SAR Port Augusta-Hawker
Closed (in sections): 1956, 1972
Built as a narrow gauge (3ft6in - 1067mm) line from Port Augusta to Oodnadatta. It reached Quorn (39km, 24mi) in 1879, Marree (372km, 231mi) in 1883 and Oodnadatta (770km, 478mi) in 1891. It was originally known as the Northern Line .
Despite crossing some of the driest parts of the continent the line was often damaged by severe flooding. It was not unusual for trains to be stranded for days by flood waters and track washouts. But even during dry times delays and late running were common. It was often said that a calendar, not a watch, was a better "on time" running guide.
The route of the line in its southern section had more to do with politics than good practice. The route from Port Augusta to Quorn took it through the Flinders Ranges via the Pichi Richi Pass which required steep grades and tight curves. The route of the northern section was largely dictated by the availability of reliable water sources. In dry periods a water tanker was often added to the consist to provide water for the loco. The line was frequently considered for closure.
In January 1911 the line was transferred from the SAR to the Commonwealth Railways (CR) but the SAR continued to operate the line until 1926 when the CR took over all operations. In 1926-29 the line was extended to Alice Springs (1241km, 771mi) north near the centre of the continent and it then became known as the Central Australia Railway .
The most famous of the passenger trains on the line was The Ghan, named after the Afghan camel drivers who drove the camel trains to Alice Springs before the arrival of the railway. This train originally ran from Port Augusta to Alice Springs and it still runs today as a modern luxury tourist train from Adelaide to Alice Springs and Darwin.
In the 1950s a new standard gauge (4ft8½in, 1435mm) line was built from Port Augusta to Marree which bypassed the Flinders Ranges, Quorn and Hawker. Passengers and freight to Oodnadatta and Alice Springs changed trains from standard gauge to narrow gauge at Marree. As a result the sections of the original narrow gauge line from Hawker to Marree and from Port Augusta to Quorn were closed in 1956. This left the section from Quorn to Hawker (the Hawker Line ) still operating. Occasional special passenger excursion trains from Peterborough continued to use the line from Quorn to Summit and from Quorn to Hawker in the 1960s.
Prior to the closures, the line between Quorn and Hawker saw several through workings each day. After the closures this had been reduced to just two return freight services each week and no passenger services. In the 1960s that was reduced to just a single weekly return freight service, with an additional service that ran "only if required". It was mineral traffic, barite or baryte (barium sulfate) ore, that kept the line open after 1956. It was transported 70km by road from the mine to Hawker and then loaded into rail wagons for the trip to Quorn. At Quorn it was crushed and bagged for shipment around the country. Rail transport was used because of the poor condition of the roads between Hawker and Quorn. Barite is still mined north of Hawker and processed at Quorn but all transport is now by road.
After the 1956 closures, Port Augusta to Quorn was serviced by a weekly passenger road bus service and a weekly road freight service.
The Hawker Line was closed in 1972. The 1970s also saw the line from Port Augusta to Alice Springs, with its standard and narrow gauge sections, replaced by a new standard gauge line that bypassed Marree, Oodnadatta and all the flood prone areas. In the early 2000s this line was extended to Darwin, on the northern coast of the continent about 2900km north of Port Augusta.
The line from Peterborough to Quorn was closed in 1987.
By 2001 the Pichi Richi Railway had restored the entire narrow gauge line from Quorn to Port Augusta. They now operate steam and diesel hauled heritage passenger services between Quorn, Woolshed Flat and Port Augusta.