Double Header on the Pichi Richi

Tuesday, Jul 29, 2014 at 04:59

Navigator 1 (NSW)

June 7th 2014

For over a year I talked about a ride on the Pichi Richi Railway hoping one day it would eventuate.

Just a little history:
The Pichi Richi Railway, narrow gauge (1067mm or 3’6”), is the last remaining operating portion of the famous “Ghan” railway. Built in the 1870’s. The Afghan Express service turns the clock back to when the famous old Ghan travelled through the Pichi Richi Pass. Wherever possible, the Afghan Express uses distinctive timber-bodied carriages built in the late 1920s for the narrow gauge old Ghan train service.

The Pichi Richi is based at Quorn in South Australia's Flinders Ranges with trains departing from Quorn and Port Augusta. It is thanks to the dedicated volunteers of the Pichi Richi Railway Preservation Society that this iconic railway is operating.

We waited till we were in the area to make a booking to do the return Port Augusta-Quorn- Port Augusta 78km trip on The Afghan Express and we were lucky to get seats on June 7th. At this stage we were unaware that it was the June Long Weekend and what this meant on the Pichi Richi. (This is what happens when you just wonder around the country oblivious to what day it is.)

We checked in at the station around 10.00am for a 10.30am departure. As the half hour passed many excited passengers gathered on the long platform and were finally rewarded with the arrival of the restored original Ghan steam locomotive NM25 with its genuine timber bodied carriages.

The Afghan Express is the name railwaymen gave to the passenger train that ran from Terowie to Oodnadatta, through Quorn, in 1923. This was the first time a sleeping carriage was included on the train, and when an Afghan passenger alighted at Quorn to recite his evening prayers, the train was dubbed the Afghan Express by railwaymen. In time this was abbreviated to The Ghan and eventually adopted by Commonwealth Railways officials.

All aboard the choof choof!

We hurriedly made our way to the second last carriage and seats on the left hand side. The station master advised us that this would give us the best views of the engine and forward carriages when the train made many of its left had sweeps.

As promised, the scenery was spectacular, recent rains making the vegetation green. We passed through Pichi Richi Pass with its deep rock cuttings, superb stone wall embankments and impressive iron bridges, all delighting us. Taking pictures out the window didn’t work so I ventured out onto the open ‘platform’ area at the end of the carriage for my shots.

The progress was very slow with the familiar clicketty clack, clicketty clack of the track’s joins a constant companion. The engine drivers treated NM25 very respectfully, allowing it to chug along at a steady pace. The engine did however made strange banging noises but our coach master, another volunteer, assured us that all was normal.

People lined the track at the best photo opportunity spots and we thought this was normal. It wasn’t till we reached Woolshed Flat that we realised the significance of the weekend. On the long weekend in June and in October, the Pichi Richi delights everyone with a ‘Double Header’.

While we waited at Woolshed Flat Station our second steam engine was positioned at the head of the train and the old wooden carriages, built back in the 1920s, were coupled onto the rear.
From this point on to Quorn the crowds lining the track were even larger. Everyone was excited – they waved, we waved.

Running a little late, due to our late departure from Port Augusta and the late arrival of our second steam engine at Woolshed Flat, we pulled into Quorn. The usual 2 hour 40 minute stop over was reduced to 1 hour but with 3 hotels just across the road and Rosie’s Imporium just minutes away we were able to settle our rumbling stomachs very quickly.

Rosie’s Imporium had been highly recommended so we hurried off. In its day the Imporium sold just about everything but today, it is a café. Memorabilia gave a great atmosphere as we enjoyed our lamb stew.

Before long we were all aboard the train for the return trip, NM25 doing the work all by himself. All the passengers were a little more relaxed on the trip home and settled into more conversation. We were back in Port Augusta all too soon – around 4.30 pm.

On our next visit to Quorn we will book in for the tour of Pichi Richi Railway's Workshops.
Visitors are able to see the locomotive and carriage maintenance facilities, restorations in progress, as well as items in the historic rollingstock collection that are not normally seen on the trains. Tours are conducted on Pichi Richi Explorer operating days and last between 1 and 1.5 hours.

We looked forward to this day for a long time and I must say, we were all smiles as we made our way from the station to Hugo, our 4x4 motorhome.

Pichi Richi! - It is a must do!

The outback calls
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