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Rail Tales from South Australia

But, at that stage, the Australian states were, in effect, countries in their own right ? and growing children aren't noted for listening to Mother. That's where the Irishman came in, one F.W Shields, a railway engineer employed by the Government of New South Wales. He advised, probably correctly, that the 5'3" gauge, as used in Ireland, would be more serviceable for the loads and distances involved.The Governments of South Australia and Victoria agreed, and followed suit by planning their railways to the 'Irish' gauge. However, Shields was replaced by a Scotsman named Wallace, and, following his advice, New South Wales adopted the 4'8˝" gauge.

The other two States, feeling that their plans were too advanced to change, retained the 5'3" gauge.Meanwhile, South Australia was also building a network of 3'6" gauge 'country railways', intended mainly for carrying farm produce and other freight. The narrow gauge was chosen as being inexpensive to construct and to operate, thus keeping freight costs down ? passengers were carried, but their comfort wasn't really a high priority.When the Australian States joined in 1901, to form the Commonwealth of Australia, Western Australia demanded a rail link with the other States as a condition of joining.

Thus was born Commonwealth Railways, operating from Sydney to Perth on the New South Wales standard gauge metals ? giving South Australia separate systems in three gauges!.It's a complicated story, and, in summarising it here, I may well have sacrificed a little accuracy in the interests of conciseness. The place to find the whole story, graphically illustrated, is at the National Railway Museum, in Port Adelaide.

The Museum is in Lipson Street, on the site of the former Port Dock Railway Station, to where it relocated from Mile End in 1988.Locomotives and rolling stock from bygone days are displayed in three undercover locations. In the Goods Shed, a mainly volunteer work-force carries out restoration work on exhibits; the Main Pavilion incorporates a Break of Gauge platform, as well as several side exhibitions, such as Women in the Railways, Operations and Signals and Railway Development.

Around all runs a 457mm (18 inch) gauge miniature railway, which is steam-hauled at week-ends and holiday times.The Commonwealth Railway Museum is in a separate shed, and part of its display is devoted to the legendary Ghan railway. This was a 3'6" gauge steam-hauled line, built in 1929, originally intended to carry passengers from Adelaide to Darwin but which, in fact, terminated at Alice Springs, almost in the centre of the country.

The train took its strange name from the 'Afghan' (actually Pakistani) camel-drivers who pioneered the route. The two-day ride to 'Alice' in the wooden carriages, which usually had an open platform at each end, was always regarded as something of an adventure. The intense heat, flash flooding and termites eating the wooden sleepers (cross-ties) often delayed trains, sometimes for several days. By 1982, the track had deteriorated so badly that the trains, by now diesel-hauled, were discontinued.

The track was abandoned, apart from the stretch between Port Augusta and Quorn, in the Flinders Ranges. This section has been restored, and operates as a tourist attraction by the Pichi Richi Railway company, to give a flavour of what rail travel was like in 'the good old days'.But, that was by no means the end of the Ghan. Alice Springs is now served by a twice-weekly service over a standard-gauge track laid to the west of the old line.

The New Ghan offers sleeper accommodation in two classes, 'Gold Kangaroo' and 'Red Kangaroo', as well as 'sit-up' accommodation for those on a budget.The train also incorporates car transporters, so that passengers can take their cars with them; in the old narrow-gauge days, these, with any heavy baggage, would be brought on a second train called the Chaser, which followed some time later.And, since 1st February, 2004, Alice Springs is no longer the end of the line. It's been continued northward to the northern port of Darwin, which was, up to now, isolated by rail from the rest of Australia.

The new line offers the opportunity for passengers to take sight-seeing side trips at Katherine and Alice Springs; these will be free to Gold Kangaroo passengers, and available at extra cost to those in Red Kangaroo.I was recently lucky enough to visit Adelaide's Keswick Rail Terminal, and be shown over the Ghan, which was being readied for departure. The station carried an air of excited anticipation, even among the staff, as the train prepared to leave on one of the world's great rail journeys ? which, with the new extension to Darwin in service, promises to become even greater!.You will want a cell phone for use while your in Australia and with the local GSM service you'll be amazed at how much better the service is in Austtalia than back home. Virtually everywhere in Australia, yes even mountains and often deserts, is covered by superb GSM cell phone service. With a local service provider all your incoming calls are 100% free and calling the states is just $.

27 / minute. Or, to be 100% sure, you can rent a satellite phone and as long as you can point it to the Nouthern Hemisphere you'll get service across the entire country. Free incoming calls day and night from every country on earth and only $1.99 to call any country, always.For more information on renting/buying these type of phones and getting this type of super low cost service take a look at http://www.planetomni.

com or call 800-514-2984 inside the States or 925-686-9945 from outside. They ship worldwide and are based in California.

.Cell phone use overseas.

In 99% of the world the local cellular service standard is called GSM. We use this in the states as well. When combined with a SIM CARD (which usually goes under the battery of the phone) the phone is able to communicate and the SIM CARD also holds the telephone number and memory for pre-paid credit.

Rates can be extremely low using this system. For example in 99% of all SIM CARDS incoming calls are free and calls to the states can cost a trifle. Such as, from the UK to the USA 7 cents/minute, from Israel 22 cents, from Australia 27 cents. Yes, USA Dollar cents! There are today even prepaid service providers in the USA offering rates of 10 cents per minute to call anywhere in the US to any type of phone. No contracts, no credit card checks, no bills. Pre-paid always means no minimums no contracts, no obligations.

You only pay for the calls made. You'll need an unlocked GSM tri-band or quadband UNLOCKED phone. You can buy factory unlocked phones and sim cards for more than 170 or the 193 countries on earth from http://www.planetomni.com.

By: John Dulaney

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