At the time I took this trip, I wasn't planning on making a TR out of it (it was a train ride, not a plane ride after all), but with travel so heavily restricted around the world, and given I took plenty of photos on board, I thought I'd make a trip report for this. This trip took place in early March 2020, literally a week before many of the major restrictions took place in Australia. This service is currently suspended, and to be honest, I'd be surprised it will be back in it's current form. More on that a little later though.
In late February, I heard the shocking news that a close friend had passed away suddenly. As soon as I knew when the funeral would take place, I wanted to see if there was any way to make it to the service in person. I asked work if there was any chance of taking the day off for the funeral, which despite the short notice was approved with no problems. Now the next step - getting to and from Melbourne to attend the funeral. Getting back looked fairly easy, with plenty of late evening flights where I could burn points with. Given I went straight from the funeral back to the airport, I wasn't exactly in the mood for plane spotting (the only time in my life I've taxied past two A380's and had zero desire to take photos), so no trip report for the flight back - except to say it was a pretty run of the mill VA flight (which thankfully was one of the newer planes with BSI as the mood lighting was covering my rather strained appearance).
Now how was I going to get to Melbourne? There were no suitable options available for flight where I could burn points, and given the last minute nature of the flight, flight prices were upwards of $200. So I looked at road options. I thought about the bus, and the options were reasonable, but then I thought 'Why not the train?' Given my mate loved trains (as do I), it seemed like a very appropriate way of getting to Melbourne for his funeral.
A quick look at Journey Beyond's website saw reasonable fares for the Overland train to Melbourne. Yes, it was dearer than the bus, but it's a nicer seat, the chance to move about a bit, and a bit more room around the seat - plus there was a train the day before the funeral, so I could train it over the day before (which was a public holiday, so no issue work wise), spend the night in Melbourne, then funeral and back home the next day. Also, the Overland was, at the time, on it's last legs. The service was historically serviced by both the South Australian and Victorian governments up until the mid 70's, where the South Australian portion was taken over by federal government run Australian National (who eventually took over the full running of the service in the early 90's). Historically an overnight service, upon privatisation in 1997, the nightly services were slowly transitioned to daytime services - Adelaide- Melbourne in 2000, and both ways in 2007.
Following privitisation, the service has relied on government subsides to survive. This was fine until South Australia had a change in Government in 2018, and one of the first things they did was immediately cut the funding for the service. Journey Beyond (and their predecessors) haven't really been that interested in keeping The Overland (focusing more on the touristy The Ghan and Indian Pacific - going as far as removing the economy seats out of these services many years ago), so they were all set to scrap the service at the end of 2018, before the Victorian Government stepped in and provided additional funding to maintain the service. This was due to expire at the end of March 2020, and at the time all hell broke loose with COVID 19, there hadn't been any further funding commitments to the service. So with the likelihood that the service was going to cease, this would be a nice way to travel on The Overland for the first and last time.
As work sells tickets for the service, I got a work mate to book the ticket for me - an easy sale for them. My mate passed on what I thought was the confirmation straight away and I was set...or so I thought...
So the day arrives for me to make the trip, and I get Mum to drop me off at the terminal. I attempt to check in, where the check in agent can't find my reservation, so I was sent to the sales desk, where the train manager advises me that I'm coming up as unpaid on the system, and if I could contact work to sort it out. Given this was at 6:30am on a public holiday, that wasn't happening, but luckily I paid by credit card, so I showed them my credit card transaction, which they accepted. My mate found out about this and sought an explanation later in the week at work about what happened. Turned out there was a change of process in payment, which Journey Beyond forgot to advise their third party agents about. My ticket actually arrived (via e-mail) three days after departure!
Check in counters at Adelaide Parklands Terminal. Just the one counter in use for The Overland.
Boarding card, which I eventually got after the initial issue over whether it was paid or not.
Indian Pacific statue
Anyway, ticketing mess was sorted out, so Mum decides to get a round of coffee - seemed like a good idea at the time. 30 minutes later, and it's a very quick coffee before boarding is called. Mum sees me off, and I board the train.
