Discussion in 'Travelogues / Trip Reports' started by mcropod, May 6, 2019.
The dining carriage at breakfast this morning
The lounge and bar carriage
Each carriage has a self-serve hot and cold drinks area, operating around the clock
Twin cabin, day configuration
Why does a 33-carriage train carrying about 200 passengers have such small lounge and dining carriages?
That's a fair question, until you realise that there are really two separate trains running here, joined together at the halfway point by a power-generating carriage, through which no passenger can transit.
And in each of those two haves there are two separated sets of service levels, each with its own lounge and dining carriages and sets of sleepers. The kitchen, through which no passenger can transit, separates these two quarter-trains.
So on my reckoning, the consist comprises two locos, followed by one baggage carriage, then a Red class carriage (actually a third service level scarcely promoted, but comprising a single carriage with seats, and toilet/shower facilities, and access to a cafe), then the first power carriage, then the forward crew carriage, then a Gold carriage with single rooms and the wobbly central corridor, then three Gold doubles/twins, then the Gold Lounge, then the Gold diner, then the forward kitchen, then the Platinum diner, then Platinum Lounge, then several Platinum double/twin and single carriages.
The second power-generating carriage follows to split the passengers into the two halves, with the rear half being a mirror image of the first half, except for the Red Class and the locos.
I can find a combination which produces 33 with the only carriage not appearing in both halves being the single Red Class one.
Red Class looks like it will be withdrawn officially mid-year. I suspect it was at least partly publicly-funded because of either the backpacker transport angle, or the community responsibility obligation for providing transport in some of the more isolated places. I think the subsidy is being withdrawn, so the company is ditching the seats. As far as I can see, Red Class gets no marketing - not even on the company's website or publications. Maybe it was more directly targetted at communities along the line, or backpacker haunts.
But the train scarcely works as a long-haul economy passenger service anyway. Its lengthy halts at Katherine, Alice, and Coober Pedy (the train station for which is many kilometres, perhaps 40, from Coober Pedy and the Stuart Highway) mean it can't credibly call itself a travelling passenger service. The fare I understand applies is expensive by comparison to other ways of covering the country which are both more comfortable and more direct.
Instead, it is a cruise on steel wheels, The Ghan and the Indian-Pacific both. There's nothing wrong with that, but it is neither Amtrak's LD trains, nor even Via Rail's The Canadian, so can't easily be compared to either except in the most basic terms of train, ride, staffing, meals, and accommodation, all of which you'd expect the Oz trains to provide a premium on because of how they are priced and marketed.
I am now about to pull out of Alice Springs at 2200h, after a full day on the ground here, with a number of optional and included activities, all of which congregate at the historic Old Telegraph Station close to Alice, for a table-service, sit down BBQ at circular tables of ten set out on the sandy desert floor with the stars for our roof.
A rock wallaby considers the next move in an ascent at the rockfall near Simpson's Gap, in Central Australia's MacDonnell Ranges which surround Alice Springs.
There was next to no connectivity which coincided with awake hours on-train from Alice to now here at Port Pirie, as the dawn breaks on our last day aboard. We pull in to Adelaide a little after 1000h I believe and our progress indicates this should easily be achieved.
There would have been connectivity at Coober Pedy, but not at the station which serves it - Manguri - more than 40 kms to its west. And I don't want to take much with me on the excursions, some of which involve bushwalks.
So I'll fill you in on what happened in this section a little later, but I took loadsa pix and can put some of them up now.
The train awaits in the late afternoon sunshine at Manguri for us to board after a full day exploring the opal mining town of Coober Pedy and its surrounds.
The stations we have called in at have been reducing in size and magnificence as we head south. Then we reach here.
Opals are found underground. The miners found it was cooler underground than up top, 25C underground pretty constantly as opposed to mid-40s above. So many widened their exploration tunnels and created their homes there instead of on the surface.
There are function halls and churches underground as well.
Last night's evening meal menu
More detail of the single room in day mode.
There are cupboards, shelves, and recesses aplenty. The pull-out storage drawer under the seat is capacious.
There is a small collapsable table.
