Although it has an unusual name, the Pichi Richi Railway is an historic volunteer-operated rail line that is based in the town of Quorn in the Flinders Rangers of South Australia, and it runs intermittent tourist services on the old Ghan narrow gauge track between Quorn and Port Augusta on Spencer Gulf.
Normally the journey begins in Quorn and runs downhill to Port Augusta before returning for the uphill trip. However, I participated in a special Troop Train re-enactment trip beginning in Port Augusta which formed part of the Anzac Tribute Journey on the modern Ghan train.
The name of the track is a tribute to the Pichi Richi Pass, which is on one of the steeper sections of the track. Building the original Ghan Railway was a tremendous engineering feat as the Flinders Ranges are a rugged barrier to the relatively flat landscape of Central Australia. As the train navigates its way up the steep, curving gradients you can feel the locomotive working hard at near maximum power. From a passenger point of view, there are many tremendous vantage points from most of the carriages as the train snakes its way through the jagged terrain.
The train I rode on was hauled by NM25, a steam locomotive with a 4-8-0 wheel arrangement which formerly belonged to the Commonwealth Railways. She was beautifully restored, and looked like she had been freshly painted, but we had to stop twice during the trip as there was a build-up of soot in her smokestack which prevented her from performing at her optimum rate.
The fireman, Phil Mellors, has obviously encountered this problem before as a couple of brisks rubs inside the smokestack with his trusty broom got the old girl working again.
The carriages used on this trip were ones that were used to transport troops to Alice Springs during World War II, from whence they would be transported by bus and truck to Darwin, which had been numbed by the Japanese.
Although the carriages were the old, wooden variety that had been well preserved and were certainly comfortable to travel in. One of the things that I loved about these carriages was that the windows opened so you could really enjoy watching the loco toiling away up front, and there were verandas at the end of each carriage from where you could take great photos.
Apparently, the most famous passenger to use these carriages on the original Ghan was General Douglas MacArthur who fled to Australia after he retreated from the Philippines, and was transported from Alice Springs to Adelaide on the train.
I loved every moment of this journey and would definitely do it again, as it does give you a true sense of how railways helped to open up Australia, but mostly, because it gave me the opportunity to relive the days when steam trains were the most common form of long distance overland transport.