International first class air travel can sometimes be up to 15 times the price of a discounted economy class ticket and so is commonly reserved for the elite, heads of state, those with very deep pockets or the frequent traveller being savvy with their reward points. With limousine transfers, discreet check in areas (even exclusive terminals in some cases), private first class lounges and exquisite fine dining created by 5 star chefs, there are more benefits than just a sleeper seat (or suite) up the front. So I was cautiously excited when I purchased a first class ticket on the CountryLink Western Line XPT service to Dubbo with connecting coach service to Nyngan, I mean what were the benefits? Ok, so there are no included transfers, no private check in area or lounge and I end up peeling back the same plastic off my identical hot meal as those in economy class (after lining up with them at the buffet to collect it). I wasn’t expecting white-gloved tuxedo-wearing attendants calling me ‘Mr Flier’ but after paying around 30% more than the economy ticket it was affordable and there were benefits aplenty for the 6hr 30minute journey to Dubbo.
The first benefit was the obviously less people boarding due to the limited number of first class seats. There are usually two sitting cars which are reserved for first class, the main first class car which seats 56 passengers and the buffet car which has seating for 21 past the stand up servery/canteen style buffet.
Although not reclining to a lie flat bed, the angle of 40 degrees (vs economy classes 28 degrees) does recline further than this photo takes justice for. I was quite relaxed, and even had a snooze but thankfully it wasn’t an overnight journey. If you do, however, find yourself on an overnight XPT journey to Brisbane, Casino or Melbourne, you can upgrade from first class to a sleeper for AUD$88. Being a return day service, they are not offered on the Dubbo Western Link XPT. The first class seats offer 49.53 centimetres – or 19.5 inches of legroom (vs economy classes 43.18 centimetre or 17 inches) making it comfortable on your knees.
In both economy and first class, the seats rotate, mostly for when the train heads back on its return journey, but upon a request to the trains attendant, they may be rotated for family groups or for your new found friends onboard – game of cards anyone?
The amenities on the XPT’s have similarities to any flight. Although no showers as found in the first class cabin on an Emirates Airlines Airbus a380, there are air vents, reading lights and attendant call buttons above every first class seat. Luggage racks are at the end of each carriage for medium sized carry on bags and racks that run above the seats for hand baggage. Larger suitcases and sporting equipment can be checked in before departure and travels in the luggage compartment located at one end of the train. There is no AC power located in the sitting areas of the carriages, but the toilets, located at the end of each carriage, are equipped with outlets which are used by those wishing to charge their i-things or laptops (which I took my turn for during this journey – bonus number two – not many in first class lined up to do this and there was less interruption with fewer people needing the toilets for their proper use!) The official line from CountryLink is not to use these as the power is generated by the diesel locomotives which may cause a power surge rendering your i-stuff useless, but this has rarely happened I was told by one of the attendants – so I guess its up to you – and CountryLink will not be held responsible.
Unlike most airlines, CountryLink trains do not offer main screen nor seatback entertainment or music, so the only thing to view is the ever changing beautiful landscapes through the large panoramic windows.
As mentioned, there is a buffet car onboard which serves a variety of both hot & cold snacks such as chips, chocolate bars, pot noodles, sandwiches, wraps, sausage rolls and pies – the usual Aussie fare – and drinks including alcohol (alcohol available for purchase after 11am with a maximum of 2 drinks per hour) such as tea, coffee, soft drinks, juices and the like. None of it however is included, Along with the snack menu they do offer a meal service at intervals along the journey according to the time of day.
On this particular service, we had three meal announcements – breakfast, morning tea and lunch. During the announcement of what was on offer, an attendant would make their way through the carriages (starting in First Class of course) with the meal reservation cards which get handed in upon collection. After departure from Strathfield, the reserved breakfast was announced – scrambled eggs, bacon, sausage, roasted tomato and toast with condiments for $9. A couple of hours later morning tea was announced – a Devonshire Tea consisting of two fruit scones and a choice of tea, coffee or hot chocolate for $6. Later came lunch and today’s choices were chicken schnitzel with mash and vegetables, beef terriyaki and rice, tortellini and the dietary meal, vegetable korma with each choice costing a reasonable $9. Adding a 187ml bottle of wine to my lunch (as see above) my total was $15. The vegetables were cooked through but still had a bite, which was great. The mash although a little crispy towards the edges, was creamy and the schnitzel itself was delicious albeit not as crispy as expected due to the steam created by the plastic covering which escaped when I peeled the plastic back off the container.
After lunch I found myself the only person left in the first class carriage as most passengers had departed the train at stops along the way. I enjoyed the carriage to myself, taking pictures of the beautiful NSW landscapes that was changing as we grew closer to Dubbo.
The XPT pulled into Dubbo right on schedule and being the only person leaving the first class carriage I did get a few funny looks. Overall I enjoyed the journey to the Western Plains and those little extras being in First Class provided me.
Directly opposite where the train arrives were the coach stands. It was a brief 35 minute wait at Dubbo station before my coach was boarded and we departed for Nyngan. The CountryLink coaches are an extension of the former railway lines which were closed in the early 1990’s due to lack of usage and in Nyngans case the 1990 floods. As we boarded the coach, the driver insisted on checking everyones hand luggage for food or drinks as only water was allowed to be taken onboard. Quite a stark difference to the service on the train! One lady, who had a few snack in her bag, was ordered to place it in the luggage bins under the bus and she questioned what she was to do for snacks, to which the driver responded they’ll will be making a meal stop at Cobar, about 4 hours drive away. The one-class coach was no way near as comfortable as the train but for me it was only a 2 hour journey to Nyngan stopping at Narromine, Trangie and Nevertire.
As the scenery changed from the green and gold of the western plains it turned to the red of the outback not far from my destination, making the landscape seem yet again dramatic from that of the concrete jungle I am used to in Sydney we pulled into town outside the disused railway station at Nyngan. What a fitting end to an interesting journey.