Readers often write in to create magazine in response to stores. Here, one reader responds to this article about the Adelaide-to-Darwin Railway.
The article entitled “Going the distance” on the Tarcoola to Darwin railway in the September edition of create lumps three construction projects into one and brings the engineering down to the lowest common denominator — i.e., the original Ghan line.
The three parts of these lines are:
- The original Ghan railway from Port Augusta via Quorn and Oodnadatta to Alice Springs. The first section opened in 1879, with the extension to Alice Springs opening in 1929.
- The much newer Tarcoola to Alice Springs line, which was opened in 1980.
- The final section from Alice Springs to Darwin, which was opened in 2003.
Most of the comments in this article seem to apply to the original Ghan railway, which had many problems with flooding, sand drift, etc.
For this old narrow-gauge line, these comments may generally be correct, but given the technology of the time and the environment, it is understandable and should not reflect on the integrity of the pioneering engineers.
To apply the same comments and generalisations to the much more modern Tarcoola to Darwin sections, is inappropriate.
For example, the article states that “very little was done by way of surveying and gathering information”.
For Tarcoola to Darwin, considerable aerial surveying, mapping with 2 m contour intervals, ground surveys, field trips, hydrology, geological and soil testing was done.
A comprehensive environmental impact statement study, including consultation with Aboriginal communities and pastoralists, was undertaken.
The assertion is that “the stretch between Adelaide and Darwin is quite inert” is factually incorrect.
Gilgal soils, which are as bad as the black soils in Queensland, are found along the route.
There was a detailed geological investigation using leading technology into sinkholes undertaken prior to construction.
The article also compares the Ghan, a long-distance passenger train, pulled by NR class locos with 22 t axle load (the article states 15 t axle load), with short distance heavy haul railroads of up to 40 t axle loads.
This is not a relevant comparison as each operation is designed according to the commercial needs.
The comparison of the rate of construction in Australia with 3.1 people per square km, with the development of high–speed trains in China where there are 145 people per square km, beggars belief.