MEET AUSTRALIA’S OWN RAILWAY MAN
Actor, TV presenter and model SCOTT MCGREGOR is well known to Aussie audiences. What they might not know is that he has a love of trains and is the managing director of Railway Adventures.
Q: What was it about train travel that first attracted you?
A: The old Mudgee Mail to and from boarding school was a party on wheels most of the time.
How cool to have your transport as a social space so you could play with your mates from compartment to compartment as the old overnight train rattled over the mountains to and from the big smoke.
I had a much earlier interest in the railways too which involved a fascination for the living, breathing steam loco on the front of the train, that’s the train buff side of me that has always fuelled an interest in the history and heritage of rail transport.
Q: Why do you think people love this form of travel so much?
I argue that trains are the most civilised form of transport yet invented. Why?
- You can get up and move around which means they are a good vehicle for social interaction as noted above.
- The way a railway is built, is very often elevated from the surrounding landscape aiding great views and the landscape is closer somehow. Also, there’s this view; “People’s backyards are much more interesting than their front gardens, and houses that back onto railways are public benefactors.” John Betjeman
- Generally, it’s a smooth ride, air turbulence or big waves are rare unless you play trains in Myanmar which I reckon is the wildest ride I’ve ever had since my early days mustering by horse!
- Very often it’s the most direct route to somewhere with stations in the heart of the cities and towns.
- In many places today such as Japan, India, Europe and China you get to your destination in a fraction of the time it would take to drive or even in many cases fly.
- For the true traveller, it’s a window into the world, like Paul Theroux said in his book, The Great Railway Bazaar, “Anything is possible on a train: a great meal, a binge, a visit from card players, an intrigue, a good night’s sleep, and strangers’ monologues framed like Russian short stories.”
Ruwenzori Retreat the Pullman Carriage
Q: Tell us about a couple of the amazing journeys you’ve been on.
Shanghai to St Petersburg: At 28 days it was the longest tour I’ve ever done and such an epic journey with a lovely small group which included riding the Trans-Siberian Railway on the most delightfully comfortable ‘Golden Eagle’.
The Caviar and Vodka nights on that train were unforgettable as was gathering my group around the railing on the front of the locomotive as we went around Lake Baikal at speed.
Sri Lanka is my all-time favourite tour. This pearl of an island has an extensive broad gauge railway network and the joy of this adventure revolves around our own cruising train for the whole time which is our daytime transport from region to region.
The Savannahlander is arguably Australia’s most eccentric and appealing train journey. Travelling along the 400kms from the heart of the Queensland Savannah to the coast at Cairns through a variety of landscapes and climate zones.
The train driver guides are the most entertaining hosts to be had anywhere who are up for stopping at any time to handle a snake, view a croc basking in the sun on the edge of a creek or boiling the billy trackside in the middle of nowhere. It’s all part of the joy of slow travel in the great Australian Bush.
For pure indulgence on the rails you can’t go past the incomparable Rovos Rail. Rowan Voss, the owner, bills his train as the most luxurious in the world and in my experience he’s right.
Partly because the compartments feature a king bed and the en-suite bathrooms are a lavish size for any train anywhere.
However, it’s the itineraries that are the glue on these trains, where the off-train explorations are as good as the onboard service. I can’t wait to do their long tour all the way to Darras Salam one day, it’s on my bucket list.
Ruwenzori Retreat The State Carriage
Q: Is it true that you now own your own train?
A: When we were kids, my brother had a train set and I didn’t! So, I’ve made up for it by amassing my own life-size train set.
In my early 20’s when I was keen to build a retreat on my folk’s property on the mountains out of Mudgee and thought it would be good to use vintage railway carriages, which at the time in the early 1980’s could be picked up for a song.
Cedar-bodied coaches some as old as the 1880’s were scattered all over the state and with a clever truck and crane operator we could position them like a train that had come to a halt on a scenic flat top ridge high on the Great Dividing Range.
Of course, like any good train set, I needed the track, station buildings, signals and all manner of materials to complement my train.
Now it’s not only my spiritual home but it’s a great place for others to enjoy and recline in Orient Express luxury across the seven restored and fully appointed Victorian-era carriages. www.stayinatrain.com
Q: What kind of experience can people expect with Railway Adventures?
A: The inspiration behind the quality of the tours I’ve designed has been driven in part by much of what I loved about train travel in my childhood.
The sense of history, the characters we include along the way and the stories. It’s as much about the journey as it is the destination and in many cases, we celebrate slow travel.
Heaps of inclusions and side trips simply add to the whole feeling of being in one great long stage play with every day a new act and every hour a new scene.
Q: What are some of the trips with RA that we should look out for?
A: We are doing scores of tours next year, but a number are unique to Railway Adventures. For example, our privately chartered steam train on the World Heritage-listed Himalayan Mountain Railway to Darjeeling is a rare treat.
We’re doing lots more tours where we charter special carriages for daytime travel, stay in luxury hotels and have our special train for scenic journeys.
In 2024 we will have programs like this in Sri Lanka, Cambodia, Thailand and Vietnam, Transylvania and the Balkans, parts of India and of course right here in Australia where our privately chartered heritage trains will criss-cross the countryside on all manner of adventures from Wings and Wheels to the Temora Airshow, the Elvis Festival and a wine and heritage experience in my dear old home town of Mudgee which, incidentally, includes a special sunset soiree at my private mountain top railway themed retreat at Ruwenzori, the very one I talked about earlier.
Q: How do you see the future of rail travel evolving?
A: We are witnessing a second railway revolution. Around the world, new trains, new networks and new technologies are being rolled out.
From the high-speed railways in Morocco, China, Laos and Brazil to a new fleet of smart sleeping coaches across Europe and our very own Ghan line to Darwin and the massive Inland Rail project.
Projects are being built and planned all over the world. However, the main driver for the revival of rail transport is its sheer efficiency.
The need to reduce our carbon footprint is one aspect, something that trains do better than anything, and the fact that people simply like travelling by train if they have the choice.
I admit that we are just seeing the beginning of a new golden age for train travel. See you all down the line, All Aboard!