Adelaide–Darwin railway

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Route map of the line
Adelaide-Darwin Railway
Port of Darwin - East Arm Wharf
Darwin (Berrimah)
Elizabeth River (500m)
Darwin River
Finniss River
Adelaide River West Branch - 1
Adelaide River West Branch - 2
Union Reef Loop (iron ore)
Edith River
Katherine River
King River
Newcastle Waters loop
Muckaty loop & spur
Tennant Creek
Illoquara loop
Alice Springs
Roe Creek loop, siding triangle & spur
Mereenie siding & spurs
Hugh River
Hugh River loop, siding & spur
Finke River
Impadna loop, siding & spur
Kulgera loop siding & yard
Northern Territory
South Australia
Marryat loop & siding
Alberga River
Chandler loop siding, triangle & spurs
unamed River
Marla loop, siding & spur
Coober Pedy (Manguri Siding)
Trans-Australian Railway from Perth
Trans-Australian Railway to Perth
Port Augusta
293 Winninowie Loop
267 Mambray Creek loop
248 Port Germein loop & siding
223 To Port Pirie
222 Coonamia loop & halt
201 Crystal Brook Grain circle
200 Crystal Brook loop & Siding
199 Crystal Brook to Broken Hill (and Sydney)
195 Rocky River loop
195 Rocky River
174 Redhill loop
147 Snowtown loop & grain spur
122 Nantawarra loop & siding
106 Wakefield River
103 Bowmans yard, loop & siding
79 Long Plains loop & siding
62 Mallala Grain circle,loop & siding
55 Light River
46 Two Wells loop & siding
40 Gawler River
33 Bolivar loop & siding
24 Little Para River
9-17 Various yards and Pelican Point freight line
6 Outer Harbor railway line to Outer Harbour
5 Karrawirra Parri (River Torrens)
2 To Adelaide Railway Station
0km Adelaide Parklands Terminal

The Adelaide–Darwin railway is a south-north transcontinental railway in Australia, between the cities of Adelaide, South Australia and Darwin, Northern Territory. Between 2000-2004 the line was extended from Alice Springs to Darwin as a Build, Own, Operate and Transfer back (BOOT) project by the AustralAsia Rail Corporation. This replaced the former narrow gauge line from Darwin to Larrimah and the narrow gauge/standard gauge Central Australia Railway from Port Augusta to Alice Springs uses a different route up to 200km to the east.

The line sees the Great Southern Rail operated passenger train 'The Ghan' as well as goods trains operated by Genesee & Wyoming Australia.


See Central Australian Railway for details of history of the first route - the Adelaide-Darwin railway is a different gauge and route

The Northern Territory Act (Cth) of 1910 required the building of a North-South railway although no date was specified. By 1967, Commonwealth Railways were looking at an alternative to the often flooded original route and the current Tarcoola route was suggested as one of three options although the route may be different to the current version.

The Northern section of the current line replaces the original narrow gauge North Australia Railway from Darwin to Birdum. The Central Australian Railway that operated from Alice Springs to Port Augusta in the south was up to 200km to the east of the current line and only the short section from Alice Springs to Heavitree was repurposed.

Elizabeth River Bridge, 17 km South of Darwin

Alice Springs to Darwin[edit]

In 2000, the AustralAsia Rail Corporation (a company owned by the Northern Territory and South Australian Governments) awarded the contract to build and operate the Adelaide to Darwin railway line as a Build, Own, Operate and Transfer back (BOOT) project to the Asia Pacific Transport Consortium. The Asia Pacific Transport Consortium contracted FreightLink to implement the project and to operate the railway.

It cost $1.2 billion to build.[2]

The Australian Government contributed $165 million from the Centenary of Federation Fund, the Northern Territory Government contributed $165 million and the South Australian Government contributed $150 million to the AustralAsia Rail Corporation for the construction of assets by Asia Pacific Transport Consortium and FreightLink that were later leased for a peppercorn rent to FreightLink in addition, the three Governments contributed about $26 million each, a total of $79 million in further funding to support the Asia Pacific Transport Consortium directly, by way of mezzanine debt financing (subordinated debt), equity, and contingent equity.


