Earlier this afternoon we drove down towards Palmerston (Darwin’s satellite city, more commonly known locally as Palmerslum) to inspect progress on the Darwin-Alice Springs Railway. Track-laying reached Palmerston on Friday and was supposed to be due to end 10 km further north at East Arm Port next Wednesday. As my parents are due to arrive here Tuesday morning for a couple of weeks, we thought it might be nice to take them down and watch a truly historic event: the completion of the north-south rail link promised ever since South Australia handed over the Northern Territory to Commonwealth control in 1911.
Unfortunately, we were too late! They’ve already just about finished. As we arrived, the automated tracklaying train (pictured) had just finished laying track across Berrimah Road to within a couple of hundred metres of the intended passenger terminal near East Arm port, and they were just installing the level crossing warning lights on Berrimah Road. So the railway is to all intents and purposes complete, some 7 months ahead of schedule. It looks like they’re going to leave that last couple of hundred metres for the scheduled theatrical completion ceremony on Thursday, even though they could actually have finished it today if they’d wanted.
It remains to be seen whether the Darwin-Alice Railway will be a commercial success, and whether it will act as a catalyst for a truly sustainable industrial economy in Australia’s north. But the sheer speed with which it’s been built makes this an astonishing engineering feat, and unquestionably a great exercise in nation-building. I’m sure this post will generate the usual cynical comments, but as a Territorian for more than 20 years, I can’t help feeling just a touch of pride and even excitement. Then again, I even got excited when McDonalds opened its first outlet in Darwin.