Walter M. Shellshear, ASTC, FIE Aust, Grad. M.C. of S. (U.K.)

The author is an Honorary Life Member of the Australian Railway Historical Society. His own early career as a railway engineer came to an untimely end when his cadetship with the NSW Railways was terminated by the Depression in the 1930s. His subsequent engineering career included service with the MWS and D Board, Sydney; with the Department of Army during the war years where he was responsible for the design of infantry weapons; and at the time of his retirement in 1973 was Inspecting Engineer, Civil Works, with the Snowy Mountains Hydro- electric Authority.

THE early railways of the ACT were unique. With the exception of the short branch line from Queanbeyan to Canberra which opened in 1914, they came, they served their purpose and they were gone, all in the space of about eight years between 1920 and 1927.

These railways within the City area, in fact, can only be regarded as having served as construction facilities, although that was not the purpose for which the Kingston- Civic line was planned. Although this might have become part of Griffin’s plan — and this would have been indeed a very worthwhile legacy to have inherited — fate determined otherwise, when the bridge carrying the railway over the Molonglo River was destroyed in a flood in July 1922 and was never rebuilt. So, although we did not inherit anything directly from these early railways nor from the grandiose plans for railway connections to Yass and Jervis Bay, those that did eventuate certainly facilitated the construction of the buildings which housed our early parliamentarians and civil servants, and which became the nucleus from which the present city of Canberra grew.

From another point of view, an engineering work may qualify as a heritage item if it is associated with the work of an outstanding figure — and who could be more worthy of such an accolade than Walter Burley Griffin — a man whose vision encompassed not only the overall plan of a great city, but also the engineering services associated with that city, including its railways.

One wonders in hindsight how much better off we might have been today had Griffin’s detailed plan for a city railway and for connections to the ‘Great Southern Railway’ at Yass come to fruition.

Griffin, the Federal Capital Director of Design and Construction from 1913 to 1920, achieved by his own drive the construction of the railway to Civic Centre in 1920, causing not a little friction with the Commonwealth Railways Commissioner, who wrote in 1928:

‘The Tramway was built without reference to the Commonwealth Railways Commissioner. He was not consulted nor was he responsible in any way for the building of the tramway.’

It is little wonder that The Canberra Times of 16 December 1926 wrote:

The NSW Rail System
Fig. 2.1: The NSW Rail System at the time of Federation.
‘Mr Burley Griffin, during a visit to Canberra, deplored the backward policy regarding the development of the North side of the River, which, he said, was the best portion of the City. For this he blamed the lack of a railway’.

Before proceeding to a detailed examination of the Territory’s early railways and of its planned railways which never eventuated, it is of interest to note that, in that short space of 8 years, and in such a small area, two more or less unrelated railway developments took place, and that these were of different rail gauges.

Had the Commonwealth Government’s plans of 1915— 1918 for an arsenal at Tuggeranong come to fruition, a third and again, unrelated railway development would have been included within the ACT in that same general period.

However, impetus for railway construction in the Federal Capital Territory was contained in the Seat of Government Acceptance Act 1909 which provided that in the event of the Commonwealth constructing a railway in the Territory to its northern border, the State of New South Wales would construct a railway from Yass (on the main Sydney-Melbourne line) to join it, and that the Commonwealth would have the right also to construct a railway from the Territory to its proposed port at Jervis Bay.

In the event, after the establishment of the Federal Territory on 1 January 1911, the location of the site for the Capital City being less than 8 km from the existing station at Queanbeyan, NSW, (on the Goulburn-Cooma line) led to the construction of a railway connection in 1914 for goods traffic to facilitate the building of the City. Queanbeyan, as part of the great expansion of the NSW railway system in the 19th century, secured a station in 1887 which served the rural area which was to become the Capital Territory after the establishment of the Commonwealth of Australia in 1901.

Goulburn-Queanbeyan Connection

In 1869, the ‘Great Southern Railway’ of NSW from Sydney had reached Goulburn. Twelve years later, the NSW Parliament authorised the construction of a branch line from Goulburn to Cooma via Queanbeyan and borrowed a sum of 1,430,000 for its construction.

A tender for the construction of the first section, from Goulburn to Bungendore, a distance of 64 km, was awarded to Topham, Angus and Co., who completed the line to Bungendore by March 1885.

The Queanbeyan-Canberra Railway
Fig. 2.2: The Queanbeyan-Canberra Railway as at 1942. Diagrams — the author.

The next section of the Cooma line, from Bungendore to Michelago, for which a contract was awarded to A. Johnston & Co., was a difficult one. It involved three tunnels, two bridges, steep grades and sharp curves around very difficult, and in some places precipitous country — particularly the approach into Queanbeyan, where the line runs down the left side of the precipitous but beautiful Molonglo Gorge. However, the contractors put up a very competent performance, and by 8 September 1887, the section to Queanbeyan had been completed, and the extension to Michelago completed three months later.

For many years, one mixed train ran daily between Goulburn and Queanbeyan (Sunday excepted), arriving Queanbeyan at 5.55 a.m. and leaving for Goulburn at 9.10 p.m. On Saturdays the train left at 8 p.m. and like the weekday train, did not proceed beyond Goulburn By 1891, the line had reached Cooma.

Canberra Railway Station
Fig. 2.3:The first train to arrive at Canberra Railway Station in 1914.
The engine was re-numbered 12/0 in the 1924 re-classification. Photo— Courtesy SKA of NSW.

How then did people get from Queanbeyan or Yass to Canberra in these early but critical years before and immediately after the establishment of the Capital Territory in 1911?

From the arrival of the railhead at Queanbeyan in 1887, horse-drawn mail coaches served the immediate area, as they did from all railheads as the State’s railway network expanded. Horse drawn coaches operated from the Queanbeyan railhead to Canberra, Cooma and many other places on the Monaro, and at least one coach service operated from Yass to Canberra.

The decision to construct a line from Queanbeyan to Canberra was taken by the Prime Minister, Andrew Fisher, in a letter to the NSW Premier in August 1911 after an agreement was reached that the State would build the line and that the Commonwealth would meet the cost, plus a loading of 5 per cent of the total cost to cover the hire of NSW Government plant.

Work commenced on 1 February 1913, under the supervision of W.R. Beaver, Jnr, Chief Engineer, Railway and Tramway Construction, Public Works Dept. of NSW, TGG MacKay being his site engineer. Before its completion, a ceremony was held at Canberra to officially name the new Capital on 12 March 1913, and special trains from Sydney and Melbourne brought guests as far as Queanbeyan and Yass. From these stations they would have travelled by car or horse drawn vehicle to Capital Hill.

No doubt, the dust stirred up by the contractor’s earth moving equipment on the Queanbeyan-Canberra line contributed to an injunction contained in the official timetable for the special trains to the ladies to wear their dust cloaks! At the time the Queanbeyan-Canberra road ran alongside the railway for most of the way.

The original surveys for the Canberra-Queanbeyan line were carried out by Surveyor Marshall under the direction of Charles Scrivener. Before construction commenced, H.C. Deane, Chief Engineer Railway and Tramway Construction, NSWGR, was asked to report on the suitability of the route. After making his inspection he made some minor changes, one of which was perhaps regrettable in that it was used as an excuse to delay the commencement of passenger services on the line for seven years. It was his insistence that the new Canberra branch be connected to the loop line at Queanbeyan and not to the main line.

Locomotive 1210
Fig.2.4:Locomotive 1210 preserved on a plinth near Canberra Railway Station.
(The 1927 station building may be seen in the background). Photo — the author.

On 25 May 1914, the Administrator of the Department of Home Affairs, Colonel David Miller, sent a telegram to his Minister in Melbourne:

“First goods train arrived this morning Power House siding Canberra, everything satisfactory”.

It was hauled by C-class engine No. 120 built by Beyer Peacock of Manchester in September 1879, and which followed very closely the design of the tank engine built by the same firm for the London Metropolitan Railway. The engine now stands on a concrete plinth near the present Canberra railway station. Some changes have occurred over its 100 years of service — a new boiler with Belpaire firebox replaces the original boiler with round topped firebox, the cow-catcher has gone, so have the kerosene headlights and marker lights. In a general reclassification of engines in 1924, its number was changed and it became No. 1210 of the Z12 class.

The locomotive was retired from active service in January 1962 after having covered 1,900,000 km. In 1979 a special steam-hauled train was operated by the Australian Railway Historical Society, ACT Division, to celebrate the hundredth birthday of Canberra’s historic locomotive.

The Canberra-Queanbeyan line was 6.58 kilometres in length. The cost, as reviewed in February 1917 was 47,120, some 10,000 above the estimate. Some of the extra cost, however, was involved in repairing damage due to a heavy storm on 17 March 1914.

The early history of the line is surrounded in mystery and there is much confusion as to who wrote the specification for the work. Only two years after the line opened, a Royal Commission in 1916 was asking:

‘Was the railway to the Power House built in accordance with, or contrary to the decision of the Minister? Was the construction at a cost of 49,000 in lieu of a light railway or tramway a justifiable expenditure of Public Moneys? Was expense in excess of the estimate — if so is any officer culpable in respect to the estimate or the expense? Does the railway as constructed tend to destroy the symmetry and one of the main features of Mr. Griffin’s plan?’

