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British Industrial History

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Launceston and Western Railway

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The original Line was built in 1871 as a private 5 ft 3 in (1,600 mm) broad gauge railway that opened between Deloraine and Launceston to ship agricultural products to port for Victorian markets.

The Launceston and Western Railway was formed on 9 May 1867 and the first sod of the line was turned on 15 January 1868 by the Duke of Edinburgh who was on a visit to the Colonies.

A Contract for the construction work was let in July 1868. Construction work progressed during the following 18 months, but delays were experienced with the construction of the bridge over the South Esk River.

In 1869, the contractors brought from Victoria two tank locomotives for construction work.

The date for completion as set out in the Contract was 10 March 1870, but an extension was given and construction continued to a point where the Opening Date could be set for the following September. Extensive rains resulted in further delays and it was not until 10 February 1871 that the line was opened for traffic by the Governor.

In 1868, two locomotives were ordered from Robert Stephenson and Co. These arrived in December 1869, together with goods and passenger vehicles. A repeat order for an additional two locomotives was placed in November 1869 and these were placed in service in November 1870.

When the line was opened, a service of three double-headed trains each way per day was operated, but this proved unsatisfactory and later on one locomotive per run was used.

Up until 1880, three classes of passenger accommodation were provided but third class was withdrawn after that year.

By December 1872, it was agreed that a fifth locomotive was required and an order was placed with Sharp, Stewart and Co.

The construction contractor continued to operate the railway until November 1871, the Company then took over.

During the construction period, the Company had experienced some difficulty in raising the necessary finance to meet the cost of construction. It applied to the Government for assistance. The Government appointed two Railway Commissioners to generally supervise all railway construction and advance the Company the finance to complete the building of the line.

Traffic showed an increase after the Company took over the working of the line, however difficulties were experienced in continuing operations. Negotiations were commenced with a view of the Government taking over the line. These negotiations were concluded and the Government took over the line from 31 October 1873.

The line was initially built in 5 ft 3 in (1,600 mm) Broad or Irish gauge. Very shortly after the Government takeover in 1873 a decision was made to convert the line to a narrower gauge.

In March 1876, the Tasmanian Main Line Railway had completed the construction of a 3 ft 6 in (1,067 mm) gauge line from Hobart to Evandale and entered into negotiation with the Government for the construction of a third rail over the broad gauge tracks of the Launceston and Western Railway between Evandale Junction and Launceston. Approval was given and they began operating over a dual gauge line into Launceston on 1 November 1876.

During the early 1880s, the Tasmanian Government decided upon construction of further narrow gauge lines and commenced with a 3 ft 6 in (1,067 mm) line from Deloraine to Devonport which opened on 1 September 1885.

In 1887, the broad gauge rolling-stock of the Launceston and Western Railway consisted of 14 passenger carriages, 4 horse boxes and 84 goods vehicles. A proposal to take up the outer rail was examined and it was decided that greater economy of operation would be achieved. The last broad gauge train ran on 20 August 1888.

The rolling stock was converted to the narrow gauge. The four Stephenson locomotives were sold and the Sharp Stewart was converted to narrow gauge, emerging with a 4-2-2 wheel arrangement, the only 'Single' to run on the narrow gauge railways of Australia


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