Tuesday 3 February 2009

Train of Thought

Two years ago I took the overnight train from Melbourne to Sydney for the first time. It was the longest train trip I’d ever taken within Australia, and it was an eye-opener - I really enjoyed it, despite the 11 hour journey. Below are some notes I scribbled down while aboard.

It's a rather curious and unexpected way to depart from the great Victorian-era city, slipping away under cover of darkness through heavily industrial railyards.

I’d imagined passing through residential suburbs, eyeing off neatly tended backyards and waving to passers-by.

I'd also imagined we'd head directly north; instead, we head west and are almost instantly lost within a dimly lit, uninhabited landscape of shipping containers and distant cranes. It's quite intriguing and a little mysterious really... I feel like we’re on a secret mission into the unknown.

Fact: 150 passengers on board tonight, according to the onboard cafe attendant.

I had thought they’d all be oldies or country types, but they're a surprising mix, including backpackers and families. One lady has her own inflight entertainment, watching a movie on a DVD player with headphones.

The cabin is more modern than I'd expected, a comfy blue twinette which contains three 1st class seats during the day, but two sleeping berths at night... meaning, of course, that you have a lot more room to spread out overnight.

There are some curious but useful fittings such as detachable table tops, and narrow little wardrobes suitable for hanging suits. The top bed folds down and the bottom folds forward.

Note: when train gets going, it sways like ship at sea (could be smoother).

We seem on our own in the darkness, but occasionally islands of light loom alongside. The brightly-lit brick station at Benalla, with its white corners, looks like it’s holding the line against the forces of darkness. The train stops, so short it's almost a pause, someone gets on or off, then we pull away into the night.

We awake to an almost stereotypical scene of pastoral beauty: green rolling hills, astonishing to a Melburnian now used to bone-dry landscapes. There’s also a tangerine sunrise with little mauve clouds on the opposite horizon. Hollywood couldn't have done it better. And lordy, a decent coffee, brewed who knows where.

When we finally pull into Sydney Central, it's like a revelation. Previously these two cities had seemed far removed, separated by several stages of journey - now I'd seen they were merely two places connected by a continuous ribbon of steel.

Tim Richards travelled courtesy of Countrylink. For more info on the Sydney-Melbourne train, visit Countrylink's website.

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