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Australia by Rail

Australia by Rail

Excerpt:
Introduction


Contents list | Introduction | Sample itinerary | Major routes & services | Tour and itinerary options


By the scale of European countries, Australia is vast. Imagine the whole northern half of Africa, a great desert with population centres mostly on the edges. That is something like Australia. And travel in much of Australia is not unlike a journey on the African continent – the same timeless bush, the same enervating heat. In a car the distances and glare of the sky induce drowsiness. The unsealed gravel roads of the outback are like the laterite roads of the African savannah, slippery when wet, loose when dry, ridged like corrugated iron and infested with road trains – thundering great lorries hauling multiple trailers at breakneck speed. These are frightening to meet and more lethal than the snakes and crocodiles you will rarely see. Travelling by road you may reach your destination hot, tired and thirsty, hating both the bush and the concrete jungles of the city. Visitors can find Australia's road rules confusing and the unwary motorist can easily fall foul of the law. If a sign says ‘Next Petrol 300km’ you can be sure that when you run out of fuel and wander into the bush you will easily get lost.

It is better to see Australia by rail. Australia's railways offer a unique way of travelling round the country. You may not always get there more quickly but you will get there more safely and have time to relax, enjoy the scenery, and converse with Australians and tourists from all over the world, while sitting in comfort without the constraining bonds of a seat belt. Overseas visitors can make use of the excellent-value Austrail Flexipass and other passes and fare concessions offered by the country's railway systems, some of which residents can also benefit from to explore the country.

And Australia is worth exploring because it is a land of contrasts. Not only is there a world of difference between the wheat fields of Victoria and the sugar plantations of Queensland, or the dry red desert of the interior and the torrential downpours of the coastal ranges; there is a great contrast between the fastest and newest trains and some you may find on the lesser-known branch lines.

You can penetrate the remote outback in air-conditioned comfort on trains such as The Ghan or Spirit of the Outback and travel through Crocodile Dundee country on the Gulflander or Savannahlander. The world's fastest rack railway, the Perisher Skitube, will take you to the slopes of Mt Blue Cow in the Snowy Mountains or you can cross the famous Harbour Bridge by train in the heart of Sydney. By train you can also see examples of almost every type of Australian landscape – from the dense rainforests of tropical Queensland to the unbelievable emptiness of the Nullarbor Plain, the deep canyons of the Blue Mountains and the rocky crags of the outback ranges.

Options range from planned itineraries through package tours to doing it your own way. As well as giving essential details about the principal and other popular train services, Australia by Rail offers ideas not found in official publications or ordinary travel literature. This should assist both those who stick to the main lines and those who like to wander off the beaten track. And you can!

Train schedules
As with all guide books it is necessary to explain some general principles and issue a few words of caution to the intending traveller. First of all, before commencing any journey, double check the departure and arrival times given in this book or in any timetable, as they are subject to change without prior notice. Changes will usually be minor and have little effect on most of the trips described in this book but Australia is not as well served by rail networks as Europe, for example, and you would not want to miss the only train of the day. Most interstate and long-distance trains run regularly, though not necessarily every day of the week, but other trains may not operate on public holidays such as Christmas Day, Good Friday and Anzac Day (25 April). Train schedules are particularly liable to change at weekends and during holiday periods (see p101), eg the Gulflander and Savannahlander do not usually run between mid-December and early March, whilst additional trains may operate on other routes in December and January. Schedules should also be checked during Australian long weekend holidays, which vary from state to state.

Eastern Summer Time applies between late October and March in Victoria, New South Wales and South Australia. This affects the times of trains to or from the other states, eg interstate trains will arrive in or leave Queensland one hour earlier. Schedules to and from Western Australia are less likely to be altered but arrivals at and departures from Adelaide to and from the west should always be checked. There is a 30-minute time-zone change between the Eastern states and South Australia, and one of 90 minutes out in the Nullarbor. Usually the train conductor will tell you when to alter your watch.

No publication which includes railway (or any other) timetables can hope to remain up to date. Not even those published by the railways themselves! As an official in one major railway booking office said to me ‘We'd be the last to know!’ There are regular travellers who will swear that railway timetables should properly be classed as works of fiction; that their main use is ‘to show how late the train is’ is a well-known saying. The fact of life is that trains can be and often need to be rescheduled for all sorts of reasons which might or might not be understood if explained at the time to the unfortunate travellers. This is not peculiar to the railways of Australia; it is a worldwide phenomenon.

Most Australian rail services as well as bus and ferry schedules are summarized in the Thomas Cook Overseas Timetable; this is published bi-monthly. Timetables given in this book are extracts only and do not show complete schedules on most lines. In particular, the times given for any round trips may not reflect all the departure times from either the base city or the destination city. On a particular route there may be later departure times from the base city and earlier departure times from the destination city than are shown, none of which would be applicable to a one-day round trip, but which might be useful if an overnight stay were contemplated. Where it is stated that services are frequent, this usually means at least once an hour during normal daylight hours or between the time limits indicated.

Up-to-date information on changes and local timetables can usually be obtained free of charge at major railway stations and rail travel centres. A small charge may sometimes be made. Timetable information is increasingly becoming available on the Internet (see p24) but it is best to double check.

Timetables
All departure, arrival or other times in this book are based on the 24-hour clock. A departure at 1.10pm is shown as 13.10; midnight is 00.00. Time between midnight and 1am is shown as 00.01 to 00.59. This corresponds to the practice used in most railway timetables (eg in Europe) and in the timetables published by Thomas Cook, though some railways in Australia tend to use ‘am’ and ‘pm’ .

The numbers appearing at the start of each timetable (other than itineraries) are the relevant Thomas Cook numbers (Overseas Timetable) and are prefixed by a ‘C’. This enables the traveller to make a preliminary check before making a booking. It does not obviate the need for a final check before actually going to the station. Where Cook's tables do not cover all the places or trains referred to, the word ‘local’ is used instead of, or additional to, table numbers. There are also some references to Cook's tables in the text using the same format.

Where arrival or departure times vary on some days by less than five minutes from the normal, the differences are not always shown in the tables so as to save space and simplify the presentation. In such cases the departure times given will always be the earliest, so that you do not miss your train.

Bus and coach services
Details of bus and coach services are given only where they connect otherwise isolated railheads or provide the only service to destinations of interest that are within reasonable distance of a railway. The Thomas Cook timetable gives details of bus and ferry services.

Australia by Rail

Excerpts:

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