trains for flexibility.

Transcontinental Railway Line was to be to the standard gauge of 4 ft 8 1?2 in (1,435 mm), even though the state railway systems at both ends were narrow gauge at the time.

Entire route was not converted to standard gauge until 1970.

Three main types of track gauges used in Australia today are:

  • Narrow Gauge 3 ft 6 in (1,067 mm)
  • Standard Gauge 4 ft 8 1?2 in (1,435 mm)
  • Broad Gauge 5 ft 3 in (1,600 mm)

Railway Tracks across every State Border are now Standard Gauge. However railway systems within each State or Territory use the following Track Gauges:

  • State of Queensland uses Narrow Gauge
  • State of Tasmania uses Narrow Gauge
  • State of Western Australia uses Narrow Gauge
  • Australian Capital Territory uses Standard Gauge
  • Northern Territory uses Standard Gauge
  • State of New South Wales uses Standard Gauge
  • State of South Australia uses Broad Gauge
  • State of Victoria uses Broad Gauge


Passenger Services

Commonwealth Railways was established in 1917 to administer the line.

From the start of construction until 1996 the Tea & Sugar Train carried vital supplies to the isolated work sites and towns along the route.

From 1917, the passenger service was known as the Transcontinental Express. Towards the end of its life as a mixed gauge service, between Kalgoorlie and Port Augusta it was usually known as the Trans-Australian. From February 1970 the service became the Indian Pacific.


Localities And Stopping Places Related To The Trans Continental Railway Line

Localities and Stopping Places related to the 1917 construction of railway line that went from Kalgoorlie, Western Australia to Port Augusta, South Australia.

State Of Western Australia

  • Kalgoorlie
  • Parkeston 1776.0 km
  • Golden Ridge 1758.0 km
  • Curtin 1722.5 km
  • Blamey 1692.0 km
  • Karonie 1670.5 km
  • Chifley Siding 1642.0 km
  • Coonana 1611.0 km
  • Zanthus 1572.0 km
  • Goddards 1551.0 km
  • Kitchener 1512.5 km
  • Boonderoo 1484.0 km
  • 913 mile
  • Narethal 1450.5 km
  • Rawlinna 1403.0 km
  • Wilban 1369.5 km
  • Haig 1331.5 km
  • Nurina 1287.0 km
  • Loongana 1239.5 km
  • Mundrabilla 1192.0 km
  • Forrest 1137.5 km
  • Reid 1106.5 km Named after Prime Minister George Reid 1,017.11 (632) This station is west of Deakin
  • Deakin 1054.0 km (Named after Prime Minister Alfred Deakin 964 (599) Distance From Port Augusta in km (mi)

 Western Australia/ South Australia Border 1050.910 km

State Of South Australia

  • Hughes 1002. 0 km (Named after Prime Minister Billy Hughes 912.5 (567) Distance From Port Augusta in km (mi)
  • Denman 956.5 km
  • Koonalda Block Point 936.0 km
  • Cook 914. 5 km (Named after Prime Minister Joseph Cook 825.59 (513) Distance From Port Augusta in km (mi)
  • Thomiar 889.0 km
  • Fisher 861.5 km (Named after Prime Minister Andrew Fisher 770.88 (479) Distance From Port Augusta in km (mi)
  • O’Malley Block Point 839.0 km
  • Watson 809.0 km (Named after Prime Minister Chris Watson 716.16 (445) Distance From Port Augusta in km (mi)
  • Ooldea 776.0 km
  • Immarna Block Point 744.5 km
  • Bates 725.5 km
  • Barton (Barton Siding) 693.5 km
  • (Named after Prime Minister Edmund Barton 11 (376) Distance From Port Augusta in km (mi)
  • Mungala 667.0 km
  • Mount Christie Siding 638.0 km
  • Wynbring 606.5 km
  • Lyons 565.0 km
  • Malbooma 541.5 km
  • Tarcoola 504.5 km
  • 245 miles (now Ferguson) 469.0 km
  • Kingoonya 426.5 km
  • Kultanaby 394.0 km
  • Coondambo 365.5 km
  • Wirraminna 342.0 km
  • Lake Hart (now Burando) 311.0 km
  • Pimba 273.0 km
  • Wirrappa 242.0 km
  • Woocalla (now McLeay) 210.0 km
  • Bookaloo 177.0 km
  • Hesso 146.5 km
  • Tent Hill 119.5 km
  • Port Augusta 92.0 km


