I love encountering new places from the window of a long-distance train. Sometimes, though, it works the other way around. Back in 1995, I took a most enjoyable trip on the Queenslander, a 30-hour journey that runs northwards from the city of Brisbane, Australia to the holiday area of Cairns. This special weekly train featured not only a dining car, but also a lounge car with an on-board entertainer who provided both music and touristic commentary about the sights along the way.
On the second morning of the trip, I was relaxing in the mostly empty lounge car with just two other passengers when the entertainer asked if anyone wanted to sing. Now, I should explain that while I enjoy music and play the guitar, I am not a talented singer by any means. However, seeing that there was a minimal audience and being on vacation, I grabbed the microphone, requested some favorite tunes, and sang while she played the piano.
Later that morning as I entered the dining car for lunch, several people smiled at me and pointed. I was not exactly sure why. Another couple then joined us for lunch and remarked that they had enjoyed my songs. I was 100% certain that I had not seen them in the lounge car earlier. Surprise! Unbeknownst to me the entertainer had switched on the train’s intercom speaker system, meaning the entire train had heard my morning mini-concert!
My favorite Australian train tale, though, is about The Ghan, a train that runs northward from Alice Springs through the red center of the continent. This classic railway route has been upgraded through the years, most notably in 2004 when the line was finally extended all the way to the northern city of Darwin.
Prior to 1980, though, the old narrow gauge Ghan operated on different tracks across notoriously flood-prone sandy soil and suffered from frequent delays. The train was so late so often that it carried an extra flatcar with spare tools and sleepers so that crew and even passengers could help repair the line. One legend says that the train sat stuck in the same spot for two weeks, forcing the engine driver to hunt wild goats to feed the passengers.
The funny story about the old Ghan concerns a woman in the final stage of pregnancy who keeps nervously checking her wristwatch.
She asks the conductor, “Sir, will the train be delayed much longer? I’m afraid my baby could come any time now.”
The conductor, frowning at her, answers, “Madam, you should not have boarded the train in your condition.”
The pregnant woman replies, “I wasn’t in this condition when I got on!”