Three Australian Rail Journeys

Staff member: Rhonda // Trip date: Aug 2009


The Overland - MELBOURNE TO ADELAIDE

I left home in the dark, on a cold, wet morning in Melbourne. Met Luke (co-worker), Kirsty (Rail Plus Victorian Sales Manager) and 7 other Melbourne Retail Agents, at Southern Cross Station at 7.30am.

The Overland train (which is now just a day train) left from Platform 1. As we walked along the platform to Red Premium Service we could see the Red Service carriages and it looks very comfortable with the seating configuration, 2 x 2. Our Red Premium carriage is remarkably spacious, with 2 seats across, (window and aisle) and then 1 single row along the windows. (This was the same in 1st class in Europe). The seats had a huge amount of leg room, (far more than on the Eurail trains) and had tray tables and seats that actually reclined at a good relaxing angle. There were sun blinds, transparent luggage/coat shelves above the seats and the suitcases are put up one end of the 1st class carriage and secured.

The toilets, at each end of the carriages, are unisex and a huge space, big enough for wheelchairs to get in and they all have "pull down" baby change tables as well.

Staff do PA introductions up one end of the carriage and tells you about the train, the snack car, how to use the bathrooms etc and then they handed out orange juice to all pax. Half an hour after departure, the staff come and takes breakfast orders. In Red Premium, this is served in your seat. You have to pay for meals and extra drinks. It is recommended that you do have cash on you.

The train only travels at 80kph and after the fast trains in Europe, it is enough to make you cry. The trip to Adelaide is 10 hours.

Breakfast was served around 10.30am and the trolley comes around again a little later serving more hot drinks, cold drinks and snacks. The countryside from Geelong to Ararat is flat and green. Later, the group (10 of us) decided to go for a wander and check out the bar/snack car. There is a good variety of snacks and meals (sandwiches, wraps, and hot food, like pies etc, even small pasta dishes). We sat around chatting on little fixed stools, watching the scenery go by.

Lunch orders were taken by the staff at 12.30 but not served until 1.30pm. We chatted, read newspapers, novels, listened to IPODS etc and just relaxed. Lunch was served at our seats with the tray tables down. Very similar to airplane style. Hot meals were served with real crockery and cutlery, but there really was not enough food.

Along the journey, there is some commentary, when you come into towns and pass historical sights etc. After lunch most of us had a snooze and later we went for a drink in the bar / snack car. Coming into Adelaide, through the Adelaide Hills, we enjoyed looking at all the lovely houses, and when the sun had gone down, you can see the city lights. It was then, we realized that the single row of seats along the window, can actually swivel around, so 2 passengers can face each other for the trip, if they want. We found the staff on board, very professional, friendly and amusing with their comments. It was a very pleasant journey.

The Indian Pacific - ADELAIDE TO SYDNEY

The Indian Pacific train in Adelaide leaves from the Parklands Terminal at 10am on a Friday morning.
The staff in their new autumn colour uniforms stands on the platform and greets all passengers in Gold Service. The train is very very long and has numerous carriages in both Red and Gold Service with the Snack / Bar car in Red Service and one Dinning Car and one Lounge car in Gold Service. We were told that our particular train that day was a "baby train" as it only had 15 carriages, and only 1 x dinning car and lounge car!

There were 10 of us, so that was 5 sleepers in J carriage, close to both the lounge car and the dining car. The cabins had more room than the Elipsos train from Paris to Barcelona in Gran class! The compartments were made up for the day, which consists of seats for 3 pax across one side of the compartment, large picture windows with blinds, an ensuite with shower, mirror and "pull down" sink and toilet. Towels are supplied and toiletry bags with shampoo, conditioner, body lotion, shower cap, comb etc.

The staff then came around, once we were settled into our compartments, to discuss our choice for morning "wake up" drinks, and whether we wanted early or late meal sittings. As we were a group of 10, the vote was for the later sittings. Lunch at 1.30pm and dinner at 9pm. The majority of pax are older people who want early meal sittings. The staff also recommended we walk around the other parts of the train, have a look at the other carriages, and move around regularly.

The lounge car is very comfortable, with large armchairs, tables, big picture windows, free hot drinks, newspapers to read, and staff in the bar serving drinks and snacks. Morning tea was announced in the lounge car and was packed with pax all getting free hot drinks and home made, hot, scones with jam and cream. 4 of us managed to grab seats and we sat around chatting, reading papers and I found this a great opportunity to catch up on some knitting. I was sharing with Tania from Bentleigh Travel. She wanted a snooze in the cabin before lunch, so I stayed happily in the lounge.

The scenery out of Adelaide was very lush and green, with hills and sheep etc. This surprised me. At around 12.15pm the train track split in two. One track turned left and headed north, turning inland (The Ghan line) and we continued East. At 12.30pm (while early sitting lunch was in the dining car) the late sitting pax had their "Welcome Reception" in the lounge car. We were all served champagne and pretzels and introduced to the staff who did a bit of commentary about the train. Today, they said, was a "Baby Train' as it only had 15 carriages! The dining car takes 48 Gold pax per sitting and there are two sittings, meaning 96 pax in Gold Service.

Our lunch at 1.30pm was lovely in the dinning car. Tables are in 4 pax per booth but there were 10 of us, so Tania and I had the booth to ourselves and spread out. There were white, crisp linen tablecloths and serviettes, silver cutlery, white crockery etc. Crackers, pita and 2 dips were on each table for starters. Alcoholic drinks are served but paid for on the spot. Naturally they have some excellent Barossa wines. Main course was a choice of chicken in a coconut, curry sauce with rice and salad or a pumpkin croquette with caramalised onions, on a bed of green salad. There was only one choice of dessert, a chocolate cake / pudding with creamy whisky sauce, fresh tea or coffee etc. While having lunch the landscape started to change dramatically, from lush green to red soil, with spinafex. After rolling out of the dining car, we pulled down the beds, and had a bit of a snooze.

