Motorail – loading cars onto a train

‘Motorail’ is a service provided on a handful of long distance trains in Australia, allowing passengers to bring their car along for the ride. So how do they get the cars on and off the train?

Great Southern Rail

Great Southern Rail offers a motorail service on their Indian Pacific and The Ghan services.

Their wagons have enough room to fit eight small cars aboard, split across two decks.

Motorail wagon AMRZ 240B with four cars

Loading and unloading cars takes a lot of messing around at each end – the wagons needs to be uncoupled from the rest of the train.

Shunting the wagon into the dock

Then pushed up against the unloading ramp.

Getting ready to unload the car

The car is then driven down the ramp…

Driving down the ramp...

And away for the owner to pick up.

And away

Queensland Rail

Queensland Rail also offers motorail service on their long distance locomotive-hauled services. However their car carrying wagons blend into the rest of the train.

Tail end of the train during the station stop at Townsville

Each wagon has a pair of doors on the side. The top ‘gull wing’ door opens upwards.

First stage of unloading cars is opening the roof door

While the lower door moves downwards to form a ramp.

Next the lower door is lowered to form a ramp

With the wagon parked right beside the passenger platform, there is no need for any shunting moves.

Motorail wagon open and ready for the cars to be driven off

Allowing cars to be driven straight off the train.

Driving a car off the motorail wagon and onto the platform at Cairns

Note that the above Queensland Rail example is from the Sunlander service – come December 31, 2014 the sleeping train service will be replaced by the slightly faster Tilt Train, which has aircraft style lie-flat beds.

Update – November 2015

The Overland used to have a Motorail service – withdrawn for the redevelopment of Southern Cross Station, reintroduced in February 2009, then withdrawn again from 1 November 2015. On this date Motorail services to and from Sydney and Alice Springs were also withdrawn.

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10 Responses to “Motorail – loading cars onto a train”

  1. Andrew says:

    So most of the cars traversing from the west to the east of Australia and back again don’t travel by train? Getting your car onto a train should be a no nonsense process and very interesting that Queensland does it well.

    • Marcus Wong says:

      On the Indian Pacific and The Ghan trains passengers can take their car, with a number of car carrying wagons being attached for the larger number of vehicles.

      Freight trains headed west of Adelaide often have triple-decked car carrying wagons attached, which carry vehicles consigned by commercial transport companies.

      Double stacked PN freight heads west out of Adelaide near Bolivar

      Cars also get carried on freight trains inside special containers – they allow two decks of cars to be carried.

      TRAY 1005D, five pack wagon

  2. Jacob says:

    No mention of cost.

  3. Ives says:

    Despite height clearance isn’t an issue past the tunnels of Adelaide Hills; the height limitation only allows “stock” height vehicles ex. rooftop racks and tent on GSR services even when a little relaxed on the Ghan services and still lower then a “double stacked” container.

    Put it this way I did try to plan to 4WD around the Top End next year after the roads open up after the wet season, so in a rig which has been slightly raised (to the maximum allowed height in Victoria) it would be cheaper for me to fly up to Darwin and met up with the vehicle transported by Ceva logistics, then is for me to drive to Adelaide and hop on the Ghan and its motorail service, then at Darwin find the local suspension place to do a swap-a-roo back into the after market “raising” parts.

    Of course… plan B is travel by Rail to the Top End and buy a second hand most likely ex mine 4WD and hope its not a lemon and lasts another 3-4 weeks of more punishments on the rough tracks then sell it before I head south.

  4. Tim Chuma says:

    You need to have a pretty good car to make it the large distances in Australia. I remember going on family holidays towing a caravan up to Port Headland in the early 80s and to FNQ in 1986. Car took a lot of punishment.

    It is much cheaper to fly these days but there are still touring musicians and such who have to travel between cities.

    You can get your car put on a flatbed truck and bought over for around $600. Jeez, Unaccompanied Motorail costs a lot!

  5. […] 2009 saw the reintroduction of motorail services on The […]

  6. Helen Michell says:

    A little off topic. Motorrail also used to be available on the Melbourne – Mildura overnight train. My parents had a Fiat which broke down between Mildura & Broken Hill. No Fiat dealer or parts available there, so they had the car towed back to Mildura and put it on the train. I met it and a towtruck driver at Spencer St & it was towed from there to their usual workshop. They couldn’t get tickets for themselves for a few days.

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