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A one-way trip takes between 70.5 and 75 hours, depending on scheduling and daylight saving periods. The train currently has two classes, branded as Platinum and Gold Service. A motorail service conveys passengers' motor vehicles between Adelaide and Perth.
The service was originally operated jointly by the four operators whose networks it traversed, with revenues and costs apportioned Department of Railways New South Wales (28.5%), South Australian Railways (10%), Commonwealth Railways (45%) and Western Australian Government Railways (16.5%).
The first Indian Pacific service left Sydney on 23 February 1970, becoming the first direct train to cross the Australian continent, made possible by the completion of the east-west standard gauge project a few months earlier. At the time it was the third longest passenger train in terms of distance after services on the Trans-Siberian Railway and the Canadian.
Locomotives and crews were provided by the Department of Railways New South Wales between Sydney and Broken Hill, South Australian Railways between Broken Hill and Port Pirie, the Commonwealth Railways between Port Pirie and Kalgoorlie and Western Australian Government Railways between Kalgoorlie and Perth. With the formation of Australian National in July 1975, it provided locomotives and crews from Broken Hill to Kalgoorlie. Locomotives were changed at Lithgow, Broken Hill, Port Pirie and Kalgoorlie.
On-board crews were originally provided between Sydney and Port Pirie by Commonwealth Railways on one service and New South Wales Government Railways on the other services, Commonwealth Railways between Port Pirie and Kalgoolie and West Australian Government Railways between Kalgoolie and Perth.
The train originally operated twice per week. In times of heavy demand, a double consist would operate. It would operate in New South Wales as two trains before being combined at Broken Hill.
In July 1973, a third service was introduced followed in July 1975 by a fourth, these later two being extensions of existing Trans-Australian services. In October 1976 a motorail service was introduced between Port Pirie and Perth. Originally vehicles were loaded in Perth at the Kewdale Freight Terminal before a car loading ramp was built at East Perth station.
The service was suspended from 2 December 1982 to 25 April 1983 due to an industrial dispute over staffing levels in South Australia. When it resumed, the service was reduced to three times weekly with the second class sleepers replaced by sitting carriages.
From August 1986, the train commenced operating via Adelaide. In October 1988 the motorail service was extended through to Sydney.
In June 1991, the service was cut from three times a week to two. This was reduced to weekly in January 1992 between Sydney and Adelaide with two services a week between Adelaide and Perth.
From January 1994 the service was operated throughout by Australian National CL class locomotives.
As part of the privatisation of Australian National, the Indian Pacific, along with The Ghan and The Overland, was sold to Great Southern Rail (now known as Journey Beyond Rail Expeditions) in October 1997. Motive power provision was contracted to National Rail. Today the Indian Pacific operates weekly. A second service operated between September and November until 2015.
In 1970, the journey took 75 hours. With subsequent infrastructure improvements and reductions to the time needed to change locomotives and crew, the journey now takes 65 hours despite the longer distance.
NR28 in Indian Pacific livery with an eastbound service at Mount Lawley in December 2014
Today, the weekly service consists of up to 25 carriages and two motorail wagons. Because of its length, the train is split in two when stabled at Sydney Central station.
Originally each of the operators hauled the train over their network with locomotives changed at Broken Hill, Port Pirie and Kalgoorlie. A further change occurred at Lithgow from electric to diesel power. Due to Westrail suffering a motive power shortage, Australian National locomotives hauled the service in Western Australia from October 1973 until March 1977.
From January 1994 the service was operated throughout by Australian National CL class locomotives. Since November 1997, it has been hauled by Pacific NationalNR class locomotives. Seven NR class, (NR18, NR25-NR29, NR86) have been repainted in differing Indian Pacific liveries.
The lead locomotive is assisted by a 81, G or second NR class between Sydney and Adelaide. In 2014, NR25-NR28 were repainted in a new livery that is much closer to that of Pacific National. In 2018, NR29 and NR86 had Indian Pacific signwriting applied their existing liveries.
A stationary Indian Pacific during the night (2010)
The train originally offered just 52 first-class sleeping berths and 96 second-class sleeping berths. However, the train was limited to 144 passengers, as this was the number that could be serviced by three sittings in the 48-seat dining car.
From 1973, the accommodation was altered to provide 88 first-class sleeping berths and 64 second-class. The club-cafeteria car also provided a small number of second-class seats for short-distance travelers on the Commonwealth Railways segment.
From 1975, Australian National provided full sitting carriages west of Port Pirie on two journeys per week. The Department of Railways New South Wales initially resisted providing sitting accommodation over the whole journey, but Public Transport CommissionHUB/RUB sitting carriages were included between Sydney and Port Pirie from 1974, with Australian National providing sitting carriages from Broken Hill to Peterborough for an onward connection to Adelaide. By 1979 the Public Transport Commission carriages were operating from Sydney to Peterborough. In 1981 this was extended to Port Pirie.
The train formerly had four classes, branded as Platinum, Gold Service, Red Service Sleeper and Red Service Daynighter. The Platinum Service was introduced in 2008 as a premium class of travel. The Gold Service, the former first-class service, features either roomette or twinette sleeper cabins, with complimentary meals in the restaurant car.
Red Service, the equivalent of economy class, featured both dual-berth shared sleeper cabins and airline-style 'sit-up' seats similar to other Australian trains. It also had its own restaurant car. Red Service was withdrawn in July 2016.
The train also has a motorail service to carry passengers' motor vehicles. This facility was available throughout the journey until November 2015, when it was reduced to only operate between Adelaide and Perth.
A full Indian Pacific set made promotional trips to Canberra and Newcastle for travel agents prior to its launch in February 1970.
Further trips were made to Canberra in 1981 and 1985, and to Newcastle in 1975, 1976, 1977 and 1979.
18 February 1970: On a test run from Port Pirie, an Indian Pacific set struck a derailed freight train near Locksley ripping the sides out of several carriages
24 December 1975: 13 of the 25 carriages on the eastbound train derailed due to a collapsed bogie on the leading carriage, east of the remote Nullarbor Plain siding of Rawlinna. Three of the 200 passengers were injured; they were flown from Forrest to Adelaide.
24 January 1978: The westbound train derailed near Forbes as a result of wet weather washing away part of the track. The train had been diverted south through Forbes, because of washaways between Parkes and Broken Hill. Three of the 153 passengers were taken to Forbes District Hospital.
26 November 2017: At 10:12 am, just 600 metres after departing from East Perth station, the Indian Pacific, heading for Sydney, derailed. "The second carriage jumped the tracks, grinding the train-ride to a halt."
Smith, Keith A. (2004). Tales from a Railway Odyssey: Nullarbor Interlude: a recollection of a railway journey across Australia with Lord Louis Mountbatten. Encounter Bay, SA: Robin Rise Books. ISBN1864770406.