Trains and Public Transport in Australia Compared

Every year, it seems, we praise Melbourne for being voted the world’s most liveable city. Last time it was the sixth year on the trot that Melbourne had been voted top. Today though, it’s time for some of the other Australian cities to get a small piece of revenge on the Victorian capital, thanks to their train service.

flinders street stationFlinders Street Station, above, is the central hub of Melbourne’s Metropolitan rail network and it is run by Metro. For the fifth year running, Metro Trains has been voted the worst rail in Australia when compared with the top five Australian capitals. The other four being Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane and Adelaide.

The daily commute

I’m lucky, I work from home, I do not need to get involved with a daily commute into the city. If I did have to though, I would not be able to get a train from where I live. We do not have a train station or a train line anywhere near us, so it would be a bus journey for me.

So it’s hard for me to judge Brisbane’s public transport or train network, and it would be impossible for me to compare it with any other of the major Australian cities. Fortunately, Canstar Blue surveyed a total of 6,000 adults across Australia and the results are quite clear.

Here’s the best and worst of Australian rail services in our big five cities. The survey looked at eight individual ratings, being:

  • overall satisfaction
  • service reliability
  • ticket price
  • trip comfort
  • ticketing system
  • timetable and scheduling
  • train station cleanliness
  • safety

With five stars maximum and eight categories, the numbers in brackets below next to each rail company is their score out of 40.

1 – TransPerth (38)

TransPerth Perth Train StationFor the fifth year in a row Perth’s rail network came out of the survey best, with an almost perfect five-star performance. They actually scored five stars in 6 out of 8 of the individual criteria.

They only fell slightly short, getting four stars, for both ticket prices and safety.

I’ve ridden on TransPerth trains, I was impressed as I mentioned in my post called Interesting Signs from Western Australia. I was even happy with the prices; we paid just $11.80 in 2015 for three of us to travel on a 19 km return journey to Fremantle, that’s cheap in my book.

Despite only getting four stars for ticket price, TransPerth trains were the cheapest of the five networks. The survey asked those who commute to work each day how much it cost per week for their train journeys. TrainsPerth was the lowest at $33, for those in Adelaide that rose to $38, Sydney $43 and Brisbane $46.

Interestingly, the commuters of Melbourne gave their ticket price a lowly two star rating even though, for them, the average weekly spend was just $35. More about Metro Trains of Melbourne later on.

2 – Adelaide Metro (32)

Adelaide commuters gave their service four stars across all eight of the criteria. In Adelaide, only 36% of respondents complained about overcrowding on the trains, the lowest of the five cities.

In Brisbane that rose to 45%, Perth 51%, Sydney 62% and in Melbourne 70% of commuters were unhappy with the overcrowding.

=3 – Queensland Rail (30)

Brisbane’s commuters gave safety a five star rating and were the only city to do that. This doesn’t surprise me at all, I think Brisbane is generally a very safe city whether you are on the trains or not. Then again, Australia and all of these cities are safe, so Brisbane didn’t significantly outperform any other city.

It was very close; 91% of Brisbane commuters felt safe on the trains, in Adelaide and Perth that was 90%, in Sydney 89% and in Melbourne 88%.

Queensland Rail were pretty much average on five of the other ratings but fell short on the ticketing system, which only got three stars. Our ticketing system here is called Go Card, and I think everyone who has use it would like it to, well, go. You can read more about the Go Card in my post The Scariest Story You Have Ever Heard!

Brisbane’s commuters were most dissatisfied though, awarding just two stars, to ticket price. That’s no surprise either, they are the most expensive as mentioned already above.

=3 – Sydney Trains (30)

In joint third place with Brisbane is Sydney with a four star rating for six of the categories. For ticket price and the ticketing system, Sydney commuters gave three stars.

The conceived threat of terrorism on the train was at its highest in Sydney at 29%. That goes down to 25% in Melbourne and Brisbane, then falls even further to 18% for Adelaide and Perth.

5 – Metro Trains (22)

flinders-street-stationAs already mentioned, the worst performing train service according to this five city survey in Australia is in Melbourne. In the same way Melbourne always seems to effortlessly win the most liveable city in the world award, they have also breezed this. Their overall score at just 22 is some way short of the others.

Melbourne commuters awarded only three stars across six of the categories, but as with those Sydney commuters they were most dissatisfied with ticket price and the ticketing system, giving both just two stars.

You have seen how poorly they have performed with the percentages in some of the other categories as already mentioned above, but when it comes to what their commuters think about the delays, it’s easy to see why this service is rated so badly.

In Perth, just 15% are unhappy with the delays, that rises to 26% for Brisbane. Adelaide stands at 33% and Sydney 40%, but in Melbourne, an alarming 53% of commuters say they often experience delays.

For more about this, please visit

Other transport methods

So, how can Melbourne be such a liveable city with a poor rail network and service? After all, commuting can be a massive part of many peoples day-to-day lives.

Well, I suppose the answer is there’s more to commuting than just trains, not just in Melbourne, but in each of our major cities. Melbourne has the largest urban tramway network in the world. Sydney has its ferries as well as a single line tram system. Brisbane also has river transport with CityCat ferries.

ferryAll, of course, have buses.

Each city, to varying degrees, also offers selected public transport services for free. It may be limited to a single bus route, or one tramline, or to trains late at night or even certain ferry journeys. So it probably won’t get you to and from work each day for nothing, but free is free and it may come in handy one day.

How does Australia compare?

This website though is mainly about what it’s like living in Australia and how it might compare to other countries. So whilst the above rates each of our five biggest cities against each other for trains, how would they compare with the services offered in other countries?

We are in luck again, because somebody has done a lot work looking into this, and I just love the method they have used. I’ve used a similar method myself here, I call it the hard yakka.

They have worked out how many minutes based on the minimum wage (I used the average) for each country, that somebody would need to work in order to pay for an ‘average’ journey. For example, with London being more densely populated, the average bus journey is apparently 3.5 kilometres compared with 6.7 kilometres in Sydney.

In sprawling south-east Queensland, Brisbane’s area, the average distance is 15.4 kilometres.

The report does look at other scenarios, but in order to keep this simple, let’s just look at that one comparison based on these average distances.

Average distance

Minutes of work at minimum wage to pay for the return fare for an average trip:

  • Adelaide – 21.97 minutes
  • Melbourne – 24.36 minutes
  • Sydney (Train) – 27.21 minutes
  • London (Bus) – 27.69 minutes
  • Sydney (Bus) – 29.16 minutes
  • Brisbane – 30.19 minutes
  • New York – 32.91 minutes
  • London (Tube) 86.77 minutes

Source: 2015 Fares Benchmarking

Whether our train services got two stars or five stars from the people who use it, one thing is for certain; they are all cheaper than the London tube.

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