Railways in Australia: federation unfulfilled



Publication Details

Laird, P. G. (2015). Railways in Australia: federation unfulfilled. The Crimson Thread. Ideas for Australian Society (pp. 123-138). Sydney: The Henry Parkes Foundation/ETT Imprint. 2015


Sir Henry Parkes in October 1889 at his definitive Tenterfield call for federation of the Australian Colonies had stated the need for a uniform railway gauge on the through lines between Brisbane Sydney Melbourne and Adelaide. The paper notes that this took until 1995 to be achieved, and explores the reasons why it took so long. The main reason is that under the 1897 agreements for federation, railways were left under State control. This was in contrast to Commonwealth being given express powers to control defence, and services such as post and telepraphs. The paper explores the current cost of multiple gauges and other substandard aspects of Australian railways. These include an overdependence on roads and road vehicle transport whose total costs are estimated at over 10 per cent of GDP, with a high dependence on imported oil with excessive emissions and external costs. The suggested remedies are: * expansion and upgrading of urban rail in Sydney and other large cities, * bringing mainline interstate track towards Canadian and US Class I railroad standards by straightening and strengthening the track with better clearances, * residual gauge standardisation, particularly of broad to standard gauge, * rehabilitation of branch lines and completion of better rail links to ports, * construction of an inland Melbourne Parkes Brisbane railway, and, * road pricing reform.

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