Central Australia Railway
|Central Australia Railway|
|System||South Australian Railways|
|Continues from||Adelaide-Port Augusta railway line|
|Opened||Port Augusta–Oodnadatta: 1891|
Oodnadatta–Alice Springs: 6 August 1929
|Operator(s)||South Australian Railways|
|Line length||1,241 km (771 mi)|
|Track gauge||1,600 mm (5 ft 3 in)|
The former Central Australia Railway was a 1241 km 1067 mm narrow gauge railway between Adelaide and Alice Springs. A standard gauge line replaced the southern section from Port Augusta to Maree in 1957, but used a new nearby alignment. The entire line was superseded in 1980 by the wholly standard gauge Adelaide-Darwin railway, using a new route up to 200 km to the west. A small southern section of the original line between Port Augusta and Quorn has been preserved as the Pichi Richi Tourist Railway. A short section just south of Alice Springs has also been preserved.
- 1 Naming
- 2 History
- 2.1 Proposal
- 2.2 South Australian and Australian Federal government parliamentary acts
- 2.3 Construction
- 3 Operations
- 4 Film
- 5 Decline, conversion to standard gauge and closure
- 6 Heritage trail, restoration and preserved sections
- 7 List of stations
- 8 See also
- 9 Notes
- 10 Further reading
- 11 External links
Whilst officially the Central Australia Railway, it has been known by a number of names.
Initially the northern end point had not be determined. Government acts and the press used a number of terms prior to construction including
- The Port Augusta Railway
- The Northern Railway
- The Port Augusta to (far) North Railway
After construction, railway was referred to as Port Augusta-Oodnadatta railway before the line was extended towards Alice Springs and it was also referred to as the North-South Railway in possible anticipation to extend the line to Darwin.
It has also often been referred to as the Great Northern Railway in the 1890s and into the twentieth century. The most southern part of the line between Port Augusta and Quorn is now referred to as the Pichi Richi Tourist Railway.
Another colloquial name used was The Ghan, after the passenger train that utilised the line. It is suggested that The 'Ghan name is in recognition of the Afghan Cameleers that plied their trade in the area well before the railway; however, see The Ghan (Etymology) for alternatives. This colloquial term for the railway appears to have been widely in use from at least the early 1930s; it may have been in use prior to this. The new Adelaide-Darwin railway initially used The New Ghan as a trading name. It has now reverted to The Ghan, relegating the original line name colloquially as The Old Ghan.
From the proposal for a line heading north of Port Augusta to turning the first sod in 1878 took 18 years and the process was referred to by the press as "which has so far failed to extend itself out of the region of nebulous ideas.".
The key issues reported at the time were:
Significant debate about the cost delayed and eventually altered the final design. The costs were significant for the South Australian colony and there was rigorous debate over that period. Mineral extraction was touted as the key benefit, with farming and passenger traffic being deemed by many as being uneconomic alone although others suggest the key products were 'wool, station stores, and copper' in that order. The cost per kilometre was set in the Acts which precluded more expensive options.
Gauge and minimum speed
There was fierce debate about the gauge of the line, the maximum weight to be carried and maximum speed as all three dictated the cost.
Route and end point
A multitude of routes and end-points were nominated with over a dozen potential routes explored, most of these to the north. End points that were discussed included Government Gums (Farina, South Australia (320km), Yudnamutana, South Australia (390km) and Beltana (232km). The 1867 Act stated that the line would be 200 miles from Port Augusta. Newspapers of the time did mention extending the line to Port Darwin although this was not gazetted in Parliament.
In the 1864 Act, both horse drawn and steam engine were to be considered and travel should be at least 8 miles per hour.
State versus corporate
The State run South Australian Railways wanted to build the line and there were others who thought 'capitalists', predominantly from the United Kingdom, would offer better value for money. South Australian Railways developed a trial called the Northern Extension Railway to Burra to test the engineering capabilities.
South Australian and Australian Federal government parliamentary acts
- 1862 – Northern Railway Act
- carriage of passengers, merchandise, and produce between Port Augusta and some point (not less than 100 miles) northwards
- The first 20 miles to be completed in two years and the remainder in five years
- The propelling power shall be horse power or locomotive engines (at a rate of not less than eight miles an hour)
- Two passenger and two goods trains at least twice a week for the entire length
- Convey all military, police, and other forces, when proceeding on duty, and all public mails and public stores, or stores belonging to a public department, in the ordinary trains free of charge
- The government grants of blocks of land equal to two square miles for every mile in length
- 1864 – Northern Railways Act
- 1864 -Sale of Railways Act (repealed 1866)
- This Act allowed the Government to sell any railway or tram line and showed the lack of commitment to financing railways in South Australia.
