Ruth & I have traveled to Melbourne every time we’ve gone to Australia. It’s one of my favorite cities in the world. We have often flown there from Sydney even though we prefer the train. We have taken both the historic Ghan and Indian Pacific trains Down Under. Over the years I have asked Australian friends about taking the train from Sydney to Melbourne, but they always indicate displeasure at the idea and tell us it’s much better to fly. I assumed that there was no direct train between these 2 cities. I was wrong. There is a direct XPT train between Australia’s 2 largest cities that takes 11 hours, so why have I been discouraged from using it?
High speed trains have been proposed but do not yet exist in Australia because they are expensive to make happen. Renting a car from Sydney to Melbourne or the reverse involves driving 545 miles and staying on the left side of the road. The train between these cities covers 600 miles, but New South Wales trains are standard gauge and Victoria’s have historically been broad. The other common gauge is narrow. Some call the highway ride long and boring and recommend flying. This can involve rapid transit to Sydney’s airport, staying at an airport hotel, taking the very short flight to Melbourne riding a Skybus into the city, and finally transferring to another bus or taxi to get to a hotel in city center. This is expensive travel although most claim it’s the best way to go. Why not take the train?
There are usually 2 trains daily between these cities. One leaves Sydney’s downtown Central Station at 7:40 am and arrives in Melbourne at 6:30 pm. Presently it costs $130 for a non-first-class seat and $183 for an upgrade. Passengers who just pay for a seat are allowed only one small carry on bag limited to 11 pounds. The overnighter leaves Sydney at 8:42 pm and arrives the next morning at 7:30. The typical passenger currently rents a sleeping compartment and pays $271 for this ride. A one-way flight would probably cost around $200 and more on Friday, Sunday, or Monday.
Most of the Sydney to Melbourne or Melbourne to Sydney trip is in New South Wales. The train crosses into Victoria at Albury, a town of 51,000. It continues from there to Melbourne’s Southern Cross Station. In 1962 a standard gauge track was completed from Albury to Melbourne, making it possible to stay on the same train for the entire trip.
Here’s the glitch. In the 19th century each of the Australian colonies adopted their own train gauge. There were, as mentioned above, 3. This situation occurred until Confederation in 1901. When World War II happened, there were still 13 break of gauge places in Australia requiring the transfer of 1.8 million tons of freight at state border crossings. People apparently had to transfer to a different gauge train too. Since changing to a Victorian broad gauge train at Albury is not necessary, why is train travel between these cities discouraged? I guess there’s only one way to find out.