CONSTRUCTION OF THE GREAT SOUTHERN LINE.
OVER £1,000,000 TO BUILD 118 MILES OF RAILWAY.
One of the important duties laid upon the Parliamentary Standing Committee is that of informing Parliament how and in what way cheaper lines can be constructed, and of pointing out wherein the present system is at fault. The appointing of the committee has been more than justified by the revelations already made, and whatever misgivings the members may have had on that score were removed the other day by a prominent officer of the Railway department remarking with singular naïveté whilst under examination that if the department had known the committee would be appointed, and would go so thoroughly into the details of the estimates of the lines in the last railway bill, they (the officers) would have been a great deal more careful in their calculations.
The Great Southern line was destined to open South Gippsland, and to bring a great portion of what has been termed “the garden of Victoria” into communication with the metropolis and other parts of the colony. It is a line that should be gone over, because the mountainous nature of the country has been urged by the railway officials as the chief cause of the great cost of constructing railways there. It was the enormous estimates submitted by the commissioners for railway construction in Gippsland that educated a portion of the public in the belief that in order to secure railways the hardy pioneers who have settled in that secluded and fertile region would have to be content with narrow gauge railways, running at a slow speed — a project opposed by many railway engineers on the ground that it would involve the localisation of rolling stock, and thereby increase the cost of working.
It will not be out of place to give a brief history of a work involving an expenditure of over £1,000,000 in the construction of 118 miles of railway, and to indicate where the department has committed a series of costly blunders. The first section, from Dandenong to Korumburra, a distance of 50 miles, was let to Messrs. Falkingham and Sons on the 29th December, 1886, and should have been completed on the 1st May, 1889. The contract price, which did not include permanent way, station buildings, telegraph and signals, was £251,272, to which must be added the purchase of land, an exceedingly heavy item, as will be shown later on. The delay in completing the line was due to the fact that the department failed to construct a canal along the north side of the line, in order to divert the water into a few channels, to be afterwards carried into Western Port Bay by means of side drains. Had this been done, the number of bridges would have been reduced, and the contractor, instead of being able to work for only three or four months during the dry season, would have been in a position to carry on operations during the greater portion of the year.
It is a mystery why the line was carried three-quarters of a mile into the Koo-wee-rup swamp instead of being taken through the old settled townships of Cranbourne, Tooradin and Lang Lang. The latter route would have been shorter, it would have overcome the necessity of constructing a succession of bridges through the swamp— one consists of 127 openings of 11 feet each over a canal cut by the Public Works department to drain the swamp — and would have improved the townships of Cranbourne, Tooradin and Lang Lang, instead of creating small villages about a mile from those places. It is popularly believed that the line was diverted into the swamp at the instigation of a member of Parliament of the period when the survey was made. So many strange things have occurred further along the line that it is quite possible the story is true.
One of the most remarkable features in connection with the line is the station known as Pearce’s Lane. It is built on piles in the middle of the swamp. The only house within miles of it is that of Mr. Pearce, from whom the land was purchased, and on an average one can of milk leaves the station each day. As for passengers — well, there are none. Could any one imagine a more idiotic proceeding than that displayed in the equipment of this line? The distance traversed from Dandenong to Loch is 40½ miles, and there are 13 stations at an average distance apart of a little over three miles. The railway axiom adopted generally in America and also in the other colonies, is that a railway in newly settled country is considered to serve every one residing within parallel lines 10 miles each side of it. Whilst granting that this can not be applied to Gippsland, owing to the mountainous and boggy country rendering it difficult to construct roads for the cartage of produce, it would be interesting to learn on what grounds the commissioners defend their conduct in erecting three trucking yards within 4½ miles of each other of Monomeith, Caldermeade and Lang Lang. One yard would have been sufficient. As things exist yards have been erected opposite the properties of individual cattle breeders, who are doubtless delighted at this very nice arrangement.
Why the department deemed it necessary to purchase large blocks of land for railway stations, providing an area sufficient to work the combined traffic of Princes-bridge and Flinders-street in the middle of the forest, is beyond all comprehension. Thus at Cranbourne 19 acres were purchased, at Croydon 15 acres, Tooradin 33 acres, Koo-wee-rup 22 acres, Monomeith 28 acres, Caldermeade 26 acres, Lang Lang 19 acres, Loch 20 acres, Jeetho 16 acres, Bena 15 acres, Whitelaw — one of the smallest stations on the line — 22 acres, and Korumburra 11 acres. At Cranbourne and Loch 10 acres would have been sufficient, whilst at the other stations, except Korumburra, 5 acres would have provided ample accommodation. The stations have been set out without rhyme or reason, for whilst the department had to pay as much as £30 an acre for land at stations that will never develop a traffic, they only reserved 11 acres at Korumburra, which will become a very important centre, and this small area was reserved notwithstanding the fact that it was Crown land, and got for nothing. There is not even method in the madness of the railway officials.
A striking feature is the manner in which hills have been removed bodily in the formation of stations when, in some cases, level ground was available within 300 or 400 yards, and at the same time, immense quantities of metal laid down to accommodate goods sheds, in order to conform to the extraordinary fallacy that a goods shed and platform must not be on the same side of the permanent way. There is nothing whatever to prevent small stations being built with the goods shed and platform on the same side, and it would effect a saving of £450 alone in forming and metalling the goods yard. A remarkable instance of the folly of continuing the present system is seen at the Bena station. A large portion of a hill was removed— about 15,000 cubic yards— to form a goods yard, on which there is about an acre of metal. The work cost at least £2000, and is absolutely wasted.
