The Overland, led by NR92 departing Southern Cross station, Melbourne, at the beginning of its journey to Adelaide, 14 January 2017.
NR92 at the head of The Overland, Southern Cross station, Melbourne, 17 January 2017.
The Overland Today
23 January 2023
The Overland is a passenger train operating between Melbourne and Adelaide and is owned by Journey Beyond Rail. It runs twice a week in each direction. The train continues the history of a service that has operated between these two cities since 1887.
Railway lines extending from Melbourne and Adelaide met near the border at Serviceton in 1887, making possible a direct train trip between the cities. Express trains from both Melbourne and Adelaide made their inaugural journeys on 19 January. The train was not officially named and was referred to in early timetables simply as ‘Express’. However, it was generally referred to as the Inter-colonial Express, and then later the train was named after its destination city: the Adelaide Express or Melbourne Express. From the inauguration of the train service, the carriages that formed the express passenger trains between Melbourne and Adelaide were joint stock owned by Victorian Railways and South Australian Railways. The carriage stock included four sleeping cars, eight composite sitting carriages, four brake vans, three Post Office vans and three mail luggage vans. The train stopped for dinner and breakfast at Ballarat and Murray Bridge, with a refreshment stop at Serviceton.
Victorian Railways began using the name The Overland in June 1926. However, South Australian Railways did not recognise the name until 4 November 1935. In 1935, as Australia emerged from the Depression, The Overland was given a facelift to reflect its prestigious identity. The carriages were painted hawthorn green with black and yellow trim, and chromium lettering was attached to the outside. New carriages made of Corten steel with fluted panels were introduced in 1950. Roomette and twinette sleeping cars were followed by new sitting cars. A club car was added to The Overland in 1972.
In 1995 the railway between Melbourne and Adelaide was converted to standard gauge as part of an infrastructure development program. After a four-month shutdown to complete the standardisation, The Overland commenced running as a standard gauge train on 1 July. The Australian Government sold its interstate passenger trains in 1997 and The Overland came into the ownership of Great Southern Railway (GSR). Refurbishment of carriages and reductions in services occurred during private ownership.
On 7 May 2000 the eastbound Overland began running as a daylight service, while the westbound train continued as an overnight service. This arrangement remained in place until 2006 when The Overland became an all-daylight train. Great Southern Rail was rebranded as Journey Beyond Rail in 2019.
The Overland today
The Overland provides a daylight service on the interstate route between Melbourne and Adelaide, departing from Melbourne on Mondays and Fridays, and from Adelaide on Sundays and Thursdays. It provides sitting accommodation throughout the journey. A single NR Class locomotive typically hauls the train throughout its journey. The total distance of the journey between Melbourne and Adelaide on The Overland is 833 km, and its average running speed is 85 km/h.
The number of carriages in The Overland’s consist varies, but typically averages seven carriage. Its average length is 189 metres and the average weight is 322 tonnes. Journey Beyond Rail uses an emu as its symbol for The Overland, recognising its speed and grace running through open countryside.
Travellers on The Overland are accommodated in Red Service or Red Premium Service. The train operates as a daylight service and reclining seats are provided. Both service levels include access to a café with meals, snacks and drinks available for purchase. Red Premium Service provides additional leg room and a-la-carte in-seat trolley service.
In recent years the continued operation of The Overland has been in some doubt. Government subsidies have been provided and the private owners have indicated that they would not continue to run the train without these subsidies. Towards the end of 2018 the South Australian Government announced that it would no longer contribute to the subsidy, but the Victorian Government agreed to make up the shortfall. For a lengthy period during 2020 The Overland did not operate because of COVID-19 restrictions. The train resumed running again on 3 January 2021.
A Journey on The Overland
The Overland departs from Melbourne’s Southern Cross station. It makes a slow start to the journey as it makes its way through some of Melbourne’s inner city industrial areas, taking around 35 minutes to reach Newport. It proceeds through some of the city’s south-western suburbs before passing Werribee, from where the countryside begins to be more open and stations are spaced further apart. The train stops at North Shore, which is around five km north of Geelong, Victoria’s second-largest city. From North Shore it proceeds generally northwest to Ararat.
