Indian Pacific: Sydney to Perth by Train
by Tom Worthington
In late December 1995 I travelled 4,000 km across Australia from Sydney to Perth by train. This is an account of the journey.
I have been from Toronto to Vancouver, Washington to New York, Singapore to KL, London to Rome and across New Zealand by train. But the Indian Pacific was the first time I had travelled more than a few hundred kilometres in my own country by train.
There isn't much about this trip available on the Internet, apart from the timetable, so I thought I would add what I could.
New South Wales
- Sydney, dep
14:40 (EST) 0 km:
Sydney was the first site of settlement on the Australian continent, also the first seaport. Sydney is the capital of New South Wales and situated on the shores of Port Jackson, a natural harbour, noted for its beauty. Boundaries of its sprawling metropolitan area have never been exactly defined, but encloses an area of just under 2000 square kilometres and house nearly 4 million people.
Left precisely on time. The train is 14 cars long, with the locomotive past the end of the platform and two double deck carriages of cars at the front. Went past the Auburn Mosque (sorry forgot to scan in the photo). We are on for the second sitting for dinner (and for the rest of the trip apparently).
Our staff have that uniquely Australian approach: asked when dinner is the reply is "oh... about a quarter past seven". Not disorganised or impolite, just laid back. Around Wentworth Falls in the Blue Mountains the "easy listening" radio channel started to get to me playing "thousand and one strings" version of "Walk On" from Carousel. The commentary on channel one was getting a bit right-wing (complaining that it would now take longer to do an environment impact study that it took to build 35 kilometres of rail line). My Optus GSM telephone worked from Sydney until just past the Blue mountains.
- Lithgow, 18:00
Situated on the north-western fringe of the Blue Mountains. It is an important coal mining and manufacturing centre. Named after William Lithgow, Colonial Auditor, 1829. The highest point on the route - 1092m above sea level is located between Lithgow and Mt. Victoria.
Its 5:30pm and we have stopped (on schedule the announcement emphasises) at Lithgow. It would be a good spot for train spotters, there is a shed full of diesel and electric locomotives. Phone worked at Lithgow.
We are in the first class section of the train. This has two berth cabins, with a shower/toilet in each. There is a seat big enough for three people, which converts to a single bed and a pull-down top bunk. Getting into the top bunk on a moving train can be an interesting experience (I remember a particularly difficult triple level one between Paris and Rome). These have a very solid set of fold down steps, complete with padded steps in cloth to match the decor.
There are two small closets, which even include such luxuries as hat racks inside the doors. There is a back-lit mirror, with the IP's eagle logo and Aboriginal art style motif etched into its front (as have many of the glass panels on the train). The mirror has audio and lighting controls next to it, plus a 240 volt power point and a 110 volt shaver point. The sockets are right next to the mirror and my mobile phone charger wouldn't plug in without an extension cord.
Bathurst was named by Governor Macquarie after Earl Bathurst, Secretary of State for Colonies. Bathurst is also the oldest settlement west of the Great Dividing Range. The railway line linking Bathurst and Parameter was opened in 1876.
Phone worked at Bathurst.
The beds are very comfortable, with a quilt and two pillows printed with the IP pattern. The bottom bunk gets the view out the window. All windows are fitted with ventilation blinds, which can be adjusted and retracted using one control. Each bunk has a shelf, reading light and an attendant button (which I didn't dare push).
The rooms are panelled in dark timber, which looks solid and very tasteful. There is an art deco feel to many of the fittings, with some later additions having a less pleasing "lets make it look like the orient express" feel to them.
- Orange (East
Fork), 21:05 321km:
This town until 1846 was known as Blackman's Swamp after John Blackman, Chief Constable at Bathurst. In that year it became the village of Orange, named by Thomas Mitchell after the Prince of Orange, later Kink of Holland, who was A.D.C. to Wellington. The city stands about 15km north-east of Mount Canololas, an extinct volcano 1395m high on a fertile productive district. The poet A.B. Patterson, was born near Orange in 1864.
This town was named after Sir Henry Parkes, a former Premier of New South Wales. Parkes is in the central west of NSW and the railway line reached the town in 1893. Now Parkes is an important junction, with lines extending north, south and west.
Missed Parkes, it was dark.
Each morning the attendant brings you a choice of tea or coffee in bed. You can what the scenery until being called to breakfast. The dining car is plush, almost to the point of being overdone, with embroidered tasselled curtains. However its very comfortable and the food was good.
- Broken Hill, 08:50
1125km: Getting out of the top bunk about an hour before
Broken Hill, we found all the trees and mountains had gone, to be
replaced by flat dry red land, with clumps of dry bushes.
