Illawarra commuters tell of nightmare train ride

A South Coast train was so overcrowded earlier this month that passengers were almost passing out and boxes of bottled water were pushed on board at one station.

On December 3, when the maximum temperature in areas of southern Sydney was as high as 28 degrees, hundreds of commuters were crammed onto the four carriages of the 3.54pm Central service to Kiama.

Before the train even left Central the seats were all taken, with commuters forced to sit on the stairs, the aisles upstairs and downstairs and the vestibules.

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Debbie Pollock was on the overcrowded train. She lives in Bulli and catches the train five days a week to her job in Circular Quay.

She said the overcrowding was caused by the sudden cancellation of the previous South Coast train, which was due to leave at 3.22pm. Passengers on that train, which included Ms Pollock, were told to catch the 3.54pm service.

"This was where the craziness really started as everyone rushed to get a seat," Ms Pollock said.

She said that almost 10 minutes before the 3.54pm was due to leave, it was standing room only and people were still trying to get on board. Wollongong City councillor Vicki Curran got on the train at Redfern, the first stop after Central.

"It was standing room only," Cr Curran said. "I could just get in the door. I was right at the door."

She said the crowding got steadily worse, with the train making its scheduled stops at Wolli Creek, Hurstville, Sutherland and Helensburgh.

"At Wolli Creek they should have been saying to people, sorry but you can't get on," Cr Curran said.

"It was that bad. There was a lady getting on at Wolli Creek with a stroller and so we all had to shuffle back even further.

"At Hurstville I couldn't believe that any more people were getting on. I couldn't believe that they stopped at Hurstville actually. Then they stopped again at Sutherland and more people got on, but no-one was getting off."

Cr Curran said the crowding was so overwhelming that she had to sit down, feeling like she was close to passing out.

"I wasn't feeling panicky, more like there wasn't enough oxygen to breathe. It was getting hot and stuffy."

Ms Pollock said some people were unable to board the train as it was "extremely crowded".

"It was slightly claustrophobic and there was hardly any air moving," she said.

Cr Curran, who posted updates and photos to her Facebook page while on the train, said there were so many people on board, some were sitting on the floor in the aisles upstairs.

At Sutherland station a small bit of relief came.

"At Sutherland, I put my feet outside the doors when they opened," Cr Curran said.

"They just brought pallets of Mt Franklin [bottled water]. I said, 'you can't let more people on, surely you have to be getting extra carriages.

"They were just throwing [the water] in because they were on a timetable as well. They were throwing the whole slabs in.

"We had to open them and pass the bottles down the line."

Then, as the train pulled out of Helensburgh station, the train staff opened all the interconnecting doors to let in some air.

"It was like 'thank God'," Ms Curran said. "It was like the southerly had hit after a hot summer day."

Ms Pollock got off the train at Thirroul while Cr Curran rode it to Coniston - and she said she had to stand all the way," she said.

"I was very fatigued, I have Crohn's disease as well and after a day in Sydney and then just standing all day I was just aching.

"When I got home I just went to bed and put my feet up. There was no way I could have done anything else."

A spokeswoman for NSW TrainLink apologised to customers who were "inconvenienced" while riding that train.

She said actions were taken to alleviate their problems.

"The second train was an OSCAR train, which is air-conditioned," she said.

"When the system detects high temperatures, interconnecting doors are opened to balance the air-flow throughout the carriages as one carriage may have more customers than others."

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