The Tailem Bend to Pinnaroo railway was the first railway built into proposed new agricultural land in South Australia before it was settled by farmers. Throughout the Mid North and Upper North the farmers had settled the land first and proved it was good wheat growing land. A railway line followed to carry the grain to market.
Because the land between Tailem Bend and Lameroo/Pinnaroo was sandy it was impossible for the farmers to go on to the Pinnaroo country and prove it and wait for the railway to follow. It took five attempts before the proposal for a railway to the unoccupied Pinnaroo land was successful. In 1903 an Act was passed by Parliament for the construction of a railway and the line was opened in 1906. The railway was a great success and the area became very productive.
With the success of the railway line opening up the Pinnaroo country, thoughts were given to a proposal for another line further north where over a million acres of land lay unused. Inspections were carried out in 1909. It was not considered top class land but land that could carry one family per 1000 acres. A Bill was passed in Parliament in 1909 for the building of a railway line from Tailem Bend to Browns Well. Surveys were carried out and planning done. Mr Joseph Timms won the contract and began work on November 13 1911 to build 96 miles and 26 chains (154 kms) of railway line and was specified for completion on July 13, 1913.
The work was hard and labour intensive. Materials for building the line, water and supplies for men and horses had to be carted through thick scrub by train and wagons. 150 horses were used at any one time and 450 men employed. Cuttings and embankments presented problems as sand drift had to be stabilised with a layer of heavier soil.
The government had decided that the Murray Lands lines were to be pioneering railways constructed at minimal cost. The unballasted track sat almost on top of the ground with some sand shovelled in between the sleepers. The line was unstable and trains had to travel at low speeds. The 137 miles (220 kms) from Tailem Bend to Paringa took 10 ½ hours at 14 miles (22 kms) per hour in 1914. Maintenance gangs were employed to maintain 11 ½ miles (18.5 kms) of track and were located at towns along the line.
This was the first rail line in South Australia to be laid with steel sleepers with the cost being double that of wooden. As there were no lakes or rivers in the area bores needed to be sunk along the way for water supplies. Water had to be of low salt content or expensive damage to the boilers would be done. Water softeners were needed at Karoonda and Alawoona stations to treat the salty water as well as new and deeper bores to meet the needs of the trains.
By early 1913 it was known that new railways were to be built to Waikerie and Peebinga and that Karoonda would become a junction station.
More information can be found in Chapter 4 Karoonda East Murray A History to 1986 Alan Jones