• Australian rail trip

  • Tell us where you were and what you saw!
Tell us where you were and what you saw!

Moderator: David Benton

  by David Benton
Well at the moment im sitting in a internet cafe , in Brisbane Australia , while waiting for a train .

My trip sarted with a flight from New Zealand to Sydney NSW .
Sydeny international airport has its own underground rail station , which is privately owned and operated . this means theres quiet a hefty access charge ( $ 8 aud ), on top of any rail fare . i brought a day tripper ticket , for $ 15 unlimited travel on Sydneys train buses and ferries for a day .
My first ride was into Central Sydney .As well as my luggage i was carrying a large solar panel , which i was returning to the manufacterer for a warranty replacement .
This proved quite difficult to take down the esculators etc , but no officals questioned me taking it on the train . ( one joked that i could surf down the esculator on it ) . i made enquires at the rail info desk at the Airport on the nearest station to North Ryde , where the solar panel manufacterer hq was ) and was told Paramatta . this would prove to be expsensively wrong ) .
The train into Sydney is a standard sydney commuter train , Electric double deck , woth doors each end of the carriages , over the bogies . i sat near the doors , and still had a good view . Nice ride into Sydney , along a busy 6 track railway line . arriving at Sydney central station , i spotted the Indian pacific train sitting at the latform , waiting for its departure to Perth , Western Australia .
I also spotted some old carriages on the side of the platform , that looked as though they had been converted to Accomadation .
I found out it was a youth hostel , and after quite a trek under the station , i was at Railway square , and the front of the hostel . Unfortunatley the carriages were full , but i booked into the normal part of the hostel, which is the old parcels shed of the railway station .
By this time was sick of carting the big solar panel around , so after a quick clean up , i lugged it back to the station to find a train to Parramatta . unfortunately i couldnt find an info desk to confirm this was the nearest station . the Ride to Paramatta was interesting , in that this is the mainline to the west ( Through the blue mountains ) , and to teh north . So i spottedd a few frieght trains as well .
Arriving at parramatta station , there were no buses going anywhere near North ryde , so i flagged a taxi down . The driver said it was at least !/2 hour drive away , and i should have gone to Epping Station . By now , i was getting late for my appointment , so i took the taxi .
$ 45 later , i was at the HQ slighlty late for my Appointment .
After that i didnt want to shell out $ 45 for a taxi again , so i jumped on a local bus , that had Circular Quay as its destinaation . Unfortunatley it was a very local bus , winding its way through many suburbs on its way back to central Sydney . But it was an interesting look at surburban sydney life . It also passed through Darling Harbour , which has a monrail route , i saw a monorail train , and was going to return to have a ride , but never got around to it .
Circular Quay is a bus train , and ferry interchange point , next to the opera house . I grabbed a quick bite ot eat , and jumped on the first ferry leaving . ( the beauty of the daytripper ticket , you dont need to worry where your heading !). it turned out to be heading across the harbour to Mossman , a residental area up an inlet filled with pleasure boats .The trip provided good views of the harbour bridge , and harbour , i stayed on the boat , and returned to circular Quay . I decided to take a train that would cross the Harbour bridge , which turned out to have good views of the road traffic , but not much of a view of the harbour etc . I stayed on the train till i got to Hornsby , and interesting ride through the sydney suburbs . by the time the train got there it was dark , so i took an express train back to Sydney central . This was a service from Newcastle , Which only made 2 stops back to Central .
The next day i was booked on the 7.15 a.m Xpt train to Coffs harbour , Northen NSW , and as my flight had left New Zealand at 6 am , i decided to forego Sydneys nitelife in favour of a early nite .
The xpt is Australias version of the British Hst trainset , Nearly identical ,but downrated to 100 MPH , and with suspension more suitable for "colonial" track . however the track out of Sydney ids in good condition ,and the ride was very comfortable . As we were heading out against the tide of incoming commuter trains , we passed many commuters , makinfg me wish i had the video camera with me .
About 15 minutes after departure , the buffet car opened , and i got toast and teas for breakfast . they give you a cardboard tray to carry it on , you keep this for the journey , taking it back to the buffetcar each time you want more food . ( in my case cups of tea , i drink heaps ) .
theres a good selection of snack type foods .
The ride from Sydney , through the suburbs to Newcastle , proved to be the most interesting part of the trip . sydney has lots of National parks surrounding it , and we passed therough several of these . As we hit the coast , we wound around spectacular inlets and bays . If anyone is in Sydney with limited time , i would recomend a return trip to Newcastle .After Newcastle we passed through the hunter valley , and i was surprised that we were running on a 6 track mainline again . It soon became obvious why , as we passsed several coal trains . These bring coal from the valley to a port near Newcastle .
The buffet car announced they were serving Scones for morning tea , which was rather quaint , and came through handing out reservations for morning tea . apparently they make the scones onboard to suit the number of reservations , and 1/2 hour later they mae the announcemnet for passengers to come and pick up thier scones + tea ( $ 5 ) from the cafe car . the same procedure was followed for hot meals for lunch ( about $8 ) . The scenery above the Hunter valley became abit boring , and i dozed off to sleep several times . The line is very windy and the train speed was quite slow . Mostly running in forests , and often with a high wire fence between the tracks and the trees .As we got closer to coffs Harbour there was more farmland , a few tunnels , and we crossed several large rivers . We also crossed a couple of long frieght trains .
Finally we arrived at coffs harbour , more or less ontime at 4pm or so , and i was quite glad to be taking a break there.
We arrived around 4pm , i was taking the train onto Brisbane at 1am the next morning . so i checked my bags in the baggage room and walked into town . Australian towns are very spread out . the town wasnt much , i picked up a couple of books to read , then took a nature walk besides a creek down to the sea . which was quite nice , but getting dark . i headed back into town to look for entertainment and a meal , but both were hard to come by . So i ended up with a snack and heading back to the railway station to await my train . a couple of frieghts and the passenger train going the other way passed trhough , then my train arrived ontime at 1am . it immediately showeed the bad side of travelling coach at nite . a rather large man sprawled over my seat , and a rahter loud lady talking to her kids in the seat in front . looks like no sleep for me i thought , but i must have been tired , cos next thing i knew , we were on the outskirts of Brisbane . quick cup of tea form the cafe car , ad we were passing through the frieght yards ( multiqauge , standard form Nsw , narrow form Queensland . we pulled into brisbane station about 15 minutes late , which would make it a tight turnaround , as the train heads back to Sydney after a hour . wehter it left ontime i didnt hang around to find out . bit a tight schedule after a 15 hour journey .

