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International Railroad Discussion > Australia's Indian Pacific - Trip Report

Date: 10/05/20 02:47
Australia's Indian Pacific - Trip Report
Author: Memma

Hi All

I was very fortunate to ride on a very special Indian Pacific journey across Australia from Perth to Sydney celebrating the train's 50th Anniversary. 
I published a report of my trip here: https://trainreview.com/article/all-aboard-the-indian-pacifics-50th-anniversary-train if anyone's interested.

If I were pushed to name one I'd have to say the IP is my favourite train so if anyone has any questions I'd love to answer them! 

I hope you're all safe and well!


Date: 10/05/20 05:49
Re: Australia's Indian Pacific - Trip Report
Author: andersonb109

Thanks for your excellent report. It's so sad we don't have something comparable here in North America. I suppose VIA Rail's Canadian comes closest. Amtrak has become more like Greyhound than proper trains.  I've ridden the IP twice. First when it was still a government service. Second was in 2000 just prior to the Sydney Olympics and the train's first refurbishment. I had flown into Sydney from Johannesburg following a steam train photo safari.. But the IP departed shortly after the flight landed. So I spent a nice day in Freemantle and flew to Kalgoorlie to catch up with the train. You may know what night that was. In mid flight we were asked to search for a plane that had taken off just ahead of us and gone missing. We never found it. The next days news reported it crashed in Queensland. It was full of miners going home and the crew had become overcome by lack of oxygen. The plane continued until it ran out of fuel and crashed.

I found the IP to be quite enjoyable. One thing would improve on it tremendously.   A proper dome observation car. Viewing the vast scenery out the side just isn't the same. I guessing there are two reasons for not having that type of car. 
The heat. And clearance issues in New South Wales. The Canadian in peak season carries a flat top "dome" car between Vancouver and Edmonton. It's home built from a normal coach. A possible solution? But nothing beats the forward viewing a true dome provides.

So you asked for questions: Did the train continue running during the pandemic? Looks like you trip was just prior to the lock downs. If so, when do they expect to be running again?

Who now owns and operates the train?  It was a company called "Great Southern Railway" last time I road. I'm not familiar with the "Journeys Beyond.".  Is the train profitable or do they obtain some sort of government subsidy?

The last time I road the train also included what you would call "sit ups."  Is that still the case? If so it seems the train is still providing essential transportation in addition to a tourist oriented service.

And last, were the off train activities you mentioned only because of the anniversary trip?  On my last trip there was nothing organized. We were free to wander about at the various lengthy stops. I do know on the Gahn which was run by the same company in 2000 does provide orgainzed tours at two or three selected stops including Alice Springs.

Thanks again for you reporting. We need more of that sort of thing here on TO.   Photo is from the Zig Zag before it sadly closed do to safety issues and then the horrible fires. I spent a day on foot on the railway photographing the service trains. Hope it gets back in operation soon.

Date: 10/05/20 13:59
Re: Australia's Indian Pacific - Trip Report
Author: UP3806

Thank you for a very enjoyable description of such a fine train. I was in Sydney on US Army R&R in November of 1970 and remember seeing it at the station and marveling that it had juat been inaugurated several months before. The equipment was very similar to stainless steel Zephyrs here in the states. Is that the original train after 50 years? 

Had a very marvelous time in Australia and wished I could have ridden more trains than just the commuters out of Sydney.


Date: 10/05/20 19:56
Re: Australia's Indian Pacific - Trip Report
Author: Memma

Great pic, thanks for sharing and thanks for the comment! I'm so glad you had a great trip on the IP. It's a bit scary we lost a plane, but Kalgoorlie is certainly an interesting place!!

I couldn't agree more - a proper observation car would be amazing on both the IP (and the Ghan)! I can't imagine it'd be that hard to source one at the moment! I'm not sure why they don't have a dome. The loading gauge shouldn't prevent it - in Sydney it is large enough to allow double deck commuter trains, and the rest of the way allows double-stacked container trains. I guess the heat could do it, or possibly it just wasn't considered when they built the carriages... I'd love to see something like the VIA panorama cars purchased and added to The Ghan and the Indian Pacific! 

To answer some questions... The IP was suspended in March and unfortunately hasn't yet returned due to state border closures. The IP runs through New South Wales, South Australia and Western Australia - South Australia reopened to NSW just last week, but Western Australia has been very public and very firm on not reopening until there is a vaccine. Unfortunately, that means the full Sydney - Perth trip could be 6-12 months away. There is good news re. The Ghan which has started back up!

