What a Ride!


Did you travel on the train today?  How was your journey?

Sydney’s train service – or lack of it – gets a lot of criticism. City Rail is often referred to as City Fail, City Snail and even Shitty Fail.

I’m going to tell you about a recent trip I made.

I will start with the experience of buying a ticket. When I was much youngeryou had to queue up and buy tickets from a person at the ticket office. Now there are vending machines which are meant to be fast and efficient.

I joined the line of people at the machine, the coins jingling in my pocket.  I pressed the button for my destination  then looked for the coin slot – it was gone!  Then I saw a sign saying Credit Card only.  What’s wrong with real money?

So I moved to another machine which definitely took coins. I pressed the buttons – there was a strange grinding sound and the display showed Out of Order.  I could see a train approaching but I had to get a ticket.

In Sydney you wouldn’t think of getting on a train without a ticket otherwise a gigantic Samoan man dressed like a police officer and wearing a badge saying  Transit Office will harass you like an escaped criminal and issue a fine for $200. How does City Rail have money for Transit officers but not maintaining the ticket machines?

So I bought my ticket the old fashioned way – over the counter.

I smiled at  the ticket clerk – “Return ticket please”    He said “where to, mate?”.

I replied  “Back to this station of course!” – Then I realized his question and said – “Oh sorry… Return to Wynyard”.

I thought I would have a conversation – so I asked “What time does the train get to the City?”. He replied “10.15”. I asked “Is there any way I can get there sooner?”.   He stared at me and said – “Yes sit in the first carriage”.

I looked up at the Display monitors. The one on the left was entirely blue – with a small rectangle in the middle. I moved closer and could see “Press Ctl-Alt-Del to  unlock screen”.

I watched the other monitor and could see the train was due in 4 minutes.  A woman was standing with her son who looked about 6 years old.  The boy said “Mummy .. it changed to 3 minutes”.  Sure enough,  4 changed to 3, then 2, then suddenly jumped  up to  5 …  Maybe the train had gone into reverse, then forward, then reverse, then forward again.

I learnt that City Rail stations don’t have any “facilities”.  This is a result of successive State governments cost cutting campaigns. Years ago they got rid of the rubbish bins because they couldn’t afford to pay staff to empty them. Prerecorded announcements request “Passengers please take your rubbish with you and dispose thoughtfully” .

The train arrived and I went into the carriage. I could tell that the passengers had obeyed that announcement because previouspassengers had taken their rubbish with them …..  and thoughtfully leave it under the seat.

I should be thankful that the train was running that day.  City Rail occasionally shuts the system down on weekends. They call it “track work” and they promise to minimize disruption. Usually the track work is scheduled for weekends when you really want to travel somewhere that would be inconvenient by car – like a sporting event or  rock concert.

City Rail often does  track work on long weekends like Australia Day, Anzac Day, Easter, June Long Weekend, October Long weekend, Christmas and New Year – but otherwise the disruptions are minimal. They also advise you get to the station 30 minutes earlier to catch the chartered bus – this will guarantee you can be no more than one hour late for your destination.

I checked the City Rail web site about why trains get cancelled or run very late. One of the reasons is  “Severe weather conditions”. Based on my experience, there are  4 severe conditions that affect the service.

  • The first is when it is raining. The signal wires are so old that they short-circuit when wet.
  • Another  severe condition is wind which causes overhead wires to break. Once I was held up at St Leonards on a windy day because a plastic barbecue cover was blown from a home unit balcony onto the overheard wires.
  • The third condition is extreme  heat causing the tracks to buckle and the train has to travel very slowly.
  • The last condition is extreme cold causing the train drivers not to report to wor

The ideal weather for train travel is 20 degrees, sunny and no wind.

Not all problems are due to City Rail  – it is the noisy passengers who leave rubbish – not City Rail staff.    The latest hazard, especially in the morning is the commuter carrying a hot cup of take away coffee.

