Great Southern Rail Red Service Review
Great Southern Rail is the iconic rail company that operates some of the most epic train journeys in Australia. Nothing can compare to the experience of travelling across the desolate Nullarbor desert on the Indian Pacific route between Adelaide/Sydney and Perth, or chugging across the red desert on the Ghan route thought Australia’s centre between Adelaide and Darwin.
These routes are the most iconic and well known of the train journeys in Australia, but they are not the only ones. There is also the Overland journey between Adelaide and Melbourne, or the Southern Spirit route between Adelaide/Melbourne and Brisbane.
Train travel for the budget traveller
I first heard about the Ghan and the Indian Pacific in a travel book about great travel experiences. I remember briefly looking up the cost of the trip and thinking that it was not something that I could afford. I must have been looking at the Gold or Platinum rates though, because Great Southern Rail does offer fare options for those on a budget.
There are two options for budget travellers; Red Day/Night seats and Red Cabins. I completed the 2 day, 2 night Indian Pacific journey from Perth to Adelaide in the Red Day/Night seats, and the 2 day, 2 night Ghan journey from Darwin to Adelaide in the Red Cabin.
Red Day/Night Seat Service Review
The seat service of the train is the cheapest option, and the majority of the other travellers in this service were also backpackers.
Lauren and I were amazed when we boarded the train to find out just how much space and leg room we had. We are both tall, so this really makes a difference in terms of our comfort. One of the first things we did was test how far back the seats reclined to – almost horizontal! I was pretty happy about this as I know from experience how hard it can be to comfortably sleep on a vehicle where the seats do not recline enough.
There are two bathrooms in the Day/Night carriage, and one also has a shower. Fresh towels are provided as well for guests. I wasn’t sure if the Day/Night seats would have a shower, and was pleased to find out that there was one.
Meals are not provided in the Day/Night seat packages, and we needed to purchase our meals from the Matilda cafe in the carriage next to us. I was happy to see that the meals were all reasonably priced – often lower than what you would find at a cafe in a city centre. The meals were freshly prepared, and the menu changed daily adding variety to the trip.
The only thing that was not provided were blankets. Luckily I had packed a winter coat since we were travelling to Victoria and South Australia in the winter time, where temperatures can dip fairly low, so I used that when I was sleeping. Next time I might bring along a small blanket or a sleeping bag for an even more comfortable sleep.
Another thing on short supply were power points. There are a limited number of power points in the carriage – although there are one or two. Take your electronics fully charged, so that you don’t end up queuing with the rest of the carriage to use the power points.
Red Cabin Service Review
The Red Cabin is the next step up from the Red Day/Night seats, and believe me, it is a big step up! The cabin is built for two passengers, although if you travelling alone they try to not combine you with a stranger. I had the cabin all to myself!
The cabin includes two wide comfy seats which face each other, with a fold up table in between them. One bed folds out from the wall and lies across the two seats, while the other bed can be pulled down from the ceiling. There is a coat/ storage cupboard, and a sink which pulls down from the wall as well. There is also a power point.
The bed was incredibly comfy, with thick lush blankets which were a dream to snuggle up into after a long day of sitting watching the scenery pass by. I also appreciated having my own sink so I didn’t need to queue for the bathroom to brush my teeth before bed.
Each carriage contains several of these little self contained units, and there are two bathrooms shared between them. One of the bathrooms also has a shower and fresh towels are provided, just as with the Day/Night seats.
Also like the Day/Night seats, meals are not provided. The red cabin shares use of the Matilda cafe with the Day/Night seaters, but with the added bonus of also having access to the lounge area.
The red cabin also came with the added bonus of a little toiletry bag full of goodies… despite having travelled for almost 7 years now, I still get giddy when given tiny toiletries, so this was a huge excitement for me!
Red Cabin vs. Day/Night Seats
Comfort difference – The Red cabin was much more comfortable than the red day/nighter seat. Although I ended up meeting less interesting characters since I had a cabin to my whole self, it was magical to be able to stretch out properly in a bed with a real duvet and real pillow. Although the day/night seats were more comfortable than I originally anticipated, the cabin and the luxury of a proper bed still wins out.
Food difference – No difference at all, both services share the same cafe
Cost difference – The red cabin costs on average double what the day/nighter seat costs, which can be a pretty big difference depending on the length of your journey. Remember though, if you have a student card or backpacker card (such as YHA or VIP) you can get greatly reduced fares.
What style of service would you choose? Let me know in the comments!
My journeys on the Indian Pacific and Ghan were provided complimentary by Great Southern Rail, but all opinions remain my own.