The Overland – The Final Train Journey

(pic - Story) Overland - Title

Okay, a part of me really likes trains, though despite having a YouTube channel devoted to trains and other forms of non-road related vehicles I wouldn’t go as far as calling me a railfan – they tend to be much, much more obsessed with their hobby, and their YouTube channels tend to be a lot more sophisticated that mine, which generally involves me taking a video and then uploading it straight to my channel without any editing or otherwise – which is probably why I don’t have a huge amount of followers. However I do enjoy the occasional train journey, even if it doesn’t involve travelling at 300 kph between Frankfurt and Koln, and the Overland, the train that travels between Adelaide and Melbourne, is one that I have been on numerous times.

Anyway, here is a map of the route that it takes (using my professional drawing skills, and Google Maps):

(pic - Story) Overland - Route

One of the reasons that I decided to travel to Adelaide by train was because I hadn’t done so in years. However as I was researching the trip I discovered that come June may no longer be running. Back when I was younger there was a service that ran between Adelaide and Melbourne on an almost daily basis (and when I say younger I mean when I was at University – despite it being slower I somehow preferred to travel by train as opposed to bus). However it seems that they have now cut back on the services to the point that it only runs twice a week. This probably has a lot to do with passenger numbers, and also the only reason that it is running is because it is being subsidised by the Victorian Government.

Anyway, before I continue here is a video that I took of the Overland passing West Fitzroy Station

Yep, it’s travelling pretty slow

I still remember years ago asking a random friend at church if he wanted to come to Melbourne with me for a weekend, and then jumping on the Overland on Friday night, and jumping back on Sunday night for the return journey. I even remember sitting in the dinning car chatting and drinking a couple of beers (though we did get in trouble because we had brought some foreign beers on board – he was Canadian and he was trying to show me the wonders of non-Australian beer, though it is funny that these days you don’t see anywhere near as many foreign beers, and certainly no Canadian beers, as you saw back then). I then did the trek another time, when I was on my way to Sydney for a conference with the Christian group I was a part of at Uni, and I decided that I would take the journey by train, so I caught the Overland to Melbourne, and then the next night I caught the XPT to Sydney. Mind you I was incredibly tired at the end because while I was on the Overland I ended up talking to this Kiwi (the Australian slang for a New Zealander) who was sitting next to me, that it until the other passengers told us to shut up.

Mind you the XPT journey was pretty impressive back then as well, especially since they had a telephone on board. I was so thrilled to see a telephone on the train that I actually went and made a phone call to one of my friends. Mind you these days that isn’t all that impressive, namely because I have a telephone in my pocket that I pretty much take everywhere with me (even to bed, namely because it is also my alarm clock). I have taken the XPT to Sydney in more recent times and I have to say that nothing much has changed. Anyway here is a video of the XPT passing West Footscray Station.

It’s a lot faster than the Overland
Mind you, I was always a little baffled as to why the XPT, and the Overland, take this really odd route. Both of them head out to the west, and the XPT then turns to the north where it connects with the main railway line heading to Albury, while the Overland turns south, heads back towards the bay, and then off towards Geelong. As it turns out the Victorian railways run on board gauge while the Overland and XPT are both standard gauge, which means that they can only use the standard gauge tracks. Sure, the Australian government decided that the entire country would used Standard Gauge, however since it is way too expensive to replace all of the tracks, and the trains, the Victorians simply made the tracks heading interstate standard gauge (and if you want to know what I am talking about, you can always check up Wikipedia).
(pic - Story) Overland - Route out of Melboure
And these are the routes the train takes
Anyway, I got on the train and discovered that the seat that I was in actually had quite a lot of leg room, which was really cool since I’m actually quite tall and generally appreciate being able to spread my legs out (I wonder if I can grab one of those seats on the plane next time, but then again the seats with the leg room, and the window, are probably snatched up really, really quickly). So, I settled back with my book, and watched the scenery as we made the somewhat long trek out of Melbourne through the industrial zones (and I have some pictures to prove it – of the industrial zone that is).
 As we were heading out of Melbourne the loudspeaker suddenly came on and our host welcomed us to our journey, and then tried to sell us some breakfast (which didn’t work on me because I had already had some breakfast at Hungry Jacks a little earlier). However what she also indicated was that this wasn’t going to be your ordinary train journey, namely because on ordinary train journeys the only time somebody comes over the speaker is when they are announcing an upcoming stop, if only to wake up those people who are sleeping that happen to be getting off (and fortunately I haven’t slept past my stop – yet – well, okay I have, but my excuse was that I had jet lag and I fell asleep on the train and next thing I knew I was miles away from where I was supposed to be going).
Okay, maybe it is a bit of a tourist train, but unfortunately you can’t get off at the station and have a walk around because the train doesn’t actually stop there all that long. They do give you a bit of a background on some of the towns that we pass through though. As they said, it is not the destination that they are focusing on, but the journey. Sometimes I quite appreciate a long journey because I can sit there with a book, or my laptop, and do stuff – fortunately there were plugs in the dining car so when my laptop ran out of power (which seems to be getting quicker and quicker these days – maybe I need a new battery) I could go and sit there (with a coffee of course – you can’t sit in the dinning car unless you had purchased something) and so some writing.

