The Australian railway network is large, comprising a total of 33,819 km (2,540 km electrified) of track: 3,719 km broad gauge, 15,422 km standard gauge, 14,506 km narrow gauge and 172 km dual gauge. Rail transport started in the various colonies at different dates. Privately owned railways started the first lines, and struggled to succeed on a remote, huge, and sparsely populated continent, and government railways dominated. Although the various colonies had been advised by London to choose a common gauge, the colonies ended up with different gauges.
Train travel is the most comfortable way to travel overland, but trains don’t run as frequently or operate to as many destinations as buses. Trains go to the most popular destinations along the east coast including the popular Melbourne-Sydney-Cairns routes and also along major inter-city lines radiating out from Adelaide to Sydney, Canberra (via Sydney), Melbourne, Darwin and Perth.
National rail services
The Great Southern Railway, owned by Serco Asia Pacific, operates three trains: the Indian Pacific (Sydney-Adelaide-Perth), The Ghan (Adelaide-Alice Springs-Darwin), and The Overland (Melbourne-Adelaide). NSW owned CountryLink services link Brisbane, Canberra and Melbourne via Sydney. Since the extension of the Ghan from Alice Springs to Darwin was completed in 2004, all mainland Australian capital cities are linked by standard gauge rail, for the first time.
There are various state and city rail services operated by a combination of government and private entities.
New South Wales
Sydney is connected by rail to Adelaide and Perth via the Indian Pacific (connects in Adelaide to The Overland to Melbourne, and The Ghan to Darwin via Alice Springs). The train operates between Sydney's Central Station and Keswick Rail Terminal in Adelaide, the journey is completed in 24 hours 40 minutes. Perth is connected to Adelaide by the Nullarbor Plain leg of the Indian Pacific's east to west coast journey.
Daily XPT services run by Countrylink connect Sydney to the interstate capitals of Melbourne and Brisbane. The regional NSW cities of Dubbo (via Bathurst and Orange), Broken Hill (via Bathurst, Orange and Parkes), Moree (via Newcastle and Narrabri), Armidale (via Tamworth), Griffith and Albury (via Goulburn, Junee and Cootamundra) are also serviced by daily XPT trains to and from Sydney. All trains depart Sydney from Central Station.
Sydney: Sydney's city and suburban areas are serviced by a railway network operated by CityRail that is pushed to the limit at peak times, but operates efficiently at other times. Train services across the metropolitan area run from around 5am (7am Sunday) until around midnight seven days a week on 11 lines which operate along and out of six major rail corridors. Some NightRider bus services operate outside of those hours. Later services also operate out of the city on Friday and Saturday nights.
Sydney Central Station serves as the hub for the suburban rail network and the connection point with regional and interstate rail services, though the stations on the underground inner city loop (Town Hall, Wynyard, Circular Quay, Museum and St James) are the entry and exit points in the central business district.
Sydney has only one light rail service which departs from Central Station and passes through Haymarket, Darling Harbour, Star City Casino, Sydney Fish Markets and the inner western suburbs of Glebe, Leichhardt and Lilyfield. A monorail service operates in a loop which incorporates Central Station, the city's main shopping area and Darling Harbour.
Queensland is linked by rail to the rest via a standard gauge line that terminated at Roma Street Station in Brisbane. A daily XPT service is operated by NSW's Countrylink between Roma Street Station, Brisbane, and Central Station Sydney. The journey north (Sydney to Brisbane) is a night service; the journey south (Brisbane to Sydney) is a day service.
Being such a large State, getting from one major Queensland town to the next can be quite a journey. Most long distance rail services in Queensland are tourist attractions in their own right, meaning that travelling to your destination can be all part of the fun, if not the holiday itself.
Running along the eastern coastline of Queensland
Outback: Venturing from the coast into the rugged outback
Scenic: Experience some of Queensland's unique natural wonders
Brisbane: Queensland Rail's Citytrain services extend from the centre of Brisbane south to Beenleigh and Robina on the Gold Coast, north to Ferny Grove, Shorncliffe, Caboolture and Gympie, east to Cleveland and west to Ipswich and Rosewood.
Brisbane is the hub for the integrated south-east Queensland Public Transport system that extends from Noosa to Coolangatta and west to Helidon. Brisbane's state owned public transport system includes buses, trains and ferries on the Brisbane River, all operated by TransLink.
TransInfo provide a great online system for checking the best route and planning connecting transport. To check out the best way to get from A to B by bus, train and ferry, visit the TransInfo Journey Planner.
Darwin does not have a suburban rail service. The only passenger train which services Darwin is The Ghan. The Northern Territory is linked by rail to the rest of Australia via a 2979 kilometre railway line between Darwin and Adelaide.
The Ghan passenger train operates on this line with stops at Katherine and Alice Springs. The Ghan runs twice every week in both directions between May and November, with one service a week in each direction at other times.
Only two interstate capital cites are linked to Melbourne by rail - Sydney by an XPT service via Albury-Wodonga, and Adelaide via The Overland.
The Overland is operated by a private company, Great Southern Railway. The train completes three return trips a week, travelling mostly during daylight. The train operates between the Melbourne terminal of Southern Cross Station, and Keswick Rail Terminal in Adelaide, and covers 828 kilometres between capitals in 10 hours 40 minutes. The service offers onboard buffet meals and first and economy class seats and a lounge car.
