Travelling from Melbourne to Adelaide by train on ‘The Overland’ is a real joy. It is a journey through countryside that is part of Australia’s heartland and history. This page aims to help you plan and book your trip, and to let you get the most out of your journey by provide reading material so you’re informed and intrigued about the sights and history as you sit back and enjoy the ride.
“The Overland” was Australia’s first intercapital passenger train. Note the name is “The Overland”, but it is often mistakenly called “The Overlander”. Please don’t fall into that beginners’ trap. The name reflects the train’s history as the first viable way to travel ‘over land’ between Melbourne and Adelaide. Before then, the quickest and most popular way to do the trip was by coastal ship!
The service first ran in 1887 when the railway between Melbourne and Adelaide was completed. Initially run jointly by the Victorian Railways and the South Australian Railways, the train was known as ‘The Inter-colonial Express’ and soon after as ‘The Adelaide Express’, although some from Adelaide knew it as ‘The Melbourne Express’. The train ran on broad (1600mm) gauge tracks from Melbourne’s Spencer Street station right through to Adelaide station (in North Terrace, Adelaide). The train, which ran overnight, included sleeping cars and sitting cars and for some years a dining car as well.
In 1926 the train was formally named “The Overland”, and from the late 1940s a whole new fleet of steel-bodied air-conditioned carriages was built for the service. Diesel locomotives took over from steam in 1953, but the long established practice of changing the loco and crew at Serviceton, on the State border continued.
In 1995, following construction of a new standard gauge rail link between Melbourne and Adelaide, ‘The Overland’ ran on Broad gauge tracks for the final time, and commenced running on standard (1435mm) gauge via the new, slightly more southerly route via North Shore Geelong instead of via Ballarat. This is the route it continues to take today.
In 1997 the service was privatised and taken over by Great Southern Railway. The timetable changed dramatically in 2007 so that instead of running overnight as it had for 120 years, it now ran as a daylight train. And this is more or less the service that continues to run today.
The Overland these days runs twice per week each way between Melbourne Southern Cross Station (in Spencer Street Melbourne) to Adelaide Parklands Terminal (in Keswick, SA). It calls at a number of major intermediate towns along the way to pick up and drop off passengers.
The train departs Melbourne every Tuesday and Saturday morning at 8:05am (Eastern time), and after travelling through the day, it arrives at Adelaide Parklands Terminal at 5:40pm (Central time). In the other direction, it departs Adelaide Parklands Terminal at 7:45am (Central time) and after travelling through the day, it arrives at Melbourne Southern Cross station at 6:50pm (Eastern time).
To see the full detailed timetable, including the retunr journey and other buses between Melbourne and Adelaine, see here.
You must pre-book your ticket to travel on the Overland. You can book:
There are two classes of travel available. Great Southern call them:
Great Southern Rail have a check-in process, similar in some ways to airlines, that requires you to be at Southern Cross Station half an hour before the train’s scheduled departure. So, given the morning departure time, if you want a relaxed morning, consider staying overnight in a hotel the evening before your departure.
In Melbourne, the most conveniently located hotel is the Vibe Savoy which is directly across the road from the train’s departure platform. There is no more than 200m to walk from the hotel front door to the train check-in, and it’s an easy path across the road even with a bag in tow.
I recommend the Vibe Savoy. If you get a West facing room (maybe you can ask for one), you may even get a rare view across Southern Cross station’s unusual wavy roof, and perhaps you might even see “The Overland” train itself arrive on the nearest platform the evening before your trip.
There are other hotels nearby too, though not quite as stunningly close to the Overland’s departure platform as is the Vibe Savoy. Whilst I’ve not personally stayed at them, some of the other nearby accommodation options are:
Whether you stay overnight at one of the nearby hotels above, or whether you arrive by train, tram, bus or taxi, you should ensure you arrive at Southern Cross station with enough time to spare to check in. For ‘The Overland’, Great Southern Rail ask that you arrive at least 30 minutes before departure time.
‘The Overland’, in our experience always departs from platform 2. But, please check this on the many electronic displays around the station because it theoretically could depart from platform 3 if something unexpected occurs.
Platform 2 is the first platform that you will see if you enter the station from the Spencer Street side. Before you ask, yes, there is a platform 1 – but it is tucked away beneath the shopping centre a little further north, and platform 2 extends further south so it really is the main platform.
Don’t be put off by the size of the station – platforms are numbered up to platform 16, but platform 2 is definitely the easiest one to find. They are numbered in sequence, so if you come from the west you’ll see platform 16 first, just keep walking and you’ll eventually get to platform 2.
If you’re coming from the Vibe Savoy or other hotels across Spencer Street, you have street level access to the train – just walk from the street and platform 2 is right there in front of you.