Geelong

Our first stop was Geelong, which happens to be Victoria’s second largest city, and is also located on Port Phillip Bay (though it is actually an inlet known as Corio Bay). We didn’t actually stop at Geelong, but rather North Geelong, which as a railway station isn’t all that much to look at (namely a platform and a shelter). Geelong is basically an industrial city whose major industry was the Ford plant (though not for much longer since all of the car manufacturers have now pulled out of the country). I’ve been here a couple of times, and even had lunch here once, but I haven’t spent a huge amount of time exploring the place. One thing I can tell you from experience is that the residents of Geelong hate being considered a part of Melbourne – in fact they are ferociously independent and will correct you (sometimes quite harshly) if you suggest otherwise.
So, the train then pulled out of North Geelong station and headed inland past, well, more industrial zones (though our host did assure us that Geelong was a really nice place beyond all the factories – I still have to see for myself though) and headed inland. I would say past some really nice scenery but the thing with Australia is once you head inland you only encounter two things – farmland and desert – and we were heading through the farmland. The operator of the Overland, Great Southern Railways, has currently three trains that run: the Indian Pacific that travels from Sydney to Perth; the Ghan that travels from Adelaide to Darwin; and the Overland. Basically the only scenes that you see from each of these trips are desert and farmland (except for a part of the Indian Pacific where you cross the Blue Mountains). Anyway I had this idea that if they are going to eventually dump the Overland maybe they should run the Ghan directly from Melbourne – it would make a lot of sense since both trains to terminate at Adelaide.

Ararat

Our next stop was the town of Ararat, which does have some history because once when my sister and I were driving to Melbourne our car broke down and we had to leave it at a repairer and then catch the train to Melbourne (and our holiday ended up being extended by a couple of days, which was okay with me). The town got its name when the explorer Major Mitchell (you see his name a lot in these parts) wrote in his diary ‘like the ark, we rested here’, and named a nearby mountain Ararat. The town came about because of the gold rush, but later on an asylum was established there. These days it is the location of the Victorian maximum security prison.

(pic - Story) Overland - Ararat Station
The best shot of Ararat Station

Stawell

The train then chugged out of Ararat and continued on it’s journey towards Adelaide, stopping next at the town of Stawell. I remember staying here with my family when I was younger on our yearly holiday to Melbourne. We spent the time exploring the Grampians which is a large mountainous national park. In fact Stawell is often referred to as the gateway to the Grampians. Like Ararat (and in fact a lot of towns around here) Stawell came about during the goldrush when gold was discovered in one of the creeks. These days the town is famous for the Stawell Gift, a prominent running race. I have also discovered that they are also building a physics lab in one of the abandoned gold mines.

Unfortunately, because the railway station was on the wrong side of the train, I didn’t get the opportunity to take a photo of it, however I did managed to get a photo on my return journey (which was by car).

(pic - Story) Overland - Stawell Station 04

 

Unfortunately, while the Overland passes near the Grampians, it doesn’t pass through them (in fact the only hills the train passes through are the Adelaide Hills – it manages to avoid all of the others). So, there weren’t any wonderful mountain scenes to see, but then again Australia isn’t know for its tall mountains and it’s lush forests – just its gum trees and desert (and kangaroos, Emus, and the wild life that seems to be determined to kill you). I did manage to get some photos of some trees though.

Horsham

Our next stop was the town (or should I say city – I’m never sure about these things) of Horsham. Horsham is basically the capital of the Wimmera region, which is Victoria’s wheat belt. As such you are going to find a lot of farming related businesses here. I’ve driven through this town countless of times, though I won’t say much more about that here – especially since I did drive back this way. One thing I can tell you is that the river that runs through Horsham – the Wimmera River – starts in the mountains and ends in, well, a lake – it doesn’t run out to the sea, which I thought was rather interesting (at least to me).