And in the following year the Commissioner of the Commonwealth Railways was asked:

  1. ‘Was the original intention that the line should be of a temporary character only — if so what was the estimated cost of construction?
  2. Under whose authority was it built as a permanent line, and what estimates for its construction as a permanent line were made, and by whom?
  3. Were any special warnings received as to the necessity for ample provision for the escape of water, from the Administrator, or otherwise?
  4. Who decided the route?
  5. Were any alternative routes submitted?
  6. Are there any notes respecting other routes examined by the Location Surveyor?
  7. Was the route adopted for the permanent line the same as that proposed for the temporary line?’

Fortunately, even before construction of the Queanbeyan-Canberra line commenced, the people of Queanbeyan, apparently sensing some disagreement as to the nature of the line, presented a petition to the Minister in June 1912 asking that the line ‘be made of a substantial character and suitable for a permanent railway line’. Two months later King O’Malley, Minister for Home and Territories, was asked ‘is the line to be temporary or permanent?’ O’Malley replied, ‘it will be a permanent one’.

This statement provided an answer to most of the questions put by a later minister for Home and Territories, and must have been a comforting piece of information to anyone whose neck may have been at risk from the findings of the Royal Commission of 1916.

It is of interest to note, that, on hearing of the decision to construct the later railway from Kingston to Civic Centre, and no doubt mindful of the 1916 Royal Commission, The Queanbeyan Age of 12 January 1917 published the following pointed paragraph:

‘What oh! A start has been made of the railway from the Power House Yasswards. Wonder will there be a Royal Commission into this expenditure?’

In 1910-11 Surveyor Marshall had surveyed a rail connection to the Goulburn-Cooma railway from the capital site, joining the line near Bungendore. The original intention, however, was to connect the site of the Capital to Queanbeyan in order to provide transport facilities to the City at an early stage. The 1911 Official Year Book of the Commonwealth of Australia stated that, regardless of this early intention, and because the line from Queanbeyan to Bungendore had more than 11 km of one-in-40 gradient and very sharp curves, the direct connection from the Capital to Bungendore would place the railway transport to the Capital on a more satisfactory basis than would exist by connection to Queanbeyan.

There would appear therefore to be some justification for the confusion surrounding the decision to go back to the original intention of connecting with Queanbeyan — which was obviously against the advice of the Surveyor General.

With the arrival of steam trains in Canberra and the use of other items of steam-operated plant, a dispute arose between the Engine Drivers and Firemen’s Union and the Department of Home Affairs which insisted that all engine drivers should have a certificate of competence issued by the Commonwealth. After a period, the Commonwealth backed down, but as a face-saver the Minister for Home Affairs issued the following statement:

‘On completion of the Power House, all works will be erected using electric motors, with the exception of some few steam traction engines, so that the number of steam engine drivers will be small’.

The opening of the line was followed by the inauguration of a daily service (Sundays excepted), but before the line had been in operation for six months, the Minister approved a reduction in the service to two trains only per week, leaving Queanbeyan at 4.50 p.m. on Tuesdays and Fridays and returning from Canberra at 6.10 p.m. On 18 September 1914, the officer at Canberra was withdrawn and traffic to and from Canberra was treated under ‘platform and siding conditions’. Canberra was placed under the control of the station master, Queanbeyan, and the engine stationed at Queanbeyan for Canberra work was withdrawn.

The Minister’s pessimism as to the value of the line appeared to be justified by the revenue figures for the year ended 30 June 1915, which recorded a loss of 598 despite revenue of 1,040.

Before long the Director, Supply and Transport, suggested the Commonwealth should consider the practicability of running the service itself and that it would be desirable to keep an engine at Canberra, and to run it as required. E.E. Lucy, Chief Mechanical Engineer of the NSW Railways, reluctantly agreed to the sale to the Commonwealth of a CC class engine for about 2750. However, the Administrator of the Federal Capital Territory replied on 11 November 1914 he could see no reason to buy the engine.

Threats to Close the Line

Little wonder then that the Department of Works and Railways suggested the closing of the line as unprofitable when the annual loss rose to 3182 in 1919. There was one snag, however, how to get coal to the power house? One of the suggested solutions was the use of horse traction on the railway. Walter Burley Griffin thought that a ‘Slow Train’ was preferable, so long as the line could carry a locomotive.

A further proposal to close the line was made in May 1920 but fell upon deaf ears, and on 12 July 1920 the Commonwealth Railways Commissioner advised that no alteration to the existing services on the Queanbeyan-Canberra line would be made. A reduction in expenditure had been effected, he reported, by re-organising the methods of maintaining and operating the line, and freight rates had been increased to bring revenue up to operating expenses.

Agitation for a Passenger Service

As early as October 1914, Queanbeyan was pressing for a daily passenger service to Canberra. The Minister was unimpressed and replied:

‘There is no justification for passenger services between Canberra and Queanbeyan. The line was provided for the conveyance of material for the purpose of establishing the Seat of Government at Canberra.’

In a letter dated 11 October 1916, Burley Griffin wrote:

‘My proposal to establish a passenger service on this railway is now before the New South Wales Commissioners.’

Griffin proposed the service should start from the power house as he considered that the existing temporary station was in the wrong spot.

The NSW Premier, replying to these proposals, said:

‘There was no direct connection with the power house branch line at Canberra. It can’t start from that point. A crossing could be provided but would involve alteration to all signalling and interlocking. In the circumstances, the train should run to, and start from the existing platform. At Queanbeyan there are no means of getting off the branch line to the platform and it would be necessary to lay in a cross-over between the main line and the loop at the south end of the station. This would need to be signalled and interlocked. It was estimated this would cost 1029. It would also be necessary to provide an engine and rolling stock. The bare running expenses would be 32 per week. It would be necessary for the Commonwealth to defray this cost’.

Following this advice, W.M. Hughes told the Prime Minister that he considered it inadvisable to incur the additional expense and so passenger services were again deferred.

A request for a steam tram service using ‘the old steam tram’ and two cars, like the Cronulla tram service, was then requested by Queanbeyan folk, but met with a similar fate.

Horse coaches were still operating in 1916 between Queanbeyan and Canberra as the NSW railway timetable for that year contained the following details:

Township to which coach runsCanberra
Railway from which coach starts Queanbeyan
Miles from rail town 9
Leave railway town 6.00 a.m. Mon., Wed., Fri.
Arrive township 7.55 a.m.
Return journey, dep. Township 3.30 p.m. Tue., Thur., Sat. Arriv. 4.45
Fare, single 2/6
Fare, return 4/6
Township to which coach runs Canberra
Railway from which coach starts Yass Town
Miles from railway town 35
Depart railway town 7.30 a.m. Tue., Thur., Sat.
Arrive township 2.40 p.m.
Return journey, dep. Township 9.15 a.m. Mon., Wed., Fri.
Arrive railway town 5.00 p.m.
Fare, single 8/-
Fare, return 12/6

These services met trains which arrived at Queanbeyan at 4.13 a.m. Mon., Wed., Fri., and which left Queanbeyan for Sydney at 10.17 p.m. Tue., Thur., Sat. The Yass service met trains which arrived at Yass Town at 4.28 a.m. Tue., Thur., Sat. and which left Yass Town for Sydney at 5.18 p.m.

A motor service between Queanbeyan and Yass Town also operated at this time and presumably ran via Canberra. Its timetable was as follows:

Leave Queanbeyan 3.30 p.m. Tue., Fri.
Arrive Yass Town 6.00 p.m.
Leave Yass Town 9.30 a.m. Tue., Fri.
Arrive Queanbeyan 12.00 noon
Fare, single 22/6
Fare, return 40/-

Later, in 1920 the mail car service was amended to run three days a week instead of two, the service being as follows:

Leave Queanbeyan 9.30 a.m. Mon., Wed., Fri.
Arrive Yass 3.00 p.m.
Leave Yass 9.00 a.m. Tue., Thur., Sat.
Arrive Queanbeyan 3.00 p.m.

A further attempt to get a passenger service was made by Queanbeyan’s Chamber of Commerce in September 1921. The Chamber pointed out the difficulties of the existing situation:

‘Until Federal Authorities provide houses for workers at Canberra, it is necessary they find accommodation at Queanbeyan, and as Queanbeyan does this, it relieves the Commonwealth of immediate obligation. The difficulty of workers getting to and from Canberra, horses, vehicles, motor cycles, bikes, are a tax on their wages and a drain on their energies’.

On 12 September, Senator Garling approached the Minister with a view to obtaining agreement to carry passengers on the Queanbeyan-Canberra railway.

‘If this facility was provided, he said, people at Acton and Civic Centre, Molonglo and Duntroon would be able to visit the picture shows at Queanbeyan, to inspect the shops and so forth, and would then be more contented’.

Again the response was that the expenditure necessary was not considered justified at present. Unsympathetic as the attitude of the Government may have seemed to the wishes of Queanbeyan and the needs of Canberra’s construction workers, if one related the needs of the people to the population of Canberra over these years, one can perhaps understand why the government did not feel any urgency to enter into new commitments. From a population of 2780 in 1914 the district population actually fell to 2583 by 1921 — hardly the growth rate to justify the expenditure of a large sum of public money.

