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On The Rails Day 4: Swan Hill serenity


9 hours on a train and a giant cod at the end. This is my working life.

Throughout this week, our resident travel maniac Angus Kidman is undertaking the On The Rails challenge, where he'll try and work from Victorian V/Line trains for a whole week. Learn about why he's doing it and what's involved.

After yesterday's boisterous boofheads and crowded carriages, today I am zen, I am calm, I am productivity personified. I will not stress about the fact that our train doesn't let anyone board until two minutes before leaving. I will not stress about the school holiday families invading the first-class coach. I will not stress about the near-total lack of signal once we pass Bendigo. I will accept it all as my self-imposed lot, and work my surprisingly-not-bruised backside off.

This attitude of enforced calm works. Today's the longest journey in my On The Rails odyssey, with almost nine hours on board. So my entire working day can be enclosed within these walls. My only reward will be the tasks I perform, and some hastily-purchased KFC for lunch. This is my story.

Today's journey facts

Outward: 0741-1223 Southern Cross-Swan Hill
Return: 1254-1725 Swan Hill-Southern Cross
Journey length: 345.3km each way
Return ticket price: $104.40
Weirdest station name: Dingee, though close competition from Pyramid (walk like an Egyptian!) and Kangaroo Flat (a common sight on Australian roads)
Did this line used to go further? Yes, the odd passenger train ran as far as Piangil until 1976

How was the journey?

As well as being the longest trip of the week, this service makes the most stops. One upside of this is that mobile signal is consistent for the first half of the trip, since we're so often near population centres. There are drop-outs after Bendigo, but not so often as to make me nervous.

I didn't have to suffer anyone sitting next to me, so I was able to spread out and take full advantage of my tray table. That said, in places, the line is pretty rough. Near Castlemaine, for instance, the train is so bouncy the screen is shaking and there is no way my laptop would stay in place if I didn't have both hands on it.

Reflecting my focus on productivity, it's only today that I've realised you can actually recline the first-class seats if you wish. I doubt I'd ever have noticed if the guard hadn't asked anyone who had reclined their seat to restore it just before we pulled into Swan Hill.

Swan Hill itself seems unremarkable, though there is a giant cod next to the station. I have no comment on this.

How productive was I?

Today was, immodestly, a 9 out of 10 day. I got a lot of writing done, I was available and responsive for questions from colleagues as they came up, I never felt like I wasn't working effectively. I even managed a half hour phone meeting while in fairly remote countryside and didn't suffer a single dropout.

With a full 9 hours on the rails, power management might have been an issue, but judicious deployment of backup batteries meant I managed to cruise into Southern Cross and still have a fully functional phone. After four days, I feel like I've really got this working-on-a-train thing nailed.

Up next: My final day sees me venturing to Ararat, and I'm already nervous, because seat reservations aren't available.

On The Rails: The whole story

Angus Kidman's Findings column looks at new developments and research that help you save money, make wise decisions and enjoy your life more. It appears regularly on

Pictures: Angus Kidman

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