‘Twas the morning a few days after Christmas, and at around 545am I was awoken by my alarm in my Adelaide Hotel. Why so early? Well, my time in Adelaide was up and it was the day I was returning to Melbourne. But, unlike going to Adelaide, I was not flying home. No sir, I was taking the TRAIN.
The BIG Australia routes, the ones between capital cities, all have names. And between Adelaide and Melbourne the train is called ‘The Overland’. I can only presume they came up with this name because the train travels ‘overland’, where as most trains… okay well, it’s not so imaginative, but it’s got a fair ring to it.
In fact, this was the first major train trip I had taken since March 2018 when I took some long train trips in India and Sri Lanka. Even in my most recent overseas trip (2019) the journeys were relatively short by train. The departure time for this train, leaving from the Parklands Train Station rather than Adelaide Central was 655am. As I was vlogging the trip (shared again for your perusal) I got there with half an hour to spare as the sun rose on the South Australian capital.
There are two basic fares – the ‘Red’ fare and ‘Red Premium’. As I write this post ticket prices can be as low as $80 for the first, but it was around $115 I think for my departure date (different dates at peak times garner more expensive fares). However, I chose Red Premium which is in a carriage with bigger seats and you get breakfast, a snack and lunch. As driving and flying are far faster than the train, it’s more for the experience than any other reason I guess. Red Premium was around $220 for this particular day, but then they added $50 for a ‘flexible’ ticket – date changes permitted, no refunds – so I paid a pretty hefty $269AUD. Still, all these trains are pretty expensive, the Indian Pacific and the Ghan can cost in the thousands.
The train was pulled by a diesel locomotive. As I arrived at the Parklands station, it was sitting there waiting for passengers to be allowed on. The station had already filled up with passengers who were to take the train today. When let onto the carriage, I must admit to being underwhelmed. The photos on the website showed happy people sitting in a modern carriage, but this carriage and it looked like all the carriages, were old and worn. At a guess, they had been in service for 50 years or so.
The toilet in our carriage was big, that was a plus. And also there were few people on the train, as things still slowly opened up from Covid, and there was plenty of space in the carriage. We were next to the restaurant car too which was nice.
We pulled ever so slowly out of the station a couple of minutes late. We didn’t get up much pace until out of the Adelaide suburbs. Breakfast was hot, small but quite decent. The trip was underway as slowly the scenes outside got browner and drier.
The journey between these two southern capitals is through farmland more than anything else. Even though this summer proved to be wetter than normal, it was still pretty dry out there. I explored the next car – the café car – the facilities for cooking were actually pretty impressive. The train on the whole was dated and worn.
Outside the temperature was rising quickly and by mid-morning was already over 30 degrees Celsius. By lunch time we felt it inside. Lunch was a Chicken Focaccia which was fine, but they also served a nice-smelling buffalo curry which I was a bit bummed I didn’t choose. We stopped at Bordertown, which you might think is on the South Australian/Victorian border, but in fact is 17 kilometres before it.
But we were in Victoria soon enough, as it really heated up. A couple of passengers including myself pointed it out to the cabin attendant, who tried to adjust the air-conditioning only to find it wasn’t working at all. The carriage behind was empty, and the same layout as the one we were in, so they offered it to us, most took them up on the offer although a couple decided to sweat out the rest of the train ride.
The train takes a strange dip as it approaches Melbourne, going through North Geelong, along the western suburbs’ suburban line until it comes in to Southern Cross Station. This adds considerable distance to the overall journey. And of course it needed to stop at several points in this stretch of track, once for around 20 minutes. Expected it was waiting for a train to pass, but none did…
I thought the way we were going we would be early, but after all the stopping we got in half an hour late. Over 11.5 hours in the train. The journey was 850km. Not exactly high speed rail. If it had taken a more logical route it would have cut out 50-100km but I guess there are people in Geelong who regularly take it so it goes out this way. When I took the train back in around 1991, it was a night train. Interesting they have changed that these days, especially as it’s not the most visually stimulating trip. But it’s a still a great rail journey.
But I have to say, I wouldn’t recommend it particularly. I took the Ghan from Darwin to Alice Springs back in 2008, and remember it being a much better experience (and a longer one). The carriages were much more modern, they did it right. This was disappointing, although always great to travel by train. But you don’t save time nor money doing it, and it’s not the sort of experience you get from Australia’s other great rail journeys.
Thanks for popping by today wherever you may be. Take care, and May the Journey Never End!