Upcoming trip to outback Queensland on rails

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Lead Service Attendant
Jan 29, 2018
I'm about to embark on a long-awaited four-train, three-sleeper, three-gauges, three-State trip from my home in regional Victoria in cold wintry SE Oz to the outback Queensland town of Lonreach which sits on the tropic of Capricorn, several hundred kilometres from the Pacific coast.

I understand that Queensland Rail - the state railway operator there - might want to withdraw the sleeper service running overnight between Brisbane and Longreach, and I wanted to have a chance to take the Spirit of the Outback before that happens. I have ridden on the QR overnight service from Cairns to Brisbane which uses a pod bed system, and I'm not in favour of that, but I suspect QR will run pods rather than cabins on the Longreach service in time.

My run on Victorian rails (1600mm gauge or 5'3" in farenheit) will just be a short ride into Melbourne, from where I'll jump aboard the overnight NSW-Railways XPT services to Sydney on standard gauge (1435mm or the width of two horses' backsides), then swap to another XPT for the overnighter into Brisbane.

I'll have several days in Longreach, doing outbacky things, before taking the return on the same trains home.

If you fancy coming along, I can lodge a trip report here.
I can’t identify that QR train xzperu42, sorry. Which one is it

The Spirit of Queensland, which makes a run from Brisbane to Cairns - 1600kms - in 24 hrs, will remain an overnighter sleeper service, and the Longreach service will likely continue as an overnighter, but using seat-bed pods.
I can’t identify that QR train xzperu42, sorry. Which one is it

The Spirit of Queensland, which makes a run from Brisbane to Cairns - 1600kms - in 24 hrs, will remain an overnighter sleeper service, and the Longreach service will likely continue as an overnighter, but using seat-bed pods.

On that trip I rode all of the overnight sleeping car trains in Queensland except the Dirranbandi Mail. I think the photo is The Sunlander, but it could also be The Inlander. When you have a box of slides from forever ago it can be difficult to know what’s what!

I look forward to your reports
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Sorry mate, no worries but 3"6' is 1067mm, not 1607mm 😊

(Practicing my Ozzie for visiting my brother and his family in Tazzie next year!)

P.S. Sounds like fun!

Thankyou for the correction John - that was my fat-fingured error :-(

In your upcoming Tassie visit, you'll face a dearth of regular passenger service on rails, sadly, as they ended that about fifty years ago. Your only hope is to blag yourself a ride on a goods train! A couple of historical rail services are still alive, and if you get a chance, taking the cog-railway Queenstown to Strahan on the West Coast Wilderness Railway is PBG.

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In your upcoming Tassie visit, you'll face a dearth of regular passenger service on rails, sadly, as they ended that about fifty years ago. Your only hope is to blag yourself a ride on a goods train! A couple of historical rail services are still alive, and if you get a chance, taking the cog-railway Queenstown to Strahan on the West Coast Wilderness Railway is PBG.

A digression, but I first heard the term "goods train" for what we Yanks would call a "freight train" in Dorothy Sayers' wonderful golden-age detective novel, Murder Must Advertise. Fuddy-duddy Mr. Copley, one of those insufferable co-workers known for nitpicking and punctuality, has overslept, then cut himself shaving:

"At ten minutes past eight, he came down to a breakfast he could not eat, his cheek ludicrously embellished with a tuft of cotton-wool and his ears ringing with migraine and conjugal rebuke.

It was impossible, now, to catch the 8.15. Sourly, he caught the 8.25.

At a quarter to nine, the 8.25 was hung up for twenty minutes outside King's Cross on account of an accident to a goods train.

At 9.30, Mr. Copley crawled drearily into Pym's, wishing he had never been born."
The shortest day dawned and it was Off day! I was driven to my local station for the first leg to Melbourne which was to be on a V/line service regional Vlocity train. The day before however, I discovered that line-works was to put the line out of service to all traffic between my city of Ballarat to the town of Melton about eighty kilometres down the track - a bustitution was in effect. So I bussed out for the first hour to Melton station where a Vlocity six-car service was waiting and ran the rest of the way on rails to Southern Cross station - Melbourne's hub for regional and interstate trains as well as one of the main CBD metro stations. It's located on the western edge of the CBD right next to a major sports stadium which was hosting an Aussie Rules game that evening. The place was abuzz with AFL fans. I don't follow the sport, but it's an integral part of how Melbourne works.