Overall i was impressed with te nsw xpt operation . it was certainly good value , with advance purchase my ticket from Sydney to Brisbane , ( around 900 km ) was $ 58 , including my one stopover . crew was good and friendly , and the cafe food was good value and acceptable qaulity . the train was full , and there was a crowd waiting to board it for the trip[ back to sydney . this is in spite of discount airfares of around the same price for the same trip . hopefully the trains will be sped up , but the north coast route is very curvy , and it would take alot to speed it up . it is on the agenda though , but mainly for frieght trains benefit i believe .
  by David Benton
I spent 4 hours in brisbane , mainly buy going in search of food . after a good breakfast and quick walk around ( ive been to Brisbane 3 or 4 times ,so didnt particulairy want a rushed tour ) i headed back to the station to board the Tilt train to Bundaberg . I was booked in economy class as far as Bundaberg , from there i would continue to Cairns in business class ( the only option ) .
I got onto the platform 15 minutes or so early , it was crowded with people waiting to board .
The train was sitting on just outside the platform area , asnd didnt pull in until the 11.00 am departure time . i found this strange , but we all boarded , i carried my bag in , and stacked it in the luggage area at the end of the carriage . the seat was abit cramped , but adequate . at the end of the carriage there were 3 lcd screens , about 14 inch . this displayed safety essages to start with . As the train departed it showed the route map , distance to the next station , and the train speed .
At some stages it changed to showing the view from a camera in the drivers window . very interesting , but it was not to last , as they started playing a movie mid trip . the ride was surpisingly bouncy , i was disappointed . it was genrally smooth , but would regularly give a sideways lurch . scenery was abit more interesting in the outskirts of brisbane , but was otherwise more trees and bush .There was a buffet car , plus trolley service . i skipped the meal , and had a pie , plus cup of tea . Service wasnt as good as the xpt trains , price about the same . The train is restricted to 100 km/hr since the crash of another tilt train last year , and we could see our driver trying to hold it there on the lcd screen . he didnt seem to be able ot hold a constant 100 km , would get up to 104 km or so , then throttle back , the train would slow to 98 km or so , then speed up again . in my later trip the driver just sat on 104 k.m /hr .
Around 4pm , we pulled into the Bundaberg station , and i felt abit disappointed with te trip , and thinking the much longer trip to airns might be abit of an endurance contest . luckily this did not turn out ot be the case .
The train to Cairns did not leave till 1.am , so i had 8 hours or so tyo fill in . i ckecked my bag through to Cairns , and walked into town .
Didnt sdeem to be much on , so i headed out to the botanical gardens , over the river . nice walk , there was a railway museuem besides the gardens , closed and i couldnt see much through the gates . The gardens were nice , full of birds , and i came across a snake sunning itself on the footpath . luckily it slithered off , as we dont have snakes in NZ , i wasnt sure what to do .
it was dark by the time i got into town , so i decided to take in a movie . it was interesting to see the crowd of miovie goers in smalltown Queensland ,alot more mixed than we would have here .after the movie i went to a local pub , to sample the famous Bundaberg rum , and listen toi a band .
Nearly train time , so i walked towards the station , i came across a takeaway bar ( fast food joint ) that had unusaual offerings on the menu . the main one been hot chips ( frenchfries ) with gravy and cheese on . This was a popular choice , so i got a huge helping ( $ 3 ) , and a vegetable kebab and coffee . a huge meal for $ 9 . certainly took me back to friday nites in small town Nz when i was young . the men getting a feed on the way home form the pub , the teenagers hanging around , buying takeaway been their entertainment for the nite .
I got to the station , and again there was a decent crowd waiting for the train . I tpulled in on tiem , and i climbed aboard .the business class seating was lot better than the economy class seating . 2+ 1 across insteas of 2+2 , so i had a single seat to myself . the seat was wider and more comfortable . each seat had its own 7 inch lcd screen with a choice of around 10 channels of entertainment .un fortunatley the driver never actiuvated the front view camera on this trip . Once more i was surprised to fall asleep , and not wake till morning .( perhaps the rum helped ) .
