The railway from Port Augusta through the Pichi Richi Pass to Quorn opened in 1879, and was part of the first stage of the Great Northern Railway that was intended to link Port Augusta with Darwin. The Ghan name originated in Quorn in 1923 when the Great Northern Express was dubbed The Afghan Express by railwaymen. In 1929 this line reached Alice Springs.
The East-West Transcontinental railway across the Nullarbor Plain was completed in 1917, and the Pichi Richi Railway became part of the East-West route for the next 20 years.
Quorn was a vital railway junction, especially during World War II when military, coal and other traffic placed sizeable demands on the railway.
Washaways in the north and the incapacity of the railway to handle expanding traffic saw a new standard gauge railway constructed from Stirling North to Brachina, and the Pichi Richi Railway was closed to regular traffic in 1957.