Trainfinder Brisbane: Travelling the length of every train line in a single day

Posted: 20 March 2018 11:19 am
News

9 lines, 573km, strange fonts and excellent toilets.

Throughout 2018, Angus Kidman is undertaking the Trainfinder challenge, visiting every city in Australia and New Zealand with a suburban rail network and travelling across the length of every line in a single day. Learn about why he's doing it and what's involved.

How much train travel are we talking here?

Brisbane's train network incorporates nine distinct lines, all of which converge on the city centre and Roma Street. To the south, there's the Rosewood line, which also has a separate newish short branch to Springfield Central; the Beenleigh line; and the Cleveland line. The north is a little better served, with lines to Caboolture, Ferny Grove, Kippa-Ring, Shorncliffe and Doomben. (The Doomben line also branches out to the airport, but as that's run by an entirely separate company and charges typically high airport train fares I didn't include it here. Nor did I cover the Exhibition station line, which is normally only used during the Ekka annual show.)

All up, covering the entire network took me the better part of 15 hours on Wednesday 7 March 2018. I started and finished at Roma Street, and by the end of the day I'd covered about 573km. Here's what happened and what I learned.

Pedant notes: you can use your Go card to travel even further, as far as Gympie North on the Sunshine Coast or Varsity Lakes on the Gold Coast. I didn't include those branches, cutting off my trips on those lines at Caboolture and Beenleigh respectively. There were two reasons for this.

Firstly, it's questionable whether these entirely separate cities count as "Brisbane" travel. I wouldn't include Geelong in Melbourne or Newcastle in Sydney for similar reasons, as will be evident when Trainfinder covers those locales later in the year. The lines themselves are also distinctly named.

More crucially, I couldn't see any feasible way of actually getting to all those stations, largely because there are only a handful of trains to and from Gympie North. As it was, covering the network took me 15 hours, and I couldn't have added in those extremes and fitted it into a single day. Them's the breaks. Let's get moving.

Roma Street-Rosewood 4:52am-6:18am


There aren't very many people at all when I venture onto one of the first trains out of Roma Street, the "main" station in Brisbane and the base to which I'll be returning throughout the day. That's not surprising: the main reason for such early services is so that there's an early train coming from Rosewood for the first wave of city commuters. Far cheaper to run a morning train every day than to build expensive stabling facilities at the end of the line.

The upside is that I get an entire carriage to myself, and despite venturing some 56km from the CBD and frequently passing through sparsely populated areas, mobile signal remains good throughout. The one surprise is at Ipswich, when the guard comes through the train to tell me I need to be in one of the rear carriages if I'm going all the way to Rosewood. Again, that's a cost-saving measure: the platforms at less popular stations out this far aren't long enough for a full-length train.

Oddest station name on this line: Ebbw Vale. Gotta love a touch of Welsh.

Rosewood-Darra 6:29am-7:21am


Rosewood is relatively small (population 2,834), but there's a decent crowd of a dozen or so people waiting to jump on the 0:629am service. We steadily fill up with passengers, so by the time I get out at Darra to change onto the Springfield line, there's a risk I might actually end up with someone sitting next to me for the first time. I resist the shameful urge to manspread.

Darra-Springfield Central 7:41am-7:54am


Darra has four platforms, but the central two don't seem to get an awful lot of use. I had thought I might have time to grab a coffee before jumping back on board, but there's a distinct lack of staffing action in the bakery near the station, so I decide not to risk it.

The train heading to Springfield is fairly busy, with a healthy proportion of school kids. I still haven't needed to actually sit next to someone though.

Oddest station name on this line: When you only have three stations on the branch, it seems lazy to call one Springfield and one Springfield Central, frankly.

Springfield Central-Roma Street 8:03am-8:42am

The Springfield line is Brisbane's newest railway addition, with construction only completed in 2013. That means it gets a positively cavernous station at its Springfield Central terminus, even including escalators (something that you'll generally only see otherwise in CBD stations).

By now, we're in proper peak hour mode. As I'm on a train due to arrive in the CBD just before 9am, it's no surprise that by the time we pass through Darra again, the inevitable happens: someone is actually sitting next to me on the train. I'm glad I decided to work on my phone and not bring my laptop, though I do notice the odd confused look that I'm taking notes by hand. I mean, who uses pen and paper these days?

At Roma Street, there's just time for a quick McMuffin breakfast (don't judge me) before I reverse direction to grab the train to Caboolture.

Roma Street-Caboolture 9:03am-9:56am

Lots of people want to get onto the 09:03am, so much so that one of the platform attendants becomes quite exercised. "Hurry upsies, the train is leaving," she trills to the indifferent crowds. I can't recall having heard that phrase before.

