Government and defence commuters are being unduly affected by over-crowded and irregular train services and a poor bus network in the New South Wales Southern Tablelands, with many struggling to get to work by noon.
Infrequently scheduled trains in Queanbeyan-Palerang have forced many workers to hybridise their work day, operating remotely for part of it.
The poor public transport options have also been blamed for the disproportionate level of car use and increased emissions in the area.
Naval engineer Levi Catton catches the Sydney to Canberra train from Bungendore station every morning. But the station’s three scheduled trains are inconveniently timed for 9 to 5 workers, with Catton having to adapt by spending his mornings on Zoom calls.
“I do phone and video calls for work in the morning up until about 10:15am. I then catch the Bungendore train at 10.30am and arrive at the office at 11.30am,” he said,” there’s no margin for error.
“I originally started catching the train because my car was broken down and the train really allows me to relax.
“However, occasionally, you’ll book, and there are no seats, so you are denied entry.
“Many people I speak to about what I am doing like the idea because no one really likes the drive. The roads are quite dangerous.”
Census data from 2021 revealed that Central Government Administration (11 per cent) and Defence (7.6 per cent) are the top industries of employment in Queanbeyan-Palerang. Workers choose to live in satellite communities because of lifestyle and cost. However, the public transport network in Queanbeyan-Palerang remains poor.
The Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) reported that 74.3 per cent of people in Queanbeyan-Palerang drove their car to work as a driver or passenger on the day of the 2021 Census compared to 1.3 per cent of people who travelled to work via public transport.
Regional fleet upgrades
A spokesperson for the Queanbeyan-Palerang Regional Council (QPRC) said when older trains are taken out of service in the Sydney Network, they can be used for a “daily short run” between Goulburn and Canberra with a stop at the Headquarters Joint Operations Command (HQJOC). Council also said they have been advocating for the ACT light rail system to be extended to Queanbeyan.
Transport for NSW (TfNSW) has plans to replace the “ageing” regional fleet with new XPT, XPLORER and Endeavour trains. The trains will operate with an Australian first – bi-mode technology – providing a more environmentally friendly rail service.
A spokesperson for TfNSW said the first trains should arrive in Australia later this year. It is unclear if Queanbeyan-Palerang will be one of the first locations to receive the new trains as TfNSW’s timeline is yet to be confirmed.
In March 2020, Bungendore Climate Action surveyed 195 Bungendore commuters, and at the time there was huge community interest in upgrading the train timetable to include an earlier service at 7.30am. The climate group sent their report to QPRC, but the council contend the issue is one for the state government.
“I commute to Canberra for work, and in the mornings and evenings, you see a train of cars returning to Queanbeyan-Palerang,” Bungendore climate activist Marina Lucero said.
“Each vehicle could be a person sitting on the train. It’s important people save on fuel and parking.”
The top response of survey participants, asked to identify their reasons for driving to work, said the bus service was not available or convenient (59.29 per cent). Marina argues infrastructure already exists to support commuters, but the QPRC and NSW Government have done nothing about it.
“Q City Transit was closed to the idea of increasing bus services in Bungendore and surrounding regions,” Ms Lucero explained,” they said people could catch the bus that exists and take the train from Queanbeyan to Canberra.
“When you do the math, it would take an hour and 46 minutes, and the bus arrives just after the express service leaves for Canberra.
“The state government isn’t prioritising small regional communities. If Bungendore were in the ACT, it would’ve already been done.”
Main image AI-Pro.