If you’re coming from the west, you’ll be on a bridge and you will have to descend to ground level. There are steps from the northern bridge, but the only escalator at the north end takes you up, there is no down escalator. However there is a Lift just near the top of the steps. If you come across the southern bridge there are two sets of escalators that will take you down to train level.
Once you’ve found platform 2, you need to find the entrance gate. This is located about mid-way along the platform virtually beneath the steps and escalator from the northern overbridge. There will probably be a Great Southern Rail employee at the gate (in khaki/beige uniform and maybe an Aussie broad brimmed hat) to greet you. Note that you will need a printed version of your ticket to show the employee here. The train staff member will check your ticket, advise you of your carriage and seat number, point you to where the train is waiting and they’ll let you through the gates. Seat numbers work much as they do on aircraft, but instead of a row number and a seat number as you have on aircraft, here you get an alphabetic carriage (car) number (A, B, C etc) and a numeric seat number (1,2,3 etc).
After you’ve been let through the gates to the platform, go along the platform to your carriage and await the opening of the train. Carriage letters (A,B,C etc) are displayed adjacent to each entry door. When the time is right, the train staff will open the train doors and check your tickets as you board. You can take your bags on board with you. There is plenty of room between seats, on overhead racks and at the end of each carriage for your bags, and it’s not at all difficult to board the train with wheeled bags. The step from the platform into the carriage is not high, and the aisles inside are wide and flat.
Find your seat, stow your bags and settle in. Seat numbers are displayed on the the walls above the windows. Note that your seats rotate – so if you are travelling with companions, or if you prefer to face backwards when travelling, or if you have been assigned a limited visibility seat near a bulkhead you can rotate your seat and travel backwards. Simply press the release pedal with your foot and swing the seat around until it clicks into position.
In the few minutes before departure you can familiarise yourself with your seat, the carriage and your travelling companions. You will see the busy Southern Cross station in action with other passenger trains arriving and departing outside your window. If you're on the left side of the train, you’ll see VLine passenger trains arriving and departing bringing commuters into Melbourne from regional Victoria. VLine trains are quite striking in their purple and yellow colour scheme (sometimes called Violet Crumble). They are also well patronised because they run fast, frequent, reliable and inexpensive services into Melbourne from many parts of Victoria. This will probably not be the last time you see VLine trains today, and if you keep reading I’ll point them out to you when the time is right.
On the right of the train, you may see the elusive platform 1. Depending on the day and the timetable, you might see one of the two daily XPT trains arrive in platform 1 from Sydney. This is another of Australia’s great train journeys, but there’s an entire other essay to be written on that trip. Suffice to say, if you enjoy this trip on The Overland, consider taking the XPT between Melbourne and Sydney next.
At the appointed time, the locomotive horn will sound, its bell will ring and the train will gently pull away from the platform. Now, lest you jump to conclusions, I should point out a couple of things. You may think ‘gee this train is travelling pretty slowly’. Yes, initially it does travel slowly, but rest assured this is only for the first few km through the twisty and complex rail yards and industrial depots of Melbourne’s western suburbs. It does speed up greatly after about the first 20-30 minutes.
Secondly, and this is related, you may notice a moderately loud banging or grinding sound coming from beneath the carriage. This is caused by the bogie, or wheel-frame, twisting side to side to navigate curves in the tracks. Once again, this will last only for the first few minutes, and once the train gets away from the twisting tracks and onto the straight main line it will calm down a lot.
For the first half hour or so of our trip, we’ll be travelling through Melbourne’s industrial western suburbs. To be quite frank, it’s not the most scenic route into or out of the city, but, there’s plenty to see.
As we leave Southern Cross station’s cavernous roof and bustling platforms, we travel past Melbourne’s famous ‘Festival Hall’ on the right. Sometimes known as the ‘House of Stoush’, this gritty old venue was for many years the home of televised live boxing and wrestling. It was also Melbourne’s premier music concert venue and hosted concerts from the world’s best including: The Beatles, Shirley Bassey, Roy Orbison, Buddy Holly, Bill Haley and the Comets, Liberace, Frank Sinatra, Johnny Cash, Joe Cocker, Johnny O'Keefe and the Sex Pistols. Whilst its salad days are behind it, Festival Hall still hosts concerts today.
The train climbs the North Melbourne flyover and travels high above the mass of railway tracks carrying suburban electric trains between North Melbourne and Southern Cross stations. Then we cross the Moonee Ponds Creek and enter a heavily industrial area that houses railway locomotive depots, container yards and transport and shipping facilities. The train may pause here for a minute or two to enable rail staff to board or to allow other trains to cross over the tracks. This area is adjacent to the Port of Melbourne, Australia’s busiest port. It is a hive of activity with trucks, trains, cranes and ships transferring vast amounts of cargo. It never ceases to amaze me how high the shipping containers are stacked.
