Train - Sydney to Melbourne

Long distance train travel in Australia is largely out of fashion. The situation is not helped by discounted & conditional air fares being substantially less than standard train fares as are journey times. The criticism of train travel appears to be largely driven by the "are we there yet" syndrome. In short, travel times. For people with the time there are many train journeys which can be personally rewarding although mostly overlooked, the Sydney-Melbourne route being one. For visitors wishing to see non-touristy rural Australia trains are the most comfortable way to achieve this. Very little, if anything, can be seen from an aircraft.

There are two trains daily each way between Sydney and Melbourne, a day train and an overnight train. They are operated by NSW Trains. Travel by the overnight train is only recommended if booked into a sleeping compartment. There are at least 10 changes of scenery/topography over the journey. In round figures the rail distance is 600 miles or 960kms.

The first image is of the train amongst the canola fields north of Cootamundra in NSW.

The second image is the train crossing the Marybrynong River in suburban Melbourne. The viaduct is 1260ft long and 180ft above the river bed.

The Trains: The carsets are usually 6 or 7 Cars between 2 locomotive units. The design and principle is derived from UK HST trains. The cars are numbered from the Melbourne end. Cars A, B, & C, are first class and the remainder economy class. Car C is fitted out to accommodate passengers in wheelchairs or who need special assistance. The buffet is also situated in car C.

Food Service: Uniquely, the buffet is equipped with convection ovens. These are used to prepare meals and other hot food. Although pre-packaged, the meals are not prepared until AFTER orders have been placed. Some very fussy friends find it difficult to criticize the quality of the meals or the standard of service from the train crew. Prices are reasonable.

Luggage: The cars have overhead luggage racks. There are also baggage storage areas inside the entrance doors of each car. Car C has no dedicated storage area and car B has a very large area at the Melbourne end of the car. Luggage can be checked at no additional cost. This is carried in a dedicated secure area in car G. Collection at destination is supervised by staff.

Smoking is not permitted in any part of the train. Passengers caught smoking can find themselves put off the train at the next stop. Police may also be waiting to make arrest.

The following description of the route is intended to in some small way act as a travel guide for passengers. It is written for a southbound journey from Sydney to Melbourne but can also be used for northbound journeys.

Sydney is a sprawling metropolis and it takes some time to journey through the suburbs. It is not until the Nepean River is crossed at Menangle, some 60kms out, that the country takes on a rural appearance. The Menangle bridge is the oldest railway bridge in Australia having been opened in 1863.

From Picton the train commences the long steep climb up the escarpment of the Southern Highlands. There are a few small villages but the country is substantially native forests. A wide variety of eucalypts can be viewed as the train winds its way around several large horseshoe curves in the course of the climb. Immediately after passing through Mittagong the train passes through the Mt Gibralter tunnel to enter Bowral. There will be a brief stop at Moss Vale., 145kms.

The journey continues through Bundanoon and on through Penrose & Wingello where fruit growing has always been popular. From Marulan the train moves out onto the Southern Highlands plateau and follows the Wollondilly River into Goulburn, 225kms.

Goulburn is approached by crossing a 14 arch brick viaduct over Mulwaree Ponds creek. There is an impressive war memorial on Rocky Hill on the eastern side of the train. Goulburn is the oldest inland town in Australia. It is the centre of a large and prosperous grazing industry producing fine Merino wool.

Departing from Goulburn the train follows Mulwaree Ponds for some distance before entering the Breadalbane Plain. The summit of the line is reached by crossing the Cullerin Range. The Cullerin Range is marked by long lines of wind generators. The summit is 2396ft above sea level and there is a small marker on the eastern side of the line. There may be a brief stop a Gunning. The train continues through mixed grazing country and native forests to Yass Junction.

Yass is the centre of some of the finest merino wool growing properties and a stud breeding industry. The town is several miles from the railway. From Yass the line turns to the west and quickly moves into the grain growing district of the south west slopes. From Binalong a popular crop is canola and the fields are particularly attractive when the crop is in bloom. There is a brief stop at Harden. Finally a long descent of Morrisons Hill into Cootamundra, 430kms.

