Head full of steam: Pichi Richi Railway

Yep, I’m back to posting about trains again. It’s been a year since the last post dedicated to trains, so that’s not too bad for self discipline!

There are two historical railway societies within South Australia running regularly scheduled tourist railways. One is the Steamranger Heritage Railway operating in the Adelaide Hills and along the southern coast of the Fleurieu Peninsula  and which I have previously looked at in several posts. The other society is the Pichi Richi Railway located some 300 kilometres (200 miles) north of Adelaide in the southern Flinders Ranges.

In early October 2013 I took a major detour on the way from Adelaide to a camping weekend along the Murray River to first head to Port Augusta and check out the Pichi Richi operations. Photos from this trip were to have been posted to Photo Morsels but an unexpected visit to the National Railway Museum in suburban Port Adelaide later in October yielded an extensive collection of photos. Those photos rather than the Pichi Richi photos ended up appearing on Photo Morsels in late 2013.

I still intended though that the Pichi Richi photos were to have been a follow-on series published soon thereafter. The ‘soon thereafter’ didn’t eventuate, so with considerable delay, let’s now take a look at the Pichi Richi Railway.

The Pichi Richi Railway is headquartered in the township of Quorn, historically an important railway junction straddling the east/west line across Australia and the railway that headed north to Alice Springs. The heritage railway workshops are in Quorn, but rolling stock is also stored in Port Augusta. This allows heritage services to be operated out of either location.

Joining Port Augusta to Quorn is 39 kilometres (24 miles) of lightly built narrow gauge railway. This section of line was built in 1878 as part of the South Australian Railways’ Port Augusta & Government Gums Railway, and later formed a part of the Commonwealth Railways Central Australian Railway and the east-west Transcontinental line. The original Ghan passenger service operated on the line initially to the remote South Australian community of Oodnadatta and later to Alice Springs in the Northern Territory. The section of track maintained by the Pichi Richi Railway is the oldest remaining section of this now abandoned and largely removed narrow gauge track. The Ghan still runs, but on standard gauge track built in the late 1970’s on a completely different alignment to the original.

This post looks at the assembly of an Afghan Express heritage service prior to its run from Port Augusta to Quorn and back.

NM25, Pichi Richi Railway

After building up steam, former Commonwealth Railways 4-8-0 locomotive NM25 brings the some of the original Ghan’s wooden railway carriages out of the storage sheds located at the Port Augusta railway station.

NM25, Pichi Richi Railway

Running the carriages back along the platform.

Ghan railway carriages, Pichi Richi

At the rear of the original Ghan’s passenger cars is Commonwealth Railways Special Car No. 3 with its round-ended observation lounge. The car was used for ‘distinguished visitors’ and for hire to the public. Note the wooden sun shades installed along each of the carriages. The original Ghan operated in pre-air conditioner days through remote desert country where summer temperatures regularly exceed 45ºC (113ºF) and can peak at 48-49ºC (120ºF). Spare a thought for the passengers on their multi-day journey rattling along the track to Alice Springs. The summertime conditions for the engine driver and the fireman must have been appalling.

Ghan railway carriages, Pichi Richi

A closer look at the rear of Special Car No. 3. Much lighter and simpler coupling systems than those found on modern trains, and being a Commonwealth Railways carriage, decorated with the Australian coat of arms.

NM25, Pichi Richi Railwatys

Having dropped the passenger cars at the platform, NM25 reverses down an adjacent track to load up its goods carriage assignment.

WWII Military vehicles, Pichi Richi Railway

The Port Augusta to Alice Springs railway was an important supply line to the top of Australia during the Second World War. From Alice Springs, war supplies would have been trucked through to Darwin. Although talked about for nearly one hundred years, a railway line from Alice Springs to Darwin wasn’t built until the early 21st century. This particular edition of the Afghan Express pays tribute to the railway’s war contribution by carrying a load of World War II era military vehicles.

NM25, Pichi Richi Railway

Shunting the goods carriages to form up the train.

NM25, Pichi Richi Railway

NM25, Pichi Richi Railway

What makes the wheels go round and round, round and round…

Afghan Express, Pichi Richi Railway

Afghan Express, Pichi Richi Railway

The Afghan Express was now formed up and ready to go. Wanting to get ahead of the train before it worked its way up into the Pichi Richi pass, I left the train before its departure from Port Augusta and hopped back into my car.

On the next Photo Morsels post, we’ll do a little train chasing.

Camera Gear

Being 2013 images, the camera in use was a Pentax K-x rather than the Pentax K-3 I’m now using. The first few shots used a then just acquired and ‘new to me’ Pentax FA20-35/4. As I hadn’t any real experience with this lens, I then swapped back to my known walkabout lens, the Tamron 17-50mm F2.8, just in case the FA20-35 had a fault that I hadn’t yet picked up. The FA20-35 proved itself to be A-OK but I didn’t want to later find I had gone several hundred miles out of my way just to end up with unusable photos.

To Learn More

The Pichi Richi Railway website is here. Lots of details on their rolling stock and service schedules are also there. In 2015 the double headed trains are listed for 6th June and 3rd October. I also see their quaint little ‘Coffee Pot’ loco is promised to return to service some time in 2015 after several years off-line awaiting significant repairs.

Port Augusta is around 3½ hours drive from Adelaide while Port Augusta to Quorn is about 30 minutes by car provided you don’t stop for train photos :-).

Port Augusta/Quorn is the southern gateway to the Flinders Ranges proper. The Flinders give a real taste of the outback while still being accessible by two wheel drive vehicles as far as Blinman. It starts to get a bit on the rough side after that. Tacking a Pichi Richi train experience onto a Flinders Ranges holiday would be a good combination. I don’t recommend a Flinders Ranges holiday in summer – some days might be fine but you could also get stuck with a full-on heat wave. Late March to October are the best travel times and that also broadly coincides with when the Pichi Richi Railway runs steam services. During the fire ban season, they will run heritage diesels rather than steam because of the fire risk associated with embers and ash emitted from steam locomotives.

From what I have seen from several visits up there, the Pichi Richi heritage train services have their minor hiccups along the way and can run moderately behind schedule.  It you choose to ride one of the Pichi Richi trains, build some slack into your day’s scheduling and just go with the flow enjoying an authentic experience. The original Ghan rarely kept to a schedule either.


Related Posts

Too many other train posts to list easily so here’s the link to the Trains category where you can explore other posts at your leisure.

Train Posts


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3 thoughts on “Head full of steam: Pichi Richi Railway

  1. Pingback: Double Headed Steam: Pichi Richi Railway | Photo Morsels

  2. Pingback: Heading for the hills: Pichi Richi Railway | Photo Morsels

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