A few minutes later and our train crosses the Maribynong River, Melbourne’s second river, and then we enter the Bunbury Street tunnel. This takes us beneath the cosmopolitan inner suburb of Footscray and under two major railway lines. This is the last tunnel we will travel through today until much later in our journey – by which time we will be within an hour of arriving in Adelaide.
Once we emerge from Bunbury Street tunnel, we travel for a few km parallel with the suburban railway line that carries electric trains to Sunbury, and with the main ‘Regional Rail Link’ tracks that carry VLine passenger trains between Melbourne and Geelong, Ballarat and Bendigo and points further afield. If you are on the left side of the train you may see some of these trains pass by and you may see three suburban stations: Middle Footscray, West Footscray and Tottenham. At Tottenham, again on the left, we traverse the large and now largely disused Tottenham railway yard formerly used to shunt and marshal goods trains to and from country Victoria.
Once Tottenham yard is behind us, we pass through one of Australia’s most significant railway junctions. Until this point, since we departed, we’ve been travelling on the same track as trains to and from Sydney, but here, our train turns left onto the western line to Adelaide, Perth and Darwin, while the main East Coast line to Sydney and Brisbane curves away to the right. Immediately after the junction, we travel high above the suburban railway and roadway on a curving modern concrete bridge that points us south for the short leg through the industrial suburbs of Brooklyn and Spotswood. Once again, you’ll note the heavily industrial nature of the area – which is of course largely why the railway runs through here.
A few minutes later we reach Newport where we run behind the suburban station (which we can see on the left), then the train takes a wide right hand turn to head south-west. On the left we pass by the historic Newport Railway Workshops – the home of the former Victorian Railways. This was where so many of the steam locomotives, carriages and wagons that transported Victoria were built and maintained for so many decades. Today, it’s been transformed into a range of community facilities, but is still used to store modern trains between shifts, and also houses a large number of retired and historic trains and trams.
We now largely leave behind the twisting industrial part of our trip and the train can stretch its legs (metaphorically) on what is basically a straight main line. At this point, we are running parallel to the suburban railway to the south-western suburb of Werribee, and on the left you may see a number of stations and electric trains for the next few km.
On the left is a railway junction for the suburban railway to Altona. There are two separate suburban railways to Werribee – one travels via Altona, the other takes a more direct route parallel to our route. As we pass by an oil refinery, you may notice an abandoned suburban station platform – Paisley station closed in the 1980s. A minute or two later another – Galvin. Today, Werribee line trains don’t call at Paisley or Galvin. After a few minutes as we re-join the line from Altona, on the left you may see a suburban electric train running through fields on the indirect line via Altona. On weekdays, trains via Altona only run as far as Laverton (we’re just about there), and Werribee trains run alongside our track, but on weekends all Werribee trains run via Altona. As we whizz past Laverton station you might see a Laverton via Altona electric train stopped in the platform waiting to return to Melbourne.
Now is a good time to point out a reliable way of knowing exactly where you are along the journey. Just as is the case on roads, railway lines are signposted with distance markers. A universal zero-point for all railways in Victoria is at Melbourne Southern Cross station. A post displaying the number of kilometres by rail is placed on the left hand side of the track each kilometre as you head away from Melbourne (or the right hand side as you head toward Melbourne). So, if you are seated on the left side of the train, you should be able to spot these posts as you pass by. Where there are multiple tracks, they will be on the far left of the leftmost track (ie not between tracks). They're quite easy to spot and they come along quite regularly. If for example you are travelling at 120km/h you should pass one every 30 seconds, and at 100km/h you will pass one every 36 seconds. Try to spot one now. We’ll use this distance measure to pinpoint lineside features of interest from now on.
Just after the 31km post, we pass by Werribee station (on the left). This is the last station on Melbourne’s suburban electrified network, and is traditionally where Melbourne’s suburbs are considered to end. However, as we travel onward you will notice the extensive suburban expansion that is taking place beyond Werribee. It is only a matter of time until electric trains will be extended beyond Werribee. Note also the pair of tracks running parallel to us on our left. These tracks were formerly the main VLine route to Geelong and South-Western Victoria, but since 2015, when a brand new route, (Regional Rail Link) was constructed further north, these tracks are not regularly used for passenger trains and now see only infrequent freight and special trains. It’s pretty obvious that they will one day be electrified to transport the residents of all the new houses in this area.
As we near the 40km mark, on the right you will be able to see the new Regional Rail Link route approach from the North. It flies over our train and junctions onto the rarely used tracks from Werribee. Now, it's likely you will see VLine trains travelling on these tracks as we head further south. This is the main VLine route to Geelong. It carries heavy commuter traffic to and from Victoria’s second city. On weekdays there is a VLine train every 20 minutes each way, and on weekends there is one every 40 minutes each way.
