I have been addicted to rail travel since my first three month Eurailpass in 1978. Trust me, I milked that pass for all the value I could – including riding the night trains back and forward between major cities, so I could sight-see several days in each city, but never pay for accommodation – a vital strategy when one’s guidebook was Arthur Frommer’s Europe on Ten Dollars a Day 🙂.
Australia has two iconic rail journeys – The Indian Pacific and The Ghan – and for our most recent holiday, we chose a package that incorporated both of them. So my next series of posts will track that awesome journey. I hope you enjoy.
Day 1 of the “Ultimate Australian Rail Holiday” 18th May 2016
To the uninitiated, the departure board for the Indian Pacific could appear innocuous. A mere seven stops to our destination. Until you consider that Perth is 4325km (2690 mi) away, and to reach there, we will sleep three nights on the train, crossing this vast continent from east coast to west coast, and watching the scenery change from the lushness of the Blue Mountains (our February sojourn) to the barrenness of the Nullarbor Plain. Although a coast-to-coast rail service has existed since 1917, it was not until 1970 that an unbroken line was created. Before that, the track consisted of three rail gauges (broad, standard and narrow). In 1969 a competition to name the new through service was run – and the winner drew on geography, celebrating the linking of Perth on the Indian Ocean with Sydney on the Pacific Ocean.
This is a trip we have had on our radar for a long, long time, and we arrive at Sydney’s Central Station in a great state of anticipation. There is a special check-in desk set up at the front of the platform, and after having our arrival recorded, and being issued with our carriage and cabin details, we are directed around to the luggage room to drop off our main luggage. It will be returned to us at destination. On board the train, we only need the equivalent of an airline carry-on bag.
Back on the platform, a departure party is in progress. Canapes and mint juleps are passed around by cabin crew dressed in smart country-style uniforms. The train is too long to fit on one platform, so it has been split in two and we are surrounded by carriages as far as the eye can see. A performer sings background songs, a mixture of country, easy-listening and a few of his own. We find out later that Sam is on board with us until Adelaide. A lovely touch.
Just before boarding, there is an announcement of the facts and figures for this trip. I scrambled to note the key points:
- Two diesel locomotives
- Pulling a total of 1230 tonne
- 27 carriages – 2 of which are “Platinum” class, 10 are “Gold” Class twinettes (our class), plus “Red” class reclining seats*, multiple dining and bar carriages, and staff accommodation.
- * To be phased out from July 2016.
- 640 metres (2100 feet) long
- 191 guests departing Sydney
- Attended by 29 crew members, who will change in Adelaide, (home base of the operator).
The Indian Pacific is not a new train. International visitors who are used to travelling the French TGV or the Italian FrecciaRossa, or any equivalent of European high speed trains, would be unwise to board expecting a comparison. If you are looking to be transported from one capital city to another within Australia, you will do that much more quickly and cheaply by plane. No. The Indian Pacific is an experience, and the experience begins with your welcome at the carriage door, and continues with the goodies you find inside your cabin.
The first priority is to choose which of the off-train included excursions you wish to join. There are four each in Broken Hill and Adelaide. More about our choice(s) in a later post. Then we settle on when we require our morning coffee brought to our cabin (pass) and which times we will take lunch and dinner. Breakfast is at your leisure, up to a point. We have time to unpack our few things, stow our soft-sided bags, investigate our en-suite bathroom, and kick back in our compartment –
. . . and then, we are lured to our bar car, to meet some fellow-travellers, and enjoy some of the all-included beverages before a sumptuous three-course dinner. We are travelling in late autumn, and the days are becoming short. I can feel the train straining to pull its load up and across the Blue Mountains, working much harder than the three carriage Explorer we took to Broken Hill in March, but the scenery is already obscured by the rapid twilight. It is dark by 6pm when we come down the other side into Lithgow.
When we return to our cabin several hours later, satisfied and jovial, our space has been converted to sleeping mode. I take the top bunk – somehow missing that chocolates have been strategically placed at the pillow end of the lower bunk. Luckily, Bill knows not to get between me and chocolate, and had the good sense to put them aside for
me us to enjoy at a later time 🙂
Although originally operated jointly by State and Federal governments, the Indian Pacific (and the Ghan and the Overland) was privatised in 1997, and was bought by Great Southern Rail. Ownership of GSR has varied over the years, including a consortium of GB Railways, Rail America and others. Since March 2015, the private equity fund manager Allegro Funds holds 100% of the shares. It will be interesting to see what transformations the new owner will make to this service. Dropping the Red Class is perhaps just the first step to promoting it on the world tourism market. More information on the various train services is available on their website www.gsr.com.au