Getting About Sydney
Updated: Apr 14
In a harbour city, it’s not unusual that there is a large water based transport system. As such, many areas of the city are served by Sydney Ferries, rather than an urban rail network: apart from the spur to Bondi Junction, Sydney Trains services are exclusively west of the central area (the CBD). I found myself using two stations for most of my time in Sydney, the traditional Central Station and the Harbour-front Circular Quay station.
Changing between modes you notice the codes that are assigned to each mode, T for Train; L for Light Rail; F for official Sydney Ferries; and B for Bus. Follow these and you’ll be ok. Except if you’re European and assume T mean tram, which is doesn’t.
Just for thrills, there’s a G thrown into the mix at Central Station – I’ll come to that later.
For visitors travelling to popular places like Manly or the Eastern Suburbs, the hub of this ferry system is Circular Quay where trains that do not go across Sydney Harbour Bridge loop back around to travel back into the CBD. Here the interchange between train and ferry was fairly well planned and simple to navigate. Circular Quay will also be the terminus for the new new Light Rail line to the southeast of the city.
Despite the postcards, it rained a fair bit during our time in Sydney so the sheltered walk between train and ferry was useful, though we had to leave the paid-side of the train station and walk across the public area to re-enter the paid side of the ferry quay.
Circular Quay was the only place where I saw an integrated transport map, albeit covering just the Harbour area. It’s worth saying that other ferry operators also serve the interchange (such as the Manly Fast Ferry) but onward journey information on these is not provided in the station.
South of the CBD, Sydney Central is where all rail lines converge so we ended up changing here between various services. The existing Light Rail service also terminates here. The station has a Grand Concourse with adjacent platforms though most services seemed to use the through-platforms on the side that were both less glamorous and more cramped. There were diagrams to explain which part of the station train services went from but it always felt like we were being shipped out the back to wait for our local train.
The signage in the station was consistent with the rest of the rail network; however, in a similar vein to the B, F, L & T, Central Station is also served by G as well. It still doesn’t really make sense even when you work out that G means Grand Concourse. This seems designed entirely to add unnecessary confusion to tourists – consider that the next rail system north of Sydney is called The G:Link.
Without a city-wide transport map, visitors have to rely on knowing which mode they want before finding a map. As mentioned above, the Harbour area map shows trains, light rail and public ferry services, it’s a shame this doesn’t expand to more of the city where many people chose to stay.
On the rail network, passengers are faced with two rail maps, for ‘Sydney Trains” and for ‘Intercity Trains’, as a visitor to the city there didn’t seem to me much difference between the two, other than the Intercity trains stopped less. I think that on departure screens Sydney Trains are listed by route number (T1, T2 and so on), whereas Intercity services are listed by line name but in the case of services to Bondi Junction, for example, this seems to be the same train service … I could be wrong.
I had to go to Strathfield one day: Strathfield was served by both Sydney and Intercity trains. When I was looking for a train back into the CBD it appeared that Sydney Trains were shown on departure screens by their route number but Intercity trains were shown by their departure times. Again, I’m not sure is this is a clear rule.
For passengers on a train, looking for the correct station to alight at, the station names have been helpfully displayed on the benches, these are very helpful, except when people sit on them.
As I’ve seen in other cities with double-deck trains, dwell times as platforms seem to be very long. Passengers have to navigate the stairs to clear the vestibule area which inevitable leads to a bit of a crush when the train is waiting to depart. This was particularly the case on trains serving the airport stations but was seen elsewhere. I noticed at many stations that information screens were placed quite a way down the platform to assist in spreading passengers along the platform.
It’s noteworthy that the new Sydney Metro system will use single-deck trains.
If you’ve read my previous Light Rail article you’ll know the trouble we had trying to use the Opal Card on the Light Rail service, after a few weeks in Sydney my partner learnt to love his Opal Card!
Author: Liam Henderson
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