After the 47km mark we pass the station at Little River. This is a very small town that is really the only rural location between where suburban Melbourne ends and suburban Geelong begins. The station, built of local ‘bluestone’ (dark volcanic stone) has been retained pretty much in original condition and is the most impressive building in the town.
After the 57km mark we pass Lara. This is effectively the start of suburban Geelong. You can see that whilst Melbourne and Geelong are separate cities, they are not that far apart, and they are growing closer together. Lara is really only even slightly famous for just one thing: it was the setting for the town of ‘Dunt’ in the controversial ABC TV comedy/satire series ‘Angry Boys’ starring Chris Lilley. In fact, Lara railway station featured as Dunt station. You can just about visualise Nathan and Daniel ‘dam surfing’ here.
We now travel thavel through the northern suburbs of Geelong (pronounced Jer-LONG). The Overland doesn't go right into the main part of Geelong, and unfortunately we don't call at the grand Geelong station - rather we skip through the northern suburbs. We do however call at North Shore station to pick up Geelong passengers heading toward Adelaide. There is a little platform on our standard gauge track adjacent to the more substantial VLine station. If there are no passengers from Geelong we may run straight through without stopping.
After North Shore, we take a sharp right hand turn and leave behind the main VLine Geelong railway, and head west.
As we navigate the sharp right hand curve, look out the left side window and you will be able to see in the distance downtown Geelong. Just beyond that you might also see the modern light towers at Kardinia Park, the home ground of the Geelong AFL team. As we leave the curve, also on the left you will see an old signal box labelled "North Geelong C". This is one remnant of the once extensive manual mechanical signalling complex in place serving the shunting and marshalling yards in the north of Geelong. Today, with the advent of 'block' trains that require much less re-marshalling, such relics are now obsolete, but it's comforting to see some of the old signal boxes preserved.
For the next few km, from here until we reach Gheringhap, we are, unusually, travelling on dual-gauge track. Our train is travelling on international standard gauge track - 1435mm gauge. But this route also carries Victorian broad gauge (1600mm) trains. There is a long and sad history of how Australia's railways came to be built to so many different track gauges, but sad to say we still to this day suffer the consequences. If you could look beneath the train right now, you would see three rails - one on one side and two on the other,
This is now the railway from Geelong to Ballarat and Ararat. From here on, The Overland is the only passenger train that runs on this route for almost the entire remainder of the journey. For the next few km we travel through the ever expanding northern suburbs of Geelong. At the 78km mark we are now in Moorabool, the end of Geelong suburbs and we now cross one of Victoria's largest and most spectacular railway viaducts. Unfortunately it's impossible to appreciate its magnificence from the train because it's directly beneath us, but you will see how high above the gorge it carries us.
We reach Gheringhap at 83km. Gheringhap (pronounced JERRing-HAP) is a railway junction at which the Victorian broad gauge track to Ballarat diverges from our path on the right and heads away to the north-west. This track was the original main line between Melbourne and Ballarat, but is today a secondary route that carries only goods trains. It does bring grain by train down from north-western Victoria for export through the port of Geelong. From here on, we are on regular standard-gauge track.
At 137km we reach Cressy. There's not much here these days, but in decades gone by this was a signifant railway junction. There were four railways into Cressy and a large station sat at their confluence. It's hard to believe today. Just before town, if you look very carefully out to the left you will see the formation of the now long-closed railway from Colac curving in from the South-East. Then, as we speed through Cressy itself on the left you might spot all that remains of this once great railway junction - a large re-created 'Cressy' nameboard planted in the weeds beside the track. Then, just after the town, on the right as we cross over the main road, you might see the formation of another long closed railway curving away to the north - this once ran up to Ballarat via Newtown and Smythesdale. When this cross-country line from Colac to Ballarat closed in the 1950s, Cressy lost its status as a junction station and is today really not much more than a handful of houses and perhaps a tennis court.
Onward across the Pleurisy Plains we roll past Berrybank at 152km, Lismore (probably the largest town around for what it's worth) at 166km and Derrinallum at 176km. Around about now, out the left of the train you will see quite a stark formation that even to the untrained eye is quite obviously a volcano. It is called 'Mount Elephant', and is indeed a dormant volcano. This, and others in the district are the volcanos that produced the lava flows that covered the pre-existing countryside with lava to produce such flat, level and fertile plains. They are also responsible for the local dark volcanic 'bluestone' rock so commonly used for houses and bridges in these parts. The local Indigenous community, the Djerrinallum gundidj, (from which the name of the town Derrinallum is derived) reputedly even before arrival of Europeans knew Mount Elephant as Djerrinallum – meaning 'Hill of Fire'. So, even though it's been dormant for between 5,000 and 20,000 years, Mount Elephant eruptions were witnessed by locals and are recorded in their oral history.
