War Time History of the Commonwealth RailwaysComrails Logo

War Time History of the Commonwealth Railways

Trans-Australian Railway

Pre-war Facilities

c.1943 Brake HRB68

To enable the reader to have a mental picture of this railway before the war, a brief description is given of its rollingstock and facilities in 1939:-



Coaching Stock and Brakevans

"Special Car"
"Sleeping cars"
"Sleeping cars"
"Sitting-Up cars"
"Sitting-Up cars"
"Lounge cars"
"Dining cars"
"Inspection car"
"Brakevans, bogie"
"Mail Bulk vans"

1st & 2nd

Freight Vehicles

Open Goods
Open Goods
Louvre Vans
Louvre Vans
Covered (box)
Covered (box)
Cattle Vans
Sheep Vans
Flat Wagons
Brake Vans
Brake Vans
Equivalent in 4-wheeled vehicles to 558396

Service and Miscellaneous Stock

Hospital Vans
Pay Car
Employees' Vans
Hopper Ballast Wagons 4-wheel
Ballast Plough Bogie
Ballast Plough 4-wheel
Butchers' Shop
General Stores Vans
Water Tank Wagons Bogie
Water Tank Wagons 4-wheel
Breakdown Vans
Other Vehicles

Water Supplies for Locomotives

StationMileage from Port Pirie JcFacilities
Port Pirie JunctionState Supply
Port Germein14¾State Supply
Nectar Brook36¾State Supply
Stirling 52Depot Creek Supply
Port Augusta56¼Depot Creek Supply
Bookaloo 108¾Reservoir 6,256,800 gallons
Wirrappa 150¼Reservoir 5,248,000 gallons
Kultanaby245¼Reservoir 7,987,000 gallons
Wilgena301¾2 Reservoirs 6,882,000 and 5,771,500 gallons
Tarcoola 313¾Reservoir (Quarry)
Wynbring 377½Reservoir 1,634,000 gallons
Barton432Overhead tank filled from rail tank wagons
Ooldea483¼Overhead tank filled from rail tank wagons
Cook569Overhead tank filled from rail tank wagons
Loongana 771¼Bore
Nurina800¼Reservoir 5,883,000 gallons
Rawlinna 872¾Well
Zanthus977½Reservoir 3,403,000 gallons
Coonana1,002Reservoir 7,374,000 gallons
Karonie1,039Reservoir 4,180,000 gallons and Weir 2,722,000 gallons
Parkeston1,105Mundaring supply
Kalgoorlie1,107¾Mundaring supply

Crossing Loops

Their were 24 crossing loops each an average of 48 miles apart.

Goods Sidings

Their were 48 goods sidings.

Coaling Points

Port Pirie JunctionJoint facility with South Australian Railways
Port Augusta56¼Bin (100-tons) and pit 16,000-tons
Woocalla12780 tons
Pimba169¼50 tons
Kingoonya265½130 tons
Tarcoola 313¾200 tons
Wynbring 377½140 tons
Barton43250 tons
Immarna463¼50 tons
Ooldea483¼25 tons
Cook569200 tons
Hughes623500 tons
Loongana771¼50 tons
Rawlinna872¾200 tons
Naretha902½280 tons
Zanthus977½50 tons
Parkeston1,105260 tons


The normal pre-war service on this railway was provided by up to four passenger, on goods, and one mixed trains per week in each direction, plus local service between Port Augusta and Port Pirie Junction and water and coal trains as necessary. The impact of war conditions is show in the following table, in which statistics for the year 1938/39 are compared with the war-time peak year 1943/44:

Train mileage577,156846,532
Goods ton-mileage15,113,08541,233,671
Gross ton-mileage257,359,493465,638,877
Staff (number)1,3941,902

