HIGINBOTHAM VERSUS PARLIAMENT
Thomas Higinbotham had secured authorisation to build the North Eastern line to his liking but he was given no rest. In December 1869, just over a month after parliamentary approval, news reached the colony of the ‘Little Wonder’, the first successful Double Fairlie locomotive. The news ignited the hope of all railway-starved communities that at last ultra-cheap narrow gauge railways could be workable. Mr F. L. Smyth, Member for North Gippsland, heralded the arrival from England of Mr. Daniel Climie, CE, and lobbyist for the narrow gauge Fairlie system. Before the close of the 1869 session of Parliament, two members had tried to re-open the debate on light lines, one suggesting that a start on the North Eastern line be deferred pending Mr. Climie’s advice. But Christmas came, Parliament went into recess and the Minister was done for the present with head on confrontations with the Engineer-in-Chief.
The Lure Of Narrow Gauge
At the time of the Gauge Commission, in 1845, there were no narrow gauge railways using locomotives in the British Empire. The Festiniog railway in Wales, built to the 1’11½” gauge in 1836, was worked by horses until 1863, when it became the first British narrow gauge line to use steam locomotives. The 2’3” gauge Corris and Tal-y-llyn lines followed suit in 1864 and 1866. These were short lines, but in 1861 the Norwegians had opened the first 3’6” gauge railway in the world. Worked by steam locomotives, the 24 miles long Hamar to Grundset line was the initial section of an extensive mainline network. 
Not only the gauge, but the weight of rail, the permissible speed, the minimum radius of curves, and the size of locomotives and rolling stock were all reduced. The lower speeds and narrower gauge were intended to facilitate the use of very sharp curves, which in turn would enable the line to follow the contours of the land without expensive embankments, bridges, cuttings and tunnels. The first extensive use of narrow gauge outside Norway was in Queensland, where the Ipswich to Toowoomba line was opened between 1865 and 1867 to the same 3’6” gauge. 
Thomas Higinbotham was one of the first engineers in the world to witness the operation of a 3’6” gauge trunk line, as he was called to Queensland to adjudicate in a dispute between the contractor and the railway Department in 1866. While diplomatic in his language, he was clearly unimpressed with narrow gauge and as good as said that Queensland had been ill-advised in adopting it.  Despite predictions that their small locomotives and low speed would be suitable for their very light track, the rail wear was alarming, especially on the sharp five chain radius curves. Within one year relaying of the 40 lb/yard iron rails of the Little Liverpool Range section had commenced. Relaying the whole of the Little Liverpool and Main Range sections in 60 lb/yard steel rails commenced only twelve years after the line opened. Queensland therefore got the worst of both worlds; rapid rail wear together with very low speed with engines weighing only 16 to 19½ tons that could manage only 75 ton trains on the 1 in 50 gradients of the Main Range; just 42 per cent of the load the VR.’s heaviest locomotives could haul up the same gradients.  In doing so the Queensland engines consumed more fuel per ton hauled than the Victorian engines. 
The Legislative Council in Brisbane had been advised against ‘employing an elephant to do a horse’s work’ , but Queenslanders soon realised that all they had was a pony railway, which they ‘must not ask to do the work of a powerful horse.’ 
They were quick to grasp at a solution proposed by their London agent, who advocated the use of a newly patented double engine. This was the invention of Robert Fairlie, an Englishman who had built and patented a design in 1864 that he hoped would solve the problem of making a light line locomotive of sufficient power for steep gradients. It was in effect two boilers back to back, sharing a common firebox, and mounted on powered bogies. It needed only one driver and fireman, could negotiate very sharp curves, and spread its weight over eight wheels, four on each bogie. The Double Fairlie therefore promised to be the ideal locomotive for light lines in hilly country.
The first Double Fairlie was a standard gauge machine, built in 1865 for the Neath and Brecon Railway in Wales , but in 1867 three twelve wheeled 3’6” gauge versions were sent to Queensland to work the new railway over the Main Range to Toowoomba. One was assembled but it proved too heavy, spreading the rails, running short of steam on a light test train and ultimately derailing itself. The other two remained unassembled and all were returned to England.  It was a great disappointment and report of its failed trial in January 1868 by the Queensland Railways Engineer-in-Chief  only further convinced Thomas Higinbotham of the fallacy of narrow gauge. When appearing before the MacPherson government’s Select Committee of May 1869, Higinbotham claimed to have seen a Double Fairlie in Queensland and received reports from their Locomotive Superintendent on the trials. He dismissed it, saying it ‘would not take anything at all up the line; she could scarcely get up herself.’ 
Joseph Brady, a Civil Engineer who had seen the Fairlie locomotives in Queensland further elaborated their problems, saying ‘they would not travel twenty miles without a fresh supply of water,’ and that ‘you cannot see anything on the road before you because the coal bunkers obscured the view’. 
On conventional English and American designs, the cylinders were mounted on the same frame as the boiler. The steam pipe between boiler and cylinders was therefore rigid, and leaks were minimised. On the Double Fairlie, the cylinders were mounted on the bogie frames, which could swivel independently of the boiler. This necessitated the use of a flexible steam pipe, and given the technology of the period, was an inherent maintenance problem.
For good measure, the Engineer-in-Chief gave the press the reports on Fairlie locomotives obtained by George Verdon from prominent English engineers. When Brereton and Lewis investigated there was only one Fairlie locomotive in use, the standard gauge prototype that was ‘occasionally employed for shunting on the Neath and Brecon Railway in South Wales.’ They elaborated its failure and the sobering information quietened the Committee, particularly after they heard from Henry Mais, the Engineer-in-Chief of the South Australian Railways. ‘I was going to send home for one of these engines’ he told them, ‘but I shall pause now before I do so.’ Asked if he regarded Brereton and Lewis’ report as sufficient to set aside his plans, Mais replied ‘No, I was astonished by it. I am sure that an engine on that principle will yet be made to do the work.’ These words were quite prophetic, for even as he spoke, the ‘Little Wonder’ was proving the worth of Fairlie’s revised design on the narrow gauge Festiniog Railway in Wales. It was a sensation in the technical press, but the news was not to reach Victoria until after the North Eastern line was approved, and the Select Committee was unwilling to recommend an unproven system. A later witness was told to ‘set that aside altogether, for it is not beyond the verge of experiment yet…we must banish (Fairlie) from our minds altogether…’ 
MacPherson was later to observe
‘at that time there was a feeling that an economical mode of construction might also bring with it a less stable description of railway…we did not feel justified in going to any great extent against the opinion of the Engineer-in-Chief.’
Financial Crisis And Retrenchments
The Constitutional crisis which began during the construction of the Echuca extension in 1864 turned into a bitter and protracted fight between the democratically elected Legislative Assembly, and the Legislative Council, which was elected by just 12,000 wealthy men who were able to meet the property franchise.  The two chambers were at loggerheads until late 1868, the Council using its ability to block Supply to frustrate what its conservative majority considered radical legislation passed by the Assembly. Leading the democratic forces was the Attorney General, George Higinbotham. The brother of Thomas, he devised a rather dodgy means of governing without Supply, by which the Treasury made borrowings from the London Chartered Bank of Australia, of which the Premier, James McCulloch was a director. The bank then immediately sued for repayment, and as the Attorney General had agreed to make no defence, the Bank was repaid from Consolidated Revenue! This worked for most of 1865 until it was declared illegal.  Thereafter an increasingly desperate Treasury had no option but to slash government payments,  so the Public Service was squeezed like apples in a cider press. Employees had their wages cut and sometimes went unpaid for weeks, and retrenchments bit in all Departments. Although providing essential services, the Railway Department was far from immune.
All thought of building more railways and other capital works was laid aside for over four years, and money for smaller projects was also restricted. Some equipment purchased for the Williamstown Workshops lay idle waiting installation. By December 1866 wholesale retrenchments were being planned and men’s wages were being reduced.  In November the following year a six-week lockout at the Williamstown Workshops left 250 men in straightened circumstances, which flowed on to the local shop-keepers.  The distress continued into 1868, with reorganisations and retrenchments later that year producing saving in salaries and wages of an estimated £5,000 in the Traffic Branch and £6,000 in the Engineer-in-Chief’s Branch. The entire staff of the Secretary and Accountant were swept away. 
Longmore Circumvents His Engineer-In-Chief
The episode of the North Eastern line seems to have made Thomas Higinbotham some powerful enemies, not the least of them his own Minister, Francis Longmore. Described by the colonial historian as ‘an ultra-radical fighter of the vehement sort’ , he had emigrated as a boy of about thirteen years old with his mother and brothers in 1839, having been evicted from their farm in county Monaghan, Ireland. His father had died when he was a toddler, and their harsh treatment at the hands of the landlord embittered young Francis. He became a vociferous opponent of squatters and capitalists, and a passionate advocate for the small selector. In 1856 he took up farming at Learmonth, north-west of Ballarat, and eight years later won the Western District seat of Ripon and Hampden. Entering parliament at the beginning of the first constitutional crisis he gladly joined the fight to reform the Upper House, to extend the voting franchise. But dearest to his heart was the struggle to wrest the good farming country from the control of squatters and put it in the hands of selector farmers. Extending railways to serve these new farms was a vital part of the radical Lands policy, but to maximise the spread of the railway network the new lines would have to be cheaply made. Higinbotham’s conservative engineering policy stood in his way, so Longmore did two things to undermine the authority of the Engineer-in-Chief’s position in the months following passage of the Railway Construction Act. Firstly, he commissioned William Elsdon, Engineer of the M&HBUR Company, to visit Britain, Europe, Russia and the United States and prepare a report on economical methods of railway construction. Elsdon was commissioned on 29 November 1869.
Having arranged alternative professional advice, Longmore sought to remove some of Higinbotham’s responsibilities by appointing a General Overseer of Locomotives and Workshops to report directly to himself on mechanical engineering matters. Hitherto, Thomas Higinbotham was responsible for all engineering, civil and mechanical.
Longmore’s motivation for this move was provided by alleged misconduct in the Locomotive Branch. A Parliamentary Board of Enquiry had been established by the previous Ministry, and sat from May to September 1869 , to investigate the charges.  The Board’s report castigated the Locomotive Superintendent, Frederick C. Christy, and the foreman, Houghton. They also obliquely criticised the Engineer-in-Chief for not keeping himself fully informed of events at the Williamstown Workshops. Following the report, Longmore made his own inquiry to determine what ought to be done.
‘I asked the assistance of the Engineer-in-Chief’
he later told the Assembly,
‘to enable me to deal with the matter in the fairest way. Not only did the Engineer-in-Chief give me certain recommendations which I was not prepared to act upon, but he afterwards turned upon me and said that he would give me no information, no assistance whatever in carrying out my views in regard to the Workshops. Not only did the Engineer-in-Chief denounce me in no measured terms for the course I had adopted, but he stated that nothing except injury would come to the Workshops from any change I made. He set himself up as a violent partisan of the Gentleman who had charge of the Workshops, and determined to thwart me by every possible means.’