Most of the locations along the railway line exist in reserves with limited or no access allowable, or are positioned next to a road that has been closed and has no access possible.

The few locations that are accessible have either landing strip for access by plane and roads that run north from the Eyre Highway. Most of the identified locations in this list are ruins or have very few services or facilities.


Names Of Stopping Places

Most of the stopping locations in the 129° E to 134° E part of the railway in South Australia (except for Deakin, which is 3 km (1.9 mi) inside Western Australia’s state border) were named after the first 7 Australian Prime Ministers.

Australia’s First 7 Prime Ministers

  1. Sir Edmund Barton
  2. Alfred Deakin
  3. Chris Watson
  4. George Reid
  5. Andrew Fisher
  6. Joseph Cook
  7. Billy Hughes

Prime Minister                  Terms Served

Edmund Barton                      1 Jan. 1901-24 Sept. 1903

Alfred Deakin                          24 Sept. 1903-27 April 1904

Alfred Deakin                          5 July 1905-13 Nov. 1908

Alfred Deakin                          2 June 1909-29 April 1910

Chris Watson                          27 April 1904-18 Aug. 1904

George Reid                            18 Aug. – 5 July 1905

Andrew Fisher                        13 Nov. 1908-2 June 1909

Andrew Fisher                        29 April 1910-24 June 1913

Andrew Fisher                        7 Sept. 1914-27 Oct. 1915

Joseph Cook                            24 June 1913-7 Sept. 1914

William Morris Hughes           27 Oct. 1915-14 Nov. 1916

William Morris Hughes           14 Nov. 1916-17 Feb. 1917

William Morris Hughes           17 Feb. 1917-9 Feb. 1923 (Completion of Transcontinental Railway Line on 17 October 1917)

Indian Pacific Train

Ghan Train










Indian Pacific

Train’s route includes the world’s longest straight stretch of railway track, a 478-km (297 mi) stretch of the Transcontinental Railway Line over the Nullarbor Plain.

Localities And Stopping Places Related To The Indian Pacific Train

State Of Western Australia

  • East Perth
  • Midland
  • Northam
  • Merredin
  • Southern Cross
  • Kalgoorlie
  • Rawlinna
  • Loongana

Western Australia/South Australia Border

State Of South Australia

  • Cook
  • Tarcoola
  • Kingoonya
  • Pimba
  • Port Augusta
  • Coonamia
  • Adelaide
  • Gladstone
  • Peterborough

South Australia/New South Wales Border

State Of New South Wales

  • Broken Hill
  • Menindee
  • Ivanhoe
  • Euabalong West
  • Condoblin
  • Parkes
  • Orange
  • Bathurst
  • Lithgow
  • Sydney Central


Indian Pacific Train Facts

Indian Pacific operates services from Sydney, New South Wales on the east coast to Perth, Western Australia on the west coast and return.

Indian Pacific also stops in both directions at Adelaide, South Australia.

Indian Pacific Train is named after the Indian Ocean on the west coast and the Pacific Ocean on the east coast.

Length of Journey:

  • Sydney-Perth
  • 4,352 km
  • 65 Hours

In addition to the Indian Pacific Train, Australia currently has 2 other major long distance trains. These include the Ghan and Overland Trains.


Ghan Train Facts

Ghan Train is an abbreviated version of its previous nickname The Afghan Express and operates services between Adelaide, South Australia and Darwin, Northern Territory.

