On 13 May, I rode the Prospector from Perth to Kalgoorlie on my way to some business meetings in Kal. And what an impressive ride it was - my comparison is with Sydney-Dubbo. A clear winner for Western Australia - even with 10+ year old rolling stock.
(And before the NSW folks get excited, yes I know that NSW is the ducks nuts for trains in Australia, as well as being the most difficult terrain in the world to build a railway - except for Switzerland. And Norway. And parts of USA, anywhere west of the Andes in South America, and Japan and Taiwan)
Dubbo - population approx 40,000. Distance to Sydney approx 460km.
Services - once daily
Fare - $39 economy, $54 first.
Journey time - 7 hours (implying average speed 75 km/hr
Kalgoorlie- population approx 32,000
Distance to Perth approx 650km
Services - 9 per week (daily plus extras Mon & Fri)
Fare - $91 single class
Journey time - 6 hours 50 min (implying average speed just shy of 100km/hr) yes, that’s the average over the whole journey. Similar number of stops.
Train actually caught up a 15 minute delay departing Merredin, arriving 3 minutes early at Kalgoorlie.
WA 1: East 0
What is the train like?
Amenities like an airliner, but with leg-room! Lots of leg room! Reversible seating means that everyone faces forward. Overhead lockers for hand luggage, comfortable economy-style seats, 240v power to each seat. Tray table. Video screen in seat-back, headset supplied. Coat hook, vents, reading light to each seat.
There is a “driver-cam” facility (delayed about 5 seconds in case of incident), and moving maps that show position and speed. Driver cam gave an interesting perspective on the double-stacked intermodal travelling towards Perth .
Buffet in car 1 offers a basic selection of food & drink. Pies, sandwiches, soft drinks, juice.
WA 2: East 0
Ride quality is very good. The train cruises at 160km/hr, slowing noticeably on some corners - to as slow as 105! Averaged about 80 while climbing the winding route of Avon Valley. Track quality clearly very stable - 60kg rail on concrete sleepers.
Almost every road crossing to Merredin had flashing lights - even gravel roads (note for Victoria, which seems prone to LX fatalities).
WA 3: East 0
Is it popular? sure is. 3 car DMU, full. 160 seats
Who travels? A good spread including perhaps 50% older tourists on concession fares. Young backpacker types. People returning from Perth or visiting family in Kal. A couple of guys in hi-vis got off at Koolyanobbing (no air service).
Comparison with air - Qlink and Virgin service Kalgoorlie 3x daily. The cheapest fare is almost four times the rail ticket. Anyone who values their time at $50+ per hour would fly. As time wasn’t my constraint, I thought the $91 fare was economical.
Issues/concerns? Overhead locker space slightly smaller than airliner. 2 pax worth of hand-carry don’t fit. Driver cam and maps app tended to freeze periodically.
My key learning - train can still compete with air to regional cities. Provided it is modern, quick (not necessarily high speed rail quick - see below), comfortable and reasonably priced. Note the fare to Kalgoorlie wasn’t as cheap as Dubbo.
Terminal doesn’t have to be in the CBD. East Perth terminal wasn’t a problem for 160 pax for a 7:10 departure on a Monday morning.
Two trains per day is adequate for a mid-sized regional city. There are only 3 flights (x 2 airlines). There is also a Merredin Link train (MWF day return trip) departing at 08:55. And a daily commuter connection from Northam.
Sydney to Griffith in 6-7 hours may well work, if done daily each way. Dubbo should be about a 5 1/2 hour trip.
Quick is achievable by getting other trains out of the way, and not stopping everywhere. Many “on request “ stops on the Prospector timetable (how many people alight at Guerie? Blayney?) The slowest part of the trip was following suburban to Midland. There’s only a double track to Midland (Sydney is quad to St Mary’s, so no excuses there, with options to pass up the mountains.)
I don’t understand how NSW Trains thinks an all stops bus from Coonabarabran that connects with an all-stops V-set at Lithgow is attractive. Why not run 3 services per day that go Lithgow-Penrith-Central. And connect the coaches to these 3. That should compete with 2 hours in the car from Lithgow. XPT is currently the fastest train to Lithgow - at 2 hours 10, way too slow - target 1:50 or less.
A straighter alignment sure helps. Supporting the notion that some investment in ironing out the bends on key routes (Southern Highlands, Short North) would have quick payback in patronage. Much quicker than building 800km of grade-separated perway between capital cities before you can run a single train. And it will help speed freight movements too!
One final observation- diesel tanker trains still used for Kalgoorlie route. Good for road safety and good economics- why run 100 semis of fuel every day?
Photos follow in a separate post.