Avalook at Australia News

Issue Number 42, 19 January 2004

ISSN 1443-0797

Editors: Eric Lindsay and Jean Weber

In this issue...

Dreamtime by Air Expedition - Parts 3 and 4
Adelaide to Darwin railway now operating

Dreamtime by Air Expedition - Parts 3 and 4

In August 2003 we joined a 14-day expedition into remote areas of South Australia, Northern Territory and Queensland, and included stops at several places that require permits or special permission to enter, and some that are only accessible by air. We travelled in two chartered 10-seater Piper Navajo Chieftain aircraft.

The trip was awesome. Words (and even photographs) are not really going to convey the experience, but we'll do our best. For further information about these expeditions, see http://www.dreamtimebyair.com.au/ -- note that the itineraries shown on the website are examples only; each year's trip is somewhat different, and this year's was very different from anything shown on the website.

Our trip report (with photographs) starts here. Part 2 is here.

A map of the tour is here.

Part 3 covers:
Day 7, Tennant Creek, Daly Waters, Katherine, Darwin
Day 8, Smith Point (Cobourg Peninsula)
Day 9, Mount Borradaile

Part 4 covers:
Day 10: Milingimbi Island
Day 11: Gove Peninsula
Day 12: Gan Gan outstation
Day 13: Lawn Hill & Riversleigh National Parks
Day 14: Fly back to Sydney, stopping at various towns to refuel.

Adelaide to Darwin railway now operating

The Adelaide-to-Darwin rail link is now open! Lots of info here, for you train fans: http://www.aarc.com.au/

Eric wrote this summary from news reports and web sources.

The first South to North train trip across Australia was completed on Saturday 17 January 2004, when a colourfully painted freight engine pulled its load into the new East Arm port facilities in Darwin, Northern Territory. If the photos in the newspaper are to be believed, the locomotive was Kurrakurraka, number 3101, and onboard for part of the journey was AustralAsia Railway Corporation Chairman Rick Allert.

The existing rail line from Adelaide to Alice Springs was extended by 1420km from Alice Springs to Darwin across the isolated center of Australian by the Adrail consortium in less than two years. The line was constructed rather strangely, from two median points to the center, and then extended back to the terminal heads. Factories were constructed at Tennant Creek and Katherine to produce the concrete sleepers. In this often flooded and termite infested area, wooden sleepers never did work. The track teams, starting from Katherine and Tennant Creek in April 2001, met in December 2002. Then the race was on to complete the link north into Darwin before the wet season. That was done in October 2003.

The statistics. 1400 hundred people worked on the railway, although the track teams were about 100 men. 46 graders, 36 bulldozers, 34 excavators, 18 mobile cranes and of course the untiring track laying engines working through the night. Much of the work was done at night under lights, because of the searing daytime temperatures in summer. 15 million cubic metres of earthworks, 90 bridges, 146,000 tonnes of steel rail, with 110,000 flash-butt welds, and 2 million concrete sleepers laid. The 4000HP locomotives of the freight trains will be able to handle 250 double stacked containers, the train will be 1.6 kilometres long and will travel at an economical 90km/h (top speed 115km/h). The total track is 2979km. The cost was A$1.3 billion.

In direct economic terms it is pretty hard to justify such a project. The total population of the Northern Territory is under 200,000, insufficient to sustain a railway. A quarter of the Territory population is Aboriginal, and over half the land is indigenous controlled. However for many Aboriginals, their only earning capacity is via the arts. The Territory has more artists, mostly Aboriginal, than has our most populated city, Sydney. However most of he indigenous communities are welfare dependent.

Darwin is a relatively small city, about 90,000, and of these perhaps 12,000 are Defence related. Expected in the area are the army First Aviation Regiment, the RAAF base at Tindal, and the Bradshaw field training area. No-one says anything, but a lot of northern development is defence related. If you travel in the Territory you will see army manouvers, there is usually a Naval presence around Darwin, and the Air Force have nearby bases. Darwin is closer to Jakarta than to Sydney or Brisbane.

Other towns are even smaller. Alice Springs, in the center of Australia, has 30,000, Tennant Creek about 6,000.

The funding for the project has been diverse. Prime Minister John Howard, in a nation building mode, put in $165 million from the Federation Fund in October 1999. This was enough to kick things off. The Northern Territory and the South Australia governments also put in similar major contributions, thus encouraging private enterprise to raise the rest.

The potential for freight to and from Asia is sustaining the railway vision. The Bayu Undan gas stripping project is near completion in the Timor Sea, while an onshore liquified natural gas plant is planned for Wickham Point on Darwin Harbour.

Tourism is also one of the big job producers in the Territory, although The Ghan, the passenger train, will only stop at Tennant Creek on request. The first tourists on the 47 hour journey are paying a staggering A$12,000 each for the historic journey in Gold Kangaroo luxury. More than 11,000 rail enthusiasts requested tickets from Great Southern Railway.

However the North has 60% of Australia's water. It could be a foodbowl, if developed. The line leaves the Ord River only 500km from a rail line, rather than trucking produce 2000km to Fremantle.

The earliest railroads in the area were the 1878 start of the line in South Australia. However it took until 1891 before that southern line reached as far as Oodnadatta. It was only in 1929 that the southern line was extended to Alice Springs. This line was much later moved further west.

In 1888 a northern line was rushed south from Darwin to the gold mines around Pine Creek. It was 1926 before a rail bridge went across the Kathrine River, the 213 metre span being an imitation of the railbridge at Penrith, west of Sydney. In the 1940's, a defence road (the Stuart Highway) was sealed by US troops, stretching up to Darwin where up to 100,000 troops were stationed. The rail line from Birdum carried troops the final 500 km north to Darwin. In 1976 the northern line to nowhere closed.

Now what we need is to have an extension of the Queensland Rail system west from the mining town of Mt Isa to link with the North South line at Tennant Creek. The northern tropical region of Australia, above the Tropic of Capricorn, has only 6% of the population, but produces 42% of Australian exports.


© Copyright 2004 Eric Lindsay and Jean Weber. All rights reserved.

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