Double Headed Steam: Pichi Richi Railway

So far in this series of posts, we’ve followed the Pichi Richi Railway’s Afghan Express heritage train from Port Augusta up into the Pichi Richi Pass as far as Woolshed Flat in:

Head full of steam


Heading for the hills

This third post starts at Woolshed Flat and what attracted me to come up to see the Pichi Richi Railway on this particular weekend is revealed – the rare opportunity to see a steam double-headed train. Waiting at Woolshed Flat for the Ghan Express to arrive was the Pichi Richi Explorer, a second heritage steam service that had come up to Woolshed Flat from the other end of the line at Quorn.

W22, Pichi Richi Railway

The Pichi Richi Explorer

Woolshed Flat is an small area of level ground within the generally hilly terrain of the Pichi Richi pass. The Pichi Richi Railway has build a triangle of track here to allow locomotives to be turned around without the use of a turntable and to permit the joining of two trains together. It’s a good spot to stop and observe what it takes to combine the two services into one enlarged Afghan Express for the onward journey through to Quorn.

On the day of my visit, the Pichi Richi Explorer was hauled by the steam locomotive W22. The W class was the outcome of a post-war procurement by the Western Australian Government Railways (WAGR) from Beyer Peacock in England. The class was delivered from 1951 and remained in operation until replaced by diesel locomotives in 1970.  The Silverton Tramway Co. (which operated just across the South Australian border with New South Wales) also purchased four W class locomotives from Beyer Peacock at the same time. These were almost identical to the WAGR W Class although visually distinguished by the addition of streamlining along the upper boiler area.

W22 is a bit of an unusual beast as it is a blend of the two versions of the W class. The Pichi Richi Railway bought four WAGR W class in 1974 soon after they were retired by the WAGR. Many years later, the Railway also bought Silverton Tramway Co. W22 which has been languishing as a static display with the Puffing Billy Perservation Society over in Victoria. This locomotive ultimately proved to be beyond economic repair and its nameplate and the equipment unique to the Silverton Tramway Co version was transferred to one of the WAGR W class, making W22 as you see it here a representative example of the Silverton Tramway Co. W class.

W22, Pichi Richi Railway

W22, Pichi Richi Railway

W22, Pichi Richi Railway

W22, Pichi Richi Railway

As a consequence of the streamlining along the top of the boiler, W22’s whistle is located at the front of the smoke box rather than the more common position atop the boiler. An unusual looking design too.

W22, Pichi Richi Railway

Built in the last days of steam, the W class incorporates much of the accumulated wisdom of steam locomotive design. All the little red containers are part of the locomotive’s lubricating system.

Observation Car, Pichi Richi Railway

W22 attached its consist of heritage carriages to the rear of the Afghan Express, leaving this quaint observation car at the rear of the combined train. Originally built as a second class passenger carriage of a type first introduced to the South Australian Railways in the 1890’s, this particular carriage was converted in 1929 into the configuration seen here and was used for railways officers’ inspection tours.

NM25, W22, Pichi Richi Railway

Meanwhile, at the head of the train, W22 had been turned on the triangle and attached to the train. NM25 is backing up to complete the ‘double header’.

NM25, Pichi Richi Railway

We’re off!

NM25, W22, Pichi Richi Railway

Immediately on the departure from Woolshed flat, the train heads across this iron bridge spanning Waukarie Creek.

NM25, W22, Pichi Richi Railway

Once across the bridge, the train faces a short but sharp climb along a section of track cut into the side of a steep sided gully. This is the spot to be if you enjoy the bark of steam locomotives working hard. On an earlier trip following another double header Afghan Express, W22 had huge problems with traction, wildly spinning its wheels and giving the engine driver no end of grief. In the end I think NM25 did most of the work that day pulling the entire train up the hill and it looked to have been a close run thing whether the train was going to stall. On this occasion though, traction was fine and train made steady progress up the climb.

NM25, W22, Pichi Richi Railway

With the climb behind it, the Afghan Express comes back near the Port Augusta-Quorn Road just before crossing a bridge over the road.

NM25, W22, Pichi Richi Railway

Past the high point of the pass, NM25 and W22 find easier running in more open country heading down towards Quorn.

NM25, W22, Pichi Richi Railway

NM25, W22, Pichi Richi Railway

NM25, W22, Pichi Richi Railway

NM25, W22, Pichi Richi Railway

NM25, W22, Pichi Richi Railway

Approaching Quorn Station, this image shows the full length of the train.

NM25, W22, Pichi Richi Railway

NM25, W22, Pichi Richi Railway

Separated once more


To finish up the series, a quick look at Quorn Station. The current building was erected in 1916, replacing an earlier wooden structure. The Dutch gables form an unusual embellishment as this architectural style is not at all common within South Australia.

Quorn Railway Station, South Australia

Quorn Railway Station, South Australia

Across the road are the hotels that housed passengers waiting for, or switching trains. Quorn was at its busiest during the Second World War when it was a major transiting point for both soldiers and supplies. But as rail services were rationalised after the war, new lines progressively bypassed Quorn. No operational rail lines now past through the town. But through the Pichi Richi Railway, the people of Quorn keep alive the memory of the role that railways played in opening up the interior of South Australia.

Quorn, South Australia

Camera Gear

Pentax K-x with a Tamron 17-50mm F2.8 lens.

To Learn More

As the above photos suggest, Quorn retains the essential essence of its early 20th century character. Over the years, this has attracted a number of film makers looking to use Quorn and adjacent areas as a location for film production. Most recently, Quorn was used for parts of the Russell Crowe directed The Water Diviner, which is a very successful current release as of the date this post was published. So, if you’ve been to the film, you’ve seen some of the Pichi Richi Railway and the area around Quorn without even realising (look for the train ambush scene).

At Quorn, you can also experience a quandong pie, made from the fruit of the native quandong plant. The quandong fruit was an important food of aboriginal people in the arid and semi-arid regions of Australia. The aboriginal people also valued the quandong for its medicinal properties. I can’t say I’ve ever seen a quandong pie for sale anywhere else, so there’s something else to experience in Quorn.

For other information about visiting the Pichi Richi Railway, click here to jump to the To Learn More section of the earlier Head Full of Steam post.

In that post I described Quorn as being part of the southern Flinders Ranges. The manager of the Quorn Caravan Park subsequently made contact to inform me that Quorn is considered to be in the central, not southern Flinders Ranges. I’ve taken a look at the Flinders Ranges and Outback Visitor Guide only to find that Quorn is shown at the top of the map marked Southern Flinders Ranges and at the bottom of map marked central and northern Flinders Ranges. So all I’m going to say here is that Quorn is 41 km north east of Port Augusta!

The manager liked my photos though (thank you), so here’s a free plug and a link to the website for Quorn Caravan Park which is just a short walk from the railway station.

Related Posts

The first two posts of this series and other train related posts can be found with the link provided below.

Train Posts


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5 thoughts on “Double Headed Steam: Pichi Richi Railway

    1. aussiesouthlander Post author

      Thank you for your kind words. These longer series take quite some time to prepare, but I also discover things about the subjects that I would never have otherwise learnt. For example, from working on this series covering the Pichi Richi Railway, I now understand how steam train valve gear works and how forward/reverse is implemented. Also we think variable valve technology in cars is new and flash when steam locos have had a form of variable valve management for getting on a century and a half.

      And from your postings, you are now familiar with tintype, and in turn, so am I.

  1. Jason Jones

    G’day Clive,

    I been thoroughly enjoying your Photo Morsels, excellent photography and most interesting commentary. FYI quandong pies are available from the Copley cafe, in both the individual serve and the family size pies.




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