Tasmanian Main Line Company
|Tasmanian Main Line Railway Company|
Map showing TMLR route
|Dates of operation||1872–1890|
|Successor||Tasmanian Government Railways|
|Track gauge||3 ft 6 in (1,067 mm)|
The Tasmanian Main Line Company was a privately owned railway company that existed in Tasmania from 1872 to 1890. The company were the first operators of rail services between Hobart and Launceston, where it connected with the Launceston and Western Railway.
The idea of a railway linking Hobart with Launceston went back at least as far as 1856 when the Surveyor-General was asked to make a preliminary survey. In 1868, a Royal Commission was set up to enquire into the cost of constructing a railway from the capital to Launceston. In respect of gauge, the Commission concluded that "the requisite conditions of comfort, speed, construction and cost have been found to combine most perfectly in the 4 feet 8½ inches gauge".
Once the report of the Royal Commission was printed in the Hobart newspaper, The Mercury, no time was lost before money was voted by Parliament for a proper survey to be made. Through the winter of 1869, the Railway and Progressive Association called public meetings and lobbied politicians. During August, The Mercury almost daily called for Government action.
On 11 September 1869, the Government announced that it proposed to ignore certain of the recommendations of the Royal Commission and parts of the Survey Engineers’ Report. The Government was ready to subsidise any company to the extent of £300,000. The Attorney-General introduced a Bill into Parliament to give effect to this proposition. After some hesitations, the Bill passed all stages. It was now a question of negotiating with some company or firm of railway promoters. The necessary capital and professional skill was to be found in England. It was emphasised that the gauge was to be 5 feet 3 inches (1,600 millimetres) and that the railway was to be completed by the last day of 1874.
In May 1870, the Government was advised that there was an English firm prepared to form a company which could operate with a capital of £1,000,000. What it required was a stronger guarantee from the Government and suggested 6% on £850,000 for 30 years.
A considerable amount of offers and counter-offers ensued, with the final outcome being an acceptance between the promoters of the Tasmanian Main Line Railway Company and the Government to construct a railway of 3 feet 6 inches gauge (1067mm) from Hobart to Evandale (now Western Junction). British born engineer John C Climie was appointed engineer, having previously been engaged to assess the site of the Table Cape lighthouse, as well as the Emu Bay Railway in 1878, and designed several bridges in Victoria.
The railway was intended to run right into Launceston, but the Launceston and Western Railway had already built a broad gauge line along that route. It was agreed that a third rail would be laid within the broad gauge tracks. The Government guaranteed a return of 5% on £650,000 for 30 years.
There was an inauspicious start. Excessive rains during August and September 1872, held up surveying. Then it was found that the route originally proposed was "impracticable". Construction work began at the beginning of 1873 with 1,500 men employed, many coming from England. Construction proceeded until the link was made with the broad gauge Launceston and Western Railway at Evandale in March 1876.
Connecting broad gauge trains operated into Launceston until the third rail was completed on 1 November 1876, enabling the Main Line Company's trains to run through. This arrangement was not without its difficulties as the Government, who now owned the Launceston and Western railway line, wanted to charge tolls and other rates for the use of its facilities. To clear the impasse, the Main Line Company built its own sheds at Launceston and laid the extra rail at its expense. The question of tolls remained unresolved for years, as did interpretations of the Act in regard to the obligations for other payments.
Finally, on 1 October 1890, the Tasmanian Government bought the Tasmanian Main Line Company. Thus a long story of misunderstandings and mistrust was brought to an end. Neither side was blameless. The whole railway question had become entwined with the domestic strife of the Colony.