The Barmera railway line was the second railway built to develop the Murray Mallee region of South Australia, in 1913. It followed the success of the Pinnaroo railway line in 1906. Both lines branched east from Tailem Bend to the north of the main Melbourne–Adelaide railway. The Brown's Well line was the more northerly, and extended into country which had not been developed much before the railway, partly due to the absence of any viable transport route for produce. The original terminus of the Brown's Well railway was at Meribah, not far from the Victorian border.
Such was the optimism about this region, that three lines from the Brown's Well line to the Murray River, and an additional line between it and the Pinnaroo line, were approved even before it was completed. It was extended further to Renmark and Barmera in the 1920s, along with construction of another spur from Wanbi to near Moorook in 1925.
The initial sidings and mileages from Adelaide were:—Tailem Bend, 75¼ miles; Naturi, 84½; Kulde, 89½; Wynarka, 95¼; Karoonda, 105¼; Lowalde, 111½; Borrika, 115½; Halidon, 128¼; Wanbi, 139¼; Alawoona, 151¾; Paruna, 164¾; Meribah, 172. As the locomotives were powered by steam, reliable water supplies were required as well. There are no significant rivers or lakes in the Mallee, so government bores and tanks were required. The following bores were available on the Brown's Well railway: Yalwarra bore, at 14½ miles (bad water, not suitable for railway use); Wynarka, 20 miles; Karoonda, 29 miles 66 chains; Borrika, 40 miles; Sandalwood, 47 miles 43 chains; Halidon, 55 miles 19 chains; Crecy, 58 miles 20 chains; Wanbi, 64 miles 60 chains; Cobera, 71 miles; Alawoona, 76 miles, 22 chains; Wolowa, 84 miles; Meribah, 96 miles 64 chains. The bores were situated at an average distance of 7 miles apart.
Part of the Brown's Well railway line plus most of the Loxton railway line spur from Alawoona were converted to standard gauge and remained as the Loxton railway line, used to carry part of the seasonal grain harvest. The rest of the line and branches were closed. The Loxton line closed on 20 July 2015, with all grain traffic now taken by road.
Almost as soon as the railway to the Brown's Well district had been completed to Meribah (May 1913), it was extended 40 miles (64 km) north to the Murray River at Paringa. The extension was approved before the original length had been completed, with an additional cost estimate of £135,750 to serve an additional 296,000 acres (1,200 km2). The official opening to Paringa was on 2 October 1913. The intervention of World War I delayed the construction of the Paringa Bridge to extend the railway to Renmark until 1927. It later was also extended to Barmera with the first passenger service running on 1 August 1928.
In the 1960s, a branch line was built which joined the main line south of Paringa, near the Wonuarra siding. It was 27.3 kilometres (17.0 mi) long, and went northeast to Murtho to the south bank of the Murray River. It was built to support construction of the proposed Chowilla Dam. The dam construction was cancelled in 1967 and never built. The railway line was removed without ever being used.
- "RAILWAY EXTENSION". The Register. Adelaide: National Library of Australia. 21 December 1912. p. 7. Retrieved 29 June 2014.
- "THE MOOROOK RAILWAY". The Chronicle. Adelaide: National Library of Australia. 12 September 1925. p. 52. Retrieved 29 June 2014.
- "TO CORRESPONDENTS". The Advertiser. Adelaide: National Library of Australia. 26 August 1913. p. 11. Retrieved 29 June 2014.
- Strathearn, Peri (21 May 2015). "End of line for Murraylands, Mallee grain trains". The Murray Valley Standard. Fairfax Regional Media. Retrieved 4 August 2015.
- "MURRAY RAILWAYS". Daily Herald. Adelaide: National Library of Australia. 1 October 1913. p. 3. Retrieved 9 October 2014.
- "RENMARK RAILWAY". The Register. Adelaide: National Library of Australia. 29 January 1927. p. 11. Retrieved 9 October 2014.
- ".. RENMARK TO BARMERA." Murray Pioneer and Australian River Record. Renmark, SA: National Library of Australia. 17 August 1928. p. 7. Retrieved 9 October 2014.
- "Paringa - Chowilla Railway, S.A". RailPage. Interactive Omnimedia Pty Ltd. Retrieved 30 September 2015.[self-published source]
- "Chowilla branch". RailPage. Interactive Omnimedia Pty Ltd. Retrieved 30 September 2015.[self-published source]