Next morning i had a cup of tea for breakfast , still full form last mited takeaways . Which was probably jusr as well , as the catering staff seemed to find serving passengers something of an inconvienence . This may of been due to the large number of school children on board ,but they were noticably less friendly than thier xpt counterparts . the food selection was also not as good , and salighlty more expensive .
Thre trip was fairly interesting , we crossed anumber of narrow guage sugar cane lines , as well as a few frieght trains . We also crossed the conventional sunlander train , looking abit jaded these days compared to the new tilt train . still i would have liked to spend the nights in ones of its sleeping compartments , but its less than daily schedule didnt suit my limited time frame . towards evening as we got nearer Cairns , "are we there yet itis" set in abit ,as the buffet ran low on food , and people got tired . hopwever theyt let us out to stretch and legs and get some fresh air most stations , which was nice . Overall it wqas a good trip , and i felt good as we pulled into the modern cairns station . took awhile to claim the baggage , then i once again found accomadation across the road from the station .
  by David Benton
This train was the main reason i decided to come to cairns . ( 2nd biggest reason is the climate , its hot enough to swim here in winter ) .
The railway runs form Cairns , up the mountain gorge to Kuranda , the first town on the way to the inland .
Originally it was built to provide all weather access to miners( i think gold or tin ) inland .
i got Cairns station 1/4 hour early , got my ticket , and boarded the train . 2 diesel locos and about 12 carriages . the carriages were rebuilt older stock , with nice leather bench seats . These are 4 persons wide , on one side of the carriages , as all the views are out that side .
The carriages have lcd screens , displaying safety announcments , and then history as we left Cairns . The first 10 minutes is through Cairns city , then out into the canefields surrounding it . then we made our first stop , Freshwater station ,which also is a railway musuem and restaurant . The majority of passengers got on here , i think because the tour buses include the musem as part of thier package . We then started to climb , up the side of a deep valley , as we proceeded around a hairpin curve , and up the other side of the valley . views were nice , but not as impressive as what was to come . the train slowed , as we went through a tunnel , and then out onto Stoney creek viaduct .This is where all the promontial photos are taken , as the viaduct crosses a high waterfall . This is the dry season , so apparently it was not as impressive as it can be in the wet season , but still very nice . The valley got steeper and rockier , as we continued to climb . We then came to our 2nd stop , Barrons falls Waterfall station . Here the train stopped for 10 minutes , while we all got out and viewed the falls . This is alot bigger river , and the falls were truly spectacular . It is part of a hydro scheme , so again the flow wasnt as high as in the wet season .
The train then proceeded into Kuranda station , where we alighted at 10 .30 a.m
The station is probably the most pleasant i have seen , with tropical plants , and gardens everywhere . It also has a large signalbox , with old fashioned levers controlling the semaphore signals . i went for a stroll through town , a quiet market place , and relaxed tourist place . Then i went for a rainforest walk , that linked up to the road back to Barrons falls . i decided t o walk the 3km to have another look , forgetting the train would stop there on the way back .by the time i got back to town i was very hot and tired , so settled for an icecream and ice tea on the railway platform , waiting for out 3.30 pm departure . At 3.3 0 the train was about 1/2 full , and we pulled out for the trip back to cairns . Im glad i took the return trip , as i seemd to see alot more than when i came up . The other option was to return on the "skyrail ", an aerial cable way back to cairns . I prefer been close to the ground , but the most popular option is to take the train one way , skyrail the other . The return ticket was $ 50 , exspensive for the short trip( approx 30 km ) , but well worth it in my opinion . We arrived back into Cairns at 5.30 pm , and i made my way back to the hostel to rest my weary legs . Alas after a shower , i was talked into going for a beer or 3 in the local irish pub , complete with barmaids dressed in short skirts and skimpy tops . Only in Australia !

