Having spent a decent chunk of my life on public transport, whenever anything happens, it immediately captures my interest. The rail network had suffered through many years of neglect, and has only been undergoing “slow” evolution – I’ve only really witnessed the opening of the Epping to Chatswood rail link, and the introduction, and extension of the Light Rail through to Dulwich Hill.
When there were murmurings of a “south-west” rail line, and it would be “due to open in 2015”, I was very skeptical it was actually going to happen. Little did I realize that construction had been well underway through 2012 and 2013, until I travelled down past Glenfield late 2014.
The opening of the South-West Rail Link would have been news on the 8th February 2015, but somehow I missed it. I was still travelling on trains every day, blissfully unaware that the plastered maps on trains claiming “under construction” were all out of date and the line was actually in operation.
I only found out about it through a different news story, about Opal top-up machines, which were trialled at Leppington and Edmondson Park before they were further deployed.
At this stage, the line currently doesn’t have a T-number designation, and is operating a 30-minute interval shuttle style service in a manner not “integrated” with the rest of the network.
Because public transport is relatively affordable with the maximum fare band and transfer provisions on Opal, I decided I should dedicate some time to visit these stations.
Visiting the South-West Rail Link (SWR)
On the morning of Monday 4th May, I decided to take a trip to uni, but going out of my way to visit the SWR. I started my trip from my local station, Chester Hill, where I spotted the “dinosaur” of a magnetic stripe ticket vending machine and a ticket window. Of course, I was going Opal, so I didn’t have to use it, but these older non-touch-screen/wall-of-buttons type of vending machines are not as common across the network as they once were. If you look carefully, they have already updated the buttons to include Leppington and Edmondson Park, which is particularly fun as everything’s in alphabetical order. Interestingly, it seems the units at Central have been updated to issue Light-Rail tickets as well.
As the line is not integrated with the rest of the network, it operates from Liverpool, stopping at Glenfield, Edmondson Park and then Leppington. I caught a train direct from Chester Hill to Liverpool station, where I was scheduled to miss the connecting train to Leppington, and have to wait for 30 minutes.
But as fortunes had it, I didn’t miss the connection which as on the adjacent platform, as the Leppington bound train was slightly delayed. I boarded a 4-car M-set, this carriage being D1051, just half-a-minute before it left the platform. I was quite impressed that software with the trains that controls the digital voice announcers and the displays must have been updated to ensure the new stations would come up.
As the service doesn’t seem to run on dedicated tracks from Liverpool, after pulling away from the station, it was delayed about five minutes sitting at the signals, waiting for a late city-bound train. Once we were on the way, it stopped at Glenfield where most of the five or six passengers disembarked (probably for a connection to Airport/East Hills line, or to Macarthur). Only one other passenger boarded my carriage to take a ride towards Leppington, it seems patronage was rather thin. This is in stark contrast to when I visited the Light Rail Extension where getting seats was a big issue.
It was only after Glenfield did we start to ride on “new rail”. I carried my GPS along with me, and I charted my return trip along the SWR.
Upon leaving Glenfield, the first stretch involves taking the flyover which turns you off the main line. This also involves tunneled segments cut underneath roads. The two stations on the line are Edmondson Park (sorry for the typo in the image), and Leppington, with the approximate locations based on the GPS track being illustrated by green shaded boxes. Leppington was actually quite a bit further than I expected based on station spacing. The line itself seems rather smooth, with long high-speed segments between Edmondson Park and Leppington where my GPS clocked the train in at 115km/h, thus likely being sign-posted for 110/115.
The limited patronage was explained to some extent by the area in which the line is serving. It seems the area is covered by new establishments, with unknown levels of occupancy.
Other houses, especially towards the Leppington end of the line, are still in the early stages of construction. The stations themselves aren’t quite central to the towns they serve either, which might also impact my perception based on what I can see out of train windows.
