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Within Australia there are numerous once in a lifetime railway experiences, complemented by regional and suburban railway services. This page deals with the national and intra-state railway services, as well as some of the best tourist railways.
Australian trains are clean, safe and comfortable, connecting the people of this great country between cities, regions and towns. The railways are part of the true character of the Australia, giving access to the land for more than 150 years. These railway journeys are major tourist adventures in themselves.
Note most railways in Australia are operated and managed at the state level. There is no single ticketing organisation or platform for all Australian railway services.
The Man in Seat 61’s railway website is here.
There are two major Trans Australian railway jouneys: The Ghan from Darwin to Adelaide and the Indian Pacific from Perth to Sydney. These transcontinental journeys offer you a comprehensive, authentic, Australian experience through a vast variety of landscapes.
The Ghan covers a distance of 2979km, over two nights, previously running twice weekly from Adelaide, through Alice Springs to Darwin, or vice versa. Its schedule has now been reduced for much of the year.
The Indian Pacific covers 4352km, over three nights, previously running twice weekly from Sydney via Adelaide to Perth, or vice versa. Its schedule has now been reduced for much of the year.
The Southern Spirit is a once-per-year journey over 14 days from Brisbane to Alice Springs, via Sydney, Melbourne, and Adelaide.
NSWTrainlink operate passenger services within New South Wales (NSW) for journeys extending beyond the Sydney metropolitan area. NSWTrainlink has three service offerings, 1. Interurban services extending mainly from Sydney Central to nearby regions including The Blue Mountains; 2. Intercity train services provided by XPT trains and Xplorer trains to regional cities, and interstate to Melbourne, Brisbane & Canberra; 3. Regional coach services which connect with and complement the Intercity train services.
Interurban services will take you easily and comfortably onboard sinlgle class trains to some of the most stunning scenery up to circa two hours from Sydney. All services are airconditioned and do not require reservations. Ticketing is either obtainied prior to boarding or pre-paid by Opal card. Interurban services are included in the Opal Card $2.50 Sunday ticket promotion. Frequency for most interurban services is every 60 minutes, some outer destinations such as Goulburn have a limited service.
There are five lines, the four primary lines have Sydney Central railway as the hub. South Coast line services travel through the Royal National Park down to Wollongong, along the coast and then to Kiama and then onward to Berry & Nowra; Blue Mountains line will take you west to Katoomba, Mt Victoria and Lithgow; Southern Highlands services mostly commence as a connecting service at Campbelltown and will take you to Thirlmere, Bowral, Moss Vale and Goulburn; Central Coast & Newcastle services offer a stunning journey north out of Sydney along the Hawkesbury River, crossing into the Central Coast, Morisset and then up to Hamilton for a bus connection to the surf city of Newcastle. From Hamilton there is a local suburban network on the Hunter Line for historic Maitland, Scone and Dungog.
Intercity services radiate from Sydney travelling to greater distances connecting Sydney interstate with Melbourne, Brisbane and Canberra as well as numerous cities and towns within NSW including Broken Hill, Tamworth, Moree, Orange, Dubbo, Wagga, Albury, Griffith, Grafton, Coffs Harbour and Newcastle (Broadmeadow). Seat reservations are required on all services which are provided at the time of ticket purchase. Ticket purchase can be done online at NSWTrainlink info website. NSW Trainlink have specialist passes "Discovery Passes" for 2 or 4 week unlimited travel in addition to regualar promotions. Note during NSW school holidays held each April, July, September/October and December/January services are very popular, early booking is recommended. A buffet food and drink service is offered on all services.
All services offer First Class and Standard (Economy) Class, First having a greater seat pitch. On services to Melbourne and Brisbane there is also a First Sleeper service, with twin share flat bed compartments complete with showers, snacks and breakfast served prior to arrival.
Frequency varies by route, Canberra, Melbourne and the North Coast have multiple services each day, Brisbane, Dubbo and Armidale-Moree a daily service each. Griffith and Broken Hill each have a weekly service. Intercity services are either "XPT" or "Xplorer" type trains. Some services such as Armidale-Moree or Canberra-Griffith are the same train where at specific junctions the train divides with sets then travelling on to their unique destinations.
Regional Coach services extend the railway services to additional towns and in most instances connect with the Intercity railway services, this includes through / onward ticketing. There are a number of cross country services including Armidale to Grafton, Orange to Cootamundra. Services are managed and booked through NSWTrainlink and provided by a fleet of specialist coach services. NSW Trainlink services on the far North Coast to Lismore, Byron Bay and onwards to the Queensland Gold Coast are provided as part of the coach service. Other main destinations include Cooma & JIndabyne for the Snowy Mountains, Mudgee, Bourke, Tenterfield, Forbes and Cowra.
The Overland runs a daylight service between Adelaide and Melbour, a distance of 828km, twice weekly. The Overland links Melbourne with two of Australia's great trains; the mighty Indian Pacific which traverses this huge continent between Sydney and Perth, via Adelaide, and the legendary Ghan, travelling between Adelaide and Darwin.
V/Line is Victoria's intercity and country rail system. Trains from Melbourne (Southern Cross) run to the cities of Ballarat, Bendigo, Geelong, Albury/Wodonga, and the cities of Warrnambool on the southwest coast, Bairnsdale in the southeast, Shepparton, Swan Hill, Echuca in the north, Ararat in the west and Maryborough to the notrthwest. V/Line also runs a very extensive coach network that fills in the gaps. A combined rail and coach day return along The Great Ocean Road is possible on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays: train to Geelong, coach to Lorne, Apollo Bay and Warrnambool: train to Melbourne.
The Ghan, Indian Pacific and Overland run through South Australia, making Adelaide the hub for the national railway network. The Indian Pacific and The Ghan also serve the cities of Port Augusta and Port Pirie, and the Overland serves the city of Murray Bridge.
