“We're going to get an electric train at last,” said the pigtailed schoolgirl, sliding her bag across the coal-dust on the ancient leather seat. “We've been getting an electric train for the last two years!” said her mate - the girl with the bandaged knee. “Yes. Well, we're going to get it now. Dad said so this morning ...”
This week the Railways Department announced that the single track branch that runs up the hill from Clyde to Carlingford is to be converted to electric traction.
Housing development in the Dundas Valley and industrial growth along the Parramatta River have outpaced the train that was built to carry oranges, and the railways have “decided the service isn't good enough with steam”.
They'll spend £250,000 putting up the wires, making platforms and bridges and by December next, fast - but, oh! how impersonal - electric trains will snake their way along the track.
“The Carlo” (as the locals call it), with its tiny engines, biscuit box carriages and toy platforms, has long since belonged to another age.
Little girls in blue
A few days ago I paid 2/ to sample her charms and got full value for my money. I helped mothers lift their prams up into the carriages, opened the doors for elderly women, yarned with the guard and the enginemen in their cramped cab.
Schoolchildren - hundreds of them - make up most of the payload in the mid-afternoon - little girls in blue tunics and straw hats who announce themselves from “Rosehill High” and boys in green blazers from Carlingford Junior Agricultural Collage.As long as they're aboard, the “Carlo” doesn't lack nicknames. In off-peak periods she is a railmotor they call the Tin Hare. In peaks she is a regular train pulled by a tall-funneled 20-class engine - that's the Coffee Pot. I chose the Coffee Pot.
Engine 2024, black, grimy and built in 1891, three equally ancient carriages were waiting when I took the 18-minute ride.
We puffed out of Clyde station, clattered across the Parramatta Highway in the face of a queue of frowning motorists, pish-tished through deserted Rosehill racecourse platform, boom-boomed over the lattice bridge that spans Parramatta River the whistle blowing loud and long for the open level crossings that are a nightmare feature of the line.
“These carriages ran on the, Newcastle Flyer in the old days,” the guard tells me. “Then they did up to 70 miles an hour. They never go more than 30 here, and that's downhill.”
The stations, stubby wooden and drab brown, are few and easy to memorize - Rosehill, Camellia, Rydalmere, Dundas, Telopea and Carlingford.
“It's about time they did something about that Telopea platform,” a man says heatedly across the aisle. “it's made of old sleepers, I reckon, and so small you can't fit on to it when there's a crowd. The progress association's been moaning about it for years.”
Beyond Rydalmere industry is forgotten and “the Carlo” begins its long, steep climb, winding among suburban backyards where men mow their lawns and washing flaps on lines.