Although trains in Australia are not as ubiquitous or frequent as in East Asia or Europe, travelling in Australia by train could be an interesting way to cross the country. Unfortunately, outside the main Brisbane-Sydney-Melbourne corridor, Australia's sparse population means the rail network is considerably underdeveloped; trains usually take longer than driving yourself, and often work out more expensive than flying. A journey across the Outback by train, however, is an experience in itself, and allows you to admire the sheer vastness of the Australian Outback, which may be more difficult if you're driving.
Passenger rail only exists on the Australian mainland – Tasmania and other offshore islands do not have railway lines, or if there are, these are exclusively used for freight or are heritage railways.
Prior to the advent of the automobile and air travel, trains formed the backbone of Australia's transportation network, and were frequently used to travel from country towns to their respective state capitals. After World War II, rail transport in Australia fell into a steep decline from which it never recovered. Many country lines were closed, while many others were reduced to serving only freight traffic. Today, passenger rail services in Australia continue to lag behind much of the rest of the developed world, and most of the intercity and country rail lines are primarily used for freight traffic, particularly the products of Australia's vast mining enterprises.
Since the beginning, the building and operation of railways in Australia had largely been left to the individual states, with different states even using different gauges. Authorities in London saw the problem early on and tried to intervene, but unlike in Ireland, they failed. As a result of a lack of cooperation, the railway network of each state for the most part developed independently of the others, and at one point taking the train between two different states would require a break-of-gauge. The Melbourne-Adelaide railway was an exception: it was completed using a single broad gauge in 1887. Nevertheless, from the 1930s to 1990s, interstate lines were progressively converted to standard gauge, thus allowing through-services between most of Australia's mainland capital cities. The final stretch of Australia's national rail network, the Adelaide-Darwin line, was only completed (primarily to serve freight trains) in 2004.
Scheduled long-distance passenger rail services are provided by a mix of state government operators and a single private operator. Other tourist and touring services are operated by various operators including historic societies and community groups. There is no single centralised ticketing system covering all the different operators. This means that you will have to buy separate tickets if your journey involves multiple operators.
Long distance rail services in Australia are not modern high-speed or fast-rail services. If you're not a rail travel enthusiast, you should compare other travel options — flying, coach or self-drive — as you may find these faster, cheaper and more comfortable. This is especially the case when you're travelling between cities.
Journey Beyond edit
- See also: Across Australia by train
Private operator Journey Beyond (known as Great Southern Rail up to 2019) is the primary operator of intercity trains in Australia, including both transcontinental lines. Their trains are slower than driving yourself, but relatively luxurious and more expensive than flying, meaning that they are primarily geared towards those who have a lot of time and money on their hands for a leisurely journey of luxury across the country. Journey Beyond also offers private carriages for hire on their routes, if you are willing to pay the steep premium for that privilege; check with their web-site for details.
- The Ghan operates between Adelaide and Darwin via Alice Springs. Only operates between March and November.
- The Indian Pacific runs between Sydney and Perth via Adelaide, and is Australia's longest passenger rail service, as well as the only passenger train service crossing the vast and remote Nullarbor Plain.
- The Overland operates between Adelaide and Melbourne.
- The Great Southern runs between Adelaide and Brisbane. Only operates one train a week in the summer months between December and February.
With the exception of The Overland, all the other service have adopted an all-sleeper configuration, with meals in the restaurant car being included in the price of the fare. No sleeper cars are available on The Overland, as the journey is covered within a day during daylight hours. Meals are also not included in the ticket price on The Overland, which does not have a restaurant car, though food may be purchased in the cafe car. Motorail service (bringing your car on the train with you) is available for those travelling from Adelaide to Perth and vice-versa on The Indian Pacific, and for those travelling from Adelaide to Darwin and vice-versa on The Ghan.
Some other intercity trains are operated by the state government operators. These are typically cheaper, though not as luxurious as the trains run by Journey Beyond.
- Queensland Rail operates the Spirit of Queensland between Brisbane and Cairns.
- NSW Trainlink operates the Brisbane XPT between Sydney and Brisbane, the Melbourne XPT between Sydney and Melbourne, and the Canberra XPLORER between Sydney and Canberra.
Sleeper cars are available on the overnight Brisbane XPT and Melbourne XPT trains, but not on the daytime runs of those trains or the Canberra XPLORER. Meals are not included the price of the ticket, though food is available for purchase at inflated prices in the cafe cars. The Spirit of Queensland, on the other hand, offers a "RailBed" service, which is akin to international business class on most major airlines, meaning you get a seat that can recline fully into a bed for you to sleep. Meals are included in the price of the "RailBed" service but not for the regular "premium economy" seats, though food is available for purchase in the club lounge car. None of these services have a restaurant car, though meals are served to your seat in airline international business class style for Spirit of Queensland "RailBed" passengers.
Country rail edit
Country rail services are provided by the state government operators, with networks that radiate out of the four largest state capitals of Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane and Perth.