The route followed by The Overland today was originally broad gauge, but was converted to standard gauge in 1995. Ararat can be reached from Melbourne on broad gauge trains via Bacchus Marsh and Ballarat, a route that is around 65 km shorter that via North Shore but has various steep gradients, which was one of the major reasons that the standard gauge line was not built via Ballarat.
From Ararat to the Adelaide suburb of Belair, The Overland is the only passenger train that regularly uses the standard gauge railway route. In the heyday of railways, various passenger trains regular operated to locations in western Victoria and eastern South Australia but these services were eventually withdrawn.
The train continues in a north-westerly direction and passes through Stawell. In the distance to the south-west can be seen The Grampians National Park. It proceeds through the Wimmera region, which extends to the South Australian border and is to the north of the Great Dividing Range. It passes through Horsham, Dimboola, Nhill and Kaniva, before reaching the South Australian border near Serviceton, which became the meeting point of the Victorian Railways and South Australian Railways when the lines from Melbourne and Adelaide were joined on 19 January 1887. The station building was completed in 1889 and included customs offices, railway administration offices, refreshment room, a bar, and holding cells for prisoners.
After crossing the border into South Australia, the train continues to Bordertown, where a stop is made. The journey proceeds further north-west through Keith and Tailem Bend before reaching Murray Bridge, where a large bridge takes the railway line across the Murray River. The original crossing was built between 1874 and 1879 as a road bridge, and can be seen looking to the right from the Adelaide-bound train. From 1885 it also became a railway bridge. A separate rail bridge was completed in 1925 and remains in use today. It has a length of 574 metres. The westbound Overland crosses the bridge and then passes through a short tunnel shortly before stopping at the station.
For the final one and a half hours of the journey the train passes some attractive scenery. The route ascends to Mark Barker Junction and makes a winding descent as it proceeds through the Mount Lofty Ranges. It passes through Mount Lofty and then Belair, which is easily accessible to Belair National Park, Australia’s second oldest national park, declared in 1891. From Belair the broad-gauge line shares the corridor and Adelaide suburban trains may be passed.
The end of the journey is reached when The Overland arrives at Adelaide Parklands Terminal, located in the inner suburb of Keswick, about three kilometres from the main Adelaide railway station in the central business district.
The Overland Museum
A museum dedicated to the passenger train The Overland is located in Kaniva in western Victoria. A restored sleeping carriage from the train is a feature exhibit of the museum. Also on display are various artefacts and photos. Opening days are advertised on the Facebook page. Kaniva is located approximately 410 km north-west of Melbourne.
Banger, C, ‘The Overland under Great Southern Railway 1997–2016, Part 1’, Australian Railway History, June 2019, no. 980, pp. 20–7.
Banger, C, ‘The Overland under Great Southern Railway 1997–2016, Part 2’, Australian Railway History, July 2019, no. 981, pp. 19–26.
Banger, C, ‘The Overland under Great Southern Railway 1997–2016, Part 3’, Australian Railway History, August 2019, no. 982, pp. 4–11.
Banger, C, ‘The Overland under Great Southern Railway 1997–2016, Part 4’, Australian Railway History, September 2019, no. 983, pp. 4–9.
Rowland, EC, ‘An introduction to The Overland story’, Australian Railway Historical Society Bulletin, no. 471, January 1977, pp. 1–16.
The Overland <www.journeybeyondrail.com.au/journeys/overland>.
The Overland Museum <www.facebook.com/TheOverlandMuseum/>.
Wilson, J, The Overland: a social history, Sarlines, Adelaide, 2020.
NR92 at the head of The Overland, Southern Cross station, Melbourne, 17 January 2017.
Sign on the side of The Overland, Adelaide Parklands Terminal, 17 January 2017.