Because of the crowds, it's only when I get off that I realise this is an older model of train, which has a manual door handle.

This is the first time I've encountered this in Brisbane, rather than the more familiar power-operated buttons, but it will be a familiar sight by the end of the day.

Caboolture itself is best known to me as a brand of yoghurt from my childhood, but it's a fairly substantial station and there are still plenty of people getting off when we arrive, not all of whom seem likely to jump onto the next bus service to Australia Zoo. I switch platforms to head back the way I came.

Oddest station name on this line: Burpengary (it means "the place of the green wattle tree").

Caboolture-Petrie 10:05am-10:26am


I don't have much time to change from the Caboolture line to the Redcliffe Peninsula line at Petrie: I'm due to get in at 10:26am, and my train departs at 10:29am. So I'm grateful that I can use the TRANSLink journey planner to find out which platform I need.

While I'm waiting, I'm bemused by a mysterious beeping noise. It turns out to be the help phone device for people with impaired vision, pinging gently so it can be found on the platform.

I have plenty of time to notice this, because my train to Kippa-Ring is running late. Only by three minutes, but this matters: on my originally planned schedule, I was due at Kippa-Ring at 10:45am, and then immediately turning around at 10:46am to return. That will work if it's the same train turning around (as it was this morning at Rosewood). It won't if a different train is doing the return service (as happened at Caboolture).

Petrie-Kippa Ring 10:29am-10:45am

While I've crossed my fingers that we might make up time, it's not to be. When a train passes in the opposite direction somewhere before Rothwell, I realise that I'm going to have to readjust my entire schedule and catch the next train back from Kippa Ring, some 30 minutes later. That's annoying, but I can't pretend the passenger volumes at Kippa-Ring would justify a more frequent service at this time of day. Given the wealth of cancellation and timetable complaints TRANSLink has caused in recent years, I suspect I'm getting off lightly.

There's really not much to see around Kippa-Ring. I do grab the opportunity to use the station toilet, which is considerably cleaner than I'd expect. Then I sit down and recalculate my train timetables for the rest of the day. Squeezing in lunch is going to be fiddly now.

One interesting feature I see for the first time here: a half-height indicator board, showing the destinations horizontally rather than in the more traditional vertical format.

Oddest station name on this line: The tempting-sounding and highly specific Mango Hill East.

Kippa Ring-Northgate 11:16am-11:57am


About half-a-dozen people board the train at Kippa-Ring, and most seem destined for the city. I need to change at Northgate for a Shorncliffe train, and again it's a relatively tight turnaround (just 5 minutes). Fortunately, this train is running like (ahem) clockwork. So I'll swap worrying about timetables for a new concern: I'm now recharging my phone from my main backup battery for the second time. I have extra spare batteries, but I also still have 8 more hours to go.

Northgate-Shorncliffe 12:02pm-12:20pm


Yes, there's more to Brisbane than train platforms. At Shorncliffe I have a 20-minute break before my return service, so I take a brisk walk down to the seafront. This makes a refreshing change, though it doesn't seem the kind of ocean I'd go swimming in.

Oddest station name on this line: Banyo, because it makes me think of Kermit The Frog.

Shorncliffe-Eagle Junction 12:39pm-1:03pm


Points off for the journey planner giving me the wrong platform interchange information, which is doubly annoying as the rain has kicked in, so I get mildly soaked racing back to the correct platform. Ugh.

Eagle Junction-Doomben 1:07pm-1:16pm


Only a very short run out to Doomben – time enough to appreciate the old-school font on the station frontage (very Thomas the Tank Engine) and to grab an ice tea from the corner store nearby. Doomben itself is a fairly modest station, perhaps explained in part by the fact the passenger line once ran further out to Pinkenba. Doomben itself had no services at all between 1993 and 1998 but has seen as much traffic mid-day as any other line I've travelled on today.

Oddest station name on this line: Ascot, a shameless attempt to copy the name of a more famous racecourse in the UK.

Doomben-Roma Street 1:28pm-1:55pm


It's time to face it: I have a power crisis. I've now exhausted my main backup battery, and the other two don't seem to be working. So far I've been diving on and off my phone all day, answering messages, taking notes and doing research. But there's no way that's going to be possible for another 5 hours or so. I can't let my phone die altogether as then I won't be able to take photos, so there's only one thing for it: go into flight mode, dial the brightness right down, and just observe the passing world. (It also means I'll be taking fewer photos compared to earlier in the day.)

