Thursday, March 22, 2007

Oy Andy

"I was back in Australia after a trip home to fulfil some other commitments and I was feeling, I have to say, pretty perky. The sun was gorgeously plump, the city coming to life -- shutters were rattling open, chairs being set out at cafes -- and I was baasking in that sense of wonder and delight that comes with being freed from a sealed aeroplane and finding myself once again Down Under. I was about to see Sydney at last." -- Bill Bryson, Down Under
So here I am in lovely Sydney, Australia. I got into the city from the airport using the CityRail system. And I must say, I'm quite impressed. So let's call this post an Ode to Sydney's Mass Transit System.

Recently a report came out (my friend Mary is seen walking at the end of this story) labeling Sydney's CityRail system the world's worst. The criteria were cost per passenger to run the system, and a few other factors. I think the report is b.s. First, Sydney's system covers 2000 km of rail (that's 1200 mi for you Americans). By comparison both BART and LA's MTA have well under 120 mi of rail. Sure Sydney is a bit more sprawled out, but imagine a system that combined CalTrain, AmTrak, SF MUNI, and BART. That's CityRail. It travels as far out as Sacramento, if not more so. It's over and underground in the City. I can go on, but in short, it is VERY comprehensive. A few of the other cities mentioned in the study, for example Moscow, have DISTINCT transit systems. Moscow has a thorough subway system, as well as an above ground system. The two are not linked. In Sydney, they are. It's all CityRail.

The trains are amazing. They're double decker. You enter the train through doors at a mezzanine level. Then there are stairs that go up or down. I think some of the Amtrak or Caltrain cars are like this. In short, double the capacity of any BART carriage. The ride is silky smooth. By comparison, I feel like I need a mouthguard any time I ride BART. Honestly, after learning about that report, I expected some steam locomotive operated by Aussie Oompa Loompas. Instead I got on an electrically driven train (0 emissions for you environuts...of which I am one when it comes to mass transit at least) that glided on air. I can't figure out how I didn't feel the separation in the tracks. But for whatever reason, these cars had amazing suspension. Did I mention they're double decker?

Lastly, apparently the biggest complaint about riders is that someone with a huge ass might stand in front of you. Whoop dee doo. I bet in less than 5 minutes commenters can flood this thread with horror stories from the BART or the mass transit of any other US city. All you need to do is read regularly to get a few each day. What I witnessed was quiet, polite, almost drone-like people robotically going to their seats upon entering or getting out of their seats exactly 15 seconds before the train pulled up to a stop. Oh the train has signs that announce the next station. Even if you're from Dallas and can't understand "City Centre" in the Aussie accent, the LCD display makes things crystal clear. None of that muted transfer announcements about McArthur station you (don't) hear on BART.

But I wouldn't be a true American if I didn't criticize CityRail for something. Their trains run in the wrong direction. I almos tgot my head ripped off looking to the left on an inside track when I heard a train coming, then the thing came out of the right. Weird. Pictures to come.


Blogger Mary said...

Ok that does sound nice but you came in on the airport line which is made to look great with brand new trains and good service so as to impress visitors. Sort of like we bank on the fact that you'll be judging the book by its cover. Also, the fat guy was just one story. Last week I was stuck on a crowded, unairconditioned, unlit train for two and a half hours before having to get off the train and walk along the tracks in order to get to a station. On the Harbour Bridge. So yes the airport line is great, but it's not really a true representation of what Sydneysiders have to fight with each day :)

3/22/2007 4:08 PM  
Blogger McWho said...

I'm just glad to be out of a city like Phoenix, which has skipped including capacity for either pedestrian or rail traffic. You either drive or stay home. Combine this with a huge urban and suburban sprawl, and you get a guy that is glad somethig as "crappy" as BART is available.

And yes, it IS possible to make it difficult to walk. Part of it is the no sidewalk thing. The other is that it is 115 outside in june.

So Sydney sounds nice to me.

3/22/2007 6:15 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hey Armen, here's a tip: When you find yourself 14,000 miles from California, with money in your pocket and no cares in your world, spend less time posting to a stale-smelling blog, and more time talking to the sun-bronzed blondes. Just a tip.

3/22/2007 9:48 PM  
Blogger Armen said...

Actually I'm 7,000 miles away. But more importantly IT'S FUCKING HUMID!!! Wow, it is unbearable. I ventured out twice and nearly died. So I'm working on my writing requirement where it's air conditioned. But yes, Aussies are hot, and no, you won't hear from me much once this thing is done.

3/22/2007 9:55 PM  
Anonymous G.W. said...

Criticizing our beloved BART, are you? Well, I say public transportation is for bums, commies and drunkards (all plentiful on BART)! Real Americans drive Leviathan-like SUVs that crush all in their path and burn enough fossil fuel to melt an iceberg in a day.

3/29/2007 4:37 PM  

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