Your Guide to Train Travel in Australia

Landmarks & Icons

Ghan Train, Australia

Australia is such a geographically vast country, and many visitors take planes in attempt to see all of it. Sadly, they miss the places in between the airports and the cities around them – the parts that give Australia its character. Train travel in Australia will help travellers explore this beautiful country more thoroughly.

4 Reasons Train Travel is Best for Getting Around Australia
When people board a plane, they’re focused on the destination. The in-flight movies and beverages are ways to pass the time until their vacation begins. Trains have a different atmosphere. Travellers begin to unwind the moment they step on board. As they gaze out the windows, these travellers realize the journey is as important as the destination.

Platinum Service on Ghan or Indian Pacific train, Australia
Enjoy Platinum Service on the Ghan or Indian Pacific train

When you’re travelling in comfort, you can feel relaxed. Trains, with their large, padded seats and plenty of legroom, are much more comfortable than the cramped seats on airplanes or buses. Sleeper cabins with private bathroom facilities add some extra luxury.

Trains will also take you to places in Australia that planes will never go. Of course, trains visit all the capital cities, but rural routes really help set them apart from air-based travel. Plus, who wants to visit Australia without seeing the Outback?

Train travel is also one of the greenest options for tourists. According to research from Perth’s Murdoch University, Australian buses use three times more energy than trains to carry a single passenger one kilometer (Train Versus Bus | Green Lifestyle Magazine). Trains are typically diesel or electric, creating fewer greenhouse emissions than planes and rental cars that use oil-based fuels.

Indian Pacific train, Australia
Kangaroo watches, as an Indian Pacific train journeys through

The Types of Trains
Australia’s passenger trains are an affordable way to see the countryside, while scenic services offer a more luxurious travel experience.

Passenger Trains:
Passenger trains connect Australia’s largest capital cities to regional areas within their state and beyond. New South Wales (NSW) has NSW TrainLink. Its CityRail trains travel from Sydney to Newcastle, Wollongong, and the Southern Highlands. NSW TrainLink also operates regional trains travelling farther to areas within NSW, including Dubbo, the Blue Mountains, and the North Coast, plus Brisbane, Melbourne, and Canberra.

Victoria‘s V/Line takes travellers from Melbourne to its suburbs and on to the Shipwreck Coast in the southwest, the Victorian goldfields in the west, the Nagambie Lakes in the northeast, and Gippsland in the east.

A passenger train’s services depend on the distance the train travels. Trains travelling no more than an hour are relatively basic, although they typically have toilets and luggage space. Tickets are priced accordingly, with most two-hour journeys costing less than AUD$10. Day and weekly tickets with capped rates can help tourists save money.

Food facilities are found only on trains travelling longer distances. Economy passengers have basic seats and access to a kiosk selling snacks and simple meals, such as meat pies and sausage rolls. First-class passengers get more legroom and access to gourmet food. First-class passengers can also upgrade to a sleeper. An economy passenger travelling from Sydney to Melbourne would pay around AUD$130, while a sleeper passenger would spend around AUD$270.

city of Melbourne
The city of Melbourne

Scenic Trains:
For a more opulent train experience, take a scenic train. The Indian Pacific travels from Sydney to the Western Australian coast, while the Ghan runs from Adelaide to Darwin.

Unlike passenger trains, where passengers begin their journey anywhere and get off only at their destinations, luxury trains transport travellers taking a similar vacation. These trains make extended stops at key sites so passengers can get off and explore the area around them.

Depending on the ticket you choose, high quality meals are available for purchase or included in the fare. Many passengers also have cabins with private sleeping quarters and bathroom facilities. The basic Red Service from Adelaide to Darwin on the Ghan starts at AUD$549, while a Platinum Service ticket starts at AUD$3,599.

Ghan train in Australia
The Ghan train

What You’ll See
Along Australia’s Coast:
What you’ll see on an Australian train trip largely depends on the route you’ll take. Australia has such a diverse landscape that you could be gazing out at bustling city streets, a foreboding desert, lush green mountain ranges, or azure waters lapping the coastline.

If you’re looking for beauty, consider the Spirit of Queensland, one of the most picturesque train journeys in Australia. This train follows the state’s coastline, passing through the Sunshine Coast‘s hinterland and the rugged landscapes of Central Queensland, before arriving in Cairns, your gateway to the Great Barrier Reef.

Suggested Itinerary:
9-Day Brisbane to Cairns (Reef & Rail Cruise)

Spirit of Queensland, Australia
Spirit of Queensland travelling through the Sugarfields

Australia’s Interior:
Enjoy a train journey which will allow you to get off the train and explore areas including Katherine, Alice Springs, and Coober Pedy. Off-train Australia tours are often included in the price of your train travel.

Suggested Itinerary:
4-Day Alice Springs, Coober Pedy, Adelaide

In Katherine, you could take a helicopter flight over the majestic Nitmiluk Gorge or learn more about indigenous cultures from the friendly locals. Alice Springs is home to the flora and fauna of the Alice Springs Desert Park. This park features many rare and endangered species few tourists see, including the mala and bilby. It is also home to the Royal Flying Doctor Service, which provides health care to remote Australians. Coober Pedy is one of Australia’s most famous opal mining towns, so you’ll naturally want to learn more about this industry at Umoona Opal Mine and Museum or the Quest Opal Mine.

Alice Springs, Australia
Alice Springs in the Northern Territory

Whether you choose a passenger or scenic train, you’ll be rewarded with views of an ever-changing Australian countryside. You’ll see the parts of this vast landscape that so many visitors miss, plus you’ll be left with a greater appreciation for this continent and its citizens. Planes might be more popular, but if you really want to discover Australia, travel by train.