I just have time on my return to Roma Street to grab a butter chicken pie (better than you'd expect). I have to fairly wolf this down, as TRANSLink bans all food and drink on trains. Lots of other people have been ignoring this rule (peak hour saw plenty of coffee), but I'm inclined to be obedient.

Roma Street-Beenleigh 2:07pm-3:11pm


In an ironic development, the first train on which I'm ignoring my phone is the first one all day to offer free Wi-Fi. This isn't a particularly well-regarded service – it's fiddly to register and there's a paltry 500MB data limit each day – but it would have been nice to try it out.

As an experiment, I've also sat myself in a "quiet carriage". Sorry, Queensland, but you fail on this one: there are plenty of gossipy people of all ages, even though the train itself is very far from full.

With time to kill, I can't help noticing that Edens Landing has acquired a "painter's apostrophe" on its platform sign: it isn't meant to have one. I'm easily amused.

Oddest station name on this line: Fruitgrove. Anyone got a banana?

Beenleigh-Ferny Grove 3:18pm-4:57pm


For the first time today, I'm going to stay on the same train as it switches lines, moving from Beenleigh in the south all the way to Ferny Grove in the North. Every line in Brisbane works this way, but because I've been switching at junctions to go to the ends of branches, it hasn't come up so far.

As you'd expect with a departure time just after 3pm, lots of schoolkids board, but most disperse to nearby suburbs rather than heading all the way to the city. My notes include the pointed comment: "1543 bum finally sore". It's a long day of sitting.

By the time we reach Central, the train is packed. Ferny Grove is the most metro-like line I've travelled all day, with stations uniformly close together. Despite that, still plenty of green space on offer, though I don't spot any actual ferns.

Oddest station name on this line: Gaythorne. Mostly because it was previously called Rifle Range. Make love, not war!

Ferny Grove-Roma Street 5:02pm-5:37pm


Another quick turnaround to head back into the city. I've been enjoying the varied Brisbane views, but now it occurs to me: for much of my final jaunt out to Cleveland, there won't be any light anyway. I'm going to need to find something to occupy me (other than the passengers).

I'm temporarily distracted when a woman with a guide dog boards at Bowen Hills, positioned neatly near a poster reminding people not to hassle guide dogs when they're "at work".

Roma Street-Cleveland 5:50pm-6:50pm


My 13-minute break at Roma Street gives me time to race in and buy a puzzle book at the station newsagency (the best-value way to fill in some time). This turns out to be an important decision since the Cleveland train is busy enough that I'm lucky to get any seat, and I certainly can't nab a window seat. Given that it's soon dark (no daylight saving here, thanks!), this isn't such an issue.

I don't have time to take advantage of the Stradbroke Island ferry service, alas. Now all I need to do is head back to my starting point.

Oddest station name on this line: Lota, which I am picking because it's the shortest station name on the network. Did I mention I'm easily amused?

Cleveland-Roma Street 7:09pm-8:09pm

I actually managed to screw up my last connection. After tapping out and then in again, I jumped on the train on the platform opposite where I'd come in, figuring it would depart first. I was wrong. So I ended up spending an unneeded 15 minutes on the train, doing more puzzles. Can't blame anyone for that except myself. It has been a long day.

What I learned

A simple thing which Brisbane does really well is using colour on its indicator boards to show which line the next trains are using. I'd love to see this emulated in Sydney, especially in the CBD stations where virtually no platforms are dedicated to a single line.

I also like the fact that drivers consistently announce which side of the train the platform will be on for each station. While this won't be news in single-platform stations like Rosewood, it's handy at the busier junctions, especially if you're not a regular traveller.

Done not quite as well: Go card readers. The low-res LCD screens aren't that easy to read (and hence I didn't track how much I was paying per trip particularly closely – I'll work harder on that next time).

I've already mentioned this once, but I was really impressed with the standard of station toilets. The Roma Street ones, in particular, are several leagues above the equivalent facilities in Central (Sydney) or Southern Cross (Melbourne).

While there's always an element of luck, I also have no real complaints about timeliness. Only one of the trains I was planning to catch was running late, which is better going than I anticipated. The fact that outside of peak hour suburban trains seem very uncrowded doubtless helped with that.

I've also learned that I need a more robust power supply management approach if I want to keep using my phone throughout a day of Trainfrenzy. An even larger backup battery has been ordered, and I'll be packing puzzles again for emergency use if needed.

Next stop for Trainfinder is Wellington in April, but before that, there will also be a Trainfinder-related bonus round of travelling idiocy, On The Rails. More on that soon!

Angus Kidman's Findings column looks at new developments and research that help you save money, make wise decisions and enjoy your life more. It appears regularly on finder.com.au.

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