Length of Journey:

  • 54 Hours
  • 2,979 Km


Overland Train Facts

Overland Train operates services between Adelaide, South Australia and Melbourne, Victoria.

Originally, the Intercolonial Express operated a luxury overnight service complete with dining cars. The train became known as The Overland in 1926.

Length of Journey:

  • 5 Hours
  • 828 km

Overland Train

Adelaide Railway Station Platforms to be lengthened for Indian-Pacific and HSR Services










Next 100 Years

Future of the Indian Pacific, Ghan and Overland Trains is bright with the introduction of High Speed Rail operating at 500 km/h.

Reason for this is that currently most passengers who want High Speed Rail are sitting 40,000 feet up in the air on aeroplanes.

Sydney-Melbourne air route is the 5th busiest in the world. This not so much a matter of people loving to fly but more a matter of people having no real alternative in what is the world’s largest island continent.

Airlines cater to different types of passengers with a different market share.

People will have a choice between HSR and Indian Pacific, Ghan and Overland Trains. HSR and Indian Pacific, Ghan and Overland Trains have a different market share and commuter.

Different market share includes the following types of passengers:

  • Business Passenger
  • Commuter Passenger
  • Seasonal Passenger
  • Tourist Passenger

Business Passenger

Currently Business Passengers are flying as existing long distance trains does not cater for the times required of Business Passengers. HSR will have faster travel times than current long distance trains yet a better alternative to flying as HSR is a Door-to-Door CBD-to-CBD service. Time gained by Air Travel is lost by getting to an Airport and through Security.

Commuter Passenger

Sydney and Melbourne are being over developed just to justify fast suburban trains at speeds of 100 km/h. HSR at speeds of 500 km/h will attract Commuters who want to move to Goulburn and still able to work in Sydney or move to Shepparton and still able to work in Melbourne.

Seasonal Passenger

Seasonal Passengers going to Floriade in Canberra, Football Finals in Sydney or Melbourne, Melbourne Cup or Rugby League State of Origin in Brisbane will have seasonal ticket pricing that Airlines currently offer.

When Cloud Ash affects Air Travel in Darwin or Fog affects Air Travel in Brisbane people will have choice between waiting in an Airport Lounge for many hours or catching HSR, the Indian Pacific, Ghan or Overland Trains.

Tourist Passenger

Tourist Passengers have different requirements and HSR Indian Pacific, Ghan and Overland Trains caters more effectively that CBD and Regional Airports.

Similarly when Cloud Ash affects Air Travel in Darwin or Fog affects Air Travel in Brisbane people will have choice between waiting in an Airport Lounge for many hours or catching HSR, the Indian Pacific, Ghan or Overland Trains.


Going Forwards

HSR operating on rail corridors of up to 4 electrified tracks wide in areas of heaviest traffic enables Freight Trains and Indian Pacific, Ghan and Overland Trains to operate with faster travel times that in turn attracts higher volumes of business.

Currently Capital City-Capital City rail corridors are mostly single track. When Freight Trains derail as they have done on the Transcontinental Line this holds up all rail traffic from proceeding in either direction.

Additional Tracks enables Trackwork to proceed without a diversion of services onto other lines in New South Wales. With additional tracks this allows Freight Trains or the Indian Pacific to switch to the other line without delaying HSR that is travelling at 500 km/h.

Crossing Loops

While the Transcontinental Line currently has crossing loops these would have to be 2 continuous tracks plus crossing loops in each direction with HSR passing through at 500 km/h.

Even in 2017 given the length of freight trains and of the Indian Pacific Train it is far more economic to connect all Crossing Loops together to form a second continuous track that would also contain Sets of Points and Cross-Over Tracks.

Railway Tracks are just like Traffic Lanes on a road. Rail Corridors needs more than 1 track and this applies to all Capital City-Capital rail corridors.

Air Travel that is allegedly faster is offset by spending time in getting to Airports and through Airport Security.

HSR will increase rail patronage and provide real competition for the Airlines. Travelling public will be the winners.

