January 05, 2017

Horse 2208 - Operation Brown Line - The Bankstown Line

Few people I know would think that riding around on trains for a day is fun. In fact most people I know, think that riding on a train or driving to work is just a means to an end and they would prefer not to do it I suspect. Certainly, everyone who I've told about this plan thought that it was a pointless exercise and that includes my wife. I on the other hand, revel in the mundane and taking a train, even through suburbia is a thing of joy for me.
Though none would go with me, I went out anyway to visit all 33 stations on the Bankstown Line while I still had the chance before a lot of them got requisitioned by the Sydney Metro. While it still existed in its own right, I wanted to see all of them.

This then, is Operation Brown Line.

Leaving home, I had intended to take a train to Lidcombe and then to Liverpool but the cosmos had other plans. The train that I started my jaunt on was a C Set (C1) that ran through Parramatta and down the T5 Cumberland Line to Liverpool. This meant that I got to go over the Y-link at Granville; which is something which I had done before but rarely.
Moving through places like Merrylands, Guildford, Fairfield and Yennora, I reached the beginning of my intended journey and commenced Operation Brown Line.

Liverpool station looks like a mainline terminal; mostly because once upon a time it was the terminal of the Main South Line. The station with its brick walls and wooden awnings and finials, give the station an air of establishment.
The northern end of the station like so many stations that have been upgraded in recent years to allow easier access, is an unimaginative box of steel and glass that could have been plonked down nowhere in particular. The older terminal building looks like it should have old fashioned waiting rooms behind its windows but sadly, they have all been painted black and nobody can see inside anymore.

Warwick Farm Station has a melancholy sadness that is longing to be noticed. Its signs date from the late 1980s I assume, as they still show the green line running across the bottom to indicate that they are on the Southern Line. In those days, in the days before the extension of the East Hills Line through Holsworthy and on to Glenfield, Warwick Farm was exclusively on the Southern Line and wasn't on the Bankstown line at all; so there wouldn't have been a brown line on the signs for this station.

Heading north into Cabramatta, I saw no evidence of the old line to Warwick Farm Racecourse. I only have vague idea of where it would have run but they area has been redeveloped so many times since, nothing more exists.

The train left the Main Southern Line and turned eastwards after Cabramatta, headed to Carramar. I suspect that from the beginning of the great electrification of Sydney's Trains, beginning in 1926 and well into the 1950s, that the New South Wales Government Railways got a job lot on railway station building designs. This sort of building could easily appear on the Northern Line, the North Shore Line, the Illawarra Line et cetera, et cetera; et cetera! This photograph exists as the example in this set because really, so many stations on the Bankstown Line look so similar, its mind numbing.

Villawood followed from Carramar and then came Leightonfield. I must admit, I had never been on the Bankstown Line before and so, I wasn't even aware of the existence of Leightonfield. Having lived in Sydney for so long, you'd think I'd be at least familiar with all of the names on a railway map having seen it for 30 years but apparently not.
This part of the world seems surprisingly rural. It game me the same sort of feeling as when you head west out of Melbourne and through places like Tottenham and the hilariously named suburb of Sunshine. Going through here reminded me of the valley of ashes as described in F Scott Fitzgerald's ghastly book, The Great Gatsby. It is little wonder that I'd never heard of Leightonfield because in my not very well paid opinion, this railway station sign is the most interesting thing I saw in the area.

We clank on through Chester Hill and Sefton which both echo Carramar station and rather unhelpfully, the railway line has had a set of concrete sound barriers erected down both sides. Whatever scenery might have been out there was taken away but I suppose that that's progress.

Between Sefton, Birrong and Regents Park is an incredibly complex junction where the South Western Rail Freight Line passes both under and through the Bankstown Line. Even though I passed through it three times of this journey, I couldn't get a good photograph.

Birrong Station is where I changed trains, to head north up the Lidcombe branch. As this was in the morning but after the peak period and before anyone went to lunch, walking around on Birrong Station would have been like walking through a graveyard if it wasn't accompanied with a soundtrack of myriads of cicadas.

This brings me to an odd observation. Sydney Trains played an announcement immediately before we pulled into Birrong which says:
"Help us avoid delays. If you feel unwell, don’t risk staying on the train. Staff at the next station can get you help". 
Let's assume that I did feel unwell. Birrong Station as far as I can tell is unattended. Unattended by staff, unattended by passengers; unattended by reality it would seem.

