The Ultimate Guide to the Best Australian Train Trips
Looking for the Best Australian train trips to take? There are a couple of truly bucket list worthy trips like the Indian Pacific and the Ghan and a few others that you may not have heard of that offer uniquely Australian experiences. While I have been riding the rails since I was a kid, I have also linked to work by my fellow travel writers, who have taken these journeys more recently. So get comfy, you are about to begin your crash course in train travel across Australia.
- Map of Train Services in Australia
- Who operates train services in Australia?
- Australian Train passes
- Trains in Queensland
- Trains in Western Australia
- Trains in South Australia
- Train travel in NSW
- Train Travel in Victoria
- Luxury Train Travel in Australia
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Train travel in Australia is a bit of a missed opportunity; the landscape and distance make it a perfect place to jump on a high-speed train and explore. The only problem is our governments have never really felt the same way, and as a result, we have a bit of a mishmash of services on offer and none of them high speed sadly.
There are some bucket-list-worthy trains like the Indian Pacific, The Ghan, the Overland, and the Great Southern, but excluding those, most of our long distances services are slow and not usually the cheapest way to get around.
That said there is a romance about traveling by train that is hard to beat and some routes do make sense for travelers wanting to enjoy the Australian landscapes along the way.
Map of Train Services in Australia
Planning train travel in Australia can be complex. Other than the luxury train services, train services are state-based, each with different ticketing systems and websites. Below I have pulled together everything you need to know about Australian train trips so that if you’re a train buff like me, you can work out which trips you might like to try when you explore Australia.
Did you know that the world’s longest straight stretch of railway track, a 478-kilometre or 297 miles stretch of the Trans-Australian Railway across the Nullarbor Plain?
This map highlights the services on offer in each state and shows the best ways to enjoy riding the rails in Australia.
Who operates train services in Australia?
Most passenger train services are state-based.
- In NSW there is Countrylink.
- The Sunshine State has Queensland Rail (QR),
- V/Line operates in Victoria.
- TransWA provides train services in Western Australia.
- In South Australia and the Northern Territory, train services are privatised and operated by Journey Beyond.
No passenger services currently operate in Tasmania.
The privately owned Journey Beyond operates the luxury train services in the country that often cross state borders.
Australian Train passes
Train Passes for NSW
Countrylink – The NSW intercity train service offers a pass valid for 14 days up to 6 months.
- The Discovery Pass 14 days $232, 30 days $275, 3 months $298, 6 months $420
The East Coast Train Pass offers a one-way economy between Melbourne and Cairns. You can travel in either direction and get on and off the trains wherever you wish.
- Melbourne to Cairns – $450
- Sydney to Cairns – $370
- Brisbane to Cairns – $280
The Backpacker Pass is only available to international travelers and offers tickets in time periods:
- 14 days
- 1 month
- 3 months
- 6 months
Queensland Rail Passes
Queensland Rail offers two passes that are only sold to international visitors. They can be purchased with a 30 day or 60-day validity.
The Queensland Coastal Pass offers travel in one direction between Brisbane and Cairns. You can make unlimited stops and explore making unlimited stops en route.
You can use the pass on the Spirit of Queensland, the Spirit of the Outback, and the Tilt Train. It also covers bus transfers to Harvey Bay and Airlie Beach from the train stations.
The Queensland Explorer Pass
This pass is valid for unlimited travel on Queensland Rail Travel Train services and adds the outback and inland trains the Spirit of the Outback, The Inlanders and the Westlander to the trips you can take.
Trains in Queensland
Overall Queensland has more train routes than the other states. The second-biggest state in the country has more than its share of epic train journeys. You could spend months exploring by rail.
The Inlander travels from Townsville to Mount Isa, the heart of the Queensland outback. This 970km journey which stops off at Charters Towers, and Cloncurry operates twice a week and takes 21 hours.
Rockhampton Tilt Train
The Rockhampton Tilt Train travels from Brisbane to Rockhampton, via Bundaberg and Gladstone.
The 639km trip takes 7.5 hours and connects with transport to the Southern Barrier Reef Islands. A railbus service will get you to Hervey Bay.
Spirit of the Outback
If you fancy visiting the Stockmans Hall of Fame or the Qantas Founders Museum, this is the train for you. The Spirit of the Outback travels from Brisbane to Rockhampton, where it heads west through Emerald to Longreach.
The full 1325km journey takes 26 hours and operates twice a week. Along the way, the views change from stunning coastal landscapes to the rich colours of the outback. The train offers a bar, restaurant, and either economy seating cars or private first class sleepers.
Spirit of Queensland
This train travels the length of Queensland five times per week. The 1680km journey takes 25 hours and sure beats driving it! The service offers lie flatbeds.
You can read our review of riding the Spirit of Queensland here.
