Riverland and Mallee Railways

Waikerie, Loxton, Moorook, Barmera, Berri, Glossop, Renmark, and Paringa. All these riverland towns were once connected to Adelaide by rail, but you wouldn’t know it now. Let’s brush up on some history first before we get to the YouTube video at the end.

Before European settlement, the First Peoples of the River Murray and Mallee Region were the Ngaiawang, Ngawait, Nganguruku, Erawirung, Ngintait, Ngaralte & Ngarkat people. Renmark was established in 1877 and other irrigation settlements grew quickly. The area was allotted for soldier settlements following both World Wars and today around 35,000 people live in the Riverland.

Morgan had a railway in 1879 and the road bridge at Murray Bridge was also carrying a railway line by 1886. The pressing problem was that the wheat harvest in the Mallee always coincided with low water on the river, and bags and bags of wheat would be backed up on the wharves.

The Paringa line finally opened in 1913 and the Waikerie line was completed in December 1914. The Loxton and Moorook lines opened in 1914 and 1925 respectively. It wasn’t until 1927 that a bridge was finally built across the river at Renmark and that line to Renmark was further extended to Berri, Glossop and Barmera in 1928.

The Mallee railways to the river served the region well but eventually better roads and bigger trucks superseded them as the government turned away from running loss making railways.

By the late 20th century – the age of country rail in South Australia was effectively over. The Moorook line closed in 1971, the Barmera and Peebinga lines in 1990, the Waikerie line in 1994 and finally, the Loxton line closed in 2015.

Look, I’m not a former engine driver or anything like that. I’m just an explorer.

So let’s go exploring.

Karoonda

I think the best way to begin these videos is at Karoonda – the heart of the system where the line from Tailem Bend effectively branched into 5 lines.

The station would have been a busy place with porters, staff, goods and maintenance sheds, refreshment rooms, passengers, and trains shunting everywhere. Remnants of those heydays remain here at the old station precinct and Karoonda Pioneer Park.

Barmera Line

The Barmera railway line began as the Brown’s Well line and was the second railway built to develop the Murray Mallee. It branched east from Tailem Bend and ended at Meribah, not far from the Victorian border.

The original sidings of the line before extension were Tailem Bend, Naturi, Kulde, Wynarka, Karoonda, Lowalde, Borrika, Halidon, Wanbi, Alawoona, Paruna, and Meribah. It would have been tough going – there’s no real water sources in the Mallee. 12 bores and tanks were needed to supply water to the engines.

Three lines from to the Murray River, and another line connecting to the Pinnaroo line were approved even before it was completed. Almost as soon as it was finished it was extended 64 km north to the Murray River at Paringa. World War I delayed the construction of the Paringa Bridge – to extend the railway to Renmark – until 1927. It was then extended to Barmera in 1928.

The Barmera line now consisted of these sidings and stations: Tailem Bend, Naturi, Kulde, Wynarka, Karoonda, Lowaldie, Borrika, Halidon, Mindarie, Wanbi, Alawoona, Paruna, Meribah, Nadda, Taplan, Nangari, Pungonda, Noora, Ingalta, Taldra, Yamba, Wonuarra, Paringa, Renmark, Calperum, Springcart Gully, Berri, Karoom, Glossop, Barmera.

In the 1960s, a 27km branch line was built close to Wonuarra siding near Paringa. It went northeast to Murtho to the south bank of the Murray River to support construction of the proposed Chowilla Dam. The dam construction was cancelled in 1967 and the line was removed without being used.

In recent history, part of the Brown’s Well railway line plus most of the Loxton railway line spur from Alawoona were converted to standard gauge and used to carry part of the seasonal grain harvest and the rest of the line and branches were closed. The Loxton line closed in 2015 and all grain now goes by road.

Loxton Line

This was the last line standing. Sort of.

Originally a branch of the Browns Well line from Alawoona to Loxton – opened in 1914.

The original sidings and stations were Tailem Bend, Karoonda, Mindarie Mine, Wanbi Loop, Alwaoona Loop, Tookayerta Grain, and Loxton.

The main line to Alawoona and only remaining branch to Loxton was gauge converted from broad to standard gauge in 1996 to retain connection to the main Adelaide to Melbourne line after that line was converted.

By the end, except for a short stretch at the beginning, road followed it all the way for a total of 271 kilometres.

The main line was cut back to the grain terminal at what was originally the Tookayerta siding. The last grain train left those silos in June 2015.

Waikerie Line

The 119 km long Waikerie railway line branched from the Barmera railway line at Karoonda, which was also the junction for the Peebinga railway line on the other side of the main line. It extended north north east to Waikerie. It opened in 1914 and closed in 1994.

