Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Overnight Train Travel (Part 1 1954? to 1974)

I have just read http://www.theguardian.com/world/2014/sep/12/europe-night-trains-sleeper-service that overnight trains are to be discontinued in much of Western Europe next year.  This is disappointing as I had hoped to travel on the night train from Paris to Munich next May.
I love overnight train travel and began to reminisce about my experiences.

My first overnight travel was while I was in Primary school in the mid 1950’s, I think 1954.  My Aunt took me on a journey to the Central West of NSW.  It was the first long rail trip of my life and I caught the bug.  Prior to that I had been to Newcastle, the Central Coast and the Blue Mountains but no further.
We travelled in the Central West Daylight Express from Sydney to Orange and, after 24 hours there, continued onto Wellington where we stayed in the Hotel Wellington.  I always imagined it was above the station and was surprised to find on a visit in 2012 that it was across the road.
After one day wandering Wellington, the next morning we caught the Mail train to Dubbo where we changed to the diesel 600/700 railcar set. These were fairly new in those days.


We alighted at Nyngan for lunch and a walk around while the train continued on to Cobar.  Catching it on the way back we returned to Dubbo and, I guess, the Mail to Wellington.
The following morning saw us again on the morning train to Dubbo and, after a day there , we were back on the night Dubbo Mail but this time all the way back to Sydney.
My Aunt’s boarder/friend, the relationship was not explained to a young boy like me :-), was a railway ticket inspector.  I think at Orange, but it may have been at Bathurst, he placed us in a dogbox carriage and locked the door so we had the compartment to ourselves.  Dog box carriages had no corridor. Each compartment had its own toilet and the seats went right across the train so plenty of room, especially for a 10-11 year old to stretch out.

This trip was so basic to my love of railways that I repeated it in part in 1982 with my Mother in the early days of the XPT.  We stayed 24 hours in Orange then went on to Dubbo for a few nights and returned direct again by XPT to Sydney.  Then, as mentioned above, I travelled through to Dubbo on the XPT in 2012 and after renting a car to visit the Zoo, Warrumbungles, Gunnedah and Wellington. I returned to Sydney, again with 24 hours in Orange.  Sadly there are now no passenger trains to Nyngan and no overnight Mails anywhere.  With just one passenger train (XPT) per day to Dubbo, I had to resort to car rental.

In later years my Aunt took me to Melbourne on the Daylight and then we did a grand trip to Adelaide. We travelled overnight with a sleeper in the Parkes Mail to Parkes. After breakfast we boarded the diesel Silver City Comet to Broken Hill.

At Broken Hill we were transferred by bus to the narrow gauge Sulphide Street station and what was then called the Silverton Tramway. It was called a tramway as the government did not allow private ownership of railways. I thought the engine was very impressive. My research has found this, now restored elsewhere in South Australia.

The sleeping car was also impressive for its time with a small lounge at one end. I remember staying up talking rather late which was not good as we had to change in Terowie at about 5.30 am to another diesel set (Bluebird?) on the broad gauge into Adelaide.

After several days in Adelaide we caught the Overland Express to Melbourne, again with a sleeper.  I cannot remember if we returned to Sydney on the overnight or daylight train. 
My Aunt also took me to Brisbane in 1957 but that was a 2 day coach trip each way with overnights in Nambucca Heads and Urunga. However we extensively explored the Brisbane suburban trains which were still steam hauled.
There was also a trip by train to Cooma to see the early development of the Snowy Mountain scheme but we returned by plane from Canberra. That was my first flight and had nowhere near the influence on me as the train journeys.

I guess I became too old to continue to travel with my maiden Aunt.  I did make one trip with some school friends sitting up in the overnight express to Albury and then returning on the Daylight the next day.

Sitting up all night in a train has not been attractive since although it did feature in my next few overnight journeys as a teacher with the Travel Club at Kingsgrove High School.
In 1967 we went to North Queensland and sat up from Sydney to Brisbane.  Fortunately we had sleepers on the Sunshine Express from there for 2 nights to Townsville.  In fact that was great fun for a group travel.  I remember one teacher (Biology) running beside the train with a net after butterflies. There was no dining car and meals were taken in Railway Refreshment Rooms. We returned on the Sunlander with much better facilities but the Sunshine Express had been fun. We again sat up all night on the Brisbane Limited Express to Sydney.

I organised a similar school trip in 1971 and because of costs we again sat up each way between Sydney and Brisbane.  However the Sunlander had cheaper sleeper accommodation and involved 2 nights each way between Brisbane and Townsville.

in 1971 we took a trip to Tasmania. The first 10 days were by coach across to Adelaide and then around the coast to Melbourne. From there we flew to Launceston.  After 2 weeks around Tasmania by coach we flew back from Launceston to Melbourne then sat up on the overnight Spirit of Progress to Sydney.  Despite my love of train travel I thought that was an anti-climax and so when I repeated the tour in 1974 we flew all the way from Launceston to Sydney.

Otherwise, during those years  when I was in my 20’s, I had a car and little interest in train travel. I regret that now as many lines were closed in the following years.

In 1974 I took leave and headed on the big Overseas Tour. There was one overnight train journey in India from Jaipur to Delhi.  I travelled to Jaipur by bus but the Monsoon set in and that was no longer a safe way to travel so I returned by train. I was taken to the station by a hotel employee who arranged  the purchase of a ticket, then for a porter to get me a seat but not to hand over any money until I was sitting in the seat. I later discovered the porter had bargained and bribed the train official for my seat. The train was slow. I was told to keep my camera safe under my pillow. As in European couchettes, we were given a pillow and blanket and shared with at least 3 others.  

On arrival in London, I purchased a Kombi van which I drove around England, Scotland and Wales then by ferry to Oostende and through Belgium to Amsterdam. I left it in Rotterdam while I took a 3 night Rhine cruise to Frankfurt and returned by train to Rotterdam.  Copenhagen, Goteburg and Oslo followed where I again left the Kombi and took a train to Myrdal and down to Flam.

Then on a cruise along the Sognefjord and back to Oslo. I was getting tired of the loneliness of driving by oneself but took the Kombi overnight by ferry back to Copenhagen then down to L├╝beck, Hanover and visited with friends in the English forces somewhere near Dortmund.
On leaving them, I headed for Munich only to have the Kombi engine pack in. I was told it needed a new engine and took nearly all my money to buy it and I returned to my friends. That was before ATMs gave easy access to money and I had arranged for money to be sent to a bank in Munich.
Therefore it was onto a train and my first experience of European couchettes to Munich.
I remember saving half the breakfast in case the money was not there. However I need not have worried. The teller commented on my obvious relief when she told me.  I splurged on a hotel in the main Square which has been a favourite ever since.

I spent a few days sightseeing then returned north to collect the Kombi with its new engine. I am not sure if I again travelled overnight, I collected the Kombi, returned to London and sold it, and all my journeys in Europe since have favoured train travel.

I began by returning to Europe, this time in the Night Ferry from Victoria Station to Gare du Nord.  I took a sleeper and remember waking to realise the bed was rolling and not rocking as the carriages went onto the ferry and the sleeping passengers were not disturbed.

I took trains from Paris to Geneva, Zermatt, Interlaken, Bern and Zurich but all in daylight. Then it was back to Munich, in those days the doors were locked as the train passed through Austria without stopping to avoid customs formalities. A few more nights in Munich before a daylight train journey to Oostende and overnight sitting up on the ferry to Dover and again by train to London. A few days later I flew back to Sydney.

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