2014 Australian Trip – Sydney, and Sydney to Brisbane (XPT)

After leaving my luggage at the luggage storage at Sydney Central station, I headed out to do something that has become a pilgrimage for me; every time I visit Sydney, I walk across the Sydney Harbour Bridge. It’s a decent walk, about one hour minutes from Central Station to the north side of the Bridge at Milsons Point. The walk starts by heading up Pitt St to Circular Quay (about 40 minutes). From Circular Quay, I head around the waterfront, Past the Museum of Contemporary Art, towards the cruise ship terminal (opposite the Sydney Opera House). From here, I walk up Argyle St into the historical district of The Rocks. A short way up Argyle St is a small stone stairway heading off to the right between two buildings. Up the top of the stairs, a left hand turn is taken onto Gloucester Walk, which leads to a pedestrian crossing. Across the crossing is a set of concrete stairs, which I climb and this takes me on to the approach of the Bridge. Walking over the eastern footpath, there are beautiful views of Goat Island (a former jail), the Opera House, the Circular Quay ferry terminal and the city skyline. The walk from one side of the bridge to the other takes about 20 minutes, and after walking down the steps at the northern end of the Bridge, you are in the heart of the upmarket and trendy inner suburb of Milsons Point.

After eating breakfast at one of the local cafes, I headed for Milsons Point railway station and caught a train back across the bridge to Wynyard station, where I changed for Circular Quay. Sydney’s suburban trains are all double deck stock, ranging from the old S sets (dating back as far as 1972) to the ultra modern A sets (Waratahs). Most trains are 8 cars long. The train I took from Milson’s Point was an older K set (from the 1980s), then changed to an A set to Circular Quay.

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A Sydney Trains K Set approaches Milsons Point

Circular Quay is a busy ferry terminal. Because much of inner Sydney is built around the Harbour, water transport is quite efficient, especially for shorter distances. There are a number of government ferry routes which operate out of Circular Quay, as well as privately operated harbour cruises. Unless you want a spoon fed cruise, a regular government ferry is a much cheaper option; you can get an unguided cruise for about 10% of what it costs to go on a private cruise, and it goes to the same places! Catching a ferry (anywhere) is another “must do” for me every time I go to Sydney. Depending on how much time I have and what I’m in the mood for, determines which ferry I take. The Mosman and Neutral Bay ferries are nice short trips which give a short tour of the inner harbour. The Manly ferry is an adventure; taking about 30 minutes each way in ferries twice the size of other ferries on the harbour. The Manly ferry passes “The Heads”, where Sydney Harbour meets the Tasman Sea; things can get quite rough on windy days! The Parramatta ferry is a long trip; just over an hour one way on a fast “River Cat”. If you have the time, it’s a nice cruise along the Parramatta River through the inner western suburbs of Rydelmere and Meadowbank. From Parramatta wharf, it is a short 10 minute walk to the railway station, where an express train can have you back in the CBD in 30 minutes.

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The view over Circular Quay towards the Harbour Bridge

I had my day planned out already, and took a Darling Harbour ferry to the Pyrmont Bay wharf. From Pyrmont Bay, I walked around the corner to the Pyrmont Bay light rail station, and caught the light rail out to Dulwich Hill. The light rail line runs along a former goods railway from Central Station, past Darling Harbour, out through Glebe and Lilyfield. The line has recently been extended from Lilyfield to Dulwich Hill. The light rail takes a very circuitous route and there are more direct transport options, but it is very popular (proving most people would chose rail over road). From Dulwich Hill, I caught the light rail back to Arlington, then walked to Summer Hill railway station (about 15 minutes north of Arlington light rail station). From Summer Hill, I caught an all stations train back to Central.

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A Sydney Light Rail tram departs Arlington station

The rail corridor between Parramatta and Redfern is very busy, with a mixture of stopping and express trains. The Blue Mountains and Newcastle interurban trains use the corridor, as well as long distance trains to Perth, Broken Hill, Dubbo, Moree, Armidale, the NSW North Coast and Brisbane. Suburban trains on the Emu Plains, Richmond, Epping via Stathfield and Campbeltown lines also run along here. There are 6 tracks between Strathfield and Redfern, 4 of which are dedicated express tracks.