The stations and sidings were: Karoonda, Mindiyarra, Perponda, Kalyan, Goondooloo, Copeville, Kunlara, Galga, Mercunda, Mantung, Hillmanville, Maggea, Boolgun, Holder Siding, Kanni, and Waikerie.

Moorook Line

The Moorook railway line opened in 1925. It ran 49.6 kilometres from a junction at Wanbi north to Yinkanie – near Moorook. It covered the gap between the Waikerie and Loxton lines at the lowest cost. During WWII, Italian and Japanese POWs arrived by rail and worked here in nearby wood camps (4). Myrla was the site of a fatal level crossing accident in 1949. It was proposed to extend the line to Moorook and Kingston On Murray but road transport improved and the line closed in 1971.

The stations and sidings were: Wanbi, Gluyas, Caliph, Bayah, Tucan, Koowa, Wunkar, Myrla, Wappilka, and Yinkanie

Peebinga Line

The Peebinga line opened in 1914 from a junction at Karoonda and ran eastwards towards Peebinga, two kilometres from the Victorian border. It closed in 1990.

The 106 km railway opened up the lands for agriculture between the Pinnaroo line and the Barmera line. Towns were established along the way but none of them survived.

Consideration was given in 1927/28 to extending the line from Peebinga across the state border into Victoria and northward to Morkalla to connect with what became the Victorian Railways’ Morkalla line which at that time terminated at Meringur.

The stations and sidings were: Nunkeri, Yurgo, Marama, Kulkami, Mulpata, Wirha, Gurrai, Karte, Kringin, Mootatunga, and Peebinga.

Some quotes:

“Without spending time (yet) digging through books, it was certainly the case that in the latter days of the SAR that dedicated passenger services were very rare on these lines. Mixed trains were the rule, with the only passenger accommodation often (usually) restricted to a compo brakevan, and that only rarely had passengers. The train left Adelaide with more guard’s vans than wagons…” (2)

“11.5 hour trip from Adelaide to Barmera” in the 70s (2)

“Some more times from the SAR June 1960 timetable: Passengers for the Waikerie line changed trains at Karoonda, as did passengers for the service to Peebinga. The Waikerie service departed from Karoonda at 12:35, arriving at Waikerie at 17:55. This service ran on Mondays, Tuesdays, and Fridays. The return service from Waikerie ran on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays, departing at 8:25, and scheduled to arrive in Karoonda at 14:27. The journey distance was 119 km with 13 Stations on the timetable.” (2)

“The Yinkannie line was similiar to the Peebinga and Waikerie lines – mainly opened to service the mail runs, bread, cream, parcels, one or two grain silos, and smaller towns.’” (3)

LINKS

  1. https://en-academic.com/dic.nsf/enwiki/866008
  2. https://www.railpage.com.au/f-p585017.htm
  3. https://www.railpage.com.au/f-p27198.htm
  4. https://italianprisonersofwar.com/tag/moorook-wood-camp-italian-prisoners-of-war/

Karoonda Pioneer Park

https://www.karoonda.com/railway-carriages

4 thoughts on “Riverland and Mallee Railways

  1. Maxwell Edward Hobby Reply

    Great history there about the murray landlines. When the Chowilla spur was abandoned the track panels where taken up and sent south to Karoonda and I remember seeing the panels stacked along the waikerie line they were used to strengthen sections of the waikerie line which was still predominately 50 lbs per yard rail very light bu todays standards. Considerable amount of money was used on the line rehab I remember the minister of transport Mr Jeff Virgo saying to the people of Waikerie that if they didn’t use the railway they would loose it.

  2. Ron Reeves Reply

    An absolute shame that the current line to Loxton couldn’t be reopened to service the Riverland towns from Adelaide. A small 2 car diesel railcar set could be based at Loxton and do a run into the capital 6 days a week and return. I am sure there is enough population in the Riverland towns to justify a small setup like that. Rono

  3. Ken Fowler Reply

    I’m not sure if people know but the largest winery in the southern hemisphere was situated on the Barmera line, so was the biggest citrus juice factory (now closed), major distilleries, dried fruit packing sheds, and fresh citrus and grapes. Mostly for export!
    What killed some of these industries was cost of transport. If the Morgan line was continued on to Barmera and then into Victoria then on to Hay (like originally planned) these industries will have survived.
    What short sighted politicians we had/ have!
    Cheers

    • Michael Genrich Post authorReply

      Absolutely, Ken. Berri Estates surely must be a massive business out there near Glossop. I guess they didn’t need a railway though!
      Maybe one day there’ll be enough freight again.

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