Extreme Commuting: These Train Lines Aren’t Built For People

Extreme Commuting: These Train Lines Aren’t Built For People

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.

The journey

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!

Extreme Commuting: These Train Lines Aren’t Built For People


  • I didn’t think it was possible for an article to be so boring. “People in the country may not live immediately near a train station.. But it could be worse.” – whole series summarised in a message half a tweet long. You’re welcome.

    • Complaints when articles are too short and complaints when articles are too long. I would get the feeling some people just don’t like reading at all, but even if we have textless GIF filled articles here people still complain.

      That’s not to say that you shouldn’t be succinct.

      • Complaints when articles are too short and complaints when articles are too long.

        Or alternatively, complaints when articles lack substance. I think that pretty much sums up Michael’s complaint. It’s not about length.

    • I don’t think that was the message – and if you’re trying to say that it lacks substance I’m not sure I agree. I don’t live in a country area that he’s been to this week so these articles haven’t been particularly relevant to me, but if I did or was considering moving out of Sydney (which I’m sure a lot of people do, considering property prices recently) then these articles would be really helpful. Besides that, I think they’re well written and I like learning about the infrastructure of a place in which I live.

      I think there’s a lot to be said for imagining how other people react to content before saying that it is completely lacking in substance. I don’t mean to offend, of course, but it’s easy to make comments like that on the internet and not take into consideration that other people don’t share your views – at the end of the day when I read this article and scrolled down and read your comment I wasn’t thinking “oh how astute” I was thinking “well I enjoyed the article and I’m sure it would be useful for some people”.

      This kind of got away from me – the point is don’t be like that, others may disagree with you and it completely devalues your comment if they do.

    • What did you expect the article to be about? Or are you just having a whinge to make yourself feel better?

  • I’m assuming the sequel posts will be based on Melbourne, Brisbane, Adelaide, Perth, Darwin. Right?

    Or is this a case of American-itis? So many Americans think the world ends at the US border; could it be some think there aren’t any cities beyond Sydney?

    • He lives in Sydney and the series is on commuting. Are you offering to pay to put him up in another city and test out the commutes?

    • Cities BEYOND Sydney? Slow down, mate. We first need to send a team into the wilds past Marrickville to see if there is any suburbs further out in Sydney. Our best scientists think Sydney could be even larger than we first realised.

      • We believe that Sydney might not be flat like first thought, but instead if you walk north from Manly you will end up at Randwick. Wait for it… Sydney may be a sphere like object that you can never leave.

    • Far out. That’s where he lives, so that’s where the series is based. Expecting Australia-wide coverage of every single story that appears on LH is beyond ridiculous.

  • I used to commute from Wollongong to Glebe. Because of Glebe’s unfortunate positioning, it would take well over 2 hours each way. So painful.

  • The trip may not be too bad of a weekend, but try Leaving central in peak hour(s) and having to stand the majority of the way to Kiama.

  • Really minor edit suggestion: “This is a lot more crowded, which in part reflects IT being a Sunday and lots of people heading to the COAST for the day”

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