I made my way through the arriving fans to the NSW Railways Ticket Office to check in, and got a bit of a surprise! I was actually booked on the following evening's departure. There was no advantage in trying to get onto Friday night's service, and I was faced with the issue of how to get through a night until then. I decided to try find a room knowing a night in a Melbourne CBD hotel would be relatively expensive. Working to lessen the likely cost was that this was a Friday night, so most of the business clientele would have been out that morning, so I fronted-up to a nearby establishment and was happily accommodated for a bit more than $200.

So I discovered the cost of stupidity, at least :)

I figured I should stash my belongings in the room and go into the city - well-known for its great and inexpensive restaurants - to find something suitable. I went on the hunt for a Malaysian place I patronised often when a Melbourne resident as I thought I could use a lamb curry with roti and coconut rice, but it wasn't about. I chose a Sichuan restaurant and had bok choy with mushrooms and some dumplings instead. It was a good find and I'll go there again, no worries.

Back in the room it was time to call it a day and see what odd things happen tomorrow. I have a bit of a view of some of the action at Southern Cross station, including one if the regional trains' platforms (platform 16) and action on a number of metro lines. Quite acceptable!

(Saturday morning)

I awoke far too early for a normal person, but as the UEFA nations' championships are on, realised I could catch the 0500h game between France and the Netherlands. Early starts are quite usual for Oz football fans. I did, finding I could cast my ipad onto the room's big telly, and then went for breakfast in the hotel. I also checked with the reception desk whether I could leave some bags there after 1100h checkout until around 1800h so I could be unencumbered during some flaneuring in the city. Agreed!

Now - just before 0900h - I have a Saturday before me, in a city I enjoy, so who knows what's in store?

Pic: a very quiet Southern Cross station early on a weekend morning.


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It's very early Monday morning and I've reached Brisbane. I was booked in to a hotel for tonight with the usual 1400h check-in, but the kind receptionist decided I could be given access to my room without additional charge when I crossed the threshold at 0535h! That is a stroke of good fortune as it's very cold outside - barely nine degrees, shocking most Queenslanders.

I left you on Saturday morning in Melbourne as I pondered what to do before my Sydney sleeper left at 1950h that day. I have a Melbourne public transport card which allows me access to the city's extensive metro train network and its trams and busses. I was going a-wandering. My travel card is an old man's one which gives free travel on weekends, and discounted fares at other times, so it was going to be an inexpensive day.

I'd liven most of my adult life in Melbourne - a geographically large city, with a population of about four million - and I knew some parts very well, but others scarcely. Even the places I didn't much know I had a decent idea about where they were. So I decided to start by taking a line I'd never been on and see what happens when I got there. Melbourne's metro railway is radial from the CBD, with no current linkages across them. Some of that is about to be fixed by a major infrastructure investment from the state government, but its expected completion date is still well off. I thought I would take a run to Eltham, an arty sort of area in Melbourne's northern suburbs and the terminal station of that line for this trip. There are another two or three stations before the line's actual terminus at Hurstbridge. It's a hilly ride of about an hour as it climbs up from the Melbourne flatlands through pretty bushland on the way. There's a deep connection to nature and native wildlife in and around Eltham, and the area shows the benefit of that.

Once I got out of the station, I knew I'd need to find a bus to get somewhere else as the train would just retrace my steps. I was delighted to find a bus rank alongside the railway station and even more so when I saw one of the destinations was Chelsea - a suburb in the SE suburbs on Port Philip Bay. Chelsea is a way station on the Frankston line, another I'm not familiar with, although I generally know the suburbs through which it passes.

