Well, dear reader, here it is. The final installment of the Australia trip report.
Being the railroad fanatic that I am, I decided to take the train from Broken Hill to Sydney. My hosts in Broken Hill thought me mad! "It will take forever" and "It's over 1100 km to Sydey!" were the two most common remarks. There were a few more heartfelt and discriptive thoughts about my rail adventure, but I won't get into those!
The train runs once a week, leaving the Broken Hill station at 07:45 on Tuesdays. CountryLink, which is owned by the NSW government, is the operator. According to the timetable it should arrive at 21:30 at Sydney Central. Not quite 14 hours, I can't wait.
In any event, last Tuesday found me bright eyed and bushy tailed at the Broken Hill train station around 06:30. With the help of a lot of caffein, I might add.
My train was already sitting at the platform, diesel engines idling away. "It doesn't look so bad" I thought. Not as aerodynamic and sleek and new like a Virgin Voyager, but it will do. Not that I really had all that much choice in the matter.
Checking in at the station was a breeze and upon receiving my ticket I boarded the train. During the initial CountryLink web site booking process each passenger is assigned a seat. So no jostling for choice seats on this service. I had booked myself into First Class, which was carriage C, and was assigned a window seat. It was a perfect seat for looking out the window, watching the Australian country side go by. During the whole journey the seat next to me remained unoccupied. A great plus: I was able to spread out a bit and put my camera and other things on the empty seat.
Previously I mentioned that I had booked a First Class seat. Having experienced First Class on quite a few railroads in many countries I was expecting just a tad more room. Not so. The First Class and Economy Class configuration on the CountryLink services are exactly the same. There is no difference in space or service. To this day I have not been able to figure out why CountryLink is doing this. Maybe it's the couple of extra bucks they are able to sucker out of customers. Standard Class is AUS$98 and First Class is AUS$137. Well, live and learn and forget it all!
Still, it is not a bad price for the distance traveled. The tickets are changable and refundable. An equivelant ticket on the only airline flying in and out of Broken Hill, REX Regional Express, is about AUS$600. Granted it only takes about 3 hours by air, but it is a significant chunk of change.
Back to the train. The Broken Hill to Sydney run is done by three carriage, two truck DMUs. These were built by ABB in Australia and put into service in 1993. A major refurbishment of all Xplorer units was finished in 2008. All three carriages have a Cummins diesel engine underfloor. Another auxiliary engine is used to generate power for lighting and air conditioning. The propulsion engines are mated to Voith hydraulic transmissions, powering both axles on one of the trucks. The design speed is 160 km/k (100 mph). Line speed on the Broken Hill line is a maximum of 130 km/h (80 mph).
One of the diffences between the units used on the Broken Hill run and other Xplorer DMUs are the extensive modifications to the undercarriage and the couplers. The trains have Scharfenberg couplers, but those are encased by a substantial coverering, as can be seen in the photos. This is to prevent damage to the couplers and underfloor equipment in case of hitting assorted wildlife at speed. Apparently it is quite common that the train hits kangeroos, emus and other critters.
Lucky for me, nothing of the sort occurred on my trip. These DMUs ride nice and they are quiet at speed, very quiet. At first I was a bit concerned sitting on top of a diesel engine for 14 hours. The engine noise on diesel multiple units very often intrudes into the passenger cabin and tends to get quite annoying after a few hours. Some of the worst offenders in this respect are the Voyager units (UK Class 220) used by Virgin Rail and CrossCountry in the UK. I have done the 11 hour run from Edinburgh to Penzance on one of these. They are horrible.
Seating on the Xplorers is nice and comfortable, again unlike the Class 220 were passengers are crammed in. In all fairness it must be stated that the loading gauge in Australia is significantly more generous than it is in the UK, thus giving more interior space to a rail vehicle.
The Xplorer DMUs have a buffet where assorted drinks, snacks and meals can be purchased. I indulged in a lunch and at about 19:30 decided to get myself some dinner. Both were surprisingly tasty, albeit a bit on the pricey side. The meals are heated and than brought to your seat by the buffet attendant. Wine and beer are available and those are quite reasonable!
As is my want I just stared out the window during the whole trip. Well, that is until about 17:30 or so! It get's dark early in Australia during their winters. By the time we hit the Blue Mountains it was much too dark to see anything. From the desert area of Broken Hill, the lakes at Menindee, to the wooded areas around Parkes, the scenery was fascinating. All sorts of wild life next to the track: the native kangeroos and emus, lots of sheep of course and the occasional herd of goats. I never knew that emus were native to Australia. Silly me. One look at the Australian Coat of Arms would have taught me differently.
Somewhere, somehow we lost about 50 minutes and got into Sydney Central around 22:30. My Sydney friends, including Diesel the pooch, were already waiting for me.
A nice ride. A long day, but I enjoyed it.