Western Line, Tasmania

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Western Line
Type Heavy rail
Termini Bell Bay Line
Opened 1871
Owner TasRail
Operator(s) TasRail
Track length 78 km (48 mi)
Track gauge 3 ft 6 in (1,067 mm)
Old gauge 5 ft 3 in (1,600 mm)
Route map
Bell Bay Line Up arrow
Western Junction • South Line Right arrow
South Esk River
Meander River
Meander Valley Highway
Highland Lakes Road
Meander River
Mole Creek Line Right arrow
Mersey River
Latrobe Road
Cement Australia
Cement Works Road
Tarleton Road
Sheffield Road
Stony Rise Road
Devonport Road
Bass Highway
Devonport ferry/water interchange Sinnbild LKW.svg
Don River Line Right arrow
Don River 
Bass Highway
Bass Highway
Forth River
Turners Beach Road
Maskells Road
Buttons Avenue
Buttons Creek
Alexandra Road
Water Street
Main Street
Reibey Street
Lovett Street
Leven River
Hobbs Parade
Penguin Creek
Blyth River
Bass Highway
Emu River
South Burnie
Melba Line Right arrow
Bass Highway
Burnie ferry/water interchange Sinnbild LKW.svg
Cooee Creek 
Cooee Point Road
Cam River
Falmouth Road
Old Bass Highway
Mount Hicks Road
Cam Creek
Airport Street
Goldie Street
Hales Street
Frederick Street
Belton Street
Baulds Creek
Wilkinson Street
Bass Highway
Calder Road
Stennings Road
Inglis River
Fosters Road
Inglis River
Preolenna Road
Gates Road
Flowerdale River
Fists Lane
Rothwells Road
Dares Road
Myalla Road
Myalla Station Road
Sisters Creek
Three Notch Road
Rulia Road
Detention River
Montumana Road
Montumana Road
Yanns Road
Wilsons Creek
Wilsons Creek
Yanns Road
Detention River
Mathers Road
Blackfish Creek
Crayfish Creek
Mawbanna Road
Pipeline Road
Medwins Road
Peggs Creek
Black River
Boyndey Road
Black River
Smithton Spur Right arrow
Stanley Spur Down arrow

The Western Line, previously known as the Launceston and Western Line, is a 78 km freight rail corridor that runs from Western Junction to Wiltshire in Tasmania, Australia. 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.[1]

The Railway Act[edit]

Although proposals were considered by the Tasmanian Government for the construction of a railway from Hobart to Launceston as early as 1856, it was not until 27 August 1857 that anything of a definite nature was done. At a supporters' meeting on that date, a resolution was passed recommending that a petition for the construction of a railway from Launceston to Deloraine be transmitted to the Governor. In 1858, a Parliamentary Joint Committee reported in favour of railway construction within the Colony. But, nothing was done until 1865 when the Prospectus of the Launceston and Western Railway Company was issued. The first Railway Act was passed later that year which provided for the construction of a railway between Launceston and Deloraine by private enterprise.[2][3]

The Launceston and Western Railway was a Joint Stock Company of £450,000 capital, chiefly borrowed in England, with the interest guaranteed by the Tasmanian Government. The land-holders, whom the line would benefit, entered into an obligation to recoup the State should the returns from the railway fall short of the interest money.[4]


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 Company. 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.[2]

Services begin[edit]

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 Company.

The construction contractor continued to operate the railway until November 1871, the Company then took over.[2]

Financial difficulty[edit]

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.[2][5]

A Change of Gauge[edit]

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.[6][7]

In March 1876, the Tasmanian Main Line Railway Company 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 the TMLRC 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 rollingstock 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.[2]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ The Companion to Tasmanian History
  2. ^ a b c d e Tasmania's First Railway Australian Railway Historical Society Bulletin, October 1941, pp. 41–44
  3. ^ "The Launceston and Western Railway Act (29 Vic, No 24)". austlii.edu.au. Retrieved 10 August 2014. 
    "The Launceston and Western Railway Act, No 2 (30 Vic, No 28)". austlii.edu.au. Retrieved 10 August 2014. 
    "The Launceston and Western Railway Act, No 3 (31 Vic, No 43)". austlii.edu.au. Retrieved 10 August 2014. 
  4. ^ Chamberlain, Brian R (1985), The Launceston and Western Railway Company Ltd., 1867–1904, Regal Press, ISBN 978-0-949457-02-8 
  5. ^ "The Launceston and Western Railway Act 1873 (37 Vic, No 20)". austlii.edu.au. Retrieved 10 August 2014. 
  6. ^ Scott, E.G. Hagley (A Short history of the early days of the Village and district with notes on the pioneer families). Launceston: Birchalls. pp. 26–28. ISBN 0-949457-05-1. 
  7. ^ "The Launceston And Western Railway Act 1883 (47 Vic, No 36)". austlii.edu.au. Retrieved 10 August 2014. 

Further reading[edit]

  • Stokes, H, A Century of Tasmanian Railways Hobart 1971
  • Cooper, Greg. and Goss, Grant (1996) Tasmanian Railways 125 years, 1871–1996 : A Pictorial History Devonport, Tas. : CG Publishing Co. ISBN 0-646-27633-6