- 1867 – The Port Augusta and Northern Railway Act
- 1876 – Port Augusta and Government Gums Railway Act.
- 1883 – Palmerston and Pine Creek Railway Act
- 1907 – The Northern Territory surrender Act (SA)
- 1910 – Northern Territory Acceptance Act (Commonwealth)
- This confirmed the 1907 act as well as stating a line from Port Darwin would be constructed to meet the Port Augusta (Central Australia) railway and to be known as The Transcontinental Railway. There was no date for the commencement or completion of this proposed line.
- 1949 – Railway Standardization (South Australia) Agreement Act 1949 (Commonwealth)
- 1950 - Brachina to Leigh Creek North Coalfield Railway Act (Commonwealth)
- 1952 – Stirling North to Brachina Railway Act (Commonwealth)
- 1954 – Leigh Creek North Coalfield to Marree (Conversion to Standard Gauge) (Commonwealth).
- 1974 – Tarcoola to Alice Springs Railway Act (Commonwealth)
- This act provisioned $145,000,000 to the construction of a new standard gauge line to the west of the current line from the existing railway at Tarcoola to Alice Springs, bringing the Central Australia Railway to a permanent close in 1980 with only small sections to the south remaining in limited or tourist operation.
Design, construction, as well as a hiatus, occurred in four periods distinct under both South Australian and Federal Australian Governments over a fifty year period.
Initial design and route
Around 1871, there was general agreement between Robert C. Patteson, Assistant Engineer (report writer), H. C. Mais, (Engineer-in-Chief) and Surveyor General. George Goyder (creator of the Goyder line of rainfall) about the length and route of the railway. All three could not see going further north than Beltana (232km) due to rain fall and environment, The two options out of Port Augusta were the Western Plains and the Pichi Richi routes. The Pichi Richi route, while more expensive, offered access to the farmland to the west.
An extensive permanent survey was conducted circa 1876 and the final route mapped to Government Gums due to the water available at the terminus. The length was to be "198 miles 66.92 chains", and the route consisted of "no less than 64 bridges, ranging in length from 20 feet to 740 feet, 470 flood-openings from 10 to 40 feet wide, 550 culverts from 2 feet 6 inches to 10 feet wide, 61 pipe-drains,and 14 water courses".
Initial build to Farina (Government Gums)
The first sod was turned at Port Augusta on 18 January, 1878 and took until 1882 to reach Government Gums (320km), 1884 Maree (372km), 1888 Coward Springs (501km) and finally Oodnadatta in 1891 (770km). Construction was by South Australian Railways as a 1,067 mm (3 ft 6 in) narrow gauge railway.
Cessation of extending the line
Between 1891 and 1926, the railway line was not extended. Discussion occurred about if the existing line should be extended or commence a standard gauge railway from Tarcoola. The South Australian Railways were transferred to the Australian Federal Government on 1 January 1911 however South Australian Railways continued running the service until 1 January 1926. In 1926, Commonwealth Railways took over the running and commenced planning for extending the railway line north.
Completion from Oodnadatta to Alice Springs
The Northern Territory Act (Cth 1910) required the building of a North-South railway although no date was specified. Two unballasted routes were shortlisted with a Standard gauge line from Kingoonya to Alice Springs estimated at 4.5m pounds and the 1.7m pound narrow gauge extension from Oodnadatta to Alice Springs. The 270 miles 65 chain extension was passed after a number of debates in Federal Parliament.
Railway workers were paid 5 pounds, 8 shillings a week and a request for this to be raised to 6 pounds per week was refused by Sir John Quick in the Federal Arbitration Court on 11 March 1927.
Concerns were raised regarding local Aboriginals with media reporting ""It is intended to ask the State and Federal Governments to endeavour to keep the wilder natives and especially those from the Musgrave and Everard ranges in their fastnesses for a few years."
The first train consisted of 12 carriages including Mail and Fruit vans. There were 60 first class and 60 second class passengers and left on 5 August 1929 however an official ceremony to be attended by the Prime Minister was cancelled due to the cost of running a special train.
