The following is a series of articles that were written during the construction of Pichi Richi Railway Preservation Society's 3' 6" narrow gauge track from its then terminus of Stirling North, into the heart of Port Augusta: its railway station.

Major civil engineering works to cross the standard gauge lines in Stirling North and also to cross the causeway into Port Augusta were undertaken. This project was the winner of the prestigous 2002 Permanent Way Institute (SA Section) Trackwork Achievement Award.

The project was completed in 2001 and allows Pichi Richi Railway Preservation Society's Afghan Express to depart from No. 2 platform at Port Augusta Railway Station—as the Ghan did on the narrow gauge until 1956.

The official opening was held at Easter 2002.

History of the Stirling North – Port Augusta section

From the late 1880s, through the time the Commonwealth Railways was formed in 1917, until the late 1950s, the narrow gauge line to Quorn and Alice Springs ran from Port Augusta. In fact, the train control operations were based in Port Augusta, as were the workshops. However, after the standard gauge line from Port Augusta to Marree was opened in 1956, and the narrow gauge from Hawker to Marree was progressively closed and removed, the need to have permanent access to Port Augusta was significantly reduced. The dual gauge (as it had been since 1937) track was removed between Stirling North and Port Augusta, and standard gauge track was laid in the dock platform at Port Augusta. A ramp was installed at Stirling North, so that locomotives and carriages that were otherwise trapped could be transferred by standard gauge "piggyback" wagons into Port Augusta workshops, or to Marree for use between there and Alice Springs.

Rebuilding the section

During 2000, the State Government of South Australia and the Port Augusta City Council announced that funding was available to extend the Pichi Richi line into Port Augusta station. Significant works are required, as the narrow gauge track does not exist, and there is not quite enough room on the causeway for our narrow gauge track together with the interstate standard gauge track.

As well as the causeway, we need to cross over the standard gauge line at Stirling North, which is still used to transport coal from Leigh Creek to the power stations at Port Augusta. Several options were considered, including a drawbridge, a diamond crossover, and grade separation using an underpass. Due to long term considerations, inculding not being restricted in our operations when coal trains run (and they can be just about any time), the underpass method was preferred.

To save on the cost of digging too many holes, our track now runs into Stirling North basically east–west, turns to the north and swings back west under the apex of the standard gauge triangle, turns south, then back west to cross the causeway.

Guide map showing the relative locations of the original (pre-1956) narrow gauge track, and the track being constructed in 2001
View looking south towards Pichi Richi's Stirling North terminus
The partly completed cutting on the Quorn side of the standard gauge coal line at Stirling North
The almost finished cutting on the Port Augusta side of the standard gauge coal line at Stirling North
Harris Street level crossing, on the Port Augusta side of Stirling North

February 2001

February saw the first clearing of scrub to enable final surveys to be completed, and marking out for the "smooth" clearing of the formation and excavating the underpass.

March 2001

During March and April, extensive works have been done at Stirling North, and the cuttings on both sides of the standard gauge line have been prepared.

To complete the underpass, the coal line must be cut and removed from the immediate area, and a concrete box colvert installed, before the coal line is re-instated. A 48 hour "window of opportunity" is available on April 25 and 26 where there will be no coal trains, so work on the approaches has proceeded well to allow that to be done.

The first pass of excavation works. The coal line is in the foreground. The chimney of the Northern Power Station rises above the range, while smoke rises from the Playford station just to the left of the large excavator.

April 2001

Putting the finishing touches to the side of the Port Augusta side cutting

The underpass is not the only part of the project that has been started. In fact, a considerable amount of track has been laid. This includes track on the Port Augusta side of the causeway across Spencer Gulf, and between the causeway and the underpass.

Naturally, before the track can be laid, the ground must be prepared. Once the topsoil has been levelled, the track can be laid in roughly its final location. Ballast will then be dropped from our ballast hoppers, after the track has been connected to our existing track at the apex of the narrow gauge triangle. The final step of the process is to use our tamper to pack the ballast under the sleepers, and provide a level and straight track.