Thomas Higinbotham was clearly worried about the threat to his own authority as engineering supremo, but he was also moved by a sense of outrage on behalf of Christy and Houghton. The Board of Inquiry had refused to allow either to call witnesses in their own defence, or to be present during the examination of the men making the charges, some of whom had been ‘workmen smarting from dismissal’ and others ‘employees spurred by discontent’.
Christy and Houghton had been hobbled by the financial strictures during the constitutional crisis. The workmen suffered, but the lockout and retrenchments were no fault of the management, who seemed to have indulged in a number of ‘make work’ projects to keep men employed, including the designing and building of a ‘velocipede’ to save travelling time for the District Engineers, and a Pigeon House for Christy’s birds. They were severely criticised for these projects, as they were for leaving a prototype meat van and four unwanted prison vans idle instead of converting them for goods traffic. In the big picture these things did not amount to much, and Christy’s conversion of the big-wheeled 2-2-2 ‘Single’ No.12 to a more useful low-wheeled 2-4-0 is evidence of his competence. Charges of favouring drunken workers were unproven, as most likely being sour grapes from some retrenched employees.  In his defence Christy was able to show that the locomotives and rolling stock had been maintained at rates which compared favourably with English railways. This in spite of wages being higher in Victoria, the men working an eight hour day against the ten of their English comrades, and the high cost of imported materials.
Nevertheless, it became apparent that all was not right with their management. The workshops had begun with the very first locomotives and rolling stock landed at Williamstown. From small scale beginnings when the history of every engine, carriage and wagon was known by Christy and Houghton, the ‘Shops had expanded to service a stud of 77 locomotives, 133 carriages and 1,320 wagons and vans.  The old methods had degenerated into an ‘inextricable muddle’, the bookkeeping incapable of accurately costing any job of work, and poor stock control making it impossible to value any item or identify any deficiencies.  Neither did Christy help his own cause by his contradictory evidence and misrepresentations given to the Committee.
Higinbotham’s support of his subordinates was turned against him. The conservative Argus, no friend of his radical brother, turned on Christy and Houghton and urged the new Minister for Railways to take action. The Minister was the radical Francis Longmore! So the Engineer-in-Chief was without support from conservatives or radicals, the Argus highlighting his admission that he was ‘no mechanical engineer’ and incapable of ensuring the Workshops were properly managed. They called for a complete reorganisation of the railway department. Longmore obliged, and resolved to dismiss the two men, and make way for new management of the locomotive branch. But Frederick Christy was highly regarded by his men, who showed their feelings about his treatment by giving a farewell dinner, at which they presented him with a handsomely illuminated address.
The sad affair also provided the spark that ignited the spirit of unionism: the Engine Drivers and Firemen’s Association was unofficially formed shortly afterwards. For his part, the Engineer-in-Chief came to the defence of his officers in two reports to Parliament in November 1869, refuting the charges against them in detail. But Longmore was determined, and on Saturday 19th March 1870 he advised that his plans for a separate Locomotive Branch were to be implemented, and rubbed salt into Higinbotham’s wounds by ordering him to provide a duty statement for the new position of General Overseer, and a form of advertisement! 
The advertisement was published the following Monday, with closing date for applications only five days later. Hardly time for anyone from adjoining colonies to apply, let alone potential candidates from overseas, but the advertisement was only placed in Victorian newspapers.  William Meikle was one of four short-listed candidates for the job. There were two engineers from Ballarat, one being William Errington, who had been involved with the infant locomotive industry in that city.  And there was John Woods, temporarily without a seat in Parliament but as ever pursuing influence in railway affairs. It is likely Longmore already had a man lined up for the position, and the appointment was announced on 31st March 1870. Eight days later Longmore himself was out of office, thwarted by the collapse of the McPherson Ministry.
It is almost certain Longmore had met Meikle sometime earlier during moves to establish a colonial locomotive industry. A deputation of Melbourne iron workers was received by Longmore and Higinbotham on 10th February urging the purchase or rent of Williams’ Yarra Bank Foundry, which had constructed rolling stock to the value of nearly £250,000 for the private and government railways, and it was claimed could be made suitable for locomotive manufacture with the expenditure of £1,000 of new equipment. Higinbotham told them the previous government had been considering local manufacture, but first it would be necessary to obtain patterns from Great Britain and proceed slowly. But Longmore was keen to encourage local manufacture in every way. 
A month later a meeting of engineers was held to drum up support for the purchase of the Williams’ foundry, and it was claimed Longmore had promised an initial order of six locomotives, and given good results, up to 40 more.  Then on 2nd April 1870 a prospectus was advertised for the formation of the ‘Yarra Bank Engineering and Foundry Company Ltd’.
 But it was a bit premature, as when Longmore inquired of the two principle iron foundries in Melbourne they had to admit that they were not equipped to make locomotives, and the potential orders would be insufficient to justify the purchase of new machinery. He therefore placed orders for fourteen more of the large passenger and goods engines from England.  Soon afterwards he was back on the Opposition benches. 
William Meikle Starts Work
A brilliant Aurora Australis lit the southern skies over Melbourne  the week the newly appointed General Overseer of Locomotives and Workshops took over at Williamstown. The geomagnetic storm heralded a tempestuous seven years for William Meikle. He had designed an 0-6-0 goods engine in Britain but would make seven new designs while in Victoria. Born in Scotland, he was 50 years old and had about thirty years’ railway experience in the ‘three kingdoms of Great Britain’, bringing testimonials from the North Eastern Railway and a number of other lines.  From 1850 to 1864 he was on the Whitehaven and Furness Junction Railway, where he became Locomotive Superintendent. He then took the same position with the Dublin, Wicklow and Wexford Railway until 1868.  He and his wife Jane emigrated as cabin passengers on Brunel’s ship, the SS ‘Great Britain’ in early 1869. The voyage to Melbourne took 64 days,  during which he witnessed a man throw himself overboard, and helplessly watched as he drifted out of sight.  He was to see some of his engineering principles go overboard in the years to come!
Higinbotham was fiercely opposed to Meikle’s appointment, and let his feelings show in the Williamstown Workshops in no uncertain terms! With Longmore sidelined he was able to seek redress for his lieutenants through Mr T.M. Fellows, Member for St Kilda, who moved on 1st June that a Board be appointed to review the facts connected with the removal or reduction of Messrs Christy and Houghton. After a long debate the Board was set up, but not without the spirited resistance of Longmore, who said it was ‘a deliberate insult of the grossest character…to appoint a Board to review the proceedings of a former Board; a Board which took evidence on oath, a thing which the new Board could not do’.  In the event, Longmore refused to give evidence to the new Board, which was therefore unable to proceed. The matter was handed back to the government, who decided to compensate the two officers.
Higinbotham succeeded in having Christy appointed Inspector of Iron Bridges, at a salary of £500 per annum, but the new government made no move against William Meikle or the three new foremen appointed by Longmore only four days before his own dismissal. Partisan politics was penetrating the Railway Department, with newspapers only too willing to selectively publish information provided without management approval in support of their political leanings. The great political issues were pitting squatters against farmers, and free traders against protectionists, as the exhaustion of easily found alluvial gold was causing large numbers of diggers to seek alternative work on the land or in manufacturing. But huge areas of land were held by wealthy squatters and British factories could supply most colonial needs cheaper than local manufacturers. Government ownership of the colony’s largest industrial undertaking and means of transport meant these opposing forces were determined to gain control of railway policy to advance their own interests.
David Syme, editor of The Age, was an advocate for land reform, protection and workers’ rights. With Longmore being on the opposition benches in parliament, Syme was advocating his radical policies, and published a long and very detailed article extolling the changes made by William Meikle at the Williamstown Workshops. It contained many oblique criticisms of Frederick Christy’s management. These were rejected in a letter published four days later from ‘Engineer’ (probably Christy). That Christy and Houghton were badly treated is clear, but reform was needed and Meikle’s obvious competence and fresh ideas were welcome.
With the approval of William Wilson, the new Minister for Railways, he set about designing new passenger and goods locomotives for the North Eastern line and installing a previously purchased steam hammer at Williamstown Workshops. Wilson tried to stop Longmore’s order for 14 locomotives, but the contract had already been placed and cancellation would have incurred a penalty. Plans to build half a dozen engines at the Yarra Bank Works were therefore shelved, but he nevertheless authorised Meikle to have Williamstown build a prototype of his 2-4-0 passenger design. There was only enough boiler plate on hand for this one engine, but orders were placed for more. This decision was no doubt a response to developments in NSW, where the railway workshops and the private firm of Mort & Co. in Sydney were each completing their first locomotives, initially for display at the 1870 Sydney Intercolonial Exhibition, which marked the centenary of Captain Cook’s landing at Botany Bay. Wilson also had Meikle go ahead with the rebuilding of the Beyer Peacock Singles as more useful 2-4-0’s, and the following September the experimental fitting of Le Châtelier’s counter pressure brake equipment on the big 0-6-0 goods engine No.53.  One of Meikle’s first initiatives was to have Williamstown build a prototype coal hopper wagon. It was made of iron rather than wood, which was the usual material used for rolling stock. He was also quick to encourage the formation of a School of Design at Williamstown, to improve the education of artisans. It was beginning to look like the VR was to become the colony’s locomotive and rolling stock builder, a prospect that was not universally welcomed, especially in Ballarat.
Building The North-Eastern Mainline Commences
The first step in building the new trunk line to the North East was to reopen the M&ER line from North Melbourne to Essendon. It was built as a single line, and ran for less than four years before the financial collapse forced closure on 1st July 1864. Carrying racegoers to and from the Flemington racecourse had been the only profitable part of the M&ER Company’s business, and the absence of a rail connection was keenly felt by racegoers dressed to the nines but forced to struggle along Flemington Road in a dusty throng of every kind of horse drawn conveyance on Cup Day.
When the line closed its Directors owed their bankers £54,507. If the government had not been embroiled in the constitutional crisis a move to purchase the company may have been made earlier, but with money tight and Higinbotham advising expensive repairs, it was over three years before the government finally assumed ownership on 27th August 1867, paying a mere £22,500. Higinbotham promptly got repairs underway on the single line, but only as far as Newmarket and Flemington. It was reopened on 31st October, just in time for the 1867 Melbourne Cup. But as always, the Engineer-in-Chief was determined to do the job properly, and the new work included provision for duplication of the line as far as Newmarket, the junction for the Flemington racecourse branch and sidings into the livestock sale yards. For a few years the race traffic was carried on the single line, but it was clearly inadequate for the task. The second track was laid up to Newmarket and opened on 5th November 1870, again just in time for that year’s Melbourne Cup, which was attended by the Duke of Edinburgh and a record crowd. Special race trains carried between 13,000 and 14,000 punters in two hours, in addition to 4,000 passengers on ordinary trains. It was by far the busiest day of the year for the railways, with trains following one another every few minutes, but separated only by time interval. The single line branch restricted the number of trains that could be scheduled, and their safeworking must have been a headache for railwaymen.
‘Every carriage, high or low, was almost enveloped in the clouds it raised, which hung upon its movements with almost suffocating pertinacity, and coated the features and dresses of the occupants in a manner the reverse of pleasant.’ 
