Jonas Rask Eilersen
The Ghan – Red Service
Darwin - Alice Springs. Australia.
26th September 2015

One of the world’s prime railway journeys. The Ghan is named after the Afgan camel drivers who arrived in Australia in the late 19th century, with the ambition to discover the unexplored. We followed in their footsteps on an incredible 2,979 km journey, over 48 hours. But was it comfort or cringe on the trip from Darwin in the tropical North to Adelaide in Australia’s South?

We had reserved our tickets in advance, and collection and check in was straightforward. Once onboard, our train attendant was chirpy and friendly.
The Ghan tells passengers to bring only the minimum onboard due to lack of storage space in all classes. A disappointment for those averse to packing lightly. RASK had booked the very cheapest of seats – the Red Service Day/ Nighters, but we still expected a taste of luxury as it is such a majestic train. This said,the cabin interior was plain and unappealing. Seats were arranged in a 2-2 configuration with a relatively modest recline – nothing out of the ordinary. Towels and sheets were available, as well as access to toilet and shower facilities. The lounge car, also known as the “Red Gum Lounge” can be accessed by Red Service passengers for a small price. The room provided a welcome, and slightly more plush, break from our humble Red Service car; stocked with games, comfortable lounges and a coffee and tea machine. For those travellers seeking to upgrade to a more luxurious ride, RASK advises skipping the Gold Service – aside from a place to lay down, it does not offer any other advantages in terms of facilities. Instead choose the Platinum service for a newly refurbished interior, complete with ample space and attentive staff. This option would also provide access to the “Outback Explorer Lounge”. Once we’d seen this section of the train our views were confirmed – we would never again travel by the Red Service – it would be Platinum all the way, how ever high the price!
Inconveniently, the starting point is some way from the city centre. A more central start point would also have allowed us to fit in some more sight-seeing. The journey began bang on time, initially following the main road out of Darwin before veering away from civilization. We were welcomed with an explanation of the highlights by the driver over the PA. We made a long stop in Katherine, where we were given the choice either to take a trip into town, or to a waterfall. RASK decided to explore Katherine, but found it uninspiring, and wished that the train had made its long stop elsewhere. Back on the train, we found the seats not suited to sleeping, wishing that for a similar price we had snapped up a low-cost flight ticket. Even the beautiful sight of the sunrise as morning broke did little to alleviate our bad mood.
Perceived Value
The “Matilda” café serves “pub grub light” such as pies, pastries and beer. Eat here if you’re after some, relatively, tasty fare at low prices - but expect to get what you paid for; RASK didn’t rate the staid and quiet atmosphere. Platinum travellers had access to the Queen Adelaide Restaurant – we watched jealously as satisfied travellers dined in style.
A potentially breathtaking night journey was ruined by a budget service which offered the bare minimum. We expected more from a train line which styles itself as the luxury option, even for those taking the lower-cost (but still not cheap!) Red Service. We’d advise those on a budget to book a flight instead. Don’t mind splashing out? Avoid the Gold service and pay for Platinum instead – the only way you’ll get any enjoyment out of travel on The Ghan.