The next train that I boarded headed north through Regents Park and Berala and then "terminated" in Lidcombe. I say terminated because really that's something of a misnomer because the two drivers walked down the platform and got into the cab at the other end of the train. It would leave 13 minutes later.

Before we pulled into Lidcombe station, we passed over another Y-link set of bridges. On my usual trip to work and any journey into the city, I on a train which passes over the other bridge in the distance. This bridge usually has a billboard for a highly reputable restaurant chain which is famous for its golden arches, though recently it has carried the billboard of the De Rucci furniture form and a picture of the creepiest man in the world. No really, he IS the creepiest man in the world.
Link: http://www.derucci.com.au/

Lidcombe Station is a rarity in Sydney in recent years. Many stations such as St James, St Leonards, Homebush et cetera, have all suffered a loss in the number of platforms. Wynyard Station famously does not have either a platform 1 or 2 because they were both the platforms where the trams for the north of the harbour left from. Lidcombe, has a very special trick though. The Bankstown Line as part of the clearways program, now gets its very own platform, platform 5; so that the trains don't have to cross or enter the mainline thoroughfare. It also has the Olympic Park line and that warrants...

wait for it...

Platform 0.

As far as I know, it is the only Platform 0 in Australia and it shares that weird number with other Platform 0s at King's Cross in London, Haymarket in Edinburgh and Stockport in Greater Manchester.
After spending 13 glorious minutes at Lidcombe and walking through what I think used to be an old donut shop on Platform 4, I got back onto the same train that I arrived on and headed back down the line through Berala, Regents Park and Birrong. Yagoona and Bankstown followed and the next stop was Punchbowl.

From Birrong eastwards, the Bankstown Line mainly has island platforms; with the whole line dug into a sort of ditch. That however is not the reason why I've picked out Punchbowl.

Punchbowl is an apt name for the suburb and I think typefies what modern Sydney has become. By the time I'd reached Punchbowl on this trip, I'd seen signs in English, Vietnamese, Chinese, Korean, Thai. Turkish and Arabic. Punchbowl was firstly inhabited by Aboriginal peoples, then British and Irish, then Greek and Italians and now has people from Lebanon, Vietnam, Indonesia and I thought I could see a Colombian flag off in the distance. Punchbowl is what you get when you throw together a whole bunch of different flavours in a Punchbowl - why would you ever go back to one boring plain old flavour? Give me a million different flavours; give me spice!

There is a kind of cultural snobbery in Sydney where apart from the fact that everyone is obsessed with how much their house costs, when they want to go on holiday, they always want to go overseas. Why not just do what I did and go on holiday on the train to Sydney? There are people from everywhere and the exchange rate is always A$1 = A$1.

We push on though Wiley Park, Lakemba, Belmore (where the Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs should be playing out of), Campsie, Canterbury, Hurlstone Park, Dulwich Hill where you can see the end of the tram line back to the city via Leichhardt, Marrickville and finally Sydenham.

Again, most of these stations are of that same style from the period immediately after the Second World War but Sydenham Station is on a grander scale. Sydenham Station has six platforms because it was designed to carry the Eastern Suburbs Railway Line and the Bankstown Line and the East Hills Line. I didn't even realise this but on Platform 1 there is what used to be a parcel office building from the days when mail travelled by train.
Heading north we stop at St Peters and then Erskineville.

There isn't anything particularly special about Erskineville to write about other than on Platform 4, there was a pretty funky mural that I suspect might have been designed to work under a black light.

Before we turn right towards Redfern, the Eastern Suburbs Line disappeared into the bowels of the earth as if never to be seen again. From here, Redfern, Central, Museum, St James, Circular Quay, Wynyard, Town Hall and then Central again but heading south, were all familiar to me and didn't warrant me taking any photographs.

At some point in the future Transport For NSW intends to connect the North West Metro, to the Epping to Chatswood Line, bore a series of tunnels under the harbour and then under the city through places like Barangaroo and Waterloo and then come up again at Sydenham. The days of The Bankstown Line as we know it are numbered and come to an end in 2023; to be reborn in 2024. What happens to the stations to the west of Bankstown is anyone's guess but I suspect at this stage (being a guess 7 years away from anything), that the train will run from Lidcombe to Bankstown and then Liverpool, before heading back from whence it came; it will be like the Olympic Park Line shuttle.

Operation Brown Line: the quest to visit all 33 stations on the Bankstown Line has a limited life. I'm glad I did it while I still could. Riding around on trains in the suburbs is joyful, 

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