Eight trains explore the beautiful sunshine state, from the city of Brisbane along the coast to the tropical north and into the outback.
The Gulflander - fondly referred to as the old 'tin hare' – runs once a week, 152km in 5 hours, from remote Normanton to Croydon through the tough and inhospitable Gulf Country. It is one of the world's last great characters of rail travel and offers you a unique experience. The Gulflander only carries a small number of passengers, so there's always a friendly casual atmosphere on board, which is all part of the charm.
The Sunlander runs 1681km in 32 hours, three times per week from Brisbane to Cairns along the coast. This train finishes up in December 2014 and will be replaced b the tilt train (see below).
The Tilt Train follows the same route as the Sunlander a little more swiftly in 25 hours.
The Inlander runs 977 km, twice weekly, from Townsville to Mount Isa, through Charters Towers, across the Great Dividing Range and through the mining towns of Hughenden and Julia Creek. This train is likely to be withdrawn in 2015 and has become very popular with railway enthusiasts and other travellers wanting a "real" outback experience travelling with the locals.
The Savannahlander is a classic 1960 Rail Motor which travels between Cairns and Forsayth – a distance of 423km over two days, three times a week.
The Spirit of the Outback runs from Brisbane to Longreach, a distance of 1324km in 24 hours, twice weekly, through the heritage towns of Blackwater, Emerald and Barcaldine.
The Westlander runs 777km in 17hours from Brisbane across the Great Dividing Range,through the rich farmlands of the Darling Downs, Cunnamulla and Quilpie to Charleville, twice weekly. This train is likely to be withdrawn in 2015 and has become very popular with railway enthusiasts and other travellers wanting a "real" outback experience travelling with the locals.
The Australind runs from Perth to Bunbury – a distance 181km – twice a day in each direction in 2 hours and 30 minutes.
The Avonlink operates twice daily, Monday to Friday between Midland, Toodyay and Northam, a distance of 120km. Passengers are able to connect with Perth's suburban electric train services at Midland.
The MerredinLink operates from the East Perth Rail Terminal through to Merredin on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays.
The Prospector runs from Perth to Kalgoorlie – a distance of 655km - once a day each way and twice on Monday and Friday in 6hours 45minutes.
The legendary Ghan travels from Darwin in the top end of the country through the heart of Australia to Alice Springs, the gateway to the Red Centre.
Trainworks is the NSW Government Railway Heritage museum and passenger service operating from Thirlmere. It has an extensive collection of railway memorabilia and offer steam and other historic services on the former loop line at Thirlmere. Access via connecting coach at Picton railway station.
The ARHS (NSW) operate tours on historic trains on operating passenger and freight lines across NSW every few months. Demand is high these regularly sell out well in advance. The popularity reflects the ability of the ARHS to obtain access to routes no longer available to regualr NSWTrainlink services. Book directly with the ARHS (NSW).
The Rail Motor Society operate services similar to the ARHS but using rail motors. They operate mainly from Newcastle and the Hunter region but regular tours operate across New South Wales. Book direct.
Canberra Railway Museum operate special steam services both to / from Canberra but also on special day tours in NSW too.
The Zig Zag Railway was a historic tourist railway that runs from Clarence Station near Lithgow in the Blue Mountains. It is a narrow guage switch back line operated entirely by volunteers and offers daily trips with regular themed trips such as "Thomas the Tank Engine" and "Harry Potters Wizard Express". It ceased operating in mid 2012.
Puffing Billy is a century-old steam train that is still running (every day) on its original mountain railway from Belgrave to Gembrook in the scenic Dandenong Ranges near Melbourne. Operated by volunteers it also offers the opportunity to drive a steam locomotive along a winding, steeply graded narrow-gauge railway, through a variety of scenery.
Bellarine Peninsula Railway operates steam and diesel locomotives between Queenscliff and Drysdale on the Bellearine peninsula near Geelong. It has a regular weekly service on Sundays, and runs extra services during summer. It also has a Thomas the Tank Engine train.
Victorian Goldfields Railway runs mostly steam train trips on Sundays and Wednesdays, as well as some extra trips during the year, from Castlemaine to Maldon over a former 1880s-built Victorian Railways branch line. Trains connect at Castlemaine with V/Line trains to and from Melbourne (Southern Cross) and Bendigo.
The Kuranda Scenic Railway runs twice daily from Cairns to Kuranda – a distance of 34km – in 90 minutes. It is a spectacular journey comprising unsurpassed views of World Heritage Listed rainforest, steep ravines and picturesque waterfalls within the Barron Gorge National Park.
The Mary Valley Heritage Railway (known as the Valley Rattler) runs three times a week (Wednesday, saturday and Sunday) from the Old Gympie Station through Gympie and stops at several towns in the Mary Valley. There is also a rail motor run on Tuesdays.
The Pichi Richi Railway runs steam and diesel services betwen Quorn and Port Augusta in South Australia's Flinders Ranges, on selected days in autumn, winter and spring months, following part of the original Transcontinental line from Adelaide to Alice Springs.
The West Coast Wilderness Railway runs once each way per day from Strahan to Queenstown over a 35km route in about 4 hours. Along the way, the train stops at stations of the past - Lower Landing, Dubbil Barril, Rinadeena - where trained guides bring to life the stories of these historic points on the railway.
The Ida Bay Railway runs several times a day from October to April, but on a reduced schedule in winter. The 14km route is Australia's most southerly railway. The WWII era Malcolm Moore diesel locos have been operating on the line since 1948.
Wee Georgie Wood Railway operates twice a month in summer from Tullah along the old North Mount Farrell Tramway.
Don River Railway at Devonport operates a daily scedule with a vitage diesel and a steam locomotive on Sundays.