WA Standard Gauge Railway, Kalgoorlie to Perth, 1970-
The original 635 km narrow gauge railway from Perth to Kalgoorlie was built in the 1890s to mainly serve the Eastern Goldfields. Since the beginning of the 20th century the standardisation of the railway gauge throughout Australia received the investigation and consideration which such an important national problem deserved. However, apart from the Trans Australian Railway, completed in 1917 as a Federation commitment, little was achieved. In 1912 the Commonwealth Government proposed a standard gauge (4 ft 8½ in or 1435 mm) railway from Fremantle to Kalgoorlie, to be completed at the same time as the Trans Australian Railway, but it did not proceed due to a lack of finance.
The catalyst for the Western Australian Standard Gauge Railway (SGR) was the conclusion of an agreement in 1960 between the Western Australian Government and BHP Co Ltd, for the establishment of an integrated iron and steel works at Kwinana, south of Fremantle, contingent on the construction of a standard gauge railway between Koolyanobbing and Kwinana before the end of 1968. The agreement envisaged the haulage of an estimated 1.1 million tons of iron ore per annum from BHP’s Koolyanobbing deposit to the proposed steelworks. Subsequently this commitment formed the basis for an agreement between the Commonwealth and State Governments to jointly fund rail gauge standardisation between Kalgoorlie and Perth (including Kwinana).
The majority of the work was carried out by contract. The railway earthworks, bridgeworks and mainline track works were split into various packages eg. Kwinana to Midland, Midland to Northam, Northam to Merredin etc. Separate contracts were let for marshalling yards, freight terminals, buildings, loco depot. The total cost of the project, executed between 1962 and 1972, comprising 65 major and over 30 minor contacts, was of the order of $ 160 million.
The construction of the SGR set in motion a considerable stream of economic and social benefits in Western Australia. It finally completed the standard gauge connection with South Australia, removing the need for interstate passengers to change trains at Kalgoorlie and put an end to the costly transfer of goods at the Parkeston freight terminal near Kalgoorlie. Journey times between Kalgoorlie and Perth were reduced to half of those taken on the narrow gauge track.
From a historical perspective the construction of the SGR brought Western Australia into the modern era of railway construction and operation.
- EHNL: Engineering Heritage National Landmark (from 2009)