The Gulflander is a tourist train that travels between Normanton and Croydon in the Queensland Gulf. Known as the “the old Tin Hare,” the train makes its 151 kilometres journey once per week.
The trip takes 5 hours, and along the way, the staff will entertain you with facts and trivia about the region along the way – a must for train buffs.
Trains in Western Australia
There are two long-distance trains in Western Australia. It would be great to have a service that made its way to Broome or Albany… perhaps one day!
At a top speed of 160km per hour, the Prospector makes 1-2 trips per day from East Perth to Kalgoorlie in the east of the state. The trip covers 653km and takes six hours and 45 minutes.
The Australind travels the 2.5 hour trip between Perth and Bunbury on the coast south of Perth. Bunbury is great for a day trip with a fab pier and a bunch of really great street art to explore.
Trains in South Australia
Journey Beyond operates three long-distance trains in South Australia. These all require advance bookings, the earlier you do it, the cheaper tickets are. It’s not uncommon for them to be booked out months in advance.
A trip on the Ghan is slow travel at its finest and a bucket list experience for many Aussies. Making the trip between Darwin and Adelaide via Alice Springs once a week. The 2,979-kilometre trip takes 54 hours, and many guests stop halfway and make a side trip to Uluru before rejoining the train or flying home.
The Ghan is named after the Afghan camel trains that used to service the Outback
The Indian Pacific
I took my first ride on the Indian Pacific in 1989 and loved it. It was quite possibly the reason I fell in love with long-distance train travel. The first leg of the trip is to Broken Hill, before moving on to Adelaide, Kalgoorlie, and finally Perth.
The train makes the journey between the east and west coast over 3 days with stops and experiences on offer along the way. This is a holiday where the journey is very much the destination.
The Overland was Australia’s first train to travel between two state capital cities. The ten-hour trip from Adelaide to Melbourne is scheduled twice a week and is a fantastic way to travel between the two cities if you have time.
Train travel in NSW
Countrylink trains supplement the intercity trains which are part of the suburban network. A series of Xplorer services operate to main regional and rural towns.
The Dubbo Explorer travels from Sydney via Bathurst, Orange to Dubbo. If you are thinking of visiting the Western Plains Zoo or fancy some wine sampling in Orange, this is the train for you.
Broken Hill Xplorer
More than a little less fancy than the Indian Pacific, this once-a-week trip takes a full day, but there is plenty to see along the way. Travel writer Joanne Karcz recently travelled this trip and reviewed it or us.
The 4.5 hour trip between Sydney and Canberra stops off at Moss Vale, Goulburn, and Queanbeyan. There are three trips a day, and you rarely need a booking, although an advance ticket will save you some money.
I took this return trip last March, and it was an easy fuss free way to reach Canberra from Sydney, although it would be great if you could get wifi and be able to work along the journey.
There is one service a week, a 9-hour journey, that ends in Griffith in the NSW Riverina region. Designed by Walter Burley Griffith, the architect who won the competition to design Canberra, the area was settled by immigrants who developed the food and wine culture that the region is so famous for today.
NSW InterUrban Trains
These can be taken using your Opal card (and cost under $15 return on a Sunday!)
Train Travel in Victoria
Perhaps one of the best regional train networks in Australia you can reach most parts of Victoria by train.
Melbourne to Albury
A direct train operates between Southern Cross station and the border towns of Albury/Wodonga. There are usually three services a day and the trip takes just under 4 hours.
Melbourne to Bendigo
Melbourne to Ballarat
The trip to Ballarat only takes 85 minutes and is covered by the Myki card. A popular day trip from Melbourne, Ballarat is a great town to explore with some gorgeous architecture and the popular Sovereign Hill living history experience.
Melbourne to Warrnambool
This 3.5 hour trip from Southern Cross Station via Geelong to the coastal city of Warrnambool.
Luxury Train Travel in Australia
Four luxury trains operate in Australia, taking in most of the country. The services are run by a company called Journey Beyond and they offer a lot more than just transport from A to B.
They are outstanding travel experiences and something that you might like to add to your Aussie travel bucket list.
We have taken the Indian Pacific, but it’s been quite a while and we have not ridden the Ghan or the Overland so we reached out to our travel writing friends who have been lucky enough to have taken a recent trip.
The Great Southern
Haley from A Lovely Planet shares her experience of taking the Great Southern between Adelaide and Brisbane
The Indian Pacific
Our friends Jarryd and Alesha shared some great photos of their time on the Indian Pacific a few years ago.
- Helen from Differentville has recently taken the train and pulled together an impressive list of frequently asked questions about riding the Ghan
- Michael from Time Travel Turtle took the Ghan from Darwin to Adelaide
- Kerry from Eat, Drink and Be Kerry also rode the Ghan from Darwin to Adelaide