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Horse-drawn railway between Goolwa and Port Elliot, 1860. Photo: State Library of South Australia, Wikimedia Commons.

South Australian Railways 500 Class Locomotive no. 502 James McGuire, around 1926. State Library of South Australia, Wikimedia Commons.

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Major Events in South Australian Railway and Tramway History

David Matheson

16 June 2019

18 May 1854

Horse-drawn railway commenced service between Goolwa and Port Elliot, the first public railway in Australia. Horses hauled flat wagons conveying goods and passengers over a seven-mile (11 km) line.

19 April 1856

First steam-powered railway in South Australia opened between Adelaide and Port Adelaide.

10 June 1878

Horse tramways began operating in Adelaide, eventually becoming the largest horse tramway network in Australia.


Rowan steam car, a self-propelled carriage with a vertical boiler at one end, which was the first railcar in Australia, entered service with the Glenelg and South Coast Tramway for use on the railway between Glenelg and Marino.

14 March 1883

Railway opened to Belair and Aldgate, completing the line from Adelaide.

1 April 1885

Line between Goolwa and Victor Harbor converted from horse to steam power, completing the heavy railway between Adelaide and Victor Harbor.

9 September 1885

First Y Class 2-6-0 locomotive entered service. A total of 129 members of the class entered service, making them South Australian Railways’ most numerous class of steam locomotive.

16 February 1886

First R Class 4-6-0 locomotive entered service in South Australia. The R Class locomotives were used in a range of duties from express passenger train haulage to goods work on branch lines. From 1899 they were rebuilt to become the Rx Class, and a number of new Rx Class members were also built. They became the mainstay of broad gauge haulage on South Australian railways until the 1920s.

19 January 1887

Railways joined at Serviceton, near the Victoria–South Australia border, connecting the lines between Melbourne and Adelaide. The opening of the line between Melbourne and Adelaide completed the first single-gauge connection between two capital cities in Australia.

14 June 1887

Railway opened between Petersburgh (now Peterborough) and Cockburn, on the New South Wales–South Australia border, connecting the lines between Adelaide and the border.

7 January 1891

Railway opened to Oodnadatta, completing the line from Port Augusta.

12 February 1903

First T Class 4-8-0 locomotive entered service. A total of 78 members of the class entered service. They provided reliable service, mostly on narrow gauge tracks in South Australia.

9 March 1909

First electric tram commenced running in Adelaide, between the city and Kensington.

1 January 1911

Australian Government took over railways between Port Augusta and Oodnadatta.

2 March 1914

First G Class locomotive entered service with Commonwealth Railways. The G Class locomotives were similar to the P6 Class (later C32 Class) locomotives in New South Wales, and were the mainstay of services on the Trans-Australian Railway until the arrival of the C Class in 1938.

16 November 1917

Trans-Australian Railway opened between Port Augusta and Kalgoorlie, completing the east-west transcontinental railway across Australia. Construction of the railway proceeded simultaneously from Port Augusta and Kalgoorlie, and the two lines met near Ooldea on 17 October 1917. The first east–west train departed Port Augusta on 22 October and was hauled by 11 different G Class locomotives before its arrival at Kalgoorlie on 24 October. An official opening ceremony took place in Perth on 16 November and the line was officially declared open by the Governor-General, Sir Ronald Munro-Ferguson.

16 November 1922

William Webb (1878–1936) arrives in Adelaide to take up position as Chief Commissioner for Railways in South Australia. Webb was Chief Commissioner until 1930, bringing significant technological and organisational changes to the South Australian Railways, but the high cost of his innovations led to widespread criticism.

22 May 1926

First 500 Class 4-8-2 locomotive entered service. South Australian Railways Chief Commissioner William Webb implemented a ‘big engine’ policy, resulting in some of Australia’s largest locomotives being introduced in South Australia. These included the 500 Class, 600 Class and 700 Class, all of which had ten members introduced to service in 1926. The 500 Class were the heaviest locomotives in Australia when they began operating.


6 August 1929           

Railway opened to Alice Springs, completing the Central Australia Railway line from Port Augusta, and connecting Central Australia with Adelaide.

26 November 1930

First 720 Class 2-8-4 locomotive entered service. Weighing 227.4 tons (231.0 tonnes), the 720 Class was the heaviest steam locomotive type to ever operate in South Australia.

23 July 1937

Railway opened between Port Pirie and Port Augusta.

January 1938

First C Class 4-6-0 locomotive entered service with Commonwealth Railways. A total of eight C Class locomotives entered service in 1938. They were similar to the C36 Class locomotives in New South Wales, but had larger tenders for service on the arid Trans-Australian Railway between Port Augusta and Kalgoorlie.

September 1943

First Australian Standard Garratt 4-8-2+2-8-4 locomotive entered service. These locomotives were ordered by the Commonwealth Land Transport Board, which had been established to take responsibility for Australia’s land transport during the Second World War. A total of 57 of the Australian Standard Garratts operated on narrow gauge lines with Queensland Railways, Western Australian Government Railways, South Australian Railways, Tasmanian Government Railways, the Emu Bay Railway in Tasmania, and the Fyansford Cement Works Railway in Victoria.