Platform 1 of Adelaide Parklands Terminal. There's 3 platforms at the terminal, I don't think platforms 2/3 are in regular use.
To my surprise, my seat was an extra legroom, and window, seat towards the front of the carriage. The seat, despite it's obvious age, was incredibly comfortable. Boarding was completed very quickly, and before long we were given the safety briefing - including the all important advice to lock the toilet door to avoid giving the people in the front row a show if the door was inadvertently opened by someone assuming the toilet was vacant. This happened no less than 6 times on board, so I fully understand why this announcement is made. We were also advised that while the carriage was currently half empty, the empty half was for Victorian regional operator V/Line customers who will board on V/Line tickets throughout Victoria.
Safety briefing done, and we're off...slowly. This was going to be a slow train ride. The average speed of the train in 85 km/h, and the first hour and a half or so is on a winding route throughout the Adelaide Hills, where I can assure you we were doing nowhere near 85 km/h!
On board view through the Adelaide Hills
Belair Station - the last stop on Adelaide's metropolitan service (next metropolitan station we'll see will be Werribee).
Belair National Park entrance - directly from the train station
About 90 minutes into the trip, I made my first trip to the buffet car. It was still too early for alcohol, so I settled for a Coke, as I settled in for some Disney+, with smatterings of The Goldbergs for whenever mobile coverage dropped out. There's no wi-fi, power, or on board enteratainment (beside people accidentally forgetting to lock the toilet door
) on board for the 11.5 hour journey, but I came prepared with a bag of power banks, and I was able to rely to my generous mobile phone plan to keep me entertained for the trip.
Off to the buffet car
On board advertising
History of the Overland
View from the back of the carriage. Quiet for now, but it will get busier later in the trip.
2 hours into the trip, we reach Murray Bridge, where we're advised of a delay as they've forgotten to adequately stock the buffet car and additional supplies were coming up from Adelaide. After about a 20 minute wait, we're off again, and we have the first of our trolley runs (buy on board for standard passengers, like myself, but included in the fare for premium passengers). We make it to Tailem Bend where we stop unexpectedly. Turns out we'd just had a near miss where the driver narrowly missed a couple of kids playing on the tracks. We were reassured that the driver (and kids) was fine, but they had a process to go through to report the near miss, so we would be delayed further while they did this. To the driver's credit, they did what they needed to do quite efficiently, and the delay was only about 20 minutes or so. We were then off again.
Murray Bridge station
Next stop was meant to be Bordertown, but there was no one scheduled to be boarding or alighting from here, so the stop was skipped. In what is no surprise to anyone in South Australia, the two stops on the South Australian side of the trip are at stations that aren't overly inviting. The station at Murray Bridge has actually been converted to offices, while the station at Bordertown actually looks abandoned!
The repurposed station building at Murray Bridge
Crossing the Murray River
Keith - a popular pit stop for road trips, but no stopping here on the train
Bordertown Station - still an active station despite it's appearance.
It was then time to cross the border, an appropriate time for lunch. Historically, this was where the train would be changed from the South Australian to Victorian railway system at Serviceton. This, however, has not been necessary for many decades now, and pretty much all that remains at Serviceton these days is an Overland museum showing the Overland in it's hey day.
Lunch across the border
Next stop on the trip was Nhill - pretty much the halfway point between Adelaide and Melbourne (353kms from Adelaide, 374kms from Melbourne). We were greeted by a group of locals campaigning to keep The Overland going, which received a generous response from those on board. Hopefully in the post-COVID world, if The Overland doesn't survive, V/Line can at least maintain some form of rail service to western Victorians with their new standard gauge V'Locities.
One of the many silos we passed by - this one just outside of Nhill
A few people boarded at Nhill, and we were off to Dimboola, where we would have a scheduled change of drivers. From there it was the major regional centre of Horsham - a popular pit stop for road trips between Melbourne and Adelaide. This saw the highest number of boardings of V/Line customers, who were quickly filling up the back half of the carriage.
