From the beginning both South Australia and Victoria used broad (Irish) gauge (1600mm) for their main lines, so providing an inter-capital connecting service was just a question of joining the lines. The Melbourne-Adelaide train has operated since 1887 when South Australia’s Adelaide-Wolseley line was extended to meet Victoria’s broad gauge line at Serviceton. The service was given its current name, The Overland, in 1926. Diesel locos took over in 1953.
In 1995 the line was converted to standard gauge, finally enabling through running between all the mainland state capitals.
The Overland now operates a twice weekly daytime in each direction, the journey taking about eleven and a half hours.
The train departs at 0745 with passengers asked to check in from 0645. Checking in is more like airline checking in, though thankfully without security scanning. Checked baggage travels in a baggage van and is collected at the journey’s end.
Most passengers travel in standard class carriages, 15 rows of seats with 2+2 seats per row. I paid the $100 extra for a Red Premium seat – these seats are in a separate carriage, arranged as 12 rows of 2+1 seating, each seat having a retractable tray table. The additional fare also includes meal service at your seat – breakfast, morning coffee, lunch and afternoon tea. For lunch I opted for camel curry and it was very acceptable.
Look below the seat armrest and you’ll see a small foot pedal. This lets the seat be turned round to face the direction of travel, or you can set two rows to face each other as you can see behind me.
The first part of the journey leaving Adelaide includes some demanding climbs, the rationale for Shea’s ‘big engines’ but after this it’s through open country, with grain stores giving way to sheep country. The last section of the journey is arguably the most interesting to rail enthusiasts, the standard gauge line following the broad gauge line from North Geelong to Newport, then diverting round the Sunshine freight line and back through the Footscray Bunbury Street tunnel to arrive at Southern Cross station’s platform 2.
All in all a very pleasant trip and one I hope to do again.
Update June 2020
The Overland had been threatened with closure in 2020 following a proposed withdrawal of government funding. The Victorian government has now come up with funding to secure the service for the next three years. Hopefully once the current virus restrictions are no more, lots of those who campaigned for the service’s retention will be patronising it.