Trans-Australian Railway

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Trans-Australian Railway
Looking east on the trans australia line from cook.jpg
Looking east on the Trans-Australia Railway
from Cook, South Australia
Track gauge1,435 mm (4 ft 8 12 in)
km Adelaide-Port Augusta railway
0 Port Augusta
branch line to Whyalla
28 Tent Hill
55 Hesso
85 Bookaloo
118 McLeay
150 Wirrappa
181 Pimba
branch line to Woomera
219 Burando
250 Wirraminna
283 Coondambo
302 Kultanaby
335 Kingoonya
377 Ferguson
413 Tarcoola
Central Australia Railway
450 Malbooma
473 Lyons
515 Wynbring
546 Mt Christie
575 Mungala
602 Barton
634 Bates
684 Ooldea
717 Watson
770 Fisher
823 Cook
SA - WA border
Eastern Goldfields Railway
Australia Map-TAR.jpg

The Trans-Australian Railway crosses the Nullarbor Plain of Australia from Port Augusta in South Australia to Kalgoorlie in Western Australia. It includes a 478-kilometre (297 mi) stretch of dead-straight track, the world's longest, between the 797 km (495 mi) post west of Ooldea and the 1,275 km (792 mi) post west of Loongana.[1]

The line forms an important freight route between Western Australia and the eastern states. Currently two passenger services also use the line, the Indian Pacific for its entire length and The Ghan between Port Augusta and Tarcoola.

Earlier passenger services on the route were known as the Great Western Express.[2][3][4][5][6][7][8]


CL10 and L266 with an east-bound freight train near Parkeston in 1987

In 1901, the six Australian colonies federated to form the Commonwealth of Australia. At that time, Perth, the capital of Western Australia, was isolated from the remaining Australian States by thousands of miles of desert terrain and the only practicable method of transport was by sea, a time-consuming, inconvenient and often uncomfortable voyage across the Great Australian Bight, a stretch of water known for rough seas. One of the inducements held out to Western Australians to join the new federation was the promise of a federally funded railway line linking Western Australia with the rest of the continent.

In 1907 legislation was passed, allowing for the route to be surveyed. The survey was completed in 1909 and proposed a route from Port Augusta (the existing railhead at the head of Spencer Gulf in South Australia's wheatfields) via Tarcoola to the gold mining centre of Kalgoorlie in Western Australia, a distance of 1,063 miles (1,711 km). The line was to be to the standard gauge of 4 ft 8 12 in (1,435 mm), even though the state railway systems at both ends were narrow gauge at the time. Its cost was estimated at £4,045,000.

Legislation authorising the construction was passed in December 1911 by the Andrew Fisher Government and work commenced in September 1912 in Port Augusta.

Work proceeded eastwards from Kalgoorlie and westwards from Port Augusta through the years of the First World War. By 1915, the two ends of the line were just over 600 miles (966 km) apart with materials being delivered daily.[9] Construction progressed steadily as the line was extended through dry and desolate regions until the two halves of the line met at Ooldea on 17 October 1917.[10][11]

Commonwealth Railways was established in 1917 to administer the line.

The entire intercity route was not converted to standard gauge until 1970.

In 2008, its engineering heritage was recognized by the installation of markers provided by the Engineers Australia's Engineering Heritage Recognition Program to the platform at the Port Augusta Station in South Australia and the ticket office at Kalgoorlie Station in Western Australia.[12]

On 17 October 2017, centenary celebrations were held at Ooldea.[13]

Named services[edit]

On inauguration, the passenger service was known as the Great Western Express.[2][3][4][5][6][7][8] Towards the end of its life as a mixed gauge service, between Kalgoorlie and Port Augusta it was usually known as the Trans-Australian or simply - "The Trans". From February 1970 the new direct Sydney-Perth service was named the Indian Pacific.

From the start of construction until 1996 the Tea & Sugar Train carried vital supplies to the isolated work sites and towns along the route.