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A Sydney Trains A Set runs through Summer Hill on an express line

When I arrived back at Central, the Indian Pacific was standing at platforms 2&3. The weekly Sydney – Perth train is so long that it requires 2 full platforms. At departure time, the train is shunted and one portion put onto the other to make one long train. Today the combined train would be 24 cars long, with an NR class and DL class locomotive leading. The train has changed from a train service to a rail cruise; since the removal of the “Red Sleepers” (economy class sleeping berths), the train is out of the price range of most travelers. There are a couple of token sitting cars, but who wants to sit up for 3 days straight? The run is about 9 hours slower than it needs to be, with “whistle stop” tours arranged for Broken Hill, Adelaide and Kalgoorlie. These factors combined with a reduction in frequency from thrice weekly to once weekly, it has changed from a way of getting to where you want to be, and has become “the holiday”.

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"Indian Pacific now boarding at platforms 2 and 3..." - the Indian Pacific train is so long that it takes up 2 platforms at Sydney Central station

After stickybeaking at the Indian Pacific, I had a quick lunch before collecting my luggage and making my way to the Brisbane XPT. I was traveling in the same type of carriage as the night before from Melbourne to Sydney (an XAM sleeping car), and to my disgust, I found that I was once again right on top of the bogie! We departed right on time, and I discovered that this XAM had the same suspension noise as the previous one, plus slightly flatter wheels.

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The picturesque view from the XPT at it passes along Brisbane Water

We headed out through Redfern, stopping at Strathfield and Hornsby before running through the Ku-Ring-Gai Chase national park to the north of the city. Between the stations of Hawkesbury River and Gosford, the train passes through some of the most picturesque and beautiful scenery you will see from a train anywhere in Australia. The line runs almost at water level along the wide Hawkesbury River and Brisbane Water, where the forest comes down from the surrounding hills to the water’s edge. The XPT shares the track with double deck interurban electric multiple units as far as Broadmeadow (the first set down stop for the northbound XPT), where the interurbans branch off to the centre of Newcastle. The XPT heads off into the Hunter Valley towards Maitland.

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A Pacific National coal train near Maitland in the Hunter Valley

Between Broadmeadow and Maitland, there are two pairs of lines; one pair is for use by passenger and general freight trains, the other pair exclusively used by the long and frequent Hunter Valley coal trains. Between Newcastle and Maitland (Telarah), there is a regional rail service which operates approximately every 20 minutes. This service uses 2 car Endeavour and Hunter diesel multiple units. Some of these regional services extend to Dungog, Muswellbrook or Scone in the Upper Hunter region.

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A 2 car Hunter DMU stands at Beresfield station in the Hunter Valley on a service from Newcastle to Maitland. The two tracks to the left of the picture are dedicated lines for coal trains.

By the time we arrived at Maitland, it was dark. I purchased another sandwich from the cafe car, before making an early night of it. During the night, we ran along the NSW north coast, stopping in towns such as Taree, Coffs Harbour, Grafton and Casino, before crossing the NSW/Queensland border shortly after departing from Kyogle.

I was awoken at 04:30 by the conductor informing me that we would arrive into Roma St station in Brisbane in about 20 minutes. We arrived into Roma St at 04:56, 3 minutes late – a horrible time to arrive into a city, especially after an overnight journey! The train used to arrive at the much more civilized time of 06:30 and depart back for Sydney at 07:30, but this was causing issues for Queensland Rail suburban and interurban services, which the XPT shares the tracks with across the Brisbane River between South Brisbane and Roma St. Because QR own the track, they revoked the allocated pathway for the XPT and gave it the earlier path of 04:53 in and 05:55 back to Sydney. This becomes even worse during daylight savings in NSW, as Queensland do not observe it and the XPT times are one hour earlier at Brisbane (in at 03:53, out at 04:55)!

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The XPT from Sydney has just arrived into Brisbane, very early in the morning!

After stumbling out onto the platform in the still dark early morning, I put my luggage into a luggage locker (much more reasonable than Sydney; a large locker is $8) and headed out into the dawn.

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