Sunday, June 7, 2009

Don't miss the train

The Ghan is Australia's main north-south train, but you want to ride INSIDE it.

When I was in Australia last November, I was very excited to take the country's premier long-distance trains, the Indian Pacific and the Ghan and chronicled my journey here in my blog.

The journeys were fabulous, despite my sitting up in my seat for up to three nights at a time, and a great way to see the Outback without necessarily roughing it. I particularly liked the short whistle stops, but made sure as heck I was back at the train on time -- I didn't want to get stranded in the middle of some Outback town without my luggage -- so I made every effort to get back on that train.

I'm not sure I would have gone the route of Chad Vance, however. According to the BBC, Vance, a fellow American who took the Ghan, found the train pulling away after a stop in Port Augusta -- without him on it. Vance, 19, ran after the train, banged on the door and windows without response, then hung onto a stairwell for about two-and-a-half hours as the train sped through the Outback at about 70 mph.

Speaking of his May 28 journey in the Adelaide Advertiser, Vance said, "I was worried I wasn't going to survive. If I'd fallen off at that speed and hit the nasty-looking rocks below, I don't think I would have made it."

After hours of exposure from the wind and cold, Vance's lips were blue according to the conductor who finally noticed him and pulled the train's emergency brake.

I was extremely paranoid about being left behind when I rode Great Southern Railway's trains in Australia. When I was in Broken Hill, for example, I carefully noted the time the train was to depart and timed my walk so I would be back at the train 15 minutes before scheduled departure time, just to be safe. When I was in Kalgoorlie, I got back 45 minutes early -- both because the town shuts down early and I wanted to blog from the train station.

After reading Vance's story, I'm glad I did.

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