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It's been a long time between lingering cocktails in the oft rowdy Outback Explorer Lounge carriage of the Indian Pacific as the Nullarbor sweeps by outside the picture windows.
But the train, which for over half-a-century had spanned the continent largely uninterrupted - until, that is, it was thwarted by the pandemic's incessant border closures - is finally and literally back on track after having been stabled for nearly nine months.
The Indian Pacific, with 160 passengers aboard, departed Adelaide for Perth on Thursday at 9.40 pm, South Australia time, with a scheduled arrival time in the Western Australia capital of 3pm on Saturday.
A lounge car on the Indian Pacific. Photo: SuppliedA pre-boarding celebratory dinner of the IP's comeback for passengers and crew was held on platform one at the Adelaide railway terminal at suburban Keswick, right next to the waiting train carriages sporting the train's wedge tail eagle logo.
From there the train is set to begin its first complete journey since 2021 between the Indian and Pacific oceans, from which of course, it gains its name.
From Perth to Sydney on Sunday the Indian Pacific will operate with 26 carriages and one locomotive at a length of 641 metres and weighing 1265 tonnes and 140 passengers.
On its 2131 kilometres journey across the Nullarbor it will span three time zones and three state borders. With the full trip of 4352 kilometres, it's the fourth-longest journey by train in the world, with its sister train The Ghan, between Adelaide and Darwin, coming in at number eight.
Aside from cruise ships, which remain banned by the federal government from Australian waters until at least next month, tourist-based train journeys have been one of the most severely affected segments of the Australian domestic tourism market.
But the Indian Pacific's first trip will mark the start of the start of the transcontinental crossings for 2022 with everyone hoping that it won't be stalled in its tracks yet again.
"With the inclement weather in NSW, we are closely monitoring the situation and liaising with rail authorities daily to ensure our journey runs safely and smoothly," says David Donald, executive general manager, rail expeditions, for Journey Beyond, operators of the train.
The Ghan has suffered significantly fewer disruptions than the Indian Pacific and is now operating to its pre-pandemic timetable. However, last month it was also unable to operate due to heavy rainfall which damaged a remote 300 kilometre stretch of the trans-Australian continental track.
The damage extended over 18 separate locations, requiring 50,000 tonnes of ballast and rock for urgent repairs, with freight trains between east and west also severely affected.
In 2021, the Indian Pacific operated from March 4 to June 23, running a total of 32 departures. The departure last night from Adelaide to Perth was therefore the first service since June, making it the train's longest absence from the tracks in its entire history.
"This journey is significant after the Indian Pacific's hiatus and COVID-related disruptions across 2021," says Donald. "We are delighted to finally be in a position to launch our 2022 season for the Indian Pacific and to have our crew back on the train, welcoming guests on board and ensuring they have a memorable experience.
"We have a number of guests whose journeys have been suspended due to COVID-19 and we are looking forward to being able to welcome them on board, along with guests with new bookings and guests who have had bookings in place for some time and have been keenly anticipating their travel."
To meet pent-up demand, extra services of Journey Beyond's three main trains have been arranged and their seasons extended.
Donald is also looking forward to the return of international passengers and benefiting from the global expertise and reach of its new US-based owners, the Hornblower Group (which last month acquired Journey Beyond for a reputed $600 million) to rebuild its numbers as overseas tourism rebounds.
To mark the occasion of the Indian Pacific's resumed service, Journey Beyond, is offering special deals for Australian passengers on specific departures, with 25 per off all of top tier platinum class bookings throughout the month of March. Let the Outback Explorer cocktails flow.
This article first appeared on www.traveller.com.au
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