  by Scoring Guy
Yes Mr. Benton, I recall that Cairns Irish Pub, now that you mention it.

I rode the "Queenslander" from Cairns to Brisbane, it's the fancy train on that route, which in 2000 was a once a week separate train. Today it's a twice a week section attached to two of the four times per week "Sunlander" trains. Since they've eliminated single rooms on the Q-lander, (sold those cars to the Ozback train) I'd now recommend the S-lander if traveling alone and wanting a room.

When traveling to Australia, I recommend the Qantas 7am arrival flight, you can store your bags and take a shower at Central Station, and take a nice walking tour of Sydney before the 3pm departure of the Indian-Pacific.

  by David Benton
Thanks scoring guy . I didnt know there were showers at central station ,that may come in handy for future trips . I was disappointed there wernt showers avaliable at Brisbane Roma street station , as that is quite a modern station . In fact it didnt have much in the way of passenger amentities at all .
The sunlander carriages were looking a bit jaded from the outside , but i'm sure the roomettes are still good value .
Central station in Sydney is an ideal place to explore Inner sydney form , or you can get a train to Circular Quay if short on time . there a inner city unlimited ride ticket avaliable for around $ 8 i think .
  by gravelyfan
Thanks for posting this report. Brings back memories from my 1986 visit. Thanks for bringing me up to date.


  by David Benton
No worries , Rich . Glad you enjoyed it .
the tilt trains wouldnt have been around in 1986 , possibly the electrification between Brisbane and rockhampton was underway , or just completed ??? .

Just Curious as to your login name , the only gravely i know of is a type of rotary hoe , or is that a nickname for a locomtive of some type ?
  by gravelyfan
David Benton wrote:No worries , Rich . Glad you enjoyed it .
the tilt trains wouldnt have been around in 1986 , possibly the electrification between Brisbane and rockhampton was underway , or just completed ??? .

