Monday 2 June 2014
There’s not really a heck of a lot to talk about, really. I spent the whole day on a train.
Although the seat reclines quite a long way back, it’s still not as comfortable as lying down (though I’ll concede that it’s marginally better than the bunk I was in on the Ukraine-Belarus trip). They do darken the carriage for most of the hours of the night, but that’s no different from being on an aeroplane.
We awoke to the Nullarbor Plain – a large area of very dry scrubland (the name comes from the fact there are no trees on it) – and the location of the longest stretch of absolutely straight railway line in the world (some 470km). But then I guess on a vast treeless plain, there’s no real need to have bends in a line.
What the Nullarbor does have, perhaps surprisingly, is railway stations. Some of these serve long-forgotten villages that existed purely to serve the railway itself, others provide a link to farmers who live out here. The train acts as a kind of mobile delivery service, dropping off goods to these small hamlets and picking up mail etc; the main road that cuts across the plain is about 100km to the South so these trains are pretty much the only link these villages and farms have to the outside world.
We made a half hour stop in one of these villages – Cook. At its height it was a large village of maybe 25-30 people, and had a jail, a hospital, and a school. Most of the inhabitants were employed to service the trains and the railway line itself, but over time with increased efficiency of the railway, the population has dropped to about 4. Much of the town is thus a ghost town.
Trains still stop here to refuel, rewater, and to provide an opportunity to change the rail crew. It lies close to the state border between Western and South Australia, and what tends to happen is that one crew will drive the train through Western Australia – they’ll then leave at Cook, have a rest and sleep, then take charge of a Westbound train heading back to Perth. They’ll relieve a South Australia crew on that train who, after a rest and sleep, will take charge of the next Eastbound train back to Adelaide and Sydney.
Cook thus still serves as an important stopover for the train; the other stations merely serve mostly as sidings where freight trains can overtake/pass by the passenger service. At most of these ‘halts’ it’s often not easy to see even why the station is there – there doesn’t seem to be a village in sight and the plain is pretty flat.
Although mostly empty (and a bit falling down) it’s quite easy to see where the village is/was. Even at its height you could tell it wasn’t a big village – we were only stopped there for half an hour and that was plenty of time to get from one end of the place to the other.
That said, we were ‘encouraged’ to walk quicker by the vast hordes of annoying flies that got everywhere. As soon as we stepped out of the train, we were harassed by packs of the things. Although they weren’t much of a bother whilst walking, as soon as we stopped to take a picture they all came crashing down on us – we felt like we were covered in them. It made being out there quite uncomfortable.
We didn’t make any other major stops for the rest of the day, and the train pottered on into the evening. Once again I ate in the dining car, which seemed to just serve our carriage. When we stopped at Cook I did walk along behind us to the end of the train and behind our dining car there seemed to be only a couple of ‘sealed’ carriages, presumably carrying goods, and then a couple of trailers of cars (people use the service as a moto-rail one, not just as a simple train)- there didn’t seem to be many other passenger carriages that way. In front of our carriage were many carriages of cabins for Gold and Platinum service users, who got beds etc. (Our class, by the way, was called ‘Red’. Platinum, Gold, and Red. Spot the odd one out…).
Evidently they don’t make much provision for cheapoes like us …