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1301.0 - Year Book Australia, 2005  
Previous ISSUE Released at 11:30 AM (CANBERRA TIME) 21/01/2005   
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Completion of the Adelaide to Darwin railway line

This article is based on a paper by Jane Munday (published on the AustralAsia Railway Corporation web site) and information provided by Great Southern Railway and Flinders Ranges Research.

On 15 January 2004 the first freight train departed from Adelaide for the inaugural two-day journey to Darwin. Running on a transcontinental rail link that had been the dream of many people since the mid-19th century, the AustralAsia Railway completed the final link in Australia's railway network, and created a new transport system for the export and import of goods between Australia and the economies of Asia and beyond.

The time-line (table 22.30) provides a summary of the key events and dates in the 150-year history on the Adelaide to Darwin railway.


22.30 ADELAIDE TO DARWIN RAILWAY - KEY EVENTS

Event
Date

First suggestion of a transcontinental railway line between Adelaide and the tropical north by J Roberston, a Melbourne businessman.
1858
A vote in the South Australian Parliament to build a railway line by land grant is narrowly defeated.
1872
A Bill authorises a railway from Port Augusta to Government Gums (later Farina) (the Southern Line).
1876
Work begins on the Southern Line.
1878
The Southern Line reaches Farina. The South Australian Government introduces the Palmerston and Pine Creek Railway Bill (the Northern Line). Palmerston is the former name of Darwin.
1883
The Northern Line reaches Pine Creek (1888) and is opened (1889).
1888-1889
The Southern Line is extended to reach Oodnadatta.
1891
A promise to complete the transcontinental line forms part of the 1910 Acceptance Act.
1910
Work begins on extending the Northern Line to Emungalen, on the banks of the Katherine River.
End of World War I
The first train crosses the Katherine River, Emungalen closes, and the town of Katherine grows on a new site across the river.
1926
Although the Northern Line is meant to continue on to Daly Waters, funds run out during the Depression and it terminates at Birdum, 509 km south of Darwin.
1929
The Southern Line is extended to Alice Springs.
1929
First Ghan passenger train leaves Adelaide for Alice Springs.
4 August 1929
The need to move troops and supplies leads to suggestions of closing the 1,000 km gap between Birdum and Alice Springs. Instead, the Stuart Highway is sealed between Alice Springs and Darwin. Larrimah, 9 km north of Birdum, becomes the effective railhead.
World War II
Over time, the Northern Line loses patrons and is eventually closed in 1976. Rails and sleepers are dismantled and sold off or donated, rail wagons go to Port Augusta, redundant staff are given priority for other public service jobs, and the operator (National Rail Australia) becomes a freight agency for road trains.
World War II - 1976
The Bureau of Transport Economics investigates the potential of the north-south line and recommends instead that the highway be upgraded.
1977
A new standard gauge line opens from Tarcoola in South Australia (instead of Oodnadatta) to Alice Springs along a less flood-prone route.
1980
The Northern Territory government signs a Memorandum of Understanding with South Australia, providing the joint South Australia/Northern Territory approach to creating the AustralAsia railway.
1995
The AustralAsia Railway Corporation is established by the South Australian and Northern Territory governments.
1997
The Asia Pacific Transport Consortium is selected to build and operate the railway.
June 1999
Prime Minister John Howard, South Australian Premier John Olsen and Northern Territory Chief Minister Denis Burke turn the first sod for the project at a ceremony in Alice Springs.
July 2001
The line south from Katherine and north from Tennant Creek is completed.
December 2002
Tracklaying north from Katherine to Darwin, and south from Tennant Creek to Alice Springs, is completed.
September 2003
The first freight train leaves Adelaide for Darwin.
15 January 2004
The inaugural journey of the passenger service (The Ghan) leaves Adelaide for Darwin arriving 47 hours later after a journey of 2,970 km.
1 February 2004

Source: AustralAsia Railway Corporation; Flinders Ranges Research.


Table 22.31 provides a summary of the key construction statistics for the Alice Springs to Darwin railway.


22.31 ALICE SPRINGS TO DARWIN RAILWAY - KEY CONSTRUCTION STATISTICS

Units
no.

Total earthworks
cubic metres
15,000,000
Rail tracklaying, clearing and embankment
km
1,420
Rail delivery
tonnes
146,000
Type of rail (AS1085.1)
kg
50
Track gauge (Standard)
mm
1,435
Flash Butt Welds
no.
110,000
Sleepers
million
2
Sleeper spacing
mm
700/720
Sleeper fastenings
million
8
Ballast
million tonnes
2.835
Bridges
no.
90
Culverts
No. of sites
1,500
Maximum design speed
km/h
115
Axle load
tonnes
23
Maximum grade
%
1.2
People employed at peak period
no.
1,500
Cost
$b
1.2

Source: AustralAsia Railway Corporation.


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