- NSW Trainlink operates rail services to country New South Wales and Canberra from Central Railway Station in Sydney, in addition to its Intercity services, which form an extensive intercity/commuter rail system (on the Opal network) and cost no more than the standard public transit fare in Sydney ($9.84 for one train trip, as of 2023). Keep in mind the Intercity network only serves the cities and regions close to Sydney, including the Central Coast, Hunter (up to Scone and Dungog), Blue Mountains, Illawarra, Southern Highlands (up to Goulburn) and northern Shoalhaven (down to Bomaderry). Everything else served by NSW Trainlink is a ticketed service and requires advance bookings.
- V/Line operates rail services to country Victoria from Southern Cross Station in Melbourne. Due to state government subsidies, long-distance rail travel in Victoria is the cheapest in the nation. Any journey by V/Line, no matter how long, will cost no more than a standard daily public transport fare in Melbourne ($10 as of 2023).
- Queensland Rail operates most rail services to country Queensland from Roma Street Station in Brisbane, as well as the Inlander from Townsville to Mount Isa. The Spirit of the Outback from Brisbane to Longreach via Rockhampton features sleeper carriages and a restaurant car.
- Transwa operates most services from East Perth Railway Station in Perth to various country towns in the south of Western Australia, with the Australind service to Bunbury operated out of Perth Railway Station.
There are no passenger rail services at all in Tasmania, with its network being used exclusively for freight transport. The Northern Territory is only served by The Ghan between Adelaide and Darwin via Alice Springs, and passengers may use The Ghan to travel between Alice Springs and Darwin. South Australia does not have a dedicated regional rail network, but the country towns of Murray Bridge and Bordertown are served by The Overland on its journey between Adelaide and the border with Victoria. The Overland also serves the country towns of Stawell, Horsham, Dimboola and Nhill in western Victoria that are not served by V/Line trains, which only go as far west as Ararat.
Urban rail edit
Urban commuter rail services are available in Australia's five largest cities: Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane, Perth and Adelaide. If travelling from a train-served suburb to the city centre, at least in the former four, train travel is often the most convenient way to travel due to traffic congestion and expensive parking spaces.
- Sydney Trains operates the suburban train network of Sydney. Sydney is also home to Australia's only rapid-transit system, with a single line that opened in May 2019.
- Metro Trains Melbourne operates Melbourne's suburban train network. Melbourne is also home to the largest tram network in the world.
- Queensland Rail operates the suburban train network of Greater Brisbane, the Gold Coast and the Sunshine Coast.
- Transperth operates the suburban train network of Perth, with connections to the port city of Fremantle.
- Adelaide Metro operates the suburban train network of Adelaide, and a single tram line to the popular beach suburb of Glenelg.
Heritage services edit
Australia is also home to private companies that run tourist services on otherwise-disused or freight-only lines, using old equipment (such as steam locomotives and/or vintage carriages) that have been refurbished. These mainly operate over short distances, and are often isolated from the main railway lines, meaning that they are geared almost exclusively towards tourists looking for a nostalgic experience. Some of these include:
New South Wales edit
- The Sydney Tramway Museum operates some heritage trams used in Sydney prior to the 1970s from Loftus to the old Royal National Park station (back when taking trains to national parks were a thing).
- Perhaps the most iconic heritage railway in New South Wales, the Zig Zag Railway in Zig Zag not only operates as a heritage railway, but it's also one of the top draws of the Blue Mountains. Much of the railway follows the older railway corridor to Lithgow before it was bypassed by the Ten Tunnels Deviation.
- Kuranda Scenic Railway runs sightseeing trains from Cairns to Kuranda using vintage carriages through the scenic Atherton Tablelands.
- The Savannahlander runs trains between Cairns and Forsayth using vintage 1950s railmotors.
- The Gulflander runs trains between Croydon and Normanton, using vintage 1950s railmotors.
South Australia edit
- SteamRanger Heritage Railway operates steam locomotives between Goolwa and Victor Harbor, with some services operating beyond Goolwa to Strathalbyn and Mount Barker for special occasions.
- Pichi Pichi Railway operates steam locomotives between Port Augusta and Quorn in the Flinders Ranges.
- The Don River Railway in Don (near Devonport) is an old heritage railway from the freeway interchange near Forth, running next to the Don River before making its way to the Don Junction railway station.
- West Coast Wilderness Railway is a scenic railway passing through the wilderness between Strahan and Queenstown
- Puffing Billy Railway is a scenic tourist railway that runs from Belgrave to Gembrook with an old steam train, It is one of Australia's most popular tourist railways, especially for kids
- Victorian Goldfields Railway is a heritage railway that operates from the town of Castlemaine to Maldon on Wednesdays and Sundays
- Yarra Valley Railway operates from Healesville to Yarra Glen on Sundays on restored sections of track that once held the railway from Melbourne to Healesville
- Mornington Railway operates from Moorooduc to Mornington with heritage trains