Travelling Australia - Journal 2015c




8-10 June 2015
Peterborough Train Lines


Many people discussing train lines through Peterborough describe various train lines by the name of one town along the line while somebody else describes the same line by naming a different town also on the line. Both are correct but the result can be considerable confusion about just what railway lines were (and are) in use. This section explains the various train lines to and from Peterborough and the towns they connected to.

Railway Gauge

One of the most important factors in Peterborough train history is rail gauge; this is the distance between the two rails forming the track and is crucial in determining which locomotives and rolling stock can use a line. The photograph below (taken at Steamtown) shows the three gauges involved at Peterborough. Initially the wide gauge (1600 millimetres) line was mostly used for the Adelaide train network while narrow gauge (1067 millimetres) was more common on longer distance rural services. After a hundred years of dispute, acrimony and argument during which different states adopted different gauges (or in South Australia different gauges within the state) standard gauge (1435 millimetres) was adopted as the gauge to be used on the long-distance lines linking Australian mainland capital cities. This massive project was to have major implications for Peterborough.


Three gauges of railway tracks used in South Australia and on lines to Peterborough. At Steamtown, Peterborough.

When Peterborough was first connected to railway lines the Adelaide network was broad gauge while long-distance rural lines in South Australia were narrow gauge. The long-term consequences of different gauges do not appear to have concerned the powers-that-be at the time although caused many later complaints.


The initial railway building phase in the 1880s began with a narrow gauge line from Petersburg (as Peterborough was than known) south to Terowie. On 17 January 1881, when this line opened for business, a broad gauge line from Terowie south to Adelaide via Hallett and Burra also opened meaning that Peterborough was connected to the Adelaide rail network but via a very inconvenient break-of-gauge at Terowie.

June 2015 - Peterborough Railway Lines, page 2

In the same year (1881) a narrow-gauge line reached Peterburgh from Port Pirie via Crystal Brook, Gladstone and Jamestown. This line was part of a larger project to build a train line from Silverton in New South Wales to carry silver ore to Port Pirie for export to Europe for processing. Construction of the longer section from Peterburgh to Cockburn on the SA/NSW border and of the track in New South Wales to Silverton took longer and was not completed until 1887. By then, Broken Hill was replacing Silverton as the mining centre and the line was extended from Silverton to Broken Hill.

Also in the 1880s a narrow-gauge line to Quorn was completed. The first section, from Peterburgh to Orroroo was completed in 1881, and the section to Quorn completed in 1882. This line ran from Peterborough via Black Rock, Orroroo and Euralia to Quorn which was on the line being extended northwards and used by the Old Ghan. Laying the track north from Port Augusta had begun in 1878 through Quorn, Hawker, Parachilna, Copley and Farrah terminating at Maree in 1884 with plans to extend northward. By 1891 the line had been extended to Oodnadatta and remained there for the next forty years.

By the end of the 1880s Peterborough was on the Broken Hill to Port Pirie line handling ore from the Broken Hill mines as well as substantial numbers of cattle walked from Western New South Wales to Cockburn (on the NSW/SA border) bound for Adelaide markets. Other narrow-gauge lines ran north to Quorn on the northern line to Oodnadatta and south to Adelaide via the break-of-gauge at Terowie which prospered by the need to move every single item of freight between gauges.

20th Century

In the first decades of the 20th century Petersburg/Peterborough (name changed in 1917) was extremely busy with 102 trains recorded in one day in 1923. In 1927 the roundhouse was built. By then Peterborough was well established as headquarters for the South Australian Railways narrow gauge network.

Standardisation - 1970s

In 1963, as part of an Australian Government project to standardise interstate train services across Australia, work began on standardising the narrow gauge line between Broken Hill and Port Pirie via Peterborough. The final ore train on the narrow gauge from Broken Hill/Silverton to Port Pirie via Peterborough ran in 1970 and in that year the Broken Hill - Port Pirie standard gauge line was first used.

Also in 1970, the Indian Pacific passenger train made its first run from Sydney to Perth. The standard gauge line had not been extended to Adelaide then so the Indian Pacific went via Port Pirie where passengers bound for Adelaide had to change. At about that time the Peterborough - Terowie line was changed to broad gauge giving Peterborough a direct link with the Adelaide metropolitan train system. The change marked a sharp decline in Terowie which no longer had any reason for existence.


The 1980s was a decade of change for Peterborough. The diesel engines replacing steam were far less labour intensive to operate and maintain; simultaneously, standard gauge tracks were replacing the older narrow gauge and broad gauge lines. At least as important, community practice was moving away from trains as roads improved and motor vehicles became more widespread.

In 1980 the last narrow train freight train ran on the Peterborough - Quorn line and in the following year the twice weekly train between Peterborough and Orroroo (on the line to Quorn) was terminated.

Adelaide was connected to Port Pirie by standard gauge (via Crystal Brook) in the 1980s and after August 1986 the Indian Pacific went via Adelaide.

The broad gauge line from Peterborough to Terowie was ripped up in 1989.

After regular trains ended on the line to Quorn the line from Euralia to Bruce had been demolished and sold. In April 1981 the Steamtown Preservation Society in Peterborough began running tourist trains between Peterborough and Euralia.

June 2015 - Peterborough Railway Lines, page 3

By the end of the 1980s Peterborough was no longer a railway interchange and the workshops had closed. Peterborough was a station on the Broken Hill to Adelaide standard gauge railway line with a narrow gauge line to the north (to Euralia) used for steam tourist trips. Tourist trips ended in 2002.