The North East Dundas Tram

An Engineering Account

contributed by Greg Stephenson


The editorial to Light Railways 123 commented on first hand reminiscences of those associated with light railways operations. Whilst undertaking research into timber bridge construction in Australia this contributor was lucky enough to uncover a first hand paper by William Hales included in the Institution of Civil Engineers-Minutes of Proceedings, Volume 140, 1899-1900 Session. Hales was the Resident Engineer for the North-East Dundas Tramway and was later involved with the construction of the Zeehan to Comstock Tramway in 1901 and 1902. (1)

Hales was a Member of the Institution of Civil Engineers (M.Inst. C.E.) which was the British Institution founded in 1818 with the famous canal and roads engineer, Thomas Telford, becoming the first President in 1820. One of the Institution's rules-although never enforced-was that each member should submit a paper on some practical engineering development once a year. (2) Hales wrote up his project for the journal

Colonial Government Departments were the main employers of engineers and most of the senior engineering positions were held by Members of the Institution of Civil Engineers. The high regard for and influence of the British Institution in Australia remained until after World War 1 with the establishment of the Institution of Engineers, Australia in 1919. (3) This influence of British engineers extended to all parts of the Commonwealth, hence we find reports on engineering works from around the world presented in the Proceedings of the British Institution.

The construction of the N.E. Dundas Tramway was of interest to other colonies who were grappling with the problem of providing rail access to mountainous areas. The Parliamentary Standing Committee on Railways of the Victorian Legislative Assembly and Victorian Railways Officers visited the construction works during May 1896 (4) and this visit had some influence on developing a policy of 2 ft 6 in gauge railways for mountainous areas in Victoria.

The North Eeast Dundas Tramway, Tasmania

by William Prior Hales, Inst. C.E.

The Western District of Tasmania possesses numerous mineral deposits, principally copper pyrites, often carrying silver and gold, and galena carrying silver. To develop the district in the neighbourhood of Mounts Zeehan and Dundas the Tasmanian Government constructed a railway of 3 ft. 6 in gauge, 29 miles in length, from the port of Strahan on Macquarie Harbour to the town of Zeehan. This line was opened in 1892 and cost £8,058 per mile, including rolling stock and wharf at Strahan.

In 1895 it was decided to extend railway communication from Zeehan in a north-easterly direction to the Ring River valley at the foot of Mount Read, to tap the numerous mineral deposits known to exist, and, in a few cases, partly opened out. The existing means of communication were pack tracks, 4 feet wide, and the cost of packing goods and minerals was about one penny per pound.

The country to be traversed was very rugged, and it was considered that the Tasmanian standard gauge, 3 ft 6 in, with a minimum radius of five chains on curves, would cost over £10,000 per mile . It was decided for numerous reasons to construct a tramway of 2 foot gauge with curves of not less than 99 feet radius.

Survey-The survey was begun in November 1895. Zeehan, the starting point, is 533 feet above sea-level. Between this and the Ring River valley there is a long spur, running in a north-westerly direction from Mount Dundas, with only one practicable saddle, 1,520 feet above sea-level. The preliminary survey on the Zeehan side was complicated by another long spur from Mount Dundas with several saddles, 1,000 feet to 1,300 feet above sea level. From the summit, known as the Confidence saddle, an accurate preliminary traverse and levels were run each way simultaneously, adhering as closely as possible to the gradients determined on. The maximum gradient against outward loads was fixed at 1 in 25, and against inward mineral loads at 1 in 30 (Fig 2). The traverse was plotted by latitude and departure to a scale of 1 inch to 1 chain, reduced levels being figured on, and the angles of cross slopes indicated about every 2 chains. The permanent line was then laid down on the plan, contour lines 5 feet or 10 feet above and below gradient being in many places first laid down as a guide to safe and economical location. The cross slopes being in many places 30° and even 45° would not hold a bank, and in most cases the line was located in the solid. In a few instances small retaining walls of drystone were adopted.

To 5-1/4 miles the line traverses easy country, attains a height of 734 feet above sea-level and has thirteen curves with a minimum radius of 5 chains. From 5-1/4 miles to the terminus at Deep Lead, 17 miles 70 chains, the line is almost a continuous succession of reverse and compound curves, the average number being thirty per mile. A length of at least 40 links, or 26.4 feet, was left in all cases between reverse curves. Except in difficult cases the tangent points and intersections were fixed by careful measurements on the plan, and the curves were ranged by offsets from the tangent lines. Four miles of the line are on curves of 1-1/2 chain radius, and nearly 2 miles are on curves of 2 chains radius. The survey cost £103 per mile.

Clearing and Timber-From 3 miles to the terminus the country is densely timbered. Only three of the species were durable enough for construction, viz peppermint for all purposes, celery top pine for piles and log culverts, and leatherwood also for log culverts. The timbers used in bridges, box culverts and sleepers, were stringy bark, blue gum, and a little peppermint, almost entirely from the extensive forests of the Huon River district in Southern Tasmania. The heart timber of the Eucalypti for about 3 inches or 4 inches from the centre, warps and decays rapidly when sawn, and is therefore rejected. For this reason, and for facility of renewal, beams of any size are used in pairs, as shown in Fig 4. The sap is generally 1 inch to 2 inches thick, and the timber nearest the sap is considered the best.