The following year a petition was presented to parliament with 15,000 signatures requesting the Minister to complete the duplication to the racecourse. Francis Longmore was a Presbyterian teetotaller but his reluctance was overcome by the presence of a petition thirty four feet long and a succession of members urging him to reconsider. By Ministerial decree the work was authorised and with the Cup only two months away, duplication of the 1½ mile branch was expedited. All was ready for the great day, with race specials even being provided from Sandhurst and Ballarat. The 9th November 1871 saw the railways carry a record 19,700 passengers to the Melbourne Cup, most of them in the few hours before the race. This was to be Higinbotham’s last track duplication, and given the intensity of passenger traffic on race days and the rudimentary safeworking and braking systems then prevailing, the money was well spent. But just prior to Longmore’s authorisation of a double line on the racecourse branch an economy minded parliamentary Select Committee had recommended the Geelong – Ballarat and Footscray – Sandhurst lines be converted to single track. They were impressed by William Elsdon’s calculations that lifting one of the lines could save £177,194 9s over eight years. (Elsdon must have been confident to estimate down to the shilling!) Nevertheless the Engineer-in-Chief ensured that the North-Eastern mainline would be economically duplicated when the time came a decade later, as he knew it would. All the station yards except Tallarook were laid out so that when duplicated, the crossing loop at stations (No.2 road) would form part of the new up line, and all that was necessary was to remove the points at each end. 
Once the North-Eastern line was approved, tenders were quickly called but a contract for the first section was not signed until 3rd June 1870. Work commenced at Essendon the next day,  and restoration of the single line north of Newmarket was soon completed. After a hiatus of six and a half years suburban trains began running again from Spencer Street to Essendon on 9th January 1871.
The Tussle Over Steel Rails
Thomas Higinbotham made a play of his own right under Longmore’s nose by securing steel rails for the North Eastern line instead of the cheaper iron rails originally proposed. No steel rails had yet been laid in Victoria, for though steel represented a technological jump over iron, its cost was higher. Steel had the advantage of increased strength for weight and longer life, and Higinbotham achieved this coup without having to carry the responsibility for the increased expenditure that ensued.
Wrought iron was used exclusively for all rails in the Australasian colonies until the early 1870’s. Iron rails were made from a bundle or ‘pile’ of separate rods that were heated to welding heat in a furnace, then hammered or rolled into a solid lump or bloom. This was then reheated and rolled into the finished rail, which possessed fibres and a grain like wood. Wrought iron rails were poorly adapted to the high compressive strains of heavy locomotives, and even worse adapted for resisting violent rubbing, which destroyed them fibre by fibre. Such rubbing is endemic to railway vehicles, where wheels of equal diameter are fixed to one axle. In tracking round curves the path travelled by the outer wheel is longer than that of the inner wheel, resulting in constant circumferential slipping. A more serious cause of destructive rubbing is the fixing of axles in a vehicle or bogie parallel to one another. Unable to set themselves radially to the curve, each wheel has to be dragged or slid sideways on the rail as it rolls forwards.  Wrought iron rails suffered so badly from compression and rubbing that they tended to split into pieces long before they had been worn down. This occurred dramatically during the trial of a heavy Double Fairlie locomotive in Queensland. Henry Plews, The Queensland Railways Engineer-in-Chief reported:-
‘…we proceeded up the Little Liverpool Range. On the sharp reverse curves, the grind of the leading wheels upon the outer rail was very great, and large flakes of iron were torn from the rails and tires.’ 
The problem was not serious in the early days of railways, when locomotives were light, and speeds were low, but as heavier, more powerful locomotives were introduced, the life expectancy of iron rails fell alarmingly. A partial solution was to increase the weight of the rail, because the stiffness, or resistance to compression, of a rail varies as the square of its weight per yard. That is, a 20 per cent increase in weight increases the rail stiffness by 44 per cent. But cost varied directly with weight.
Steel rails came into widespread use with the expiration of Bessemer’s Patent. They were rolled from a homogeneous ingot and so avoided the problem of grain endemic in wrought iron rails. They were also 20 to 30 per cent stronger, and far more uniform in quality. The first steel rails were laid as an experiment by the Midland Railway Company at Derby, in England, during 1857. They were first tried in the U.S.A. by the Pennsylvania Railroad Company in 1863. Early applications of steel rails were confined to sections of track that were subject to very heavy traffic, in order to exploit the increased durability of steel and justify the added expense. However, it was found that steel rails could be made about 10 per cent lighter than their iron equivalents of the same strength. Being harder, they lasted much longer; no one knew how long until 1873, when the first experimental rails laid at Derby were replaced, after sixteen years in the heaviest traffic conditions. Rail lives of over twenty years were now realistic for normal traffic, even with flat bottom rails, which became the most favoured type. Higinbotham’s order for 66 lb. flat bottomed steel rails for the north-eastern line cost 17 per cent more than their 72 lb. double-headed iron equivalent, but it was twenty four years before they needed replacement.
Before the McPherson Ministry lost office in April 1870 he had raised the matter of steel rails with Longmore, who later said that ‘the Engineer-in-Chief represented that there was no time to discuss the question in the colony without delaying the completion of the works’.  Longmore accepted his advice that the question be referred, through the Agent General in London, to ‘such English engineers as Mr Verdon may determine to consult’. The brief sent to Verdon on 29th December 1869 included a summary by Thomas Higinbotham of the Select Committee’s recommendation of a £6,000 per mile limit on the North Eastern line, together with the contrary advice he had given for a more substantial line, on the basis that it was destined to become the main inter-colonial trunk railway. He even made reference to Brereton, no doubt confident that the Agent General would refer the question to his firm. And so it was. Verdon contacted Brereton and Lewis, the Victorian Railways consultant engineers in Britain, who formed a Board with two other engineers. They read between the lines in Higinbotham’s summary perfectly. In their reply, dated 25th March 1870, they noted there was
‘no doubt that the 72 lb double headed rail recommended by the Engineer-in-Chief (who speaks with the advantage of local experience) might be adopted with perfect safety, although it is the lightest section in iron of which we would approve. A flat bottom steel rail of good section, weighing from 65 lb to 72 lb per yard would be stronger than a 72 lb double headed iron rail, while it would be much more durable…’ 
Longmore was long gone when the report arrived, and Wilson, the new Minister from 8th April 1870, ordered the steel rails on Brereton and Lewis’ recommendations.
Longmore later recalled that the Board, ‘apparently without discussion, came to the conclusion that Victoria was a wealthy country, and could well afford to make a trial of steel rails’. 
(This is at odds with Brereton and Lewis’ report which mentions ‘repeated discussions’). The matter passed unnoticed, due to its technical nature, until the freshly re-elected W.A. Zeal smelt it out through a question in the House on 3rd May 1871.  Zeal saw that in this affair, ‘someone connected with the Railway Department was greatly to blame…something like £90,000 had been wasted in the purchase of rail’. He blamed Thomas Higinbotham.  But the Engineer-in-Chief’s determination to provide a high standard railway that within a decade would form the major inter-colonial mainline was far from wasteful. Linking Melbourne and Sydney, it would soon be carrying the Who’s Who of Victorian and New South Wales business, commerce and society. The first sod for the new railway was turned at a ceremony at Essendon on 20th June 1870,  and orders were sent home for fourteen more heavy locomotives to Archibald Sturrock’s designs. These were the passenger 2-4-0, later classified B class, and the goods 0-6-0 which became the O class; they had proven their speed and pulling power on the Sandhurst and Ballarat lines.
Later that year, the government began considering the next step in railway construction, and Thomas Higinbotham was asked to provide estimates of the cost for a line to Hamilton. The estimates submitted in October 1870 were for a line from Ballarat to Ararat and Hamilton, to the same standard as the North Eastern line, at a cost of £7,031 per mile. This he favoured as the cheapest form of construction ‘in the long run’.  It is unlikely that Thomas Higinbotham had forgotten his evidence to the Select Committee on Railway Extension just over a year before. Then he had said that because of the lighter traffic on other lines, ‘I would not apply the same principle…the line to the Western District, for instance, a line there would cost very much less…’ He had earlier recommended 60 lb/yard rails for a line to Colac (an alternative route to Hamilton), and intimated that he had prepared an estimate based on 40 lb/yard rails.
But light rails drastically restricted the weight of locomotives and the speed of trains. The South Australian Railways adopted 40 lb/yard iron rails for their line from Gawler to the mining and wheat growing centre of Kapunda, in 1860.  Whereas the South Australians could get away with such light rail due to the absence of significant curvature on the lines north of Adelaide and the dryer climate which helped them maintain the track in good condition, the Queensland Railways’ choice of 40 lb/yard iron rails for the Ipswich to Toowoomba line was a mistake. This line was opened between 1865 and 1867 through sub-tropical rainforest, the damp soil conditions making track maintenance a challenge. The line abounded in very sharp curves, which although worked by very light locomotives, the circumferential and lateral slipping of their wheels quickly destroyed what little metal there was in the head of the 40 lb/yard rail. Higinbotham must have observed this during his Queensland visit in 1866. Similar problems with light weight iron rails were experienced in other countries, and convinced most railway engineers that their use was false economy. 
Perhaps his victory over the North Eastern line, the coup over the steel rails, the restoration of Christy and the relative peace he had been enjoying for the past six months had restored the Engineer-in-Chief’s confidence to abandon compromise and propose a substantial line for Hamilton. But Wilson, returning for a second brief term as Commissioner of Railways, while not antagonistic, was not about to give in so easily, and informed him that the government policy was to limit the cost to £6,000 per mile, and asked for a re-estimate. 
The Push For Narrow Gauge
During Francis Longmore’s time on the opposition benches, from April 1870 to June 1871, the seeds sown by Daniel Climie began to take root. Climie had arrived in December 1869 as the Australasian agent for Robert Fairlie’s company.  The first evidence of his activity was an application to the government in May 1870 to convert the disused Yan Yean tramway into a light narrow gauge railway on the Fairlie principle. The Upper Yarra Railway League were quick to suggest that a four mile branch from the proposed Yan Yean line at Northcote could satisfy the needs of Heidelberg, and produce valuable extra traffic.  Climie went further, suggesting that £100,000 could be saved by altering the gauge of the North Eastern line, and that operation of that railway on Fairlie principles would reduce annual operating costs by 20 per cent. The Argus remained sceptical, largely on the basis of the poor record of the pioneer narrow gauge line in Queensland. Nevertheless, Climie’s talk had roused the interest of politicians, and Mr. Kerferd opened a correspondence with Robert Fairlie himself. On 28th February 1871, nine days before the first rails were laid on the North Eastern line, the Commissioner wrote to the Agent General in London seeking further advice on the relative merits of broad and narrow gauge railways. Confronted with Climie’s propaganda on one hand, and the professional intransigence of the Engineer-in-Chief on the other, William Wilson asked the Agent General to obtain ‘trustworthy information on this subject, especially from Norway, Russia, Canada, India and Great Britain’; a list of countries that is remarkable in its exclusion of the United States of America. (There was still a coolness between the British Empire and the United States of America over the Victorians’ breach of neutrality in refitting the Confederate cruiser CSS Shenandoah during its visit to Melbourne in February 1865. Thomas’ brother George Higinbotham was Attorney General at the time, and advised a refit would not breach neutrality. Most colonial opinion favoured the Confederacy, but after the war the United States claim for damages inflicted by the Shenandoah on Union shipping in the Pacific dragged on until 1872 when a tribunal at Geneva awarded $15,500,000 against the United Kingdom.)
