Due to the growing popularity of intercity railways, it is possible that sleeper carriages will not be permanently removed from Sydney-Melbourne train services.
Now, it is not expected that the new Spanish-built trains will be in service before April 2026. There is still no official arrival date.
The new trains do not have sleeper carriages, but they do feature reclining seats.
The New South Wales Regional Transport Minister, Jenny Aitchison, told Guardian Australia that the government would keep an open mind if asked if existing XPT sleeping cars could be refurbished and used in train sets once the new rolling stocks arrived or if surplus stock could run more regular services on popular routes.
She said that they were considering all options to replace the fleet, but the decision would not be taken until the new trains arrive and the authorities have had the chance to inspect the condition of the older sets.
The government will see if the reclining chairs on the new trains are more popular among travelers than the sleeper carriages that only have a few berths for each service.
Aitchison stated, “It is better to be agnostic before we see how it looks.”
She said, “Everything’s on the table to see what the best option is.” She said: “Some of these trains have been well-maintained, so is there a chance to improve them?”
New trains will have charging points and wifi.
The XPT fleet has no modern connectivity. Since the 1980s, it has serviced long-distance journeys from Sydney, like the almost 11-hour trip to Melbourne twice daily.
Even the reception of mobile phones is weakened by the windows on older carriages.
The demand for the Sydney-Melbourne route is so high that the state operator frequently adds extra carriages to its twice-daily service.
The number of passengers on this trip, which costs $78 per adult economy seat if purchased five days before departure outside of holiday periods and $234 per sleeper berth, grew by 47% between 2023 and now exceeds the numbers from the time prior to the pandemic.
Before December, which is traditionally the busiest month of the year, the average monthly patronage was 31,000.
In 2023, for every 20 passengers traveling by air between Sydney and Melbourne, one passenger will use the train service at least part-way.
In early last year, domestic airfares reached record levels, and train travel accounted for 7% of all air trips on the fifth-busiest route in the entire world.
The growth of Sydney-Melbourne night trains was largely driven by the strong ridership of these services, which has risen in average monthly patronage from 2013 to 2023.
Aitchison used to book long-distance Australian train travel in her previous career as a trip planner. She said that the overnight train is appealing to travelers who want to save money on accommodation.
Baby boomers were particularly fond of this service. However, there was also an increase in passengers who paid full fare, which contradicted the assumption that the train mainly served concessions.
Aitchison stated that “for the older demographic they love the fact they can get up to use the bathroom or go for a stroll, [or] go get food.” “They are not under control of the driver.”
The train has a few obvious disadvantages. It only runs two services per day in each direction, and it takes longer to travel than a car.
The only way Australia’s trains can reach their theoretical top speed of 160km/h is by investing in track improvements. The new fleet of trains won’t reduce travel time if the track isn’t improved.
Track upgrades and possible deviations for speeding up interstate routes will require cooperation from the Commonwealth and its Australian Rail Track Corporation. This national body runs most of the country’s tracks, including the Sydney to Melbourne line.
Aitchison stated that there is a case for the federal government to contribute more funding to NSW operations, given that they serve multiple states and territories.
She added that NSW was also responsible for fostering Australia’s long-distance traveling culture until the Commonwealth delivered its High-Speed Rail Project, the first segment of which will be Sydney-Newcastle in the coming decades.
If you go to the gold-plated, very fast train, and there is no patronage because people don’t use it, then what we have is high-speed rail, which becomes a little bit of pie in the air.
Aitchison said that the NSW government is open to hearing rail experts and the public’s ideas about how to improve service in regional areas. He encouraged submissions to be made as part of the government’s strategic regional integrated transportation planning process.
Aitchison stated, “We are trying to change the consultation mode… People who want to tell us something just need to be heard better.”