The tortuously curving narrow-gauge line between Marree and Alice Springs was notoriously prone to delays, often caused by flash floods washing away bridges and tracks. Some track was laid on sand without ballast, and wood sleepers were used, serving as food for termites, causing unstable tracks.
Floods, damage and accidents
There was a need for the route of the railway to be close to water for the original steam engines however this also caused significant issues due to flooding which occurred on a regular basis with a number of significant closures including:
- 1911 A train driver was killed at Brachina Siding (173km north of Port Augusta) when the train entered the creek after rains.
- 1915 Rain occurred around Quorn and further north with significant damage around Brachina with a bridge destroyed.
- 1926 Widespread rain damaged the railway between Quorn and Oodnadatta.
- 1929 Over 740 kilometers of the railway were damaged after torrential rain broke a seven year drought. The line north of Quorn.
- 1930 The service was suspended beyond Finke from 17 January 1930, until 6 March 1930 after some of the Finke River bridge piers were carried away and others damaged. A deviation was put in place to run the line over the river bed instead.
- A works train engine dived nose-first into Camel Creek near Rodinga with a fireman sustained a broken leg after the 30 foot Camel Creek bridge was undermined. The train was an engine and three carriages and was repairing tracks from recent floods. The driver also sustained unspecified injuries.
- 16 Passengers and railway engineers were stranded at Finke River will "have to remain there for some days" with water "four feet over the line".
- 1937 Reports of flooding delaying trains for at least 3 days
- 1939 Reports of six weeks of disruptions and headlines of "Train Weeks Late". Food shortages in Alice Springs after the train was delayed 34 days.
- 1943 Two trains collided at 2:03am near Strangeways Springs (537km from Port Augusta). One fireman was injured and three cattle lost their lives in February. This was the third head-on in recent months including one near Beltana.
- 1944 Four soldiers were killed and 27 injured when a goods train collided with a stationary train carrying 300 troops at midnight near Copley (262km north of Port Augusta) in May. The troop train had run out of water and was stationary when it was hit from behind by a freight train.
- 1950 Floods caused almost 300km of line to be impassable from Brachina (173km) to Curamurka (473km). This prevented coal trains from the Telford Cut coalfields from travelling. More expensive South African coal would be required to continue South Australian power supplies if the line did not reopen and may have been a final catalyst to upgrade to Standard Gauge.
- 1963 (May) 114 of the 140 Ghan passengers were airlifted to Alice Springs on five special flights after a week of delays. The floods "were the worse since 1938" and bread was dropped to the train.
- 1967 The track was closed for approximately 27 days after the track was breached in more than 32 places including destroying the Finke River Bridge. A "minor Berlin airlift" was required for Alice Springs. There were three proposals to improve the line were mentioned by the Commissioner of Commonwealth Railways. This included
- 1974 All roads cut around Alice Springs
World War II
In 1944, it was reported that trains had increased on the line from the normal two a week to 56, whilst the North Australia Railway had increased from one a week to 147. Rolling stock, sidings, marshaling areas and water points for the steam engines were all key issues in increasing traffic on the line.
The first diesel electric engine commenced service in June 1954. It was one of 14 engines ordered for both the Central and North Australia Railway. Built by the Birmingham Carriage and Wagon company, had a range of approximately 1134km, they could travel at 80kmh and haul 330 imperial tons. The Trans-Australian Railway and this line were the first two lines to be powered by diesel electric engines only in Australia.
Shortly before the closure of the narrow gauge line in 1980, BBC Television filmed an episode of the television series Great Railway Journeys of the World featuring the original route of the Ghan (and the infamously slow speed of the train).
Decline, conversion to standard gauge and closure
After World War II, the railway line existence became questionable for a number of reasons:
- The railway had a history of extensive flood damage as the original steam engines required access to streams which were prone to floods.
- The track was narrow gauge and not ballasted and thus loads and speeds were both reduced, reducing the profitability of the line.
- Goyder's Line of rainfall (1865), excluding rains in 1865, 1872 and some other years, was shown as being highly accurate with communities and cropping lands north of his line being abandoned after long dry spells. The entire railway is north of this line.
- Trucks and roads were becoming more reliable and utilised in South Australia.
- The 1910 Northern Territory Acceptance Act mandating a railway line between Darwin and Adelaide requiring a standard gauge railway, which would need to be less susceptible to flooding than the existing route designed for diesel-electric engines rather than steam.
- Improved railway engineering and construction methods allowed for improved design.
