Pichi Richi Railway's track extension to Stirling North was officially opened by the Hon Tim Fischer MP, former Deputy Prime Minister, on 24 October 1999. A special double-headed train from Quorn carried approximately 400 passengers and guests.

The restoration of 16 km of track from Woolshed Flat to Stirling North, three narrow-gauge original Ghan carriages, and the overhaul of steam locomotive W934 were undertaken as part of Stage 1 of Pichi Richi Railway's Development Project. The project was assisted by a $1.35 million Commonwealth Government grant, in the Rail Reform Transition Program.

The opening ceremony at Stirling North (Photo: Bryan Homann)
The Hon Tim Fischer MP entertains the crowd at the opening ceremony at Stirling North (Photo: Bryan Homann)

Below is an article by James Duggin that was published in Pichi Richi Patter, Vol 27 No. 1, Summer 2000

A dream of many Pichi Richi Railway Preservation Society Inc. (PRRPS) members and other rail enthusiasts has been realised: the track from Quorn to Stirling North has been restored and was officially opened on 24th October 1999 by former Deputy Prime Minister the Hon Tim Fischer MP. It has taken 2 years for the track, W934, locomotive workshop extension, three Commonwealth Railways NARP carriages (now known and reclassified NABPa) and many other tasks to be completed.

The train left Quorn almost on time with a full load of passengers and dignitaries express to Stirling North. What a sight it was to see, our train double headed by two W Class locomotives and hauling what was possibly the longest passenger train to have departed Quorn since the end of WW2. The consist had 12 passenger cars, 2 brake vans and a water tank wagon, a very impressive sight.

There is no doubt that the scenery that our train takes passengers through is one of the most picturesque journeys anywhere in Australia, and now they have the opportunity to see what PRRPS members have known for many years: the beauty that lies beyond Woolshed Flat. Our arrival at Stirling North was on time at 11:40 am. Tim Fischer, having flown in by plane that morning to Port Augusta, arrived by car with local MP Barry Wakelin, and while our passengers enjoyed a light lunch and wandered around, the official proceedings began.

The speeches got under way during which PRRPS President Richard Atkinson gave a precis of the work and the future of the line to Stirling North. Barry Wakelin MP then spoke and introduced the Hon Tim Fischer who kept the crowd amused with little anecdotes from railways he had travelled on, and of the history and the rise and fall of the railway through the Pichi Richi Pass. Tim compared the Khyber Pass in Afghanistan (which he had been on) to the Pichi Richi Pass in South Australia, which he considered superior. He commented that there was no chance of being shot at while travelling on our train! He also made mention that the Alice Springs to Darwin line will be built, which brought great applause from the gathered crowd.

Speeches over, it was time for Tim to officially open the rebuilt track by driving the restored W934 through a ribbon held by the mayors of Port Augusta, Joy Baluch, and Flinders Ranges Council, Max McHugh. The ribbon was a tough little bugger and required all the strength of the mayors to hold it until it broke. This done, Tim was off to see for himself where the line would cross through the Stirling North triangle on its way to Port Augusta in the future.

The locos were turned and it was discovered the drawgear on Morambro appeared faulty, so it was cut from the consist and left behind after the passengers had been accommodated in the other carriages. (Morambro was collected later that evening by Brill railcar 106.) We were now running approximately an hour late, but an excellent performance by the locos and crews had us back in Quorn quick smart for the dedication and opening of the relocated and restored CWA Hut.

Again more speeches by the PRRPS President, and Tim Fischer who once more kept the crowd entertained, but it was Mrs Lorna Burden from the Quorn CWA who stole the show, first by addressing the crowd without a microphone and then with her memories of the troop trains as they passed through Quorn. The story she told of one particular event (which I can not do justice to by attempting repeating it here) had those present in roars of laughter and giving loud applause. This was followed by afternoon tea in the CWA Hut provided by ladies from Quorn CWA.

It was a great day in the history of Quorn and the Pichi Richi Railway Preservation Society, a culmination of 'Blood Sweat and Tears' and months of hard work by PRRPS volunteers and paid employees alike. With all this money spent, it is now up to the PRRPS members to use this asset to its maximum to provide the tourists to the area with one of the premier train trips in Australia.