Saturday, April 26, 2014

Travel Test: Sydney to Canberra by Rail















THE ROUTE
Sydney - Canberra

THE RAIL CAR
ABB XPLORER: NSW TrainLink. KTA-19-R 375 kW engine, 19 litre turbo-charged made by Cummins 

THE LOYALTY SCHEME
NSW Railways is government owned and has no loyalty scheme per se unless you consider the discounts offered when purchasing weekly, monthly or yearly travel tickets.

UP THE BACK OR POINTY END?
Saloon - economy class carriage D seat 39 (window) . 
Armrest to armrest: 43.18 centimetres, Seat space: 45.72 centimetres, Legroom: 43.18 centimetres. Recline: 28 degrees from the upright position. Fully booked train.

TIME IN TRANSIT
Left on time at 12:12.
Arrived Canberra (Kingstone) 16:25 (a few stops along the way to pick-up or set-down passengers), just 2 minutes behind schedule.  

SEAT STUFF
On the XPLORER, the economy seat configuration is 2-2. 

BAGGAGE
One item of hand luggage and two pieces that are either checked into the luggage compartment or stowed at the end of your carriage.You can check in two items, each weighing between five and 20 kilograms and not more than 70cm long, 60cm high and 50cm wide. If you would rather not check your luggage, you can take two items on board with you, as long as they don't weigh more than 20 kilograms or measure more than 70cm long, 60cm high and 50cm wide. Space is available for carrying bicycles, folding bicycles, surfboards, skis and snowboards, condition apply. 

COMFORT FACTOR
Loads of leg room, and space for carry on. Seats just a comfy as in the air, although the extra space makes them feel moreso. Huge picture windows give a further sense of space. Plenty to enjoy with the view for daytime travellers.

THE SERVICE
Having booked the ticket online, there is no check-in at the platform except for baggage. Reservations must be made. No standing passengers are allowed. After booking, simply approach and board the train. Several on-board announcements ensure that non-travellers alight prior to setting-off. Customer service personnel are polite and attentive, with any delays or unexpected stoppages (livestock on the track) being immediately communicated to passengers. There is no food service as such, all being served via visiting the buffet car (see below). Free filtered water is available via a tap in each carriage, adjacent to a toilet that is big enough to sleep in with a baby change table. There is however, no on-board wi-fi, which could come in handy as mobile phone coverage is sparse between regional towns...and in tunnels. No USB charging points are available, although there is a 240v powerpoint in the toilet, and some in the carriage used by cleaners. Power surges are reportedly common, so they are not recommended for charging mobile devices.

Tickets are checked once underway. A electronic copy displayed via a mobile phone or tablet is accepted, which I did.

THAT'S ENTERTAINMENT
BYO iPod. No entertainment system on-board, but loads of kids come armed with an iPad. There is a 30 page magazine, "The Link", found in the seat pocket covering a few travel stories, and the buffet car has puzzle books, colouring pencils, other magazines and daily newspapers for sale (as well as items such as headache tablets).


















FEEDING TIME
At the start of the trip, a PA announcement is made regarding the choice of hot meals, after which the attendant moves through the carriages taking orders. The cost of the meal is $9, the most expensive item on the menu. Wine and beer is also available. The meals will take 1 hour before another announcement is made indicating they are ready for collection from the buffet car. Less mobile passengers can have their's delivered. Other items are also available, including pies, croissants, pasta, salads and muffins. Prices are reasonable, with gluten-free and vegetarian options. The buffet closed for 30 mins between Bundanoon and Goulburn, and was closed 30 minutes before reaching our destination.
 
THE VERDICT
Time spent in transit on this trip roughly equals time spent heading to the airport, checking in, clearing security, boarding, flying and disembarking. The longer travel time on the train is offset by the ticket fee being almost 1/3 that of a late booked flight. Australia should have a high speed rail service connecting capital cities, especially between the nation's capital with Sydney and Melbourne. But the trip via this train was easy going, with plenty of time for a nap (as opposed to the in-air travel time of 23 minutes in a plane), and comfortable space to get some work done. Not having to travel there and back in a day, this train was a comfortable and cost effective alternative.

Tested by Tim Stackpool, who travelled at his own expense.