Economy class on what should be Australia’s premier intercity train
Way back in April this year, I got to tick one more trip off my bucket list, travelling on Australia’s HST between our two biggest cities before their retirement next year!
|Stock Type||New South Wales XPT|
|Route||Sydney Central to Southern Cross|
As departure from Central Station was scheduled for 7:40am, we checked out of our hotel in Chinatown just before 7am, and took the light rail down George Street. The lack of information once you arrive at Central is pretty remarkable, but we eventually worked out that the XPT set waiting at Platform 2, was to be taking us (very slowly) down to Melbourne. The staff were very friendly and we were soon sat in seats 3 and 4 at the front of Car D, half way down the train.
Tickets were checked by the carriage attendant just after leaving Central, and we settled into our seats for the 11 hour journey. After heading out of the CBD, the service stopped at Campbelltown, before heading beyond the limits of the suburban electrification on the Main Southern Railway at Macarthur. The seats are pretty good by today’s standards, with lots of padding, fairly generous recline, and virtually limitless legroom at the front of the carriage.
A few hours out of Sydney, we passed the Southern Aurora 60th anniversary tour heading north on it’s final day back to Sydney, though unfortunately I didn’t manage to get any pictures out the window, as we were running at close to the XPT’s current maximum service speed of 140km/h at that point.
I spent much of the next few hours reading Metro 2033 by Dmitry Glukhovsky, and enjoying the picturesque scenery. My friend claims to have seen camels around five or so hours into the trip, which I didn’t see, although there were a few proper, Eastern Grey Kangaroos to be seen, often known as the Forester Kangaroo here in Tassie.
At 11am the carriage attendant came through taking orders for lunch, I optimistically went with the Thai green curry, and my friend with the roast chicken. We were handed little dockets to present to the staff in the Buffet car an hour later. Just after 12 the announcement was made over the PA that the meals were ready for pickup, and we made the short journey to the Buffet in the next carriage.
The meals were very similar to the sort of thing you’d get on a four or five hour transcontinental flight, and were in fact provided by Gate Gourmet, a company that also does airline catering. The main came piping hot, with a warm bread roll, butter, salt and pepper, and cutlery. In all honesty, the curry tasted of absolutely nothing, and had a peculiar consistency, but, to be fair, it was only $10.50. My friend had similar things to say about the roast chicken, funky constancies and a bit bland overall.
Mid afternoon, we passed over the Murray River at Albury-Wodonga, the New South Wales-Victoria border, and also the terminus of the V/Line network. The track quality improved immensely from here onwards, primarily due to the almost complete lack of points due to the relaying of the line to standard gauge in 2009-2011, something that also removed legacy infrastructure such as traditional goods yards, and unused sidings. There was also a crew change at Albury station, with a different set of carriage staff and drivers completing the journey to Melbourne with us.
At around 4:30pm, as we were approaching Seymour we returned to the buffet car to buy small late-afternoon snack, I had a sausage roll, and my friend, a fruit salad. It was also around now that our ETA began to drop closer and closer to 7pm, as successive sections of track works between Seymour and Broadmeadows limited the XPT’s speed considerably.
Eventually, well after sunset, Melbourne’s CBD came into view as we took a peculiar winding route round the outer suburbs and into Southern Cross through Footscray and Docklands. Just a few minutes from the station we were delayed once more, stuck at a red signal waiting for the Adelaide to Melbourne ‘Overland’ service to vacate the platform. Eventually the arrival platform must have been changed as ‘The Overland’ was still parked on the adjacent line when we arrived, a full hour late.
We were pretty quick getting off and heading round to the suburban platforms to take a train round to Melbourne Central station on the city loop, near our hotel, given we were both pretty tired at that point.
Overall it was a pretty fantastic trip, although not the most modern, fast, or luxurious train out there, I am so glad to have had the opportunity to try out the XPT before their eventual withdrawal next year as the new CAF units arrive from Spain. If you’re not so much of a train nerd like myself, the incredible scenery, and hassle-free departure processes would still make it a viable alternative for travelling between the two cities if you have a day to spare and can put up with some 80s style passenger comfort for a while. Finally, I’d like to say a huge thank you to my long-suffering friend for coming along with me on this marathon of a train trip and taking some fantastic photos for me!