Tourism operators fear overcrowded trains will deter visitors to Australia's Blue Mountains
Standing by the doors of the train carriage as it rattles away from Sydney's Strathfield Station, Kylie Fearnley places a firm hand on the stroller containing her three-year-old son Taylor.
It is Sunday morning – hardly peak time – yet it is already standing room only as the train heads west of Sydney towards Parramatta and the Blue Mountains.
Fearnley regularly travels on the train on Sunday and said it was "next to impossible" to find a seat.
"We're jammed in like sardines or I have to stand up," she said. "I mean, we're heading into the western suburbs of Sydney, not into the Bronx."
Tourism operators in the Blue Mountains have also expressed concern about overcrowded trains.
"If something is not done about it, sooner rather than later, it will potentially have a negative effect on tourism because the word will spread," said Jason Cronshaw, the managing director of Fantastic Aussie Tours, which operates the Blue Mountains Explorer Bus.
Besides the packed carriages, Fearnley also said the toilets were "absolutely disgraceful".
"I have actually gotten off the train to go to the bathroom and caught another train," she said. "But then you lose time."
Fearnley said she would not let her son use the toilets: "I've changed him standing up on the train but that is a whole different problem. You never know who's looking."
Some passengers on the Blue Mountains line will stand for an hour or more - jostling for space in the train's narrow aisles and stairs with luggage, prams and bicycles - to reach popular tourist destinations such as Leura and Katoomba.
The situation is even worse in the afternoon as passengers fill four-carriage trains that sometimes run only once an hour back to Sydney's Central Station.
Most passengers seem resigned to the packed carriages, but some tourists express displeasure at having to stand.
"It's quite sad when you think about it," Fearnley said. "I mean we should be showing some pride in what we have."
Overcrowding on weekend train services to western Sydney and the Blue Mountains appears to be a growing problem.
"One older lady, forced to stand up all the way to the Mountains, collapsed in the vestibule," Christopher Webber wrote on the Facebook Cityfail group in May.
"Forcing people to stand for long journeys presents obvious safety issues. It doesn't need to happen, and it shouldn't happen," said Bob Nanva, the national secretary of the Rail, Tram and Bus Union.
Nanva said he saw overcrowding on the Blue Mountains line every weekend.
"When we're trying to sell the Blue Mountains as a global tourist destination, this sort of service is not just disappointing, it's embarrassing," he said. "We have people travelling to a world heritage tourism asset on a third world rail service."
The Labor MP for Blue Mountains, Trish Doyle, said weekend trains to the Blue Mountains were "chronically overcrowded".
"Every weekend, train passengers are crammed in like sardines on four carriage trains on the Blue Mountains line," she said on Facebook.
Last year Doyle told the New South Wales state parliament that it is a problem for both visitors and locals.
"Not only does this reflect poorly upon our public transport system for international and interstate visitors but also it drives local residents insane," she said.
She said overcrowding could be solved by running six- or eight-carriage trains on weekends, but the NSW government did not want to pay for additional staff.
A Transport for NSW spokesman said: "We know that our customers' needs are changing and acknowledge that more services on weekends are needed to meet demand into the future."
He also said the government was spending A$1.5 billion to urgently increase capacity. New trains are expected on the Blue Mountains line from 2019.
Other public transport to tourist destinations, such as ferries to Manly and buses to Bondi, also experience increased patronage outside of the weekday peak times.
- Sydney Morning Herald