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Long Distance Australian Train Journeys - Red Class Seating and Carriage Notes
A guide for backpacker and budget travellers
Red Class Seating - What to expect for your money
In Red Class, which is another name for an Economy Class, the traveller, or 'Guest' as Great Southern Rail (GSR) likes to call its passengers, gets a 'Day-Nighter' seat. These seats are quite comfortable, have plenty of leg room, and recline back to a surprising degree, so although they can't be classed as a 'lie-flat' bed, they still provide a passenger with plenty of room to stretch out and move around without fear of hitting the back of the seat in front.
The seats are all twin two-person seats, with solid arm-rests on each side of the seat and in between the two positions. The arm-rest between the two seats can not be raised, so if you are lucky enough to get a twin seat to yourself, this does not mean you can curl up on a double-width 'bed'. I have seen people sleeping with their knees raised over the central arm-rest though this did seem particularly comfortable to me when I tried it.
One problem that I noticed was the height of the front of the seat, and the complete lack of foot rests. Those people shorter than about 5'6" may well find that their legs will be dangling for much of the journey, with the consequent pressure on the back of the upper thigh that can lead to restricted blood circulation. One option is to remove your shoes and place your feet on an item of luggage placed upon the floor. I noticed a number of back-packers had placed their large rucksacks in front of their seats during the night, as this provided a much more comfortable platform for their legs and feet whilst sleeping at night, and was almost equivalent to a 'lie-flat' bed.
The seats are best suited for those who sleep on their backs. If, like me, you prefer to sleep on your side, you will find it very difficult to maintain a comfortable position.
Each seat comes with its own fold-out tray-table, which is located in one of the arm-rests. The tables can slide backwards and forwards to suit passengers of different sizes. Though a little rickety, and not always quite wide enough to sit properly against their support brackets, they are very useful for reading, writing, meal times, or watching a movie on your laptop in the evenings.
There is plenty of space for luggage on the racks above the 'DayNighter Seats'. These run the full length of the carriage, and are large and deep with a good inward slant to stop things falling about if the train jerks from side to side. There is also a smaller rack beneath, perhaps 7" deep, for which I have yet to discover the intended reason. Too shallow for a hat, too flat and slippy for books or bottles, and far too small for day-packs. I found it most useful to stretch out and dry a towel that I had just used in the shower. Bags that contain personal food for three days are inevitably bulky. If you have shopping bags of provisions, you can easily fit these beneath the seat in front or underneath your own seat, for as mentioned before, there is ample leg-room.
With regard to 'Carry On' luggage that you may wish to take with you in the Red Class carriage, the ticket terms and conditions state: "You may take the following luggage on board: cabin bag not exceeding 20kg in weight and no larger then 50 x 30 x 30 cm (length, height, width)". Elsewhere it states: "Due to space constraints, guests should only take on board hand luggage required for their journey." but in practice there was no check on the amount of luggage you entered with. I took a backpack, a daypack, and a laptop bag into the carriage and was never queried. Some people brought their own blankets, pillows, and even cooler-boxes. As most people follow booking instructions and check their larger bags into the luggage car, there was always plenty of spare space on the luggage racks. For more information about checked bags, please see the Facilities page.
Red Class also has sleeper compartments available, and if you feel like upgrading from a 'Daynighter Seat' once you've inspected them, you can do this, if any sleepers are still available, for just over two hundred dollars per night. Although this is a bargain, and cheaper than it would have cost you if you had purchased a sleeper ticket before you boarded the train, it is still a lot of money for what you get. Two hundred dollars would buy you a very acceptable hotel room in London, Paris, or many other international cities.Red Class Carriages - What to expect whilst travelling
The temperature in the Red Class carriages remained quite constant during the day and night, and was always quite warm and pleasant. I did not need to add any additional clothing or covering at night, though a party of older French passengers all put on jackets and hats when they went to sleep. Some people had brought their own blankets, whilst others covered themselves in the supplied towels. I used my towel as a pillow. If available, the buffet car hires a pack containing a blanket and an inflatable pillow for just $5.
None of the windows on the train open. This is a special problem for photographers who like to get clear shots of the scenery whilst travelling. It would have been nice to have at least one or two windows that open, if only to get a breath of fresh air from time to time, but then again I suppose that people would forget to shut them after use. The A/C in the carriages seems to circulate more than it imports air from the outside, so the carriages can get a little stuffy and smelly at times.
There are frequent announcements made over the public address system during the journey. They start with a fairly lengthly list of the train rules, and go on to provide information on the various stops en route or features of particular interest. Occasionally there will be commentaries, recollections or descriptions of local sounds and sites, often recorded by local people. At other times, you may be treated to a monotonous cycle of very average pop music. If you are travelling in the sleeper compartments or in the more expensive classes you can adjust the volume as required, but if you are in the Red Service carriages you have no option but to listen to this, so I would recommend that you bring ear plugs and/or an MP3 player with earphones to drown out unwanted noises.
Looking out of the windows, the scenery changes slowly but constantly. You should never think it will be always the same during your journey. For instance, on the 'Indian Pacific' the suburbs of Perth soon change to farming country, with vast wheat fields of over 200 acres each, or herds of black angus cattle grazing on whatever fodder is available. Away from the farmland, the 'bush' consists of scattered low trees with occasional shrubs and other undergrowth. The height of the trees slowly decreases as the Nullabor Plain approaches. Across the plain itself there is little vegetation, mainly low salt-scrub bushes. Suprisingly, there is never a complete absence of plantlife, and despite its name (Nullabor derives from two Latin words 'null'=none and 'arbor' = tree) there are even occasional trees to be spotted, though not many.
The vistas are ever changing, and the sights are never ending. Passing trains, both freight and passenger. Passing towns, or the occasional road crossing. Wildlife, such as kangaroo, dingo, feral camels are the most likely to be seen, though you may also be lucky enough to spot one of Australia's many venomous snakes, basking on a rock in the sunshine. Watch out for the magnificent Wedge-Tail eagles, which inhabit the vast wastes of the Nullabor Plain: it is from these magnificent birds that the 'Indian Pacific' gets its emblem. They can often be seen rising in the thermals above the plain, or diving to catch some small mammal or other prey.
The train stops occasionally along the way. Some of the stops are quite lengthy, and provide sufficient time for short excursions from the train or 'Whistlestop Tours', whilst others are just brief halts at small and isolated communities for whom the 'Indian Pacific' is a lifeline with civilisation, and a chance to drop off mail bags or other supplies that allow the inhabitants to maintain their existence in an undoubtedly harsh land. Note that although the timetables, which can be seen in the back of the complimentary 'Outlook' magazine or online at www.greatsouthernrail.com.au show many stops along the route, it is only the major ones where the train will be sure to stop at. The minor stations are 'Request Stop Only', for those guests who have pre-booked them, and other passengers can not leave or step down from the train at these points. If you were expecting frequent opportunities to stretch your legs you will be disappointed. The doors not needed to disembark an individual will stay securely locked.
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The photographs on these pages were all taken on my recent 32,000km journey around Australia. Click any image to see a larger version. The photographs are all available for licensing in a range of sizes - please Contact Me for details.
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