Everything You Need to Know about Australian Train Trips

Planning train travel in Australia can be complex. Other than the luxury train services like the Ghan and Indian Pacific, train services are state-based with different ticketing systems and websites. Below we have pulled together everything you need to know about Australian train trips so that if you’re a train buff like us you can work out which trips you might like to try while you explore Australia.

Train travel in Australia is a bit of a missed opportunity; the landscape and distance make it a perfect place to jump in 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 travelling by train that is hard to beat and some routes do make sense for travellers wanting to enjoy the Australian landscapes along the way.

Map of Train Services in Australia

This map highlights the services on offer in each state and shows the best ways to enjoy riding the rails in Australia.

Lencer, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

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.

There is also the privately owned Journey Beyond who operate the luxury train services in the country.

No passenger services currently operate in Tasmania.

Australian Train passes

Train Passses 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 one-way economy between Melbourne and Cairns. You can travel in either direction and get on an 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 travellers and offers tickets in time periods:

  • 14 days
  • 1 month
  • 3 months
  • 6 months

Queensland Rail Passes

Queensland Rail offer two passes that are only sold to international visitors. They can be purchased with a 30 day or 60 day vailidity.

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.

By Jkan997 – Own work based on: http://sharemap.org/public/Railways_in_Australia, CC BY-SA 4.0,

Inlander

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 Tilt TrainCredit: Toursim Events Queensland

The 639km trip takes 7.5 hours and connects with transport to the Southern Barrier Reef Islands. A railbus service will get you to Harvey 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 Spirit of the Outback – Credit: Tourism Events Queensland

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 flat beds.

The Gulflander

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 Gulflander – Credit: Tourism Events Queensland

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

The Prospector

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.

Trains in Australia - Propector
By DBZ2313 at English Wikipedia, CC BY 3.

The Australind

The Australind travels makes 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.

Street Art in Bunbury WA
Take the Australind from Perth to Bunbury on a day trip

Trains in South Australia

Journey Beyond operates the three long-distance trains in South Australia. These all require advance bookings, the earlier you do it, the cheaper tickets generally are. It’s not uncommon for them to be booked out months in advance.

The Ghan

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 Ghan departing Adelaide
The Ghan departing Darwin – Credit: Lobster1 via wikimedia

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.

Gold Service Indian Pacific
The Outback Explorer Lounge Credit: Jouney Beyond

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

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.

Adelaide South Australia Travel Guide
Three interstate trains service Adelaide

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.

All of NSW interstate and country services depart from Central Station

Dubbo Xplorer

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.

Dubbo Zoo is an easy 6 and a half hour trip from Sydney.

Broken Hill Xplorer

More than a little bit less fancy than the Indian Pacific, this once a week trip takes a full day, but there is plenty to see along the way.

Canberra Xplorer

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 usually don’t need a booking, although an advance ticket will save you some money.

National Carillon, Canberra, Australia

Griffith Xplorer

There is one service a week, 9-hour journey, that terminates 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

Regular suburban trains include the Express services to Newcastle, The Blue Mountains, the Southern Highlands, Wollongong and Kiama.

Take the train from Central Station in Sydney to Newcastle in 2 and a half hours.

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.

Trains to regional Victoria depart from Spencer Street Station

Melbourne to Bendigo

Services from Melbourne to Bendigo take approximately 2 hours. These trains often continue on to Echuca and Swan Hill. This service is covered by Melbourne’s MYKI card.

Melbourne to Ballarat

The trip to Ballarat only takes 85 minutes and 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 Soverign Hill living history experience.

Melbourne to Warrnambool

This 3.5 hour trip from Southern Cross Station via Geelong to the coastal city of Warnambool.

Luxury Train Travel in Australia

Four luxury trains operate 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.

By Bahnfrend – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0,

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 Great Southern travels between Brisbane and Adelaide Credit: Journey Beyond

The Indian Pacific

  • Nicole from Bitten by the Travel Bug took the Indian Pacific at Christmas
  • Our friends Jarryd and Alesha shared some great photos of their time on the Indian Pacific a few years ago.

The Ghan

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