Sydney Trains: under ground




sydney_rail-10It’s amazing sometimes how the cadence of your day can change so quickly. I was walking home across the Sydney Harbor Bridge and saw that the Sydney Opera House was lit in bright red for Chinese New Year. I came back to the house and grabbed my camera gear. I was ready for the first actual photo session since being here in Australia. I did catch one with my phone but wanted one with my DSLR.

sydney_rail-2Train service during commute hours is outstanding. Late at night the train service is much more sporadic. I saw that the train was coming, quickly bought a ticket, and then realized the fare gates were not operational. I figured since I had a ticket I could just go through the gate. I caught the train back into town and to my disappointment the lights illuminating the opera house were off for the evening. I even pressed my face to the window with my hand blocking the light from inside to triple check that the lights were truly off. I was bummed.

sydney_rail-5The train stations here are major gathering places.  They have dry cleaners, grocery stores, fast food restaurants all inside the station.  People are always coming and going through the stations here.  It’s never a dull moment.  I had about a 15 minute wait at the downtown train station to come home. I brought the long telephoto lens as I was expecting to photograph the opera house from a distance. I started photographing the sign listing each of the departures to get a better sense of depth of field with this lens. At f/2.8 the depth of field is quite narrow. Not sure what depth of field is?  Look at the yellow digital clock in the two photos.

sydney_rail-4Tightening down the lens to f/9 the depth of field increases, but at 200 mm it’s still somewhat narrow.

sydney_rail-3sydney_rail-1The full frame sensors are not forgiving in that respect. They have massive creative control, but not very forgiving for the beginning photographer. A train pulled in on the other track and just stopped and was announced on any of the signs. Looking little closer, I could see “not in service” flashing on the train’s destination sign. I took a few pictures of the train with my awkward lens and then began to draw some attention.

One of the conductors was giving me a little bit of scrutiny so I stopped playing with the camera hoping to avoid any confrontation. The door opened, he walked up to the end asked, “are you a train watcher?” Stupidly, I responded with, “I ride the train back home.” He made the assumption I was American and I shared that California was home. I wanted to keep the conversation going so I asked if the trains were electric or diesel. I got another quizzical look. It turns out the local trains are electric and long-distance trains are diesel.

The more time I spend here I’m realizing the more casual nature of Australian culture. As Americans, we can be really up tight about things. What happened next really surprised me. The conductor asked if I wanted to come in and see the controls on the train. I asked a similar question back in California and was denied due to “policy.” I jumped at the opportunity! The kid in me came alive.


We got to talking about all of the details of the train. All the trains that are electric are made by the Chinese, have touch screen interfaces, and are actually pretty swanky to ride. The tracks are super smooth. Trains in the urban area are limited to 115 km/h (70 mph) and to 60 km/h (38 mph) over the Sydney Harbor Bridge. In the States federal law prohibits trains running on ground-level to 79 miles an hour. My flatmate always laughs that the Australians have extra laws to keep everybody safe.

sydney_rail-7The conductor asked where I was headed and didn’t seem fazed that the train I should’ve been on was pulling out of the depot. I was enjoying the experience and figured I could catch the next one or at all else walk home.

He then offered to give me a ride back home on the train. I was stoked! Actually, I was more than stoked! It was 12:30 in the morning and I was getting a chauffeured ride an enormous, empty train back home. I was totally in the right place at the right time with my path crossing with the right person. Riding through the tunnels out onto the Sydney Harbor Bridge was awesome!

Late at night the conductors run test passes over the track to determine everything’s functioning correctly. He went into a fair amount of detail about how traffic signals on trains in Australia work. Traffic signals have two lights on them. The top light indicates the desired current action in the bottom light indicates the desired future action. I inferred that trains take a long time to stop so the dual signal system gives them extra time to react.

Totally cool evening… Only problem is now it’s 1:15am and I’m wide awake!

The final train of the night headed north. Thanks for the lift!



3 responses to “Sydney Trains: under ground”

  1. Heather Avatar

    Great story!

  2. Brittany Avatar

    That is so cool!! Once in a lifetime for sure

    1. Me Avatar

      That it was. It was one of those moments I was in the right place at the right time.

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