In Japan, if you want to travel between cities you head to the train station and board the ever-efficient Shinkansen bullet train.
In New South Wales, if you want to travel between the state’s two biggest cities – Sydney and Newcastle – you head to the train station and board the not-quite-as-efficient Central Coast and Newcastle intercity train service, affectionately known as the Shitkansen.
A single trip on the Shitkansen is priced at $8.10 and takes approximate two and three-quarter hours if you travel the full distance.
If you have an Opal card and leave before 6.00am, after 6.30pm or between 7.30am and 4.00pm the trip is priced at $5.67. It’s a nice discount if you are willing to live with a less convenient travel time.
The other bonus for Opal card holders is that if you catch it – or another train – more than eight times, the ninth trip and onwards is free. And free is good.
The original Shitkansen were designated as ‘V’ sets. The V stands for ‘vacuum toilet’; they were the first rolling stock on the state rail network to carry such a luxury.
The distinctive silver box design of the Shitkansen sits in stark contrast to the sleek, aerodynamic shapes of similar trains on overseas networks. Japan’s Shinkansen sports is famous ‘duck-billed platypus’ nose on the front car, and Europe’s TGV/Eurostar trains also have unique shapes to them that give off an aura of speed and modernity.
The external and internal design of the Shitkansen train dates back to the 1970s, when the trains first debuted on the NSW rail network. In fact the exterior has undergone precisely no changes since the first-generation Shitkansen hit the rails.
Internally, the typical-of-the-time Institution Green and Biege colour scheme was kept in place until late 2013 when a refresh of the range saw the introduction of “Bush Plum” purple vinyl seats and carpets in a number of carriages. The new fitout gives the feeling you’re travelling inside a Cadbury chocolate bar, or perhaps the CarsGuide office. It’s different, but not necessarily an improvement.
The Shitkansen is available in either an eight or four car variant, depending on what time you travel.
The Spartans were known for making do with very little. It’s a quality they undoubtedly picked up from NSW TrainLink.
There’s no club car, no trolly service, no onboard entertainment system, (other passengers excepted) and no electricity – despite it being the train’s propellant of choice.
What you do get is a functional but not overly pleasant seat; the sort you would be ill-advised to subject to inspection under an ultra-violet light.
The seat in front of you provides a retractable foot-rest, although finding a comfortable seating position is a challenge whether it is used or not.
The numerous windows adorning either side of the carriage allow the passage of natural light, albeit filtered through a decent film of grime or any number of unique etchings installed by the train’s artistic community.
ENGINE / TRANSMISSION
The Shitkansen is an electric train.
Each four car set comprises two driving cars and two trailer cars. This allocation is obviously doubled when doubled into an eight-car train.
Exact power figures are unknown, but given how the Shitkansen drives, power output is likely to be a modest figure.
The ’sprint’ from 0-100km/h is best described as…not quick. We would go as far to suggest that it is more likely the heat death of the universe would occur before a Shitkansen’s velocity broke into the triple digits.
As is true with most machines, the Shitkansen today are slower today compared to when they first entered service. Even the more modern ‘OSCAR’ versions of the Shitkansen are slower than previous services. Make of that what you will.
The most obvious safety feature of the Shitkansen is the regularity at which it stops operating normally in adverse weather conditions. A hint of rain at the Shitkansen often finds itself grinding to a halt.
Think of it like an aeroplane – take offs are optional, landing is compulsory. The best way to avoid an accident in less than optimal conditions is to simply not operate in those conditions.
Other than that, for passengers there are no airbags and no seat belts. In the event of the train departing the tracks, there is not a lot to stop you getting thrown around the carriage.
There is an emergency brake switch located in each carriage, however on our train we noticed it was bolted closed – making its operation in an emergency problematic.
The other safety-related aspect of the Shitkansen trip are the other passengers.
There are jokes about the demographics and socio-economic status of the passengers often found onboard this particular train we could make. However, we are going to just simply say if you are wanting to see a demonstration of the effects assorted mind-altering substances can have on people, the Shitkansen is a cost-effective way to do it.
Straight up: this is not the most comfortable form of transport you will ever come across.
The experience of the Shitkansen trip between Newcastle and Sydney is best described as sitting somewhere between a long-haul international flight in cattle-class and crowding into an all-too-small car with the entire family for a trip up the coast.
There is never enough leg room and you cannot recline the seats. Standing up to alight the train at the end of the journey is a glorious experience.
The train itself, thankfully, sticks to the rails quite well. Some jostling can occur at higher speeds which bring to mind feelings of being on a boat in choppy seas, but overall things are quite smooth.
It is entirely possible to nap through the entire trip, which makes the nearly 180-minute travel time more bearable. That said, you neck may not appreciate that as much as the rest of you, so bring a pillow to ease the pain.
Overall, the Sydney to Newcastle train is a triumph of function over form, with a healthy dose of ‘if it ain’t broke don’t fix it’ added in.
For a single person travelling between either city, it is cost-effective and, to a certain extent, relatively timely. However, once your trip involved a second or third person, take the car. It’s just generally nicer.
UPDATE: Noble Patriot @rpy has advised my notations about off-peak Opal fares were slightly incorrect. He is a massive prick.
@bernietb minor fact check: Opal peak fares around Newcastle are 6-7:30am and 4-6:30pm (the AM peak times vary by distance from Central)
— the result respecter (@rpy) December 24, 2014