After Horsham the Overland then starts speeding across the Wimmera Plains (usually around 120 kph). Mind you, the last time I was on the train I don’t ever remember it stopping. As a kid it used to stop at this small out of the way town called Serviceton, which I suspect was to change the drivers, and I believe it also stopped at Ballarat (though my Dad can’t remember it ever doing so). My Dad told me that I would always wake up when the train stopped at Serviceton (we had a sleeper carriage).

Anyway, there was farmland, farmland, and more farmland (I’m sure you get the picture, but just in case you don’t here are a couple of more photos – maybe the desert is a little more interesting that endless miles of wheat).

Dimboola

Our next stop was at the town of Dimboola, which I gather was mainly a railway town. We used to travel through it, that is until they built a bypass so now all we ever see of this place are a couple of bridges where the road goes over the railway line. I do remember stopping off here as a kid because there was this old steam train in one of the parks, which we would spend time climbing over. However the only reason we stopped here this time was so that the drivers could change over (I suspect that maybe the train drivers live in Dimboola).

These days the train doesn’t stop at Serviceton, however they did have a rather nice railway station (but then again I find all these old railway stations to be quite nice). While I didn’t get a photo of it, I did manage to find one on the internet. The reason that this town was established was because it was where there was a change of gauge, meaning you had to get off one train and on to another. Since the gauge between Adelaide and Melbourne has been standardised, the town isn’t used all that much any more (though as I suggested, when I was younger they probably switched drivers here).

(pic - Story) Overland - Serviceton Station

Nhill

However before we passed Serviceton (and basically if you blink, you miss it) we stopped at Nhill. Nhill is famous, at least in my books, because it is located halfway between Adelaide and Melbourne. We used to stop here on our road trips so my Dad could have a rest, and we always stayed at the aptly named Halfway Motor Inn. The town itself appeared when some guys decided to build a flour mill here, and the town grew from there.

(pic - Story) Overland - Nhill Station

Bordertown

That was the last stop in Victoria, and before I knew it I was across the border and the train was pulling into this mostly bordered up station at Bordertown. Bordertown was named because the government wanted a town as close to the border as possible, so a guy named Tolmer went and established it, and then threw a tantrum because it wasn’t called Tolmertown. Bordertown is famous for being the birthplace of Bob Hawke, an Australian Labor Prime Minister. These days the house of his childhood is now a Centerlink Office (which does have a bit of irony about it).

Now were enter a region known as the Mallee, which is famous for the Mallee tree and the Mallee Fowl. The region, like the Wimmera, is mostly farmland, but it is also known for it being comprised of mostly stunted trees and bushes. There are even a couple of salt lakes here. However despite there being some towns along the route, we don’t stop until we arrive at Murray Bridge.

(pic - Story) Overland - Salt Lake

Murray Bridge

Murray Bridge is named as such because, as you can probably guess, there is a bridge over the Murray River. The Murray River is Australia’s widest river and in the early days it was a major highway with steam boats ploughing its length. The thing with Murray Bridge is that it was the first bridge built over the river (probably so people could get from Adelaide to Melbourne). These days it is an agricultural town, but is also where the medium security prison is located.

Adelaide at Last

Well, my journey was now about to come to an end as we entered the Adelaide Hills. However, one thing that I was curious about was that since the Adelaide train network uses broad gauge, and the Adelaide Melbourne line is standard gauge, how did the trains share the tracks. Well, as it turns out, the Belair line is actually a single railway line, and the standard gauge line runs alongside it. In fact most of the stations, with the exception of a couple at what is called a loop (where the train line splits to allow the trains to pass each other) have only one platform. Anyway, as I was travelling in to Adelaide through the hills (and I have to admit that there is quite a lot of nice scenery there), I noticed that a number of the old stations were still standing, though the original terminus at Bridgewater had been knocked down.

Anyway, that was the end of my journey, and while it didn’t feel all that hot when I got off the train, I soon began to feel the forty degree heat, which basically took the last of my energy out of me, resulting in me sleeping for something like eleven hours. Mind you, I do have to admit that the Mile End Passenger Terminal, where the train stops, is quite annoying as there is no public transport there to take you into the city, which means you basically have to either take the shuttle bus, or catch a cab – and since I had a pretty bad experience in a cab I’d prefer to take the shuttle bus. However, fortunately for me my parents live in Adelaide, which meant my Dad was there to pick me up.

Oh, and before I go, here is a video of a V-Line train cruising past West Footscray station.

 

Creative Commons LicenseThe Overland – The Final Train Journey by David Alfred Sarkies is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.If you wish to use this work commercially please feel free to contact me.

 

“Serviceton Railway station” by Scott Davis – Own work. Licensed under CC BY 2.5 via Commons


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