Australia Day will be held this week: a time for Aussies to, once again, reflect on the country’s achievements.
However, one important milestone in the field of transportation recently slipped by unnoticed in our home city of Newcastle, New South Wales.
It’s now 185 years since the railway came to Australia – not far from where we’re now standing.
On December 10, 1831, the Australian Agricultural Company officially opened the continent’s first rail line on high ground overlooking the fledgling British settlement that is now the bustling eastern sea port of Newcastle.
A gravitational railway
Australia’s first railway was established specifically to carry coal Newcastle’s A Pit to ships awaiting loading in the Hunter River. Cast iron rails carried wagons on what is technically known as an ‘inclined plane gravitational railway’.
Today, this would probably be called a ‘cable railway’, where a trip downhill is powered by a wagon coming back uphill on an adjoining track.
On a gravitational railway, the weight of the loaded descending cars is used to lift the ascending empties. A well known Australian example is the scenic railway – shown in the main photo on this page – at Katoomba, west of Sydney. This railway was also initially used to haul coal.
Another example is the Monongahela Incline, at Mount Washington, Pennsylvania, in the US (shown above)
After the railway arrived in Australia at what is now Brown and Church Streets, Newcastle, it was another 23 years before the first steam-driven railway appeared between Melbourne and Port Melbourne.
From then, the railway systems of the various colonies developed rapidly.
Meanwhile, the humble beginnings of rail at Newcastle also played a key role in the development of the nation’s coal industry and Newcastle as Australia’s biggest coal port.
A load sent from Newcastle to India was Australia’s first export shipment – and in December 2016, for example, coal shipments from the port of Newcastle hit a record 15.9 million tonnes.
Credits: Main photo courtesy Flickr, Wikimedia and Charlie Brewer; Mt Washington photo courtesy Wikimedia and pennsyloco