Adelaide–Darwin railway

The Adelaide–Darwin railway is a 2,979 kilometre south-north transcontinental railway in Australia, between the cities of Adelaide and Darwin. Built in stages in the twentieth century, the line was completed in 2004 when the Alice Springs to Darwin line opened. It is used by The Ghan passenger train and freight trains operated by Genesee & Wyoming Australia.

Adelaide-Darwin Railway
2975 Port Darwin - East Arm Wharf
2973 Darwin (Berrimah)
-- Darwin to Katherine --
2958 Elizabeth River (500m)
2911 Darwin River
2891 Finniss River
2866 Adelaide River West Branch - 1
2865 Adelaide River West Branch - 2
2779 Union Reef Loop (iron ore)
2712 Edith River
2670 Katherine River
2667 Katherine
-- Katherine to Alice Springs --
2667 Katherine Sidings
2627 King River
2218 Newcastle Waters loop
2154 Muckaty triangle & spur
2024 Tennant Creek station, loop &sidings
1786 Illoquara loop
Opened 2004
Opened 1980
1558 Alice Springs yard / abattoir
1557 Alice Springs
- Heavitree
- former Central Australia Railway
-- Alice Springs to border --
1540 Bohning Cattle Yards / Roe Creek loop
1535 Mereenie siding & triangle
1474 Hugh River
1466 Hugh River loop, siding & spur
1413 Finke River (Larapinta)
1385 Impadna loop, siding & spur
1303 Kulgera yard
1303 Kulgera loop siding & yard
-- border to Manguri --
1243 Marryat loop & siding
1213 Alberga River
1187 Chandler loop siding, triangle & spurs
1177 unnamed river
1131 Marla loop, siding & spur
1052 Cadney Park loop and siding
928 Manguri loop, platform, siding & triangle
(42) Pre-ordered transport to Coober Pedy
-- Manguri to Tarcoola --
892 Rankin Dam loop siding and spur
864 Wirrida Iron ore circle
863 Wirrida loop, siding and spur
788 Carnes loop, siding and spur
777 Quarry 555 siding
729 Trans-Australian Railway to Perth
to Alice Springs (opened 1980)
Existing lines
727 Trans-Australian Railway to Perth
726 Tarcoola yard, sidings & triangle
-- Tarcoola to Port Augusta --
691 Ferguson loop
648 Kingoonya Loop, spur & platform
616 Kultanaby loop
565 Wirraminna loop
533 Burando loop and spurs
495 Pimba loop, siding & triangle
464 Wirrappa loop
432 McLeay loop
398 Bookaloo loop & spur
368 Hesso loop
337 Tent Hill loop
317 Whyalla line
316 Spencer Junction loop & yards
315 to Port Augusta workshops
314 Port Augusta
Pichi Richi Railway
former Alice Springs Line
307 Marree line
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-Broken Hill line to Sydney
-- Crystal Brook to Adelaide --
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 & Pelican Point line
6 Outer Harbor line to Outer Harbor
5 Karrawirra Parri (River Torrens)
2 to Adelaide station
0km Adelaide Parklands Terminal


The Northern Territory Acceptance Act 1910 that saw the Commonwealth Railways assume responsibility for the South Australian Railways' northern narrow gauge lines along with those in the Northern Territory, required the building of a South-North railway although no date was specified.[1][2] Two routes were considered; a standard gauge line branching off the Trans-Australian Railway at Tarcoola or a cheaper narrow gauge extension of the line from Oodnadatta that had opened in 1891. In the end the latter was chosen with the Central Australia Railway (CAR) opening to Alice Springs in August 1929.[3] Meanwhile, the North Australia Railway (NAR) opened in stages south from Darwin to Birdum, the latter being reached in 1929.[4]

As a result of the opening up of the Leigh Creek coalfields in the late 1940s and capacity restrictions on the CAR, a new standard gauge line was built, opening on 17 May 1956 from Stirling North to Marree in July 1957 bypassing the line via Quorn.[5][6]

By 1967, the Commonwealth Railways were looking at an alternative to the often flooded CAR and the current route was suggested as one of three options although the route may be different to the current version.[7] Construction of the current 830 kilometre line from Tarcoola to Alice Springs began in April 1975, opening in October 1980 with the CAR closed shortly after.[8][9] Meanwhile, the NAR had closed in June 1976 following the closure of the iron ore mine at Francs Creek.[4]

In January 1983, the Fraser Government announced its intention to extend the standard gauge line from Alice Springs to Darwin with a projected 1988 completion date.[10][11] However, after a change of government in March 1983, the Hawke Government cancelled the project.[4]

In June 1999, the AustralAsia Rail Corporation (a company owned by the Northern Territory and South Australian Governments) awarded the contract to build and operate the 1,420 kilometre Adelaide to Darwin railway line as a Build, Own, Operate and Transfer project to the Asia Pacific Transport Consortium (APTC).[4][12] The APTC contracted FreightLink to implement the project and to operate the railway. It cost $1.2 billion to build.[13]

The Federal 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 the APTC 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 APTC directly, by way of mezzanine debt financing (subordinated debt), equity, and contingent equity.