The line was cleared in the first instance to a width of 30 feet, and the clearing is being gradually widened by timber-getters at no cost to the line, which makes a profit on the freight.

Earthworks-The formation width of cuttings and embankments is 10 feet, and the batters of cuttings were made as steep as possible, frequently 1/4 to 1. The material was mostly slate, clay slate, trap rock and sandstone. Most of this work was done by day labour, and, to ensure economy, each ganger's work was measured, and the cost of labour and explosives was charged against it.

Piecework (A) men were found in all tools, plant and material, except shovels and explosives. In spite of the numerous curves to avoid heavy works, the earthworks totalled 247,769 cubic yards or an average of about 14,000 cubic yards per mile. The average cost was one shilling eleven pence per cubic yard. Although there is a heavy rainfall, very little side ditching was required owing to the solidity of the rock and the absorbent nature of the overlying surface soil. Light wagon roads were used on the larger cuttings; the rails were 14 lbs per yard, on sleepers of split timber, and iron tip-trucks of 3/4 cubic yard capacity were employed. The rails and trucks had to be hauled along pack tracks and then carried by men to cuttings. On curves, a cant was put on the formation.

Culverts-The larger culverts are built of logs, 15 inches to 18 inches in diameter, roughly squared where bedded on one another. Their life is at least thirty years. They vary in size between 2 feet by 1 foot and 6 feet by 3 feet (double) clear opening. Smaller ones between 12 inches by 9 inches and 2 feet by 2 feet are of sawn timber. Wherever possible, in gullies having a steep fall, the culverts are built as near to formation level as possible and a contoured inlet is cut. In one case a gully 30 feet deep is thus dealt with, and a box culvert, 12 feet long with a 12 inch by 9 inch opening, takes the water. In another case a flume 60 feet in length, conducts the water from what was originally a waterfall 30 feet high to a box culvert 2 feet by 2 feet at formation level. The small spaces left on the upper side of the bank are amply provided for by drains filled with brushwood.

Bridges-Nine bridges and one overbridge were built. The spans adopted were 11 feet, 13 feet, 15 feet, 25 feet understrutted, and 30 feet understrutted. They are all of timber the piles, except those of Montezuma bridge, being of round timber, 18 inches in diameter. In one case piles were shod and driven. In all others the piles are tenoned to sills bedded in the rock or are footed and bedded in Portland cement concrete. The superstructures are of sawn timber and have two pairs of beams for facility of renewal, 14 inches by 7 inches for 11 foot spans, and 15 inches by 7 inches for all other spans. The general character of the bridges is shown in the drawing of No . 6 bridge, Fig 3, which is 60 yards from the foot of the Montezuma falls, 340 feet high. The bridge being on a curve of 2 chains radius precluded the adoption of longer spans than 25 feet.

Permanent Way-The rails are of steel, Vignoles (B) section 24 feet in length and. excepting about 1 mile of 40 lbs section, weigh 46 lbs per yard. The fishplates are of bar section, 14 inches in length, with four bolt holes, weighing 8-1/2 lbs per pair; the fishbolts are 3/4 inch in diameter. The dog-spikes are 4 inches by 9/16 inch square, manufactured in the colony. All rails, fishplates and bolts are secondhand and were taken from the main line from Hobart to Launceston, 3 feet 6 inches gauge, which is being relaid with a heavier rail. The rails were bent to the curves as accurately as possible by a hand press. As the press could not curve the extreme ends this was done by a jim-crow after the rails were fished. The joint sleepers are 2 feet centres, and the joints are 'suspended' and square. To 5-1/4 miles the curves are canted for a speed of 20 miles per hour, and beyond that point for a speed of 12 miles per hour. The switches are 7 feet long, angle 1 in 21 and are planed to fit the stock rails in the usual way; crossings angle 1 in 6 and are 46 lb steel rails, having a turnout curve of 135 feet radius. The sleepers are of stringy bark and bluegum, 5 feet by 8 inches by 4 inches, 1,980 per mile, machine adzed and bored; the inclination of rail seat is 1 in 26. They cost 9-1/2d each delivered at Strahan. Ballast was composed of a kind of breccia also about 4 miles were ballasted with tailings from a galena dressing mill. The depth under the sleepers is 4 inches and the total depth 8 inches, the average width being 6 ft 9 inches. The estimated quantity was 800 cubic yards per mile; the actual quantity as measured in trucks was nearly 1,000 cubic yards per mile.

Rolling Stock-The first engine acquired was by Krauss of Munich, with four coupled wheels 2 feet in diameter, and cylinders 6-1/4 inches in diameter by 11 inches stroke, weighing in steam 6-1/2 tons. She proved extremely useful and hauled all material including ballast, for the first 11 miles of construction (6). The type of engine adopted for permanent working (Fig 5) was built by Messrs Sharp, Stewart & Co of Glasgow and has the following general dimensions etc:

The engine is fitted with vacuum brake gear and hauls four loaded eight-wheel trucks, weighing a little over 50 tons, against the maximum resistance of a 1 in 27 gradient, combined with curves of 1-1/2 chains radius. Two of these engines are now in use (D).