We pulled into Broken Hill at 4.30pm. It really is in the middle of nowhere. The town is bigger than I was expecting. The one hour tour is optional and has to be pre-paid at the bar in the lounge car. 3 Mini buses took some of us around for a tour. There are currently 17 pubs, but in its heyday of the silver mines there were 74! BHP started in Broken Hill, and stands for Broken Hill Pty. At first the founders thought they had found tin, but turned out to be silver. There were many silver mines at one stage, employed thousands of men, now there is only one operating mine employing around 300. We drove past artist Pro Harts house, and it still has a Rolls Royce and Bentley in the drive. There were many Pro Hart sculptures and architecture around town. June Goth was born here and she became a beloved and world famous singer, known as June Bronhill (her stage name taken from the town). Up on a hill overlooking the town is the Miners Memorial, with the names of every miner killed in the mines over the years. From the top of the hill, the view over the town is beautiful, especially as the sun was setting. From the top of the hill, the Open Cut mine was on our right and the Indian Pacific train in the foreground at the station in front of us. From up there, you realize just how long the train is, and that is a Baby Train! From here, we were taken to the main street in the town. The "Palace Hotel" used in the movie "Priscilla" is now closed for renovation. Drats, we all wanted a drink in there. The tour also took us past the town's old mosque and synagogue. We were then taken to the old Silver Mint which is now an art gallery, silver shop, souvenir centre. It currently houses a massive panoramic canvas painting of the Broken Hill area. It is so well done and really does look like a real view. This tourist centre is called "The Big Picture". The silver jewellery is cheap and good quality. I bought some earrings.

Back on the train at 6.30pm and the early sitting dinner was right away. We changed for dinner (optional) and had drinks in the lounge car, which looks very different at night time. Dinner was great. The dining car staff change into very smart black uniforms for dinner. I had the Barramundi fish, which was grilled and topped with hummus and served with steamed veggies. More excellent Barossa red wines. On my table was Kirsty, our Rail Plus Victorian Sales Manager, Tania from Bentleigh Travel and Ashley from Flight Centre Moonee Ponds. He was sharing with Luke. Dessert was a choice of a cheese platter or a creamy lemon tart, served with strawberries and a ginger snap. I finished everyone's blue cheese. Yum. This was followed by coffee and chocolates and then we all headed back to the lounge car for more drinks. We called it quits a bit after 11pm when the bar closes. We were the only pax left!

The sleeper! I was actually on the top bunk, which was very comfortable. A ladder unfolds. The train supplies sheets, pillows, mini doonas and toiletries. There are reading lights and a very dim night light that stays on, in case you want to use the toilet during the night and you forget you are on a bunk! I slept surprising well and didn't mind the gentle rocking of the train.

The conductor knocked on the door at 6.45am, and served hot coffee. We showered and I thought the hot water and pressure was quite good. In the ensuite, the shower curtain goes around 360 degrees and covers the sink, pull down toilet and clothes and towels on the hook.

During breakfast we were travelling through the Blue Mountains, just outside Sydney. The morning was beautiful, fine, sunny and misty! Breakfast, like all the meals was good, choice of 3 juices, cereal, fruit, toast, with plenty of spreads and a full breakfast. (I had scrambled eggs with cooked tomatoes and mushrooms), fresh coffee etc. We arrived into Sydney's Central Station at 10am, after a very relaxing and enjoyable journey. I would be more than happy to do it again, but maybe this time from Perth to Adelaide across the Nullabour.

The XPT - SYDNEY TO MELBOURNE OVERNIGHT

After a free day in Sydney, we all met back at Central Station at 8pm for the 8.40pm departure on The XPT. This train also travels Melbourne to Sydney overnight and between both cities during the day. This service is run by Countrylink and they also run trains from Sydney to Brisbane and vice versa. XPT stands for Express Train. This train is much, much smaller than the Indian Pacific train and only had 5 carriages, including only 1 x Sleeper carriage. The rest of the carriages were recliner seat, carriages. The train only has a snack car and no lounge or dinning car like the bigger across country trains. The sleeper compartments are much the same layout as the Indian Pacific sleepers but are more modern. The bathrooms are situated between every two compartments, so only a maximum of 4 pax share each bathroom. Again they have the "pulldown" sinks and toilets and the showers a more modern. Every passenger in the sleeper car was given a Train Magazine with lots of information, and a Country Link toiletry bag with shampoo, conditioner, body lotion, comb, shower cap and tiny toothbrush and paste. The conductor came around to take hot drink orders for the morning and we were all given a "supper / snack box" that consisted of spring water, biscuits and cheese, dip, and tiny chocolate bar.

Once we pulled the beds down, they too had pillows, sheets, white towels and mini doonas. We really missed the lounge car on this particular night. 5 of us squashed into one compartment to share a nightcap and our biscuits and cheese.

I had traveled on this train before and knew that overnight was going to be far bumpier than the Indian Pacific. Being a much smaller train, unfortunately you do feel every single bump, and rattle etc. After hitting my head twice, trying to use the toilet and clean my teeth, there was no way I was going to try and handle a shower. No wonder there are hand rails in there! You need them. I slept for a few hours, but it is not easy. We were woken up by the conductor with hot coffee and a "Breakfast Box". This was quite good considering there is no dining car. We had orange juice, toast with butter and spreads etc and that was really all we needed. After getting changed and packing up, we pulled into Melbourne's Southern Cross station at 7.30am on a Sunday morning.

I had a fun, relaxing, informative trip and look forward to perhaps doing The Ghan at some later stage.

Click here for an interactive map of Rhonda's journey!

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