10 September 1951

First 900 Class diesel-electric locomotive, No. 900, the first main line diesel to officially commence service in mainland Australia, entered service with South Australian Railways. Ten members of the class were built and they continued in regular operation until the 1980s. No. 900 is preserved at the National Railway Museum in Port Adelaide.

6 October 1951

First GM Class diesel-electric locomotive, GM1, the first Clyde Engineering-General Motors built diesel locomotive, entered service with Commonwealth Railways. Clyde Engineering had previously built steam locomotives, but switched to diesels when it secured a licence to manufacture GM diesel-electric locomotives. By 1998 it had built 1105 diesel locomotives for Australian government railways, and had also manufactured locomotives for private and overseas operators.

13 October 1952

First diesel-hauled run of The Overland operated between Melbourne and Adelaide. The train was hauled from Melbourne to Serviceton by two Victorian Railways B Class locomotives, and then from Serviceton to Adelaide by two South Australian Railways 900 Class locomotives.

13 February 1954

400 Class locomotive No. 406 became the last steam locomotive to enter service with South Australian Railways.


Report completed by William Charles (Bill) Wentworth (1907–2003) recommending standardisation of railway lines between Melbourne and Wodonga, between Broken Hill and Port Pirie, and between Kalgoorlie and Fremantle.

27 July 1957

Standard gauge railway opened between Port Augusta and Marree.

22 November 1958

Adelaide tramway system closed, with the exception of the Glenelg line, which remains in use. Tram 269 made the last run between Victoria Square and Cheltenham.

29 November 1969

Standard gauge railway line opened between Broken Hill and Port Pirie, completing the standard gauge railway across Australia between Sydney and Perth. The completion of the standard gauge line enabled direct trains to operate across Australia between Sydney and Perth for the first time.

9 January 1970

Last regular steam-hauled train operated in South Australia. Garratt locomotive 404 hauled a goods train from Peterborough to Port Pirie.

23 February 1970

Inauguration of the Indian Pacific passenger train between Sydney and Perth.

12 April 1970

Worst railway accident in South Australia killed 17 people when a bus collided with the side of a Bluebird Diesel Multiple Unit railcar on a level crossing at Roseworthy, near Gawler.

6 October 1972

Standard gauge railway opened between Port Augusta and Whyalla, the first railway in Australia to be laid entirely with concrete sleepers.

20 July 1974

Pichi Richi Railway re-opened for heritage train services between Quorn and Summit Siding. The Pichi Richi Railway operations were later extended, with trains now operating between Quorn, Woolshed Flat and Port Augusta.

1 July 1975

Australian National Railways Commission established, taking over the operations of Commonwealth Railways. The Commission traded as Australian National Railways, and then later as Australian National. Its assets were sold to other organisations in 1997–98.

1 March 1978

South Australian Railways disbanded, with Adelaide railway services transferred to the State Transit Authority and South Australian regional services incorporated into Australian National Railways.

9 October 1980

Standard gauge railway opened between Tarcoola and Alice Springs. Prior to 1980 a journey between Adelaide and Alice Springs by train, including the narrow gauge The Ghan between Marree and Alice Springs took 46 hours and 55 minutes. Following the opening of the standard gauge line, a journey by train between Adelaide and Alice Springs, including the standard gauge The Ghan between Port Pirie and Alice Springs took 23 hours and 50 minutes.

8 December 1982

Standard gauge line completed between Adelaide and Crystal Brook for freight services, connecting Adelaide to Perth, Sydney and Alice Springs with a standard gauge railway. With the opening of this line all mainland state capital cities were connected with standard gauge lines.

18 May 1984

Adelaide Terminal (now Adelaide Parklands Terminal) railway station opened for long-distance passenger trains. The station opened for broad gauge trains on 18 May and standard gauge trains on 27 May. Prior to the opening of the new station, long-distance trains operated to and from Adelaide railway station in the Central Business District.

17 August 1986

The Indian Pacific passenger train begins operating to Adelaide on its journey between Sydney and Perth.

4 June 1995

Standard gauge railway opened between Melbourne and Adelaide.

1 November 1997

Australian Southern Railroad took over the South Australia country railway network from Australian National Railways.

1 November 1997

Great Southern Rail commenced operating the Indian Pacific, The Ghan and The Overland interstate passenger trains.

15 January 2004

First standard gauge train to Darwin departed from Adelaide. A new standard gauge line linked Alice Springs and Darwin, completing the north–south transcontinental railway. Although a railway line had linked Adelaide and Alice Springs in 1929, it was another 75 years before Darwin was connected by railway to the other mainland capital cities.

23 February 2014

Railway opened between Noarlunga and Seaford, and the first electric trains in South Australia began operating on the Adelaide–Seaford line.

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Adelaide tram no. 1 on the first trial run of a Municipal Tramways Trust electric tram car on 30 November 1908. The location is cited as North Terrace on the postcard from which the image is scanned. Photo: Scanned from a postcard dated about 1909, Wikimedia Commons.




900 Class diesel locomotive no. 900, the first mainline diesel locomotive to operate with South Australian Railways, National Railway Museum, Port Adelaide, 18 January 2017.

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