March 15, 2022 | By Graeme Kemlo

Geelong travel agent Stuart Coffield had to cut staff numbers from 20 to five as COVID hit his business through 2020. In February 2021, he mortgaged his house to pay $500,000 to exclusively charter legendary Australian train The Ghan.

Not only was he gaining exclusive use of his favourite train in the world, but he was re-routing it from Adelaide to Geelong on rails it has never used, so he could design an exclusive experience. He added one extra night to the usual three-day-two-night schedule from Adelaide to Darwin.

For the inaugural journey from Geelong to Darwin, Coffield has organised Ray Martin to host a special breakfast at Adelaide Oval before the train continues on to Alice Springs and Darwin

It took months of negotiation and as he describes it, “I’m 51 and single and this was like a divorce”.

“But I am a great believer, you’ve got to have a go…there’s no point sitting and waiting for business to come to you, you ‘ve got to go out and chase it.”

Coffield, who started his travel agency aged 21, confesses to be “a bit of a train buff”. Following his own mantra, he set up the new business – – in the midst of the pandemic and some thought he was mad.

Already 11 travel agencies in Geelong had shut down, but his gamble paid off and he sold out the first of two trains in seven days with 240 passengers, not only from Victoria, but every state and territory of Australia.  He even received calls from overseas, although Australia’s borders were closed at the time.

Coaches will bring passengers from the Melbourne to Inverleigh near Geelong, where there’s a long enough stretch of track to handle the one kilometre-long train. Aussietrains’ first trip kicks off April 5 from Geelong to Darwin and a second on August 26 is a return from Darwin to Geelong.

Coffield told micenet that he had secured a third exclusive charter on April 26, 2023 from Geelong to Darwin, in which he is also targeting the corporate incentive market. Apart from luxury bedrooms and silver service meals with drinks, there are a number of off-train excursion options that are perfect for corporate reward or team building activities.

“We sold out all the Platinum or business class accommodation first so there’s clearly interest there,” he said, and with the ability to add the Chairman’s Carriage, which is like a board room, or the Platinum Lounge for meetings, he is beginning to market to the business events sector for journeys during 2023.

“Journey Beyond have been great to deal with and I believe we’ve already proved we can deliver an amazing exclusive experience on one of the world’s great trains.

“We’d love to charter one train a month, but that’s just not possible on The Ghan’s current schedule,” Coffield said, adding that he’s actively considering other Australian and international train journeys.

Coffield won’t be aboard The Ghan next month as he will be busy hosting his own agency’s travel expo at Geelong Football Club for 3,500 clients.

“But I am sending two of our senior team on the train and we’ve already added three new staff,” he says.

So it is full steam ahead for