The country through which this railway passes is sparsely populated. With the exception of Tarcoola, which was a mining town before the railway was constructed, and those persons ngaged in pastoral activities between Port Augusta and Malbooma, almost the whole of the population along the route are there solely for the purpose of the working of the railway. The traffic on the line is, therefore, mainly the conveyance of passengers and freight between the Eastern States and Western Australia. Normally, too, the flow of freight is from the Eastern States to the West. This involves a great deal of "empty" return mileage by goods hicles. circa 1937 Commonwealth Railways engine C 63

For the first two years after the outbreak of was, there was a steady increase in traffic on this line, but this was materially due to the increased popularity of the faster service introduced in 1938, and to the gradual restriction of shipping. But, before the sudden acceleration of activities caused by Japan's first attack in December 1941, plans had been made and some work done towards enlarging the capacity of this railway. It is proposed to describe the measure adopted to cope with the war-time traffic, under the following headings:-

  1. Rollingstock
  2. Sidings and Yard Accommodation
  3. Water Supplies
  4. Workshops, Running Shed, Machine Tools, etc.
  5. Accommodation for Staff
  6. Communications
  7. Coal and Other Running Supplies


The circumstances of the time made the obtaining of additional locomotive and other rollingstock probably the most difficult of all the problems attendant upon the increase in traffic. The possible sources of supply were

  1. New construction
  2. Purchase or hire from State Railway systems
  3. Importation from overseas
  4. Conversion of existing rollingstock to types more in demand for war-time traffic
  5. Repair and recommissioning of locomotives and wagons previously regarded as obsolete.

Enquires for standard gauge locomotives through all known channels in Australia proved fruitless. Eventually, ten second hand superheater 4-6-0 type locomotives were obtained from overseas through the agency of the Lease-Lend organisation

8from Canadian National Railway (re-classified "CN")
2from New York, New Haven and Hartford Railway, U.S.A., (re-classified "CA")

These engines were placed in commission in 1943.

As the service on this railway did not reach the density expected, these additional locomotives, with a number of "K" and "Ka" class which were re-commissioned, proved sufficient to meet demands.

The following vehicles were constructed in the South Australian Railways workshops at Islington for Commonwealth Railways:-

58Bogies flat wagons (classified "Rb")
20Bogie water tank wagons, 9,000 gallons capacity (classified "Tf".)
7Bogie Brakevans (classified "HRb")
In our own workshops the construction of the following new vehicles was completed during this period:-
2First-class sleeping cars (classified "ARa")
3Second-class sleeping cars (classified "BRa")
1Bulk Mail van, bogie (classified "M")
and the following conversions and alterations to rollingstock were undertaken:-
8vehicles to covered goods vans
2vehicles to open goods vans
2service vehicles to flat wagons
2vehicles to brakevans
2vehicles to refrigerated butchers' vans
14-wheeled brakevan to breakdown van.
30cattle vans altered for Military goods and rations.
35cattle vans altered to carry "Wiles" Cookers and foodstuffs as mobile kitchens.
18cattle vans altered for conveyance of troops.
102flat wagons strengthened for conveyance of Army tanks.
24tank wagons improved or increased in capacity.
1louvre van fitted with cool chamber.

Sidings and Station Yard Accommodation

28.12.1939 Commonwealth Railways engine C 66 hauling the Trans-Australian at Port Augusta

The first special action by the Way and Works Branch because of war conditions, followed advice that preparations were to be made for the transport of an Army division, complete with all equipment, from the Eastern States to Western Australia. To accomplish this, in addition to normal service, it was necessary to construct eight additional crossing loops, extend two existing sidings, and improve water and coal storage facilities.

On 19th November 1940, instructions were given for the work to be put in hand immediately. the only new material available for the work at this time was sleepers, and all other material had to be gathered from sidings, etc., not actually of primary importance, or new material then on order. the work was pushed forward to a point where, had it been necessary to use the sidings at short notice, leads could be thrown in, using laced sleepers as crossing timbers. It transpired that the sidings were not required until March 1942, and all were completed between 17th and 22nd of that month.

