I would have gone out of my way to avoid this Red Rattler suburban train when it was in operation, but here I am going out of my way to ride in one.
It's the Transport Heritage Expo at Sydney's Central Station. There are stalls, an operational C32 steam locomotive and 86 class electric loco with cabin tours, steam train rides down to Hurstville and back and the Southern Aurora parked at a platform.
The latter will always be associated with pandemics to me. I was really sick with the flu that was going around on my first trip to Sydney, aboard a sleeper on the Southern Aurora back in the the early 1980's.
I was here to catch a heritage electric train ride. Initially it was supposed to run to Lavender Bay, down near Luna Park, which would have been fantastic as you can't normally catch trains there, being a storage branch. Unfortunately, that was kyboshed by the authorities and replaced with a return run to East Hills.
I had already caught that line in from Padstow, although on one of the most recent trains on the system, a Waratah B set, so I wasn't really thrilled about it. B and Alex decide not to join me for this leg.
Walsh Island Standard Motor Car C3218 is really well maintained. The hard leather seats are well padded, the hospital mint green steel walls clean. The only air-conditioning in the cabin is courtesy of the windows which slide up.
With a jerk and a whirr we begin moving along and away from the platform. Our route is not quite that of the regular commute to the city as we are departing from the country train lines and not passing through the airport tunnel. I enjoy the sensation of gazing out the window and just watching the city pass by.
Enthusiasts have cameras on tripods to capture our passing. Other casual observers hold up their mobile phones or wave cheerfully at us as we pass.
I'm not used to travelling this fast along the line. Normally if I've caught the express it means I'm on the wrong train. The outer tracks weren't in existence when this train retired.
We wait for 20 minutes at East Hills Station, then return along the same route to Central. I listen to music through headphones, remember those early trips to Sydney when the old single level suburban electric train still ran, screeching their way noisily through the tunnels of the underground.
I meet B and Alex for lunch at Sushi Hotaru in the Galleries Victoria, browse Books Kinokuniya before we return to Central for the second ride of the day, a CPH "Tin Hare" diesel railcar.
The Tin Hare's wooden interior has a character that the earlier suburban set lacks. It's quite easy to imagine riding one of these on a rural branch line. Today we are going to explore parts of the suburban network that the electric trains can't reach.
Our route takes us around the back of the XPT maintenance facility at Sydenham and along the Bankstown line that is currently closed for conversion into a driverless metro system, roughly following the Cooks River.
We pass through the Enfield yards, where the new Mariyung intercity fleet are being stored pending the resolution of an industrial dispute with the transport union. Then around through the Chullora yards. The movement of a Pacific National container train appears to delay our progress for a while.
Curving around, we rejoin the suburban network at Regents Park, following it around to Lidcombe and the Flemington Yards, where only scant evidence remains of how the railways once supplied the markets with goods.
Once we passed Strathfield the rest of the ride is all too familiar after daily commutes to Epping and back for many years. But we race along, surely faster than this rail motor would have travelled on most lonely branch lines. With the breeze blowing in through the open window it really is a lot of fun.
Finally we return to Central Station and the end of our heritage railway adventures for the day. We walk back through Chinatown, eat an early dinner of udon and return to Padstow on a regular, modern, suburban electric train.
Whilst neither heritage railway journey was particularly scenic, it was fun to explore parts of the network I haven't seen before and just to sit back and enjoy the ride.