Recently I read a post by Lizanne Wilmot about taking bikes on (Sydney) trains. She made a lot of good points about storage etiquette. For anyone who has travelled on the 1980s intercity silver rattlers with the newly pimped out purple interiors you’ll know that when it comes to bike storage there really aren’t many options–particular if there are more than, say, THREE bicycles on the WHOLE ENTIRE TRAIN. So I thought I’d have a crack at the whole etiquette/storage thingy for the whole other world to the north of Sydney (yes, it exists), where cars rule and PT users are fools (apparently). Welcome to Lake Macquarie and Newcastle.
But wait, I sense my fellow commuter silently seething as I bestow upon the train my bike (yes, more than one person catches the train up north)… What are you doing taking your stupid bike on the train you arrogant space hogger stealing my space and oxygen?!?
Please I say, calm your farm. Not everyone owns two cars, wants to own a car or wants to spend a tenth of their life raging behind the steering wheel when they can be zenning on a bicycle. I will give you the benefit of the doubt because you are on the train. But because our cities are quite spread out (thanks cars!), coupling bicycles with trains makes perfect sense–bikes massively expand the catchment of a train station.
Now that my fellow commuter has settled (still screaming inside no doubt), let’s look at our bicycle storage options shall we? Better if we split it according to what sort of train you are travelling on…
1970s/80s intercity rattlers (“NSW TrainLink V Set”)
You know the ones. Silver on the outside, those steam-punk mechanical levers between carriages you see hipsters taking photos of (guilty, see below) and which you oh so want to pull, and a willy-wonkafied interior for some reason (Gladys’ fav colour perhaps?). Welcome friend.
Here is your one and only option: hanging your bike by your front wheel and watching your handlebars get smacked by the poor souls who wander the length of the train trying desperately to find which end will let them alight at those terribly convenient platforms shorter than the length of the train. Worse, in your optimistic naivety, you decide to leave your side mirror on, only to watch helplessly as it is smashed by the swinging door and falls to the ground. Silly you.
Some handy tips:
- Never mind if you’re older or have an injury and struggle to lift the bicycle above your head and sideways whilst holding the front wheel and positioning carefully so as not to break your spokes, face, back or dignity.
- If you have panniers–ditch that lunch box doofus!
- If you don’t want your front rim scraping against a severely unwelcoming steel hook, too bad. If you’re lucky you may find a hook pre-duck-taped by a fellow bicycle commuter, for padding.
- If you are travelling with a friend, or children, they can go to another carriage and see if one of the hooks is free and you can spend your trip in lonesome solitude.
- Because a single train can be made up of different carriages from different ‘stock’, you may board the train where you think will be a bicycle hook only to be stuck with a carriage lobby with luggage shelves (which no one uses, because people suspect someone will steal their luggage… fortunately new luggage racks inside the seating areas are gradually being installed). The trick is to look out for the little blue bicycle signs on the outside of the carriages.
But wait, what if all the hooks are taken? Well, I’m glad you asked. Basically you’ll need to carefully position your bike to block entry and exit from all four doors in the carriage ‘lobby’ thus gleefully infuriating your fellow commuters. (Or you can stand with your bike the entire trip and be ready to shift it as necessary. Caution: travelling in the lobby may result in loss of hearing due to passing freight train screeches).
Some rattlers have been retrofitted to accommodate wheelchairs (thank goodness). If the train is somewhat empty you can get away with being a tool. Just be prepared to move immediately if someone needs the space. You will also be judged. Harshly.
Some newer trains are provided for the all stops intercity/Gosford-Newcastle services. I say new, but really they’re just the old Sydney commuter trains that could be palmed off as new to unsuspecting Novocastrians, Central Coastians and Lake Macians, after Sydney got its Waratah trains. But hey, I’m OK with hand-me-downs.
Whilst arguably less comfy for long intercity trips, these newer trains better cater to bicycle, wheelchair and pram folks, owing to the larger areas at the end of each carriage where people alight from the train.
This area provides near ample room for bicycle storage if you lift up one of the seats in the wheelchair designated areas (again, be prepared to move and to be judged by your fellow commuters). Alternatively you can lean your bike against the poles near the doors. Better to secure it to stop it from falling over (great for when the train driver forgets the train is meant to stop at a station and the train comes to a screeching halt).
Those other trains that people get sometimes… I think
Whilst most of Australia yearns for a very fast train (VFT) service for the east coast, until we actually get one we have to make do with the very slow train/bus (VST/B) services (formerly known as CountryLink) that run between Brisbane, Sydney, Canberra, Melbourne and everywhere in-between. I actually have zero experience taking a bike on these trains, though a quick Google search reveals this:
Space is available for carrying bicycles and folding bicycles.
XPT – five spaces
XPLORER – three spaces
Coaches – two spaces
A fee of $12.10 and a weight limit of 20 kilograms applies. There is no charge for folding bicycles in a protective cover, no larger than 79cm long, 59cm high and 36cm wide.
Please reserve a place for your bicycle when purchasing your ticket. Please note you are unable to reserve a place online.
And the best part…
If you are travelling with a bicycle, please arrive at least one hour before the scheduled departure time in order to disassemble and pack it into a bicycle box. You can ask at your station about obtaining a bicycle box or source one from a bicycle retailer.
Mmm yes, bicycle box indeed. As if.
Future intercity trains
The other day in 2014 the NSW Government announced a tender for the procurement of new intercity trains to replace the vintage rattlers. For people outside of Sydney this was met with much excitement followed by “Wait, we don’t care about new trains, can you instead please straighten the track between Sydney and Newcastle so the current length of the trip is faster than the Newcastle Flyer back in the 1930s? Pretty please?”. (Government response: “I hear what you’re saying, how about a new road instead?”).
The reality is we need both better rolling stock and better tracks to put them on. Pending the latter, new trains are certainly welcome. We have been promised space for bicycles will be investigated:
As part of their tender, we will ask the four consortia to consider different options for seating configurations, bike storage, luggage racks and the possibility of Wi-Fi and a Premium carriage for customers.
Just what this bicycle storage looks like remains to be seen. Be sure to speak up if you would like to see better storage options. The other quandry is these intercity services are used for both Sydney-Newcastle travellers, but also for everyday commuters within Lake Macquarie/Newcastle (these are typically the bike carrying folk). This means any new trains will have to cater to both groups, or else more hand-me-down Oscar/Millennium trains should be provided for more frequent all stop services (currently every hour).
To end, I’ll leave you with some shots from my various daily commutes over the past few years. Do you have an interesting bike/train story? Please share!