Tuesday, September 27, 2011

XPT - Sydney to Brisbane

The daylight train leaving Sydney no longer runs all the way to Brisbane but stops at Casino in northern NSW. A bus then takes over to complete the journey to Roma Street Station in Brisbane. To be honest, I was not looking forward to this trip, particularly the bus portion. Anyhow the wife of the family we were doing the house exchange with kindly drove me into the station. 

We left Cremorne at 6:30am  and we were at the station by 6:50am well in time for the 7:15am departure. I was amazed at the lack of traffic as we crossed the Harbour Bridge at that early time. In Washington or Baltimore it would have been backed up. By the way, there are no toll booths on the bridges or toll roads in Australia. It is all done electronically and results in free flowing traffic.
 My security detail checking the entrance to Central Station in Sydney prior to my arrival.
 Checking that you are on the correct platform to take the correct train. You don't want to get onto the train for Woop Woop, that famous Australian mythical town.
 The back end of the XPT. It looks the same at the other end.
My ticket that shows the details of my trip from Melbourne to Sydney, from Sydney to Casino and then the dreaded bus from Casino to Brisbane.
 On the right as you leave Central Station is the Mortuary station. Obviously it is being restored.

 Whizzing past the Eveleigh railway workshops which are now mostly disused. We visited the markets that have been installed in some of the former workshops last year.
 Wherever you go in the older suburbs of Sydney, you see little touches of elegance.
 The bridge across the western part of the Harbour near Ryde.
 Soon the train is in the Ku-ring-gai national park north of Sydney. It's a very rocky area and some of the cuttings are enormous.
 It's a very hilly and rocky area and forms a natural boundary to the northern expansion of Sydney. There has been a lot of recent discussion about building high a speed train line from Sydney to Melbourne via Canberra. There has also been a suggestion about a similar high speed line from Sydney to Brisbane. While the former idea might be a possibility, the latter seems to me to be a non starter. The country is very hilly almost all the way along the coast. An inland route would require the train to climb up and down the range before it could reach the inland plains where high speed might be a possibility.

 The Hawkesbury River Estuary forms the northern boundary of the park and is probably the major scenic attraction of the entire trip. I've done this trip quite a few times, but always overnight and coming south. These views are what you wake up to. In the early morning sun, it's absolutely magical.

 The piers of the old railway bridge.

 Oyster farms. A 2004 film called the Oyster Farmer gives you an idea of the quite different lifestyle that exists around the estuary. Many areas are inaccessible by road.
 These houses can probably only be accessed by boat. 

 It's apparently a magical, mystical area to live in.
 This is one of those accidental photos that turns out to be interesting.
 I think this is Gosford Station. There are quite a number of people who live in this area which is also pretty close to good beaches. Most people commute to Sydney by train. Most Sydney people complain about the public transport service, but I think it is excellent with its combination of bus, train and ferry going to most parts of the city.
 Commuter train and carpark.

 About an hour or so north of Sydney we are finally out into the country near Maitland. After all the recent rains the countryside was incredibly green by normal Australian standards.

 About this time I started to realize just how incredibly beautiful this all is and it goes on and on, mile after mile. 
 I've done a lot of train trips in Europe and this scenery rivals the best of the European. It's not overly dramatic with high mountains but it is very eye catching.

 Stands of eucalypt.

 It's primarily a dairy cow area.

 There had been heavy rain the day before and there was water everywhere. If rain could be consistent in Australia instead of the cycle of years of drought interrupted by a year or so of wet, the place could support a much larger population.

 One of those cross roads that make you wonder where it goes and why.
 The weather patterns were varied. One moment cloud, the next brilliant blue sky.

 The train left at 7:15am and travels north during the day. I had a window seat on the eastern side and in the afternoon as the sun in Australia shines a golden light on the countryside, I was able to get these following photos.