Grading the track bed, between the Harris Street crossing and the causeway
A National Rail train crosses Harris Street. PRRPS's narrow gauge track is at right, and continues past the crossing towards the causeway and Port Augusta

Part 4: April and May 2001

As planned, the culvert under the standard gauge coal line was installed on 25–26 April, and the coal line re-opened for traffic on 27 April.

View of the completed Port Augusta side cutting
The Quorn side of the coal line culvert
Installing the retaining wall on the Quorn side of the coal line

Part 5: May 2001

PRRPS member Max Sayer supervises the works on dismantling the Cambrai–Apamurra line

One aspect of the project that is not as visible, is the vital task of dismantling the Apamurra to Cambrai broad gauge railway, once part of a branch line from Monarto South (in the Adelaide Hills) to Sedan, 43 miles north.

This operation is being done to supply rail to the crew laying track from Stirling North to Port Augusta. The broad gauge Apamurra to Cambrai section has been disused since the 1980s, and left isolated since the gauge standardisation of the Adelaide to Melbourne railway. Only the Monarto South – Apamurra section of the former Sedan line was standardised, leaving the Apammurra to Cambrai section unusable.

The line was donated to PRRPS by the State Government early in 2001.

Some rail has been found covered with sand drifts, and the tendency for sand to retain moisture, has caused the foot (or bottom) of the rail to become corroded and unusable. Much of the rail is in excellent condition though, and will most likely last for many years to come.

Preparing a clear area to enable loading of a semi-trailer with rail
Loading rail on a semi-trailer, for transporting to the Stirling North – Port Augusta extension works

Part 6: August 2001

After many long months of work, the track extension has finally reached Port Augusta station. Several ballasting trains have now run, and the tamping of the track has commenced in earnest.

Ballasting operations on a murky wet day
Hospital Road level crossing, with rail laid out awaiting sleepers, July 2001

Construction is also well underway for the carriage and loco storage shed, and the turntable.

Locomotive and carriage shed under construction

Part 7: September 2001

Former South Australian Railways locomotive T186 became the first narrow gauge locomotive to steam in to Port Augusta for over 30 years when it headed a train in to the station on Saturday 15 September.

Carriages from both the Commonwealth Railways and South Australian Railways were in the consist, partly as a dry run for the Centenary of Federation trains in October.

T186 and train passing through the NRG Flinders underpass at Stirling North, 15 September 2001
T186 in Port Augusta Station, 15 September 2001

The local Member of the South Australian Parliament, Hon Graham Gunn MP, South Australian Tourism Minister Hon Joan Hall MP and Port Augusta Mayor Joy Baluch officially opened the track extension from Stirling North to Port Augusta.

Hon Graham Gunn MP, Hon Joan Hall MP, and Mayor Joy Baluch unveil the plaque
The plaque erected to commemorate the opening

More work is still required before the track can be used, such as completing the ballasting and tamping, fitting out of the carriage/locomotive shed, and completion of the level crossing protection. Most of the work, with the possible exception of the level crossing protection, will be completed in time for the Centenary Of Federation celebrations on 22 October 2001.

T186 near Footner Road, returning to Quorn, 15 September 2001

Part 8: October 2001

Ballasting and tamping work has continued, and the following photos were captured in early October 2001.

PRRPS volunteer Josh George catches up on some sleep in NT76 during a pause in ballasting at Port Augusta
View from the drivers' seat of NT76 at Harris St crossing. The machine in the mirror is on the standard gauge line which parallels the PRRPS narrow gauge.
A pair of NR class locomotives on a steel train race past the PRRPS tamper. The NRs were travelling at about 50 km/h, while the tamper works at about 2 km/day

Part 9: 2002 – Project receives award

Now complete, the Pichi Richi Railway Preservation Society's track extension project has won the Permanent Way Institution SA Section's Track Work Achievement award.

View the submission for the award (400 kB PDF file).