One morning I saw a business-man place his nearly full cup of coffee on the floor. It wasn’t long before the inevitable happened. The train jerked and the coffee cup fell over. A tsunami  of hot brown liquid flowed rapidly down the corridor threatening other commuters and backpacks left on the floor. The man realised what had happened but was powerless to clean up the spill. Who carries paper towels in their briefcase? He sheepishly removed some paper from his briefcase and put it on the spill, but photocopy paper is not absorbent.

City Rail got tired of all the jokes about their name , so the implemented the oldest marketing trick in the book.  If  a product is old and tired, then give it a new name, a new logo.   Good bye City Rail and hello Sydney Trains.

Yes you read it correctly – Sydney Trains. I wonder how much money was spent thinking of the name?  They have a new uniform with a lot of bright orange color. I just hope that this burst of spending will result in a better rail experience for us all.

Now let me get back to waiting for that train.


Author: charuzu

I live in Sydney and interests include music, piano playing, technology, cooking, English language, public speaking, Toastmasters, Asian culture (especially Japan and Korea), cinema, personal development, productivity and making friends with people from around the world.

2 thoughts on “What a Ride!”

  1. You’re lucky you live closer to the city then many people most. Just imagine living further out and having to stop every station to the city like I do.
    * My train to the city is now almost 10 minutes slower than in the mid 1980s!
    * I have fewer peak hour trains and less trains over the whole day. We have no bus or train service overnight.
    * They advertise that our station has toilets but there is rarely any staff there to open them.
    * The one rubbish tin is way down the end of the station so people don’t use it.
    * The ticket machines work about half the time or will only accept notes or only accept coins.
    * At the city stations there are now very few seats to sit on to wait for our limited trains to come. On our own station we have few seats under cover to sit on when waiting for our trains (every 30 minutes during the non peak)
    * Many trains whizz past from the central coast but they rarely stop them for us even if ours are delayed. If they are forced to stop for us they make announcements to tell regular passengers to contact Shitty Snail themselves and complain about having to stop at these irregular stations.
    * It took them about 15 years to replace the unsafe walking surface on the approaches to the platform
    * We had a survey pamphlet once. We were asked what we wanted most ie clean trains etc. Trains that ran on time was not one of the options we could choose
    * There is a microphone button where we can call and ask for help. But when I call and ask when a late running train will arrive they can never tell me. In fact one day the microphone went to a very strange maintenance centre where of course they wouldn’t know anything like that
    * We have so many weekends with no service. It takes 3 buses to get into the city. That is a lot of scambling onto buses looking for seat. Sometimes the bus drivers don’t know the way. For example, one day the bus driver took the wrong route at Turramurra. The suburban street was so narrow we had to go a long way before there was room for him to turn the bus back to the station.

  2. Charles, I feel your pain (although I no longer have my diurnal commute as you still do)!

    You should send this blog post to the MOT (Minister Of Transport) NSW. Remember all the years the NSW Labor government promised us new trains — and even though a few have trickled in, it never got rid of all the circa 1950s “silver screamers” (oft promised to be fully replaced by 2011: 2011?)? Well, the Libs (who promised this would be delivered while they were in opposition) are in and we STILL have them (albeit, some new trains). Libs: how about it???

    1. When will the “silver screamers” finally be put in the scrap heap and the whole fleet modernized?

    2. When will we get a ticketing system that is a 21st century version (i.e. electronic/digitally rechargeable etc. like Japan and much of Europe)?

    I understand why the trains have the “brown shirts” as I call them; and, as you point out, they pick the most formidable ones they can find (they should be put to work cleaning up the trains). Oh, and you can blame silly Fair Work penalty rates etc. for why there aren’t more train interior maintainers.

    Sydney Trains: hhhmmm, how about an up-to-date euphemism: Sydney Strains?

    I expect that I will not see what I denote in items 1 & 2 before I fall off the perch!

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