The Government seemed determined that the new line to Canberra should be regarded as a construction expedient only, for the building of the Seat of Government, and to judge from the following brief paragraph in The Queanbeyan Age of 2 March 1923, maintenance costs were being kept to an absolute minimum:

‘The decking of the bridge over the railway line at Molonglo camp is very wobbly lately — some of the planking seems to have no fastenings whatever, and the noise made by traffic in crossing can be heard at some considerable distance away. It is to be hoped the structure does not collapse while a heavy load is on it some of these days’.

On 11 September 1923, R.F. Tetley announced his intention to operate a regular ‘charabanc service’ between Queanbeyan and Canberra calling at Molonglo Camp. It was to have had seating for 40 people. Unfortunately for Tetley, only a month after his charabanc service started, a breakthrough was achieved with negotiations with the Commonwealth Railways for a passenger service by rail to Canberra.

When a through passenger rail service was finally achieved to Canberra, The Canberra Times wrote:

‘Passengers for Canberra occupying either sleepers or ordinary carriages will not be obliged this winter to disembark in the dark and cold at Queanbeyan, then to undertake an eight to ten miles run by car to Canberra’.

Commencement of Passenger Services

The decision was made on 10 October 1923, when the Commissioner of the Commonwealth Railways informed the Department of Works and Railways that, as the result of representations made by NSW Railways, it had been arranged that a passenger train service was to be instigated between Queanbeyan and Canberra, commencing on 15 October 1923. The approved timetable was as follows:

Queanbeyan depart 7.10 a.m. Weekdays
Power House arrive 7.40 a.m. Weekdays
Power House depart 9.15 a.m. Mon. to Fri.
Queanbeyan arrive 9.45 a.m. Mon. to Fri.
Queanbeyan depart 3.45 p.m. Mon. to Fri.
Power House arrive 4.15 p.m. Mon. to Fri.
Power House depart 5.15 p.m. Mon. to Fri.
Queanbeyan arrive 5.45 p.m. Mon. to Fri.
Power House depart 12.15 p.m. Saturday
Queanbeyan arrive 12.45 p.m. Saturday

Passengers, said the timetable, should be conveyed by all trains. Ample facilities were to be afforded for persons in the Capital desiring to shop in Queanbeyan.

The following were to be the fares:

Queanbeyan to Molonglo (3M) — 5d 2nd class single, 2/9 workmens weekly. Queanbeyan to Power House — lad 2nd class single, 4/6 workmens weekly. Molonglo to Power House — 5d 2nd class single, 2/9 workmens weekly.

A small timber platform was provided at Molonglo (near the present suburb of Fyshwick) where an internee’s camp was established from 1918 to 1920. The camp later provided married quarters for construction workers in Canberra until 1927, when it was removed, but the timber platform remained until 1941.

Early Timetables

The first timetable introduced when the line was opened for passenger business, provided for two return trips each week day and one on Saturdays. In less than two years this was reduced to one trip per day, leaving Queanbeyan at 6.35 a.m. and returning from Canberra at 5.25 p.m. A special Friday service from Canberra to Goulburn was established in September 1926, to connect with the Sydney and Melbourne expresses. A more satisfactory railway timetable was introduced in 1927 and merited the following headlines in The Canberra Times, 24 March 1927:

‘The Railway services to Canberra have been remodelled and through trains have been provided daily, which obviate the break of journey at Queanbeyan. On Monday last, with the introduction of the rail motor service with Goulburn, a new timetable came into effect. A through train to Sydney with a sleeping car, leaves Eastlakes station on week nights, and a train to Canberra connects with the mail from Sydney every morning.
Five trains a day are now arriving at Canberra under the new railway timetable which came into force on Monday last, and Eastlake railway station has become indeed the railway station of Canberra instead of Queanbeyan’.

It will be noted that these new services included a rail motor service leaving Canberra at 9.17 a.m. and returning at 6.40 p.m., allowing about 31/2 hours for shopping at Goulburn. This service was cancelled six months later.

From 1927, through the early 1930s many changes of timetables took place, mainly as the result of parliamentarians seeking better services to their homes in Sydney and Melbourne.

Early timetables setting out the rail services between Canberra and Sydney and between Canberra and Melbourne, consisted of small pocket folders, the outside colour of which varied from issue to issue.

One Melbourne based politician demanded the addition of a breakfast car to the pickup train from Goulburn. He was informed by Chief Commissioner J. Fraser of the NSW Government Railways that it was not possible to arrive in Canberra in time for breakfast but this could be obtained at Goulburn. NSWGR had no dining cars in commission in June 1925, he said.

From the middle of 1926, sleeping cars from Melbourne on Sydney-bound trains were detached at Goulburn and attached to Canberra-bound trains. (This continued right through to 1974, when sleeping cars from the Spirit of Progress were detached and loco hauled into Canberra).

By 1930, lack of patronage was being felt as a result of the Depression and the Department complained that some of the services were ‘down to an absolute minimum — one first class and one second class car, and only 25% filled’.

Sunday services to Sydney commenced on 7 November 1937 and continued in a modified form to the present day.

It might be wondered why the present timetable shows very little improvement, compared with these early timetables of the 1920s and 1930s, but the incentive which brought about these early improvements is now gone. Most members of Parliament living beyond Canberra now travel by plane. However, in 1981 the NSW Railways inaugurated a day return trip to Sydney, on six days a week.

Later Deviations

The first few kms of the new railway were plagued with troubles due to the inadequate storm water provisions. Even during the construction period a heavy storm on 14 March 1914, followed by heavy rains on 2 April, washed out sections on the track five kms from Queanbeyan. It was reported the water rose some feet above the culverts before the banks gave way.

After opening to traffic, the line was again badly damaged by a flood on 22 February 1916 when banks were damaged and the rails again washed out. Temporary repairs were made, it was reported, to permit a train speed of 4 m.p.h. (6.4 kph).

Then, in 1925, more serious flooding was experienced, and it was agreed the line be diverted at a point approximately three km beyond Queanbeyan, the Commonwealth Railways agreeing to carry out the work. It is not clear whether this work was ever done as the Commonwealth Railways Commissioner stated in March of the following year that he was unable to get on with the work as funds had not been made available. It is clear however, that the line must have been made serviceable for the opening of Parliament on 9 May 1927.

In June 1928 proposals were recorded for the deviation of the line because of ‘recent floods’. This report indicated that the damaged areas were about five km beyond Queanbeyan and at a second section near the Jerrabomberra Ck crossing. At the first section, the remedial work consisted of the erection of a stone piled wall and the removal of the track 21 m back from the river, raising it 1.5 m above the original level. At the second section, which, the report stated had been washed out in 1916, 1922 and 1925, the track was raised 1.8 m. The estimated cost of the remedial work was 10,100. The earthworks of the lower abandoned embankment at the first named site can still clearly be seen.

In later years, further changes took place in the Fyshwick-Canberra section. In May 1967 the Queanbeyan-Canberra line was diverted to a new location south of the original line between 6.4 km and 7.8 km from Queanbeyan, to allow the earthworks for the new Main Line and North Shunt Line to proceed. The diverted line became the South Shunt Line serving sidings south of the Main Line. A new and substantial high-level bridge was constructed over Jerrabomberra Ck for the Main Line and North Shunt Line, and a road overpass replaced the Ipswich St. level crossing. Curve and grade easing also took place between 3.5 and 5.1 km from Queanbeyan.

The Terminus
Fig. 2.6: The Terminus at 1956. Diagrams — the author.
The 1980 Yard Layout
Fig. 2.7: The 1980 Yard Layout. Diagram— the author.

A new freight terminal and connection between the new freight terminal and the North Shunt lines were brought into use on 6 January 1969. The North Shunt line forms the second line across the new Jerrabomberra Ck bridge. At about the same time the locomotive turntable and water tower were removed. Newcastle Street over-bridge was replaced by a new structure on a different alignment in June 1969. This will allow extensions to the North and South Shunt lines as required.

The Station Buildings

When the line was first opened in 1914, the terminus was at the site of the present railway station. From the station yard a branch line led to the power house and stores area. It will be noted also from the details of the first passenger timetable that at the time of commencement of passenger services, the terminus was shown as ‘Power House’. In April 1924, a 60 m long platform was constructed at the present station site.

The first building was retained for various purposes after the second building was erected in 1927.

In July 1925, the Department of Works and Railways was asked to design a new station building for Canberra. John Butters, the chairman of the Federal Capital Commission, stressed that the station building was to provide ‘the absolute minimum of building accommodation’.

The Commissioner of the Commonwealth Railways recommended against any re-alignment to the location shown on the Griffin plans because of the heavy excavation involved in the approaches to the Eastlake station. He felt that the following work should be commenced at the earliest possible moment: ‘The erection of a new station building; improvement to the station yard; provision of a ten ton crane; deviations near mileage 198M’.

The 1914 station building
Fig. 2.8: The 1914 station building (left) and the 1927 building(right).
Photo-Australian Archives, Mildenhall Collection.
Plan of the 1927 station building
Fig. 2.9: Plan of the 1927 station building. Diagram— the author, from data contained on Australian Archives files.