This bus route #902 does link a few rail lines, so I thought I'd get the next 902 bus and see where it went. It's a good ride and one I'd recommend taking if you were of a mind to explore. It takes a wide clockwise circuit from the north to the SE suburbs and goes by a number of large shopping centres. There was a fab mix of passengers getting on and off along the way, and it was chockers for a fair time. It went through Doncaster (not served by trains), Nunawading (a way station on the Lilydale/Belgrave lines), Glen Waverley (the terminal station of the line of the same name), Springvale (a way station on the Dandenong line), before hitting the bay at Chelsea station (on the Frankston line).

All good fun and showing a cross-section of multi-cultural Melbourne. I discovered I'd boarded the bus partway through its trip as it begins at Airport West, which is at the end of a tram line through the NW suburbs.

But at Chelsea, I discovered another hitch - the metro service was short-running on the Frankston line for line maintenance reasons. If I wanted to get back to the CBD, I'd need to take a railway replacement bus on shuttle duties connect to the bit of the line that was still operating. So I decided to walk to the Chelsea beach and take a Captain Cook.

It wasn't a promising day, so my visit was brief, the beach is about 200 metres away and easily accessed. The bus replacement pulled in as I returned to the station and it was all aboard for Cheltenham, from where the rail journey would continue. I was delighted to see the destination was not the CBD, but through the CBD to a terminus at Werribee, to the SW of the CBD and diagonally opposite Chelsea on the bay. Apparently, this through line Frankston/Werribee is just how those two lines operate. AFAIK, there are no other through lines just yet, so this was an unexpected bit of happiness. The line takes in many suburbs at the north-eastern side of the bay, many of them with beaches of their own, before going through Flinders Street and Southern Cross in the CBD. At Newport it passes by an active railway museum. As it was a weekend, much if the fleet was in yards situated between the line and the Newport museum, obscuring any activity. However, by the look of some very dark smoke there, they were giving an oil-fuelled steam loco a bit of a run. Some if the line in this area is dual gauge as this is also the standard gauge corridor into Melbourne.

I had a break at a Werribee cafe about 200 metres from the station and returned in time to reboard the same train for its journey to Southern Cross and then Frankston.

It was time to reclaim my bags from the hotel and await the arrival of the Sydney daylight XPT to Melbourne which would turn into my evening sleeper service back.

I follow a vlogger, a Victorian rail driver, on youtube snd spotted an odd bit of track on a recent trip he was making on a standard-gauge loco from Southern Cross very early after departure, and I decided I would go and look for it when I was there.

It was a bit of track where the train was pushed across from one side of the track to the other. The double rail started off on the left wheels of the train (so the standard-gauge loco's left wheels were on the inside rail of the pair of rails on the left, and the right wheels on the single rail on the right. The double rail was then on the right side of the track, and the single on the left, causing the train to be re-set by being shuffled across to the right by several centimetres. I suspected this was because it was an easier way to manage a potentially tricky set of points, but I could only guess that. I'm sure there are forumites with a far greater knowledge of track matters than I who will know exactly how common or rare this is. I took a pic of the area I saw in the vid and will show it here when I can move it across.
Saturday evening into Sunday morning was on the overnight XPT service from Melbourne Southern Cross to Sydney Central Station where it would get in around 0700h. It's become a busy route, so it wasn't a surprise I was sharing the cabin with a fellow traveller - a nice fellow in his late 20s or early 30s who introduced himself as Andrew and said he worked out of Sydney in finance and was returning after a few days work in Melbourne. He was a Kiwi and came across the Tasman to work here about three years ago. Australia and New Zealand have very close foreign affairs and trade links - it's visa-free travel between us, and we each have the right to work in the other, with access to each other's healthcare services as if we were at home.

It's a grand arrangement, to the benefit of both countries and their citizens IMHO. After settling in, Andrew declined the offer of an evening meal when the car attendant visited, but I chose the "African chicken", I also thought I'd have a go at the train's shiraz when I went to collect it about an hour later after it had met the oven. The chook was good, served with carrots and peas and some roast potato. The shiraz was acceptable, and served in a stemless plastic cup type of thing with a clip-on lid. Repurposed, it made a very handy bedside water glass. The container said its capacity was 187ml, which was a peculiar number for me until I realised it was as near as dammit one-quarter of a standard 750ml bottle. Lighter than my normal pour of around 200ml but larger than a standard restaurant or pub pour of 150ml, or five pours to the bottle.

