The Dubbo to Coonamble railway line was opened officially when the Department of Public Works transferred the line to the Railway Commissioners on 18 February 1903. The Department’s 1902/03 Annual Report provides a summary of the works constructed. Amongst other matters, the Report notes that:
Station buildings with the necessary sidings have been provided at Talbragar (nee Brocklehurst), Goonoo, Coalbaggie Creek, Balladoran, Gilgandra, Berida, Curven (sic), Galar (nee Gulargambone), Combara and Coonamble.
Water supplies are obtained at Coalbaggie, Gilgandra, Gula (sic) and Coonamble.
At Coalbaggie water is being pumped to a 20,000 gallon tank in the station yard.
A 20,000 gallon tank has also been erected at the Dubbo Junction.
The line is laid throughout with 60-pound flat-bottomed steel rails spiked to round-topped sleepers, 2464 to the mile, packed with earth ballast, except in station yards and at bridge ends, where stone ballast is used.
The ruling grade with the load is 1 in 75 and against the load, 1 in 100.
The line is unfenced, except at station yards, which are fenced with 7-wire fencing.
So, 22 years after it had been first seriously proposed, Coonamble had its connection with the New South Wales railway system, and Eumungerie was part of that link.
The celebrations over the opening of the railway appear to have been modest or went largely unreported. On 21 February 1903 Dubbo’s newspaper reported:
The Coonamble line was taken over and worked by the railway Commissioners on Wednesday. The old carriages have been superseded by more up-to-date vehicles, which render travelling on the line far more comfortable than hitherto. Mr George Emilhaing, an old identity of Dubbo, has been appointed guard on the line.
The Railway Commissioners instituted a thrice-weekly service conveying passengers and goods carriages - known in railway parlance as a mixed service. A train was timetabled to leave Dubbo on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays at 9:25am.
It would require the entire morning to reach Gilgandra, observing a four minute rest break at Talbragar at 9:40am and Goonoo (Mogriguy) at 10:15am. Arriving at Eumungerie at 10:47am an eight minute period was available to passengers. The next stop at Balladoran at 11:16am afforded a further eight minute break. Gilgandra was reached at 11:54am, whereupon a 30 minute break was taken.
The second stage of the journey was to Gular. On the way a four minute pause was taken at Kamber from 12:42pm, seven minutes at Curban from 1:04pm and six minutes at Armatree at 1:38pm.
Once at Gular 27 minutes was provided prior to embarking on the final stage of the journey at 2:39pm. This final stage of the journey was punctuated by a four minute stop at Combara at 3:16pm prior to arrival at the terminus at 3:55pm. The entire trip had taken six and a half hours, including nearly two hours at intermediate stations for shunting and locomotive servicing activities.
The return journey from Coonamble was even longer – being only ten minutes shy of a full seven hours. On Tuesdays, Thursday and Saturdays a mixed service departed Coonamble at 10:35am. Stops of similar duration to the outbound journey were taken at all intermediate stations, including a ten minute stop at Eumungerie at 3:44pm. Dubbo itself was not reached until 5:25pm.
The return journey was extended by nine minutes over the outward journey to allow for additional shunting and goods trafficking in this direction of operations. This reflected the line’s major purpose as an exporter of produce. The actual travel time was also extended by nine minutes to recognise the more sizeable traffic task in this direction.
The formal opening of the railway may have been less of a cause to celebrate than originally considered by the local citizenry. Daily works trains had been providing regular service for some months, albeit seemingly at only a moderate level of amenity. The reversion to a thrice-weekly service brought dismay from the some of the citizenry. After just two weeks of operation press criticism of the service emerged. On 28 February 1903 the front page of Dubbo’s Liberal newspaper conveyed the following report:
The new mail arrangements rendered necessary by the alteration of the train service on the Coonamble line from a daily to a tri-weekly one are causing intense dissatisfaction to the residents of all parts adjacent to the line from Coalbaggie northwards… the people of Coalbaggie, Balladoran, Gilgandra and so on northward are deprived of their Saturday’s mail altogether, and the situation is now far worse than in the old coaching days… if an important business letter is posted in Dubbo for, say, Coalbaggie at 9am on Friday, it will not get to its destination until Monday – three days to reach 22 miles.
The celebrations were likely muted for other reasons. First, the immediate countryside was in a serious drought. The Railway Commissioners’ 1902/03 Annual Report made much of the breadth and depth of the drought – reckoned to be the worst seen in the history of the colony/state.
One further factor muting the celebration was the situation in Coonamble at the time of the railway’s official launch. In the edition announcing the line’s opening, the Liberal also informed its readers that a typhoid epidemic was ‘now raging in Coonamble’ which had been traced to a ‘shop doing extremely large business in milk shakes’. It was no insignificant matter. One week later the Liberal reported that 138 cases of typhoid had been recorded thus far, including seven deaths. Hardly the sort of thing to encourage Coonamble as a travel destination.