Mr Butters, who was anxious to have a suitable station structure ready for the opening of Parliament, was more than ready to agree. By early 1927, the work was completed and the station platform extended to 600 ft (183 m) in length.

It would appear that Mr Butters (later Sir John) may have had cause to regret his injunctions regarding the absolute minimum of building accommodation, as later extensions to the eastern end of the building almost doubled its floor area.

The second building was never regarded as an outstanding piece of architecture and it became known to the station staff as the old tin building because of the pressed metal external sheeting. By the late 1950s, the old No. I station had deteriorated to the stage where, by virtue of the attention of vandals and others, it was no longer an object of beauty, and the second station was not held in much higher regard.

In October 1966, both the No. I and No. 2 stations were replaced by the present structure, a building far more in keeping with the Nation’s capital than its predecessors.

Whilst the history of the railways of the ACT dates from relatively recent times, searchers for historic relics will be pleased to learn that the lever for the points at the Southern Portland Cement siding at Fyshwick was made by J. Toumbe of Kilkenny in 1886.

The City Railway

Griffin’s prize-winning design for the layout of the Federal Capital City in 1912 provided for a railway serving the southern, eastern and northern parts of the city. On being informed of the success of his entry, Griffin came to Canberra in 1913 and after checking the feasibility of his railway proposals on site, made some very minor alterations to his plans.

Griffin’s railway started at a point a mile or so inside the boundary of the Territory near Queanbeyan. To assist in identifying the route proposed for Griffin’s railway, it has been plotted onto a current Canberra street map (Fig. 2.16). The station names are those given by Griffin. From the Kingston Power House area, the line ran almost due north on a raised embankment named by Griffin ‘The Causeway’. In his early plans the Causeway appears as a physical division between East Basin and East Lake, the latter a somehwat ambitious feature of Griffin’s plan which has not yet eventuated.

The 1966 passenger terminal building
Fig. 2.10: The 1966 passenger terminal building. Above — From platform side showing foot-warmer annex/garage. Below —Street entrance. Photos — the author.

Immediately north of his Central Station, the line was to run into a tunnel 1400 ft (427 m) long, and an underground station was contemplated at Civic Centre, located at the foot of Ainslie Avenue.

Griffin’s estimate of the cost of his railway was 72,879, of which the tunnel accounted for 43,126. It was to be built with a ruling grade of 1 in 100, with 40 chain (800 m) minimum radius curves, and was to have been double track with a rather far sighted provision for quadruplication later.

Alternative City Routes

Although Griffin was Federal Capital Director of Design and Construction, his plans were submitted on 24 June 1915 to the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Public Works for investigation and report, as some doubts were felt as to the suitability of the route. To resolve some of these doubts the matter was referred to the Commonwealth Railways Commissioner who promptly put forward a number of alternatives. These alternative routes, with the estimated cost of each are shown in the accompanying figure which is a reproduction of the diagram which accompanied the Standing Committee’s report.

In its findings the Standing Committee reported:

‘While the Committee approves the general direction of the permanent City Railway as indicated by Mr Griffin on the schematic plan, subject to a deviation to eliminate the tunnel, and following generally the route Cl suggested by Mr Bell (the Commonwealth Railways Commissioner), it is of the opinion that there is no reason for the construction of anything but temporary surface lines until the development of the City warrants the construction of the permanent line’.

The Standing Committee believed that a temporary surface line, 5 m 11 ch (8.2 km) could be built for 5,156, which could be capable of handling ‘material and light traffic’.

Construction Railway to Civic

Following the announcement of the findings of the Standing Committee; Griffin approached the Minister for Home Affairs, King O’Malley, in October 1916, for authority to construct the tramway 5.2 km long, for which he had prepared plans. This was promptly granted.

There does not appear to be any record of work having commenced till December 1920, when the NSW Railways Commissioner agreed to carry out the work on the same terms as applied to the construction of the Queanbeyan-Canberra line, i.e., the Commonwealth would pay all costs plus 5% of the total cost to cover hire of plant. All the materials remaining from the construction of the Queanbeyan-Canberra line were to be used. However, this decision coincided with the termination of Griffin’s position as Federal Capital Director of Design and Construction and his association with the development of Canberra.

Fig. 2.11
Civic Centre platform
Fig. 2.12: Civic Centre platform of the 1921-22
construction railway, after rails had been lifted.
Construction was of timber facings backfilled
with soil. Photo — B.T. Macdonald.

Survey data was prepared and the work commenced under the direction of Sub-foreman J. Doyle of the NSW Railway and Tramway Department. Details of the chainages, surface levels, formation levels, cuts, fill and gradients use are recorded on file at Australian Archives.

During the construction of the work, a locomotive, six trucks, a rest van, locomotive crew and a guard were requested by the Commonwealth. The NSW Railway Commissioner replied that as his Department was doing the work he would provide what was necessary.

On 15 June, the Director of Works advised that construction of the line was complete and that it was open for goods traffic. It is recorded that the line was also used for limited passenger transport in the guards van.

The route taken by the construction tramway, which cost 5,370 to build, branched off from the Power House siding only a few yards from what is now Cunningham Street, Kingston, and ran out onto a raised embankment running almost due north from the Causeway settlement to the Molonglo River. Jerrabomberra Ck. Creek and the Molonglo River were crossed by rather flimsy timber trestle bridges. Griffin, during a visit in 1926, admitted that the bridge across the Molonglo had been only of a temporary character, and with the funds available, it had been impossible to construct a structure of sufficient strength to stand the great floods which had assailed it.

After crossing the Molonglo River, the line swung north-west in long easy curves which straightened out to run on a track somewhat to the south of today’s Amaroo Street, Reid, behind St. John’s Church and the site of the present TAFE College. Beyond that location, the line then passed to the north to a short platform located almost in the centre of what is now Garema Place. Beyond this point, the line branched into a short marshalling yard terminating near Eloura Street, Braddon.

A fairly long siding was provided just to the north of the river crossing which no doubt served a worker’s camp at Russell Hill and Duntroon.

Official Circular No. 189, issued on 14 June 1922 to “Station Masters, Guards, Engine Drivers and all others concerned” by the Chief Traffic Manager of the NSW Railways, promulgated the following instructions for the operation of the Queanbeyan — Civic Centre Railway:

‘Speed Restrictions — The speed of trains and light engines from Queanbeyan to Civic Centre Sidings must not exceed six (6) mph. When passing over the Molonglo Bridge, and for three quarters of a mile to or from Civic Centre Terminus, speed must be reduced to four (4) mph.
Locomotives — Two engines coupled may be run on the Canberra line as far as the Power House Siding, but not between Power House Siding and Civic Centre. Standard goods locomotives, classes D50, D53 and D55 are not permitted beyond Power House Siding.’

Termination of Services

However, after a total of less than one and a half years of official instruction for the operation of the line, disaster overtook the railway in July 1922 when a major flood in the operation, and only a month after the issue of the first Molonglo River carried away the supports of the temporary bridge and lowered the rails into the water.

A closer study of the bridge photograph might suggest why this failure took place. Had the piers of the skew bridge been aligned in the direction of flow of the river and not at right angles to the bridge centre line, the bridge may have stood a better chance of survival.

In November 1922, and only four months after the loss of the bridge, the Federal Capital Advisory Committee said it was not proposed to carry out any work in connection with the temporary city railway station until approval had been given for the reconstruction of the railway bridge over the Molonglo.

Timber railway bridge
Fig. 2.13: Timber railway bridge over the Molonglo River, looking upstream.
Photo— Australian Archives, Mildenhall Collection.
Panorama of the Construction Railway
Fig. 2.14 Panorama of the Construction Railway to Civic Centre.
Photo-Australian Archives, Mildenhall Collection.
The molonglo bridge
Fig. 2.15: The Molonglo bridge after the July 1922 floods. The bridge was never rebuilt. Photo-Australian Archives, Mildenhall Collection.

Meanwhile, discussion regarding responsibility for management of the ‘Seat of Government Railway’ had culminated in the issue of ‘An Ordinance Relating to the Management of the Seat of Government Railway’ (No. 8 of 1923).

The Schedule of the Ordinance included the Kingston- Civic Railway, although at the date of issue of the Ordinance, the Civic Centre Railway had been out of operation for 14 months.

The Federal Capital Commission, two and a half years later, again advised that it had not completed its enquiries sufficiently to make a definite recommendation regarding the railway bridge replacement. The Commission said the re-design of the bridge would take some time. Shortly afterwards, the Minister approved the preparation of plans by the Commonwealth Railways Commissioner for bridges over the Jerrabomberra Creek and the Molonglo River.

In the meantime, agitation for the restoration of a railway service to Civic Centre grew in volume. The Canberra Times carried headlines:

‘The City Railway is Essential to the Economical Development of the Federal Territory. Immediate Consideration by the Public Works Committee of railway communication with Canberra has become a matter of vital concern to the development of the city.’

It went on to say, in its leading article:

‘In one respect it had regretfully to be admitted that Canberra is less favourably equipped than it was five years ago. Five years ago there was a city railway and trains ran to Civic Centre . . . If it were fitting that the railway should be provided from Eastlake to Civic Centre at a cost of more than 5,000 in 1921, that railway is more imperative today at double or treble the cost’.