I expect it was from a NSW supplier, maybe from the Hunter Valley given the train service is NSW-government run, and State governments here like to showcase and promote their own states' product. Victorian and South Australian reds are much better, even in plastic and with a clip-on lid :)

Andrew was a quiet traveller and we called it a day not long into the journey and didn't stir until well into Sunday. It was pretty-much a full moon, so when I awoke around 0400h it was quite bright out. I expected to waken early as I had recently been getting up around 0430h to see the European Football Championship currently underway in Germany. It seemed there was a bit of fog or mist about as well, gathering in the dips and hollows and making things look a little dreamlike.

There was shortly a knock at the door and the cabin attendant brought along two packaged breakfasts plus two hot drinks. The package comprised cornflakes in a sealed bowl, a sealed 35g bag of toasted fruit and nut museli, a 220ml carton of full cream milk, and a 200ml carton of fruit juice. My hot drink was a disposable cup of boiling water and a coffee bag with another small cup with milk in it. There was a bamboo spoon for the cornflakes/museli, and a bamboo stirrer for the coffee. It's a decent start, but it's not a hot bacon and eggs breakfast :)

The arrival was on-schedule and I stashed two bags I didn't fancy schlepping around all day (at $12 a bag) at the handily-located storage rooms right next to Platform 1 which we arrived on. I planned on doing another train run and walk around the city for the six or so hours available. I checked with a metro ticket office CSO about whether Sydney has a travelcard type of arrangement, and if so, was there a concession one available to an out-of-state old bloke? They do x 2 and I was quickly issued one and advised putting a fiver on it should be sufficient for several day's concession travel. The card applies to journeys on Sydney's suburban (and some regional) trains, its buses, and - big benefit - its publicly owned ferry system. Do yourself a favour if you get a chance, get one and spend some time on the harbour as the city goes about its daily business. Some cities might charge you big bucks for this, but it's available in Sinny for cents.

I wanted to cross the Sydney Harbour Bridge by train, and looked out a destination I thought might provide it. The route to outer northern suburb Hornsby seemed to have two lines, making it a triangle with Sydney Central - one, the hypotenuse, appeared to go over the bridge in a NE direction, and I thought I should go there and find out. It didn't - the run to Hornsby I took went along the other two sides if the triangle, first west, then north. If I'd had knowledge if Sydney's suburban geography, I'd not have been surprised - but I didn't so I was. I didn't care anyway - I was just out for a train ride or two!

One striking aspect of the Sydney suburban train experience: it's a very silent ride. There's no clicketty-clack, it's as if there are no joints in the rails. The rail lengths seem impressive - it looked like there was about a hundred metres between fishplates. It was a bit like someone's model rail system where they've used flex-track rather than standard set-track and hard-abutted the rail ends. The cars were also very clean - seats, windows, floors, doors, and entry ways. Excellent job!

The line to Hornsby climbs quite a bit after it crosses the Parramatta River close to the site of the 2004(?) Sydney Olympics. It's a lovely twisty run through bush, housing, sports-grounds, and suburbia. It was a bit like the Eltham run in Melbourne, but much quicker and quieter!

I pondered my next move on the platform at Hornsby, and saw a return service was approaching. This one appeared to be a super express, stopping only at two or three of the almost twenty intervening stations. I saw the line diverging to comprise the hypotenuse early on the return trip. So it looks like there *are* two paths to take.

Back at Central Station I saw which train I could get to cross the coathanger. I forget where it was going, but it mentioned the station I thought was on the northern end of the bridge. It was indeed the case, we crossed on the track to the far left of the bridge - the opposite side to the Opera House - but with a grand view of the mighty Parramatta river and the multitude if watercraft on it on a Saturday late morning.

