Extreme Commuting: Welcome To Goulburn, No Ticket Required

It's a sunny Friday afternoon and there are quite a few people waiting at Sydney Central for the 1602 Goulburn service, which is the next stage of my Extreme Commuting experiment. In fact, if you want to board this train, you don't even need a ticket.

This service — the only direct commuter train between Goulburn and Central on the Sydney Trains network — departs from Platform 1, which is normally used for country trains going to even more remote destinations. Because of that, and unlike most other intercity platforms, it doesn't have any ticket barriers. Barring the appearance of an inspector, you could get all the way to Goulburn without ever having to produce a ticket.

Evidently, someone has crunched the numbers and determined that the cost of implementing security is way higher than the potential number of fare evaders. Still, that also means it's hard to calculate how often the service is used. Not everyone who travels to Goulburn will necessarily buy a ticket naming it as the destination: a MyMulti daily or weekly will also do the job. I suppose this would matter more if there was any suggestion that our train network might ever receive additional investment in the future. (It's clearly not a priority for the current Federal government, which cancelled every rail project which included federal funding upon its election.)

The journey

Located on the Southern Tableands (though part of the Southern Highlands line in rail terms), Goulburn is some 216 kilometres from Central. The daily commuter service is minimal: one direct train each way Central-Goulburn, one service each way between Goulburn and Campbelltown, and a handful of connecting buses between Moss Vale and Goulburn during the day.

I'm on a Friday train (the only time this will happen during the experiment) because a combination of frequent trackwork closures, a less-friendly weekend timetable and other commitments made this the only possible choice. Workers aren't much in evidence; a lot of people seem to be on pensioner tickets. But it is January; perhaps everyone's on holiday.

The direct journey to Goulburn takes the better part of three hours. Unlike Scone, I'm not sleeping, so I want to use my time productively. While the second half of the journey is pleasingly scenic, a regular commuter needs to stay occupied.

Gadgets are both your friend and your enemy here. I'm armed with a Surface, two smartphones, an iPod, a wireless hotspot, a Kindle and a spare battery for each phone. Multiple phones and hotspots mean I can test access on all three networks. They also mean that I won't entirely run out of battery during the trip. Because I'm spending a total of eight hours on the road (three hours there, one hour on the ground, and four hours back) this is a major consideration.

A daily commuter would have the advantage of being able to recharge their phone in the office, but it's still a big issue and something you'll need to plan for every day. Devices with long battery life (the Surface and the Kindle — an iPad would be just as good if I owned one) are an absolute essential. For the record: every single phone network I used suffered gaps, and not always in the same places. You can't assume uniform coverage.

Compared to Scone, the station is much more elaborate. There's even a ticket machine, though the choices on offer are limited. If you want a weekly or a more unusual destination, you simply grab an "authority to travel receipt" and then buy a ticket further down the track. Again, it seems like an easy system to rort.

Could you do this commute daily?

Daily commuters from Goulburn can catch a two-part service at 0531, arriving at Central at 0834, or a direct train that leaves at 0740 and arrives at 1040. In the afternoon you can leave at 1602 and arrive at 1907 (as I did), or leave at 1712 and arrive at 2037 (with one change). That's a long journey either way, but you could just about squeeze a 9-5 day in, especially if you can work for part of the journey. It's certainly a much more realistic prospect than Scone.

Tomorrow, we'll head even further west, to Bathurst. It's a gold rush town, but the train doesn't rush so much; Bathurst was only given back a direct "suburban" service in 2012. Does it need one?


Comments

    I like stories like this. I've always been interested about if the Goulburn line is ever used for commuting.

    I have a lot of friends in the highlands - spent the Australia day weekend just out of Gouldbourn this time around.

    After driving between Campbelltown and past Marulan a few times, I think I'm done for a few weeks.

    Key point: The drive is much faster than the train, and it still takes too damned long.

    Just a correction, Goulburn is not in the Southern Highlands, but rather the Southern Tablelands.

      Corrected. (I was over-influenced by the name of the railway line!)

    I did the journey a couple of years ago just before they were going to cut midday services and perhaps some of the smaller stations.
    I dimly recall boarding Goulburn at something like 7:15am and arriving Central dead on time at 10:10am and I returned leaving at five-ish and had to move to the front car at Moss Vale.
    Years ago, travelling on a Nurail pass, I boarded a 11:30 pm train from Central to Goulburn and returned to Central at 5am having slept on the train purely to avoid paying for overnight accommodation at Sydney which is still expensive.

    Last edited 29/01/14 11:02 pm

    I've caught this train a couple of times for a cheap trip to Sydney so I don't have to pay for parking in the city. It's a lot cheaper than countrylink, but goddamn the deadshit kids that catch this train between the country stations make it far more unpleasant. It's also a LONG way to travel on cityrail bench seats.

    I remember a few years ago they did can the service which got you to the city before 9am, glad to see it's back.

    No Ticket Required*

    *Ticket actually required

      Agreed.

      Not having ticket barriers doesn't mean you don't need a ticket. It means you are risking a fine by traveling without a ticket.

      Kinda like traveling on any Melbourne Tram, any country rail service, or you know.. doing 160km/h after a few drinks while talking on the mobile phone on the road.

    My hometown! :D
    There's no way I'd be commuting to Sydney if I still lived there. I'd hate to have to get to the station at 5:30am in winter mornings, in the dark, freezing like crazy.
    Also the return - you'd have to work pretty close to central AND leave on time to get the 5:12pm train back....
    I have no idea about the Sydney train lines - I wonder if it'd be better to drive to the end of a more serviced line and catch the train part way instead?

    Canberra is do-able though - (driving obviously). Driving from Goulburn to Canberra (civic etc) at peak hour is probably on par with driving from my house to Brisbane city at peak hour anyway.

    Providing rail services in NSW is the State Government’s responsibility. So even if the Federal Government axed some services (which they didn’t), then of course it would be because it’s not a priority. It shouldn’t be.

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