There is an overhead shelf which takes cabin-sized bags. There are three power outlets, three different lighting modes, and the small sink has drawers and cupboards for personal toiletries, as well as supplied towels (assiduously replaced daily), and a rubbish bin.
The window has an adjustable venetian blind within its double-glazing, and the bi-fold door is lockable from the inside.
There is a multi-channel and fully adjustable volume control piped music system.
There is a stool opposite the seat (which of course can also be used as a seat.
The final stretch.
I forgot to post some above-ground scenes of Coober Pedy. Eat your heart out Hollywood!
Toes in St Vincent's Gulf (an arm of the Southern Ocean) at Glenelg, Adelaide
Civic responsibilities completed by casting an interstate ballot for my seat and the senate in Victoria, at Adelaide's interstate polling station
Some pix of Adelaide's CBD station which runs suburban network trains
If there's a disappointing aspect of The Ghan it's that so much of the trip is done through the dark of night.
In this longer-duration trek, called the Excursion timetable, one day longer than the timetable for most of the year, Katherine to Alice Springs was covered whilst asleep(ish), as was Alice to Coober Pedy, and then all but the last couple of hours from Coober Pedy to Adelaide.
It obviously maximises time in places our OS visitors would want to get to as they'd likely find such a contrast to their own lands, and the distances here can be daunting. But two things: one - most of the passengers I met were retiree Aussies who live in our capital cities who are having a short experience of what's billed as a luxury trip; and (b) - maybe the company is not brave enough to think that people would want to ride through hours of relatively unchanging landscape with "nothing to see out the window".
I think that's a pity. Even for us in Oz, it does a person good to see just how insignificant we are when up against nature. If you see how vast the landscape is, how fragile it is in many places, how it can survive with such little rainfall, and then consider how the Indigenous people managed to build a life here without laying waste to its meagre resources, it must have an impact on the way you think about the planet and your place in it.
The Ghan is a great train, with a keen and attentive staff, all very friendly despite being asked to look after their Nan and Pop for four days every waking hour. The catering is good-end capital city bistro (well in Melbourne anyway), there is no need to dip into your wallet from being picked-up from your hotel pre-trip and deposited at the front steps of your hotel at the other end. Thankfully, Oz does not have a tipping culture, mostly because from shortly after our beginnings as a new nation in 1901, we established the industrial relations principle of the living wage, and we still have an egalitarian view of the service-provider service-receiver relationship.
The off-train excursions are very well managed, cater for several different levels of activity (although there are none which would stretch the abilities of even the modestly fit and ambulant). Different interest levels are also catered to, so you needn't go all-out nature, you can pursue the human as well.
Like on LD Amtrak trains which don't stop for excursions (except the self-directed one at San Antonio on the Texas Eagle), the greater enjoyment is finding out an amazing thing or two about your dining and lounge-companions.
There's space to hide in your cabin when you want, but there's also good-sized communal areas as well. And free-running hot and cold drinks, alcoholic and otherwise.
There were non-Aussies aboard. The largest bunch were Kiwis, but there were some I spoke to from the USA (although she was born in EnZed), Germany, and Canada. I'm sure there was a small family or friend group from Japan I bumped into on some of the excursions, but they were in the other half of the train.
It's retired baby-boomer suburban Aussies you'll meet, with all their good and bad points - friendly, unoffensive, overwhelmingly Anglo, suburban, family-oriented, not greatly into the arts or ideas, socially conservative but in an each-to-their-own-way kind of way, much more comfortable talking about sport, and who like a beer or a wine. I am surrounded by them, so I know what to expect.
Taking the Indian-Pacific or The Ghan is a great way to safely traverse the country and see some of the inland highlights, but it's not going to let you experience its vastness the way you would by daylight travel on the road, deciding where you pull over to have a look.
As long as you think of it as an organised cruise on steel wheels you'll be fine and it'll meet your expectations. If you are from OS and haven't had much exposure to Oz, or aren't all that confident about travelling in Oz by yourself (not something to lightly consider), it's a great starter.
I'll write up the last couple of days on The Ghan in a little while.
Tomorrow I head home, during daylight, from Adelaide on The Overland.
Today's Overland loco readies to depart Adelaide for Melbourne
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