South Australia has built light railways to support our economy since European settlement, but most have been behind the scenes and not in public view. These hundreds of light railways have contributed much to our economy, but few people have even heard of them.
The term "light railway" is broad, and covers most tramways and special purpose railways that were not intended for mass passenger transport. It includes tramways used for farming, mining, industry, and for amusement parks. However the story of public tramways in Adelaide has not been included in the South Australian Light Railway Centre (SALRC) exhibition.
In this article I won't be doing any spoilers - you will have to come to the Milang railway museum to see most of what's on display in the SALRC. But I will talk about the sort of things to expect in this light rail exhibition, and how light rail has been important in the history of South Australia.
Horse Drawn Light Railway at Port Milang (Image: State Library SA PRG-1258-1-2774)
Getting Goods to Market with Light Railways In the early days of South Australia transport options were limited when farmers needed to sell produce. Until South Australian Railways were widespread, ships carried a lot of goods interstate - either along the River Murray, or around the coast. Farmers would deliver their produce to a port where it was held in store until a ship arrived to transport it. At Port Milang, Port Willunga and Beachport (as well as many other ports), a light railway transported produce to waiting ships - find out more at the railway exhibition at Beachport Old Wool and Grain Store Museum.
Mining in South Australia Mining in South Australia had quite a bumpy ride over the years, especially during the gold rush days in the eastern states. Over a hundred special tramways were developed to reduce the need for back-breaking labour at mines including the Grunthal gold and silver mine at Verdun, and the Almanda silver mine at Scotts Creek.
Light Railway in Construction in the 19th Century There was an enormous amount of building happening in the 19th century, with a huge demand for stone and locally made bricks. Brickworks at the Coglin Street Brompton pug hole and others in the West Thebarton area used a light railway - special labour saving tramways.
Light Rail at Amusement Parks Some of the best-preserved light railways are in use at amusement parks and museums in South Australia. Who hasn't been for a ride on steam engine Bub from Semaphore to Fort Glanville, or been for a spin with the kids on Ken at the National Railway Museum?
Also in Adelaide SASMEE Park at Millswood has provided thrilling fun for kids for decades on their light railway amusement park. In the Adelaide Hills the Platform One Heritage Farm Railway is packed with fun things to do and South Australian railways memorabilia - a wonderful place to escape the city on a day trip, or hold a children's birthday party.
Platform One Heritage Farm Railway is Full of Fun Things to Do
Sadly the Adelaide Zoo's light railway is long gone, as is the Dazzeland railway that once ran high above the ground in the Myer Centre, and another in the amusement park on top of Cox Foys.
Tramways and Light Railways in Quarries
Stonyfell Quarry and the Sleeps Hill Quarries both used light rail to transport rocks to the crusher. Despite this labour saving advantage, the work was still back breaking.
Light Railway in Wartime Fort Largs once used horse and human power to move artillery shells from the magazine on railway tracks. This brought benefits in the speed of reloading, and a labour saving advantage for the gunners.
In 1940 the Commonwealth government built the massive Salisbury Explosives Factory (near the National Military Vehicles Museum) to manufacture munitions during World War 2. A steam train conveyed the munitions to the Smithfield Magazine for storage, and the South Australian Light Railway Centre tells the story of the light railway used within the magazine. The railway used a Battery Electric Vehicle (BEV) with bronze wheels to transport shells, so minimising any chance of a disastrous spark near the high explosives.
Port Milang Historic Railway Museum's new South Australian Light Railway Centre fills a significant gap in South Australia's railway history. Not only does it open our eyes to the widespread use of light rail, but it also has a hands-on component to the exhibition which is fun for kids. Don't miss the new train driving simulator too - come and see it soon.
South Australian Light Railway Centre at Milang Railway Museum