If transport propaganda is accurate, our trains are shiny and efficient, comfortable and provide a green alternative to petrol-guzzling cars. But apart from the enviro factor, what’s the incentive to catch a train?
On a list of the pros and cons of train travel, my pros column contains one lonely little item: trains are more environmentally friendly than cars. Trains can transport a few hundred passengers at a time. Getting those cars off the roads is a good thing.
But that’s where the benefits end. My cons list, by contrast, is as crowded as Sydney’s Town Hall Station at 5:11pm on a weekday. I’ve categorised the cons under four neat headings to make them easier to digest.
Australia sweltered this summer. Woe betide the weary traveller boarding a cinder-box train (not a rarity). It’s devastating waiting on a platform in 40-degree heat, praying for the sweet relief of air con then having to endure a closed-in oven that is actually hotter than outside.
It’s not just the train’s microclimate that sends the comfort factor plummeting. Loud drunkards, mobile users, screeching adolescents, snoring nappers and the inevitable loony make the average train journey a veritable human zoo.
It’s also likely you’ll have to contend with foul smells, rolling drink cans, mystery foods, chewing gum, spit, vomit and nondescript sticky goo. Honestly, certain commuters continue to fortify the Voluntary Human Extinction Movement. To be fair though, litter would decrease if there was somewhere to dispose of it.
2. (Dis)service and rising prices
In Melbourne and Sydney at least, train timetables are an intriguing work of fiction best suited to the fantasy genre. Sydney is the triumphant champion in this regard. Punctuality (and often, making an appearance at all) is such an elusive concept to our train networks that if CityRail were your spouse, you’d file for divorce.
Still, fares keep rising. Every time I open my wallet there’s been another sneaky ten-cent increase. The cost of travel means it’s often cheaper or the same cost to drive.
3. The sardine effect
Peak-hour train travel is best summarised by a single word: armpits. The train lurches in the peak-hour crush, human sardines reach up desperately seeking an anchor to defy momentum and your face makes contact with someone’s sweaty underarm. Joy.
If you’re not nose-deep in damp patches of bodily toxins, you’re copping an elbow in the chest or having to endure the remnants of someone’s curry lunch as it barrels on their breath into your sensibilities. Remember that thing called a personal bubble – the sacred space around us that is violated by perverts and the occasional close-talker? It’s becoming a thing of the past thanks to the sardine effect.
4. Safety fail
Despite there being laws against aggressive solicitation, people demanding handouts often roam through train carriages and they aren’t always friendly. “You got two dollars? Two dollars. A dollar then. ONE DOLLAR.”
It’s not only unpleasant, it’s downright dangerous. What happened to train guards? When was the last time you were able to rave near the guard’s compartment naked with a blue light? Who’s protecting us now?
Even when inspectors are present, often they are more of a threatening force than random lunatics. Passengers have been subjected to aggression and intimidation tactics by transport inspectors, from unfairly issued ticket fines to assault and unnecessary force. Are these people compensating for inadequate career choices or an unsatisfactory childhood? Isn’t their role to make transport safer and fairer for everyone?
If the point of a pros and cons list is to reach some kind of decision, I’d be buying a car right now. The reality is that I’ll continue to rely on trains, but damn it, I’ve bought the right to complain about it.
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