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NR109 and AN2 arrive at Adelaide Parklands Terminal with The Ghan at the completion of its journey from Darwin, 29 September 2012.

The Ghan at Katherine station, Northern Territory, 27 September 2017.

The Ghan Today

David Matheson

 22 August 2022

The Ghan runs travels 2970 km between Adelaide and Darwin. It provides the opportunity for passengers to view various Australian landscapes from the comfort of the train. Stops are made at several locations for off-train excursions to and to experience Australia’s outback.


The Ghan Today

The Ghan runs on the north–south transcontinental route between Adelaide and Darwin. It has a history extending back almost 100 years, but today’s train has a high level of luxury and comfort that early passengers would not have imagined. A journey between Adelaide and Darwin on The Ghan is 2970 km in length, and its average running speed is 85 km/h. It is usually hauled by two NR Class locomotives, which are owned by Pacific National. Locomotives NR18, NR74, NR75 and NR109 are painted in red The Ghan livery. The number of carriages in The Ghan’s consist varies, but typically averages 30 carriages, which includes passenger carriages, crew quarters, restaurant and lounge cars, and power vans. Its average length is 774 metres and the average weight is 1400 tonnes.


Much of the journey of The Ghan is through the arid landscapes of inland Australia. Stops are made at Alice Springs and Katherine in both directions to enable passengers to participate in off-train excursions. In the northbound direction an outback experience stop is made at Marla, where passengers are able to experience a remote outback location. During the peak tourist season, the southbound service stops for around 12 hours in Alice Springs on Thursdays, providing further opportunities for off-train excursions, while a stop is also made to enable passengers to visit Coober Pedy on Fridays. A stop is made at Manguri in the southbound direction for an outback experience. The Ghan does not operate in December and January.


Journey Beyond Rail’s train services cater for the rail tourism market, and advertising for The Ghan promotes onboard facilities and off-train excursions as part of holiday experiences. Travellers can book Platinum Service or Gold Service. Platinum Service is the most luxurious and most expensive service level available. It provides a large cabin that during the day is configured as a private lounge with lounge seating, a table and two ottoman couches. During the night the cabin is converted into a bedroom with a double bed or twin beds. Platinum Service cabins also have windows with views from both sides of the train. Additional features of Platinum Service include transfers up to 50 km from the terminal before and at end of the journey, as well as in-cabin breakfast and refreshments.


Gold Service can be booked as a single or twin cabin. Gold Twin provides a cabin that during the day is configured as a three-seater lounge with a private en suite and during the night is converted to upper and lower sleeping berths. Gold Single provides a cabin that during the day is configured as a seat and during the night is converted to a compact sleeper, while shared toilet and shower facilities are located at the end of the carriage.


A Journey on The Ghan

The Ghan departs from Adelaide Parklands Terminal station. After departure from Adelaide The Ghan begins its journey northwards. Many of Adelaide’s northern suburbs are clustered along the railway line and suburban trains travelling between Adelaide and Gawler Central are passed along the way.


Continuing through rural countryside, the train passes Crystal Brook (197 km from Adelaide), the junction for the line that leads to Broken Hill and eventually Sydney. After a further 23 km it passes through Coonamia, located on the outskirts of Port Pirie. Continuing northwards, the railway is located between Spencer Gulf and the Flinders Ranges through to Port Augusta (312 km from Adelaide).


Continuing north-west The Ghan follows the same route as the Indian Pacific as far as Tarcoola (726 km from Adelaide). Surrounding landscapes becomes flatter and the vegetation becomes sparser. At Tarcoola the train leaves the Trans-Australian Railway and makes its way north along the standard gauge line to Alice Springs, completed in 1980. It passes through the vast arid areas of inland Australia.


The line crosses the border between South Australia and the Northern Territory 14 km to the south of Kulgera (1301 km from Adelaide). Alice Springs (1555 km from Adelaide), often known as ‘The Alice’, is close to the geographical centre of Australia. Its population began to grow with the opening of the narrow gauge railway line, which reached Alice Springs in 1929. An extended stop is made in Alice Springs to enable passengers to participate in various off-train excursions.


It is a long distance between settlements in the remote centre of Australia. Nevertheless, many passengers enjoy looking for hours at the passing landscapes. As the train continues north the landscape eventually begins to change. The scenery becomes more tropical and the vegetation is denser. Katherine (2667 km from Adelaide) is reached and The Ghan stops for off-train excursions.


Shortly after departure from Katherine the train passes under the Victoria Highway, which connects Katherine with Western Australia, and then crosses over the Katherine River. The railway is close to the Stuart Highway for much of the remainder of the journey to Darwin. The line passes to the east of the town of Pine Creek (2763 km from Adelaide) and to the west of Adelaide River (2874 km from Adelaide.


As it nears the end of its journey The Ghan crosses the Elizabeth River. It passes to the west of Palmerston, before turning westward into the industrial area at East Arm, where the Darwin (2970 km from Adelaide) railway passenger terminal is located.


Pichi Richi Railway

The Pichi Richi Railway is a tourist railway operates along a section of the original narrow gauge line that The Ghan traversed. It is based at Quorn in the Flinders Ranges, approximately 330 km north of Adelaide. Heritage steam and diesel locomotive-hauled trains and railcars run between Quorn, Woolshed Flat and Port Augusta. Trains operate on selected Saturdays, Sundays and other days between March and November.


Old Ghan Heritage Railway and Museum

The Old Ghan Heritage Railway and Museum has a collection of locomotives, rolling stock and other items from the original narrow gauge service of The Ghan. Displays include Commonwealth Railways diesel locomotives and passenger rolling stock from The Ghan. The museum is open daily except Good Friday, Christmas Day and New Year’s Day.


Anchen, N, Iron roads in the outback, Sierra Publishing, Melbourne, 2017.

Fischer, T, ‘At last – the first Ghan to Darwin’, Railway Digest, vol. 42, no. 4, April 2004, pp. 32–3.

‘Old Ghan Heritage Railway and Museum’ Northern Territory, <>.

Pichi Richi Railway <>.

Taylor, C, Australia by rail, 5th edn, Trailblazer, Hindhead, Surrey, 2005.

‘The Ghan’, Journey Beyond, <>.

'The Ghan', Journey Beyond Rail, <>.

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NR109 and NR75 snake their way past Yorkeys Crossing with 1AD8 The Ghan bound for Darwin, 13 January 2019. Photo: Greg Wotton, Flickr Commons.


NR74 and NR75 with The Ghan at Alice Springs railway station, 3 October 2019.

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