Alice Springs lies at the heart of the Australian continent. Initially, people and goods were transported from the southern shore to Alice on the backs of camels. The drovers were brought from Egypt, Persia, Balochistan, Pakistan and Turkey but were called Afghans. The train was named after them.
The construction of the first section of the railway to Alice Springs commenced in 1878 in Port Augusta but the first trip from Adelaide to Alice took place 51 years later. The journeys were not comfortable. Obstacles were very common: bushfires, floods and railway sleepers destroyed by termites. In some situations rail carriages were flooded by rivers. (Then the train staff would hunt goats and kangaroos to feed passengers for up to two weeks.)
In 1980 a new line was built a little to the west of the old one. Based on experience, the builders chose land that was more resistant to problems caused by natural forces. A decision was made to extend the route to Darwin on the north coast of the continent. The construction of a 1,420-kilometre long section became the largest infrastructure investment in the history of Australia. Concrete sleepers and contactless rails were used. 125 years after the commencement of construction, in October 2003 the line established a link between Adelaide and Darwin. The first train set off on the route on 1 February 2004. Since then the route has been 2979 km long, passing through one of the driest regions of the world.
The journey takes three days and two nights, and leads from lush tropics surrounding Darwin, through rusty-red backcountry around Alice and Ayers Rock to Adelaide, a city with an almost Mediterranean climate. It is characteristic of Australia that the train is most often pulled by two locomotives, to which even 40 carriages can be attached periodically. Travellers can take in the charming and unique features of Australia. These can be admired during “Whistle Stops” for sightseeing around Katharine and Alice Springs. The journey can be suspended for a few days up to one week if the passengers want to travel further, for example, to the Uluru National Park.
The train has three classes of rail carriages. Economy class, known as the “Red” class, comprises a bed and a bathroom shared by the occupants of the carriage. “Gold” class is three-person room with bunk beds, a compact WC and a small shower plus all-day boarding in the dining room. The most comfortable “Platinum” class gives you a large cabin (wraparound windows) with two beds and a bathroom. Stewards make the beds and serve drinks free of charge. Meals are served in a stylish restaurant carriage.
The Ghan line is owned by a British consortium, Serco, that is also the administrator of Australian prisons and the metro in Dubai and until recently in Copenhagen. The passenger operator of the line is Great Southern Railway, and the freight operator — Pacific National.