The other night I dreamed of the train again.
I often dream of the train. It is always the same, but different.
The train exists and it doesn’t.
The train departs from outer Sydney, but it is not part of the network. It is a relic, an unelectrified line that starts from a small station and runs south through bushland, the Royal National Park, wrapping around the sandstone of rivers and the coast, passing through the countryside, grassy dairy or sheep farms.
The line begins in a suburb of Sydney that you have never been to, the one that only locals know. It is close but hidden away in the bush, over the hill and into the valley, down that road, along that street. The terminus is a large town or small city with a historic, but quiet, main street lined with cafes and interesting shops of books, homewares and other goods.
The rollingstock is of an older generation, one or two diesel railcars silver and blue or brown all over. They are not of a type that run in New South Wales or perhaps anywhere in Australia.
There are rarely many passengers and the line is always under threat. Which is why I feel I must take it. Not because I need to get to the destination, but for the pleasure of the ride, the opportunity to do so before the service disappears through some economic rationalisation, cutting off those hidden towns and stops for good.
Each time I catch the train I wake sad, knowing that it doesn’t exist.
But it does, in a way.
The scenery might be that of the South Coast Line, which indeed passes through the Royal National Park, down to Kiama, where you must catch a diesel through the farmland, past pretty Berry, to Bomaderry. I have only gone the whole way once.
Or the ride to old Newcastle station with its terminus feel and old buildings.
But that is not quite it.
The train is like so many I have caught in Japan. Rural lines, private lines, local lines served by little more than rail buses chugging their way through rural areas and towns, to quiet cities with lonely streets and abandoned buildings, populations migrating or dying until one day the line can be afforded no more. Trying to catch as many as I can before that happens.
It has been over three years since I could last do that. No wonder I am dreaming of it.