Global travel. On local public transportation.

Train to Canberra: Syringes welcome

October 3, 2010 Markus Seppälä

Train to Canberra: Syringes welcome

What can a train ride between Sydney and Canberra teach us about Australia? That it’s big. And that everybody gets a fair go. Even intravenous drug users and wallabies.

Inter-city trains are my favorite mode of transportation. Between Sydney and Canberra there are basically two ground transportation options: a three-hour bus ride on a highway, or a four-hour train ride through the countryside. No surprise then that I picked the train, specifically the Canberra XPLORER by CountryLink.

Australia’s rail network is only partially electrified (and where it is, it’s not even standardized). I was heading for a diesel train. For someone used to electrified, high-speed rail in Europe this was still almost as exotic as my first diesel ride in Canada. Ultimately, the ride in the first-class car was just as comfortable as an electric train.

Sydney, the city that never ends

Australia is a large country. It’s a large continent. And Sydney is its largest city. Here’s how large: After an hour on the train to Canberra, I was still in metropolitan Sydney. Many places I know I’d be in a different city, possibly a different country, after an hour’s train ride, but here we were just getting to the outskirts. If you speak with someone who lives out here, chances are overwhelming that they will consider themselves Sydneysiders. And it’s not just to the south like I was going, but Sydney spreads just as far in all directions.

The way it’s been explained to me is that Australians love houses and don’t care much for apartments. And you can see this in the architecture. Sure, Sydney has an impressive downtown with beautiful skyscrapers, both residential and commercial. But outside of that, the highest buildings you’ll find are two-level town houses and after that miles and miles of single-family homes. Apartment blocks with 5-10 floors just don’t exist to any significant degree.

Strange train sights


"Deposit used syringes here!"

Facilities for everyone

You’d expect certain amenities in a first-class car. A steel box for used syringes may not be one of them. But they sure did have one in the bathroom, as seen above. They didn’t have the matching blue lighting thogh. This leads me to believe that the box was perhaps not for narcotics users, but instead for diabetes patients. But I did not dare ask about the finer points of needle disposal.

The other new experience on this ride was the food service. In addition to the assorted beverages and sandwiches they had in the little kiosk, they also went around the car at the start of the journey to take up hot food orders. You got your little queue ticket and then your meal was ready to be picked up after about a half hour. In my mind, this gives the food service a bit more class than just nuking a pre-cooked box meal yourself.

… and outside

Once we had left the sprawling suburbs, we were most definitely in the countryside. I struck up a conversation with my neighbor, a friendly geography researcher from a university further south. One of the things he told me was that none of the pine trees were native to Australia, but imported by the colonists.

And in the midst of those trees, my eye catches a curved brownish tail bouncing around merrily. “Did you see the wallaby?” my companion asks as we approach Canberra.

"Exit (through doors)"

The Canberra station must have gone through plenty of spectacular accidents before they decided to add the second line.

, , Oceania, Sony Ericsson K800i, Train

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