In Parliament a question was asked in 1928:

‘Is the Minister aware that tradesmen and business men at Civic Centre and Ainslie Avenue are being penalised by the heavy cost of transport from the present railway site to places of business, and anxiously await a decision on the question of re-opening of the line to Ainslie station — when will the line be re-opened?’

The reply received was:

‘There had never been a public line for railway traffic to Ainslie — it was a construction tramway only and was put out of commission by floods in July 1922. It is expected it will be at least 12 months before present investigations will be complete’.

Later Alternatives to the City Railway

Despite the demise of the construction railway in 1922, the idea of a permanent city railway to eventually connect with a line to Yass was still a live issue. A Parliamentary Standing Committee of 1924, which had recommended that the line be terminated as near as possible at mileage 2051/2 from Sydney, had described proposals as they then stood as follows:

‘It is now proposed to abandon the existing line from Power House to Civic Centre, and commence from a point one mile from the Power House on the existing line from Queanbeyan, to construct a railway through the City to the North boundary of the Federal Territory. From whence it will be an obligation on the N.S.W. Government to continue the line to connect with its system in the vicinity of Yass Junction, as agreed in the Seat of Government Acceptance Act of 1909. The starting point was marked as 199 1/2 miles on the existing line from Sydney to Canberra and a distance of approximately three miles from Queanbeyan and three miles from the City boundaries. Then it was to run West, following for some distance Lakebourne Avenue, crossing the Jerrabomberra Creek at a point higher up than the existing crossing. Then it turns North through a deep cutting into Eastlake Circle, crosses the Jerrabomberra Creek again and then almost due North to cross the Molonglo river at 202 3/4 miles, at a point about three miles from the Power House. A high embankment 16 ft high will cross the country either side of Jerrabomberra Creek and between the creek and the Molonglo River. Beyond the River, it bears away in a north-westerly direction at 1 in 73 grade on a route slightly departing from the Griffin route, and also from the temporary line he built to Civic Centre. It runs almost midway between the two, passing the Junction of Capital Terrace and The Parade. At this point it will pass through a ‘tunnel’ (it will actually be an open cutting covered to enable streets to cross here). Then it will proceed along the Prospect Parkway, dropping down a little till it reaches Civic Centre. It is proposed to put the station on Ainslie Avenue close to Civic Centre and below surface, to avoid interference with street crossing. At this point Griffin’s plans provided for a curve but a straight line has been substituted in order to avoid a station on a curve. After leaving Civic Centre it turns again almost North and following the railway reservation, crosses Interrange Avenue at 206 m 8 ch. (All mileages measured from Sydney Central Station). Near the 207 mile point, the line leaves the City area and bends away to the North-east, following that direction to about 214 miles, where again it turns north, crosses the Federal Territory boundary at 216 m 8 ch at about 1 1/2 miles west of Hall. The total distance is 16 m 48 ch., and is laid in single track, standard gauge with 80 lb rails and 4 1/2” x 9” x 8’0” sleepers. The ruling grade will be 1 in 66, and the minimum radius curve 20 chains. There is provision for stations at Eastlake Circle, Prospect Parkway, Civic Centre and at three points between Civic Centre and Hall. It is proposed to place the goods shed at 206 3/4 miles at about 1 1/2 to 1 3/4 miles north of Civic Centre.’
Fig. 2.16: Griffin’s proposed City Railway of 1912 plotted onto a current Canberra street map, together with the brickworks railway and the Kingston to Civic construction railway.

Mr Butters, Commissioner of the Federal Capital Commission, in May 1925, stated that he disliked the Griffin route for the Canberra-Yass railway, especially the deep cuttings involved. He felt it should be possible to skirt the lower slopes of Mt. Ainslie, and then run out about the centre of Majura Avenue and along the centre of the industrial area on the surface, with only sideling cuttings. His connection to the City station was near Civic Place (now know as Vernon Circle) by a branch line along the central parkway of Ainslie Avenue.

Accordingly, three alternative routes between the North side of the Molonglo Crossing and a point on the Canberra-Yass line a few miles north of the Civic Centre were investigated:

1. Via Parkway Avenue, through Prospect Place (at the head of Anzac Parade near the War Memorial) and thence via Canberra Avenue and Ainslie Avenue, thence following the general direction of the stormwater drain at the base of Mt. Ainslie.

2. Via Prospect Parkway and Prospect Place, thence through the area reserved for the War Memorial, then east of a knoll at the intersection of Ainslie and Canberra Avenues, (now Limestone Avenue) after which it also followed the stormwater drain.

3. Via a circuit on the north-east of the War Memorial site, then north to the knoll and the stormwater drain.

These alternatives were closely examined and finally rejected in March 1929 by Sir John Butters, (who was made a knight after the opening of Parliament in 1927) in favour of the route recommended by the Parliamentary Standing Committee of 1915-16. Sir John recommended the Molonglo bridge be designed for one track and a roadway, the roadway later to become a second rail track when traffic warranted.

In October of the same year an estimate was made for the so-called ‘through city’ railway. The estimated cost of 532,605 included a bridge over Jerrabomberra Creek with three 200 ft spans, and one over the Molonglo River with five 200 ft spans. The Federal Capital Commission was abolished in 1930 and there was a lapse of four years before the railway was discussed at a meeting of the Commonwealth Advisory Council in May 1934 which stated in part:

‘The Council considered it would be a difficult task to design a bridge over the Molonglo that would withstand floods, and according to the accepted design, the railway is supposed to traverse along the Causeway and in this position, the crossing of the Molonglo River is oblique to the direction of the stream and would be unsatisfactory for a bridge. The same applies to the crossing of the Jerrabomberra Creek. Thus the erection of a bridge for railway traffic would be an exceedingly costly matter as the bridges are over low-lying land liable to flood’.

On 3 September 1934, the Canberra Chamber of Commerce queried the advisability of building a bridge over the Molonglo for a railway. The Chamber was advised that there was no provision in the current year’s estimates. In the event of the Government deciding at a later date, estimates would be put in hand.

The ‘later date’ has not yet arrived.

The rails of the old construction railway remained in place for many years before being finally lifted. The points where the construction railway branched off from the Power House siding were removed in December 1934, effectively putting an end to that chapter of the Territory’s railway history.

The Brickworks Railway

One of the most obvious prerequisites to the speedy establishment of a Seat of Government in an open, relatively uninhabited area such as the undeveloped site of Canberra, was an adequate supply of good bricks. No time was lost therefore in seeking out a suitable local site for a brickworks, and satisfactory clays were found at Yarralumla, or ‘Westridge’ as Griffin had named it. Here the Commonwealth Brickworks was established in 1913.

The next prerequisite was an effective means of transsporting the bricks to where they were required for the construction of the Power House, Parliament House, Hotel Canberra, and the other public buildings and offices.

gauge brickworks railway
Fig. 2.17: The 3’-6” (1067 mm) gauge brickworks railway passing the old Parliament House. Bricks transported on the railway were used in the building’s construction. Photo — Australian Archives, Mildenhall Collection.

At first, the bricks were moved by steam traction engines hauling heavy, iron wheeled trailers on mostly unmade roads. As can be imagined, this soon proved unsatisfactory and time consuming, and it is on record that the traction engines only achieved two round trips a day between the brickworks and Parliament House.

The inevitable decision was therefore taken to construct a light railway as demand for more effective transport increased, and by the end of 1923 a 3’-6” (1067 mm) gauge steam hauled railway was in operation for the conveyance of bricks to the expanding construction works.

The southern terminus of the railway was at the Power House, although existing records do not show clearly how far the 3’-6” gauge extended southwards from the Power House building, other than to connect with a small engine shed.

After the failure of the standard gauge construction railway to Civic Centre, the brickworks tramway was extended to Civic, crossing the Molonglo River on a small timber bridge near the Scotts Crossing Road. There is evidence to indicate that in the city area, the abandoned standard gauge track may have been used by moving one rail 14 1/2 inches across on the existing sleepers to form the narrower gauge. It is believed the brickworks tramway terminated about 40 ft beyond the Civic Centre platform.

In the clean-up prior to the opening of Parliament House on 9 May 1927, and possibly also because it had by that stage become more economical to transport the bricks by motor lorry, the tramway was removed.

 the Molonglo River
Fig. 2.18: The bridge over the Molonglo River which carried the brickworks railway extension into Civic Centre (looking north east). Photo — Australian National Library.

It is of interest to note that, at the time of the closing of the tramway, the capacity of the brickworks was 6,000,000 bricks per annum.

Rolling Stock

To operate the railway, the Government transferred two Kitson 0-6-0 tank locomotives from the Henderson Naval Base in WA in 1923. These two locomotives had a colourful history, having been bought originally by the West Australia Lands Co. in 1881 for work on the wharves at Albany and elsewhere. They were known as ‘Princess’ and ‘Duchess’, and were purchased by the WA Government in 1896 when they were numbered 162 and 163 of the “S” class. The engines worked on the WA Government Railways until 1915, when they were purchased by the Commonwealth Government for the construction of the Henderson Naval Base.

