It’s still a snail
Perhaps I should wait a little longer. Perhaps I should wait to see if the wheels come off next week when the school holidays are over. But I’ve had enough already, so time for this blog post.
Regular ThinkingShift readers would know I travel about 4 hours per day (round trip) to work, on a train that is called the Newcastle Flyer, which travels from Newcastle (north of Sydney) to Sydney Central station – a distance of around 170km (105 miles). I’ve travelled on this train daily for 8 years now and I’ve not known it to “fly” anywhere – commuters refer to it as the Newcastle Snail. I hasten to add I live in Australia – a developed country that should be able to transport people around in trains that are sleek, fast and modern. No wait: that’s Portugal. Last year, I travelled from Lisbon to Porto by train, which takes around 3 hours and covers roughly 300km (200 miles). Porto is in the north of Portugal – an agricultural region – and many of us would think that Portugal is not as developed as Australia. But this rapid Portuguese train had the following:
- decent, comfortable, adjustable seats. Passengers can sit two together, with another two passengers facing opposite you. In between, is a table to put your laptop on or whatever;
- catering staff who would go up and down the aisles of the train selling coffee, snacks and…if you were really hungry, you could order from a menu and food would be delivered to your seat. My husband had baked fish followed by a chocolate dessert of some sort;
- clean, roomy toilets with hand-washing gel;
- a carriage at the front of the train with a mini-cafe. If you wanted to stretch your legs, you could walk there and get a coffee and snack;
- a computerised screen telling you how fast the train was going and how long until the next stop (from memory, there were four stops);
- a TV screen in each carriage;
- a ton of room to stow your luggage. The luggage area was a special section at the front of each carriage;
- a neat, tidy train – no graffiti; no nasty smells;
- a constant, fast speed – no slowing down for “all stations ahead” trains;
- it’s a “tilting” train so it bends into curves, making for a non-jarring ride.
Here’s a photo of this train, known as the Alfa Pendular High Speed train:
Now, in comparison, this is what passengers on the Newcastle Flyer get (and remember the journey is comparable: Newcastle to Sydney is nearly 3 hours – my train departs Newcastle at 6.12 am and gets into Sydney Central station at 8.48am if you’re lucky) – granted the distance travelled is less than the Lisbon-Porto train:
- no catering; no part of any carriage where passengers can buy a coffee or snack – basically, you bring your own;
- carriages and seats that have seen better days;
- no special area for luggage – unless you count the small overhead shelves in one part of the carriage and you wouldn’t be able to heft a heavy suitcase up there and it probably wouldn’t fit anyway (I know, I’ve tried on many occasions);
- teeny weensy toilets – frankly, you would rather hold on than go in there. They stink. The last time I entered one, the floor had urine on it, there was no toilet paper and you’d search in vain for any hand-washing gel. I turned right around and hung on;
- no computerised screen to tell passengers how fast the train is going or what the next stop is. If you’re unfamiliar with the train stops, you have to rely on some disembodied voice announcing stops (and half the time you either can’t understand what the train guard is saying, the volume is too low so you can’t hear or the microphone is crackling);
- no tables for passengers;
- a train that goes reasonably fast from say Morisset to Gosford but then winds its way slooooowly between Gosford and Hornsby (and if the Flyer is late for some reason and you’re stuck behind an all-stations train, then it’s reeeeeeally slow). True that sections of the track are winding.
- a train that has graffiti – I was in a carriage only recently that was festooned with graffiti on the outside;
- no TV screens.
Here’s a picture of the train I catch:
Mmmmmm….must have been taken by a good photographer because a train I caught last week didn’t look half that good. I think these trains are known as Goninan sets and were constructed around 1985 (hello? that is over 20 years ago CityRail).And for the privilege of catching this train, I pay AU$66.00 for a weekly ticket. True, the Portuguese train cost me about US$93.00 but I don’t mind paying more for quality, service and comfort.
Now, I could probably put up with some of this (as I have done for 8 years) but on October 11, 2009, CityRail decided to change its timetable and has boasted about how the new timetable will provide additional peak services and additional carriages to increase capacity. Clearly, they forgot to include the Newcastle & Central Coast line when they were working out the additional peak services.
Why do I say this? My train, the so-called Express Flyer, now leaves 8 minutes earlier in the morning and has an extra three stops: Wyong, Tuggerah and Epping. Yes, folks: AN EXTRA THREE STOPS. The train now arrives at 8.48am instead of 8.53am, so CityRail would argue that we get into Sydney earlier. But an extra three stops means that CityRail has actually added about 10 mins to my daily journey for a round trip and it certainly feels like a longer journey. And why the hell are we stopping for people from Epping? They can catch a Hornsby to Central train that goes through Epping surely?
On Thursday October 15, the Flyer’s second carriage was locked for some reason so passengers couldn’t sit in it. This resulted in a train that was chockers, packed. Why on earth CityRail would allow this train to leave Newcastle is beyond me – do they not think that workers travel to Sydney from Newcastle? Do they not know that if a whole carriage is out of commission it will result in congestion?
CityRail has added additional services to the Western, South, Northern and lower North Shore lines and is very clearly trying to integrate the new Epping to Chatswood rail link. But what about Newcastle/Central Coast passengers? Do we get an extra early morning peak commuter train?? Nooooooooooooo…we get THREE ADDITIONAL STOPS.
Dudes: why can’t you get this right? There are MANY people who travel to work everyday from as far afield as Newcastle and Morisset. Yes, there are people who also travel from Wyong and Tuggerah. But surely you could have given us an additional fast-speed train, so that people getting on at say Morisset don’t have to endure three extra stops.
Supposedly, I live in a developed country and in a State that should be able to boast a modern, sleek rail network. But I’m sorry CityRail, all you’re providing me with are old, rattling, slow trains and making my rail experience less than pleasant. CityRail has a customer charter – let me remind them of it:
On time trains
Fast, accurate useful information
Secure and safe travel
Clean trains and stations
Fast ticket sales
Quick and fair complaints handling
CityRail spends most of its time boasting about “on time trains” – on time running is at 95.4% for this financial year. This is just propaganda as far as I’m concerned. There is FAR MORE to running a rail network than punctuality. I don’t care about “fast, accurate, useful information” or “quick and fair complaints handling” (because I can complain here, on my own blog or on Twitter, which will be my next step). I care about getting a train that is fast, sleek, modern and focuses on accommodating the needs of Newcastle/Central Coast passengers. I don’t want the embarrassment of travelling in a train that a Thai visitor recently asked of me (as the train came into the station) – “where is the train for passengers?” (because she thought the train arriving was for animals).
UPDATE: there’s a whole lot of people moaning about CityRail on Twitter. I like the name of the group – CityFail. I’ll be joining them.