The final distance was 1,051.73 mi (1,692.595 km), slightly less than the original survey. At no point along the route does the line cross a permanent fresh watercourse.

Bores and reservoirs were established at intervals, but the water was often brackish and unsuitable for steam locomotive use, let alone human consumption, so water supplies had to be carried on the train. In the days of steam locomotion, about half the total load was water for the engine.

According to Adelaide-born astronaut Andy Thomas, the line is identifiable from space, because of its unnatural straightness. "It's a very fine line, it's like someone has drawn a very fine pencil line across the desert," he has said.[14]

Names of stopping places[edit]

Most of the stopping locations in the 129° E to 134° E part of the railway in South Australia (except for Deakin, which is 3 km (1.9 mi) inside Western Australia's state border) were named after the first seven Australian Prime Ministers.

Location Name of Prime Minister Prime Minister number Distance from Port Augusta in km (mi)[15]
Barton, South Australia Edmund Barton First 605.11 (376)
Watson, South Australia Chris Watson Third 716.16 (445)
Fisher, South Australia Andrew Fisher Fifth 770.88 (479)
Cook, South Australia Joseph Cook Sixth 825.59 (513)
Hughes, South Australia Billy Hughes Seventh 912.5 (567)
Deakin, Western Australia Alfred Deakin Second 964 (599)
Reid, Western Australia George Reid Fourth 1,017.11 (632) This station is west of Deakin.

Other federal ministers from the 1900–1917 era occur outside of this sequence amongst stopping places on the rail route.


Because of the inevitable problems of finding suitable water for steam locomotives in a desert, the original engineer, Henry Deane envisaged diesel locomotives for the line. He got as far as making enquiries with potential manufacturers. Unfortunately, a scandal involving the supply of sleepers led to Deane's resignation before the diesel locomotive proposal had advanced beyond the point of no return.[16]

Initially trains were hauled by G class locomotives and from 1938 by C class locomotives.[17] It was not until 1951 that regular diesel hauled passenger services worked on the Trans Australia Railway, hauled by the new GM class locomotives.[18]

The Trans-Australian Railway originally had crossing loops (passing sidings) 400 m (1,300 ft) long every 100 km (62 mi) or so. As traffic increased the number of crossing loops increased. To handle longer trains, crossing loops were lengthened so that in 2008 they are all at least 1,800 m (5,900 ft) long and spaced about 30 km (19 mi) to 60 km (37 mi) apart.

Most crossing loops are unattended and train crew operate the points as required. Crossing loops have self restoring points, so that points are reset to the straight route when a train departs from a crossing loop. The loops are fitted with radio controls so that train crew can set the points as they approach. Locomotives are fitted with an in-cab activated points system (ICAPS), enabling the remote operation of the self-restoring point machines at crossing loops by the crew from the locomotive cab, allowing train crews to set the required route without having to stop the train.[19]

The safeworking is Train Orders, via a verbal communications-based train order working system.[19]

See also[edit]