 A foggy picture but you can see all the trees that were submerged and bent over in a recent flood.
 Lunch, which was supposedly a chicken schnitzel. All I can say was that unfortunately there was a lot of it. 
 Deserted railway yard.
 The rivers in northern NSW are wide and slow flowing. After heavy rains however, they flood easily and the main highways can be cut for days on end. Sometimes even the train line is flooded as well.

 Since the train was running a bit early, we stopped at Kempsey for a while. A bunch of people jumped out for a puff on a fag. For US readers, this last sentence is not what it seems. It means they smoked a cigarette. Actually you don't see too many people smoking in Oz these days. When you do, it's usually young women.
 There are two points on the trip where you can actually see the Pacific Ocean. One is at Sawtell and the other pictured here is at Urunga. The combined viewing time for both glimpses would be five seconds.

 The train tracks are often very curvy in these wooded areas. I was in the fourth carriage and it was easily possible to see the engine and sometimes the first carriage as we went around sharp bends.

The ocean would have been just on the other side of these low trees. Most of the foreshore is protected by this mix of low trees and vegetation to prevent beach erosion.

 Banana plantations just north of Coffs Harbour. Cyclones and flooding over the past few seasons have resulted in sky high prices for bananas. The major supermarkets sell them for over $10 per kilogram or about $4 per pound. We pay 58 cents per pound at our local Food Lion. 

How the gay people can indicate their preferences with bananas in Aussie supermarkets these days is beyond me. Perhaps they put them back on the display stand before checking out.

To the serious side of things, prices of food are getting to be outrageous in Oz. Since I go back most years, I usually have a feel for how prices compared with US prices and for years it was either the same or cheaper for food in Oz. Now prices in Oz are much more than the US, even allowing for the exchange rate.

 As I mentioned at the start of this blog, I had my doubts about this particular trip. I thought the first section through the Hawkesbury River estuary would be terrific but I thought the rest would be somewhat dull. I am pleased to admit that I was totally, utterly wrong. This was an incredibly beautiful train trip ranking among the best I have ever done. It's much better than the other journeys on the trip so far, except for the Ghan which is an entirely different kind of scenery. 

 It was just turning dusk as we crossed the Clarence River into Grafton. The bridge is unusual in that it is a double decker with the trains running below the cars. There is a photo you can see in the Wikipedia link. The jacaranda trees were still bare with the flowers due to appear in another month or so in late October when they hold their annual festival.
 Finally, we arrived in Casino a few minutes late. The train leaves on its return trip to Sydney less than an hour later. As usual, the staff were friendly and helpful. Every hour or so, one of the staff would go through the train with a large rubbish bag. I checked out the toilet just before the train arrived and it was clean.
 What was supposed to happen next was that I would walk over to the line of buses parked right outside the station. I would find bus J that would take me to Roma Street Station in Brisbane, the major train terminus.
There was no bus J. Instead there was bedlam as passengers walked up and down trying to locate bus J and discovered that there were two buses marked as going to Brisbane. One was marked as bus I and the other had no letter at all. Compounding the problem was a group of about 100 young Muslim women who were trying to decide which bus would take them to the suburb of Beenleigh. It's on the way to Brisbane and apparently one of the drop off points for the buses that go to Brisbane. The drivers did not seem to have a clue as to what was going on. Eventually I finished up on bus I, not the missing bus J, where the bus driver apologized for the confusion. Apparently the bus allocated for the Muslim women was not big enough to fit all of them and so there was some shuffling of buses to be done.

Of course, a three hour night time bus ride after a twelve hour train journey can only be described as the pits and it was. At least the driver was friendly, considerate and turned out the main lights. To add insult to injury, we had to detour into Lismore and Byron Bay to pick up some additional passengers as well as drop off some passengers in Beenleigh.

So in conclusion, I would highly recommend this train journey, particularly in the day time. However, don't go from Sydney to Brisbane but do the journey in the opposite direction if at all possible. Depending on day light saving time, the XPT departs from Brisbane at 7:30am and gets into Sydney at 21:06. It passes through the Hawkesbury region about 8pm so spring / summer is the time of year to go when the days are longer. No buses are used going south.

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