The Victorian Government has put hands into its pocket with a multi-million dollar investment to keep the Overland express passenger train running.
This Melbourne–Adelaide was one of the great overnight sleeper passenger trains of the nation of an era gone – the heyday of rail travel - from around the nation these were:
Cairns to Brisbane
Brisbane to Sydney
Southern Aurora / Spirit of Progress / Inter-Capital Daylight
Sydney to Melbourne
Melbourne to Adelaide
Adelaide to Port Pirie
Port Pirie to Kalgoorlie
Kalgoorlie to Perth
Alas the only trains that still run in a limited capacity – Brisbane Limited, Inter CityDaylight, Overland. Albeit the later Indian Pacific launched in February 1970 running from Sydney to Perth via Broken Hill likewise now only runs two days a week.
It is to the Overland I am looking at today as it now runs only as a day train and only two days a week – between Adelaide to Melbourne. Initiated in 1887 as (Melbourne or Adelaide Express) it was renamed in 1926 to The Overland.
Once the pride and joy
The Overland was once the pride and joy of the Victorian – South Australian Railways. The saloon and sleeper cars carried a silver and maroon livery, the Overland would leave Spencer St Melbourne (now Southern Cross) early evening each evening.
By the time the Overland reached Murray River the following morning across the South Australian border, the diesels had changed from the huge S Class Victorian engines to the South Australian 900 classes with South Australian diesels at Serviceton.
There were both sleepers and sitting carriages. Each twin berth sleeper compartment had its own double bunk and WC private section along with shower. The single sleepers had a communal shower. The sitting cars were similar to the Spirit of Progress sitting cars.
Running from Melbourne The Overland passed through the Mallee country around Timboon towards the South Australian border, across the Murray River and through the Adelaide Hills into Adelaide arriving 10.00am the following morning.
The Overland experience was not new to me. On several occasions I had the pleasure and joy riding The Overland from Melbourne to Adelaide and return in the early 70s when visiting my family members in Adelaide. It was always fascinating to me the big S Class Victorian diesels on the front leaving Melbourne and arriving in Adelaide with two huge 900 Class South Australian diesels.
In early 1978 I took my bride Delma of 12 months on a rail trip across Australia – Spirit of Progress Sydney to Melbourne, The Overland to Adelaide, to Port Pirie the Adelaide express, across the Nullarbor on the Trans-Continental, into Perth on the Westland.
I took nine months leave of absence for my first year of theological college (seminary) and then went back to the railways for 4 months prior to my second year. With the twelve months of work prior to taking leave and in that four month period I had accrued enough allocated points to receive a rail pass as an engineman for this trip.
It was fabulous. The Overland was particularly special in both directions. It represented the steps toward the half-way point (Adelaide) and in the return journey, the last leg but one before returning home and theological college.
Change is inevitable
The Footplate Padre says that change is inevitable. Those halcyon days of the great rail journeys have come and gone, now air travel is pre-eminent. Should a VFT (Very Fast Train) like the Japanese, French and Chinese come to Australia, perhaps the reverse on such routes will take place again.
Yet, all this is travel. Steam train. Diesel train. Electric train. Aircraft. Very Fast Train. It is travel. So too the Gospel message, it was once taken by word of mouth on foot, then by horse back and horse carriage, by ship, then by rail, now by air, and today, social media lends itself as a carrier of the saving message of Jesus Christ. Yet it's the same message.
Dr Mark Tronson is a Baptist minister (retired) who served as the Australian cricket team chaplain for 17 years (2000 ret) and established Life After Cricket in 2001. He was recognised by the Olympic Ministry Medal in 2009 presented by Carl Lewis Olympian of the Century. He mentors young writers and has written 24 books, and enjoys writing. He is married to Delma, with four adult children and grand-children.
Mark Tronson's archive of articles can be viewed at http://www.pressserviceinternational.org/mark-tronson.html