The 'Overland' has long been one of the nation's overnight express services; along with the 'Southern Aurora', the 'Spirit of Progress', the 'Brisbane Limited' and the 'Gold Coast Motor-Rail'.
The 'Southern Aurora' and the 'Spirit of Progress' ran the overnight route between Sydney and Melbourne; whereas the 'Brisbane Limited' and 'Gold Coast Motor-Rail' ran the northern overnight journey out of Sydney.
Those other 'name' trains have disappeared off the face of the Australian railway map, and the services have been replaced by modern, improved XPT trains and associated more convenient booking arrangements – now, of course, online.
Fifteen years ago the 'Overland' was cut back from a nightly timetable to two trips a week as passengers preferred the comfort, convenience and cheapness of the discount air fares.
For a large part of the customer base however, it almost became a regional drop off and pick up service for the country towns of Victoria and South Australia such as Ararat, Horsham, Dimboola, Bordertown and Murray Bridge. In this the train still provided a public service.
The Melbourne-Adelaide rail route was in desperate need of a new impetus. Then, along came Great Southern Rail who have picked up along the way 'The Ghan', the 'Indian-Pacific' and the 'Tourist Great Adventure Train' that runs from Sydney to Alice Springs. The feature of Great Southern Rail's development of these rail services is that they have nothing to do with speed, but promote leisurely tourism.
The Ghan for example, has five hour stop overs at Katherine and Alice Springs. Customers have up to ten different scheduled tourism options which are booked as the train travels along and on arrival, the tourist buses are waiting to take the 'tourists' on their selected adventures.
The Adelaide-Melbourne route however was different. The distance and the tourist opportunities were far from being of the same marketing value, so Great Southern Rail came up with two solutions which have proven to be hugely successful.
First, Great Southern Rail restructured the Overland timetable from a night train with sleeping cars to a day train with sitting cars and increased the service to three days a week.
The scenic value jumped from zero on the overnight Overland, to one hundred percent as the route transverses very pretty country, particularly around Murray Bridge and Bordertown. This enabled the company to realign the marketing to appeal to a family-friendly experience, and advertise the use of lounge and diner car facilities.
The second thing that Great Southern Rail brought in, which greatly added to the train's marketability and patronage, was that it took a detour to include Geelong.
For many Geelong people, it now became a realistic option to catch the 'day' Overland to Adelaide rather than to driving the two to three hour heavy traffic nightmare to either of the two Melbourne airports for a flight.
In other words, for Geelong people the Overland picked up and dropped them off in the centre of Adelaide. It transformed one of their major travel routes into something convenient and relaxing.
As the Footplate Padre I have travelled on the former overnight Overland, and I very much look forward to the day Overland journey.