Particulars of these sidings follow:-

DetailStanding RoomMileage from Junc.Station Name
New Crossing Loop1,200193½Burando
New Crossing Loop1,200285½(editor: is this Ferguson?)
New Crossing Loop1,200354½(editor: is this Lyons?)
New Crossing Loop1,200397(editor: now known as Mt Christie)
New Crossing Loop1,400594¾(editor: now known as Denman)
New Crossing Loop1,400655¾Deakin
New Crossing Loop1,400741¾(editor: now known as Mundrabilla)
Extension of existing loop to1,400800½Nurina
New Crossing Loop1,4001,002Coonana
Extension of existing dead-end siding to provide1,000213½Wirraminna

In may 1943 a further programme of works was begun in anticipation of still heavier traffic being required. In October of that year, however, it became apparent that the expected traffic would not eventuate, and this programme was severely curtailed. The following works were completed

and the following were partly completed when work was stopped on the programme

Water Supplies

In the country traversed by this railway, throughout the whole of its length of 1108 miles, there is not one permanent running stream. Supplies of locomotive water are obtained from reservoirs, wells and bores. On one section of the line for a distance of 423 miles there is no permanent supply, and requirements for locomotive and domestic consumption have to be railed in water tanks wagons and pumped into overhead tanks. Due to the low rainfall, which averages about nine inches only per year, the reservoirs are very frequently empty and it becomes necessary to use bore and well water almost exclusively. In January 1941, for example, all reservoirs along this line were exhausted.

The prospect of increased traffic was, therefore, one calling for immediate attention to supplies. This work involved:-

Nature of WorkNo. of Locations
Increasing capacity of water treatment plant1
Installation of high capacity centrifugal pumps8
Installation of water treatment plants4
Provision of two 40,000 gallon reinforced concrete sumps3
Construction of new six inch bores with pumping equipment4
Improved water mains2

Some of the difficulties encountered in this work are briefly described hereunder.

At Wirraminna, drives were constructed in the existing wells, increasing the capacity from 36,000 to 50,000 gallons per day. However, after a considerable quantity had been drawn from the supply, the water showed a gradual deterioration in quality and eventually was unsuitable for boiler use without treatment. A Mollinite Base Exchange treatment plant was installed but, with the continued deterioration of the water, only 23,800 gallons per day could be maintained. Finally the salt content of the water became so high that it was necessary to rest the wells to await rainfall replenishment.

Drives were constructed also in the wells at Kingoonya to increase the capacity from 120,000 gallons per day to a figure above the 146,000 gallons needed for the increased traffic. An improved type of treatment plant - the Kennicott Lime-Soda Continuous type - was constructed, with a capacity of 7,500 gallons per hour.

The supply at Reid was considered the most important of all. The supplies from bored had to be increased from 36,000 to 124,000 gallons per day. The first new bore resulted in the loss of the tools at 158 feet. The second bore was abandoned at 420 feet because of drifting, Boring on the third sire was stopped at 415 feet, and, after acid treatment, a pumping test revealed a supply of 1,000 gallons per hour. Although this was below expectations, a pumping plant was installed with an 8-H.P. high speed diesel engine. Boring to 446 feet on the fourth site selected, after acid treatment, resulted in a further supply of 3,000 gallons per hour. The existing water treatment vats were used for storage of rain water, and a Kennicott Lime-Soda Continuous treatment plant was installed with a capacity of 6,000 gallons per hour.

At Loongana the original supply was obtained from two bores which were fitted with walking beams and draw plunger pumps. It was decided to increase the supply by sinking a new bore and installing a high capacity plant, and to leave the old plant as a standby. The new bore, acid treated at 545 feet, resulted in a flow of 8,000 gallons per hour. A Mollinite treatment plant was installed, with a capacity of 3,400 gallons per hour.

Boring operations were abandoned at the following locations:-

360¼ MilesHard quartzite at 200 feet.
424¼ MilesGrey granite at 345 feet.
CookWater struck at 424 feet showed analysis of 480 g.p.g. At 742 feet a second stream was worse, and at 1208 feet worse still.
ZanthusHard quartzite at 161 feet.
Coonana and KaronieStrata formations.