- The Standard Gauge upgrade of the southern section of the line from near Port Augusta to Maree placed pressure on the remaining narrow gauge sections that remained opened due to transfer and maintenance costs.
Conversion to standard gauge
In 1949, both South Australia and the Federal Government enacted the Railway Standardisation (South Australia) Agreement Act which looked at the upgrade of all lines to Standard Gauge, including the Central Australia Line. The act was more of an overarching statement rather than a commitment to complete all lines in a set order or time.
The Leigh Creek and Telford Cut Coalfields were first excavated in 1943 following a shortage of coal during World War II and between 1951 and 1954, discussions surrounded two route options to upgrade to Standard Gauge. Option B2 was upgrading the current line to Telford, the C option was the chosen option which was up to 32 km west of the current line. The South Australian and Federal governments bickered over by-passing the township of Quorn and it was only after a Royal Commission, that the Commonwealth Railways got their way with option C avoiding Quorn and the work commenced on the 255km line.
The South Australian Government and agriculturists wanted tho extend the Standard Gauge line a further 88km to Marree. This would reduce the bruising of the cattle and shorten the time to market as well as increase the number of cattle that could be transferred. Transferring livestock at Telford was considered problematic with coal dust and machinery.
The federal minister of transport traveled to the area in mid 1954 and confirmed the extension from Telford Cut to Marree. The cost was set at 1,241,000 pounds however this compared to 821,000 pounds to bring the existing line up to an acceptable level including ballasting and possible bridge replacement.
The Minister for Transport, Senator George McLeay and the Commonwealth Railways Commissioner, Mr. P. J. Hannaberry, both stated that they were "strongly in favour" to extend the Standard Gauge line all the way to Alice Springs in 1952. By April, 1954, Hannaberry had changed his mind and stated it was "out of the question".
In 1957, the Marree Railway Line, a new Standard gauge line from Stirling North (near Port Augusta) to Marree (372km from Port Augusta) opened replacing the existing line via Quorn. This was predominantly for coal to be transferred from the Leigh Creek and Telford Cut Coalfields to the power stations at Stirling North. The line was extended to Marree for cattle to be transported to market from the grazing plains, including around the Birdsville Track.
With the new standard gauge Marree Railway Line opened, the narrow gauge line began to close in sections:
- 1957: The section between Brachina (173km) to Beltana (232km) is closed in March
- 1957: The section between Leigh Creek (262km) to Marree (372km) is closed in July
- 1958: Beltana (232km) to Leigh Creek (262km) closed in July.
- 1972: Port Augusta (0km) to Hawker (105km) closed.
- Some sections of the narrow-gauge line remain in operation as the Pichi Richi Railway and the section from Port Augusta to Stirling North was realigned and restored in 2000–2002.
- 1981: The entire narrow gauge line was closed with the section between Marree (372km) and Alice Springs (1243km) abandoned, replaced by Tarcoola-Alice Springs line standard gauge line.
- 2016: Stirling North-Telford Cut standard gauge line mothballed after power station and mine closure.
Heritage trail, restoration and preserved sections
The southern end of the narrow gauge line commenced restoration in 1974 from Stirling North to eventually Quorn. Between 2000 and 2002, the line was extended back into Port Augusta with slight realignments and now sits beside the standard gauge main line. The Pichi Richi Railway now runs between Port Augusta and Quorn regularly.
In 2018, the Standard Gauge line between Stirling North and Telford coal mines was mothballed.[according to whom?]
List of stations
- Port Augusta
- Port Augusta racetrack
- Stirling North
- Woolshed Flat
- Pichi Richi
- Hookina (the siding was actually at the nearby town of Wonoka)
- Mern Merna
- Commodore (Meadows)
- Nilpena (Originally Blackfellows Creek)
- Copley (Originally Leigh Creek)
- Farina (Originally Government Gums)
- Marree (Originally Hergott Springs)
- Alberrie Creek
- Lake Eyre
- Stuart's Creek (Curdimurka)
- Margaret Siding
- Coward Springs
- Strangways Springs
- William Creek
- Anna Creek
- Box Creek
- Duff Creek
- Edward's Creek
- Peake Creek
- Mount Dutton
- North Creek
- Wire Creek
- Mount Sarah
- Mount Rebecca
- Mount Emery
- Bloods Creek
- Wall Creek
- Crown Point
- Mount Squire
- Deep Well
- Mount Polhill
- Mount Ertiva
- Alice Springs
- Alice Springs Abattoirs
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