Verdon received the letter on 26th March, and proceeded to arrange a snowstorm of reports, the first flakes of which fell in the colony the following May. That Wilson was toying with the idea of introducing narrow gauge in the next railway construction Bill is evidenced by his request of Thomas Higinbotham, in April 1871, to provide alternative broad and narrow gauge estimates for the proposed trunk line extension to Hamilton. Higinbotham’s re-estimated costs for the Ballarat-Ararat-Hamilton route was £5,577 for a 5’3” line, or £5,072, for a 3’6” gauge line; only £540 per mile less.
The general election of February-March 1871 returned two former members and practising engineers who had scant regard for the opinions of the Engineer-in-Chief; William Zeal and John Woods. Both were easy converts to Fairlie’s ideas and they combined with Kerferd and others on 11th May 1871 to force the creation of a Select Committee ‘to inquire into the Fairlie and other alleged systems of economical railways…together with the question of gauge’.  Wilson did not oppose the motion, but he suggested that a number of members be added to the Committee ‘who had not expressed any decided views on the question of the gauge issue’.  It is likely that the government’s interest in narrow gauge had been tempered by the influence of the Engineer-in-Chief, but also of William Elsdon, who had returned from his overseas tour of inspection quite opposed to narrow gauge, but much in favour of light railways on the American system, including their bogie locomotives and carriages. Elsdon’s report was submitted two weeks before the establishment of the Select Committee.
The Select Committee On Railways, 1871
When asked about American locomotives by the previous Select Committee in 1869, Higinbotham misled them claiming they were built upon Fairlie’s principle.  Apart from spreading their weight over a larger number of wheels, American locomotives bore no resemblance to the Double Fairlie; a fact the Engineer-in-Chief must have known from the technical press. When it came to American bogie carriages, he admitted to having no experience of them, but, he said, ‘I have spoken to many persons who do know them and their opinion is most unfavourable.’ Asked on what grounds, he replied, ‘their discomfort’, thereby playing into the hands of Mr. Macartney, who had personal experience and was advocating them to his fellow Committee members. One of the members was critical of the Engineer-in-Chief’s performance to the point of casting aspersions on his professional reputation, accusing him of an inability to accept new ideas. More likely, Higinbotham was acting on the principle of keeping politicians ignorant, and emphasising his own credentials. But by 1871 these tactics were exposed, and he was forced to provide creditable reasons for his opinions. The fifteen man Select Committee included Francis Longmore, Woods and Zeal , who warned that ‘he knew the Engineer-in-Chief was very much adverse to what were called light railways, and a great deal of dust had been thrown in the eyes of Honourable members and the public, in endeavouring to make them believe that light railways would not pay, because they were not sufficiently substantial.’
Overnight, Thomas Higinbotham’s gains over the past few years were in jeopardy; for though the North Eastern line was under construction, it was included in the brief of the Select Committee, which might well have recommended its conversion to narrow gauge.
Elsdon’s report to the Select Committee was in favour of American railroad technology. Prior to his advice politicians and amateur engineers in the colony had been unaware of American railroad technology and were easy prey for the apparent logic of lowering costs by reducing all the proportions of a standard gauge railway, including gauge. By early1871 Queensland had opened 219 miles of narrow gauge railway. But Elsdon, after seeing the railways of North America on his tour of inspection in 1870, noted that
‘…whilst the Americans have solved the problem of economical railway construction for sparsely populated districts…without involving break of gauge, or the additional rolling stock which this involves, the Indian and Russian governments are endeavouring to obtain the same end by a different course, viz, the reduction of gauge.’
A year or so earlier, the combined professional opinions of Higinbotham and Elsdon, the engineering heads of the colony’s government and private railways, would have settled the matter. By 1871, however, narrow gauge railways were in operation all over the world, accompanied by an effective propaganda campaign. If Elsdon was not going to come up with the information the politicians wanted to hear, engineers had to be found who would. One was H.E. Victor, Special Engineer for Construction on the Great Indian Peninsula Railway, who arrived in Victoria about this time, and claimed railways could be built in the colony for £3,000 per mile. Also in the colony was Lieutenant Colonel Sankey, who had experience of narrow gauge lines in India. Daniel Climie was available, and on another front was active in the promotion of the ‘Great Gippsland Railway’, a private 3’6” gauge light railway to be financed on the land grant principle and to use Fairlie 1ocomotives.
When Higinbotham was interviewed by the Select Committee, his tactic was not to oppose narrow gauge outright-there was enough professional opinion in its favour to make such a course inexpedient. Rather, he conceded that narrow gauge may be warranted on lengthy branch lines through difficult country. (No lines were proposed through difficult country, so this was a safe enough point to concede.) He opposed building trunk lines on any other gauge than 5’3” because it would create the evil of break-of-gauge, a point he played for all it was worth, even to opposing Elsdon’s quite sensible recommendation to alter the North Eastern line to 4’8½” gauge, in common with N.S.W. The Engineer-in-Chief said he favoured 4’8½” gauge, but that ‘the country is committed to a gauge which I would not propose to alter. I do not say that is the gauge I would have recommended…’ His stance is understandable, as the railhead in N.S.W. at the time was at Goulburn, hundreds of miles from the Victorian border. But he had admitted the North East line was destined to become the link between Melbourne and Sydney, and moving the inevitable break of gauge from Albury to Melbourne would have avoided ninety years of middle-of-the-night grumbling by disgruntled passengers, not to mention incalculable economic costs.
As to costs of construction, he said he was planning the Western line as a 5’3” gauge line with 42 lb/yard steel rails, at a cost of £6,066 per mile. When pressed to reduce this, he said it could be brought down to £5,000 per mile by eliminating contingencies and cutting the amounts for stations and rolling stock from £1,000 to £500 per mile respectively. It is interesting to note that a month earlier, he had estimated the same line at £5,577, or nearly £500 per mile less than the figure he gave the Committee;  but then, to reduce the amounts on stations and rolling stock would have taken him to £4,500 per mile, and the Engineer-in-Chief was not about to give more than he must.
It was a less dogmatic Engineer-in-Chief than members remembered from two years before. The Argus noted that
‘…it is gratifying to find that this officer is not so bad as he was. Mr Higinbotham displayed exceedingly favourable mental symptoms when he admitted to the Committee, under pressure, that for £5,000 a mile, a new line could be made on the present gauge from which he will not move…Another instance of his engineering conservatism is, that he looks askance at bogie engines. He has a strong objection to this, because it has come to be associated with the name of an enterprising engineer named Fairlie’. 
The Select Committee limited its investigations to only seven witnesses. Four constituted the railway establishment in Victoria: VR Engineer-in-Chief Thomas Higinbotham, M&HBR Chief Engineer William Elsdon, VR Senior Resident Engineer, Robert Watson, and VR General Overseer of Locomotives and Workshops, William Meikle. The opinions of these men were basically in agreement; they all opposed narrow gauge and Fairlie locomotives. Meikle said of Double Fairlies that the flexible steam pipe inherent in the design would cause serious maintenance problems – ‘very likely they will be one day out and two days in’ [the workshops]. Watson favoured cheaper methods of construction, and volunteered to the Select Committee an economic justification of iron over steel rails. Admitting iron would wear out more quickly, he presented what amounted to a discounted cash flow to prove that iron would be the better investment. He ignored the propensity of iron rails to fail under heavy wheel loads long before they wore out, but the neatness of Watson’s arithmetic so impressed the Committee that they quoted it verbatim in their summing up. He went further when speaking of bridges, for though he would ‘rather construct substantial works’, he thought timber bridges would pay best.  Earlier, Watson had told of how he had mentioned his ideas in passing to the Engineer-in-Chief, but that his calculations were private, not official. At a time when Thomas Higinbotham was arguing that substantial works were cheapest in the long run, Watson was cutting the ground from under his chief. Given the heat of this issue politically, it would be naive to suggest that Watson would not be aware of this.
Lieutenant Colonel Sankey, and Victor, both engineers with Indian Railways, and Mr Daniel Climie, Fairlie’s agent for Victoria and New Zealand, supported narrow gauge. Sankey had been retained by the Victorian government to report on water projects, and was asked for his views on narrow gauge by the Committee. He stated that India owed the cheapening of its railway construction to the adoption of narrow gauge, which he supported, but aside from mentioning he had something to do with the authorisation of narrow gauge lines in Mysore for £4,500 per mile, he gave no evidence of detailed familiarity with narrow gauge. Indeed, he later qualified his support for narrow gauge in discussions with Higinbotham, shortly before he sailed home. This news angered the narrow gauge lobby.
The main independent supporter of narrow gauge was Victor, whose opinion, as a man of considerable railway building experience in India with both gauges, could not lightly be discounted. Furthermore, his opinions were far more radical than Sankey’s, for he held that narrow gauge lines could be made for £3,000 per mile. When questioned as to why his estimates put a much greater differential between narrow and broad gauges than that made by the Engineer-in-Chief, Victor said ‘perhaps if Mr Higinbotham came to construct one, which perhaps he has not, he might find the difference was generated nearer to my figure than his own’.  However, Victor’s estimates were for ultra-light lines, with iron rails of less than 40 lb /yard, and locally available ballast of any quality, or even none at all. His estimates were also lighter than the Indian 3’3⅜” (1,000mm) gauge, for which he said a further 5,000 miles were planned over the next five years, at £5,000 per mile.
A cost of £5,000 per mile was also that at which Daniel Climie was seeking to build ‘The Great Gippsland Railway’ on a gauge of 3’6”, using Fairlie’s rolling stock. The Great Gippsland Railway Company proposed a line from Melbourne to Sale of 135 miles, and the line’s backers sought an audience with Chief Secretary, Gavan Duffy, on 24th July, just over a month after McCulloch’s government fell. Francis Longmore was the new Minister of Railways and Roads, and it is significant that the new government gave the backers the go-ahead, and guaranteed one acre of land for every £2 the company expended on the narrow gauge line. By so doing, they were declaring their support for narrow gauge railways, and anticipating the report of the Select Committee, which was still gathering evidence.
Its Melbourne terminus was projected at the top of Elizabeth Street, from where it would have run via the railway starved suburbs of Brunswick, Northcote, Kew, Hawthorn, Gardiner, Caulfield and Oakleigh, thence close to the route eventually built, except for a deviation to the south of present day Warragul, and another to the north of present day Morwell. The prospectus claimed that the survey had been checked by the Engineer-in-Chief, who had recommended certain deviations, but that these would not materially alter the direction of the line.
