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Long Distance Australian Train Journeys - an Introduction
A guide for backpacker and budget travellers
Australian Long-Distance Trains - An Introduction
Australia is a vast and magical country, so requires something special when you have a need to travel the long distances between her major cities. If you want to see the countryside whilst travelling in relative comfort or even luxury, the train is the best choice, and Australia has three very famous trains that will turn your journey into a holiday in its own right. They are run by Great Southern Rail, and are called the 'Indian Pacific', the 'Ghan', and the 'Overland'. This series of articles describes these trains, what tickets are available, how to book, how to prepare for a journey, and what to expect when you are travelling on the train itself. This article is designed with the budget-traveller and backpacker in mind, and concentrates on the cheapest way of travelling across Australia on these magnificent trains, though mention is also made of the more luxurious accomodation available - you can even hire a complete carriage if you wish!
So what are the trains and where do they go?
- The 'Indian Pacific' travels between Perth on the Indian Ocean, and Sydney on the Pacific Ocean, hence the name 'Indian Pacific', though Australians with their well known preference to shorten the names of everything frequently call it the Indian, or even the I.P. The 'Indian Pacific' takes three days and three nights to make the 4352km coast to coast journey, at an average speed of 85km/hour, and a top speed of 115km/hour. There are major stops in Kalgoorlie, Adelaide, and Broken Hill, where 'whistle-stop tours' can be organised. There is also a minor stop in the tiny town of Cook, population 4, where most people leave the train and wander around the largely deserted town.
- The 'Ghan' travels between Adelaide on the Southern Ocean to Darwin on the Timor Sea. It takes two nights and three days to make the 2979km journey, also at an average speed of 85km/hour, and a top speed of 115km/hour. There are major stops in Alice Springs and Katherine, where 'whistle-stop tours' can be organised. The train gets its name from the Afghan camel drivers, who were so vital in the development of the line.
- The 'Overland' has a much shorter train journey than its two big sisters. It travels between Melbourne and Adelaide, a tiny distance (by Australian standards) of just 828km. There are no major stops enroute. The journey takes just 10.5 hours, yet again at an average speed of 85km/hour, and a top speed of 115km/hour, and the train only runs in the daytime, so there is no need for sleeper cars or Day-Nighter seats.
Full timetables for all routes can be found at: www.greatsouthernrail.com.au/fares-and-timetables/ .
Train vs Plane, Bus or Automobile - some Pros and Cons
If you are in a hurry, then go by air, but of course then you will miss seeing what the great open spaces of Australia are really like. If you are on a real budget, then go by Greyhound bus. Like the trains, they also drive through the night, so there will be some areas you will pass through in the dark, and therefore miss having a look at. The journey times are slightly shorter and the costs are slightly less than a backpacker rail fare. The food and the facilities are not nearly as nice. Don't forget to buy a YHA card before you go, for 10% off Greyhound coach passes, and discounts at many hostels.
Another speedy road alternative is to find a relocation deal, and drive a rental car or campervan back to its base - a great way of seeing the countryside, and can be very cheap, but you'll have a fixed time available to return the vehicle, and of course you actually have to drive, not look out of the window. You'll also have to find a hotel or camping site at the end of each day. If you want to take more time to see Australia, then rent a car or campervan, which can be very pricey, or buy a cheap one at the beginning of your trip and sell it before you leave - a good idea for extended travel - there are even companies that guarantee to re-purchase.
Some Thoughts on Australia's Long-Distance Trains
Travel on Australia's long-distance trains is not cheap, but then little in Australia is, these days! If you buy a standard single ticket, from say Sydney to Perth, then you are spending a lot of money, but if you are a foreigner and able to purchase a rail pass, or if you take advantage of the various backpacker fares available, then the journey becomes a lot more doable for the budget traveller.
You should be aware that the Indian Pacific, Ghan, and Overland trains are not like your normal everyday-type of long distance trains in other parts of the world, which are primarily designed to get their passengers from point 'A' to point 'B' in a hurry. The long-distance trains of Australia don't go very fast, they don't stop very often, and the stops that they do make are quite long, as they are designed for tourists who wish to go on the organised 'Whistlestop Tours', at an additional cost. Essentially these trains are best described as a 'tourist experience', and are run on similar lines to South Africa's Blue Train, and S.E.Asia's International Express. The passengers on board are mainly other tourists and holiday-makers, though this does not mean that they are all come from outside of Australia - many Ozzies ride the trains and enjoy all that they have to offer, so don't worry that you won't meet the locals onboard - you certainly will, and have plenty of time to chat and get to know them.
Buy your rail pass here:
Still keen and want to find out more? Please visit the other pages in this article:
- Introduction - THIS PAGE
- Tickets And Passes - Where To Buy Them
- On Board The Train - Seating
- On Board The Train - Food
- On Board The Train - Facilities
- On Board The Train - Photography
- On Board The Train - Ghan And Overland Differences
- Packing List - Essential Items For The Journey
- Upgrading To Better Accomodation
- Whistlestop Tours
- Station Notes
- Great Southern Rail Train Photo Gallery
The photographs on these pages were all taken on my recent 32,000km journey around Australia. Click any image to see a larger version. The photographs are all available for licensing in a range of sizes - please Contact Me for details.
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