Very soon we pass through more remnants of indigenous language preserved in town names. Some indigenous languages use repetition to signify strength or great quantity. Unusually, the next three stations or former stations are all double-names that take from this tradition.
After we speed past the small towns of Westmere at 213km and Tatyoon after 231km, we reach another railway junction just after 243km. On the left, sweeping in from the south-west you might see aanother railway line swing in and join us. This is the railway from Hamilton and Portland in Victoria's south-west. This line sees freight trains carrying stone and grain from NW Victoria (rocks and seeds as some refer to them). We immediately then pass by the remnants of Maroona railway station on the train's left hand side.
We've now left the Pleurisy Plains behind and we are approaching the spectacular Grampians mountain range. The Grampians, or Gariwerd, are a spectacular range of mountains that stand out starkly from the otherwise flat landscape of Western Victoria. You will be able to see them in the distance from the left side of the train soon after we pass Maroona. On the right hand side of the train you can see mount Langi Ghiran. This twin-peaked mountain is known colloquially as 'The Sleeping Princess'. Can you see the likeness? Her body is on the left and her head with long hair trails away to the right.
We're now approaching Ararat (pronounced AR-ra-RAT) - the first town of any size since we left Geelong, and our next passenger stop. As we slow down on the approach to the town, from the right hand side of the train you will see another railway line. This is the Broad gauge railway from Melbourne via Ballarat. It is a more direct route than the one we've taken, and it supports a VLine passenger train service of 3 to 5 trains each day between Melbourne and Ararat. Just before the station we cross over this line, and as we pull into Ararat station, on the left you may see a VLine passenger train in the dock platform waiting to return to Melbourne. Ararat was once a very busy railway centre, but these days its role is much diminished. From the right of our train you can see the former rail yard which these days is largely denuded of tracks, BUT, there is something of a renaissance with the re-opening of a line to the north-east from Ararat to Maryborough and NW Victoria for the carriage of grain and freight. You may see a freight train or wagons in Ararat yard making this trip. Ararat, originally a gold mining town, is on the edge of Victoria's goldfields and has quite a multicultural history. A minute or two after departing Ararat station, we pass, on the left a museum to the early Chinese founders of the town. Known as the 'Gum San' museum, if you're ever in town, I can highly recommend a visit. ( Gum San website ). Gum San in Chinese apparently means 'Gold Mountain' and was originally applied to San Francisco in the California gold rush, but was then re-used where those Chinese prospectors and market gardeners went - including British Columbia in Canada, Bendigo and Ararat here in Victoria.
Now that we've departed Ararat, the distance posts now measure the distance from Melbourne via the shorter route via Ballarat. So, even though we've travelled about 260km, the km posts are back to 212km. Don't let it bother you, this happens sometimes.
As we reach the 226km mark we reach the small town of Great Western, founded by two Frenchmen who came to Australia during the Gold Rush, the town is now famous as the Australian home of sparkling wine. Great Western is focussed on the massive Seppelt winery that specialises in wine modelled on French Champagne. The railway travels right through the middle of the Seppelt vineyards, and passes immediately past the front door of the winery. Watch out for the vineyards on both sides of the train, and the winery itself on the left.
Shortly after, at 241km, we arrive in Stawell, our next passenger stop. Stawell, (pronounced 'Storl'), is famous as the location of the 'Stawell Gift'. Held every Easter since 1878 (except during WWII), the two day event had in the past been billed as the world's richest professional footrace. That's perhaps not quite as impressive as it may sound because professional foot racing was not common around the world while the Olympics insisted on amateurism, but in the past 30-40 years it has been surpassed by other events. It does however remain Australia's most prestigious footrace. The event is staged at Central Park which is immediately adjacent to the railway station. You can see the venue from the right hand side of the train.
After departing Stawell, we leave the goldfields behind and head into the very heart of Victoria's grain growing region. Known as the Wimmera, this region is flatter and drier than the countryside we've been travelling through until now. It is ideally suited to growing wheat, oats, barley, canola, and broadacre crops. Depending on the time of year you will see all of these crops growing in fields alongside the track. In Springtime, the bright yellow canola fields are quite spectacular. Perhaps the most iconic features of this part of the country are the massive grain silos that erupt from the landscape every few km - usually alongside the railway line. If you're travelling after harvest time, typically December to March, you may see bulk grain trains being loaded from these silos as you pass by.
Lubeck is reached at 281km. The name Lubeck is quite obviously of German origin reflecting something of a German influence in the Wimmera region we're now entering. Lubeck was, until 1983, the junction for a now closed railway to Bolangum, the remains of which you can see curving away on the right hand side. After we leave Lubeck, in the distance behind us on the right you can see the grain silos at Jackson, the first station out along the closed Bolangum railway.
