Opal system activated on South Coast

• Focus on fast South Coast commute

• 'Opal card least of our problems'

From today, South Coast rail commuters can tap into a new way of travelling.

This morning, the Opal card system was activated at all stations on the South Coast line, several months ahead of schedule.

The government has touted the smart card system as cheaper and more convenient than using paper tickets.

If you don't already have an Opal card, you still can't buy one at train station ticket booths.

At present, the cards need to be bought online at the opal.com.au website. But there are plans to allow retailers such as newsagents, convenience stores and petrol stations in the Illawarra to sell them too.

At this stage only adult Opal cards are available, although child and pensioner cards should be available later this year.

When buying the card, a commuter adds a dollar amount to it. And once they receive it in the mail, they're good to go.

You can add money to the card through the website or set up a direct debit system to automatically top up the balance.

You tap the card onto an Opal reader before you get on a train and then tap it once you get off.

There are also a range of discounts, including free travel for a week once you have made eight journeys.

However, there is a distinction between journey and trip. A commuter can make multiple trips - for example, catch a train and then a bus - but it will only count as a single journey.

The NSW government has said it will endeavour to improve mobile phone reception for South Coast rail line users.

The news came as Transport Minister Gladys Berejiklian announced improvements to mobile phone reception in Sydney’s underground tunnels.

Mobile coverage on the eastern suburbs line was switched on this week, marking the final stage in a roll-out of 18,000 metres of cabling in Sydney’s tunnels.

‘‘Last year coverage went live in the City Circle and tunnels north to Chatswood, and I am pleased we now have put an end to mobile phone drop-outs for customers travelling south to Erskineville and east to Bondi Junction,’’ Ms Berejiklian said.

Commuters on the South Coast line experience similar dropouts with both mobile phones and internet devices.

A Transport for NSW spokesman said they would look into improving the situation.

‘‘NSW TrainLink is committed to improving journeys for intercity customers, including working with mobile providers to look at where coverage can be enhanced on the South Coast line,’’ the spokesman said.

However, the government only had limited jurisdiction when it came to coverage issues on train lines.

‘‘Areas outside the closed rail corridor, such as places without rail tunnels, are traditionally under the network provider’s responsibility,’’ the spokesman said.