At Rawlinna the existing well supply was successfully augmented by a bore which at 269 feet produced, at the rate of 5,760 gallons per hour, water capable of treatment in the existing plant.

Workshops, Running Sheds, Machine Tools, etc.

The existing main workshops building at Port Augusta - a steel framed building with saw-tooth roof - was extended by 144 foot for the full width on the south end. This work was done under contract arranged and supervised by the Director-General of Works, under the control of the Allied Works Council. Two additional 60-ton overhead electrical travelling cranes were provided in each of the extensions to the Fitting and Boiler Shops.

A new building for the Plumbers' Shop, measuring 40-feet by 40-feet, was constructed, and this released space greatly needed in the Car and Building Workshops.

With the traffic which developed, it was not necessary to increase the number of running sheds on this railway. These are located at:-

Machine Tools

The extensions of the workshops at Port Augusta, and the shortage of manpower, made necessary a large increase in workshops plant, particularly machine tools. It proved possible to purchase some of Australian manufacture, but the great majority of the additional machines were obtained from the Lease-Lend Pool.

Accommodation for Staff

Accommodation for staff on the Trans-Australian Railway did not present any great difficulties. An extensive housing programme, began in February 1940, relieved the position and permitted the progressive release of single and double tenthouses for transfer to locations where they were required as a result of the war operations. This programme, carried out under Railway Capital authorities, was a summarised hereunder:-

Residences at Port Augusta12
Residences at stations along this railway106
Resthouses for train crews5
Single men's quarters (2-rooms)2
Single men's quarters (3-rooms)7

To meet war emergency conditions on this railway, thirty-two (32) timber framed, 2-roomed quarters were built, each consisting of a 20-ft. x 23-ft. building, lined with 3-ply timber and sub-divided into a 10-ft. x 12-ft. bedroom and a 10-ft. x 8-ft. kitchen, with stove. Fifteen of these were used as living quarters at Port Augusta and seventeen were distributed as resting quarters for train crews at the following locations.



At the outbreak of war, trains were worked under the Electric Train Staff Regulations, and crossings and general movements of rollingstock were arranged by Stationmasters on a party line telephone circuit with audibility restricted to about 150 miles.

To meet the increased traffic, it was arranged that the Postmaster-General's Department's staff erect an additional 200-lb. copper wire between Port Augusta and Parkeston in conjunction with the erection of an additional 300-lb. copper wire for the use of that Department.

On 10th May 1943, using the new circuit as far as it had then progressed, a modified form of Train Control was installed to operate in conjunction with the existing safeworking regulations. When through telephone communication between Port Augusta and Parkeston was completed, the Train Control system operated over the whole line. Under Train Control all traffic and rollingstock movements are directed and co-ordinated from the central office at Port Augusta with greater efficiency than was possible under the previous short communication system.

Automatically operated electric staff stations were opened at various locations, and attended electric staff equipment was installed where required for the denser traffic. The automatic attachment for these stations were constructed wholly in Commonwealth Railways workshops.

Coal and other Running Supplies

Coal consumption rose from 22,031 tons in the pre-war years 1938/39 to 59,844 tons in the years 1942/43.

Difficulties met in respect of this important fuel were described in the section devoted to circumstances common to both railways.

It was necessary to install or enlarge facilities for coaling of locomotives at the following depots:-

PimbaTwo 60-ton coal stages constructed of sleepers.
KingoonyaTwo 30-ton coal stages constructed of sleepers.
BartonFour 30-ton coal stages constructed of sleepers.
CookElectrical coal handling plant consisting of grab and 70-ton overhead bin; and provision for storage of 1,000 tons of coal, with sidings necessary.
HughesTwo 30-ton sleeper coal stages.
ReidOne 30-ton sleeper coal stages.
LoonganaThree 30-ton sleeper coal stages.
ZanthusThree 30-ton sleeper coal stages.

A statement showing the annual consumption of the various kinds of running supplies on both railways is included in the Appendices.