Bike – Train – Bike — Making The ‘Difficult’ Journey

In my varied working life I have been forced to make commuting journey’s by public transport to some rather ‘difficult’ destinations. Going to Town Hall or Wynyard is easy, you just get yourself to a station and go by train. This is an easy journey. A ‘difficult’ journey is one that starts and finishes at a distance from the nearest railway station that is deemed to be too far to walk. The recently introduced city rail Internet trip planner sets this limit as 2 km; and I’m happy to use that as a benchmark. But even a 1 km trip can be covered with great speed on a bike compared to walking.

Coming home from UNSW

My first commuter challenge was to get from Kensington to South Granville at 9 pm after late night University classes. Lectures would finish at 8:55 pm sharp, but the maths department is way up along High Sreet and it was 1000 metres to the bus stop. A small group of us would run, and it would turn into a race of honour but we usually missed the last express bus anyway. The other end of my trip would be a lonely desolate and tired walk through the night to cross the last 1.4 km from the station to my parents’ home.

Walking with Public Transport

My trip would look like this:

8:55–9:06 Walk to bus stop
9:06–9:16 Wait for bus
9:16–9:33 Bus to Central
9:33–9:48 Waiting: missed the train as bus ran late
9:48–10:29 Liverpool via Granville train to Guildford
10:29–10:48 Walk home from Guildford station (4.5 kph)
Trip time: 1 hr 48 minutes
Trip Cost: $5.60 one way (return train fare assumed)

Bike with Train

But if I were to take my bike on the train my trip would have looked like this:

8:55–9:13 5.2 km @ 20 kph (2 minute allowance for red light) to Central station
9:13–9:18 5 minutes to get up the platform stairs
9:18–9:56 Liverpool via Granville train to Guildford
9:56–10:01 Ride home 1.4 km @ 20 kph; no traffic lights
Trip time: 1 hr 6 minutes
Trip Cost: $2.90 one way (return train fare assumed)

Sh*t!!! That’s 47 minutes faster! And I just saved $2.75 bus fare as well.

By car

Why didn’t someone tell me about this when I was doing Uni classes, I would never have bought that damn car. I bought a car and my trip home would look like this:

8:55–9:18 Walk to car 1500 metres
9:18–10:03 drive 35 km home at 43 kph average
Trip time: 1 hr 8 minutes
Trip Cost: $14.00 one way (40c/km car cost assumed)


Bike-train-bike would still beat the car by 2 minutes due to the long walk to the car parked in the streets outside the Uni grounds as I was a poor student not allowed a car pass.

My economist friend in Canberra tells me that all time has value. Since this is sleep or leisure time I’m saving let’s assign $6 per hour. So the total costs of both time and fares or vehicle costs are as follows:

Bike/Train/Walk$9.85 includes 5c/km bike/gear maintenance

Alexandria to Woodcroft

My next challenge as a commuter was Alexandria to Woodcroft, a new estate just far enough west from Blacktown that walking is impractical; 3.0 km to be precise.

Walking and Public Transport

Punching the two addresses into the internet trip planner today gives a trip arrival time of 6:45 pm, an overall trip time of 1 hr 45 min. The trip looked like this:

5:00–5:02 pm Walk to bus stop
5:02–5:24 pm Wait for bus
5:24–5:37 pm Bus to Redfern station
5:37–6:09 pm Train Redfern to Blacktown
6:09–6:29 pm Bus to Woodcroft
6:33–6:43 pm Walk last 600 metres to Woodcroft
Trip time: 1 hr 43 minutes
Trip Cost: $8.00 one way (return train fare assumed)

The trip planner website proudly announces the trip time is 1 hr 21 minutes, but that doesn’t take account of the fact that I finished work at 5 pm and had to wait 22 minutes for the bus after a 2 minute walk to the bus stop.

Bike and Train

Now with a bike on the train (and the Redfern to Blacktown peak hour trains run quite fast) the trip would look like this:

5:00–5:09 pm 2.2 km @ 20 kph (plus 2 minutes for a red light)
5:09–5:20 pm Take bike down stairs, wait for train
5:20–5:54 pm Penrith train: Redfern–Blacktown
5:54–6:05 pm Ride 3 km at 20 kph (plus 2 minutes for red light) to Woodcroft
Trip time: 1 hr 5 minutes
Trip Cost: $2.90 one way (return train fare assumed)

I actually did this trip in 62 minutes once (must have got green lights), but never cracked the hour mark.

By car

This address had no on-site parking, so there was a short walk to the car. So by car the trip would look like this:

5:00–5:04 pm Walk to car
5:04–5:30 pm Drive to M4
5:30–6:00 pm Get stuck in M4 traffic jam.
6:00–6:10 pm Get off M4, drive to Woodcroft
Trip time: 1 hr 10 minutes
Trip Cost: $16.90 one way (40c/km car cost assumed)

Seriously though depicts this trip as taking 55 minutes without major traffic interruptions, so non-peak traffic trip time would be 59 minutes, but with the M4 involved the typical peak hour trip time is anyone’s guess.

A Day at the Cricket

Last year my boss organised for us to have a day at the cricket. I now live at Greystanes, some 4.8 km from Guildford and Pendle Hill stations. To get to the SCG that is 1.8 km from Central I didn’t hesitate, I grabbed the bike and headed to the railway station; but not the nearest one, this time I headed for a station with an express service, Westmead; and I was walking up the grandstand steps as the Australian’s bowled the first delivery.

Bike to station: 6.5 km at 20 kph: 20 minutes
Wait for train: 2 minutes
Train to Central: 33 minutes
Bike to SCG (1.8 km): 7 minutes
Trip time: 1 hr 2 minutes

Beat that by car when the cricket or football is on at Moore Park! And if I walk down to the bus stop and use that to get to the station I have to leave at 8.10 and arrive at 9.50 for a trip time of 1 hr 40 minutes, but I don’t want to arrive at 9.50, so the real trip time is 1 hr 50 minutes when you count the 10 minutes at the end I had to wait for my event to start.

Examinining the benefits

Travelling with the bike on the train provides another huge benefit — flexibility. Heading home to Greystanes; if a Richmond train comes first I can just hop on, get off at Westmead or Seven Hills and be home in normal time. With a car at a station, you are locked in to getting a train back to that station, with a bike you are not. If you’re prepared to ride 5 to 6 km you can stick to the ‘interchange’ stations like Granville, Parramatta and Blacktown that have the fastest and most frequent services and reduce the waiting time for a train. And you can almost never catch the ‘wrong train.’

The bike also allows free choice of starting station depending on the destination. For example from NSW University at Kensington a cyclist can head for Sydenham if travelling south, Green Square if travelling to East Hills or Glenfield, as well as the obvious Central station. Bus travellers are limited by the bus route.

The conclusion is simple and obvious: for one of these ‘difficult’ journeys taking your bike on the train seriously challenges the point to point times the trip takes with a car, especially in peak traffic times, and for typical 30–40 km commutes is at least 50% faster than using the bus to get to and from the train. Bike-train-bike offers the lowest cost for all types of trip and by far the best cost/time benefit ratio.

Mark Robson
March, 2010.