When transferred by the Commonwealth for service at the brickworks, locomotives 162 and 163 were re-numbered Nos. I and 2 respectively.

When the tramway was extended to Civic Centre, a third locomotive, an 0-4-2 Hudswell Clarke tank locomotive, was purchased from the Wallaroo Mines Ltd. of SA. The locomotive was 20 ft (6.1 m) long, weighed 14 tons (14.2 tonnes) and had 10” (254 mm) diameter cylinders, supplied with steam at 150 psi (1034 kPa). With a driving wheel diameter of 2’-6” (762 mm) its tractive effort was only slightly greater than that of the ex “S” class locomotives.

A timber framed side-tipping truck was used for the conveyance of the bricks, each truck holding about 500 bricks.

On the termination of the railway in 1927, the equipment was put up for sale. The three locomotives were purchased by the NSW Associated Blue Metal Quarries No. 1 going to Prospect Quarry, No. 2 to Bass Point Quarry near Shellharbour, and the Hudswell Clarke engine to Bombo.

Some of the side tipping trucks were also bought by Blue Metal Quarries.

Kitson locomotive
Fig. 2.19: Kitson locomotive purchased from WA. Government Railways for use, first at Henderson Naval Base, and later, for use on the brickworks railway. Overall length 20’-6” (6.2 m), cylinders 11 1/2” (292 mm) dia. x 15” (381 mm) stroke, boiler pressure 120 psi (844 kPa), driving wheels 2’-11 1/2” (902 mm) dia., weight 17 tons (17.3 tonnes). Diagrams— the author.
Hudswell Clarke saddle tank locomotive
Fig. 2.20.’ Hudswell Clarke saddle tank locomotive purchased from Wallaroo Mines Ltd., South Australia, for use on the brickworks railway. Overall length 20 ft. (6.1 m), cylinders 10” (254 mm) dia. x 14” (356 mm) stroke, boiler pressure 150 psi (1034 kPa), 2’-6” (762 mm) dia. driving wheels, trailing wheels 1’-6” (457 mm) dia., weight 14 tons (14.2 tonnes).
The Power House terminus
Fig. 2.21: The Power House terminus of the Brickwork’s railway. The loaded truck at the right of the photograph shows the random manner in which the trucks were loaded (breakage rate is not known!). Also on the extreme right of the picture may be seen the little engine shed where the locomotives were stabled. One of the locomotives is standing near the workshop building. Photo — Australian Archives, Mildenhall Collection.

So the brickworks railway came to an end and was soon forgotten, but a number of famous and now historic buildings remain as testimony to the engineering skills of those who conceived this facility for their construction.

At time of writing, the only remaining evidence of this once extensive 3’-6” gauge railway network is the formation between Denman Street, Yarralumla and the west side of the brickworks area.


One other minor facet of the ACT’s railway history remains to be recorded. At the brickworks and the Mugga and Mt Ainslie Quarries, and on some of the earliest construction projects, in the days before the internal combustion engine had made its impact felt, small narrow gauge tramways — what one might almost call ‘back-yard railways’ — were employed to move material won at the quarry face or for aggregate movement between crusher and concrete mixer.

Brickworks Quarry Tramway

At the Commonwealth brickworks at Yarralumla, a 2 ft (610 mm) gauge tramway was laid in the quarry area in such a way that the loaded trucks ran downhill to the works and the empty trucks were pushed back by manpower. These little tramways were very flexible and were easily moved along as the quarry face advanced.

The trucks used at the brickworks and other quarries were side tipping steel trucks, made by Francis Theakston Ltd., Light Railway Engineers, Crewe Works, 66 Tufton Street, London.

Mugga Quarry Tramway

This differed a little from the brickworks tramway in that it extended beyond the confines of the works and was used to convey the material won in the quarry to the Mugga Lane where there was obviously a facility for tipping the material from the trucks into some form of road transport.

The little tramway from the quarry to Mugga Lane is clearly shown on a ‘Plan of Canberra the Federal Capital of the Commonwealth of Australia’ published by the Federal Capital Commission from the First Premiated Designs by Walter Burley Griffin and from surveys conducted under the direction of C.R. Scrivener, late Director of Lands and Survey, with approved detailed modifications of designs to May 1927. A copy of this map is held at the National Library, Canberra.

Although much man-handling of the trucks took place in the quarry area, a small petrol engine built by Purcell Engineering, was provided to work between the crusher and Mugga Lane. It is possible that the locale of the engine photo is the point at which the trucks’ contents were unloaded into motor or other forms of road transport.

Between the quarry and the crusher house, a cableway was used to lower the loaded trucks from the quarry area and to raise the empty trucks back to the quarry. The trucks were raised and lowered by cable actuated by a small haulage engine. A similar haulage way was operated at the Mt Ainslie Quarry.

Construction Tramways

From photos still in existence, it is evident that the identical side tipping trucks were used during the construction of Cotter Dam in 1913 and of the Weston Creek Sewerage Works in the l920s, for movement of aggregate between crusher and concrete mixers, although the method of propulsion is not clear from these photos. An excellent photograph of the Cotter Dam tramway and of the steam powered crusher appears in Alan Fitzgerald’s ‘Historic Canberra 1825-1945’.

Side-tipping truck
Fig. 2.22: Side-tipping truck for conveyance of bricks from
the Canberra Brickworks. Photo: Australian Archives, Mildenhall Collection.
The end of the line
Fig. 2.23: The end of the line. Ex-Brickworks Railway
locomotive ‘Princess’ laid to rest at the Prospect
Quarry after disposal by the Brickworks.
Photo — R.S. Minchin Collection.

The Railway Gun

The “Amiens” gun was a 180 tonne German, 28 cm railway gun, 22 m long, 2.64 m wide with a range of 24,000 metres. It fired a shell weighing 300 kg and wrought considerable havoc on the French city of Amiens during World War 1.

On 8 August 1918, in the course of a successful operation by the Australian Corps, the 31st Battalion, when advancing near Harbonnieres, noticed a train steaming up and down a track about 730 metres away. The train comprised a railway gun, coaches for the crew and an ammunition truck. After it had fired a few rounds the train was attacked from the air and a great explosion followed. Shortly afterwards, the Battalion reached its objective some 180 m short of the gun. Two or three hours later, Gunner Geo. Burrows and Sappers Strachan and Palmer, 5 Aust. Division Engineers, went out under heavy machine gun fire, raised steam on the engine, coupled up to the gun and ammunition truck and brought it back within the Australian lines.

Brickworks Quarry tramway
Fig. 2.24: Brickworks Quarry tramway, showing light,
side tipping trucks as supplied by Francis
Theakston, London. Photo: Australian
Archives, Mildenhall Collection.
Petrol driven locomotive
Fig. 2.25: Petrol driven locomotive used on Mugga
Quarry tramway. The locomotive was supplied
by Purcell Engineering. Photo: National
Library, Collingridge Collection.
Construction tramway
Fig. 2.26: Construction tramway at Cotter Dam. The
wall of the dam, prior to the raising of its height,
may be seen in the middle distance. Photo:
Australian Archives, Mildenhall Collection.
The Mugga Quarry cableway
Fig. 2.27: The Mugga Quarry cableway. The foundations of the crushing plant at the foot of the slope are still in evidence
near the present vehicle parking bay. Photo: Australian Archives, Mildenhall Collection.

The gun was later exhibited in London and Paris and was eventually sent to Sydney where it was on display for some time before being consigned to Canberra for the proposed War Memorial on 16 May 1923. Some days later, the railway gun arrived at Molonglo where it was placed at the platform siding. This was some six months before passengers were carried on the Queanbeyan-Canberra railway. However, the arrival of the gun did not pass unnoticed. The Molonglo correspondent of The Queanbeyan Age wrote, on 29 May:

‘Big Bertha is still the centre of attention. Numerous visitors call on her daily. One wonders what the lady’s reflections must be at being exiled away from her kith and kin, and worst of all, in a place where her countrymen were interned. It must be galling enough to make her go “pop”’.
Fig. 2.28: The ‘Amiens’ railway gun. Photo: Australian Archives, Mildenhall Collection.

On 27 June 1924, the gun was moved away from the platform to the position shown on the diagram so that the platform to the position shown in Fig. 2.29 so that the intended — the loading and unloading of freight. Here it stood until May 1927, during which time it was much damaged and disfigured by vandals. In that month it was moved to Kingston and placed on a temporary track near Wentworth Avenue, no doubt as an attraction for visitors attending the opening of Parliament . The cost of its removal from Molonglo was 761. In March 1935, the gun was repainted and four years later a light fence was erected around it to discourage vandalism.

The Molonglo siding
Fig. 2.29: The Molonglo siding in 1924, showing where the railway gun was located between 1923 and 1927 before being removed to the Kingston station yard. Diagram from data on file at Australian Archives.

Its subsequent history is a sad one. During World War II, its mountings, bogies and lifting hydraulics were taken off for use elsewhere in Australia on the condition that they be returned on the cessation of hostilities. They were never returned and the barrel, a rather sorry remnant of a magnificent piece of machinery, is now displayed at the Australian War Memorial.


