Timetables and Delays


Iron Road

Timetables and Delays

The lonely signal box

signal box
If there is one subject sure to provoke discussion about today’s railway system, especially in New South Wales, it is the timetable and delays.
Folklore steps in with humour.

You know the train system is in chaos when the train you’re on grinds to a halt and you hear the following announcement:

“This train has been delayed because there is another train at the platform ahead at Central. We have no idea how long it will take.”

And then, after a brief pause, the triumphant:
“This train is now one hour and 28 minutes late”.

Still, as pointed out by an Inverell resident in a letter to the Editor of the Sydney Morning Herald, ‘Sydney residents have no right to whinge about a mere hour’s delay. The last train that left Inverell left 17 years ago!’

One enduring piece of international folklore, and certainly prevalent in Australian circulation, concerns the belief that Mussolini. the Italian fascist leader, ‘made the trains run on time.’ It is folklore and untrue.

Mussolini needed to convince the people of Italy that fascism was indeed a system that worked to their benefit. Thus was born the myth of fascist efficiency, with the train as its symbol. The word was spread that Mussolini had turned the dilapidated Italian railway system into one that was the envy of all Europe, featuring trains that were both dependable and punctual. In Mussolini’s Italy, all the trains ran on time. Truth is he was a murderer, thug and he did not make the trains run on time!

Early Australian trains ran late for a number of reasons

– floods, bushfires and derailment were among the main reasons.

  • There was one train that was notorious for arriving late, having never arrived on time. However, on this occasion, the train arrived right on time. A bystander went up to the driver and congratulated him for being on time for once.
    The driver’s reply: “on time by foot, this is yesterday’s train.”

  • .A nine month pregnant lady got off the train, and the SM said to her “You shouldn’t have been travelling in that condition” to which she replied: “I wasn’t when I joined this train”
  • There is an urban legend which does the rounds every now and again about a typical small town which is woken up several mornings each week by an early train, usualy before 5am. The railway is said to cross the line twice within about half a mile, hence two rather loud blasts of the whistle. Having been woken up, the residents are often unable to get back to sleep. The town also has an unusually high birth rate.
  • There are many versions of this story, but a lot of them say it was in a town in northern NSW. One story even claims the train was the “Kyogle Mail”.
  • Another urban myth that does the circle line concerns a drunk who relieves himself on the tracks, and is electrocuted when his urine hits the third rail? “Electrocutions do happen,” concedes urban myth specialist. Blumenthal, “but usually to people working on the tracks or stumbling around on them. It’s unlikely that someone standing on the platform would hit the third rail.” Unless your aim is exceptional, the tracks are fairly safe for an illicit tinkle.
  • A pair of classic subway yarns deal with mistaken identity. In one, a white lawyer is jostled by a black youth on a train. The attorney discovers his wallet is missing, follows the young man off the train and demands it back. The frightened thief forks it over and flees. When the triumphant yuppie calls his wife to tell her the news, she tells him that his wallet is on the dresser — he’s mugged an innocent man.
  • Another tale features a commuter who sees a businessman leave the train without a pair of gloves that sit on the seat next to him. The good Samaritan rushes to catch the man as the train doors close, tossing the gloves after him. As the train pulls away from the station, a homeless man who was sharing the same row of seats with the executive demands to know why his gloves were tossed out of the car.

    Another old chestnut follows:

  • There was one train that was notoriously unpunctual, having never arrived on time. However, on this occasion, the train arrived right on time. A bystander went up to the driver and congratulated him for being on time for once. The driver’s reply: “on time by foot, this is yesterday’s train.”
    The version of the above was in reference to the WAGR Kalgoorlie to Leonora train.

  • A Texan is bragging to an Australian on a train journey through Queensland.
    “In Texas”, he drawls, “you can get on a train, ride all day long, and still be in Texas by nightfall”. “Yeah,” replies the Aussie, “we have slow trains here too”.

  • “All around the water tank
    Waitin’ for a train
    I’m a thousand miles away from home
    Just a’standin’ in the rain.”
    I’m sittin’
    Drinkin’
    Waitin’
    Thinkin’
    Hope’in’ for a train.
    Anon. Published in Australian Voices. Penguin