Photo of a CountryLink XPT courtesy of Axel Cheah

I had a thought this morning, and it hurt a lot. Not used to thinking so early in the morning.

Trains in Sydney are trains that are in Sydney

One of the variables both my sister and I (who can't drive) were really worrying about when we decided to move back in with our dad who was being transferred back to Sydney was how the trains would be. In Singapore the MRT is always full, but there are ultra clean stations everywhere, they keep building new lines, they're affordable and most importantly there's no timetable, just a frequency count with minutes measured in low single digits.

One of the more startling things about taking the train in Sydney is that… they're actually quite reliable and I can often get a seat on them when it isn't peak hour. I never, NEVER got a seat on the Singapore MRT or the LRT in KL! Part of the problem was I always felt guilty taking up a seat that someone older than me would need, so I just gave up and stood next to the doors.

Secondly, double decker carriages are awesome. The view from the top is great, and if there are noisy people, you can just walk downstairs or upstairs. That's huge in the afternoon when those <old man voice>loud teenagers get on and start yakking on their phones loudly about clothes and how their boy/girl friends aren't getting any.</old man voice>

Lots of people seem to have a negative opinion of the Sydney rail system, and it certainly isn't perfect, but fortunately we were able to get a house near a train station and its been a breeze. A 15 minute trip to get to the centre of town and only waiting 10 minutes for a train is mighty nice ^_^.

Sharing rhymes with pairing. Is pearing a word?

All of that last section may have been fine for some pointless rambling, but it wasn't what I intended to talk about!

The other thing that surprised me is just how much other rail traffic shares the rails with suburban trains. In Adelaide we'd regularly have huge container hauling diesel locomotives rumble right through the Mawson Interchange which was a bit unnerving (and LOUD!) but in Sydney the foreign guest that most frequently flies through is the XPT.

Back when I had a mad obsession with trains I studied the XPT, basically its a modified version of the British Intercity 125 double headed train that provides services to rural New South Wales and Brisbane, I think. Because of Australia's huge distances, the engines are diesel-electric because putting up catenaries (that always looks like canaries to me) would be prohibitively expensive, and Aussie governments don't give a rats arse about clean high speed rail because they're too busy pandering to airline companies. But I digress.

I'm not an engineer, but as I see these XPT trains rumbling and belching their fumes through these suburban stations, I can't help but wonder why they can't switch to catenary power when its available! The XPT locomotives use the diesel generator to power electric motors, so you could have pantographs to collect power and sidestep this process when it can. The diesel generator would act as backup power.

They do this on the Northeast Corridor in the New England region of the US, so its possible. I read Sydney uses some weird DC current for their electrical systems though, so maybe that wouldn't work for something with higher power demands like an XPT. In that case, maybe that needs to be changed too, or maybe it could just supplement the diesel generated power so it doesn't have to work as hard.

Unless they've done some hedging like the airlines (SIA is killer at this), I can't help but think all that diesel fuel wouldn't be cheap. But heck, what do I know, I'm not an XPT engineer ^_^. Off to have a grilled cheese sandwich :D.

Photo courtesy of Axel Cheah from Wikipedia.