But of all the extraordinary jobs, that in connection with the station at Whitelaw’s Track is about the most remarkable. Certainly a large hill had to be cut away to form the station, but instead of building the platform where the excavation was made, long piles were driven in the lowest portion of the hill, and the earth built up around them. The platform cost £1100, whereas if it had been placed on the other side of the line, where any sensible person would have placed it, the cost would have been about £700. Another instance of the cranky notion of having the passenger platform and goods shed on different sides of the line.
The blunders committed on the first section of the line may be summed up as follow: — Too much land has been taken both at and between the stations; the stations are made too close together, the average distance apart being 3 miles; cattle trucking yards have been built within 4½ miles of each other; the line, instead of being run three-quarters of a mile into the Koo-wee-rup swamp, which necessitated the construction of a succession of bridges, should have been taken a shorter route through the old townships of Cranbourne, Tooradin and Lang Lang, thus saving a large amount of money in bridges, and improving those townships. The passenger platforms and goods sheds at small stations, such as Bena, Nyora, Koo-wee-rup East and West, Monomeith, Caldermeade, Jeetho and Whitelaw, should have been erected on the same side of the line, thus effecting an average saving of £450 in metal alone at each place; and finally, the Whitelaw station blunder could have been avoided if the officers had looked at the matter from a common -sense point of view, instead of which it is the laughing stock of every intelligent person who sees it.
We now come to the second section of the line from Korumburra to Toora, a distance of 44 miles. The contractor, Mr. Andrew O’Keefe, signed the contract on the 31st December 1889, and undertook to complete the work in 12 months for £323,000, exclusive of permanent way and other details. Taking advantage of the official opening of the line to Korumburra on Tuesday, Mr. O’Keefe invited a number of visitors to run over his section, which he anticipates being able to hand over to the Railway Commissioners in about three months’ time. The difficulties he encountered in the endeavour to pierce fearfully rough country lying between the Strezlecki and Hoddle ranges were far greater than those that confronted Messrs. Falkingham and Sons, in addition to which his base of operations was not so satisfactory as that of the contractor of the first section. Those difficulties have already been referred to in these columns, and it only remains to deal with the line from an engineering point of view. It is conceded by the settlers conversant with the “lay” of the country that the best route has been chosen, as a proof of which the surveyor has managed to get over both the Strezlecki and Hoddle ranges with the remarkably easy gradient of 1 in 40. The difficult nature of the work may be judged from the fact that there are 157 cuttings, the largest of which contained 85,000 cubic yards of material, the cost of removing which was £6375. After it was completed an enormous landslip occurred, and necessitated the removal of another 30,000 cubic yards, so that the total cost of piercing the largest hill on the line was £7875. There are 61 bridges, the longest being over the Tarwin River, near the station bearing that name. It is built on piles, and is 1006 feet long. A second branch of the same river is crossed twice in a distance of about 2 miles by bridges 500 feet long. The culverts, 226 in number, were constructed partly of brick and cement and partly of hardwood. About 75 per cent of the timber used was blue gum, obtained alongside the railway, the remainder being red gum, iron bark and box, brought from the Gippsland Lakes, New South Wales and Tasmania. Two steamers and 15 schooners were employed for 18 months in bringing the material into Corner Inlet and landing it on a jetty specially constructed on the Franklin River by the contractor. Up to the present time the total wages paid amount to £200,000.
The first station after leaving Korumburra is called Brydon’s, and is a simple work on flat country. The next is Coalition Greek, which, curiously enough, is situated opposite a selection owned by Mr. Uren, M.L.A., and said to be the only one for miles around. Leongatha, the next station, is a thriving township of 18 months’ growth. An unnecessary amount of material was removed from a hill to form the station. Koonwarra station has no settlement close at hand, and is remarkable, like several other stations on the same section, for the road approaches built up to a wall of growing timber that would appal the stoutest hearted settler. The road will not be required for many years. The Tarwin station does not call for any notice. There is no settlement close to the line, but down the river Mr. Francis Longmore and his family own several selections. The three next stations, Meeniyan, Stoney Creek and Buffalo, demand attention from the fact that, although situated in the midst of hungry country covered with stunted timber and bayonet grass, there are only 2 miles between each. The nearest selection to Meeniyan is owned by Mr. Mason, M.L.A. Why the three stations were erected no one can understand. They certainly are not necessary. What is known as the 20 mile stations is cut out of a hill from which 30,000 cubic yards of earth were removed, or double the amount necessary for such a small station. At the Fish Creek station similar extravagance has been displayed, but the remainder of the section to Toora does not call for remark, as the stations are on level ground. It should be stated, however, that an unnecessarily large-area of land has been purchased for station yards at several places, and the cost of the line increased to a large extent.
The last section, from Toora to Palmerston, a distance of 23 miles, is being constructed by Messrs. Buckley and Sons at a contract price of £74,750, or £3250 per mile without permanent way and other works. Palmerston is the Government township, and is about a mile from the wharf at Port Albert. The contract is overdue eight months, and it will be some time before it is completed.