The 1871 Railway Construction Bill Introduced
The Select Committee reported on 31st August, favouring the limitation of expenditure on new lines to £5,000 per mile, but it stopped short of recommending narrow gauge, due to misgivings about break-of-gauge. Longmore had jumped the gun, however, and introduced a new Railway Construction Bill two weeks earlier, on 15th August. In his Second Reading speech on 20th September, Longmore adopted the Committee’s recommendation for limiting expenditure to £5,000 per mile, but brushed aside their views on gauge, claiming that there was ‘an implied desire on the part of the Committee, that narrow gauge should be adopted’.  The Bill proposed to authorize construction of 200 miles of narrow gauge line at a cost of £1,000,000, to be completed in three years. During the debate, Longmore put into effect his plan to outflank Thomas Higinbotham. He told the Assembly ‘I have returns from the Office of the Engineer-in-Chief…’, but did not claim they were from the Engineer-in-Chief. Indeed, he went on to say that ‘while the Engineer-in-Chief estimated the cost of the rolling stock and stations at £1,000 per mile, Mr. Meikle, the Locomotive Overseer, says the rolling stock need not cost more than £500 per mile, and I consider that £300 for stations is ample…Mr. Robert Watson has supplied me with documents proving that the rate per mile for construction would be (less than £5,000 per mile)’.  What Higinbotham thought of these men can only be guessed at, but if they were angling for his replacement they were deluded.
Longmore backed up his arbitrary reduction of the cost of stations by telegramming the Colonial Secretary in Brisbane while the Bill was still before the Assembly, to obtain information on Queensland Railway construction costs. This was tabled on 24th October, when the Bill was encountering opposition in the Council. It showed that Queensland was providing stations at an average of £240 per mile. The radical Minister was anxious to squeeze the maximum distance of new railway out of every pound of capital. It is clear that to his mind, £5,000 per mile was an upper limit, for he confidently intended to build the lines for less than that figure. The illusion of automatic economy due to smaller scale, combined with the apparent power of the Double Fairlie patent locomotive, gave narrow gauge an appeal that proved irresistible to the representatives of electorates anxious for any kind of railway. By proposing such light lines, Longmore was reputed to have benefited ‘more than 28 members whose districts will be directly served by such a scheme’.  This amounted to nearly half the House.
Longmore’s passion to establish the small selector blinded him to the long term evils of breaking the gauge, which his Bill was to do in three locations, the closest only 45 miles from Melbourne. To his mind, the problem was diminished by the assurances of the Overseer of Locomotives, who said there would not be any difficulty whatever in maintaining narrow gauge locomotives, despite their separation from the main workshops at Williamstown, which were in broad gauge territory. Meikle proposed to build a transporter truck to carry narrow gauge locomotives over the broad gauge. Earlier, whilst still in opposition, Longmore had indicated his belief that one of the double lines of broad gauge to Ballarat and Sandhurst should be converted to narrow gauge. As these lines were lightly used, such a conversion could be made without disrupting broad gauge traffic. There is little doubt that his ultimate intention was to eliminate the broad gauge altogether. In the meantime, his tactic was to play down the issue, and when discussing the proposed Ballarat to Ararat line, he estimated that nine-tenths of its traffic would terminate at Ballarat, leaving only a tithe to be transhipped for the journey to Melbourne. ‘To that extent’ he said ‘the break of gauge will not be an evil’. Although small farms had generally been devoted to supplying the agricultural needs of the nearest towns or cities, especially prior to 1871 when Victoria became a wheat exporting colony, Longmore’s statement was preposterous. One member claimed the scheme was an insult to the Assembly, and clearly showed there had been no care exercised in its preparation. The radical changes in land settlement and the wheat industry then occurring, together with the expectation that the new lines would be extended deeper into the interior, made the need for an integrated railway system apparent to all but the most parochial interests.
A further caution came from Mr. McPherson, who had been Chief Secretary in the Ministry sworn in during September 1869, and under whom Longmore had served his first term as Minister of Railways. McPherson regretted exceedingly ‘that we did not feel the strength of our position to go in for a reform of the gauge of the North Eastern Railway’.  But McPherson meant 4’8½” gauge, as recommended by Elsdon, not 3’6” gauge, which was now being pushed by his old colleague. Longmore was now quite prepared to go against the opinion of the Engineer-in-Chief, even if the ex-Chief Secretary expressed diffidence. Longmore felt the strength of his position, for the whole Assembly were tantalized by the fruit of Daniel Climie’s seeds, sown less than two years before. When McPherson moved an amendment to retain the 5’3” gauge, it was lost on the voices after a perfunctory debate.
Thomas Higinbotham Before The Legislative Council
The Legislative Council were on the point of agreeing with the Assembly, but the Bill passed to the Committee stage along with a motion that the Council examine witnesses on the break of gauge issue. The rhetoric about the needs of small farmers certainly made little impact with Councillors, smarting as they were from defeat in the Constitutional Crisis of 1865-1868, at the core of which was the land policy of James Grant. Was not Francis Longmore one of Grant’s disciples?
First to be called to the Bar of the House was the Engineer-in-Chief, who was examined all day on 17th October. There is no question that Thomas Higinbotham swayed the Council by hammering break of gauge costs, which he estimated at £41,000 to implement plus ongoing extra operating costs of £3,700 per annum.  This he emphasized again and again. One member stated later that but for the evidence taken at the Bar of the House, he would have continued in his support for the 3’6” gauge, but he confessed that the evidence had induced him completely to change his mind.
But the evidence alone did not accomplish the turnaround. The Engineer-in-Chief played his professional reputation for all it was worth. He dramatically pledged that reputation against the difference in capital cost between the two gauges not exceeding £350 per mile, a sum he claimed would be more than balanced by the saving in operating costs. Coming from a man who ‘had always regarded himself not as the servant of the Minister of the day, but as the servant of the Colony, and had given his opinions entirely regardless of whether they were pleasing or the reverse’,  such a pledge was arresting indeed. It was also a great rebuff to Longmore, who a few days after Higinbotham gave his evidence, had thundered in the Assembly that it was ‘the duty of all permanent officers in the public service to carry out the policy of the Government’.  By publicly opposing his Minister, Thomas Higinbotham was putting more than his professional reputation on the line. His courage must have impressed the Council, for unless they were to assume he was under a delusion, it would be impossible to set his evidence aside; so argued the Honourable Thomas à Beckett, then Chairman of the M&HBUR.
Thomas à Beckett also praised the evidence given by his own Chief Engineer, William Elsdon, one of the six other witnesses to give evidence on the two succeeding days. Always less conservative than Higinbotham, Elsdon declared with some force that the additional capital cost of broad over narrow gauge would not exceed £200 per mile, or £150 per mile less than the difference estimated by the Engineer-in-Chief. Elsdon could not point to a single advantage which would result from the 3’6” gauge; a powerful opinion coming from an engineer recently returned from America. The most emotional anti-narrow gauge evidence came from the VR Traffic Superintendent, W.M. Fehon, who supported the Engineer-in-Chief ‘in the most earnest language’.  (It was Fehon’s Traffic Branch which would have to cope with the daily imbroglio of transferring goods and passengers). This was enough for the Councillors, and on 2nd November, O’Shanassy moved an amendment guaranteeing the retention of the broad gauge. It was carried by a landslide, 21 ayes to four noes. The Council also struck out one of the lines and substituted one of their own choosing for good measure, then sent the Bill back to the Lower House.
Reaction In The Legislative Assembly
The government was furious, not the least the Chief Secretary, Mr Duffy, who in re-introducing the Bill on 8th November, discharged a broadside against the Engineer-in-Chief.
‘I do not think it is ever permissible for a Minister to criticise the conduct of a civil servant’
said Mr Duffy,
‘but I wish it to be understood that the national policy with respect to railways is to be determined in this House, and that the business of the civil servants of all ranks is to carry out zealously and punctually, the instructions of the government in that regard. While I am responsible for the administration of affairs that is what the civil servants of this country shall do’. 
A less zealous instrument of the government’s narrow gauge policy than the Engineer-in-Chief could hardly be found, but Duffy’s threat was so much huff and puff. Higinbotham’s supporters in the Assembly were roused, and the Fairlie spell was beginning to wear off. The first indication of this was the Assembly’s agreement to the Council’s deletion of the Geelong to Camperdown line, on the basis of the Engineer-in-Chief’s evidence that goods could be freighted into the area by sea and road for rates as low as that of the proposed railway.
Francis Longmore made an effort to regain control by depreciating the Engineer-in-Chief’s evidence. In particular, he did not believe that Higinbotham could or would build a broad gauge railway for £5,000 per mile. The government leader in the Legislative Council, W.A.C. à Beckett, had made this same point, noting that it had not been ascertained that such cheap broad gauge lines could be made. While this was quite true in Victoria’s experience, (the North Eastern line was then being built for twice that sum), it was certainly not true elsewhere, particularly in North America. But Longmore was well aware of the Engineer-in-Chief’s preference for solid engineering; having been trumped over the purchase of steel rails for the North Eastern line. Higinbotham had yet to prove he could build light broad gauge lines, and Longmore derided his estimate for £5,000 per mile lines by pointing out that they would require the use of 42 lb/yard rails, upon which no existing VR locomotive could run. The following day, Mr G. V. Smith counter-attacked, claiming the 42 lb/yard rails contemplated by the Engineer-in-Chief for his £5,000 per mile broad gauge lines were to be of steel, ‘which are equal to 64 lb/yard iron rails’.  He also claimed the estimates provided for new, light engines. Perhaps he had been in touch with Higinbotham, but if this were so, the claim that a 42 lb/yard steel rail was equivalent to a 64 lb/yard iron rail was a gross exaggeration. It was a technical point, however, and went unchallenged.
Further support for light broad gauge lines came from the previous Minister for Railways and Roads in the conservative ministry of James McCulloch. Wilson asserted that light locomotives could be constructed for the broad gauge, and also drew attention to his action as Minister, in issuing instructions for the construction of lighter rolling stock.
He pointed out that Meikle was overseeing the construction of a composite carriage which would carry five more passengers and would be two tons less weight than the present carriages. By minimizing the weight of rolling stock in this way, he said, the difficulties of building light railways to the broad gauge would, to a great extent, be removed. It is telling that throughout the debate on the Bill, America’s vast experience with building cheap railways to broad gauge was ignored, as was Elsdon’s report to Parliament following his visit there, and his evidence before the Select Committee on Railways earlier that year which advocated American methods. Only two years before the Americans had completed the first trans-continental railway, much of it to rudimentary standards. News of this momentous event, which was transmitted instantly by telegraph right across the United States, took eleven weeks to reach Melbourne, where it made just fifteen lines on page five of the Argus!  Following the end of the Civil War in 1865, American rolling stock manufacturers had their order books full trying to satisfy local demand, and had yet to develop markets overseas. So Daniel Climie had no competition in spruiking the Fairlie locomotive and narrow gauge, and few of his listeners had any experience of North America.
