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Tips for Taking the Sydney Airport Train

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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.

Airport Station Sydney International terminal

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

Sydney city circle loop

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.

View from Circular Quay 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.

Links

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

Image credits
International railway station Sydney platforms by Tristan Morgan – CC licence

 

17 Comments on Tips for Taking the Sydney Airport Train

  1. Great tips. It can be daunting to use a new rail system even when you speak the language. I figure time in for getting lost! Especially for a trip to the airport.

    • Always a good idea to add some extra “getting lost time” Elaine. I do that too, you never know when there might be a breakdown even on the best services.

  2. you cannot purchase an opal card from the train stations at the airport.

    Opal had planned to do so but did not go ahead.

    • Thanks for letting us know – The Opal website says that you can but as you work at the station I am going to take your word for it 😉 Appreciate your help.

      • Barry // 06/03/2015 at 7:56 am //

        Is it really true that the stations do not sell Opal Cards ?!
        If so, is there anywhere else in the Airport to buy one, such as WH Smith etc ?

      • Hi Barry

        At the International Terminal (T1) both WH Smith and the Newslink agency both sell the cards.

        WH Smith International Airport Arrivals 2
        Site 1-1082 International Terminal,
        and
        Newslink – International Landside T1
        International Landside T1, Shop 2, 138 & 1427

        At the Domestic terminal there are 5 retailers so it should not be too hard to get your hands on one. WH Smith, Newslink, Relay and the Trader convienence store in T2 all have them. There is no one selling them at Terminal 3.

        You can search for retailers here http://www.retailers.opal.com.au/

  3. Thanks for these useful tips. I’m sure the train is much cheaper than a taxi and most likely much faster too. The only inconvenience I see is that you have to carry your own luggage around and up and down the train. But for the luggage, I’d prefer trains over cabs at any time.

    • No Problem Anda. I agree that with heavy luggage it can be a little bit of a challenge after a long flight but there are lifts and escalators at most stations so I honestly think it’s pretty doable.

  4. All great tips to make the airport train less stressful. I hate catching the train from the airport with luggage, sadly the trains aren’t equipped like most other airport trains in other countries.

    • I totally agree Sara! Wish they would remove the seats from the open area on the carriages on the airport train and make it a little easier to move about.

  5. Great tips, especially for first timers. It can be quite confusing, especially if you have heavy luggage too which only compounds things 🙂 It would be great if we had a system like they do in HK where you could check your bags right through!

  6. Hi, is there a way to take the train to the airport with a traveller and help them with their luggage without incurring the station access fee? Also are there trolleys immediately available at the airport stations? Thanks

    • Hi Anne,

      You can take the train and help them to reach the station and get off at the airport platform. Technically you only have to pay if you exit the barriers at the station. There are escalators and lifts at the platform and often trolleys about at the top of the station exit if you think they could manage from the platform they would only have to navigate a couple of lifts/escalators alone.

  7. These are great tips. Nice one.

  8. Hi Thanks for the advice. I am travelling from interstate on my own. Are the stairs at Museum station difficult with luggage? How easy is it to change trains at Central Station to get the train to Town Hall?

    • There are quite a lot of stairs at Museum and the station is currently undergoing renovation so it’s certainly not ideal. At Central there is a lift at the city end of the platform and you would only walk a few metres to a lift to the next platform.

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