Think Bathurst and you think Mount Panorama and bogans in hotted-up V8s. But Bathurst has a train station too, and a big issue in the 2011 NSW state election was demands from locals that a commuter service was added to the once-a-day Dubbo XPT service and occasional strange buses that already existed. So now there's a train. But is anyone using it? I'm experimenting with extreme commuting all this week, so I had to find out.
As with my trip to Scone, I was faced with a problem: this service is designed to help residents of the local town, not residents of Sydney. So the only way to actually use it as a return service without staying in Bathurst overnight (no way, I'm too cheap) is to take a train up around midnight the previous day, spend some time lurking on a platform in the middle of the night, and then arrive early in the morning.
Hence I'm scheduled to go on the 0018 service on a Saturday morning to Lithgow, arriving at 0319. Then I wait there for a train which does the one-station hop from Lithgow to Bathurst at 0519-0628. The return train leaves Bathurst at 0725, and arrives at 1106. That makes it the longest continuous journey I'll take this week (Scone took longer, but was divided over two trains).
I learned one important lesson from the Scone trip -- I packed a pillow so that I'd have a better chance of sleeping in the main intercity train. Not many passengers were on board even at Central, and only three people alighted at Lithgow. That left me with two hours to kill. At least the toilets were open (a rarity at any Sydney network station). I took a stroll through the streets of Lithgow; no-one was about. It didn't feel risky. There was even a well-lit waiting room.
The train heading from Lithgow to Bathurst at 0519 only has two cars. But that doesn't matter. I am the only person on it. There are two stations in between that are serviced by the XPT (Rydal and Tarana), but that's not happening here. I have enjoyed my own solo train service to Bathurst.
Regular Lifehacker readers might remember that this trip fell right in the middle of my McDiet experiment. So in my hour on the ground, I had to get to the nearest Macca's, be served the wrong coffee, and return.
Rather touchingly, Bathurst has its own commuter car park:
I wasn't there on a weekday, so I don't know how many workers might use it. But the train itself was close to full when it departed. The only thing that stopped the journey becoming unpleasant closer in was that it skips virtually all the stations on the Blue Mountains line, making just half a dozen stops between Bathurst and Central. Indeed, in the whole Sydney Trains network, the only lines which have fewer stops are the tiny branch lines to Carlingford and Bomaderry.
Could you do this commute daily?
On a normal weekday, the train departs Bathurst at 0549 and arrives at Sydney at 0927. The return service leaves at 1752 and arrives at 2135. You couldn't work 9 to 5, but you might get away with 0930 to 1730 with an accommodating boss. Outside those trains, there is a bus six times a day between Bathurst and Lithgow. That's charged at Sydney Trains fares, but you have to ring and book a seat. For an exhausted commuter, the train would be the way to go. However, you would essentially arrive home, sleep, and then get up and go to work. Hard to sustain.
Tomorrow, I'll switch direction and head south to check out Bomaderry (Nowra) and Port Kembla. Both have very regular services compared to the once-a-day options I've tried so far. On the other hand, Port Kembla is an industrial wasteland. I'll see you there.