Just Curious as to your login name , the only gravely i know of is a type of rotary hoe , or is that a nickname for a locomtive of some type ?
Gravely Garden Tractors - 2-wheel walk behind machines that were produced from the 1930's until 2004. Countless attachments were developed over the years, including rototiller, rotary plow, cultivator, numerous types of mowers, snow equipment etc.

When I visited Aus in last quarter of 1986 the Richmond Vale Railway (?? or was it the Richmond Vale Colliery) was still operating steam-powered coal trains at Hexham, NSW. Also saw the 3801 on an inaugural trip after a rebuild. Lots of great memories.

  by vector_one75
Hi David,

I used to live in New York, but since 1982 in Perth Western Australia, so it was of great interest to read your Australian experiences. See my posting in the Amtrak - First Class Seating? forum thread. I rode the Brisbane XPT from and back Sydney earlier in 2005, and while you feel you got a good deal on the XPT, my reaction was considerably less complimentary.

During the trip of about a week to acccompany my wife's dance seminars (she's a dance performing artist, teacher, choreographer and troupe director), I took a few days to do a bit of rail touring while she was busy. The rail highlight for me was the local train Newcastle-Dungog, which was really like a time warp, a real country town with a railcar train of the 1950's and an experience of "near" outback country towns along the way in the social style of the era. Like I never imagines that this kind of train ride still exister in Australia any more. Just riding and taking in the conversations among the locals along the way was really rrefreshing after been mainly in the "yuppiedom" of Australian cities that I had previously experienced. Like, it was such a refreshing change to observe "real" people!

The scones on the XPT you referred to are an iconic Australian tradition known as a "Devonshire Tea". Since you are in New Zealand which is even more "British" in character than non-indigenous Australians with a broader ethnic spectrum, I'd have had expected that Devonshire Teas would be even more popular in New Zealand! In any case, the word "tea" in Australia is not just the actual beverage, but certain meals as well. While "breakfast" and "lunch" have their own special names, there is a midmorning light meal called "morning tea", an "afternoon tea", an "evening tea" and a "high tea" which is really the main meal of the evening which in the USA for American forum readers would be the equivalent of "dinner". Except of the "high tea" which is the main meal of the day, the othr "teas" are in the style of "Devonshire Tea" which consistr of teas as a beverage, and scones with a heavy sweet cream and jam. This is why on the XPT they made a big deal about it.

On this week, I also rode an "Xplorer" railcar service to/from Canberra, which in terms of passenger amenity, including the snack bars (what I figured they were, rather your more comlimentary "cafe" cars) was very much like the XPT. One can even say that an Xplorer and XPT are the same train except that there are separate locos each end whereas the Xplorers were simly end control cab cars with MU power in the railcars.

My same complaint on the trip for the Xplorer as for the XPT was that (on the daytime run) there was absolutely no difference between the "economy" fare abd a "first class" fare, you simply chose the fare level to simply be able to say one travelled "first class"!

I'd say that the only remainig real traditional "full service" trains in Australia are the "Indian Pacific" (Sydney-Perth), The "Ghan" (Adelaide-Darwin), the "Sunlander/Queenslander" combo, and maybe another one or two inland outback Queensland trains. And the "Indian Pacific" and "Ghan" have evolved into "cruise" trains for "rich" foreign tourists that are way beyond the means of a normal "Aussie" of even good means. All the others, the Victorian "Sprinters", the NSW Countrylink XPT's and Xplorers, the Queensland "Tilt" trains, etc, are simply emulations of airline travel rather than train travel at higher fares and longer hours of endurement.

The "airline style" that has evolved over time is simply the result of the necessity to conserve weight and space: ergo packaged meals included in the airfare, served at the seat in order to prevent mobility of passengers and the requisite congestion in the aisles, and because the air schedules are shorted, one can be "compensated" for the discomfort. Since train service does NOT require such constraints on passengers, a TRAIN service ought to provide SOMETHING BETTER THAN airline-style travel, like being able to walk feely to a place where a real table and chair can be gone for a meal or to a lounge car for a drink or socialising with passengers. Air travel, with everyone "plugged in" to their individual entertainment stations is a totaly isolationist frm of travel. Train travel, on the other hand promotes socialising and creates active natural entertainment among the travellers rather than passive packaged pieces of isolated entertainment.

