The northern suburbs of Wollongong have more than 12 times as many rail commuters as the Kiama area, but will have far fewer direct services under the state government’s new train timetable.
The timetable comes into force on Sunday, October 20. One of the government’s key selling points for the South Coast line was the improvement of services to Kiama.
The government said the faster peak-hour services would allow commuters from Kiama to save as much as 65 minutes’ travelling time each week.
One evening peak-hour service – the 5.36pm from Central – in the new timetable manages to shave off a huge 21 minutes for Kiama residents.
The number of direct services for Kiama residents in both the morning and evening peaks remains the same – three each way – but their travel time is greatly reduced.
However, in Wollongong’s northern suburbs, between Helensburgh and Thirroul, the direct services have been cut back in the new timetable.
In the case of the well-used Austinmer station, the direct services in the morning peak of 5.45am-7.30am are reduced from three to two.
In the afternoon peak of 5pm-6.30pm direct services drop from five to just one, with commuters forced to get off at Helensburgh for a local service.
The disparity is curious given that figures from the government’s own Bureau of Transport Statistics show there are vastly more rail commuters in Wollongong’s north than in Kiama.
The Journey to Work statistics are based on the 2011 census and show that there are 637 inner-city commuters living between Stanwell Park and Thirroul.
In the coastal strip from Minnamurra to Gerringong there are just 75 commuters who travel to Sydney to work.
The bureau also supplied figures for how those commuters travel to Sydney. In the north, 400 people commute by rail compared to just 32 in the Kiama area.
Transport Minister Gladys Berejiklian said one of the goals of the 2013 timetable was to improve journey times for as many commuters travelling longer distances as possible.
‘‘Services operating between Kiama and the city operate via Wollongong, the third largest city in the state,’’ Ms Berejiklian said.
‘‘In order to improve journey times for customers travelling from Wollongong, services and stopping patterns have been revised at smaller stations between Thirroul and Helensburgh.’’
Commuters at stations between Thirroul and Helensburgh could change trains at Helensburgh for services to the city at times when direct services were not provided.
‘‘Customers at these stations will benefit from extended local services – which will improve connectivity between all stations on the South Coast between Port Kembla and Waterfall,’’ she said.
Keira MP Ryan Park said the new timetable was a ‘‘disaster’’ for rail commuters in the northern suburbs.
He said improving services to Kiama while overlooking the northern suburbs was a mistake.
‘‘Anyone who has lived in the region for a long time would understand that the vast majority of regular commuters come from the northern suburbs of the Illawarra,’’ Mr Park said.
‘‘They’re often people who have moved down from Sydney for lifestyle reasons, or they’re people who are forced to work in Sydney for employment reasons.
‘‘That’s where the service improvements and upgrades should have been delivered.’’
No. of commuters Number using trains
Stanwell Park: 129 88
Wombarra-Scarborough-Coalcliff: 75 47
Coledale: 71 28
Austinmer: 117 87
Thirroul: 245 150
Minnamurra: 13 0
Bombo: 16 8
Kiama: 18 12
Kiama Heights: 16 3
Gerringong: 12 9