The Railway to Hell - A Trip on the Shitkansen

18 March 2012
I'm a railfan. Trains are one of the abiding passions of my life. But I kept it hidden for many years. It wasn't until recent years with a supportive partner that I was able to come out of the trainspotters closet. Now I'm free to live my passion. I collect train magazines, take photos, go to expos and conventions, watch DVDs, have taken about every scenic rail journey in NSW. Passion collides with reality however, as I am forced to spend much of my time nestled in the metal bosom of a much less salubrious train service - CityRail's "Shitkansen", the Sydney-Newcastle service. It's operated using 1960s era V-Sets (did you know the V stands for vacuum flush toilet? Aren't you glad you read a nerd's review rather than one written by a normal person?) along a track following a meandering 19th century route through bush and along the Hawkesbury. Due to the track and speed restrictions on the line, the timetabled duration for the Newcastle-Sydney trip is now longer than it was in the 1930s, when the service was run using steam engines.

Despite the fact it is metal, fairly round, on wheels, and smells, it is a train and not a garbage bin.

Inside, the carriages are fitted out in a bilious green and yellow colour scheme. Chilled water used to be provided, but was discontinued in 2004 due to fear of diseases breeding in the water tanks. They have however left the toilets in use. I'm currently having to make this journey at depressingly regular intervals, and here's a taste of what I'm going through:

162km (all distances are measured distance from Sydney Central):  Broadmeadow station. Commence my journey. The door is hard to open - how do the elderly manage - and the carriage smells lightly of feet. Pick a fairly quiet-looking carriage.

158km Drop my pen down the side of the seat. Looking at all the dreck and debris down there I think " keep it".

150km Cockle Creek station. It's a little used station with open shelters now, but when I was in my early teens I remember the original grand station buildings were still there, albeit boarded up. It was once a major transport hub for Lake Macquarie - trains would connect with ferry services to Belmont and Swansea. I could just weep that I was born too late for this.

146km The guard keeps making announcements about the new "quiet carriages" trial. The carriage I'm in seems okay, but there's no guarantee that in future some dubstep-blaring piece of distended monkey rectum won't join us and ruin everything, so I go to have a look. Forget it. The upper deck is filled with a group of elderly Greek people returning from a day out, talking loudly (it could have been worse I suppose - Greek is far more pleasant on the ears than Strine).  Downstairs features the usual assortment of people talking on the phone, listening to music, and in one case ranting to themselves in the corner. Where are the transit police when you really need them? (Hassling commuters who didn't have time to wait for the long line at the ticket machine because all the others were broken at their station that morning). I return to my own carriage.

127km Dora Creek. An assorted group in their thirties, clad in tizzy bogan-night-out clothes, boards the carriage. The leader of the group seems to be a woman whose pale ears and toes seem to highlight her choice to immerse her herself in layers of fake tan apparently spiked with tandoori sauce, clad in some oddly draped dress and those open-toed bootie shoes, with her hair braided in a truly bizarre fashion, whose birthday it is. They are heading to Sydney to mark the occasion; specifically the Rocks and Star City. I get to hear all about it over the next ninety minutes, as they get drunker and louder as the journey progresses. But for now they are reasonably quiet, and innocent of what is to come, I doze off.

80km Gosford. I am startled awake by a screech of "Why are there fucking Eels fans everywhere?" from Orange Woman. There's a Central Coast Mariners soccer game at the nearby stadium, and their blue-and-yellow strip bears a resemblance to the colours of the league-playing Parramatta Eels. Orange lady demands all this be explained to her. She then regales the carriage with how she really wants to play OzTag, soon as she learns how.

68km "Why are we in a fucking tunnel?" shouts Orange Lady. They've been drinking since Dora Creek, and it's starting to tell. The group then returns to watching music clips on their (I assume) iPad. Orange Lady explains how "when I'm on the dance floor, I just carve it up. I don't care if I look like a moron" (a good thing, otherwise she's going to feel terrible tomorrow). Apparently she used to be really into shuffling, but now she's into planking, proving with age comes no good sense for some people. At this stage we're passing some truly stunning scenery - the train is passing along the edge of the Hawkesbury River, with the water practically lapping the train, and steep tree-covered embankments rising dramatically from the riverbanks - but Orange Lady and friends just want to know "how do you become a member of You Tube?"

50km Orange Lady still shrieking. One of her friends is calling apparently everyone he knows to tell them "We Are On A Train. To Sydney. Big Night!". I almost feel sorry for them if this is their sphere of reference. Not quite. But almost.

25km Hornsby. As we approach the city thoughts turn to the night ahead. Orange Lady decided she wants to see strippers, and have a lap dance; she's never seen strippers before, though she has seen a fat-o-gram. Anyone who gets kicked out of the clubs gets no sympathy; she will meet you back at Dora tomorrow. She won't be kicked out; the doormen love pretty girls like her.

11km Strathfield. Orange Lady has, for no apparent reason, launched into a graphic description of the use of various types of menstrual protection, and her opinions of those who use them in a sexual and hygienic manner. As I, weak with relief, disembark to switch to the Inner West line, I can't help but sneak a glance at the woman who has so infected by brain space on this trip. It was momentary, but she catches me, and shrieks "that woman looked at me!" (maybe she was under the impression she was invisible?) as her friends calm her down and I beat a hasty retreat. If you're reading this, I just want you to know: I was looking at you, and what I was thinking is you are the worst person it has ever been my misfortune to turn my nose up at. You are so obnoxious that in fact I have to thank you, for helping ensure that by the law of averages all my train journeys are quiet and pleasant from now on.

So that was that, really. I've completed the journey through to Central many times, and it adds not a whole lot of excitement to the experience; you're invariably stopped just passed Redfern for no apparent reason (well, unless they're not telling us about a major problem with cows on the tracks), then are disgorged from your metal womb, aghast, only to be hit up by people just looking for money to get home, and far more obnoxious, charity muggers who pretend to be your friend so they can hit you up for direct debit plans that profit themselves. High speed rail would be great, but there's no reason we couldn't have faster better trains now; I would pay more for a cleaner better premium service (and have done, taking Countrylink when I travel with BabyG). In the meantime though, we're stuck with the Shitkansen, and it seems to drive everyone a little bit insane.


  1. Sums up my experiences too. I had a lad talking about his family's history of suicide whilst trying to bum smokes, a gaggle of aspiring wastrels, one of which was poured into the chair beside me by a friend of hers, who told me 'she's drunk... be gentle'. I gave her a mint.

  2. Maybe if boarding a train had the same requirements as ordering a drink at a bar. No obvious signs of intoxication, and you need a shirt and shoes. To hell with quiet carriages, how about non drinking carriages?

  3. the quiet carriage idea was never, ever going to work. at the risk of sounding really arrogant and an unrepentatly terrible person, too much scumtrash is involved for such an idea to ever be practical - and since cityrail have made it clear that they have no intention of ever policing it, the idea was failed from the word Go. the people behind this idea have absolutely no idea WHO they're dealing with. trash, and nothing less.

    and this is why i drive, especially long distances. living in stanmore, if i catch a train to ashfield or town hall, it's fine. bondi is fine. newcastle i will drive.

    i'm a terrible snob, but hey - i don't care. that's life. i've still got my phone, wallet and relative sanity at the end of the trip. so there.

  4. Great description of the trip. Scary too. And yes, why do people who behave like they are complete clowns wonder why when people look at them?

    Yes, I drive. Or fly. But flying is becoming as bad.


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