Taking the Sydney airport train to the centre of the city can be a good option for most visitors and one of the quickest ways to get to the city. Solo travellers and couples will find the airport train much cheaper than a taxi and it is a pretty straight forward trip if you are staying in the middle of town.
Since moving to Mascot a little over a year ago, I take this train nearly every day. Over this time, I have noticed travellers struggle with their bags and, in peak hour, the crowded carriages. I thought I would write up a few of my observations to help you have the smoothest airport transfer you possibly can.
Finding the Airport Stations
Don’t worry too much about this on arrival into Sydney; the terminal stations are well signposted and easy enough to find. The International station is at the northern end of the terminal on the arrivals level and for the Domestic terminal, it’s between terminal 2 and 3. Trains to the city take approximately 15 minutes and run about every 10-15 minutes for most of the day.
If you are heading to the airport from the city make sure you do not get off the train at the Mascot suburban station, this is a such a common mistake there are now signs on the station pointing out it is not an airport station.
Here are my three tips for making your airport train journey a success!
1. Choose your carriage depending on where you plan to get off.
The two stations after the airport heading into the city are extremely busy during peak hours. Any time from about 7.30-9am hundreds of commuters pour into the train at both Mascot suburban and Green Square Stations. The area is also home to lots of corporate offices so plenty of people already on the train alight here. The exits for both of these stations are in the middle of the train so if you don’t need to get off here avoiding these middle carriages is a good idea. There is almost always much, much more room at the front and the rear of the train.
The train travels around the city via a loop known as the City Circle
If you are getting off the train at Central the front of the train in the best place to ride because the lift at Central is at the front of the platform. If you have large bags, it is worth taking the lift as the stairs are crowded with commuters running late for work or changing trains. Change trains at Central for country NSW trains, Kings Cross and Bondi Junction trains and the Blue Mountains trains.
If you are getting off at Museum, ride the back of the train to exit at Liverpool Street and the front of the train for the Bathurst Street (Hyde Park) exit. Museum Station in the only city station without a lift so if you have heavy luggage try to avoid it.
If you are getting off at St James, the exits are in the middle of the platform and the lift is hidden in behind the stairs between the two platforms. Once you get to St James, the train empties out and you will likely have plenty of room if you are continuing.
Next stop is Circular Quay – if this is your first time in Sydney get ready for a great view of the Harbour Bridge from the right-hand side of the train. There are exits here at both ends of the platform.
Wynyard Station is currently being renovated and a bit of a mess. Stairs are all along the platform with the lifts around the middle.
Finally, Town Hall is the last city station in the city circle before this train heads out west. If this is your stop and you don’t have heavy bags, it is worth getting off at Central and changing trains as Town Hall is just one stop away on other lines. This could save you up to 10 mins.
2. Move as far inside the carriage as you can.
It’s common for travellers on unfamiliar trains to stand close to the exit as they are not sure when they will have to get off and they worry about having enough time to reach the door. I understand as I have done this too and it’s fine outside of peak times but on this train by the time you reach Central, particularly in the morning, half the train will be getting off too so resist the temptation to block the entry and move inside the carriage as far as you can.
If you don’t have big suitcases, please consider heading up or downstairs. Lots of luggage blocking the entry makes it tough for people at Mascot and Green Square to get on the train and just upsets everyone. If you need to get off and there is not a lot of room just speak up and you will find people will move for you.
3. You cannot buy an Opal card at the ticket window at airport stations
Lots of people are confused about using Opal cards. The system was only introduced last year and there have been teething problems but it is not as difficult as many say. For the record, you cannot currently buy your Opal card from the International and Domestic terminal train stations. There are five newsagents and convenience stores in the airport terminals that sell the cards. They usually have a huge sticker or flag outside advertising this. The cost of a trip to the city has a $12.60 gate access fee added to the standard fare as the airport stations are privately owned. If you are planning return travel to the airport, it is worth getting an opal here as station access is capped at $21 per (Monday-Sunday) week. Read my detailed opal for visitors for more.
Airport link has some videos showing you how to catch the train on their website
CityRail network map (PDF)
Trackwork notices – Trackwork seems to happen about every eight weeks. Buses will replace trains but it will take quite a bit longer and they are usually really crowded. I would recommend taxis in this instance.
Check if the station you are travelling to has a lift
Have any questions or advice about taking the airport train? Please leave a comment and I will get back to you
International railway station Sydney platforms by Tristan Morgan – CC licence