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Papua New Guinea is commonly thought to be a land without railways. At the very least, railways do not immediately come to mind as a topic for historical research in Papua New Guinea. Nevertheless, we set out to document and record something of the history of local railways in 1971, initially as individual projects. Inevitably, our interest in the topic of railways brought us together and we have been working collaboratively on our research since 1980. At first the task was to identify and document the railways which have operated in Papua New Guinea. To our surprise, we now have records of some 150 railway lines, many of them small hand-pushed operations from a jetty to a copra store or around a sawmill. Others have yielded fascinating stories of more substantial enterprises and the endeavours of colonial pioneers at the frontier. As we brought the material together we began to realise that we not only had stories about small railway operations around the country, but we also had the basis for a new look at some basic elements of Papua New Guinea economic history. Through the story of railways we had identified important themes which helped us learn about the economic conditions of today from the experience of the past.