Tuesday, July 07, 2009
All you would want to know (and then some) about catching a train betwixt Melbourne and Sydney -- Be Warned.
During my lifetime, albeit 25+ years back, I travelled on The Intercapital Daylight, The Spirit of Progress, The Southern Aurora, The Vinelander, The Overlander, The Trans-Continental (can't find a link at the moment, might have to check nomenclature or memory but I think it ran from Port Pirie to Perth and you had to take a crappy train from Adelaide to Port Pirie to connect -- hmmm, might be a separate post once I get more time), The Indian-Pacific and many Victorian and NSW country/regional trains -- it was the sorta thing that catholic middle-class families with five kids did during the 60's/70's when the two airline competition policy served us so well (not). More recently I've travelled on several inter-city Amtrak trains in CA & MA and a couple in NZ (not Amtrak but).
Today I went on this. 1/6th the speed and 1/7000th the altitude of the average Boeing/Airbus offering and it (in my case) pretty much took me from door(ish) to door in 11.5 hours. I really liked it.
Was I bored? pretty much just happily looked outta the window half the time (spotted one of the last Victorian dual-gauge tracks still in captivity just outta Benalla), reasonable GSM access on Optus/Singtel, never found a sweet spot for Telstra NextG data access (although, to be fair, I only tried a coupla' times and that was under XP. "Technically", no capability for charging devices or wireless AP's -- apparently the power is pretty "spiky" but they haven't lost a shaver yet. There are separate "special" power points for nebulisers but I didn't avail myself of this "no-cost" service (spewing!). Newspaper, Book, Off-Line laptop and dinckle-whackers filled in the other half of the time -- and you don't have to wait for "cruise" to use electronic devices. Paytel phones are available so they must have some kind of wireless/radio (most likely) access but I didn't check out costs.
Seats/Carriage/Train were excellent (although the carriage filled up pretty much the further we got from Melbourne/the closer we got to Sydney -- some poor bastard got put next to me at Cootamundra but was soon re-distributed by the connie (No! I didn't do nothing wrong) due to a vacant seat. It appears that given the constraints (bookings) they have to work under (and the dynamics of boarding/alighting), they try if they can to get "single passengers" their own pair of adjacent seats. This would be difficult for couples I suppose.-- I did travel First Class Seat ($156) and not Cattle Class ($111) which given it's SchoolHols may have either been much more fun or real-mucky or both -- Pre-Teens (2x2 groups of 2 each seemed to amuse themselves (or avoid Deep Vein Thrombosis) by traversing the length of the train for the first few hours of their trip which annoyed me but I was very well behaved and neither throttled, yelled or tripped them -- but I was tempted. I looked at the Overnight/Sleeper ($244) option but, unlike the olden days when they had Roomettes, they now have only Twinettes so you need to share with a friend -- for all intents and purposes, I have no friends. Really, those of you who know me (and those of you who don't know me for that matter), would you actually WANT to share a bunk-bed with me? No. I don't think so. (I asked one of my junior (male) staff if he'd consider (nothing mucky, he's also attending the SYD meeting) and he just laughed -- this did not surprise me. On the plus side, at no time did I have to ensure that my tray tables were stowed and my seat was upright. If you've travelled a bit, the natural instinct, off'n'on is to keep your seat-belt fastened loosely below your hips -- don't bother - bugger all in the seat-belt department (that felt a bit weird at first).
Meals/Buffet were better and cheaper than the 35000ft offerings -- Ham/Cheese/Croissant ≈ $5, Lamb roast with mint/vegies/gravy ≈ $10, Devonshire Teas with coffee/tea/hot chocalate ≈ $6, you can bring your own cold food on board (they won't let you use their zapper) and your own (non-alcholic) drinks.
I'm flying back on Saturday as I wasn't sure what the XPT experience would be like but, given that I'm no longer a QANTAS Club member -- after 16 years (no, I wasn't banned I just ran out of ways of paying the membership without me (or her, Ha!) having to part with $200 -- I'd do it again - your standard gauge may vary. (If you have/can manage the time)
Oh, and the Connie let me off for a smoke at Yass Junction -- nicotine patches are your friend. (Hint: Don't suck up, just get to know your connie -- I found the two I had (they change crews at Albury) to be really nice/fair-dinkum blokes who seemed eager to accommodate folks (and even me).
Red-Gum/ Concrete sleeper replacement program was fascinating to watch in action on adjacent lines using some really cool diggers that both dig up and re-locate old (red-gum) sleepers using the same arterial arm -- now that's really cool.
Oh, I also saw Sheepies and Moo-Cows and Horseys and Goats and (something that looked a bit like) Reindeer and Alpacas and a rabbit and a Kangaroo and a Duckie and a few doggies chasing sheepies and some country people and derelict buildings almost 200 years old (I guess) and some trees'n'paddocks, lots of trees'n'paddocks and some really cool power lines and stupid wind mills which I would've taken a photo of but was too slow sorry-- now, you don't see that at 35000 ft. (have I just morphed into a cross between David Byrne, Johnathon Richman and Andy Kaufman (look them up) -- it wouldn't surprise me).
I did get a bit bored during the last two hours as it got a bit dark and I couldn't see a whole lot -- but the Pie tasted good and the woman two rows in front of me who boarded at the border (Albury), (with her not apparently blind husband) has finally shut the "F" up -- she was so much like a Goddam talking book it wasn't funny, reading from both the "History of 60 minutes", glossy magazines and editorialising on both. (Note to self: At 35000ft folks might hear you scream but the AC/pressurising makes pretty sure that you hear stuff all else).
(Blogged in-situ as it happened and later posted) (My longest post to date? My longest trip for a coupla years.) ("Talking Book" has just started up again about Cameron Diaz,. I just looked over the seat in front of me and think her husband is in a coma -- bugger)