ADELAIDE, Australia -- Australia reached a major milestone in
travel recently with the start of regular passenger service on an
extended rail line connecting Adelaide in South Australia to Darwin
at the top of the Northern Territory.
Previously, rail service from Adelaide ended at Alice Springs in
The transcontinental service began Feb 8 when the newly
refurbished train, the Ghan, left on its 47-hour, 1,860-mile
Advance bookings for the service to Darwin are already very
strong, said Stephen Bradford, CEO of the Great Southern
"I am confident the extended journey is going to be a great
success," he said. Already more than $12.6 million in advance
bookings have been made, he said.
The spin-off for tourism at towns along the route and in the
Northern Territory as a whole is expected to be enormous.
The train will also carry freight, considered the underpinning
of its hoped-for financial success.
Many people had reservations about the likelihood that the
extended line from Alice Springs to Darwin would ever be
Federal Tourism Minister Joe Hockey was among the doubters; four
years ago he said he would run naked around Parliament House in
Canberra if the railway became a reality. He reneged on the pledge
and offered an apology instead.
For more than 70 years, the Ghan has been synonymous with
outback rail travel.
On Aug. 4, 1929, the original Ghan (once called the Afghan
Express after the pioneering Afghan cameleers who blazed a
permanent trail into the Red Center of Australia more than 150
years ago) left Adelaide for the remote town of Stuart, now Alice
The original line followed the route of explorer John Stuart in
his explorations north from Adelaide, but the service ran into a
number of hazards, including problems with the narrow-gauge track.
The service became increasingly irregular over the years.
In 1982, a new standard-gauge line was built farther west, and
the new route became a popular way for tourists to experience the
The extension of the railway line from Alice Springs north to
Darwin in September 2003 has been called one of the great
engineering and construction feats in Australia in modern
At the same time, a newly painted Ghan locomotive was christened
in Sydney in readiness for the extension to Darwin. The locomotive
was named the Steve Irwin after the Crocodile Hunter whose feats
have been enthralling TV viewers for years.
To contact the reporter who wrote this story, send e-mail to
[email protected] .