If it's mildly stupid to test the longest train commuter journeys in Victoria, as I'm doing this week, then it's definitely questionable to do that twice in one day, including the most time-consuming trip you can possibly take. But that's what I did over the past 24 hours.
It's all Easter's fault. With five main destinations, one post a day would have covered everything very neatly. But Good Friday means that train services will fall to sub-weekend frequencies, so it makes more sense to do two journeys in one day. And it turns out other vagaries of my weekly schedule mean Monday had to be that day. So on Monday afternoon I took the trip to Eaglehawk (just beyond Bendigo), while this morning (Tuesday) I travelled to Marshall, past Geelong.
At a minimum of two hours and fifteen minutes, the 170-kilometre journey to Eaglehawk is as long an extreme commute as I'll carry out all week (the trip to Traralgon takes a similar amount of time). While that's not a short journey, it pales in comparison to some of the options I tried in Sydney. Getting to Scone required two trains and took five hours to cover 314 kilometres.
My original definition of extreme commuting started with the premise that it involved three hours in each direction. No scheduled commuter journey on Victorian trains runs for that long (though you could do it by joining a second trip to the first). Nonetheless, four and a half hours on a train each day would still be enough to put most people off, I imagine.
Eaglehawk: The journey
While it's part of the Myki network, Eaglehawk does not receive many trains a day — just a couple of services each way extended from Bendigo. The extension turns out to be quite literal: only the front three carriages go to Eaglehawk (a platform length issue, I assume), though this isn't fully explained until we arrive at Bendigo.
One thing that makes this train especially pleasing for the working commuter is that it has an airline-style folding table, so there's somewhere to rest your laptop.
That didn't mean you could stay connected all the time. The mobile signal was mostly OK, but died around Macedon and disappeared for a solid 15 minutes. To be fair, there's not a building in sight — only mountains and forests and fields.
Virtually everyone gets out at Bendigo, then the train is searched. "You off to Eaglehawk?" asks the ticket inspector. Only two other people are. The station itself has just a single platform, with a sole Myki reader almost buried in a bush.
The inspector seems somewhat surprised that I'm returning on the same train just 15 minutes later (along with five other passengers). There's another surprise in store — everyone has to get off the train at Bendigo so we can be joined to the other carriage. Apparently it's OK to stay in a disconnecting train, but not in one being reconnected — even though that takes 30 seconds to do.
Eaglehawk: Could you do this commute daily?
It would be essentially impossible. Eaglehawk has only a handful of commuter services a day, so if you wanted to travel to Melbourne, you'd have to board at 0533, arriving at 0725, and then return home on the 1315 service that I tried. Not many jobs have those hours. And the 7-day pass (which includes travel within Melbourne) would cost you $137.20 a week.
Bendigo, one stop down the line, has far more services — roughly one an hour. I'd guess that anyone in the vicinity of Eaglehawk would be far more tempted to drive there to catch the train.
Marshall: The journey
Marshall (a couple of stops on from Geelong) is a much busier location — several bus services call there and it has a dedicated car park. The 0737 service (arriving at Marshall at 0853) also the first train I've caught where I actually had to battle to get a seat — though that was partly my fault for being distracted and heading for platform 8A/8B at Southern Cross rather than the mysterious Platform 8S. Memo to V/Line: it would be much more helpful to give every platform its own unique number.
There's a general sense of chaos around Southern Cross station in the morning, I'm finding. For the second day in a row, I hear an announcement: "Do not board this train until further advised."
Once on board, the trip passes swiftly and there's decent mobile signal throughout. The vast majority of commuters are headed to Geelong proper — only a handful of people get off at the terminus in Marshall. However, the return trip is much busier — the train is full a mere two stations in. I blame Easter. Again.
Marshall: Could you do this commute daily?
Very easily (and to judge by the crowds, plenty of people do, in both directions). There are trains at least once an hour, with that frequency rising to almost every 30 minutes during peak hour. A 7-day pass would set you back $75. With a journey time of just under 90 minutes, it barely qualifies as extreme commuting.
Tomorrow, things are a little more sensible, with just one planned trip to Wendouree. See you there!