The Ghan experience has been well publicised since its inception in 2004, when for the first time it was possible to take trip all the way from Adelaide through Alice Springs right up to the Top End.
A new standard gauge track had been laid from Port Augusta to the Alice bypassing the old centres of Marree and Oodnadatta., then a brand new track was laid from Alice Springs to Darwin which for the most part sidelined the old northern Australian line to Katherine and is 5 km outside of that town. In fact, the old Katherine rail bridge could not have held the weights of expected train loads.
M V Tronson has ministered in Alice Springs before, in 2004, and at that time had visited Uluru and many of the surrounding sights. On that occasion he had flown into Alice Springs, but this time as the Footplate Padre, he was determined to travel on The Ghan and connect with railway people.
From Darwin, the first task was to find a way to The Ghan Darwin Passenger Rail Terminal for the 9 am departure on a Saturday morning. Although this station is a 25 min drive out of the city of Darwin, there are shuttle-coaches which collect The Ghan passengers from various motels and resorts.
Once at the Darwin Rail Terminal, the coaches drives along beside the stationary train and allows passengers to alight at their carriage number. Mark and Delma Tronson entered Carriage "M", where a supervisor (conductor) helped them aboard, and showed them to their cabin to settle. The Footplate Padre then made his way to visit the locomotive crew until it was time to be on their way.
The cabins on The Ghan in carriage "M" are designed like the old time compartment carriages, with an isle down one side each then separate cabins along the length of the carriage. Each cabin comprised of a bench seat, which folds into a top and bottom bunk, and a shower and toilet cubicle. There is adequate lighting and space for luggage.
There are picture-window views on both sides of the railway line as the cabin window is particularly wide on the one side; and the cabin door on the other side, when opened, has an aisle window right opposite.
The carriage attendant's cabin, with coffee and tea making facilities 'on tap', was always open for the passengers to help themselves.
All meals were presented to passengers in the dining car (lunch and dinner on the first day and breakfast on the second), and there was also a lounge car where the bar was open with hard and soft drinks available and where souvenirs could be purchased.
The Ghan is not a train that has a tight timetable. It is a tourist train, and there are two five hour breaks along the route – at Katherine and at Alice Springs. Brochures in the train cabin give various options for 3-hour tours in and around both these centres. At Katherine the Tronson's opted for a visit to the famous Katherine Gorge with its Aboriginal rock art.
The Ghan has brought with it a huge tourist boom to Darwin, Katherine and Alice Springs.
During the trip, the Footplate Padre spoke at length with the train manager who has been with the company for eleven years. The schedule for the staff is to do a full trip there and back to Darwin from Adelaide, then on the Indian Pacific to Sydney and return. After two days off, they travel to Perth and return before a 10 day break.
As well as meeting many of the fellow passengers, the carriage crews and the locomotive crews, the Tronson's met a Brazilian film crew doing a shoot of The Ghan. They took quite a shine to the Footplate Padre and his wife and treated them like celebrities, filming them both eating in the dining car, drinking coffee in the lounge car, reading or computing in their cabin, viewing the countryside while walking the carriage aisle, visiting Katherine Gorge, walking back to the locomotive …..
It is said that the journey is sometimes more interesting than the arrival at the destination. M V Tronson, the Footplate Padre, certainly found this train trip on the famous Ghan train an experience to savour and remember.
Folklore claims that The Ghan got it's name in 1929 when the original inaugural train stopped and an Afghan alighted, laid down his mat, and prayed and someone said the train should be called 'The Ghan'. Afghan's had traversed the desert with camel trains for decades prior to the railway.
To the Footplate Padre it seems fitting as there is a ring to the Israelites' 40 years wandering the desert.