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Fraser, James (1861–1936)

Mr. James Fraser, who was Chief Commissioner of the New South Wales Railways from 1917 until 1929, died at his home at Pymble yesterday, aged 74 years. He was recognised as a particularly sound administrator and an authority on railway matters, and deep regret was felt at his forced retirement because of ill-health in 1929—two years before the expiration of his term of appointment.

Mr. Fraser entered the railway service as a boy, and rose to the highest position in it 39 years later. His wide experience during those years proved invaluable to him in his administration of the great undertaking, and during his term as Chief Commissioner the efficiency and finances of the service improved considerably. He supervised the construction of many lines, and he was in charge when the metropolitan service was electrified. He was extremely popular with all sections of employees in the railways.

Born at Braidwood in 1861, Mr. Fraser completed his studies at the Sydney Grammar School. He entered the railway service in 1878 as a cadet under the late Mr. John Whitton, engineer-in-charge of railway construction. After four years in the drawing office and on survey work, he was appointed assistant engineer on April 1, 1882, and later became resident and district engineer. In the latter position he supervised new railway construction work in various parts of the State. He was chiefly concerned with the South Coast line, which afforded excellent scope for the exercise of his engineering ability because of the difficult nature of the country. He was specially selected by the Chief Commissioner (Mr. E. M. G. Eddy) in 1889 to control railway duplication and other large engineering works then being carried out by contract. He was appointed divisional engineer at Goulburn in 1890, with engineering control over the main line and branches south of Goulburn, a track mileage of approximately 1000 miles.

He became assistant engineer-in-chief in 1892, and, after acting as engineer-in-chief for six months in 1895, he was appointed to that position on March 16, 1903. In that office he exercised engineering control and supervision of a track mileage of 3790 miles. In 1905, he represented the New South Wales Railways at the International Railway Congress at Washington, U.S.A., and subsequently toured the United States, Canada, and Britain investigating railway control and improvements.

Mr. Fraser was appointed Deputy Assistant Commissioner for Railways on April 27, 1910, and Assistant Commissioner on April 4, 1914. Subsequently he became Deputy Chief Commissioner until January 1, 1917, when he was appointed Chief Commissioner. In this position he had control of the biggest business undertaking in the Commonwealth, with a staff, including the tramways, which were then under the same control, of 52,208. The turnover of the two concerns was then £33,259,515 a year.

Important works carried out under Mr. Fraser's personal direction included the elimination of the great "Zig Zag" and the construction of the Emu Plains to Glenbrook deviation on the main western line; the new railway line between Waterfall, Otford, and Coalcliff on the Illawarra line; the reconstruction of the main southern line between Picton and Mittagong; the duplication and quadruplication of long stretches of the main trunk lines; and the construction of the new goods railway from Flemington to Wardell road and Glebe Island. During his term as Chief Commissioner the underground railway was in course of construction, and the electrification of the metropolitan lines was carried out. He also rendered important service in an advisory capacity in the bulk handling of wheat and the construction of grain silos and elevators.

He was reappointed Chief Commissioner in December, 1924, for a period of seven years, at a salary of £5000 a year. However, in September, 1929, he asked the Premier, Mr. (now Sir Thomas) Bavin for permission to retire as soon as possible because of ill-health. Regret was expressed by the Government at the need for his retirement, and the Premier paid a high tribute to his long and valuable public service, and to his ability as an administrator. Mr. Fraser relinquished his duties late in November.

Subsequently, in September, 1931, Mr. Fraser was appointed a member of the Transport (Co-ordination) Commission by the Lang Government.

Mr. Fraser was a keen gardener, and was very fond of reading. His other hobby was painting.

He is survived by three sons, Messrs. Keith, Noel, and Ian Fraser. The funeral will leave his late residence at 2 p.m. to-day for Rookwood Crematorium.

Tributes to Mr. Fraser's work were paid yesterday by a number of public men, including the Acting premier (Mr. Bruxner).

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Citation details

'Fraser, James (1861–1936)', Obituaries Australia, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://oa.anu.edu.au/obituary/fraser-james-10700/text24636, accessed 25 November 2017.

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