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Last Updated: Sunday, 1 February, 2004, 07:29 GMT
Train departs on historic trip
The Ghan at Adelaide station
Crowds gathered on Adelaide Station to cheer off the Ghan
The first passenger train linking the Australian cities of Adelaide and Darwin has begun its inaugural journey.

It marks the fulfilment of a century-old dream to link the north and south of the Australian continent.

The journey will take passengers 3,000 kilometres ((1,740 miles), across the most forbidding terrain of the outback.

Crowds gathered in Adelaide to cheer off the "Ghan", named after Afghan camel drivers who traditionally ran the route after European colonisation.

The 400 or so people on board included invited guests, the media and regular passengers.

"We've been looking forward to this for ages. It's our chance to be part of history," said Elsie Blaney-Murphy, 72, who travelled from Perth in western Australia with her husband.

Stan Bishop told the local Adelaide Advertiser newspaper he paid A$5,000 (US$3,800) for tickets for himself and his wife.

He said he first made the journey in an army truck and then a cattle train during World War Two. "I just wanted to make the trip to Darwin again in a bit of comfort," he said.

Cheaper fares

Officials say future fares will be much cheaper - with tickets for adults starting at A$440 (US$334).

The Ghan has been travelling between Adelaide and Alice Springs since 1929.

New track cost A$1.3bn ($1bn)
Construction took 30 months
Railway now runs for 3,000 kilometres (1,740 miles)
First freight train 1.8 km long
Great Southern Railway Marketing Director Anthony Kirchner said it was always the intention to extend the line to Darwin in the north.

"This famous train will now strengthen its reputation as providing one of the great railway journeys of the world," said Prime Minister John Howard in a videotaped message.

The train features 43 carriages hauled by two locomotives.

It is carrying around 2,600 eggs, 4,000 rolls and 1,440 bottles of wine for the 8,000 meals it will serve up during the three-day journey.

There are four stops - at Port Augusta, Alice Springs, Tennant Creek and Katherine - where big civic receptions were planned.

The BBC's Michael Peschardt
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