We stopped for 20 minutes at Broken Hill, but were told "do NOT leave the railway station". Anyway I snuck out and photographed an art deco pub in town. Tried to photograph the whole train, but it spilled past the end of the platform again. Phone didn't work.
After breakfast, its time to visit the lounge car, which has a bar, smoking room and comfortable seats. There is free coffee always available (instant only). However the piano appears to have been removed.
Just sit there are watch the view out both sides, sip a drink and watch the other passengers go past. The smokers appeared to have a good time in their own enclosed, separately air conditioned, room.
- Adelaide, arr 16:00
Adelaide is a gracious, well planned city set on a narrow coastal plain between the rolling hills of the Mt. Lofty Ranges and the blue waters of St. Vincent Gulf. Surrounded by parkland, Adelaide combines the vitality of a large modern city with an easy going Australian lifestyle. The rail terminal was opened in May 1984 and is a starting point for all AN interstate and country passenger journeys. Modern facilities make it one of the best in Australia.
Adelaide may be a gracious, well planned city, but its some way from the railway station. We decided not to go on the $10 option bus tour of Adelaide; big mistake. The railway station is in the middle of a light industrial area. There isn't much to see for an hour and a half, within walking distance, except the cemetery (which is cheerfully signposted: "guard dog patrol this area after dark".
Two American tourists we met at dinner complained about how difficult it is to book on the IP in USA. They couldn't book by e-mail or fax and apparently the one and only booking agent in the USA has to send each payment cheque to cheques have to be sent to Australia before a booking was confirmed. Sounds like NR needs a little business process re-engineered (a Web page and booking by e-mail would be a good place to start).
The Adelaide terminal has an okay coffee shop (my first cappuccino for 1,000km) and a gift shop with the souvenirs of all the NR trains. The souvenirs are good quality and reasonably priced (they would do well with a gift shop on the Web).
At this point we got a free copy of edition one of "National Gauge Express", which appears to be NR's equivalent of an airline in-flight magazine (printed on 70% bagasse). It includes a audio and video program in the back. There is a TV socket on top of the luggage rack, but no TV so far. The music has gone classical, but the program threatens Tina Arena.
Augusta, 23:00 1614km:
Port Augusta, a thriving industrial city at the head of Spencer Gulf, is 313km from Adelaide and is a vital supply centre for the outback areas of the state and the large sheep stations of the district. It is an important place on the east-west "Indian Pacific" railway and the famous "Gahn" train to Alice Springs.
- Cook, 2436km:
This is where the Indian-Pacific stops to refuel for half an hour.
It's the middle of a treeless plain, usually 40 degrees Celsius
and dry. But its a comfortable 30 something it rained; not much,
but it rained. By the way they have no stout at the bar, but a good
selection of reasonably priced drinks otherwise.
The plain is flat. There are grasses and the occasional shrub, its not bare sand and with recent rain looks almost green to an Australian eye. The most visible wildlife are eagles. I saw one rabbit in 1,000 km.
2925km: Now rain and a rainbow (sorry, didn't get a
Across the Nullabhor the railway follows the path of the old telegraph line. This is now the path for a fibre optic cable, with solar powered repeater stations and a radio network for communication to the trains.
21:40 (WST) 3304km:
Capital of Western Australia's world famous Goldfields where gold was first discovered on June 15, 1893 by Paddy Hannan. Kalgoorlie is 597km east of Perth on the western fringes of the Nullarbor Plain and Great Victorian Desert. C.Y. O'connor's 563km pipeline first brought water from Mundaring Reservoir on January 16, 1903. Kalgoorlie is where the Westrail and Australian National rail networks meet. Kalgoorlie has a population of approximately 27,000 and the standard gauge rail connection was completed on August 3, 1968.
- Perth, arr 7:00
Perth, capital of Western Australia, city of sunshine and lovely vistas. Situated on the banks of the Swan River, 19km from the principal port of Fremantle. Perth was proclaimed in 1829 and named after the city in Scotland. Fremantle-Guilford railway opened March 1, 1881, and led the way for the construction of a network of lines to tap the mineral and agricultural wealth of the State.
Details about booking are available.
Trevor Cox, Sales Manager
The Hardware House Computer Shop, Perth WA
Australian National, who run the train, are planning to put details on the Internet, but in the interim have sent me some material on paper. Unfortunately the photos were not suitable for scanning. After arrival in Perth I added some photos taken on the way and my own impressions.
Here is what I have so far, with quoted material from the Australian National material, the links I could find on the Internet and my own impressions. Further suggestions for links would be welcome: