September 21, 2003

Adelaide to Darwin Railway (finally) built

Michael Jennings | Railways - Other

At the time of the federation of the Australian states in 1901, the largely unpopulated Northern Territory of Australia (containing Darwin and Alice Springs) was administered by the state of South Australia, although it was not technically part of the state. In 1911, the federal government took over administration of the territory, and one thing it promised as part of the deal was that it would complete the railway line from Adelaide in Australia's south to Darwin in the north. The catch was that it didn't say when. The railway has been something of an Australian joke since. It would be built sometime in the future, supposedly. Ha. Ha.

Well, it has finally happened. Building things like this is something that the present Australian Prime Minister John Howard likes to do, and the line has just been completed. The existing line from Adelaide to Alice Springs has been extended a further 1420 kilometres at a cost of $A1.3 billion (£520 million). Construction has taken just over two years, and the project has been completed seven months ahead of schedule. Of that money, $559 million came from the public sector, and the remainder from the private sector. The railway will be principally carrying freight from Australia's south to a container port in Darwin in the north. It remains to be seen whether the railway will end up being commercially important or will just be a white elephant, but it does now exist.

For people who would actually like to ride the train, there will be one passenger service per week in each direction. (This is purely for tourists and railway buffs. Catching a plane is enormously quicker and cheaper). The total 2979km journey from Darwin to Adelaide takes 47 hours, and a one way journey costs $1740 (£695) for a first class cabin, $1390 (£555) for a second class cabin, and $440 (£175) for a second class (reclining) seat. For people looking for a bargain, there is a half price $220 (£88) "backpackers" fare for a second class seat. To be eligible for this, you have to a a member of a "recognised backpackers organisation". Spending a few pounds to join the Youth Hostel Association will save you $220, which isn't bad. Actually I think this one will be very popular with British and German backpackers. It's the sort of thing they do. I almost feel like going and doing it myself.

Update: It has been pointed out that the railway also has a strong military justification, given that Australia's population and main cities are to the south and its major (only) military threats come from the highy unstable region of the world that lies directly to Australia's north. Therefore being able to move large amounts of equipment rapidly from south to north is vitally important, and this fact may well justify the government's contribution to the cost.

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Comments

Those fares are pretty harsh; think they might have to come down after a few months.

Posted by Scott Wickstein on September 22, 2003

There is a comment on the website stating that there will likely be promotional fares in the future, so yes, they probably will come down. However, the first class fare is the whole "luxury train travel" thing with fancy service, fancy lounges, fancy dining cars and meals, and that kind of thing. There is a market for this sort of thing already in America, Europe, and Australia (with the Indian Pacific) so I suspect they know what they are doing. (No, I wouldn't pay that much myself). The thing that strikes me a little odd is that the difference in cost between a second class cabin and a first class cabin is as little as it is, particularly given that the first class fare includes all meals and in second class they cost extra.

If you just want to travel on the train, making yourself eligible for the "backpackers" fare means that you can travel for $220. That doesn't strike me as very much for a 3000km journey.

Posted by Michael Jennings on September 22, 2003

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