On 15 January 2004, history was made when the first freight train, operated by FreightLink Pty Ltd., departed from Adelaide for the inaugural 48-hour journey to Darwin.
The first discussions about a railway linking the south to the north of Australia began in the mid-19th century. In 1911, the Commonwealth Government guaranteed construction of the line and, in return, South Australia ceded control over the Northern Territory to the Commonwealth Government.
It wasn’t until 1999 that the SA and NT governments announced the appointment of the Asia Pacific Transport Consortium (APTC) as the preferred consortium to build, own, operate and transfer (BOOT) the railway. After 50 years operation, ownership of the line reverts to the public domain. The funding was provided by APTC, with contributions from the governments of Australia, South Australia and the Northern Territory.
The line was initially constructed south from Katherine and north from Tennant Creek. This section of the line was joined on 13 December 2002. Construction north from Katherine to Darwin, and south from Tennant Creek to Alice Springs, was completed in September 2003.
The new railway completes the national railway network and links the economic heartland of Australia to Darwin. The northern terminus for the railway will be the new East Arm Port in Darwin.
The railway will be a trade corridor, a significant conduit for the export and import of goods between markets in Asia and beyond.
Extending the line from Alice Springs to Darwin also offers tourists the opportunity to experience one of the great transcontinental train journeys of the world. On 1 February 2004, the inaugural Ghan tourist train departed from Adelaide for a 47-hour, 2,979 km journey featuring off-train touring options at Alice Springs and Katherine Gorge in the Northern Territory.