John Woods, himself an engineer, spoke in favour of the Fairlie locomotive and the narrow gauge during the debate, but he was unable to prevent a sizeable shift in the opinion of members on the gauge issue. When a division was taken on the question of rejecting the Legislative Council’s amendment which proposed the retention of 5’3” gauge, 24 members voted against the government; a great improvement on the situation six weeks previously, when McPherson’s motion to retain 5’3” gauge was lost on the voices with little debate. But the government still retained the numbers, and after rejecting the Avoca extension also proposed by the Council, the Bill was returned to the Upper House. It was briefly debated in the Council the following day, 16th November, but that Chamber determined not to alter their stand. The two Houses were deadlocked.
Rather than precipitate a double dissolution over the issue, the government reached a compromise with the Legislative Council. On 21st November, a Committee of six from each House recommended that a pledge be given by the government to the Legislative Council, that the question of breadth of gauge be submitted to both Houses as a separate issue. On the day of this compromise, the conservative position was summarised by Mr. Stevens, who said ‘In this case the Government are in direct conflict with their Engineer-in-Chief, a gentleman of great professional attainments, who gave his evidence with a clearness and lucidity and force that any man of ordinary intelligence could understand it’. After mentioning that Thomas Higinbotham’s second in command, together with all the leading professional men in the colony and the world deprecated break of gauge, he added ‘that the great advocate of the narrow gauge system is the paid agent of Mr Fairlie, who has a direct interest in the narrow gauge system. Members have been met in the lobbies by a gentleman who is interested in the adoption of narrow gauge, and now they are virtually asked to accept his opinion, as against the independent evidence of the Engineer-in-Chief and every man whom we ought to trust’.  The compromise was accepted, and meant the temporary retention of the status quo for the existing Bill, which was immediately passed without reference to the gauge of the lines. Nevertheless, it left the way open for the government to build the lines to 3’6” gauge, provided they could convince a majority of both Houses on the matter before contracts were let.
Tenders were therefore called for the newly authorised lines on both the 5’3” and 3’6” gauges, and while prospective contractors prepared their estimates, the government set out to prove that there was trustworthy engineering opinion in favour of the narrow gauge. Hugh Childers, the new Agent General in London, was asked to seek out the opinions of the ‘most valued engineers’ who were ‘competent by experience (and) freed from strong prejudices, to advise in the matter’.  For his part, Thomas Higinbotham was at pains to ensure the accuracy of information given to these unprejudiced engineers. He wanted them provided with the same detailed surveys of the authorised lines that were used for the preparation of tenders. These were not ready until February 1872. Earlier, Longmore had written to the Agent General outlining the case for and against narrow gauge that had been debated in Parliament. The Engineer-in-Chief was also concerned to qualify two points about the Victorian Railways that may have helped the broad gauge case. One was to specify the bulky nature of Victorian traffic, lest it be inferred that a large part of the traffic would be minerals; the small narrow gauge wagons being better suited to mineral traffic than livestock, wool and the like. The other was to correct the ‘…omission of all reference to the site of railway workshops…’,  which of course were in broad gauge territory, and not easily accessible for narrow gauge rolling stock without special transporter trucks. Longmore ignored the Engineer-in-Chief’s request. He needed pro narrow gauge reports quickly, and was not going to be delayed. He had asked Childers to obtain the information ‘with the utmost possible expedition’, for it was ‘proposed that Parliament should re-assemble in April next…’  The Agent General dutifully proceeded to whip up another snowstorm of reports. They must have brought cold comfort to the radicals, especially Francis Longmore. Reports from Russia and Canada were delayed, and of the remainder, only that of Mr Carl Pihl, Engineer-in-Chief of the Norwegian Railways, was strongly supportive of narrow gauge. Pihl asserted as his firm conviction that 3’6” gauge was ‘not only sufficient to satisfy a fully developed colonial traffic, but also peculiarly adapted for the requirements of the very smallest traffic deserving railway accommodation.’ He added that ‘inconvenience from break of gauge by the plan proposed will be of no material importance compared to the advantages accruing from the greater and more rapid extension of the railway network, which the new and cheaper system is capable of producing.’ Pihl was the father of the 3’6” gauge, and supported his views with an impressive array of statistics. But for the daunting distance between Oslo and Melbourne, the outcome of the debates may well have been different. He was head of the largest narrow gauge railway system in the world, the first section being opened in 1862, three years before Queensland’s first railway. Pihl was a tireless and ethical advocate, and had convinced the Canadians to build the Toronto and Nipissing Railway to his gauge. It had opened a month before Longmore introduced his Railway Construction Bill, but throughout the debates the Victorian colonists were unaware of what their cousins in Ontario had achieved.
The impartial engineers chosen by Childers in Britain were Mr T. E. Harrison, Engineer-in-Chief of the North Eastern Railway, and a Vice President of the Institution of Civil Engineers; together with Captain H. W. Tyler, of the Railway Department of the Board of Trade. Harrison gave his unqualified support to the Victorian Engineer-in-Chief, writing that ‘the evils of the break of gauge have been given in the evidence of Mr Higinbotham and I do not consider them exaggerated’. Tyler tried to be impartial, but succeeded only in confusing the issue. He bemoaned the lack of uniform gauge in Australia, but recommended Victoria adopt no less than three gauges. On one hand he pointed out how the 5’6” gauge Canadian Great Western Railway (GWR) of 1,377 miles length, had been forced to convert its network to 4’8½” gauge to facilitate the interchange of traffic with adjoining lines in the U.S.A. On the other he pointed to the break of gauge situation at Toronto, the only place in the world one could see three gauges together: 5’6”, 4’8½” and 3’6”. Tyler had seen this mess himself, but claimed the complication and inconvenience was inconsiderable, and ‘that breaks of gauge, which had been so seriously felt in England, were quite justified in many cases in which a new country had to be opened out, and little money could be found for making a railway.’ He recommended the North Eastern line in Victoria be converted to 4’8½” gauge, to become uniform with the N.S.W. railways. The 5’3” gauge should be retained in the west of the colony, to retain uniformity with South Australia. He proposed the adoption of 3’6” gauge for railways for Gippsland, with Melbourne becoming a second Toronto. This last thought must have disturbed him, so he concluded that it would be a disadvantage to have three gauges in Victoria! It is indicative of British blindness to the successful American solution to cheap railroad construction and operation that an experienced engineer like Tyler could stare at it and yet not understand the significance of what he was seeing.
Tyler’s report was nevertheless prophetic in respect of change of gauge devices. He explained how the Canadian GWR had initially been unwilling to bear the expense of gauge conversion, and had introduced adjustable gauge cars, where the wheels were moved on their axles to suit the required gauge. The Canadian GWR used 1,000 such cars, but due to reasons Tyler left unstated (they caused train wrecks), the GWR had adopted a different system. At Buffalo, where cars were exchanged with the 6’0” gauge Erie Railroad Company, the bodies of the vehicles were lifted off their bogies, which were replaced with bogies of the other gauge. This was a comparatively simple operation in North America, where all the rolling stock was constructed on the bogie principle, but ninety years were to pass before bogie exchange was adopted in Australia.
For railway systems using conventional fixed axle rolling stock on the British pattern, no feasible means of adjusting the gauge of rolling stock has ever been found.
Longmore And Meikle Visit Queensland
Longmore was not about to rely on what the Agent General might turn up; he was prepared to do some investigation of his own. Before the autumn session of Parliament commenced, the farmer-politician sailed north with the VR Locomotive Overseer, William Meikle. Stopping off in Sydney, the NSW government provided them with a special inspection train, and accompanied by the Traffic Manager, they steamed over the 1 in 33 gradients of the Blue Mountains zig zags, which were proof that a railway could be carried over seemingly insurmountable obstacles at reasonable cost. But it was the Queensland Railways Longmore really wanted to see, and on arrival in Brisbane he was feted with another special train, this time accompanied not only by the Traffic Manager, but the Locomotive Superintendent, the Chief Engineer and the Commissioner of Railways as well. He spent two days on this train. On the first day he travelled on the engine with Meikle, as it toiled up the Main Range to Toowoomba.
Meikle’s report of 5th April 1872 expressed his dilemma. He was responsible directly to Longmore as the Commissioner, not Higinbotham. Longmore had also hired him and had made his views about a Public Servant’s accountability to the government quite clear. His job as a mechanical engineer was to provide efficient locomotives and rolling stock, so he limited his assessment to his field of expertise, commenting unfavourably upon the ratio of dead weight to paying load on QR rolling stock, which was worse than that applying on the Victorian Railways. The narrow gauge propagandists based their case on wagons designed to carry high weight, low volume commodities. The principal traffic of the Festiniog railway in Wales was slates, carried in small four wheel wagons with low sides. But in the Australasian colonies a great deal of the goods carried was bulky, such as wool and firewood. As Higinbotham had observed, ‘You never can, with such a material as wool, fill a truck to its weight carrying capacity, but you want the space…’ 
Meikle also compared QR locomotives unfavourably with those on the VR in both power and economy. As to narrow gauge, he noted the smooth running of 3’6” gauge engines at 30 mph, not mentioning that VR trains daily attained speeds of 50 mph. Earlier, when Wilson was Minister, he had held that the 5’3” gauge was ‘quite compatible with cheapness of construction.’ But as to what gauge would be best for the new Victorian lines, he declared it was out of his province to answer the question, and was apologetic about earlier comments of his that ‘may have been taken to mean that I considered 3’6” gauge to be attended with more risk in running than a wider one’. He tried to appease his Commissioner by declaring that ‘to me the whole question of the adoption of a gauge for the opening up of a new country is bound up with this other one, namely, how many more miles of 3’6” gauge can be made for a given sum of money, over and above the quantity that can be made with the same sum on 5’3”.’ 
Unlike Meikle, Longmore was very defensive of the Queensland Railways. He was at pains to point out in his report, presented three weeks later, that although QR officers admitted and deplored that their rolling stock indeed suffered from an adverse dead weight to paying load ratio, (narrow gauge propagandists were claiming this as an area where their little trains excelled), this fact was due to their being designed in England ‘by engineers long accustomed to excessively heavy stock’. They were, however, determined ‘to avoid a second blunder’, and ensure that future rolling stock was of lighter construction. He also defended the poor financial performance of the QR as being due to the fact that ‘there is comparatively little business for the trains to do’. He did not falter in his commitment to narrow gauge as the best means of getting cheap transport to small settlers. His advocacy for the small farmer was founded on a childhood vow made in Ireland, on the occasion of his family’s eviction from their farm. His mission in life was to prevent Victoria becoming another Ireland, with large estates governed by a select few.
Broad Gauge Secured
By May 1872, as tenders closed for the lines authorised the preceding November, Longmore had yet to receive reports from narrow gauge engineers in Canada and Russia, which would strengthen his case. As it was, the tenders showed even less difference in cost between the two gauges than Thomas Higinbotham or even William Elsdon had estimated. In a statement to the Assembly, the Minister explained that the difference amounted to about £180 per mile for the Castlemaine – Dunolly line, and £149 per mile for the first section of the Ballarat to Ararat line; less than four per cent of the total cost per mile. There was no discussion of this embarrassing state of affairs, and Longmore withheld the reports from overseas engineers. No doubt he was buying time, waiting for the outstanding reports, which might help retrieve his situation. But this was not to be. On 10th June, the Duffy Ministry’s time expired, and Longmore was once again on the opposition benches. In his new Minister, the Engineer-in-Chief found a man more inclined to listen, and the day after he took over, Duncan Gillies released the correspondence with overseas engineers. A week later, he moved that the lines authorised in November 1871 by Act 415, be constructed on the 5’3” gauge. In his speech to this motion, he quoted the numerous authorities unwittingly provided by his opponent.
