Is this an untapped gem of intercity business travel?
The short answer – HELL NO.
I found out there is a good reason why thousands of people fly between Sydney and Melbourne each day yet only a handful of pensioners choose to catch the overnight XPT.
If you want the long version – read on……
It seemed like a really good plan:
- Finish a meeting in Sydney’s CBD at 7pm
- Slide down a mixed grill at Maloney’s Hotel
- Jump on the train at Central at 8:30pm
- Have a relaxing night on the train, meet some fellow travellers and hear stories of great railway adventures
- Be rocked to sleep by the gentle motion of the train
- Wake up well rested and have a shower on the train as we speed along Melbourne’s train network
- Enjoy the complimentary breakfast
- Arrive at Melbourne’s Southern Cross Station at 7:30am
- Show up at work in the CBD feeling refreshed
Why didn’t I just fly like a normal person?
I worked out that by the time I flew back to Melbourne and got back to Chateau de Bretto I would be lucky to get 5 hours sleep before I had to get back to work. Having flown countless times between Sydney and Melbourne I get annoyed that it takes several hours from door to door for what should be a 55 minute flight. Which is where the train comes in – no security screening, no taking my shoes off, no smelly taxis, no waiting to get on the plane, no waiting to get off the plane, no guy in the next seat who wants to fight over who gets the armrest, no stupid inflight entertainment that runs for 18 minutes before you “prepare to land”. I could go on…..
Anyway, back to the train. Let me start off with some good points:
- The train departed and arrived at the scheduled time – and I mean exactly.
- My cabin and the train in general were very clean
- The staff onboard the train were very friendly and helpful
- It is quite cheap. At about $220 one-way it is cheaper than a flexible airfare.
- They kept the doors locked when we stopped at Broadmeadows station.
I was lucky that I scored a 2 berth sleeper to myself and as I was at the end of the carriage I had an ensuite to myself. But if you want to guarantee you don’t have to share a cabin with a stranger you need to book and pay for 2 berths – which is still pretty reasonable.
So you are thinking…..the cabin looks nice Bretto – it sounds like a fun journey….you sound like a grumpy old man that likes to complain about public transport? Well yes I do hate public transport. Not public transport as a concept – but just the 3rd world public transport I have the misfortune to use around Melbourne.
So what was wrong? Where do I start….
I think there is about 1km of straight track near Wagga Wagga but apart from that the whole trip was very lumpy and bumpy. I thought that the guys that laid the track back in the 1800’s must have been drunk but I have since been advised by a rail industry professional (we’ll call him RIP for short) that the tracks are designed for heavy freight trains which accounts for the majority of services on this line. The relatively light passenger train just seems to bounce along the undulating track as it sways from side to side. Although they could apparently buy a new passenger train with better suspension to make the journey more comfortable it seems the low patronage on this route doesn’t warrant such an upgrade.
I thought that perhaps I was being too needy and my expectations were too high – but RIP has travelled extensively on sleeper trains around the world (predominantly Europe and the UK) and he said it was the worst motion of any train he had been on by far. I don’t think he was exaggerating when he told me that he feared he might be thrown out of the upper bunk onto the floor below.
If you are really old and/or drunk I think there is a good chance you would fall over as you walk around the train.
The high levels of noise on the train seemed to be a direct result of the high levels of movement. Furthermore I think they had installed a special “Squeak and creak amplification module” under my cabin which managed to generate a loud range of noises throughout the journey that was accompanied by the constant rattle of the train passing over the tracks. I had taken my own ear plugs to mask the sound of snoring if I had to share the cabin but it turns out that my concern was unfounded. There is just no way you could hear someone snoring over the sound of the train. I noted the complimentary toiletries bag given to First Class passengers included a pair of ear plugs. Perhaps this is this a requirement to meet Occupational Health and Safety Requirements for exposure to damaging levels of noise?
I guess that is why old people like to catch the train so much – they can just take out their hearing aids and enjoy the serenity.
I jammed a magazine in between the upper bunk and the cabin wall to try and stop some squeaking – and then a few hours later the magazine worked loose and fell down onto my legs in the dark and scared the crap out of me. At least I wasn’t asleep.
The train has windows that don’t open and they lock the external doors – presumably to stop passengers taking their own lives (it crossed my mind at about 2am). The cabin was warm and stuffy with no ventilation that I could find.
4. The bathroom
There is an “ensuite” located between every two sleeper cabins so if the train was full you could be sharing the facility with 3 strangers. The ensuite is like the swiss army knife of bathrooms. Imagine trying to shoehorn the functionality of a full bathroom into a small airplane toilet. I expect a 1950’s North Korean submarine would be more user friendly. The only good thing I can say is that at least it had full headroom to stand up.
I found that using the fold out toilet and fold out sink to be quite a mission – combined with the confined space, the heat and the motion of the train I came quite close to vomiting and had to make a speedy retreat to the bed and lie down. Admittedly I do suffer from motion sickness at times but there was no chance I could have a shower on this train without covering myself in spew. When I had to use the amenities the next morning I made the short walk to the adjacent first class carriage that had a more user-friendly toilet – similar to what you would find on a plane.
The bottom line: It seemed like a good idea but I wouldn’t do it again. My outdoor adventures have taken me to some strange places in adverse conditions and I have never had a worse night’s sleep than on this train.
Although I didn’t enjoy the trip – if you are the sort of person that can fall asleep during a rock concert I encourage you to try it out and make up your own mind. You can find more info here:
http://www.nswtrainlink.info but if you want to book a sleeper you need to call 13 22 32.