The fourth stage in my Extreme Commuting challenge to visit all the outlying locations on the Sydney Trains network takes me to two cities in the south: Bomaderry (Nowra) via Kiama and Port Kembla. Services to these locations are much more frequent than some of the more remote places I’ve been visiting, yet what this trip overwhelmingly reminds me of is that when it comes to train lines in more remote locations, passengers are rarely the first priority.
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The lazy way of thinking about train lines that are under-utilised (which is arguably the case with most places I’ve visited during this project) is that since they’re in place, we should use them to move more people around. While that would be helpful in terms of traffic congestion, it’s worth remembering that these lines were rarely constructed with passenger convenience in mind. They’re for the movement of goods. Both Newcastle and Wollongong are cities with an industrial heritage; they are surrounded with thickets of iron rails to help move around coal and steel, not Joel and Neil.
That’s often reflected in the location of stations, which aren’t always convenient to where people end up living. They’re useful for moving stuff around, and they’re useful for getting people to work, but they aren’t always useful for being near where you’d like them.
In one day, I’m travelling to two different locations. Bomaderry (Nowra) is reached on the South Coast line which passes through Wollongong and goes as far as Kiama. At Kiama, you change for a short three-stop trip to Bomaderry (Nowra), which is 153 kilometres south of Central.
As the name suggests, the station itself is not located in the main township of Nowra, but on the Northern Side of the Shoalhaven river. Unlike Scone, Golburn or Bathurst, there are no country trains travelling to further destinations; this really is the end of the line.
My second destination is Port Kembla, which is at the end of a brief four station branch line just out of Wollongong. These stops service local steelworks and other industrial locations. One of them (Lysaghts) is actually directly connected to the BlueScope Springhill factory, and you can’t gain admission to that without an employee pass.
Unlike my previous journey, I have lots of choices for trains here, which is why I can fit in two separate destinations. The trip from Central to Kiama takes just under two-and-a-half hours (0929-1148). On a Sunday, the first train isn’t especially packed. It’s a modern Tangara service that’s largely indistinguishable from the trains which service suburban destinations. Underscoring that, the journey doesn’t start and end at Central, but continues through to Bondi Junction.
At Kiama, I switch to a smaller and older two-car diesel, which is timed to meet the incoming service. This is a lot more crowded, which in part reflects in being a Sunday and lots of people heading to the coast for the day. 30 minutes later we’re in Bomaderry, where there’s an equally large crowd waiting to reboard. Unfortunately it’s a quick 10 minute turnaround, which means I can’t really examine the surrounds.
The train takes me back to Wollongong, where I race off and grab lunch. This trip also took place during my McDiet challenge, so I had to race to grab some food and then come back to take the train to Port Kembla. That’s a much shorter journey — just 12 minutes.
As you’d expect with a worker-oriented line, this was entirely deserted, and really not of interest unless you’re heavily into steel. But there are lots of branch lines from this stub into the various factories, reminding me yet again that railways have uses other than moving me around.
It’s still worth Sydney Trains running to Kembla, since it train acts as an all-stations service between Wollongong and Thirroul; the express trains that come to and from Sydney skip most of those stops. My return service drops me at Thirroul, and then there’s a brief wait before returning back to Sydney.
Could you do this commute daily?
Easily. On a weekday, the service to Kiama and Bomaderry (Nowra) runs once an hour, and the Port Kembla branch has a similar frequency. As a commuter, you need to plan for this, but working a 9-5 job wouldn’t be a problem. This, along with Newcastle, is the extremity of Sydney that’s easy (if time-consuming) to reach.
On Monday 3 February at 1130, I’ll sum up this series with my final extreme destination, Dungog, and some observations on what I’ve learned. All aboard!