It is a pity the public are not able to see the evidence on which our legislators are altering the railway gauge of the colony. The Council have amended the Port Wakefield
Railway Bill by providing for a gauge of 3 feet 6 inches instead of 3 feet 6 inches, and the Assembly will no doubt be pressed to make a similar alteration in the Roseworthy Bill. The Government have apparently been induced to support the first of these changes on the ground that the Port Wakefield line will not for at least many years be connected with the general railway system of the country. Its construction would therefore supply a fair opportunity of testing the assertions of those who declare that so great a difference is there between broad and narrow lines that a seven feet railway would cost four times as much for construction and working as a three feet six line. This is such an extraordinary difference that the Government and the public might well pause in their railway extension if convinced that the assertions were correct. But at present the bulk of the evidence taken by the Committee is not published. The annual deadlock which prevails at the Government Printing Office is now at its worst, we suppose ; so it is not likely that the information which is wanted will be accessible until the measures which it relates to have been passed. As yet the only glimpse of this narrow-gauge evidence is that which has been given by Mr. Strangways, in his speech on the Roseworthy Bill. He quoted largely from Mr. Hargrave — one of the Surveyors of the Central Road Board— a gentleman who has been in the colony many years, and who cannot have had much practical experience in railway construction. Indeed, his evidence, as quoted by Mr. Strangways, is not given as the result of his own observations, but is taken from some statements of Mr. Robert Millett, a civil engineer inEngland. Of this gentleman's views the following evidence is recorded in the course of Mr. Hargrave's examination. "He says that the cost of a railway increases with the cube of the gauge. So that we will suppose that a railway with a 3 feet 6 inch gauge costs £3,000 a mile, one with a 5 feet 3 inch gauge would cost about three times that. That is putting it roughly ; but it is near about the thing. — And also the cost of working ? And the cost of working in the same ratio.— That is to say that a 7 feet railway would cost four times as much for construction and working as a 3 feet 6 line ? Well ; I would have to go into calculations, as it increases with the cube of the gauge. Mr. Robert Millett, the engineer to whom I
refer, is a fellow of the Royal Society, and has been connected with the Civil Engineers for nearly thirty years. According to what he states, supposing the cost of a 5 feet 3 or a 5¼ gauge railway stand at 1, the cost of a 3 feet 6 gauge would be as 0.3. If, therefore, a 5 feet 3 railway costs £12,000 per mile, a 3 feet 6 will cost only £3,600 per mile." According to this evidence the result of the amendment yesterday made by the Council in the Port Wakefield Railway Bill will be that the line to Hoyle's Plains instead of costing £80,000 will cost only one third, or about £26,000. It would have been well therefore, if the members had proceeded a little further in their alteration of this Money Bill, and had reduced the amount to be borrowed; for it is clear, upon Mr. Har- grave's theory, that only one-third of the £80,000 will be wanted. To be consistent, then, the supporters of this theory must not think of borrowing for a line of three feet six inches the same amount of money as they would borrow for a line of five feet three inches. They say that one-third of the cost is sufficient, and they should be required to give practical proof of this. But is there really any reliance to be placed upon Mr. Millett's theory! Mr. Hargrave himself admits that other engineers do not believe in it. And then, again, does not that theory apply rather to the construction of railways through very difficult country instead of through a level country like this, where the cuttings are unimportant and the bridges few and far between ? We can understand that every inch or two of width is of consequence when the line has to be made through rocks and across broad rivers. But in our own case the chief work consists in laying down iron rails through a country generally unobstructed and almost level. It is absurd, therefore, to talk of the difference in outlay being so great that, whilst a line of five feet three inches would cost £6,000 per mile, another of three feet six inches would cost only £2,000 per mile. It requires something more to prove this than the second-hand evidence quoted by Mr. Strangways. Ever-day facts can be adduced to show that the theory is wrong. There is the evidence, for instance, of the Superintendent of the Goolwa Tramway, taken several years ago. We subjoin a portion :— "Is the difference in the cost of constructing
a four feet six inches and a five feet three inches gauge a great deal?" "It is very trifling." ? . . . . "Would it be a matter of economy worthy of consideration to have a tramway of four feet six inches gauge, instead of five feet three inches?" "I don't think it would. I think five feet three inches is a medium between the broad and narrow gauge, and would be better for horses than the narrow gauge." "Then you could not work with lighter trucks on the narrow gauge ?" "Yes ; but we should lose again in the loading — you would have two trucks instead of one to carry the same quantity of goods. For coal or stone a small wagon would do, and consequently a narrower gauge ; but we want a certain space to put ten tons of wool in. On a narrower gauge you would not be able to do it so conveniently." These statements are certainly quite as reliable as the exaggerated evidence quoted by Mr. Strangways. At the same time it may be possible for the Committee to show that several advantages would be gained by the adoption of a narrower gauge than 5 feet 3 inches. But in none of the facts which have yet been made public is it shown that those advantages would counterbalance the inconvenience of having two gauges on one line. Mr. Hargrave himself admits that ; for he says: — "I should be inclined to recommend that the present railways be left as they are. And indeed any extension of the Northern Railway this side of Mount Remarkable should be of the same gauge as at present; but any railway from Port Augusta northwards, and any other railways in other parts which would not have direct communication with the main trunk line, I would have them of a narrower gauge, if it was a question of feeders or no feeders — on account of the cost I mean." Thus, with all the assertions as to
excessive cheapness, a gauge of five feet three is preferred even by this witness for railways to be connected with the present lines. It must, therefore, be very strong evidence in favour of a narrow gauge which should induce the Assembly to alter the Roseworthy Bill. As regards Port Wakefield, the Council may have considered this to be a good case for experiment. The line at present is isolated, and probably the members thought it would be a good opportunity for testing the "cube theory" as propounded by Mr. Millett and recommended by Mr. Hargrave. Remarkable instances of successful railways
on a narrow gauge are no doubt plentiful enough, but they do not settle the question as to whether we should be right in altering the width of our main lines. There is a locomotive railway, for instance, in Wales, with a gauge of only two feet — a railway constructed on very economical principles, and not intended originally for steam power. It is thirteen miles long, and its cost was £24,185. In 1863 two locomotive engines were placed on this line, "and having been found to be successful, two others were subsequently supplied. These four engines had run 57,000 miles up to February, 1865, without leaving the rails. During the last autumn the Company carried passengers without taking fares; but at the commencement of the past year the line was regularly opened for passenger traffic. In ascending from Port Madoc, the passenger carriages were drawn by the engines with other vehicles, the passenger carriages being placed between the empty slate trucks, which were always last in the trains, and the goods wagons, which were next behind the tender. In descending, the loaded slate trucks, with empty goods trucks attached behind them, ran first in a train by them selves, the engine followed, tender first, and the passenger vehicles brought up the rear, with a brake in front, but detached from the engine and tender, and at a little distance behind them. The speed was limited to about six miles an hour in passing round the sharpest curve, and to ten miles an hour on other parts of the line." All this shows beyond doubt that locomotives may be worked at a moderate speed on lines of even the narrowest gauge, and that the permanent way of such lines may be made at a very small cost. But this does not prove that it would be worth while for the Government of this colony to alter the gauge of the Northern Railway. We have seen that even the strongest advocates of the narrow gauge do not recommend this, though they believe that new lines in remote districts should undoubtedly be made lighter and cheaper than those nearer to Adelaide.