Gillies was then a 37 years old bachelor, having first entered parliament a decade earlier as a young man following his success on the goldfields. He had emigrated from Glasgow as an 18 year old and struck it rich in a mine at Ballarat. The constitutional crisis of 1864-68 turned him against radical politics. This cost him at the polls for Ballarat East, which he had held for seven years. But he moved north to Maryborough, and was elected for that seat in 1870. He had briefly been Minister for Lands in 1868, but to be given the critical Railways and Roads portfolio was a brilliant feather in his cap. He was not to disappoint, and served as Minister for Railways three times, for a total of just over eleven years; a record never beaten in Victorian politics. He was also to make sure his Maryborough constituents benefited handsomely!
Longmore fought back, taking some comfort from the fact that at least the lines had to be economically built, but he saw Thomas Higinbotham behind it all, and complained,
‘Why is it only by constantly overriding the opinion of that gentleman that we have arrived at the position of getting railways at £5,000 per mile? The Engineer-in-Chief has stated that he can construct 5’3” gauge railways for £5,000 per mile simply because he had determined that we shall not have 3’6” gauge railways.’ 
Higinbotham had indeed determined that Victoria should not have 3’6” gauge railways, and on 18th July 1872, after a year of worry, he got his way. The Assembly voted 42 to 10 in his favour, Longmore, Zeal and Woods being among the hardcore opponents. Yet it was a hollow victory, achieved only by sacrificing almost every other professional standard he held. He would now have to lay down and maintain 150 miles of rickety light railways. It is a measure of his stature that he rose to the challenge.
Had the Duffy Ministry survived a little longer, Longmore may have taken on the broad gauge camp, for on 14th June the Agent General dispatched a bundle of reports from North America that were mostly pro-narrow gauge. These were by the President of the Credit Valley Railway, the Managing Director of the Toronto and Nipissing Railway, and the Chief Engineer of the Toronto, Grey and Bruce Railway, a group of private railroads being constructed to 3’6” gauge. A Director of the Denver and Rio Grande Railroad in Colorado also prepared a report on his 3’0” gauge line. All four lines were being built on the Fairlie principle, and three purchased a Double Fairlie patent locomotive. Only a letter from the illustrious Sandford Fleming, Engineer-in-Chief of the Canadian Pacific Railway, would have displeased the narrow gauge lobbyists. He doubted the expediency of Victoria changing its gauge. Last of the international reports to dribble in was stinging rebuke of the ‘Fairlie gauge’ penned in New York on 3th June 1872 by one Walter W. Evans, C.E.
‘I am told by a gentleman in Melbourne’
‘that the great apostle of narrow gauge has published in the papers of that city, that the Americans were not only building thousands of miles of narrow gauge railways, but had decided to change their entire system to narrow gauge…This will be stunning news for the Yankees. Just imagine tearing up the tracks of over 60,000 miles of railways now in operation in this country, and changing the plans of about 30,000 miles more in the course of construction, almost all of which are being built on the ‘standard gauge’. 
By the time Evans’ letter arrived and was laid before the Parliament, the narrow gauge issue was dead; but at least as far as Higinbotham was concerned, it was not buried. One of Longmore’s last acts as Minister had been to arrange through Daniel Climie for the purchase of a Double Fairlie patent locomotive. The contract for this twelve wheeled engine was actually signed on 14th June, four days after Longmore lost office. Duncan Gillies, by then representing Maryborough, while less radical than his predecessor, was nevertheless interested in light railways. No doubt Longmore intended it as a 3’6” gauge engine, but the specification might easily have been altered to 5’3” gauge. But anything to do with Robert Fairlie was anathema to the Engineer-in-Chief, and Meikle was probably still dubious about the added complication inherent in the articulated design of the Double Fairlie. It was not very difficult for them to persuade Gillies to cancel the contract, and this was done.
It was probably a wise decision, for while a broad gauge Double Fairlie would have hauled heavier loads on the new light lines, it would have proved a troublesome orphan, like all the Double Fairlies purchased by other Australasian colonies. For after its initial disappointment with the locomotives in 1867, Queensland purchased an improved version in 1876. New Zealand bought ten between 1872 and 1875, and Western Australia two in 1879. The Queensland engine was put to work on the Toowoomba line, hauling trains of 120 tons over the Main Range, a big improvement over the 75 tons the next best locomotive could manage. But after three years maintenance problems forced its withdrawal from that service, and it ran out its boiler life on local goods trains between Ipswich and Brisbane, being scrapped in 1902. The Western Australian Fairlies were disposed of in 1892-93, and few of the New Zealand engines survived into the Twentieth Century.
Completing The North Eastern Mainline
Higinbotham achieved cost savings on the North Eastern mainline by tightening curves from the minimum radius of 60 chains favoured by Darbyshire to 40 chains, and crossed the Great Divide with 4.4 changes of gradient per mile, more than twice that on Darbyshire’s mainlines, and used level crossings at the same frequency as on his Echuca line. The gradient profiles provide an instructive comparison of these two crossings of the Great Dividing Range.
The post and rail fences used on the earlier mainlines were simplified, with just one wooden rail on top and five wires underneath. Level crossings for farm access (known as occupation crossings) were provided with gates made from three inch diameter wrought iron gas piping instead of wood. Simple wooden buildings were used for most of the station buildings, as had been the case of the Echuca extension; more permanent buildings would come later. This was as far as Higinbotham was prepared to go, and his efforts to build a decent railway paid off. Tracklaying beyond Essendon commenced on 6th March 1871, following the first shipment of steel rails from England, the first to be used in the colony. Construction took place during the heated debates over the gauge issue, and a month before the alternative broad and narrow gauge tenders for the first light lines were opened, and a few weeks after Longmore and Meikle returned from their inspection of narrow gauge in Queensland, the first 56 mile section of the North Eastern line was opened from Essendon to Schoolhouse Lane, a temporary terminus on the southern side of the Goulburn River, near Seymour. Two opening ceremonies were held. The first, on 11th April 1872, was a railway affair, with only a few Ministers and other politicians present. Their train steamed over the Great Divide behind No. 100, the recently finished 2-4-0 passenger locomotive Meikle had designed for the North East main line, and the first fruit of the protectionists’ efforts to establish a locomotive construction industry within the colony.
In the carriages behind No.100 rode all the Railway Department chiefs, with Francis Longmore and J.M. Grant, Minister for Lands. One can only guess at the atmosphere in that train as it puffed over what Longmore still hoped would be the last broad gauge line to be built in Victoria! At the ceremony Thomas Higinbotham correctly forecast that the line ‘would undoubtedly become the great highway of the Australian colonies’ and rather mischievously congratulated the government for having it made ‘on such a substantial basis.’ Francis Longmore was sitting beside him!  Longmore was remembered uncharitably by a contemporary as a ‘bitter and tenacious and intemperate temperance man with a taste for vituperation’, who was ‘inspired with all a Selector’s distrust and all an Irishman’s hate of great landlords.’ Thomas Higinbotham was probably identified as a child of the Anglo-Irish establishment, allied with the very landed interests Longmore and Grant were trying to smash. The very accents of these men would have betrayed their prejudices to one another.
Once the Goulburn river had been bridged, the line was opened the remaining 1¼ miles into Seymour with an official ceremony on 2nd September 1872. Once again a procession of notables journeyed over the Divide. This time Thomas Higinbotham was accompanied by 550 guests, including the Governor, the Cabinet and most Members of Parliament, all being seated in a large marquee in a paddock opposite the Seymour station for a sumptuous déjeuner. Francis Longmore was present, but by then he was in Opposition, and the new government’s Commissioner of Railways was Duncan Gillies. After many toasts, Longmore as ex-Minister of Railways then proposed a toast to the ‘Engineer-in-Chief and his staff”.  Now the more benevolent side of his character came forward. He was remembered as an ‘excellent husband, father and friend’ and held out the olive branch to the Engineer-in-Chief in a speech where he said:-
“People might squabble as they liked about railway gauge and railway routes, but they always had the gratification of knowing that they had an engineering staff capable of carrying out the best works that could be constructed in the world, while it was also a staff whose honesty and sincerity could be relied upon.”
The Argus merely reported that the toast was not acknowledged, as the Engineer-in-Chief was not in the marquee when called upon. To Longmore, the events of the past two years may have been a squabble; to him the struggle to extend the railway network with light narrow gauge railways was one tactic in his laudable battle for the small selectors. For Thomas Higinbotham, however, it was much more than a squabble; it was a fight for everything he had worked for in his chosen profession, to which, as a bachelor, he had a single minded commitment.
The cause of the delay in crossing the Goulburn river was the late delivery of bridge girders from England. The bridge was designed and its erection supervised by a rising star in Higinbotham’s department, Robert Gray Ford.
He chose a comparatively new form of construction yet to be used in Victoria but which had proved successful in Great Britain, although not in Queensland. The piers were made by driving iron cylinders into the river bed and then filling them with concrete. The cylinders were cast in Melbourne by Langland’s Foundry, but the ten wrought iron bridge girders, two of them of 100 feet, were made in England. The light weight structure was 520 feet long, unadorned and rather plain to Victorian eyes. Yet it was strong and far cheaper than the viaducts previously made by the Victorian Railways, and similar structures were subsequently used to bridge the Broken and Ovens rivers further along the line on the second and third sections, and to replace the timber Warren Truss bridge over the Campaspe River at Rochester, on the Echuca line.
Track laying as far as Benalla was with 66 lb steel rails under the supervision of Robert Watson, but soon after the first shipment arrived in 1871 he had undermined his Engineer-in-Chief by recommending to the Select Committee that 72 lb/yard iron rails would be a better investment, as despite iron rails having a shorter life, the compound interest on the money saved due to their lower first cost would more than make up for their earlier replacement. Longmore jumped on this and overrode Higinbotham’s plans to lay the whole line with steel rails, ruling that the Benalla to Wodonga section was to use 75 lb/yard flat bottomed iron rails.