The Melbourne - Sydney XPT Express Train operates a twice daily service between the cities, one during the day and the other overnight. The service offers onboard buffet meals and first and economy class seats with first class bunk sleeping births on the overnight runs. The train operates between the Melbourne terminal of Southern Cross Station, and Central Station, Sydney, with a running tome of 10 hours 40 minutes.
V/Line is the public transport provider for regional Victoria. Visit their website or call 131 196 for ticket and timetable information. Viclink also provides helpful information on public transport services for regional Victoria.
V/Line rail services operate daily between Melbourne and East Gippsland, terminating at Bairnsdale (3 hours 35 minutes); Melbourne and Albury (3 hours 34 minutes); Melbourne and Shepparton (2 hours 18 minutes); Melbourne and Echuca via Bendigo (3 hours 20 minutes); Melbourne and Swan Hill via Bendigo (4 hours 8 minutes); Melbourne to Ararat via Bendigo (2 hours 10 minutes); Melbourne to Warrnambool via Geelong (3 hours 14 minutes).
Melbourne: Melbourne's city and suburban areas are serviced by an efficient railway network. Metro operates train services across the metropolitan area, which run from around 5am (7am Sunday) until around midnight seven days a week. Later services also operate out of the city on Friday and Saturday nights.
Flinders Street Station, located alongside the city's main shopping precinct, serves as the hub for the rail network and is over the road from Melbourne's visitors centre in the Federation Square complex. Southern Cross Station, the next station down the line, serves as the hub for interstate and Intra-state rail and road transport; airport buses and interstate coaches terminate here, as do interstate and Intra-state trains. Many major hotels and much of Melbourne's backpacker accommodation is located in the vicinity of Southern Cross Station. Melbourne has the largest network of trams in the world, which ply the congested streets of Melbourne's older suburbs.
Melbourne's tram network has 28 routes radiating out from the major streets of the city centre to mainly the older suburbs. The trams are somewhat of a tourist attraction, but can be quite slow, particularly through the gridlocked streets of many inner suburbs. Metropolitan tram services normally operate between 5am and midnight, Monday to Saturday, and 7am to 11pm Sunday. Later services also depart the city on Friday and Saturday nights. Check timetables at Metlink.
Trams travel along most of Melbourne’s major thoroughfares and tram stops are signposted with a map, tram route numbers and timetables. The route number is also displayed at the front of the tram. Travellers who haven’t pre-purchased their tickets should remember to carry coins, as on-board ticket machines do not accept notes. Free City Circle trams travel the perimeter of the central business district every day between 10am and 6pm, except for Christmas Day and Good Friday. Hours of operation are extended to 9pm on Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays during daylight saving time.
By reason of its position, and because it is at the centre of the rail network of Great Southern Railways, Adelaide is better served by interstate rail services than any other capital city. GSR, which is based in Adelaide, provides services linking Adelaide to Perth, Darwin, Melbourne and Sydney via some of Australia's most famous trains. All interstate trains operate out of the Adelaide Parklands Terminal, Richmond Road, Keswick, and not from Adelaide's Central station. Parklands is three kilometres from the city centre.
Adelaide is linked by rail to Darwin via a 2979 kilometre railway line. The Ghan passenger train operates on this line and stops at Katherine and Alice Springs. The Ghan runs twice every week in both directions between May and November, with one service a week in each direction at other times.
The Overland connects Adelaide with Melbourne. Once an overnight train, The Overland now operates during the day, with three services in each direction every week. Eastbound services (Adelaide to Melbourne) run on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays; westbound services (Melbourne to Adelaide) run on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays.
Perth is linked to Adelaide by the Trans Continental Railway across the Nullarbor Plain. The Indian Pacific is the passenger train which operates on this line. There are two services per week in each direction from August to April; at other times there is one service per week. There are two scheduled stops between Perth and Adelaide - Kalgoorlie and Cook.
The Indian Pacific continues on from Adelaide to Sydney via Broken Hill (a stopover). As with the Adelaide-Perth sector, there are two services per week in each direction from August to April; at other times there is one service per week.
Adelaide: Adelaide Metro provides Adelaide's public transport with a system of buses, trains and the Glenelg tram all with integrated ticketing. Tickets can be purchased at bus and railway stations and on board trams and buses. Adelaide has four suburban rail lines which all terminate at the Adelaide Railway Station, North Terrace, Adelaide.
Western Australia is linked to the eastern states by rail via the Indian Pacific, which departs from Perth and stops at Kalgoorlie before proceeding on to Adelaide and then Sydney. Between April and August and During the month of December, the service operates once a week in both directions. Between September and the beginning of December, and January to March, two services a week operate in both directions. The Indian Pacific's terminus is at East Perth and not Perth Central Railway Station.
TransWA operates a number of regional rail series: The AvonLink and MerredinLink provides a rail passenger service between Perth and town in the Eastern Wheatbelt.
The Australind provides two train services each way each day, including Sundays, between Bunbury and Perth
The Prospector provides daily rail services between Perth and Kalgoorlie.
Perth: Perth's suburban rail system consists of five lines radiating out from Perth Central station. These lines are to Midland, Joondalup, Armidale, Fremantle and Mandurah via Rockingham and Kwinana. For rail travel, you can purchase tickets from Ticket Vending Machines located at all stations, or use a prepaid SmartRider ticket.
Australian Capital Territory
Canberra's only rail link to the outside world is via the NSW Government's Countrylink rail service. It is a daily service using XPT trains. Canberra has no suburban rail service.