At 298km we reach Murtoa (pronounced Mer-TOE-ah). The town sits at the junction of a grain railway line that heads off to Hopetoun in the north, and it is a major grain transfer depot. On the right hand side you can see the vast grain storage facilities including something really really special. The 'Murtoa Stick Shed' is a huge grain storage shed that some say is the most interesting and unusual building in Australia. Built in 1941 and used until 1990 to store wheat, it is claimed to be the largest rustically-built structure in the world. Read more about it here. After passing the station (on the left), you can see the Hopetoun railway diverge on the right. We then turn left and head ever further west.
We're now really in grain country, and every tiny little place we pass through has a large grain silo. These impressive structures, many of which were built in the early to mid 20th century dominate the landscape and are emblematic of the region's grain growing business. At 309km we pass Jung (another German name by the way, but here it's pronounced with a hard 'J'). There is a particularly impressive set of grain silos here which can be seen from the right hand side of the train.
At about 315km, on the right hand side you can see a railway freight yard. This is quite a new facility that is just about the only general rail freight yard that now operates anywhere between Geelong and Adelaide. It is the hub for containerised freight to and from Western Victoria, and is served by regular container trains to and from Melbourne. You will likely see wagons and even a train in the process of loading or unloading here. Next up at 319km is Dooen. Pronounced DOO-en, you will once again see an impressive grain silo from the right hand side of the train.
We're now approaching Horsham, the largest town in the Wimmera region and probably the equal largest population centre anywhere on our journey between Geelong and Adelaide. Horsham is a major service centre for the grain and wool growing industry. We will call here at the railway station to pick up and drop off passengers. The station is at 327km.
As we leave Horsham behind, with every kilometre we travel we are getting into ever more dry, arid and less fertile countryside. This will be an ongoing theme for the next few hours until the trend turns as we get closer to Adelaide. More on this later. But right now, we're in the sweet spot of grain growing country. As we parallel the main Melbourne to Adelaide roadway (highway 8), we pass a series of grain sidings and silos at
At 361km we approach Dimboola. Whilst Dimboola is only a small town, it has a large station and we will stop here for passengers. Dimboola is still a railway town, largely because it's just about the half-way point between Melbourne and Adelaide. Railway staff are based here, and this is where the train driver that has brought us from Melbourne will leave us, and a new driver will join for the second half of our journey to Adelaide. Our on board staff stay with us for the whole journey though. In days gone by there were many railway towns - probably 6 between Melbourne and Adelaide, each of which housed train crew that would swap over on every train that passed through. Nowadays, with faster trains, there's really only a need for one, and that's Dimboola. As we leave Dimboola, if you look out the right hand side of the train you will see the extensive former railway yards that served as a locomotive depot and wagon storage. As we leave town, you may see another grain-only railway line branch off to the right - this line heads up to the delightfully named north Wimmera towns of Jeparit and Rainbow.
As we head west from Dimboola we parallel the main highway on our left. At 370km on the left you'll get a great view of Pink Lake. This is a salt lake which, when you see it, you'll know why it got its name. After Pink Lake we pass by three more grain silos at
At 399km we reach our next stopping place, our last in Victoria. The small town of Nhill (pronounced 'Nil') appears on the surface to be a standard wheatbelt town, but, Nhill is different. Blessed with two significant employers - a flour mill and a duck processing factory, both of which have been in need of employees, Nhill has attracted a significant population of Karen people, most of whom were refugees from Myanmar. Something like 10% of the town's population is of Karen background and Nhill is an example of how Australia can build its regional population and employment base whilst meeting humanitarian obligations at the same time.
On departure from Nhill, we head on further west past the small silo sidings at
After Kaniva we press ever westward. At 447km we pass Lillimur (LILL-amar). We're now getting very close to the State border, but, it's not quite as clear cut as you might think. The original definition of the border between Victoria and South Australia, determined in 1836 was that it was to be a straight line that follows the "141st degree meridian of longitude east of Greenwich". That is the same meridian as the border between NSW and SA, and also the lower part of the border between Queensland and SA. But, we pass the 141st meridian at about the 461km mark - yet, we're still in Victoria. What happened? In fact it was a surveying stuff-up that led to the border being too far west. The Vic/SA border is about 3.3km further west than it was supposed to be, and 3.3km further west than the NSW/SA border. This even led to a dispute between the two States that was only resolved in 1914 after it had risen to the High Court and eventually the Privy Council in London.
Just before the 462km mark we pass on the left the impressively large brick station building at Serviceton. Serviceton was and is the last station in Victoria, and was one of the six railway towns between Melbourne and Adelaide. Until the 1980s, ALL trains stopped and exchanged locomotives from a Victorian to a South Australian loco and crew. But today, we just blast on through without even slowing down. And we're still in Victoria. On we go, past the 462km mark and past the 463km mark. In fact, we only reach the actual State border at 463.687km.
