Commuting by train from the Upper Mountains

Thursday, May 8th, 2008

This post is primarily aimed at people outside the mountains. I know when we were considering moving here the prospect of commuting to the city was rather daunting, and I didn’t know anybody who was doing it at the time.

First off, the journey is long. From Leura it is 100km, and about 2 hours. Heading to the city the main commuter trains are the 6:01am (the Fish), the 6:18am (the Chips) and the 6:44am (no fancy name). On the return leg trains leave Central at 5:09 (The Fish), 5:24 (The Chips) and 5:39 (The Heron, an explanation for these names is here).

The trip is a little like what I imagined from British TV shows, everyone having their own special seats, standing in the same place on the platform every day, but also quite different. There is little talk, and rarely do groups of friends play cards or similar.

Mainly, people quietly read or tap away on a laptop. It is quiet enough to sleep, and certainly the mountain half of the journey (as opposed to the Penrith-City half) usually happens without people having cell phone conversations.

In my experience, commuting five days is close to unsustainable. The lack of sleep compounds to destroy weekends, and leaves you grumpy. Perhaps if you are one of those souls who only require 5 or 6 hours of sleep you could keep it up.

Otherwise, the grind of working all day, travelling 2+ hours, arriving home at 7:30pm and only having 2 1/2hours before you need to be asleep in order to snatch the 7 1/2hours minimum sleep you can survive on before you get up again at 5:30am is pretty dispiriting.

A lot of people catch up on sleep, but I found it damaged my back to twist sideways with my head on the window to snooze. The extra shut-eye wasn’t worth the ongoing dull ache of sciatic pain.

The other big drawback is the impact on your social life and community. My kids school P&C meeting is at 6pm – meaning I must miss it, and I am not home early enough to even mind the kids while my spouse attends. Even if functions are on later, it is a tall order to get off the train and head straight to a Rotary meeting or similar.

On the plus side, heading down the mountain you will always get a seat, and almost always on the return journey. Beware though, if you board the return trip at Parramatta, the train is pretty full of passengers travelling to Penrith and Emu Plains, so you might have to stand for half an hour.

The service is fairly reliable, it is unusual to be more than 10mins late either way, less than once a month I estimate, and disruptions and delays occur more frequently on the way home – presumably as there has been a whole day of operations for issues to reverberate through, while the early morning leads to a pretty clear run.

I think I have been more than 20mins delayed on the way to the city only twice in 5 years.

In any case, you will certainly have the chance to catch up on your reading.

A good program looking at the life and philosophy of the mountains commuter is at the ABC