Sydney’s ghost train network

July 28, 2007 at 3:00 am 6 comments

trains_wideweb__470x3110.jpgI work in Sydney but live just short of Newcastle – so that’s a 2+ hour journey each way per day. That’s on a good day. As people who travel on the “Newcastle Flyer” express train will tell you, it’s more like the Newcastle Snail, succumbing to mysterious delays or often stuck behind an all-stations train as it winds its way to Sydney.

So it was with some jealousy that I read this article from The Sydney Morning Herald and wished I could be transported back to 1937. Apparently, the Newcastle Flyer took 2 hours and 26 minutes to reach Sydney in those days, which is 5 minutes faster than today. Hello CityRail – let me repeat: 5 minutes faster than today. What the?

Not only that – back in 1955, NSW Railways (as it was then called) moved 280.5 million people around the rail network – that is 5 million more than in 2006. Now, the really intelligent amongst us would figure out that Sydney’s population has grown heaps since 1955, but only two rail lines have been added to the network since then and seven projects have been halted or ceased mid-construction. And those of us who travel endlessly up and down the Newcastle line well know that the plans for a fast rail service between Sydney and Newcastle have been snuffed.

And to add salt to my wounds, apparently back in the good old days, 26 trains an hour or one every two minutes was the norm; now it’s about 12 trains per hour. So perhaps CityRail could go underground and investigate the ghost network that exists under Sydney. There’s a rail mausoleum lying under Sydney’s streets. Over 100 years ago, plans for a sophisticated network were put into action – tunnels were dug and massive concrete sidings were erected. Unfortunately, this transport vision went AWOL and the train tunnels lead nowhere but I’d be happy to have my taxes go towards resurrecting this vision.

I was speaking to an old bloke the other day on the Newcastle Snail, sorry Flyer. We were stuck behind an all-stations train, so there was time for some congenial conversation. He told me that train travel in the “olden days” was a pleasant, almost luxurious experience. With ears pricked up, I listened intently because there’s no way I’d describe my daily travel experience as pleasant or luxurious. I guess he was in his 80s and he told me of a time long gone, when inter-city trains had comfortable seats with wood panel backing. There were places for four people to sit with a table in the middle for playing cards and (gasp) there was a dining car to trot off to and get a coffee or something to eat. You could even (shock, horror) book a seat for an entire year – a seat that was always yours, in the same place, every day. I looked at him with incredulity. Either he’s been smoking the whacky tobaccy or this was the way inter-city trains in New South Wales used to be. What happened I ask? Now I travel on an inter-city train that has seen better days; has graffiti on seats (and these seats are not always clean); and has dingy toilets that no-one in their right mind frankly would go to – you’d rather hang on for 2+ hours!

Now, I know that CityRail is trying. Recently, passengers on the 4.12pm out of Sydney were greeted by very pleasant CityRail employees, handing out a passenger survey complete with a pen. The people in the carriage I was travelling in were speechless – we don’t generally get surveys handed out, let alone accompanying pens.

But seems that frustrated commuters have now taken things into their own hands and set up a survey website to tell CityRail how to lift its game. is the site, set up by a 24-year old (love your work Gen Y!).

And just to prove there is a ghost network under Sydney, I’ve pinched the photo accompanying this post from The Sydney Morning Herald article.


Entry filed under: Rant, Transport.

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6 Comments Add your own

  • 1. RupertG  |  July 29, 2007 at 1:19 pm

    This was a really interesting read – its amazing how CityRail did more with less 50 years ago…

    …and not to be picky – it was a 24 year old AND a 32 year old that built RateCityRail… 😉

  • 2. thinkingshift  |  July 29, 2007 at 8:06 pm

    Thx for the info Rupert – love the work of 32 year olds too! Hope they can make some changes with their great initiative.

  • 3. Terri P  |  August 9, 2007 at 3:37 am

    Love the story, can anyone tell me the price of a train ticket back then, as there doesn’t seem to be any improvements with price rises as cityrail claims (where is the money going?)

  • 4. thinkingshift  |  August 9, 2007 at 6:27 am

    Hi Terri

    I am going to find out – it would be interesting to know wouldn’t it :)-

  • 5. Paula  |  June 14, 2009 at 7:30 am

    I have just come across this story, while doing s search on Google for information on the old NSW train lines, and also the tram system.

    I could not agree more with your comments, and have always wondered why the train to the Northern Beaches did not come to fruition. I used to live on the Northern Beaches, and there was some discussion about putting in trams/light rail to provide a service to the city. I used to travel to work in the city by bus, and it was bad then.

    Instead of putting more motorways, why not use the land put aside for these for a much better light rail/tram network. It would certainly benefit people in the north-west and south-west areas of Sydney.

  • 6. thinkingshift  |  June 14, 2009 at 7:49 am

    amen Paula!! if you’re doing research, check out my companion piece on 1930s rail travel


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