I was originally booked to travel on the XPT overnight from Casino to Sydney, spend all of yesterday in Sydney, and then travel on the overnight XPT from Sydney to Melbourne, arriving home this morning. The XPT from Casino and the daytime XPT to Melbourne normally connect at Strathfield in Sydney, but due to trackwork, the Melbourne XPTs are not running via Strathfield at the moment and appeared to depart Central before the Casino XPT's arrival. Hence the original booking with a day in Sydney and a return on the overnight service.
However, as we approached Sydney yesterday morning, an announcement was made that there would in fact be a cross-platform connection with the daytime Melbourne XPT at Central. So, I innocently asked the crew, although I was booked on the overnight service, was there any possibility of transferring to the daytime service? I was dreading the prospect of 12-13 hours by myself in Sydney with nobody to talk to and a heavy bag to lug around full of valuables (laptop, wallet, camera, etc.) that I won't let out of my sight. The member of crew told me that if I got off and went to Car G, they'd see if they had a free seat. A few minutes later, another member of crew comes over to me and says that in fact, he'll escort me straight off the train onto the daytime service, since seats 17 and 18 in Car B will be free as they are never booked and only ever used by crew. "Great!" I think, "they must've called ahead, confirmed no crew were using those seats, and they could swing me into them."
So in Sydney, the crew member escorts me across ... only to find other passengers already in B 17-18. Turns out the service had already had four double-bookings and the head of staff was run off her feet trying to resolve the issue. In the meantime, the guy from the Casino XPT had to go, so he left me in the care of a junior staff member, who wondered if perhaps the Casino guy had meant 17-18 in Car C, and led me there until the head of staff could sort me out. Only problem was, the train departed Central before the head of staff was able to get to me. Woops. So she comes to me just after we cleared the platform and says that sorry, she doesn't have a seat for me at all, and I will have to disembark at Strathfield. Until then, I can sit in C 7. I'm thinking "but we're not going via Strathfield ...", but before I even had the chance to say that, she shuttles off to deal with the next problem and I relocate from C 17 to C 7.
Of course, we head off towards Wollongong and I watch all kinds of stations not named Strathfield pass the window. I overhear the head of staff radio the driver to ask if they're stopping at some other suburban location. No, nobody to pick up there, and he's going to keep going to Moss Vale without stopping. Problem for the head of staff is that Moss Vale is a good couple of hours away, and it's entirely unreasonable to ditch the poor blind guy somewhere he's never even been with a long wait for anything running back to Sydney. Suddenly, seat 13 in Car E materialises. After profusely apologising for causing a hassle and explaining that I never would've even boarded if the Casino crew hadn't given me a specific seat number and taken responsibility for escorting me there, I get comfortable in my new-found seat and watch the view. I don't even have anybody beside me in E 14 - score!
The train ride through country New South Wales is uneventful. The day trip is fantastic and I'll write more about it in my next entry. I'm enjoying reading a book, staring out the window every now and then, listening to my iPod, and rejoicing that I've dodged 12-13 boring hours alone and will be home much earlier than anticipated. Then we pull into Cootamundra. A mother and her daughter are booked for E 13-14. Uh-oh. The head of staff is frazzled and starts to take it out on me. I can't say I blame her, given all the hassles she seemed to have had throughout the day, but her insistence that I should've consulted them before boarding starts to seem ridiculous when she repeats it multiple times despite my explanation that I was only following instructions and was escorted by a Casino crew who seemed to be sure I could have a specific seat. The only thing I did under my own initiative was ask if there was any possibility of transferring to the daytime XPT; I subsequently did nothing but follow the instructions of staff. That kept falling on deaf ears and she couldn't seem to rustle up a seat, so I found myself parked in the medical emergency seat in Car C until she could figure something out later.
Not long before we arrive at Junee, seat 11 has now materialised in Car B. Funny how this all works, isn't it? No, at Central, there would've been no spare seats and I would've been turfed off at Strathfield had we gone via there. But now that they're actually stuck with me and have to be a bit creative, there are seats appearing. So I can't say I feel particularly bad about being directed onto the train. I sit down in B 11 beside a rather nice old man, and we chat on and off until we reach Benalla, where he departs, and I return to watching the countryside fly past me until we reach Melbourne, stunningly late. The forced detour via Wollongong had put us over 2 hours behind schedule and we were never able to make it up. On the way through Victoria, we encounter freight trains at just about every single crossing loop. We were meant to arrive in Melbourne at 7:15. We pull up at about 9:20 as the last of the day's light vanishes. When I should have been about 40 minutes outside Sydney, I'm instead dragging my suitcase through an uncomfortably quiet part of the CBD and hoping not to draw too much attention to myself. After catching my tram home, I walk through the door at about the time I should've been trying to catch snippets of sleep around Wollongong. And all it cost me was a $5.50 rebooking fee and a bit of criticism from staff who did in fact have seats spare and just had to be a bit creative about it. I'm home!