There’s something about travelling by train that is special. I travelled around NSW by train quite a bit when I was younger and now I’m on the train for the first time in many years, travelling from Kempsey to Sydney. My son is beside me as we snake down the green strip east of the Great Dividing Range, through lush summer pastures and thick forests with straight, tall Eucalypts, cross wide, grey rivers and pass hills with bald granite or sandstone outcrops. This landscape is alien to him, a bit “too green” for my little Adelaidean, but it makes me think of home.
The train trip I’ve done the most is the south coast run between Sydney and Nowra (Bomaderry). I grew up in Nowra, and that’s our final destination tonight but we’ll be driving this time. I remember my first train trips – school excursions to Wollongong and Sydney on red-rattlers with carriages like the Hogwart’s Express. When I started Uni I made the trip fortnightly, racing from Botany prac with half-finished drawings to catch the last train south, electric until Wollongong, then the train that time forgot to Nowra. It had doors that wouldn’t shut and stopped at all stations, even Bombo, where you could smell the salt from the sea. Bomaderry is the end of the line, the last station, because there’s no railway bridge to carry the train across the Shoalhaven River into Nowra. The frequency of that trip lessened over time as family and friends moved on. Still, I had other places to go by then, and mostly by train.
I like travelling by train. The sense of motion, watching the landscape change, the overheard conversations between families and strangers. From a train you see into people’s backyards, not the front presented to the world. It seems a little more honest. As highways increasingly bypass anything interesting, travelling by train provides a glimpse of rural towns and rural life that we often miss in our rush to get somewhere.
Travelling by train also means, to some extent, that you give up control over your journey. The route and timetable is fixed. You can’t change it. You get to sit back and watch the view. Yes, it’s slower, but sometimes slower is good.