Cost of constructing railways in the 1880-1890s

  tom9876543 Train Controller


I was wondering if anyone had a "cost per mile" for construction of railway lines back in the late 1800s, when there was a lot of expansion. Clearly tunnels and bridges are more expensive than just earthworks.

A good example would be the Sydney - Newcastle line (double track).

Does anyone know what the Woy Woy Tunnel cost?
What did the Hawkesbury Bridge cost?

What was the cost per mile for building rail line only (maybe classify into flat and hilly terrain)?


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  johnboy Chief Commissioner

Location: Up the road from Gulgong
Often I find articles about these matters here:

Woy Woy tunnel:

Often they show the costs, especially after 1901. But projects that seem to take many years they dont seem to have a cost.

Funny on a general google, there is so many web-sites, including the local council, that still think Woy Woy tunnel is the longest in Australia.

The bridge:
Sorry, no costing there either.

Let us know if you find a cost?
  Spletsie Chief Commissioner

A book you might find interesting is Along Parallel Lines by John Gunn. It is a history of NSW railways from 1850 to 1986 and gives lots of details about the financial aspects of the railways, including construction.

A few bits from this book might help you:

An 1873 report to the Secretary for Public Works indicates that John Whitton [engineer in chief] believed that a good railway for locomotive purposes with a 4 feet 8 1/2 inches gauge, might be constructed for £7000 per mile.

In 1880-81 NSW parliament debated a proposed vote for linking the Southern and Northern Lines, a double line of 95 miles between Homebush and Waratah costing £2 755 000.

The Commissioners in their annual report for the year to 30 June 1891 suggested that where the country is practically level and the traffic will be very light, that lines to be designated 'Pioneer Railways' be constructed at a cost of about £1, 750 per mile, exclusive of bridges and land, the trains to be worked at a speed of 15 miles per hour, and during daylight only.

I doubt that an average cost per mile would be a useful figure since, as you suggest, lines were constructed in different terrains and to different standards. Inflation would also have resulted in different costs in different eras. Costs for the construction of individual lines would be interesting.
  johnboy Chief Commissioner

Location: Up the road from Gulgong
In 1915, the proposed length of the Canberra-Jervis Bay line was 225km, with 1.6km of bridges and 1.2kms of tunnels, and construction of the line was estimated to cost £1,747,670

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