W.A. Webb Commemoration

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A commemoration of W.A Webb, South Australian Railways Commissioner from 1922 to 1930 will be held on the 6th November run day.

 

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Webb was one of dozens of candidates who responded to an international call by the South Australian government in the early 1920s for a Commissioner to manage the government-owned South Australian Railways. By that time, the railways had decayed to the point of imminent collapse. In 1922, when he started his appointment in Adelaide, Webb considered that by applying business operating principles he would be able to get the South Australian Railways on a footing where they would give a minimum return of 6 per cent on the investment. He did not foresee however, the impacts of the Great Depression and the growth of ownership of motor cars, nor was he fully aware of the millstone of the hundreds of miles of developmental lines, with their unpredictable seasonal agricultural traffic.

Webb concentrated on reducing gross ton miles, and augmented net ton miles by increasing full carload lots. He introduced large freight cars and locomotives, heavier track, stronger bridges and efficient practices. His most important changes to working methods occurred in 1924–26: the train control organisation was introduced in 1924, high-capacity bogie freight cars in 1925, and large-power locomotives in 1926. Webb’s dramatic railway rehabilitation left few aspects untouched by technological change and innovation. He rehabilitated the South Australian Railways so thoroughly that, for twenty-five years, they were a paragon among Australian railways

Webb’s most lasting legacy in Adelaide is the imposing Adelaide Railway Station, its design combining neoclassical architecture with that of union stations in the United States.