Construction began in July 2001 with the line completed in September 2003.[4][14][15] On 17 January 2004 the first freight train reached Darwin.[16] On 4 February 2004 the first passenger train arrived in Darwin from Adelaide, travelling 2,979 km in 47 hours.[17][18]

The FreightLink board, shareholders and lenders on 19 May 2008 agreed to sell its ownership of the Adelaide to Darwin rail link having failed to make a profit since the railway line opened.[19][20] 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.[21] Genesee & Wyoming Australia purchased the assets of FreightLink on 10 June 2010 for $334 million including the 50-year lease on the Adelaide–Darwin railway.[13][22]


The line from Tarcoola to Alice Springs is owned by the Australian Rail Track Corporation and leased on a long term basis to Genesee & Wyoming Australia.[23] The line from Alice Springs to Darwin is owned by Genesee & Wyoming Australia, and will transfer to the state and federal governments in 2054.

The line consists of:

  • 1,420 km; of railline (excl. sidings etc.)
  • 6 major bridges crossing the Katherine, Elizabeth, Adelaide, Cullen, Fergusson and Edith rivers;
  • 87 minor bridges;
  • 1,500 culverts;
  • 145,000 tonnes of rail;
  • 2.8 million tonnes of ballast;
  • 2 million sleepers;
  • 8 million sleeper fastenings.[24]


The Ghan passenger service traverses the line weekly.[25] These are hauled by Pacific National locomotives. Genesee & Wyoming Australia is the only freight operator.[26] The line has facilitated bulk commodity exports from iron ore and copper mines in central Australia, including Oz Minerals' Prominent Hill copper mine.[27] Following a derailment event in December 2011,[28] Oz Minerals elected to use the line to export to the south via Port Adelaide,[29] rather than their previous outport, Darwin.

Dry bulk exports from Port Darwin (serviced by rail) exceeded 3 million tonnes for the first time in financial year 2010-2011 and comprised iron ore, manganese and copper concentrate.[30]


The original CAR and NAR had many stations and halts along their routes, however the new standard gauge railway only has stations at Alice Springs, Tennant Creek, Katherine and Darwin plus passing loops at Illoquara and Newcastle Waters.[31]

See also


  1. Northern Territory Acceptance Act 1910 Federal Register of Legislation
  2. Northern Territory Acceptance Act 1910 Commonwealth of Australia Consolidated Acts
  3. "Australian Commonwealth Railway Developments" Railway Gazette 28 January 1927 page 116
  4. History of the railway AustralAsia Railway Corporation
  5. Newland, Andrew; Quinlan, Howard (2000). Australian Railway Routes 1854 - 2000. Redfern: Australian Railway Historical Society. p. 67. ISBN 0-909650-49-7.
  6. Port Augusta to Marree Chris' Commonwealth Railways
  7. "The Senate - Alice Springs Railway". Fairfax. Sydney Morning Herald. Retrieved 23 April 2017.
  8. "In Brief" Railway Gazette International June 1975 page 210
  9. Standard Gauge to Alice Springs – Construction of Tarcoola–Alice Springs Railway Australian Railway Historical Society Bulletin June 1981 pages 117–139
  10. "Preliminary work starts on 1500km Alice - Darwin link" Railway Gazette International April 1981 page 262
  11. "Premier launches Alice - Darwin line" Railway Gazette International March 1983 page 152
  12. Darwin deal Railway Gazette International July 1999
  13. "Taxpayer funds sought from new rail owner". The World Today. 10 June 2010.
  14. Industry unites at Australian showcase Railway Gazette International November 2003
  15. "Transcontinental link is ready for business" Railway Gazette International January 2004 page 20
  16. Australia's last frontier is conquered Railway Gazette International February 2004
  17. "Completion of the Adelaide to Darwin railway line". Australian Bureau of Statistics. 8 December 2006.
  18. First Train AustralAsia Railway Corporation
  19. Vesna Poljak and Michael Smith (19 May 2008). "Banks force sale of $1.2bn Adelaide- Darwin rail link". Australian Financial Review. p. 1 and 19.
  20. Calacouras, Nick (20 May 2008). "Railway up for sale". Northern Territory News. News Ltd. Retrieved 20 May 2008.
  21. "End of the line as train sale derailed". Northern Territory News. News Ltd. 7 November 2008. Retrieved 12 November 2008.
  22. "FreightLink-owned Adelaide-Darwin railway to be sold to US company Genesee & Wyoming". The Advertiser. 9 June 2010. Retrieved 9 June 2010.
  23. Our Network Australian Rail Track Corporation
  24. "Alice Springs to Darwin Railway". Laing O'Rourke. Archived from the original on 7 October 2011.
  25. The Ghan Timetables 2017-2018 Archived 21 January 2018 at the Wayback Machine Great Southern Rail
  26. GWA Schedules & Terminals Genesee & Wyoming Australia
  27. "First Prominent Hill shipment set for export". ABC News. 29 April 2009. Retrieved 30 May 2016.
  28. "Train derailment copper concentrate recovered". ABC News. Retrieved 10 April 2016.
  29. "Oz Minerals - Intermodal Solutions Group". Intermodal Solutions Group. Retrieved 30 May 2016.
  30. "Dry Bulk Exports". Darwin Port. Archived from the original on 5 November 2016. Retrieved 30 May 2016.
  31. "Network Operating Guide, Part 32, Tarcoola to Darwin" (PDF). Australia Southern Railroad. 2 January 2004. Archived from the original (PDF) on 17 July 2011. Retrieved 10 June 2010.

Further reading

  • 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.
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