1. At this time of year what Friday patronage can be expected on the train? I'll travel economy.
2. If I purchase my ticket online do I still need to present myself no less than 1 hour before departure?
3. Does it normally run to time?
4. Can I choose my seat or do I just have to take pot-luck? Are there better viewing seats than others?
Not sure in general, but I took the Overland ADL to MEL at the end of June, and my experience was as follows:
1 - 2 * Red Service carriages, one was fairly full when left ADL, the other half-filled thru country VIC as 30+ people boarded. 2 * Red premium carriages, which were fairly full when they left ADL but a group had booked one of them out.
2 - According to the GSR site, yes, but I saw people checking in 20 minutes before departure. 6:45 am check-in is a joke.
3 - The service I was on rang bang-on time. Speaking with the train host though, the previous service that she had hosted ran to time to Geelong but then lost 40 minutes getting to Spencer Street (sorry - can't bring myself to call it Southern Cross). She told me that arrival times are extremely variable (sorry if that is too anecdotal), so if you are making a connection be sure to leave extra time to do so.
4 - I booked 2 seats via phone and asked for a window view on the LHS side of the carriage. Got them AOK from the helpful service agent.
All up it was a very relaxing journey, with loads of room to move around. The seats in Red standard were comfortable and the track condition was excellent - smooth all the wayfrom ADL to Ararat when it became a bit more of a rocking ride. Smooth enough that I had no problems with the thermoses of tea that I took along with me.
Had to suffer the VLine rail to Ballarat then bus to Adelaide on the return journey - nowhere near as nice as the journey over.
If GSR/whoever do cancel The Overland at the end of the year then it will be a sad day, but one that cannot be unexpected. Having first used The Overland in 1988 on the overnight service, when 12+ carriages were not uncommon, it's a shadow of its former self.