Part two of a five-part series
Railways were still new to the world when, in January 1846, proposals to build them in NSW were first considered at a public meeting in Sydney. Information was gathered on building to Windsor, Bathurst and Goulburn.
It was reported that a line to Goulburn could be built for 750,000 pounds with an 8 percent return on investment. A preliminary survey of routes was voluntarily undertaken in 1846 by Lieutenant Thomas Woore of the Royal Navy, who had settled near Goulburn in 1836.
He considered three routes: easterly along the coastal range and up to Bong Bong; a middle line following Surveyor-General Mitchell's southern road through Bargo; and a western route along the ridge between the Bargo and Nattai Rivers to reach Chalker's Flat (now Mittagong) and on through the Wingecarribee district.
As the coastal route was impractical and the middle line required bridges beyond the means of the colony, the western route was his preferred option. This caused much controversy and Mitchell described it as a 'rummaging' survey.
However Woore was requested to undertake a more detailed survey, even though funds were not available, with a promise of later payment (that never eventuated).
In January 1848 Woore presented a report and drawings and his western route was adopted. The Southern & Goulburn Railway Company was formed to commence the line from Picton.
The NSW Legislative Council appointed a select committee in March 1848 to consider the overall practicability of railways and thus began a long series of battles - engineers versus politicians - over how to build the lines, what rail gauges to use and how to conqueror topography.
Woore maintained that the greatest difficulty to Goulburn would be ascending to the highlands, over 2000 feet in just 32 miles: 'no such ascent has ever been attained.' Ironbark timber would, he said, best answer for rails and almost any other timber would serve as substructure.
Advice was sought of an experienced railwayman, Francis Shields, who had worked on English railways and then emigrated to become head of Sydney's survey department. He advocated the use of iron rather than timber for rails and proposed that the first railway built should be a main trunk line from the city that would branch west to Parramatta and south to Liverpool and beyond.
The Sydney Railway Company (SRC) was formed in October 1849 with Shields the Chief Engineer. Construction began in July 1850 at Cleveland Paddocks but soon encountered financial, engineering and labour difficulties.
Progress became more rapid in 1854 when SRC imported experienced workmen (navvies) from the UK and the first iron rails were laid. The following year four locomotives arrived, built in the UK by R Stevenson & Co.
That same year the Government purchased SRC for 500,000 pounds and the first section of 13 miles to Parramatta opened - at a cost of 640,000 pounds.
The Government had taken over, but did not know how to operate a railway. Fortuitously in 1856 it appointed John Whitton from the UK as Engineer-in-Chief; he would serve for 33 years and be called 'the Father of the Railways'.
UNDER Whitton's astute guidance the south line reached Campbelltown in May 1858 and within a few years the various lines around Sydney became profitable. In 1863, for instance, 627,000 passengers and 287,000 tons of goods were conveyed.
Before it could be extended to Picton, the line had to cross the Nepean River so the Menangle railway bridge was built in 1863. Designed by Whitton, it had multiple spans supported by sandstone piers and, with extra piers added in 1905, is still in use.
The Southern & Goulburn Railway Company made a start on the line from Picton but soon ran into difficulties and, as with SRC, was acquired by the Government. Even so, after the opening to Mittagong there were still trucks in use that had "S&GR" on their sides.
It may seem odd that Picton was selected as a major point on the southern line, with steep hills making a south passage difficult and not being on a direct line from Campbelltown. However Picton's founder, Major Antill, had lobbied for it and contracts were let for a wide viaduct and tunnel enabling the railway to exit.
The single line from Campbelltown to Picton opened in July 1863 and a village grew around the busy railway terminus where the steam engines could replenish coal supplies and take on water.
Contractors had already commenced work on sections southward to Mittagong, so the long-hoped for Great Southern Railway was on its way to the Wingecarribee.
To be continued
This article compiled by PHILIP MORTON is sourced from the archives of Berrima District Historical & Family History Society, Bowral Rd, Mittagong. Phone 4872 2169.
Email: firstname.lastname@example.org. Web: berrimadistricthistoricalsociety.org.au