Train travel to Sydney sees a spike in popularity... Helen Pilkinton is a frequent user of Countrylink's rail service from Canberra to Sydney (photo taken May 2012). Photo: Stuart Walmsley
Patronage is up 9 per cent, reliability is improved and streamlined safety procedures have carved up to 15 minutes off the train journey from Canberra to Sydney.
Midday services are the most popular and Explorer trains hauling 42 first class and and 104 economy seats, have been packed over school holidays.
Canberra to Sydney transport options:
- By plane - Canberra Airport to Sydney Airport, $105 - 1 hour (not including check-in and security and journey to the airport).
- By coach - Jolimont Centre to Central Station, $26 to $36 - 3 hours, 30 minutes.
- By car - Civic to Central Station, $45 -$55 - 3 hours, 30 minutes.
- By train - Kingston to Central Station. $48.02 - 4 hours, 20 minutes.
Yet NSW Transport is reluctant to divulge information and John Holland Rail, which began a 10 year contract to manage and upgrade the country network in January, won't comment on the latest track upgrades.
NSW Transport says $2.08 million will be spent on maintainance in the 2012-13 financial year.
In a statement NSW Transport said upgrades would help improve reliability, but were not designed to change travel times.
Slowed by curving and unreliable tracks, Explorer trains cannot run at their maximum speed of 145km per hour and take four hours and 20 minutes to complete the journey to Sydney.
In Queensland and Victoria tilt trains and full throttle diesel engines travel at 160 km/h.
Up until about two months ago the Sydney train stopped at Queanbeyan, Bungendore and Tarago for an electric staff change - a safety procedure to ensure two trains are not on the same line.
Now a train order working system eliminates the need for the train to stop, and unless passengers are joining or leaving the service at those stops, the service is much quicker.
Regular rail commuters say the timetable has not changed. What the service gains on the Canberra to Goulburn section it loses elsewhere.
NSW Transport said patronage of the Canberra to Sydney rail corridor in the 2011/12 financial year in both directions increased by nine per cent to 169,972 from 159,559 in the previous financial year.
"CountryLink regularly reviews patronage and other data to determine whether there is a need to change or increase services," the statement said.
Associate Professor at Wollongong University, Philip Laird, said it was disappointing Infrastructure NSW's latest transport strategy did not include the potential of 160km per hour trains.
"Since 1998, Queensland has successfully operated an electric tilt train between Brisbane and Rockhampton," he said.
"Operating over tracks straightened and strengthened for faster and heavier freight trains, the tilt train travels at speeds of up to 160km per hour.
"Victoria has had regional fast rail since 2005 operating on four lines of upgraded track to Bendigo, Ballarat, Geelong and Gippsland.
"The conventional diesel trains move with a top speed of 160km per hour. The patronage doubled within the first four years of operation."