I detrained at Milsons Point - the station on the northern side of the bridge and looked for the pedestrian way across to the other side of the bridge so I could look at the action that side too. I was distracted on my walk as soon as I realised I was in Kirribilli - location of the two most famous houses in the nation: Admiralty House, official Sydney residence of Australia's defacto Head of State: the Governor-General, who is the stand-in for the monarch under Australia's constitution. The GG performs a ceremonial, not political or government role, and opens fetes and scout jambourees and that sort of caper.

Our head of government, the Prime Minister, lives next door at Kirribilli House. I figured I should look them up, see if they were available for a cup of tea and a chat, so I went hunting for the addresses. They were easily found, and I took some pix of their front gates under the watchful eye of a marked and obvious Australian Federal Police presence. I'm sure they deal with thousands of pic-takers daily :) The AFP have a very limited role, dealing with matters relating to the national government only. It's the various state police forces which hunt you down if you've done the more general sort of bad things. These AFP were security guards.

Getting back to Sydney Central was now the priority as departure time for Brisbane was approaching. I saw there was a nearby ferry point and thought that'd be a picturesque way to return to the other side. A ferry shortly showed and made another two pickups at North Sydney and Vaucluse I think it was before making a return to Kirribilli perhaps just in case the GG or the PM had made a late decision to cross the water.

We saw the on-water perspective of these two key houses before we made it across to Circular Quay, the CBD's major ferry terminal and worth a visit if you are in the area. There's also a railway station there as part of the city's mostly underground CBD train loop. I was quickly back at Central where I reclaimed my bags and awaited the arrival into platform four of my Brisbane-bound sleeper, scheduled to depart at 1441h. I was in good time and took the opportunity to suss-out my fellow travellers.

It departed on time, and I claimed my cabin in car A located directly behind the pulling end of this push/pull set. I waited to find out if I was a solo this time, or had company again. There was a clue in the cabin....

I do have pix, and I promise to attach them when I can get them across to this device. Their transfer is beyond me at present, sorry.
Well, I'd previously mentioned I'd arrived in Brisbane, and this is how that happened.

Firstly, the clue about whether I was to be accompanied or not was already waiting for me on the seat - naw - not a person sitting, you couldn't say that's a *clue*, eh?

NSW railways hands out an amenities kit in sleepers, one per occupant comprising a plastic-wrapped high-quality fluffy towel, a small bag of toiletries - mini toothpaste, a toothbrush, a small tube of shampoo and another of bodywash, a flimsy plastic shower cap, a small comb, a pair of orange earplugs, and a peculiar collapsable cup. If there are two there, you have company - if just one, its yours and you are a sole occupant. There was just one on the seat as I opened the door! Huzzah :)

The car attendants confirmed this when I asked. In fact, the sleepers were barely occupied this trip. I thought the train's termination in Casino in the north of NSW and the three-hour bustitution to Brisbane would be a traffic-discourager, and so it proved. Not only was I a solo, but the cabin which shared the tiny bathroom (dunny, sink, and shower) with my cabin was unoccupied for the duration, meaning the bathroom was mine - all mine!

Soon after takeoff, I decided to wash today's grime off me and have an early mine, all mine, shower. It was still decent light up to about 1700h, so I had plenty of time to look at the country as we sped north. This track, too, was in decent nick - scarcely any clicketty-clack except over points, and barely any pitching or rolling. Sleeping tonight should be a doddle. Again chose the "African Chicken" and was encouraged by the car attendant to ask that it be delivered once ready. I said I'd be happy for the bunk to be sorted early as I prefer travelling horizontal when feasible. "No worries, love!" was the reply, we'll do that toot-sweet.

And they did when I went in pursuit of two serves of the shiraz, just in case this time it was better. It's of acceptable standard for the circumstances, and I don't want to diss it.

It got dark around Gosford, and even darker when we went through a series of tunnels. I was again in car A which was the leading passenger carriage this time and the air pressure appreciably changed as we got only a little way in. I think I fell asleep pretty quickly which suited me as this train was to throw me off at 0215h once we reached Casino. As it happened I awoke, nicely rested about 2200h. The moon was still bright as we sped through the bush so visibility was good. I saw the station signs at each if the stops from Kempsey onwards.