HSR Operators will be tendered out with more than one single HSR Operator that would provide maximum benefits to the public and competition in the market place.

Capital City-Capital City HSR at 500 km/h will boost the Indian Pacific Ghan and Overland Train services

HSR Services can also depart Flinders Street Railway Station to cater for new Rail Passengers











Capital City-Capital City HSR Routes include:

  • Sydney-Adelaide CBD

via Bradfield, Bankstown, Richmond Line Extension, Richmond, Lower Blue Mountains, Western and Transcontinental Lines

  • Sydney-Brisbane

via Bradfield Line, Sydney Harbour Heavy Rail Tunnel, Brookvale Line, Cessnock Line, Newcastle CBD and Northern Line.

  • Sydney-Gympie

via Bradfield Line, Sydney Harbour Heavy Rail Tunnel, Brookvale Line, Cessnock Line, Newcastle CBD, Northern Line and Cross River Rail.

  • Sydney-Canberra

via Bradfield, Princes, Illawarra and South Coast Lines

  • Sydney-Darwin CBD

via Bradfield, Bankstown, Richmond Line Extension, Richmond, Lower Blue Mountains, Western, Transcontinental and Ghan Lines

  • Sydney-Melbourne

via Bradfield, Princes and Southern Lines.

Princes Line joins with Southern Line via Unanderra-Moss Vale Railway corridor

  • Sydney-Pakenham

via Bradfield, Princes, Southern Lines and Melbourne CBD Line.

Princes Line joins with Southern Line via Unanderra-Moss Vale Railway corridor

  • Sydney-Perth

via Bradfield, Bankstown, Richmond Line Extension, Richmond, Lower Blue Mountains, Western and Transcontinental Lines

  • Melbourne-Adelaide CBD

via Ararat

  • Melbourne-Canberra

via Southern Line

  • Melbourne-Darwin CBD

via Mildura, Broken Hill, Transcontinental and Ghan Lines

  • Melbourne-Hobart

via Williamstown Line and Rail Ferry

  • Melbourne-Perth

via Mildura, Broken Hill and Transcontinental Line

  • Brisbane-Darwin CBD

via Charleville and Alice Springs

via Cairns and Mount Isa

  • Perth-Sydney

via Transcontinental Line

  • Perth-Melbourne

via Transcontinental Line, Broken Hill and Mildura

  • Perth-Adelaide CBD

via Transcontinental Line

  • Perth-Brisbane

via Transcontinental Line and Northern Line

  • Perth-Canberra

via Transcontinental Line and Griffith

  • Perth-Darwin CBD

via Newman

via Port Headland

  • Hobart-Melbourne

via roll-on roll-off Rail Ferry

  • Hobart-Adelaide CBD

via roll-on roll-off Rail Ferry


Going Backwards

  •  1984 Prime Minister Bob Hawke rejected a VFT (Very Fast Train) to Canberra
  • 2010 Prime Minister Kevin Rudd spent $20 Million on a study into HSR (High Speed Rail)
  • 2017 Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull looking into Melbourne-Brisbane Freight Line

Yet not one sod of soil was turned or service commenced that would have been going forwards.

1984 VFT To Canberra

In 1984 VFT to Canberra was rejected as not being a profitable idea. Yet the construction of the tracks and provision of services are two separate matters. All HSR services would be tendered out and one company may not operate every service.

2010 HSR Study

Given that plans for a VFT were undertaken in 1984 it was a waste of $20 Million not to have turned a sod of soil on actual construction.

2017 Brisbane-Melbourne Freight Line

In 2017 Brisbane-Melbourne Freight Line plans to buy up land for a completely new corridor that ignores Sydney and the Moorebank Freight Facility. This idea ignores utilising unused rail corridors and also ignores HSR which is a complete waste of many billions of dollars and many more lost decades.


The next 100 years will be bright for the Indian Pacific, Ghan and Overland Trains with the introduction of High Speed Rail operating at 500 km/h.