Welcome to South Australia. A couple of practicalities. First up, we are now in a new time zone. South Australia follows Australian Central Time which is 30 minutes behind Australian Eastern Time. So, re-set your watches now. Of course you may rely on your mobile phone to auto-set the time, but a word of warning, it can sometimes take quite a while in this area before your phone determines it's in a new time zone - up to 15 or 20 minutes. So, be a little careful about relying on mobile phone time for the next little bit.
Secondly, because the railway on which we're now travelling was built by the former South Australian Railways, the way we measure distance changes. Instead of measuring distance from Melbourne, the distance is marked from Adelaide. And because we're now travelling TOWARD the zero point instead of AWAY from it, the distance markers are now on the other side of the train - ie the right hand side as we head for Adelaide. Also, the markers are of a slightly different style - more silvery than white - like this.
For the first few km in South Australia, until we reach the town of Wolseley, we travel on track that exemplifies Australia's railway track gauge woes. It has at various times in its history been built to three separate gauges. In 1887 the line opened as a broad gauge (1600mm) railway. For a short time, the track was dual gauge broad and narrow (1067mm) when an extension of the narrow gauge line from Mount Gambier to Wolseley was run to Serviceton. The narrow gauge was removed from the Wolseley to Serviceton section some time later, leaving this line as broad gauge only. Then in 1995 the main line was converted from broad gauge to standard (1435mm) which is the way it remains today.
The first South Australian town we pass through is Wolseley at 307km (from Adelaide). You can see the remains of the now closed Mount Gambier railway curving in on the left hand side as we enter the town. Whilst the railway station here has been known as Wolseley since the railway opened, the town that surrounds the station was, originally known as Tatiara (TATTy-AR-a), but was in 1941 re-named to match the railway station. They had their priorities right in those days.
As we head toward our first stop in South Australia, you may note a few differences in the style of buildings - they are much more likely to be made of stone, and in this part of the State, that means bright white limestone. Also note the poles that support overhead telephone and electricity wires. Poles in South Australia are almost universally made of concrete and steel. Known as 'Stobie' poles after their inventor, these poles are emblematic of SA because they are ubiquitous, almost omnipresent in South Australia, yet virtually NEVER seen anywhere anywhere else in the nation. If you see a Stobie Pole, you know you're in SA, and if you're in SA you WILL see Stobie poles. They're not loved, but they are distinctively South Australian. They are so dominant, that to some South Australians, the word Stobie IS the word for pole.
Just after the 295km post, we arrive at our first passenger stop in South Australia. Bordertown, named obviously but not entirely appropriately for the State border, is a smallish town whose primary claim to fame is that is was the birthplace of Bob Hawke, an Australian Prime Minister from the 1980s. Note the railway station building on the left hand side of the train. It's very different to the style we were seeing in Victoria. This striking and flamboyant station was built in 1914 in what has been described as American Art Nouveau style. The building is not used for railway purposes these days, and has clearly seen better times, but it is evocative of a time when railway buildings were seen as a way for authorities to display their civic pride.
When we leave Bordertown we head through more grain growing country, but you will notice that the country very rapidly becomes drier, more scrubby and less arable. We pass through small grain towns at
One of the enduring themes of South Australia is Water. It is renowned as being the driest State in the driest continent on Earth. But of course, water is essential to life, so South Australia has invested in significant water supply infrastructure. As we travel along, you will often see out both sides of the train some of the water pipes built to bring water to the Mallee towns. These pipes take water from the Murray River (more of that later), and distribute it all across the settled part of the State. Despite the fact that we're getting closer and closer to the source of this water, the country continues to get drier and drier.
At 184km we pass through the small town of Coonalpyn (coo-NAL-pin), then after Yumali and Ki Ki, at 154km we reach Coomandook (COO-man-DOOk). Despite the fact that we're getting comparatively close to the large city of Adelaide, you could be excused for thinking we are travelling further and further into the outback. Not even the mallee grows here! The next few kilometres after Coomandook, until we reach Cooke Plains is where we reach the driest and least arable point of the journey. We pass through a couple of salt pans and the desolation of deserted, homesteads is stark.
But, just as things were teetering on the edge of desiccation, the trend changes. Around the 123km mark we approach the town of Tailem Bend. Once a major railway town, and junction for TWO railway lines into the true heart of the Mallee country off to our right, Tailem Bend is nowadays turning its focus onto something quite different. On the right hand side of the train you will see a very large and quite new solar power farm that harvests a resource that this part of the country has in abundance. As we roll through town without stopping, the largest town along the route that we do not call at, notice the extensive railway yards on the right hand side of the train, and another of the American Art Nouveau station buildings on the left side. What you cannot see, just out of view on the left, is that Tailem Bend is in fact situated on the banks of Australia's largest river - the Murray. In fact, the town is named after a bend in the great river, and this is where the water in all those pipes has been coming from.
