Iconic Aussie Trains Cut Frequencies.
We are not alone. Came an email the other day from one of our readers in Australia with the unhappy news that there is going to be a cut-back of service on their two marvelous trans-continental trains, the Indian Pacific, which operates east-west between Sydney and Perth, and the Ghan, which runs north-south between Darwin and Adelaide.
In July of this year, the Australian government is going to end its subsidizing of passengers traveling on these two trains in Red Class—their equivalent to Amtrak’s coach service. Great Southern Rail, the company operating the two trains since the railroad was privatized* 20 years ago, says that most of the passengers in Red Class are people with low or fixed incomes, primarily students and retirees. The railroad says bumping up the price of each Red Class ticket to replace the lost subsidy would put the cost beyond the reach of most of those travelers. Great Southern estimates that, absent the subsidy, the price of each Sydney-to-Perth ticket in Red Class would increase to about US$750. By comparison, a one-way adult ticket on one of the Australian airlines can often be had for US$200 or even less.
Given that GSR officials feel without the subsidy they no longer have a viable economy class product, the decision has been made to discontinue the Red Class service altogether and, as a further effort to reduce costs, the frequency of both the Indian Pacific and the Ghan trains will be reduced to one departure a week in each direction, although both trains will be lengthened.
The north-south ride on the Ghan takes two nights; the Sydney-Perth trip is a three-night journey. I took this photo when the westbound Indian Pacific stopped for fuel, servicing and a crew change in the town of Cook—permanent population of 4—and a few miles into the longest perfectly straight stretch of track in the world—297 miles and straight as a string! I rode both of these magnificent trains in 2010 and would love to do it again.
*A universal truth: privatizing public transportation rarely works!