On the Indian Pacific: running the train

By Carolyn Barry 8 November 2013
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It takes a huge amount of effort to keep the Indian Pacific running in tip-top shape.

Online editor Carolyn Barry reports back as she travels across the nation on the Indian Pacific – read more in this series.

Indian Pacific is, in the words of host Amy Huynh, to “have a relationship with food and drinks”. She is certainly right. You could very well be on a dining carousel given how well fed you are.

Meals are separated into two groups, to fit in all the passengers (the Queen Adelaide dining car seats 48). So there is a constant turn-around of patrons. Breakfast one, breakfast two, lunch one, lunch two, dinner one, dinner two. There’s just enough time for a quick nap and some window gazing before the next meal call. And after breakfast and dinner, you go back to your room to find the bed put away or set up.

All this, of course, requires a huge amount of work. About 25 crew service 26 cars and just under 200 passengers (maximum capacity on a ‘double’ train is close to 300) on the journey (including two chefs in each of the two restaurants).

Round trip

The crew start their trip from Adelaide and go to either Sydney or Perth, and back to Adelaide, which is the half-way point for passengers. A typical stint is 35 hours, though staff sometimes do back-to-back trips, working a 60-hour week with hours of about 7:30am to 11pm. To average out a 38-hr week, they would usually take time off – sometimes about a week or so – after a trip.

While they generally have specific jobs – bar tenders, host, food service – crew often mutlitask and help out with other jobs like housekeeping and drink service. Says bartender Hayley Hartweg who’s been with Great Southern Rail since July, “You don’t get bored because you get switched around a lot.” Having been in the hospitality industry on and off since she was 15, she loves this job, she says, “because I get to combine my two passions: travel and hospitality.”

The staff are also all highly trained in first aid, with the drivers the most qualified to triage and treat patients. In the outback, where services are hundred of kilometres away, the Indian Pacific is assisted by the Royal Flying Doctors for more serious cases.

The Indian Pacific staff appreciate the work of the Royal Flying Doctors such that each year they put on a special Christmas journey where musicians by the likes of Jimmy Barnes, Shannon Noll and, this year, James Reyne and Mark Seymour, perform free concerts at stops along the way to raise money for the service. (Visit here if you’re interested in finding out more).

Fast facts:
About 97,280 dinner rolls, 19,200 L of milk, 96,000 eggs and 8320 L of soup are served each year on the Indian Pacific.