From here next stop was meant to be Stawell, but no one was scheduled to board or alight from here, so we skipped this stop. Before long we were in Ararat. Theoretically V/Line passengers could board the Overland here, but Ararat is also serviced by V/Line V'locites who provide a more direct service to Melbourne. Nonetheless, a few people board, a few more alight, and we're off for the longest leg of the trip to Geelong North Shore. Not only is this the longest leg of the trip, it's also a significant dog leg to Geelong (as opposed to the more direct route via Ballarat). The trip isn't entirely scenic either. Sure, the farmland the train travels through is nice to look at, but they're nothing special. At least we're travelling slightly faster than 85 km/h.
First signs of regional Victorian railway life
V'Locity ready for the next V/Line service to Southern Cross via Ballarat
The halfway point of this 2 hour leg was meant to be the second trolley run. I waited, waited, and waited some more, before deciding to just buy a few more snacks from the buffet car. It was around this time that the length of the trip was starting to set in. The semi-regular stops in western Victorian towns was now replaced with kilometres of nothing. While the streaming services on my iPad were keeping me somewhat occupied, being on the train all day was starting to take it's strain. On the bright side, I'm in contact with another Melbourne based mate - he's going to greet me at the station and we'll head out for a late dinner. A nice distraction for what will be a heavy day tomorrow.
Late afternoon snack
Quick pit stop
At the time, I could've sold this toilet paper and recouped the cost of the train ticket
BL class loco - one of the few interesting sights on this leg
Eventually we approach the outskirts of Geelong, and we pull up at the short platform that Journey Beyond use at Geelong North Shore. As a result, any alighting standard passengers alight first, the train then moves up a bit, and any alighting premium passengers alight next. A fair chunk of the train empties out here, and I do my good deed for the day by helping a couple of alighting passengers get their luggage down from the overhead racks.
Signs of life for the first time in awhile
Port of Geelong
Geelong North Shore station - V/Line platforms
We're now on the home stretch into Melbourne. Before long we see the blue Metro trains of suburban Melbourne, and it looks like we're not far from Southern Cross. As the train is using the standard gauge track normally used by freight trains though (hence our scenic route via Geelong), we travel through a number of industrial sites of western Melbourne, as the sun starts to set on this long day. It was at this time the second trolley run actually happened - which seemed pointless given we were so close to Melbourne.
Metro train at Werribee - for the first time since Belair we're alongside a suburban track
Metro train depot - including one of the new HCMT's currently undergoing testing
Melbourne suburban tracks
Eventually we duck around the back of North Melbourne station, and we can see the finish line - Southern Cross Station. We're given the welcome briefing, as well as where to pick up luggage for anyone with checked luggage, other safety info for disembarking. The spiel concludes with a hope that The Overland would survive, which received a warm round of applause on board. Disembarking was very quick, and as I didn't have any checked luggage, it was as simple as straight off the train, straight down the end of the platform, and my mate's there to greet me - the end of a very long trip.
Pulling into Southern Cross Station
NR class loco that took us to Melbourne
All up, it was a good trip on The Overland, and I'm glad I got to ride it before it's likely demise (and given how much my departed friend loved trains, it seemed an appropriate method of transport to do in his honour). Besides the initial ticketing bungle, the service on board wasn't too bad. The staff were professional, the service was ok - yes, the second trolley run was far too late, but there's always the buffet car if you're desperate. The meals on board did the job, and not too badly priced given the captive audience. The seats were surprisingly comfortable for their age, and the legroom was outstanding. The big drawbacks for me are the lack of wi-fi and power on board, but most people using the service would be fully aware of this and will pack accordingly.
Will the service survive? It looked unlikely pre-COVID, now it looks almost certain it won't be back as a Journey Beyond service. I don't think this will impact anyone on the South Australian side of the tracks given how poorly maintained, and low usage of, Murray Bridge and Bordertown stations. This will, however, have a significant impact for those on the Victorian side of the route. Hopefully V/Line offer a service that if it doesn't serve the entire route, at least serves those western Victorian towns that somewhat rely on the service as it's main public transport link to Melbourne.