What's the only thing worse than riding the Shitkansen? Not riding it, at least when there's a shitkanhitsthefansen like yesterday. Yep, it was one of the worst delays to affect the Newcastle line in years...and we were right in the middle of it, returning from Sydney after a long weekend of celebrations for my mother-in-law's birthday with exhaustion, many bags, and an overhyped BabyG. We had collapsed into our seats at Central, knowing that in three short hours (hehe) we would be home. Little did we know. Everything seemed fine as we thrummed along quietly, BabyG even dozing off in his Ergo, when an announcement came on just north of Sydney saying there was an overhead wiring problem at Gosford, and the train would be terminating at Cowan with everyone switching to buses. I may have said a swear. I definitely said three more swears after that.
So we reached Cowan, where the train just sat idle for fifteen minutes or so, before the driver announced that the platforms at Cowan were too short and we were heading back to Berowra. (It soon became clear the drivers had little more information than we were given). At Berowra, we were told to get off and wait for buses. So we did, our full train joining the several trainloads of people already waiting (well over a thousand by the end, I'd guess). So we waited, and waited, and waited; fresh trains of people kept arriving and adding to the crowds. There was no shade, nowhere to sit, and no buses. Occasionally an empty bus would sail by without stopping; we began to suspect they were phantom buses, one rogue driving being an asshole driving past and getting everyone all excited. I checked twitter, and was slightly bemused to find that I seemed to be a source of information, rather than being able to get any from any official channels. After well over an hour of waiting, word came through that the train on the platform was, in fact, going to Gosford. We boarded the standing-room-only train which seemed to be an all-stations train (bad), but was a "Newcastle service" (good - we didn't know if the line had reopened or not, it might be a slow train but it would get home eventually). However, as we approached Gosford station, it was announced the train was terminating at Gosford after all; they hoped eventually they could rustle up some buses for the thousands of people descending on the station. Well, at that point we bailed. We took our next-door-neighbours (who when they die, if there is such a place, will go straight to heaven) up on their exceedingly generous offer to drive the three hour round trip and pick us up, and spent the waiting time not-uncomfortably in the leagues club - not the sort of place I'd normally attend you understand, but there are few places to take a one year old in Gosford on a Sunday night.
And that was that, but I found the media silence on the issue a bit odd - when there's a major breakdown on the Shitkansen's sister road, the F3, there are outraged drivers on the news and calls for the transport minister's head on a pike. Today nothing, until the lovely Carol Duncan of ABC Newcastle spoke with Tony Eid, manager of Railcorp Operations. The conversation was not reassuring. No reason was given for the breakdown in communications that led to being detrained at Berowra. Even worse, we were told that although Railcorp got in touch with over thirty coach companies, they were only able to source twelve buses when they needed at least fifty. Now, we all know things can go wrong - in this case, an earlier train somehow became tangled in the wires and they needed to cut the power to free it. But surely there's some sort of contingency plan, some deal with bus operators that doesn't involve having to cross fingers and do a ring around? Mr Eid claimed, erroneously, that there were delays of "up to two hours". Well, we were delayed two hours just getting to Gosford - only halfway there. If we'd had to wait for the bus to Wyong then a possible train to Newcastle, god knows how long it would have taken - seven, eight hours I've heard from other passengers. And that was the thing about info, too - we had to rely on other passengers. Twitter, probably one of the best sources for breaking info we have, was great for staying in touch with other passengers and folks back home, but the transport info centre didn't update their status for over six hours at the height of the crisis. It needs to be remedied. An SMS alert service would be useful as well. I wouldn't use it - I only take the shitkansen once or twice a month at the moment and wouldn't want to be beeped every time something's up - but I can see why it might be useful for others.
That's my gripping account of the Great Shitkansen Crisis of 2012, anyway. See you next time something goes wrong.