Pichi Rich Railway volunteers share 40 years of history

Pichi Richi Railway celebrated 40 years since the preservation society brought it back to life over the weekend, and members young and old contemplated the railway’s significant history and what it has meant to them individually and to the local community.

The railway was originally opened in 1879 and once stretched all the way to Alice Springs.

The Pichi Richi Railway Preservation Society was formed in 1973 to preserve the railway through Pichi Richi Pass, described as the most scenic part of the original Ghan railway with deep rock cuttings, stone wall embankments and iron bridges along the way.

The railway has carried over 300,000 passengers on the line since the opening weekend of the railway in 1974 and on the 40th weekend, many more passengers journeyed down the historical tracks.

The railway is run by volunteers, and over the weekend, as well as visitors flooding the station, members reflected on their time volunteering with the railway.

Many have been volunteering since the society was formed over 40 years ago.

Train guard Richard Wood said he has loved being part of the railway society since its formation, because he loved that the train still gives passengers the “clickety clack on the track” experience. As a guard, he is also part of the much of train riding theatre, like blowing whistles and showing flags.

He is also responsible for many safety aspects when the train is moving, which he said can be daunting, but that giving passengers the opportunity to travel like they could in an era long past was what it was all about.

At 22, David Heah is the youngest steam locomotive driver in at least South Australia, but possibly the whole of Australia.

He has been involved with Pichi Richi since he was 16, spending time there during school holidays and right through university.

He became qualified as a locomotive driver through the society, and continues to be heavily involved even as he nears completion of his petroleum and mechanical engineering degree.

He said it is up to societies like Pichi Richi to continue being the stalwarts of the machines and railway culture to ensure interest is created in a younger generation so they can take over and keep things running.

Phil Mellors was serving as fireman on the 40th celebration weekend, and is another who has been with the society for many years.

On steam trains, firemen shovel coal into the firebox which heats the water in the boiler to generate the steam to make the pistons move and in turn make the train go forward. 

The 40th anniversary was celebrated in Quorn with train rides and family fun at the Quorn Railway Station.

– Laura Cook