The other rolling stock was built in the Launceston Railway workshops, and comprised twenty five eight-wheel low-side trucks (Fig 6), tare 3 tons 1 cwt. 1 qr., load 10 tons; six eight-wheel flat trucks, tare 2 tons 18 cwt. 1 qr., load 10 tons; two four-wheel bolster trucks, for carrying long timber, tare 1 ton 19 cwt., load 5 tons (Fig 7); and four passenger cars, each with six cross-seats with reversible backs, to carry eighteen passengers, also a locker for mails and parcels. All trucks and cars have cast-steel wheels 21 inches in diameter and are fitted with automatic vacuum brakes. The trucks have side levers and the cars have hand-screw brakes. The vacuum brake can be worked from the engine or from the passenger cars, which act as brake vans. When this brake was introduced, one effect was to accelerate the journey speed by about 10 minutes owing to more even running on down gradients.

Stations and Equipment-Besides the terminii at Zeehan and Deep Lead, there are five stations, and provision is made for seven more stations when required. The buildings are of the simplest and most inexpensive kind with no platforms, a 20 foot turntable at each terminus, and at Zeehan a 20 ton weighbridge. At Zeehan the arrangements for transfer of ore, timber, etc. to and from the 3 foot 6 inch gauge railway consist simply of a railway siding and a tramway siding laid as close together as possible, the tramway rails being 8 inches higher so that the truck floors on both gauges are at the same level. For general merchandise a 2 foot gauge siding was laid along the cart entrance side of the goods shed; its floor is therefore between the two gauges. The tramway is connected with the Zeehan street tramway which runs through the town and ramifies to seven galena mines. These mines draw large supplies of firewood and mining timber from the forest through which the North-East Dundas Tramway runs. This street tramway has similar arrangements for the transfer of traffic which have answered satisfactorily for some years. It transfers to the Strahan Railway about 20,000 tons per annum of galena (silver lead ore), in 1 cwt bags, at a cost of about 1-1/2d per ton.

Working-The traffic is worked by the staff and ticket system, and the staff stations are connected by telephone. The maximum journey speed is limited to 12 miles per hour on the first 5-1/4 miles and to 8 miles per hour on the remainder. The North-East Dundas Tramway is at present returning a profit above working expenses of 3.3 per cent on the capital expenditure.

A summary of the cost of the line is shown in the following table:

The work was carried out by the railway department, without the intervention of a contractor, under the direction of Mr F. Back, Assoc. M. Inst. C.E., general manager, and Mr J. M. McCormick M. Inst. C.E., Engineer of Existing Lines, the Author being resident engineer. As soon as the plans for the first 2 miles or 3 miles were completed, construction was begun at the Zeehan end, on the 17th January, 1896. The maximum rate for ordinary labour was fixed at 7s per day, and was afterwards raised to 8s per day, about 3 months before the completion of the line in February, 1898.

As far as possible the work was let by the piece to butty gangs, but the greater part was performed by day labour.

Notes to Accompany Article:

(A) 'The piecework system, whereby a workman was paid a standard rate per unit on all his output, was a marked success from about 1880 to 1920, but floundered through the introduction of ill-conceived rates, inefficient organisation and general managerial intolerance. (5)

(B.) Charles Blacker Vignoles is credited with the design of the flat bottomed rail which is now the accepted standard. Vignoles was a contemporary and rival of George and Robert Stephenson. Vignoles actively supported the Novelty which competed against the Stephensons Rocket in the Rainhall trials. He went on to become a distinguished railway engineer and President of the Institution of Civil Engineers. (6)

(C) H1-2180/1889 was purchased in 1896 and would be this locomotive. Three other Krauss 0-4-0WT's were acquired-2589/1892 in 1898 and 2459/1891 and 4080/1899 both in 1899.(6)

(D) G1-4198/1896 and G2-4432/1898. G1 exploded at Zeehan on 15 May 1899 and was replaced by 4619/1900.(6)


1. RAE, L., A History of Railways and Tramways on Tasmania's West Coast, Second Edition, Published by the Author, August 1984 (p. 149).

2. ROLT, L.T.C., Thomas Telford, Penguin Books Ltd. England, 1979.

3. CARROL, B., The Engineers: 200 Years At Work For Australia The Institution of Engineers, Australia, 1988.

4. DOWNS, E.A., Speed Limit 20, A.R.H.S. (Vic torian Division), Melbourne 1963.

5. ANTILL, J.M. & RYAN, P.W.S., Civil Engineer ing Construction, 4th Edition, Angus & Robertson (Publishers) Pty Ltd. Sydney, 1974 (p. 644)

6. As per (1), (p. 203/204).

7. ROLT, L.T.C., George & Robert Stephenson: The Railway Revolution Penguin Books Ltd. England, 1978.