I was hoping to see Sawtell, well into the 2300hrs, as it is the home station snd hometown of a football friend who was on the other side of the country at the moment, taking a boat trip between Broome in WA, to Darwin, capital city of the Northern territory. I really wanted to miss it due to sleep, but as I was awake, I was haply to look out for it. And then there it was, right opposite my room window as we halted for passenger pick-up, or - more likely - put-down.

I saw others too and was awake most of the night. From time to time we went through banks of mist, but not the good kind I thought. Not the steamy tropical rainforest type, more the eye-stinging bone-freezing sort. It's a cold solstice time across much if the continent currently, wth temperatures way lower than usual.

A few minutes before arrival the car attendant brought me a hot drink - I'd eschewed the standard breakfast, figuring you cannae eat your cornflakes on the bus, and remebering the Scottish travel song: "You cannae shove yer Grannie aff the bus".

The bus departed at 0230h and as I don't know that bit if the country, I followed our progress on a redundant car CPS I'd brought along. We went mostly directly east until we picked up a major highway north snd crossed into Queensland just after 0400h. As we drove through Surfers' Paradise, I figured we were now only an hour from our destination. There must be a lot of public money available in Qld as the freeway was new and in excellent condition, and greatly under-utilised at that early hour. We were quickly in the Brisbane CBD, then the LD bus terminal next to Roma Street railway station.

I quickly debarked, found a taxi and, twenty-five smackeroos later entered my hotel, seven hours before advised check-in time. I figured there's no bad outcome asking if there's a vacant room I could be checked into, and, to my delight, was told there was and I could. The front desk clerk said usually there was an early check-in fee of $20 per hour early, but she would waive it. Some part of the reason would be that at nine degrees outside and me looking a bit worse-for-wear after a sleepless night, but I think it was just the straight-up request, asked without whine or aggression and of someone who had authority to make the decision, tipped the balance in my favour.

I quickly took occupancy, hit the shower, loaded some gear for my next adventure, then hit the dining room for some (authorised and approved) breakfast from the buffet. Things were on the up, and I contemplated my principal objectives for the day......
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I follow a vlogger, a Victorian rail driver, on youtube
When I first read this, I imagined a guy in a top hat, tails, and a black cape operating a steam locomotive back in the 1800s. Or maybe a legendary track worker from the era, like John Henry (although John Henry actually drilled tunnels, not laid track.)

Then I realized that this guy is probably what we Americans call an "Engineer" who's from the Australian state of Victoria.
Curiosity ? ? ?
Picked my interest
Always wanted to visit and ride the trains of OZ - - -
Especially the 297 mile straight rail in Western OZ

Google map image of the gauge of the authors trip from cold winter Victoria to hot Queensland***
Zooom IN-OUT for more detail -
That Longreach will appear just under the map location Queensland - zoooming in

Curiosity ? ? ?
Picked my interest
Always wanted to visit and ride the trains of OZ - - -
Especially the 297 mile straight rail in Western OZ

Google map image of the gauge of the authors trip from cold winter Victoria to hot Queensland***
Zooom IN-OUT for more detail -
That Longreach will appear just under the map location Queensland - zoooming in

It's a fair distance, eh WWW? And I think I'm only a bit over halfway to Longreach now I've fetched-up in Brisbane. Another lovely sunny day in prospect for the 1810h departure outta town. I've just caught up with a few Euro and Copa highlights, so that's me ip to date.

Good luck with your Oz train adventures - you'll have a chance for the 500km straight by being on board the Indian-Pacific passenger service out of Perth or Sydney. That's a fun ride, but it's really a cruise on rails for the moneyed leisure-set rather than a regular passenger service for ordinary folks get-up.
Re the dual gauge shuffle - my dining partner tonight aboard the train to Longreach - also a rail fan - had also spotted the oddity on a visit to that station and proposed that it might be to get the carriage closer to the platform for boarding and unboarding purposes. It’d reduce the gap between carriage and platform

It was a logical enough explanation for me - so perhaps that’s what it’s all about?