Touring Australia by train

The Ghan long-distance train in Australia

Will that be Red or Gold Kangaroo Service, Sir?

In addition to the expected "short" hops connecting neighboring cities and regional towns (all covered at, there are several epic long-distance train rides in Australia, most taking 2-4 days.

They aren't necessarily cheap, but they are a civilized way to travel—and to see much of the amazing countryside of the Outback slide past your window.

The Overland (Melbourne to Adelaide; 1 day)

The (relatively) quick hop the 828km from Melbourne to Adelaide takes "just" 10–11 hours, stopping eight times along the way. Service is twice weekly in each direction.

The Ghan (Darwin to Adelaide via Alice Springs; 2–3 days)

Up until 2004, Alice Springs, in the middle of the Outback, was the literal end of the line for rail passengers from Adelaide. If you wanted to keep going the rest of the 920 miles up the Stuart Highway to Darwin on the north coast, your choices were wheels (24 hours on a bus), wings (pricey), or a reeealy long walk.

Then "The Ghan" train opened, allowing you to travel all the way from Adelaide to Darwin—all 2,979km of it—on a single train.

OK, so the train still takes 54 hours, but it's quite a sight more comfy than a bus. Originally named "The Afghan express" after the Afghani camel drivers who once plied the same Outback route, The Ghan train stops en route at Alice Springs (where you can take a break for a few days to explore the Red Centre of the Outback, including Uluru/Ayers Rock) and again in Katherine, gateway to the Katherine Gorge (Australia's answer to the Grand Canyon).

The Sundlander (Brisbane to Cairns; 2 days)

Glide up 1,681km of Quensland's tropical coast from Brisbane to Cairns in 32 hours via Hervey Bay, Galdstone, Rockhampton, Mackay, Proserpine, and Townsville.

The Indian Pacific (Sydney to Perth; 4 days)

Crossing southern Australia the long way, the the entire 4,352km journey from Sydney to Perth aboard the Indian Pacific takes a full four days to complete, with stops en route at Broken Hill, Adelaide, Cook, and Kalgoorlie.

Best to break it up and take a day or three to stay in Adelaide and explore the wine country and Kangaroo Island.

Classes of service

By the way: All but "The Sunlander" above (operated by Queensland Rail; are operated by Great Sothern Rail (, which allows you to choose from three classed of service:

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This article was by Reid Bramblett and last updated in August 2013.
All information was accurate at the time.

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Copyright © 1998–2013 by Reid Bramblett. Author: Reid Bramblett.