Arsenal Railway

There were proposals for the establishment of a Government Arsenal at Tuggeranong during World War I. Many and varied schemes were considered for connecting the various sites proposed to the NSW Railways system. In the last of these proposals put forward in October 1918, before the whole project was abandoned, the branch railway was to leave the Queanbeyan-Cooma line just north of the Jerrabomberra Creek crossing and run parallel to that line for a considerable distance. This was because the Cooma line climbed at a grade of 1 in 40 for about three miles beyond that junction, and the NSW Railways would not permit a branch on such a steep grade.

In early deliberations regarding rail access into the complex, the following requirements were laid down:

‘The connecting line into the NSW Railway system was to be 4’-81/2” (1435 mm) gauge.

‘The connection must be such as will admit of taking any NSW Railway goods stock.

‘Provision should be made for future duplication.

‘Branch lines connecting ammunition groups and cordite factories should be operated by the Arsenal authorities. Whether they should be standard gauge or narrow gauge has not yet been determined’.

In a report by Walter Burley Griffin dated 13 March 1917, he stated that five miles (8 km) of electric tramways, at an estimated cost of 10,000 per mile, were contemplated to provide for Arsenal connections.

Canberra — Jervis Bay Railway

The Seat of Government Act provided that the Territory acquired for the Seat of Government was to have access to the sea at Jervis Bay.

By 1909 an exploration of the country between Canberra and the seaport had been carried out by C.R. Scrivener, Director, Commonwealth Lands and Survey, the route being plotted by Scrivener onto a copy of the Department of Mines map of the Mining Districts of NSW, which is at present held in the National Library.

A later Trial Survey, carried out by Surveyor Marshall, was finished in November 1914 and included a direct railway connection from Civic Centre to a point about 16 km north of Bungendore, keeping to the north side of the Molonglo River.

The 1918 proposals
Fig. 2.30: The 1918 proposals for a branch railway from the Goulburn-Bombala Railway to the site of the proposed Tuggeranong
Arsenal. Plotted by the author from the data contained in Australian Archives files and from information
researched by Mr T.F.C. Lawrence, AM, FIE Aust.

The length of the Canberra — Jervis Bay Trial Survey was 225 km, with 1.6 km of bridges, 1180 metres of tunnels, and construction of the line was estimated to cost 1,747,670. However, despite periodic agitation for construction of the line the Commonwealth Surveyor General reported on 5 October 1921:

‘I do not think there is the slightest hope of any development work being undertaken for a long time’.

That is still the present situation.

Nowra — Jervis Bay Connection

The matter of an extension of the South Coast Railway from its present terminus at Bombaderry to Jervis Bay appears to have been first raised in 1909, when the Director-General of Works proposed that the railway should be extended to serve the Jervis Bay Naval College.

Three years later the NSW Premier stated he was favourable to the construction of a railway to Jervis Bay. At the same time Surveyor Marshall was asked to locate a section of the proposed Canberra-Jervis Bay railway from the Bay to a point one mile west of the Nowra Road, to which the section from Nowra might be joined, and so save the cost of a separate line into Jervis Bay. The trial line to this point was completed on 29 May 1912.

In the same year, a Parliamentary Standing Committee on Public Works found that the line would involve heavy loss, estimated at 9,000 annually.

Although the NSW Premier suggested that the Commonwealth should make some provision in connection with any loss, the suggestion was turned down, Prime Minister Fisher reaffirming on 18 August 1915, that the Government was not prepared to defray any portion of the loss on the line.

The matter was raised again in the following year in a letter to King O’Malley, Minister for Home Affairs, but the Secretary of the Department wrote on 17 April 1916 that: ‘There is not much interest in the railway between Nowra and Jervis Bay’. At this stage the proposal, understandably, lapsed. Fifty-four years later there was a revival of interest in the line. In 1970, it was reported that the NSW Government had agreed to extend the Illawarra Line from Bomaderry to Jervis Bay, a distance of about 32 km, if the American Armco Steel Consortium decided to go ahead with its plans for setting up a $300 m steel works at Jervis Bay. This did not eventuate.

Although permanent railway connections between Canberra and Jervis Bay, and between Nowra and Jervis Bay never eventuated, a temporary construction railway was built at Jervis Bay in 1915 to convey rock from a quarry just east of the Naval College to a harbour breakwater, at that time being extended to a total length of 240 yards. The steam locomotive transhipped from Sydney to operate the railway was a standard gauge NSWGR P(127) class locomotive, originally imported in 1879 to operate the Richmond branch line in Sydney.

Canberra — Yass Railway

The Seat of Government Acceptance Act, 1909, provides that, in the event of the Commonwealth Government constructing a railway in the Territory to its Northern Boundary, the State of NSW shall construct a railway from a point near Yass on the Great Southern- Railway to join the said railway, and the Commonwealth and State shall grant to each other such reciprocal running rights as may be agreed upon, or as, in default of agreement, may be determined by arbitration over such portions of that railway as are owned by each.

The proposed Nowra
Fig. 2.32: The proposed Nowra to Jervis Bay connection. Diagram from data on file at Australian Archives.
Standard Gauge
Fig. 2.33: Standard Gauge (1435 mm) 0-6-0 saddle tank locomotive No. 530 purchased from NSWGR in 1975 for breakwater construction at Jervis Bay Naval Base. Cylinder diameter 12” (305 mm) x 17” (432 mm) stroke; driving wheel dia. 36” (914 mm); boiler pressure 120 psi (837 kPa); total wt. 22 tons 76 cwt (23.2 tonnes). Diagram: the author.

Pursuant to the above, the Minister for Home Affairs, George Fuller, on 17 April 1910, approved of Surveyor Marshall (who appears to have done more than his fair share in locating the railways proposed for the ACT) carrying out a trial survey within the ACT to the northern border, or to be more correct, the north-western border, for a line to Yass.

It appears the NSW Railways commenced their survey from the border to Yass at about the same time, for it was reported in the Bi-Monthly Digest of 1 November 1916 that trial surveys from the boundary of the Federal Territory towards Yass, a distance of 32 miles (51 km), had been completed by NSW.

The trial survey was based on a ruling grade of 1 in 100 with minimum radius curves of 15 chains — an extravagance which was later criticised by the Commissioner of the Commonwealth Railways in October 1917, as the connecting State line has much steeper grades. He suggested the line be re-surveyed on the basis of a ruling grade of 1 in 66 with the following grade compensation on curves:

Curve Radius Ruling Grade
20 Chains 1 in 75
25 " 1 in 75
30 " 1 in 70
35 " 1 in 70
40 " 1 in 70
(one chain=20.1 m)

Minimum curve radius was to be 20 chains.

Although agreeing in principle, the NSW Railway Commissioner objected to paying the cost of a further survey, estimated at approximately 1,900, on the grounds that he had already paid the cost of the original survey. However, an amount of 2,000 was eventually included in the NSW estimates for 1921-22 and the survey was commenced in March 1922.

On 10 April 1923, the Prime Minister, Mr Bruce, was informed that the working survey was complete. Based on a total length of 27 m 54 ch., and with 80 lb rail fully ballasted, the estimated cost to build the NSW section of the line was 295,725.

In a letter dated 25 February 1924, the NSW Premier made it clear that, because of serious financial restrictions his State was experiencing, NSW could not promise an early start, even if the Commonwealth started its section.

At this time however, a Parliamentary Standing Committee on Public Works was examining evidence relating to the proposed construction of the railway to connect Canberra and Yass and in May 1924, the Committee published its findings.

Amongst these was a recommendation that the line be terminated as near as possible to the theoretical point on the City Railway 205 1/2 miles from Sydney — a point a little north of Civic Centre.

The estimated total cost of the line from Yass to Canberra, as published in the Committee’s report, was 743,745, of which the Commonwealth would have had to provide 433,000. On the other hand, should the Committee’s recommendation to terminate the line at mileage 205 1/2 be accepted, the cost to the Government was estimated at 131,000.

The decision having been taken to terminate the line at mileage 205 1/2, the Prime Minister informed the NSW Premier that ‘it was improbable that the construction of the line to Yass would be undertaken at present’. This was confirmed by The Melbourne Age which told its readers on 21 August 1925 that the Minister for Home and Territories, Senator Pearce, had said that expert opinion was at present hostile to building the Canberra-Yass Railway.

A small ray of hope was injected the following year when, following a deputation from the Chamber of Commerce and the Yass Railway League to Prime Minister Bruce, John Butters, Commissioner of the Federal Capital Commission, said he felt there should be some better connection of Canberra to the Sydney-Melbourne line, and the matter was receiving the consideration of the Government.

Trial Surveys
Fig. 2.34: The 1916 and 1965 Trial Surveys for a Railway connection between Canberra and Yass. Diagram: the author, prepared from data furnished by SRA of NSW archives and CR archives.

As with the Canberra-Jervis Bay proposals the apparent demise of the Canberra-Yass proposal was followed by many protests from Yass and other country districts, many of whom believed there were better options than to connect in at Yass. The Adelong Railway League, for example, felt that the railway from Melbourne to Canberra should pass through their area. Others considered the Canberra line should come through Tumut to Wagga.