Once the bridge over the Broken River was completed the opening junket at Seymour was soon repeated, first at Benalla when a similar procession of dignitaries attended on 18th August 1873, followed by another at Wangaratta two months later and yet another at Wodonga on 21st November; what the Governor thought about being dragged out three times in as many months is not recorded! At least he had the comfort of knowing the single line was being worked under much safer conditions than his first special for the opening ceremony at Seymour. Five months after that event, the 5.25 p.m. Down passenger train from Melbourne was despatched from Broadford at dusk on 8th February 1873. Stationmaster Vaughan had received a telegram advising that an Up Ballast train from Seymour was approaching, but thinking the Passenger would reach Tallarook before the Ballast, he gave it right away. Steaming away from the station into the cutting that curved to the right on a falling 1 in 50 gradient, the vigilant driver saw the Ballast labouring uphill towards him. Both trains were moving slowly but the hand brakes were not enough to prevent a collision. The buffer beams of the locomotives were splintered, but otherwise all was safe. All except poor Vaughan, who was subsequently demoted to Porter. Although the Melbourne Railway Company had suffered two head-on collisions in 1862, this was the first experienced by the Victorian Railways. It galvanised them to find something better than a timetable and the telegraph for working trains on single lines. That the Geelong and Echuca lines had been run without serious incidents was more luck than good management! The Staff and Ticket system was accordingly introduced on 17th July 1873, the North Eastern line being divided into nine sections.
The Train Staff was a metal rod engraved with the names of the stations at each end of a section or ‘block’. Each block had one unique Staff, and a train could not enter a block without the Staff, in theory preventing head-on accidents, unless rules were disobeyed. If two trains were scheduled through a block before one returned in the opposite direction, the first train was given a ‘Ticket’ – a note authorising its driver to proceed – after he had first sighted the Staff, which was to be carried by the following train. But unless a telegraph message was sent advising the train with the Ticket had reached the other end of the Block, there was no way of knowing if the line was clear for the next train to follow. At the time the telegraph was not always available, because it was shared with the Post Office and sometimes experienced outages. So following trains were frequently dispatched merely after a time interval, not knowing for sure if the line ahead was clear.
The Engineer-In-Chief Overseas
With the North Eastern trunk line completed to Wodonga, the conservative government introduced another Railway Construction Bill. The major part of this Bill was the extension of railways to the east and west of the colony. The Great Gippsland Railway, with its Fairlie gauge and land grant finance was forgotten, and Gillies now proposed a light line between Melbourne and Sale to the uniform broad gauge. He also adopted Higinbotham’s recommendation of the ‘Pink Line’ from Ararat to Portland. This was the cheapest of four trunk routes surveyed into the Western District, each delineated on maps by a colour; the ‘Blue’ branching from the Main Line at Castlemaine, the ‘Green’ from the Ballarat line at Meredith and the ‘Black’ from Geelong. His Bill also included parts of the ‘Blue” and ‘Black’ lines as branches from Maryborough to Avoca, and Geelong to Colac. Other branches were included to the goldfields towns of Stawell, Inglewood and Beechworth. Totalling 373 miles, the Bill received Royal Assent on 25th November 1873 after a fairly straightforward passage of eight weeks, whereas the Railway Construction Act 1871 authorised just 144 miles of line and endured a tortuous passage of 14 weeks. Even then, the gauge of the lines remained unresolved for a further seven months before it was settled.
Nevertheless, Higinbotham knew the fickleness of politicians, and continued to strengthen the case against narrow gauge. In March 1874 he embarked on an overseas visit of inspection, which included most of the lines in the vanguard of narrow gauge development. He gave particular attention to the situation in Canada, where he rode the Toronto and Nipissing line, and triumphantly reported that:
‘it was admitted to me by all those connected with the management and workings of the narrow gauge railroads in Canada, that a false economy was adopted in constructing them…the experience of a year and a half’s working of the line had completely changed their opinion. The 40 lbs iron rails with which the line were laid were wearing out, and steel rails of 56 lbs to the yard were used to replace them; the light engines could not haul profitable loads, and the sharp curves greatly reduced their efficiency. I was assured that there was every probability that the gauge would be altered to that of the Grand Trunk, which is now 4’8½”…it appeared to be a settled opinion in Canada, that no more railroads on the 3’6” gauge would be made there…’ 
Not only had experience in the Dominion set them against the Fairlie gauge, but the problems of transfer between the Canadian standard gauge of 5’6” and the bordering US gauges of 4’8½” and 6’0” had been of great concern to Canadian railwaymen. Higinbotham referred to the change of gauge devices applied there, but noted how ‘these various schemes were found to be mitigations only of a great evil.’ The Canadian GWR had been converted from 5’6” to 4’8½” before his arrival, and he noted that the Grand Trunk Railway, of 1,400 miles, had likewise converted 850 miles of its system at the time of his visit.
As for the other narrow gauge railways he visited, the Denver and Rio Grande (D&RG) in Colorado, the Norwegian Railways and the Indian Railways, Thomas Higinbotham was content to report the failure of the basic narrow gauge ideal; that railways with scaled down gauge, rail weight, rolling stock weight and train speed were a more economical proposition for light traffic than substantial lines to wider gauges. The D&RG, along with the Canadian 3’6” gauge lines, had learned from their mistaken use of very light rails and rolling stock. As for the Norwegian system, Higinbotham put in statistics to prove ‘that the assertions so persistently made by the advocates of narrow gauge that less dead weight is carried on it than on the 4’8½” is contradicted by the facts’. Norwegian wagons could carry 1.4 to 1.6 tons of paying load per ton of dead weight (tare), whereas the maximum attained by 4’8½” gauge wagons on the Continent was 2.58 tons of load per ton of tare. In India he heard the metre gauge strongly condemned by many persons, and found only a few defenders. Its average cost, to the end of 1874, when 587 miles had been laid down, was a substantial £6,400 per mile, including fencing.
When Higinbotham embarked on his tour he did not expect to learn much. During his send-off he remarked that he ‘doubted whether too much might not be expected to ensue from his visit’.  A journalist at the banquet was taken aback at this.
‘For the life of me I couldn’t help crying out, “Bully for you, Tom! – Just like your own brother, George.” As I walked home with two engineers the same night, one of them said, “Splendid old chap, our Chief; great breadth of gauge, or view I mean, and all that sort of thing, you know, eh?” “Yes,” hiccuped the other, “five feet three, and no mistake about it.” 
But if the Chief was complacent, the tour was a wake-up. He did not visit the Welsh narrow gauge lines, no doubt preferring to stay out of the heartland of Robert Fairlie’s domain, but he returned home strongly advocating the importation or local construction of American type locomotives, and shortly afterwards persuaded the government to order a couple for evaluative purposes. By promoting American light railway technology in this way, while continuing to inveigh against Robert Fairlie’s propaganda, Thomas Higinbotham was able to keep Victoria free of narrow gauge for his lifetime, and nearly twenty years afterwards, by which time little of the colony was left for it to conquer.
As for Francis Longmore, for a few years he continued to complain against what he saw as a conspiracy by railwaymen to increase the cost of construction, but in subsequent radical ministries he was Minister for Lands, and he seems to have been content to leave the task of bridling the Engineer-in-Chief to John Woods, who was champing at the bit to get control of the Railway Department. Longmore succeeded in reducing the cost of railway construction to a level that was economically and operationally practicable. As a layman, he was duped by the clever propaganda of Robert Fairlie and his antipodean representative, Daniel Climie, but he could hardly have played a better card if his aim had been to pare the cost of 5’3” gauge lines to the bone. There is no evidence that Longmore, or any of the narrow gauge party, had such Machiavellian motives; they seem to have been genuine converts to the narrow gauge system, then sweeping the railway world, and to which every other colony in Australasia except NSW, most of Africa, South East Asia, Japan, Central America, and substantial proportions of South America and India fell victim. Longmore died in May 1898, and an obituary in the Ballarat Star is a good summary of his character.
‘He sometimes, indeed too frequently, allowed himself to be carried away by his feelings and convictions, and whether it was from the fact of his possessing what may be called a restricted vocabulary in giving expression to his ideas, or that he lost control of himself under certain circumstances, it was undeniable that he often said things he afterwards regretted. When he pilloried the squatters and called them “robbers,” he simply adopted the slang of the Socialists, and when he declared that he had his “hand on the throat of capital,” he pained greatly those who knew him best, as he gave his enemies further occasion to blaspheme. In his social and personal relations he was a totally different individual. He was as simple as a child, as soft and sympathetic as a woman… his honesty was never questioned.’ 
He was also an early advocate for Home Rules for Ireland, a passion that cast him into the political wilderness after 1883 but endeared him to Catholics, who subscribed to a handsome monument in St Kilda cemetery. 
Building The First Light Lines
On the first light lines, Higinbotham lowered his standards and adopted steeper gradients and sharper curves, especially on the Castlemaine – Maryborough line where curves as tight as 11 chains radius were accepted better to follow the contours of the land. He had resorted to 1 in 50 gradients for the North Eastern line, but for the Ballarat to Ararat line, which would eventually form the Intercolonial connection to South Australia, he compromised even further, adopting 1 in 45 for a short section near Burrumbeet. For the other lines centred on Maryborough he allowed 1 in 40 gradients. In New South Wales, John Whitton had been forced to use 1 in 30 gradients for the Southern Highlands line, opened in 1867 to Mittagong, and Higinbotham was forced to make his one and only use of 1 in 30 as the ruling gradient for the Beechworth branch. The most challenging of the lines authorised in 1873, it climbed over 1,000 feet in nine miles. (The steeply graded section of Southern Highlands line in NSW created a bottleneck that was a constant operational headache until cured in 1919 by the opening of a deviation).
In South Australia, light railways such as that to Kapunda dispensed with gated level crossings and fences. Their locomotives were fitted with plough shaped cow-catchers to throw offending animals to one side. But Victoria was loath to dispense with fences, and the first light lines were fenced and the level crossings fitted with gates.  This was unnecessary, as the M&HBUR had demonstrated at an ungated level crossing near Elsternwick. Livestock were kept from wandering onto the right of way by digging a ditch from fence to fence on either side of the road crossing, and covering the ditch with wooden grids. These ‘cattle pits’ presented an effective barrier to livestock. They were widely adopted in South Australia, where together with the use of barbed wire instead of post and rail fences, they made a pretty fair compromise between safety and economy. It was some decades, however, before this compromise was accepted in Victoria, but thanks to Francis Longmore economical railway construction had been achieved. All that was needed were locomotives that could negotiate them.
New South Wales Rejects Fairlie
Higinbotham’s struggle against Fairlie’s propaganda had parallels in New South Wales, where John Whitton, their Engineer-in-Chief, was vehemently opposed to the push for narrow gauge. James Thomas, their Engineer of Rolling Stock, was an early convert to Fairlie’s principles and during Whitton’s absence overseas in 1868 he ordered a Double Fairlie locomotive to work the steeply graded Zig Zag then building over the Blue Mountains. The standard gauge 0-4-4-0 was shipped to Sydney, but by the time of its arrival in 1869 Whitton had returned, and refused to accept it! The engine was returned to England but Whitton remained on his guard and subsequently duelled with Fairlie in an exchange of letters in the Sydney Morning Herald.  It took NSW much longer to get railways into wheat growing districts than South Australia and Victoria, as they were preoccupied in building trunk railways throughout the 1870’s. There was little sense adopting narrow gauge for the extensions of these mainlines and creating break-of-gauge. By the time the colony came to build railways into the wheat country beyond the Great Dividing Range the supposed advantages of narrow gauge in all but mountainous terrain had been exploded.