The Long Train Ride to Broken Hill – Part One

The first week of Dani’s school holidays we set off on a long train journey into the outback. A thirteen-hour and twenty-minute ride from Sydney. The journey of 1123km (or 698 miles), as far west as you can go in New South Wales, is to the mining town of Broken Hill.

The cost for myself one way was $124 (just over 60 pounds in real money) so cheap enough. But the best bit was Dani’s ticket. It cost the awesome sum of only $1. Incredibly children can travel all that way and back again for only two dollars (one pound)!!!

The ‘BH’ in ‘BHP’

Broken Hill is the birthplace of BHP, one of the biggest mining companies in the world. BHP stands for Broken Hill Proprietary (Company) – or used to. The company is now better known as BHP Billiton. The town has successfully ridden the boom and bust mining waves ever since the early discovery of silver deposits in the area way back in the early 1840s. Mining is still the main industry in the area but there is a lot more to it than that…

Logging The Train Journey

I started off with the best intentions of trying to capture a video with my mobile phone of the whole journey. Not every second of course, but snapshots; entering each stop/station and the landscapes in between them. Initially with my son introducing us to the stations. He soon grew tired of that one (after only two stops actually). I also hit a few other snags…

Somehow, I had damaged the main lens on my phone camera, so it only worked with the wide-angle lens. Not quite the end of the world but the first few videos snips were blurred as I hadn’t realised. Secondly, I quickly ran out of memory then soon after the battery was almost gone. Bloody phones today! Lastly by the time we were truly in the outback the sun had gone down so filming the last and possibly most exciting part of the journey – arrival into Broken Hill – was not possible.

Poor planning, I know…But I will try to put together some kind of video that shows parts of the journey. All those excuses and bad phone camera operating aside… Here is how the journey went; in words.

Sydney, the Blue Mountains and Beyond

We left Sydney central station exactly on time at 06.18 on Monday morning. The train pulled into three stops inside the city limits – Strathfield, Parramatta and Penrith – before entering the Blue Mountain range. Then we passed through each of the mountain stops before arriving at Katoomba. There was an unscheduled stop before that somewhere between Glenbrook and Katoomba and we lost over twenty minutes. Time we never really made up over the rest of the journey.

As you pass through the mountains you get to see some spectacular scenery. Some angles that you don’t see from the road journey. But they are fleeting and difficult to capture with a camera. It is still a great part of the country however you travel through it.

After Katoomba the next stop is Lithgow. We visited the Lithgow area several months ago (see here) so I recognised the scenery and some of the places. But after Lithgow it was further west than we had been before and so basically all new to us.

Lithgow to Orange – via Bathurst

The landscape from Lithgow to Bathurst can definitely be described as rolling farmland. For miles and miles it looks just like the UK countryside. In fact it soon became boring. Perhaps due to its familiar feel. This region is referred to as the Central Tablelands of New South Wales.

There are plenty of farms and heaps of sheep in this part of the world as well as arable farming. The train plodded along quite slowly on this stretch. There has been no attempt whatsoever to make this route direct or fast. The train journey between Lithgow and Bathurst takes about an hour and ten minutes whereas the road journey can be done in less than fifty minutes – and even that road is by no means straight. The track simply meanders around long curves as the track more or less following the natural contours of the land; the rivers and hills.

By the time we entered Bathurst I realised we were sitting on the wrong side of the train. The town (although not very big) was only visible from the other side. Another bollock dropped in terms of trying to film the journey. Ah well… so much for planning. Or lack of it.

Bathurst was a big gold rush town back in the mid 1800s but these days its economy is based on manufacturing and farming.

Orange

The next town along was Orange. A big enough town in its own right and an important fruit growing area. Although there is a country’s second largest open cast gold mine just 20km out of town. This area is clearly one to explore on a separate trip. For now we just got off the train and stretched our legs for a few minutes. From this part of the journey on-wards, the train staff allow and often encourage passengers to hop off for a short break.

After dropping off and picking up passengers the train reverses for some distance to a siding. From there it is routed back onto the “main” line and on-wards to Broken Hill. I have no idea why they couldn’t have just put in a track curve after the town’s station. Very odd but that’s how it is.

Parkes and Half Way…

Almost two hours after leaving Orange the train arrives in Parkes. This is a region known as the Central West of NSW. The half-way point on the journey – in time at least. The distance between Parkes and Broken Hill is around 800km. Sydney to Parkes is about 360km via road.

The second half of the journey would cover a lot more ground in the same time. There were only four more very remote stops; then Broken Hill. More on this to come in part two…

The Train

The train itself – known as the Outback Xplorer – is comprised of only three carriages. Two second class (or economy as they prefer to call it these days) and a first class car. One of the second class cars also contains the cafeteria/restaurant/snack bar. We took some snacks with us so were never too hungry. I was expecting the food to be as good (or should that be ‘as bad’?) as travelling any distance on the old British Rail – if you are unlucky enough to remember that. But thankfully it was OK.

There were plenty of snacks on offer as well as the usual airplane style tea and coffee. Also similar to the flying experience, the pre-prepared meals that they serve up at lunch and dinner times does give you a choice. A bit like a long-haul flight in economy class. I think there were four options – not included in the ticket price however. I let Dani choose, so we had the spaghetti bolognese. It was actually very tasty. I knew he would only eat part of it so I had the rest, washed down with a plastic bottle of red wine. They also serve white wine, beer and various soft drinks.

The catering staff come through the train taking meal orders and handing out the meal tickets. When the food is ready they call you up to collect your meal. All simple and efficient enough.

The reclining seating are comfortable and spacious enough. The toilets were clean and functional. I don’t think anyone could complain – least of all the one-dollar ticket Dani…

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