Edmondson Park Station
As the train was a 30-minute shuttle style service, I decided not to get off the train at Edmondson Park station, so these photos from the train will have to suffice. The station itself is built as a central “island” platform, with two platforms, one on either side. A central shelter covers most of the area, and the colour scheme is a mix of greys and orange in line with the new Sydney Trains style. Passenger information displays, like at most smaller stations and digital voice announcers, are active. The new Street Furniture Australia (SFA) metal-seats with integrated armrests have been used as well.
The station was very quiet, and I didn’t note anyone getting on or off the train.
Leppington station is the end of the SWR as it stands at the moment, from a passenger perspective. The train pulled into platform two, which is one of the four platforms, and three other passengers disembarked. The drivers did their change of ends, having a witty exchange in the middle, and have a short breather in the cab before then running the return service.
Getting off at this station allowed me to observe the interesting architecture and the facilities (briefly). The station is a mixture of textures, with curves and straight lines juxtaposed. On the platform, you can see the flat and lined roof, juxtaposed with the “mushroom” like pillars, with the different shades of “grey” as is the colour scheme of Sydney Trains.
The retaining walls of the station also show lines, similar to the corrugated colourbond roofing, but with the monotony of concrete grey broken up by coloured art panels depicting vegetables, and living planter boxes which have a variety of colours (probably not the best example of it here).
Walking up and out of the platform, it’s very pleasing to see how the station has harnessed daylighting, while also breaking that up with different coloured/textured wood slats. This contrasts with the slick glass used to make the safety barriers for the stairs and the lift shaft, as with the shiny glazed orange tiles on the walls.
The entrance to the station looks a bit like a “half” platform roof, and looks like it’s “grown” out of the ground. The top of the roof actually spells out a double T at Leppington, and a single T at Edmondson Park. The textures are interesting, the wood ceiling panels are continued through on the wooden benches and bins, but this is clearly contrasted by the shiny metal on the leading edge of the roof, bins and bollards. It’s a very interesting work of architecture.
Of course, it’s not all looks – functionally, the station seems well laid out with a “loop” access and terminals for buses. Parking is also provided at the station, although it will probably prove insufficient as the patronage grows, which is a common problem.
The station also has an extra large traction elevator to accommodate future loading.
An undercover bike rack is supplied with an ample amount of bike parking, especially for those which are fitness and environmentally inclined. Sadly, not a single bike was parked there when I visited.
Just opposite the station entrance is a glass-wall which lets you look at the platform and tracks below. The bridge at the Glenfield end of the station is Rickard Road, which should help you locate this on Google Maps, which sadly does not have any recent tiles covering these areas at this time.
The entrance to the station is very bare, and is currently fitted with pole-style Opal readers. It seems that it would have easily accommodated the regular ticket barriers, but the level of patronage doesn’t justify it at this stage.
Time to go, before the train runs away from me, so back down to the platform we go. Beyond Leppington station is the Rossmore stabling yards, which I didn’t have a chance to see, and in the future, the line could be extended further, potentially to Badgery’s Creek Airport (when that gets opened) or through to St. Marys to form a loop.
While the station has four platforms, most of the passenger services run from Platform 2 at this stage, which is served by a pair of 4-car M-set trains. However, while there, it seems they have had several different eight car sets travelling up Platform 4, as if to give the line a run to test the infrastructure and integrate the stabling yard into the network.
On the way out, I got to see the back of the “half-mushroom” roof of the entrance, and it has a very nice curve to it too, along with the ribs of the corrugated colourbond. No shortcuts here.
The opening of another rail line is a pretty rare event in Sydney, so being able to visit the SWR was quite a happy occasion. The stations aren’t just “any old basic station”, showing a good amount of architecture which makes them relatively nice to look at. While the patronage is relatively low at this stage, it is in an area of prime development, and a housing boom is expected. It’s not very often that such developments have the foresight to get a rail line and stations in ahead of the boom – just think of Kellyville and Castle Hill which are utterly reliant on T-way buses for public transport, dying of a wait for their North-West Metro.
Unusually, the South West Rail Link project page has a good assortment of construction photos at the bottom of the page, which might be worth leafing through if you’re interested in these things.