Port Adelaide; 27th March 2012.
The National Railway Museum in Port Adelaide is the place to go to see the engines that used to pull the ‘old’ Ghan’, for, before riding the modern train, I wanted to get some insight of how things used to be.
The history of the Australian railway system is indeed a complicated one. The railways came before the Commonwealth of Australia was established in 1901; before that time, the states were, in effect, separate countries. So, each one developed its own railway independently. And, each chose its own gauge of track.
New South Wales used the British ‘standard gauge’ of 4’8″; in Victoria, they preferred the ‘Irish’ gauge of 5’3″, which was probably best for the distances involved, as it allowed for larger and more powerful locomotives. Queensland and Western Australia opted for the narrower, 3’6″ ‘country railway’ gauge, as they could use lighter, less expensive trains.
And, South Australia, with borders to all, used all three!
So, contrary to popular belief, you couldn’t, as you can now, get a direct train from Adelaide to Alice Springs. You’d have to change trains, from broad gauge to standard gauge at Port Pirie, then transfer from standard gauge to narrow gauge at Maree.
I seem to remember that, on a previous visit, there was an old carriage from the Ghan, as well as locos, but either my memory’s playing tricks or it’s been withdrawn.
Plenty of other rolling stock, locos and other artefacts are on display, although some of them look a little shabby. My personal favourite was the ‘Red Hen’, on which, when I lived here, I used to ride into town on the not infrequent occasions my car broke down.
It has to be remembered that restoration is constantly ongoing and, unlike our own NRM, receives little, if any, Government funding, and is largely reliant on volunteer staff and public donations.
I’ll be posting more about the Ghan presently, but, in the meantime, here’s a link to my latest article about it http://www.tripatini.com/profiles/blogs/the-ghan-rail-ride