Richmond Line 2000: 13. Rooty Hill

The Richmond Line has something of the character of a branch line, heading off to the north after Blacktown, while most of the trains go on further west to Penrith, Emu Plains, or the Blue Mountains; so it is not uncommon for people to find themselves en route to Richmond by mistake. This usually happens late at night, which is a most desolate occurrence because of the substantial interval between trains and thus the likelihood of a long wait before a return train to Blacktown comes through.

These unwilling passengers are usually several stations up the line before they realise their error, and when they do their reaction invariably follows the same pattern, which is always rather funny to observe. A relaxed figure, slouching on the seat, is suddenly electrified into alertness and erectness, head swivelling, looking wildly around; and then a general appeal to other occupants of the carriage — “Where am I?” Their plight usually elicits helpfulness and humour, and the mistaken traveller bundles out at the next station with instructions to catch the next train back, no one knows when.

On a pleasantly memorable occasion, an attractive girl dozed off, and her dismay on awakening in the wrong place was responded to jovially, with a bit of flirtatious mockery, by a group of youths a few seats away. The whole atmosphere of the carriage became quite convivial.

“Where are you going?” they asked. Her reply, “Rooty Hill”, sounded almost a joke in itself, of which she was aware — the ridiculousness of going to a place called Rooty Hill! To add to her concern her dad was meeting her there, and here she was several stations down the Richmond Line. However, she got out her mobile phone and seemed to have been able to rectify matters before turning out at silent Schofields. I felt she might have done better to wait for Riverstone where there might be a station master about. I doubt there are any security cameras at Schofields, and anyway it is hard to imagine what help they could possibly be in an emergency. One would be well and truly robbed and beaten up before any one watching them, if indeed they are constantly invigilated, could come to one’s aid.

My son was caught out with the opposite mistake and, falling asleep, was carried on westwards when he should have got out and changed at Blacktown. It was very late at night, the train was going right through to Katoomba or Lithgow, and he didn’t wake up until Woodford, more than halfway up the Mountains. It so happened that I was leaving for overseas the next day, and I had just finished packing and got into bed at about half past midnight when the phone rang. Could I pick him up, as there were no more trains. It was a very dark, quiet drive up to Woodford and back, nearly three hours all told. If he’d thought, he could have gone on to Leura and stayed overnight with friends, but of course his immediate reaction was to jump off the train before he was taken any further.

I have never yet been carried on in that way. I was once, in the afternoon, briskly awakened by a security guard a bit before Riverstone. As we were all turned out of the train there for some reason, I felt I could have been allowed to sleep a bit longer. A little old lady was drunk and very sound asleep, and was quite kindly ushered off the train and placed on a platform seat, with instructions given to a station attendant to put her on the next train through.

The closest I have come to missing a station was on the train from London to Winchester, a few hours after my arrival and suffering jet lag, on the occasion when I’d also missed my sleep before the flight through getting my son from Woodford. I arrived in London in the early morning and took the train about midday. I don’t think I have ever fallen so deeply or suddenly asleep before or since. One minute the train was moving through the inner suburbs of London, and the next I was gone, utterly and entirely. This was particularly annoying as I’d really wanted to look at the countryside in that exotic wintry land. The next thing I knew I was woken by the ticket inspector and it was forty minutes later. I was due to arrive in ten minutes and I would certainly not have woken without that disturbance. As it was, I had trouble staying awake, and switched off briefly a couple more times before we got there. I could easily have ended up in Devon, leaving my friend waiting and puzzled on the platform in Winchester. I didn’t have a mobile phone.

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