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The Ghan History

Originally the Afghan Express, the name The Ghan was inspired by the pioneering Afghan cameleers who blazed a permanent trail into the Red Centre of Australia over 150 years ago. 

The Ghan’s emblem is an Afghan on a camel in recognition of their efforts in opening up the inhospitable interior to the rest of Australia.

The original Ghan line followed the route of explorer John MacDouall Stuart. On Sunday 4 August, 1929, an excited crowd gathered at the Adelaide Railway Station to farewell the first Ghan train. This train carried supplies and over 100 passengers bound for the remote town of Stuart, later to be called Alice Springs. The train’s whistle pierced the silence of the MacDonnell Ranges surrounding Alice Springs two days later, on 6 August.

The train was steam hauled, and the service had to contend with extreme conditions including flash flooding and intense heat. As such, it was often an irregular service.

The Old Ghan ran on light, narrow gauge track well to the east of the track it travels today.

As well as termite damage, it was savaged by fire and flood. Flash flooding, when the normally parched river beds spilled out onto the low lying desert plains, frequently washed away the track completely. Legend has it The Old Ghan was once stranded for two weeks in one spot and the engine driver shot wild goats to feed his passengers.

In 1980, The Old Ghan rail track was abandoned in favour of a new standard gauge rail line built with termite proof concrete sleepers further to the west in order to avoid the potential flooding and other problems encountered along the old route. 

When The Ghan first departed Adelaide for Alice Springs, it was always intended that it would one day travel through to Darwin. With the completion of the Alice Springs to Darwin rail-link this dream became a reality; with The Ghan making its inaugural journey to Darwin on 1 – 3 February 2004. This north-south transcontinental journey covers 2,979 kilometres and encounters spectacular and diverse landscapes; from the rusty reds of the MacDonnell Ranges surrounding a town called Alice, gateway to Ayers Rock and the Red Centre, then north to Tenant Creek, Katherine and the tropical splendour of Darwin.

The Journey

Adelaide to Darwin or Darwin to Adelaide – two nights and three days via Alice Springs, one way.

Length of journey

54 hours

Adelaide to Darwin – 2,969km

Average speed of train

85km/hour (max speed 115km/hour)


The Ghan’s symbol is a camel and its handler in recognition of the pioneering Afghan cameleers.

Total number of carriages

Single 16        Double 26
Plus Locomotive and Motorail

Average length of train (metres)

Single 471      Double 710
Includes 2 Locomotives and Motorail

Average weight of train (tonnes)

Single 847      Double 1344
Excluding Locomotive

(Single consist is the minimum trains size. Most of The Ghan services operate as doubles).

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