The IP is owned by Journey Beyond which in turn is owned by Quadrant Private Equity. Journey Beyond is a portfolio of tourism businesses that Quadrant have acquired and integrated (In addition to the Indian Pacific, The Ghan and the Overland, JB owns a luxury lodge, a couple of day cruise operations, an outback touring company, a Skydeck / lookout in Melbourne and a few other things). Quadrant will no doubt will sell as a package. The Australian Government provided subsidies, particularly for concession holders etc. ended 2016. Journey Beyond removed all the seating carriages in response and upgraded service (and fares) in the sleepers, so the train is now a cruise on rails rather than transport. I always thought it was going through a bit of an identity crisis - as public transport, it was too slow, operated infrequently and was expensive. As a cruise/vacation experience, it needed some upgrades to justify fares. 

Quite a lot has changed (almost all for the better in my opinion) since the days of Serco (Great Southern Rail). The food has been upgraded, drinks are included (the wine list is surprising good). Many of the carriages have been refurbished and upgraded - I got to travel with a new look restaurant and a refurbished sleeper! There are a lot of new experiences which are really great and included on all trips - During the Adelaide layover they offer 5 or so organised tours, including a wine tasting in Barossa heading to Perth. An additional stop has been added in Rawlinna where they get everyone off the train for live music, a bonfire, drinks and canapes westbound or a bonfire and breakfast canapes for passengers heading east. Broken Hill has some new tours as well, and heading to Sydney there is an option to tour the Blue Mountains before continuing on a chartered commuter train.

I really hope they get the Zig-Zag back up and running - they've had such bad luck up there. They just got over the first fire and got hit again last summer. I believe that the NSW Department of Planning and Infrastructure is providing a lot of support to the volunteers that run it (they do an absolutely amazing job but don't have the resources the government does) so the plan is to have it up and running in 2021!!

Pics are from the local newspaper (
https://www.lithgowmercury.com.au/story/6581077/council-hopeful-for-accelerated-recovery-of-zig-zag-railwaybut shows some of what they're dealing with! On the IP's route, the fire was so intense that it actually melted some of the tunnel infrastructure.





Edited 1 time(s). Last edit at 10/05/20 20:02 by Memma.

Date: 10/05/20 20:09
Re: Australia's Indian Pacific - Trip Report
Author: Memma

UP3806 Wrote:
> Thank you for a very enjoyable description of such a fine train. I was in Sydney on US Army R&R in November of 1970 and remember seeing it at the station and marveling that it had juat been inaugurated several months before. The equipment was very similar to
> stainless steel Zephyrs here in the states. Is that the original train after 50 years? 

> Had a very marvelous time in Australia and wished I could have ridden more trains than just the commuters out of Sydney.
> Tom

I'm so glad you enjoyed it! We'd love to host you back down here to ride more trains!! 

Yep, still the original 1970's carriages. They were built here by Commonwealth Engineering (the factories of which were sold to ABB, Bombardier and others) and actually used designs licensed from Budd - so I'm guessing the carriages were very similar!

Date: 10/06/20 03:57
Re: Australia's Indian Pacific - Trip Report
Author: andersonb109

Thanks for answering my questions. It looks like the IP and Ghan really are even more like a cruise ship experience than when Great Southern ran the train. More like the defunct American Orient Express that sadly didn't make it here.  But it wasn't on a regular routing so perhaps that played a roll. And haulage costs charged by the host railways make profit almost impossible. Sad that Western Australia is resisting opening their tourist economy.  Damage to economies, particularly in the travel and entertainment industries may be beyond repair long after the virus is gone if these policies continue. Sometimes the cure can be worse than the disease. 

Date: 10/06/20 19:17
Re: Australia's Indian Pacific - Trip Report
Author: Memma

I wonder if a similar concept could work attaching cars to existing Amtrak trains to reduce the haulage charges - i.e. introduce a premium class with upgraded sleepers, full dining service etc. on say the California Zephyr, the Empire Builder and the Coast Starlight. 
You wouldn't get the tours, but I guess could offer packages that including stops en-route. I travelled in the City of New Orleans in the Pullman cars when they ran which didn't work out, but, I suspect that had something to do with the route.

It is a shame WA is closed - I can only imaging the damage it's doing. We still have a strict lockdown in Melbourne - we had a second wave that spiked to 700 cases a day for a while but with only 6 today there is light at the end of the tunnel! Hopefully interstate travel (at least) will be back on the agenda (and the Melbourne - Sydney train back up and running!)!

Date: 10/15/20 19:28
Re: Australia's Indian Pacific - Trip Report
Author: czephyr17

Thanks for this report.  Here is a photo of a builder's plate on one of the cars in 1995 when I rode from Sydney to Perth.


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