  1. ^ Longest Straight Section of Railway Line in the World Archived 2 April 2015 at the Wayback Machine Australian Book of Records
  2. ^ a b "Linking the Capitals - The East-West line". Observer. Adelaide, SA. 24 November 1917. p. 24. Retrieved 24 November 2015.
  3. ^ a b "Great Western Express Derailed at Boondi". The Daily News. Perth, WA. 15 June 1918. p. 8. Retrieved 24 November 2015.
  4. ^ a b "Robbery on Great Western Express". The West Australian. Perth, WA. 7 January 1925. p. 7. Retrieved 24 November 2015.
  5. ^ a b "Great Western Express Derailment in Desert". The Argus. Melbourne, Vic. 1 January 1931. p. 7. Retrieved 24 November 2015.
  6. ^ a b "Great Western Train Mishap Near Kalgoorlie". The Argus. Melbourne, Vic. 26 December 1933. p. 2. Retrieved 24 November 2015.
  7. ^ a b "Great Western Express Departure for Perth Delayed". The West Australian. Perth, WA. 14 September 1943. p. 2. Retrieved 24 November 2015.
  8. ^ a b "Westland Late". The West Australian. Perth, WA. 17 August 1953. p. 3. Retrieved 24 November 2015.
  9. ^ "The Federal line". The West Australian. Perth: National Library of Australia. 16 April 1915. p. 6. Retrieved 16 October 2013.
  10. ^ Chambers, T.F. (1968) The Golden Jubilee of the Trans Australian Railway Australian Railway Historical Society Bulletin November, 1968 pp267-275
  11. ^ "The Last Link". The West Australian. XXXIII, (4, 850). Western Australia. 18 October 1917. p. 4. Retrieved 17 October 2017 – via National Library of Australia.CS1 maint: extra punctuation (link)
  12. ^ "Trans-Australian Railway, 1917". Engineering Heritage Recognition Program. Engineers Australia. Archived from the original on 30 June 2016. Retrieved 19 June 2016.
  13. ^ Taylor, Paige (17 October 2017). "Celebrating rail's unite nation, 100 years on". The Australian.
  14. ^ Debelle, Penelope (10 October 2014). "Adelaide's own spaceman Andy Thomas". The Advertiser. Adelaide. Retrieved 19 October 2014.
  15. ^ (1927) Travel in comfort across Australia on the Trans-Australian Railway. Melbourne : Commonwealth Railways. internal map titled Map shewing Connections between Capital Cities via Trans- Australian Railway
  16. ^ Burke, A 1991., Road Through the Wilderness: The Story of the Transcontinental Railway, the First Great Work of Australia's Federation.; New South Wales University Press
  17. ^ Oberg, Leon (1984). Locomotives of Australia 1850's – 1980's. Frenchs Forest: Reed Books. pp. 122, 164. ISBN 0-730100-05-7.
  18. ^ New Train Service Across Australia The West Australian 12 November 1951
  19. ^ a b "Overrun of authority involving train 6MP5" (pdf). Canberra: Australian Transport Safety Bureau. 7 July 2014. Retrieved 3 May 2017.


  • Adam-Smith, Patsy (1974) The Desert Railway. Adelaide: Rigby ISBN 0-85179-675-3
  • Anchen, Nick (2017). Iron Roads in the Outback: The Legendary Commonwealth Railways. Ferntree Gully, Vic: Sierra Publishing. ISBN 9780992538828.
  • Avery, Rod (2006). Freight Across the Nation: The Australian Superfreighter Experience. Brisbane: Copyright Publishing Co. ISBN 1876344474.
  • Buckland, J.L. (1965) Canadian and American Locomotives in Wartime Service on the Trans-Australian Railway Australian Railway Historical Society Bulletin, September, 1965.
  • Burke, David, (1991) Road Through the Wilderness: The Story of the Transcontinental Railway, the First Great Work of Australia's Federation. Kensington, N.S.W.: New South Wales University Press. ISBN 0-86840-140-4
  • Cree, Patricia (2012). The Trans-Australian Railway: Bringing the nation together. Canberra Airport, ACT: Australasian Railway Association. ISBN 9780646584249.
  • Henshaw, C.H. (1964) Overland to Perth in 1928 Australian Railway Historical Society Bulletin, April, 1964.
  • Luke, Monte (1997). Riders of the Steel Highways: The History of Australia's Commonwealth Railways 1912-1975. Port Augusta, SA: VM & BM Luke. ISBN 0646346520.
  • Spear, R. Clarke (1917) The Golden West: Trans-Australian Christmas number Perth, Western Australia "The Golden West, Vol. 13, December 1917."

External links[edit]

Coordinates: 32°28′02″S 137°46′00″E / 32.46709079°S 137.76673101°E / -32.46709079; 137.76673101