This is where, globally, not just in Australia or the USA, but even in Europe, the plastic disposable "McDonalds" approach to the travel experience as emulating airline-style travel, for the higher-tech trains has lost the plot. Instead of marketing train travel being of a higher standard than air travel, everyone seems to have instead jumped on the bandwagon for emulating air travel which is NOT at all the empyrean way of travel. Train travel does not have to be 5-star expensive cruise type service for millionaires, far from it, but it must reflect the natural advantages of comfort and sociability that a train can offer much better than a plane, at affordable prices for people to travel A to B, rather than to be constricted to a packaged "cruise" at luxury that one does not need nor can afford.

Now if anyone thinks that the newest Airbus with huge capacity will be able to emulate TRAIN service with all the artists' renderings of table dinner settings etc, history will quickly get you back to reality. Yes, there were some aircraft that had train-style accommodations (like overnight staterooms, etc) in the 1940's and 50's, like the Boeing Stratocruisers, the load factors requiring such fares eventuallly disappeared to provide "more butts" in coach seats. The DC-7's and Constellations originally had some cocktail lounges, but they too went to "more butts". When the 747 Jombo came in, they were touted to have piano bars and upper level dining tables and cocktail bars. And what happened? Replaced with "more butts"! Some airlines have put in "couchette" - type (European train low cost 2nd class sleepers) seats that change over to berths where the passenger must still lie down in their travel outside clothes, at premuim first class prices!

The airplane as a vehicle is not adapted to travel other than in cramped solitary non-amenity on account of the sensitivity to space and weight, but one puts up with it because in 1-2 hours (most domestic) it can be endured. For international travel, issues of DVT and other discomforts must be endured for longer trips, whereas a transatalntic ship voyage I took years ago essentially took over a "long weekend" on a fast ship like the SS United States and SS France was where even a businessman's travel could minimise lost "business days" and still be able to travel in a civilised manner.

Unless one is desperate for speed or no other way of using public transport, the plane has a place, and perhaps planes really should be faster and smaller to ebable more frequent schedules to actually take advantage of their inherent nature. Speed is useless without frequency, what's the point of putting 700 people on to a plane in 2 hours once a day in a normal market. Why not have 10 trips over the day with a smaller plane capacity of 70 but a faster plane in order to really make air travel sense, to be able to depart at a time you're ready to depart and arrive just before you have to be there, rather than killing time most of the day during the one flight? But ultimately, a lot of people do NOT NEED the speed but have been promoted thus by the airline industry, so why can't we do better than than that, like a full service train, sleepers, coaches, diners, lounges, comfortable but without the unnecessary 5-star cruise features so that normal people can afford to actually travel in a civilised manner? Those who wish the 5-star luxury, there are trains for those who are rich and aren't going anywhere in particular like vacationing, but please don't replace them for the real transport pasenger trains in the real natural way train experience by the pasenger should be run.


Vytautas B. Radzivanas

  by PClark
Scoring Guy wrote:-

"I rode the "Queenslander" from Cairns to Brisbane, it's the fancy train on that route, which in 2000 was a once a week separate train. Today it's a twice a week section attached to two of the four times per week "Sunlander" trains. Since they've eliminated single rooms on the Q-lander, (sold those cars to the Ozback train) I'd now recommend the S-lander if traveling alone and wanting a room."

The reason that single roomettes are no longer available in the "Queenslander Class" section of the "Sunlander" is lack of demand. The vast majority of those travelling on this "cruise" service are couples and a whole car (14 rooms) would be excessive. Queensland Rail recently reduced the surcharge for sole occupancy of a double compartment from 50% to 20%.

I posted a detailed Trip Report of a Queenslander Class journey in the International Forums some time ago.