Imagine standing up for a 75 km journey…..
Welcome to the 5.36 pm Express service from Southern Cross station in Melbourne to Bendigo. The carriage is full to overflowing ..at one end there are 2 people perched on the luggage rack, another 3 braced against the train’s sway in corners of the carriage. At the other, the floor is a jumble of suits, skirts, legs, iPads, laptop computers and backpacks as commuters arrange themselves for the daily trip from the big city back up into the hills. The conductor must be skilled at negotiating carefully through the humanity to clip tickets…the VLine services still clip tickets, although they are no longer of the stiff card type but flimsy paper printed by printers so they fade on a strong sun.
Train travel is popular in country Victoria. Woodend station is crowded at 6 am on weekday mornings by besuited workers, stamping their feet to stay warm in temperatures which fall regularly below zero for more half of the year. There’s a country camaraderie on these trains …seats aren’t reserved, but they are ‘reserved’ and woe-betide anyone who unknowingly chooses the ‘wrong’ seat. The familiar and gentle rocking starts as we leave the station and pick up speed. There’s also a waterfall of passengers boarding at Gisborne – still 450mtrs above sea level and still ‘in the country’. At that point, and still with 50km to go, there are normally only a few seats left. If you are unfortunate enough to board at Sunbury, you’ll be sitting on the parcel shelf or the floor!!
Mornings are quieter than the evenings….people are absorbed in the morning paper, others are attached to their iPods and iPhones, others sleep their way to work. There’s something rather satisfying about flying past traffic doing 110kmh on the freeway next to the railway line as if they are standing still, but then we are reaching speeds of 160kmh!!
You could be mistaken, as we pull into Sunbury, of thinking that we might be somewher in southern France or Italy by the groves of olive trees and grapevines….the train suddenly fills up and there are so many people jostling to join our journey that the conductor has to become a sheepdog, hustling people onto the already packed train and blowing his whistle to give the all-clear to the driver.
Train travel is a microcosm of life……this afternoon, I find myself