In a new Australian movie Night Train To Lithgow, two homeless people in their late 60s strike up a conversation, alone in the so called ‘quite carriage’. The man and woman are on the 12.18am train from Central to Lithgow, returning to Sydney at 6.00am. For the $2.50 pensioner concession, it’s a cheap, relatively safe and warm place to sleep, although the seats are not exactly designed for dozing. Halfway through the journey they discover they were once childhood friends and the dialogue expands to how they have both fallen on hard times and now spend their nights sleeping on the inter city trains.
The movie is just a concept but the reality is happening every night, here in one of the most affluent cities on the planet. As the nights get colder, and the homeless are moved on from sleeping around Central Station, the late night inter city trains are at least one option to impending hypothermia. The round trip to Lithgow takes about six hours and with few passengers on the train there is plenty of room to stretch out.
It’s also relatively safe – as safe as it can be for anybody travelling on a late night train with no security cameras and the guard locked away in their own compartment. There is however an emergency button in each carriage, something you don’t get when you are sleeping under the railway bridge in Woolloomooloo.
There is no law against sleeping on trains, plenty of tired commuters do it everyday, but transport minister Andrew Constance has expressed his disdain at the increasing number of rough sleeping passengers. The State Government has now asked welfare groups not to provide food for the homeless at Central Station as supposedly a way of keeping them off the trains.
The situation is of course nothing new and the homeless have been sleeping on late night trains for years. It’s interesting to look at the reaction of other passengers with a number of posts on Railpage under the heading “Should The Homeless Be Allowed To Sleep On Trains?”
One commuter writes:
“I’ve read on the forums that the interurbans that leave sinny (sic) after midnight (particularly the 12:10 to lithgow) are used as a “hotel on wheels” of sorts for the homeless, particularly on cold nights. Do you think they should be allowed to be on a train for the express purpose of a nights sleep? Personally, as long as they have a valid ticket, and don’t bother other pax (not that there are many others on these services usually) i don’t see the problem… the transits seem to be pretty sympathetic to their cause…”
Whist another complains:
“If they have had to have paid for a ticket for the express purpose of turning a seating carriage into one huge sleeping compartment, then they could have saved themselves the cash that they had spent, and gone and slept in a free bed provided by the Salvo’s at a shelter. And the money saved used to buy themselves a meal and a shower.”
It would appear that the public are somewhat split on the matter and all the State Government is doing is shuffling the deckchairs on the Titanic. If the homeless are hunted from Central Station, they aren’t just going to disappear. They will soon find a new hub to gravitate to and the welfare providers will follow them. In the meantime the late train to Lithgow sure beats sleeping in Tom Uren Square in Woolloomooloo.