If you’re travelling on a budget and looking to get from Sydney to Melbourne, or vice versa, then you may want to consider taking the train. Let’s be honest, an 11 hour journey by rail doesn’t sound much fun. It is, however, a really cost efficient option and a surprisingly comfortable nights sleep! I took the NSW Trainlink XPT overnight service from Sydney to Melbourne a few days ago and thought I’d share both the logic behind my decision not to fly and my experience on the journey, in the hope that it may help other travellers and backpackers exploring Australia and counting the pennies!
The cost of flights between Sydney and Melbourne isn’t actually that prohibitively expensive at around £100 per passenger. The issue I had was trying to find a time of day that made sense: I wanted to make the most of my time in both cities but there seemed little logic arriving in the evening in Melbourne, only to pay for accommodation without even seeing the city that day. Plus, the train was even cheaper, costing $117.23 for an adult or $65.13 for a student (you’ll need a valid ISIC or an Aussie student card to validate this) including all fees.
The other big benefit of travelling by rail is that the train stations are centrally located, therefore cutting out the journey time and cost to and from airports and the need to wait for the luggage carousel etc. Central Station in Sydney is easily accessible as it’s a major hub for all the local suburban lines as well as convenient for the CBD. The train departs from Platform 1 (usually) so head to the Grand concourse! In Melbourne, the train begins or ends at Southern Cross which is equally well-located within the CBD.
My train departed at 8:45pm and I arrived at the station about 10 minutes before. You can also check luggage from half an hour before departure but unless you’ve got a lot of large cases or are taking some kind of excess item like a surfboard with you, this probably isn’t necessary! My backpack and other bags fit easily on the luggage racks in the carriage and meant no wait for bags to be unloaded the other end either. You’re assigned a specific seat and have the option of ordering a meal for the journey, but bringing your own food and drink is permitted too!
The seats sit two by two and are significantly roomier than an airplane seat. There’s ample leg room, including an adjustable foot rest and they recline to about the same angle that a plane seat does. It’d be nice if they laid back further, but this is a featured reserved for First Class. On a night journey (personally I wouldn’t take this journey during the day time as I think I’d get really bored!) the lights are turned off within a few hours of departure and the carriages fall very quiet. I’d taken a neck pillow, ear plugs and an eye mask and would suggest all 3 are essential if you want a decent sleep.
The train makes multiple stops en route but I didn’t wake at a single one and the guards helpfully come and quietly wake sleeping passengers disembarking before the end of the line before their stop. If you can sleep on a plane you can absolutely sleep on a train – in fact, it’s more spacious – and whilst it’s far from the best night I’ve ever spent, I arrived in Melbourne at 07:30am feeling relatively well rested and refreshed. You’ll find lots of people cleaning their teeth at Southern Cross Station (there are showers too, though I’m not sure if these are free or not)! Probably the biggest downside is that there are no plug sockets. Thankfully this wasn’t a major concern whilst sleeping but it’d put me off during the day.
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