It's still dry after we leave Tailem Bend behind us, but we're nearing someing very different. We pass through Monteith then at about the 102km post you may, out the left side of the train, catch your first glimpse of the water that sustains the State. As we descend toward the flood plain, you will see irrigated farmland, and the lower reaches of the mighty Murray River. It's not the Mississippi, but it is Australia's largest river, and it is absolutely the lifeline of the State of South Australia. Pretty much all drinking water and all water for farming and industry in the State is drawn from here. We edge closer to the river, and after the 98km mark we cross the very large bridge over the river that gave the town its name, and we enter Murray Bridge station. And yes, it's another once-grand American Art-Nouveau station. In days gone by there were regular trains from here to Adelaide, and the station housed a refreshment room. Trains would stop for 15 mintes, and passengers could alight and buy a pie and chips before re-boarding for the remainder of their journey. Today we can eat on board, and if you're in Red Premium class, it's nearly time for your afternoon tea service. Yummo.
After departing Murray Bridge, pretty much everything changes. Instead of the countryside getting flatter and flatter and drier and drier, it gets hillier and hiller and wetter and wetter. Well, it doesn't get really wet, but by the standards we've experienced today, the sight of European deciduous trees is unexpected - but that's what lies ahead. And for the next 65km we will be climbing almost continuously and the track will be winding back and forth through the hills.
At 82km we pass Monarto. This is the last grain silo on the route as we are now leaving grain country behind. It was also the junction for a now closed branch line railway that once ran north from here to Sedan and Cambrai. At around 72km we pass through the village of Callington, then near the 68km post from the right hand side of the train you can see a very large open cut mine known as the Kanmantoo Copper Mine.
At around 56km we pass through the town of Nairne. It's starting to feel slightly more European now. Around the 50km mark we pass by the abandoned Mount Barker Junction station. This was formerly the junction for a railway line that ran down to the coastal towns of Goolwa and Mount Barker. The death sentence was dealt to this line when the main line on which we're travelling was gauge converted to 1435mm in 1995 leaving the 1600mm gauge branch line isolated. However, not all was lost, and there is an active heritage steam and diesel railway that operates trains along almost all of the railway on a regular basis. It's a great experience - you just can't get to it by train!
Shortly afterwards we pass through the town of Balhannah, and then at about the 45km mark we pass through the Balhannah tunnel. This is the first of a number of tunnels over the next few kilometres. We keep winding and winding and climbing and climbing until at the 31km mark we reach the summit at the appropriately Mount Lofty. This is the part of your journey where you're most likely to be able to catch a glimpse of the front or back of our train as it navigates the sharp curves.
From here on, it's all downhill and into Adelaide. Just after 23km we pass Belair. This is where Adelaide's suburbs nominally commence. The historic railway station is visible out the left hand side, but on the right you will see the modern station that signifies the start of Adelaide's suburban train network. From here on, we run parallel with the broad gauge suburban railway, and it's quite probable that you will see some of Adelaide Metro's bright yellow or red suburban diesel railcars that serve the Adelaide to Belair route.
Down, down, down, past the suburban stations at Pinera, Glenalta and Blackwood (all on the right hand side), and through more tunnels we pass. On the left hand side you will get some spectacular glimpses of the city and suburbs of Adelaide, and the Gulf of St Vincent beyond. A continuous steep downhill run takes us through more tunnels, then past Eden Hills station and at about the 13km post, into the long Eden Hills tunnel, then suddenly, we emerge into inner suburbs. We run past suburban stations at Linton, Torrens Park, Mitcham, Unley Park and Millswood before arriving at Goodwood junction which is where the busy electrified suburban railway to Adelaide's south-western suburbs joins us from the left and passes beneath our train. From here, its a short run up past Goodwood and Adelaide Showgrounds stations on the right, before we reach our destination at Adelaide Parklands Terminal.
Adelaide Parklands terminal isn't particularly spectacular, nor is it conveniently located to anything really. It was opened in the early 1980s as a new terminal for long distance trains so that they didn't need to travel into the wonderful old Adelaide station in the heart of the city. Nonetheless, the terminal does its job, and it's very easy to disembark here, collect your luggage, and board a taxi which will be waiting very conveniently located just 10 to 20 metres from your carriage door.
Unlike in Melbourne, there is no hotel or other accommodation located within easy walking distance of Adelaide Parklands terminal, and it's not easy to access suburban trains from here. Unless you're prepared for a really long walk, a taxi is the best bet. It's only 2 or 3 km into the heart of the city, so it won't cost too much. Station and train staff are also very happy to help organise shared taxis that can reduce the cost even further.