Woodside train station, Greytown. Very early morning.
The rails snake away north to Masterton and the other way to the city, where I’m travelling with scores of commuters, past lake and paddock, through mountain and Hutt Valley.
I’m on the platform, ready. As the train pulls in, regular commuters materialise, like smoke, from cars, bikes and buses; some with seconds to spare but seemingly without panic.
Of course, I end up in front of man who mutters (to himself, in a grumpy tone) and he isn’t practising a speech. Did I sit in ‘his’ seat? Our train guard is chipper, chatting to those he knows and those he doesn’t. He laughs when someone exclaims ‘boom!’ at the correct change given.
There’s a faint smell of turnips – yes, really. I shut my eyes and hear the rustle of papers, unzipping of bags, discrete nose-blowing and the click of a makeup compact. We glide along the backs of paddocks until Featherston and a sign: ‘If you lived here, you’d be home by now.’ To make the returning workers really think. Clever.
The Featherston Flood – commuters from there and Martinborough take their places and we’re off, Maymorn flicking up on the carriage screen. The train inclines slowly, with Lake Wairarapa a beautiful long, purple shadow on the left.
Many of my carriage mates are sound asleep. There’s a bang as the train pops through the entrance of the first Rimutaka tunnel. The windows become black mirrors, affording discreet people watching. Minutes later, we burst into the Hutt Valley light and three men in suits march aboard, taking seats one behind the other, all facing Wairarapa. The dapper trio whips phones from pockets like quick-draws from a gun holster, chins tucking nicely onto chests to browse, text or play for the rest of our trip. It’s a well rehearsed line dance.
We whiz past the sprawl of new retirement villages at Trentham. At Petone, a young woman with bright red hair and a billowing short skirt runs to catch our train. Too late. Wellington Harbour wears a northern skirt of super store signs. And from my window seat, it’s as if we’re skimming along the rocks edging the water, only just on balance.
I admire the Wellington Water Ski Club building, a bright blue, wooden, retro bit of cool.
With the city minutes away, soft noises louden and rumble around the carriage. Long hair is flicked and fluffed, bald spots are rubbed, arms are stretched, glasses donned.
As we approach Wellington Railway Station, a portly man dressed neck to ankle in yellow high viz stands rooted to the tracks, as if he’s been awaiting us all night. The last slow grind into the platform rubs against the restlessness of the people. A few are still in slumber, heads thrown back, mouths open to the world.
Bull at Gate Syndrome affects roughly half the carriage, people almost running to the open doors, some with bags considerately thrust out in front with straight arms. Others hurl bags over shoulders like they’re swatting flies, bumping cheeks and shoulders in their lather to escape.
The rest sit patiently, content to wait for a calm passage of exit.
A middle aged woman glides down the platform on a standing scooter. I bump into a friend, who rattles off his train bugbears. Hilarious. Outside the station, as floods of on-task workers file past, a man in a green frog onesie sings karaoke, welcoming me to Wellington.
I self-importantly check the time on my phone, and head out into the city.
Story By Julia Mahony
Photography by Mark Beatty
The Wairarapa Trains
- Three commuter trains deliver an average of 1300 people from Wairarapa to Wellington before 8.30am each week day.
- Commuter numbers over the past two years are up by 10 per cent.
- According to public transport manager, Greater Wellington Regional Council, Featherston shows greater passenger growth than Masterton.
- French-owned Transdev Australasia is contracted by the council to provide passenger services on the Wairarapa line. KiwiRail operates the infrastructure.
- The council says it is focusing on timetable adjustments, punctuality and efficiency with rolling stock available. Free wifi may come in the “medium to long term’’ and “quiet carriages’’ are a possibility.