Adelaide–Darwin railway line in Darwin, Northern Territory
  • July 2001: North: Construction of Alice Springs – Darwin line starts
  • 17 September 2003: Darwin reached, the line from Adelaide to Darwin is complete
  • 17 January 2004: First freight train reaches Darwin
  • 4 February 2004: First passenger train reaches Darwin from Adelaide, travelling 2970 km in 47 hours.[3]

Bankruptcy and sale[edit]

The Freightlink board, shareholders and lenders on 19 May 2008 agreed to sell its ownership of the Adelaide to Darwin rail link after failing to make a profit since the railway line commenced operation.[4][5] Then on 6 November 2008 Freightlink went into voluntary administration after failing to reach agreement with creditors on the terms of a sale of the business.[6] Genesee & Wyoming agreed to purchase the assets of FreightLink on 10 June 2010 for $334 million,[2] and the sale meant that the 50-year lease on the Adelaide–Darwin railway was transferred to Genesee & Wyoming Australia.[7]


The line from Tarcoola to Alice Springs is owned by the Australian Rail Track Corporation and leased on a long term basis to Gennesee and Wyoming. The line from Alice Springs to Darwin is owned by Gennesee and Wyoming, and will transfer to the state and federal governments at the end of the contract term.

The line consists of:

  • 1420 km
  • 6 major bridges crossing the Katherine, Elizabeth, Adelaide, Cullen, Fergusson and Edith rivers[8]
  • 87 minor bridges
  • 1,500 culverts[9]
  • 145,000 tonnes of rail[9]
  • 2.8 million tonnes of ballast
  • 2 million sleepers
  • 8 million sleeper fastenings


Freight services operate on the line in addition to The Ghan passenger service, which is operated by Great Southern Railway. Genesee & Wyoming Australia is the main freight operator. The line has facilitated bulk commodity exports from iron ore and copper mines in central Australia, including Oz Minerals' Prominent Hill copper mine.[10] Following a derailment event in December 2011,[11] Oz Minerals has elected to use the line to export to the south via Port Adelaide,[12] rather than their previous outport, Darwin.

Dry bulk exports from Darwin's port (serviced by rail) exceeded 3 million tonnes for the first time in financial year 2010-2011 and comprised iron ore, manganese and copper concentrate.[13]


The original narrow gauge North Australia Railway served, indeed often created, the towns at the stations along the way however the new standard gauge railway has stations at Tennant Creek and Katherine, plus passing loops at Illoquara and Newcastle Waters.[14]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Standard Gauge to Alice Springs – Construction of Tarcoola–Alice Springs Railway Buckland, John L. Australian Railway Historical Society Bulletin, June 1981 pp117–39
  2. ^ a b [1]
  3. ^ [2]
  4. ^ Vesna Poljak and Michael Smith (19 May 2008). "Banks force sale of $1.2bn Adelaide- Darwin rail link". The Australian Financial Review. p. 1 and 19. 
  5. ^ Calacouras, Nick (20 May 2008). "Railway up for sale". Northern Territory News. News Ltd. Retrieved 20 May 2008. 
  6. ^ "End of the line as train sale derailed". Northern Territory News. News Ltd. 7 November 2008. Retrieved 12 November 2008. 
  7. ^ "FreightLink-owned Adelaide-Darwin railway to be sold to US company Genesee & Wyoming". The Advertiser. 9 June 2010. Retrieved 9 June 2010. 
  8. ^ [3]
  9. ^ a b [4]
  10. ^ "First Prominent Hill shipment set for export". ABC News. 2009-04-29. Retrieved 2016-05-30. 
  11. ^ "Train derailment copper concentrate recovered". ABC News. Retrieved 2016-04-10. 
  12. ^ "Oz Minerals - Intermodal Solutions Group". Intermodal Solutions Group. Retrieved 2016-05-30. 
  13. ^ "Dry Bulk Exports". Darwin Port. Retrieved 2016-05-30. 
  14. ^ "Network Operating Guide, Part 32, Tarcoola to Darwin" (PDF). Australia Southern Railroad. 2 January 2004. 

Further reading[edit]

  • Bromby, Robin (2004). Rails to the Top End: The Adelaide-Darwin Transcontinental Railway (4th ed.). Alice Springs: Paul Fitzsimons. ISBN 9780958176019. 
  • Rozycki, Jack (Jan–Mar 2003). "The Never Never Line. Australia's biggest project: the Adelaide-Darwin railway". Australian Geographic 69: 50–67.

External links[edit]