The searching round for alternatives reached the most improbable height when The Canberra Times of 2 December 1926 announced that a survey for a railway from Albury to Canberra was ‘in prospect’.

Since the 1925 report, the project has been reviewed a revise number of times — for example in 1934, the ACT Advisory Council suggested that the time had arrived to the estimates for the Canberra-Yass Railway.

Nothing significant however, occurred for another 22 years until, in October 1966, the Secretary of the Commonwealth Railways advised that consideration was being given to altering the location of the originally proposed route where it passed through the ACT.

An aerial survey was accordingly undertaken in order to assist in a determination being made as to the practicability of the new route on NSW territory. The Canberra Times of 31 August 1965 reported:

‘A new aerial survey of a proposed rail route to Yass is to begin this year, which will enable a firm decision to be made on the site for Canberra’s new passenger terminal, for which about four chains of lease land had been set aside provisionally, one quarter of a mile along Majura Road, Pialligo on the Canberra side of Woolshed Creek’.

On 14 September of the same year, The Canberra Times carried a headline:

‘Rail Link with Yass Supported by the Advisory Council’.

Plans produced by aerial photogrammetry, together with a locality map, trial plan and longitudinal sections were subsequently forwarded to the Secretary, Commonwealth Railways, in March 1967. The preliminary estimate of the new route, exclusive of signalling and land resumptions, was 10,490,000 and was based on the following specifications:

Length 30 miles (48 km) Ruling grade I in 75 compensated. Minimum radius curve 40 chains (805 m) Formation width, cuttings and embankments 28 ft (8.5 m). 107 lb (48.5 kg) rail.

On 24 October, 1968 Canberra newspapers reported:

‘Belconnen Rail Link Announced. Commonwealth Railways have foreshadowed a rail link to Belconnen as part of its forward planning for the ACT.’
Canberra Courier

‘Another Rail Terminal Planned.

A railway passenger terminal west of the Canberra Airport is envisaged in planning for railway facilities in the ACT. It is believed such developments could be included in a report to reach the Minister for Supply and Transport this week’.
The Canberra Times

The report from Commonwealth Railways did not reach the Minister until December1969 and the conclusion of the report was that action should be taken to implement the construction of the Canberra-Yass Railway. This conclusion was not supported by the Commonwealth Government which considered that further investigation was warranted. On 21 April 1971, The Canberra News reported:

‘A new investigation will be carried out into the proposed railway between Canberra and Yass. The Bureau of Transport Economics has been asked to make a detailed examination and report, the Minister announced today. Mr Nixon said the estimated cost of the railway, its route and the assessed benefits as reported by the Railways Commissioner could not be regarded as final’.

In reply to a question in the House of Representatives on 9 May 1972 the Minister said:

‘As a result of a recently completed Bureau of Transport Economics evaluation of a proposed line between Canberra and Yass the proposal was not found to be economically justified. Accordingly there is no plan to proceed any further with the project as it is Government Policy that funds will only be provided for those railway projects where it can be demonstrated that the expected benefits exceed the cost involved in their construction’.

Three years later, the Minister for the Capital Territory, Gordon Bryant, made an attempt to have the matter reconsidered, but he was not supported by his colleagues.

Three or four years later again, the Commonwealth Department of Traffic and Tfansport, having regard to the totally changed energy environment since the 1971 investigation by the Bureau of Transport Economics, decided to take a fresh look at the long standing proposal to build a line from Canberra to Yass.

This was also prompted by the attention drawn in a recent Sydney-Melbourne railway electrification study, to the very unsatisfactory alignment of the main line from Goulburn to Yass and Junee. It was felt that if a re-alignment of the Goulburn-Yass section was considered in conjunction with Canberra’s rail needs, an attractive proposal could emerge.

Some initial work has been carried out by the Department at time of writing, with a view to relocating the Goulburn-Yass line about 15 km south of the existing line, to a 160 kph standard, and a suitable route is believed to have been found.

A new line north from Canberra could connect with such a Goulburn-Yass re-alignment, at a point about 30 km east of Yass, and only about 40 km in length.

The proposal would avoid the need for upgrading the existing Goulburn-Yass connection 70 km long.

Many other advantages are claimed. Not only would travel time from Goulburn to Yass be reduced by 40 minutes, but also a journey time of 3 hours from Sydney to Canberra with the new XPT trains, would be feasible. Canberra-Melbourne direct services could be operated at an estimated trip time of 6 1/2 hours.

The Australian Railway Historical Society in the ACT

The Australian Railway Historical Society was founded in Sydney in 1933 to promote the study and discussion of all aspects of railway history and operation. A Branch of the NSW Division of the Society was formed in Canberra in 1967, which became a Division in its own right in 1975.

In 1974, the Society was approached by the Committee of Inquiry on Museums and National Collections to accept responsibility for the restoration and operation of one of the last remaining examples of the Garratt locomotives of the Public Transport Commission of NSW. At the end of the engine’s useful life it was agreed that the locomotive revert to the Commonwealth Government for display in a future National Transport Museum.

Restoration work on the locomotive was completed by the Society’s members in July 1976. A set of passenger carriages had been acquired, and the sound of a steam chime whistle was heard again in Canberra after a silence of many years.

A second engine of a smaller type was subsequently obtained by the Society and steam operated tours for the public have been a regular feature of the Society’s operations every year.

Although the Beyer-Garratt locomotive was typical of the steam locomotive in its final development in this country, it was not part of the heritage of the ACT as it had never operated south of Captains Flat. Nevertheless the running of the Society’s trains is providing a glimpse of a way of life which was part of the Territory’s heritage, particularly in the period between the commencement of passenger service in 1923 and the 1950s, say, when aircraft superseded the railways as the accepted means of travelling to and from the Federal Capital.


The author gratefully acknowledges the assistance received from the Australian National Library, Australian National Railways, Australian Archives and the Archives of the SRA of NSW.

The author is also grateful to Mr Bruce Macdonald, railway historian, for kindly reviewing the material in this chapter, to Mr Ray Minchin for assistance in tracing the history of the brick-works locomotives, and to the Australian Railway Historical Society for permission to use some of the material from the May and November 1967 issues of the Bulletins of that Society.


  • B.T. MACDONALD — Railways in the Australian Capital Territory Bulletin No. 355, the Australian Railway Historical Society
  • CC. SINGLETON — Railways in the Australian Capital Territory Bulletin No. 361, the Australian Railway Historical Society.
  • Source Analysis — Railways in the ACT., 1901-1979, prepared by Australian Archives and covering references in the following files:
CA 8. Department of Home Affairs (1) 1901-1916
CRS Al 10 Correspondence files, FC Series, 1910-1917
CA 14. Department of Works and Railways, 1916-1932
CRS A106 Correspondence files, G Series, 1910-1927
CRS A197 Correspondence files, staff series, 1912-1918
CRS A199 Correspondence files, FCW Series, 1913-1926
CRS A292 Correspondence files, C Series, 1930-1950

CRS A554 Papers relating to Railways, 1928-1931
CRS A2503 Architectural Drawings, Ac single number series, 3rd size, 1925-1931
CA 27. Department of Interior (1) 1932-1939
CRS A556 Papers relating to transport, 1933-1937
CA 15. Department of Home and Territories. 1916-1928
CRS Al Correspondence files, annual single number series, 1903- 1938
CA 226. Federal Capital Commission. 1925-1930
CP 698/1 and CP 325/3. Correspondence files, G Series, 1925-1930
CRS A3560 Mildenhall Collection of Glass Plate Negatives, c. 1921-1935
CP 69 8/2 Correspondence files, E Series, 1925
CP 325/4 and CP 698/23. Correspondence files, El Series, 1925- 1930
CP 325/4 and CP 698/24. Correspondence files, E2 Series, 1925- 1930
CA 31. Department of Interior (2). 1939-1972
CRS A431. Correspondence files, annual single number series, 1946-
CA 11. Department of the Treasury (1). 1901-1976
CRS A571. Correspondence files, annual single number series, 1901-1976
CA 12. Prime Minister’s Department. 1911-1971
CRS A2. Correspondence files, annual single number series, 1904-1920
CRS A457. Correspondence files, multiple number series, first system, 1921-1923
CRS A458. Correspondence files, multiple number series, second system, 1923-1934
CRS A461 - Correspondence files, multiple number series, third system, 1934-1950
CRS A462. Correspondence files, multiple number series, fourth system, 1951-1956
CRS A463. Correspondence files, annual single number series, 1956-
  • ALAN FITZGERALD— Historic Canberra 1825-1945, Australian Government Publishing Service for the Department of the Capital Territory, 1977.
A $300,000 home
Fig. 2.35: A $300,000 home for historic railway equipment is being developed by the ACT Division of the Australian Railway Historical Society in its new yards and sidings at Kingston. Located at the end of Cunningham Street behind the old goods’ shed, the first stage of the yards calls for levelling, fencing, laying of turnouts and track and construction of facilities block. Later development is expected to include additional trackwork, a turntable and locomotive shed. Total cost of the project is expected to be about S300, 000, most of which will come from society funds. The yards will provide a home for the society’s locomotives and rolling stock. Carriage sheds and workshops will be built on the site and it will function both as a working depot and a museum.
Diagram courtesy Canberra Times
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