Commuting on Sydney’s sardine trains

I was going to title this blog post ‘Hot In The City’…but being hot in Sydney comes and goes whilst overcrowding is only getting worse – and it’s making life miserable for commuters.

You know the feeling…you’re standing on a platform on a beautiful morning. The sun is out – you might even be able to hear some birds singing. As the train pulls up you eye the other people on the platform who are strategically moving towards one door…or is that the next door…

The carriage doors open. Unhappy people are standing uncomfortably close to each other. One lady seems to be counting the hair follicles of a wheezing man she’s crushed up against.

As a good passenger you wait for people to disembark. Nobody moves. Wait, is there a trapped school kid trying to get out? No, it was just a routine bag-adjustment.

The standing passengers look out, seemingly disinterested, but also seemingly daring you to get on.

“You’ll never make it, there’s not enough room” their eyes say. But if you know anything you know this to be true on Sydney trains – there’s always enough room for one more.

You take the step towards a small gap you’ve spotted. The goal is to find a place to squeeze from – so you can then squeeze in. You step up, slowly. As you do so people reluctantly shuffle around, making adjustments here and there. A young man can no longer look at his smart phone, an older lady stands more upright and turns 15 degrees to the right. There’s room.

But the journey has only just begun. There’s more stations to come, where you become one of the people looking out, daring others to get on. And then there’s the seemingly perpetually crowded station at the end.

Tomorrow will be the same.

We’ve all been there, right? OK, if you haven’t then I invite you to spend a week commuting in Sydney to catch a glimpse of what it’s like.

What I’ve described used to occur in extreme situations, but more and more this seems to be becoming the norm.

The thing is, I never used to mind the commute to work. Cityrail (for the most part) had been good to me.

I’d stroll to the train station, hop on when the train came, sometimes I would take a seat, but more likely I’d stand (I figured that I sit enough during the day). It wasn’t crowded, I saw this as my ‘alone’ time, I could read a book, surf the web, or just relax and stare out the window, lost in my own thoughts.

Recently I’ve been thinking – have those days gone? Is a relatively carefree commute a thing of the past in Sydney? Why did this change, and who asked me what I thought?

Sydney’s population is forecast to grow by around 2.2 million people (from 4.2 to 6.2 million people) by 2036 – a huge increase.

The NSW Bureau of Transport Statistics forecasts morning peak-hour demand (for Rail / Light Rail / Ferry) to increase by 95% between 2011 and 2046.

Obviously the government is aware of this and is building extra rail lines and adding more services. But the same report showing a 95% increase in demand also shows only a 28% increase in rail services over the same time frame.

I grew up in a small country town. We used to visit Sydney on holidays, marvelling at the tall buildings, the amazing lights; McDonald’s. I remember hoping that one day I’d get to live in Sydney, catching a train to work.

I wonder if I’d still have that dream today.









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