Cootamundra is an important transport centre and an interchange centre for passengers. Another long descent of Bethungra Hill follows departure from Cootamundra. This descent is so steep that the northbound track takes a separate route to climb the hill by way of a spiral around the hill and crossing the southbound line several times. From Bethungra village there is a fast run through wheat fields into Junee, 486kms.

On the western side of the train, not far from Junee station is Monte Christo Homestead which dates back to the earliest years of settlement. There are rooms in the house which are haunted. Visitors of the most cynical and unbelieving disposition often change their minds after a visit to the house.

Most of the way to Wagga Wagga is through wheat growing country. At Bomen there are large commercial undertakings. From Bomen the train crosses the flood plain of the Murrumbidgee River. The flood plain is about 4kms across. The train crosses on a series of concrete viaducts and finally crosses the river on a steel truss bridge. Wagga Wagga is a large and important rural city. The army and air force have garrisons associated with the city and like Goulburn further north, it is a Cathedral city.

South of Wagga Wagga the train passes through several small towns. Many of them are conditional stopping places. Of particular interest at The Rock is a large rocky outcrop high on a hill south west of the town and which gives it its name. Some of the towns have substantial commercial buildings of significant architectural value. These date from earlier times when they were very busy centres, before the days of the internet and telephones. Of particular note are buildings in Culcairn, Henty and Gerogery.

Albury, 646kms, is a major city on the state border between New South Wales and Victoria. On the opposite side of the station platform a Victorian Railways passenger train can sometime be seen. There are long viaducts across the Murray River floodplain before and after crossing the main channel of the river. The Murray River is in New South Wales and the state border is on the southern bank. The train bypasses the twin city of Wodonga and proceeds across the north eastern plains of Victoria.

A stop will be made at Wangaratta, 713kms, probably the most important city in NE Victoria. It is the centre of a varied rural and industrial area including wineries and textiles. It is also an access point to the Victorian snowfields.

10 miles beyond Wangaratta the train will pass at speed through Glenrowan. It was in this valley below Mt Rowan at the Glenrowan Inn that the infamous Kelly gang made its last stand in 1880. See this link for the story. The remnants of the Glenrowan Inn can be viewed on the western side of the train. The demise of the Kelly gang saw the end of the era of bushrangers in Australia and also brought to an end the era of "the Australian wild west". A more colourful era than the American wild west as depicted by Hollywood and American culture.

A stop at Benalla follows. Benalla is also a major rural centre for NE Victoria and is the centre of a prosperous rural district.

A fast run follows through mixed agricultural country and several towns. The largest and most important being Euroa. A brief stop may be made at Seymour (60 miles from Melbourne). From a point a few miles north of Seymour the train will begin to parallel the Victorian broad gauge line into Melbourne. Seymour is on the Goulburn River which flows north and joins the Murray.

Shortly after departing Seymour the train will make its final descent of the Great Dividing Range from Kilmore.

At 1145ft above sea level at Heathcote Junction this is the highest point of the line between Melbourne and Albury. The country is native eucalyptus forest and the valleys are relatively broad.

Once out onto the plain the sprawl of suburban Melbourne is unmistakeable from about Craigieburn on. The city skyline is visible on the eastern side of the train. A brief stop may occur at Broadmeadows. From here the train skirts the western suburbs of Melbourne. There are the spectacular crossings of the Marybrynong River on a 1260ft steel viaduct 180ft above the river bed, followed by an equally spectacular crossing of Moonee Ponds Creek.

The final run into Southern Cross Station (Spencer Street Station) is through industrial suburbs and several freight yards. While these may be of low interest they reflect the commercial prosperity of the city and the State of which it is the capital.

Arrival at Southern Cross Station will be at platform 1 and the station exit is past the front of the train.

For timetable & fares information