As Sydney plunges into Light Rail

Sydney is preparing itself for the construction of the new CBD and South East Light Rail which commences in October. The Light Rail will travel from Circular Quay along George Street to Central Station and on to Moore Park, then to Kingsford via Anzac Parade and Randwick via Alison Road and High Street. The Light Rail project is a $2.1 billion NSW government initiative which aims to revitalise the urban environment, reduce traffic congestion and create additional transport options for existing and future population demands. The Light Rail will connect Sydney’s CBD, Moore Park, Centennial Park, Royal Randwick Racecourse, UNSW and Prince of Wales Hospital and will be integrated with Sydney’s transport network.

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The proposed CBD and South East Light Rail extension

Back in 1861 Sydney’s first tram was built which was horse-drawn and ran from the old Sydney Railway station to Circular Quay along Pitt Street. In 1929, Sydney trams were at their peak with the tram network covering 300km and travelling to outer suburbs such as Bondi Junction and Newtown. Sydney residents heavily relied on trams and in 1944, 410 million people a year rode a Sydney tram when compared with about 310 million for CityRail trains and 220 million for Sydney buses today.

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Sydney Trams along George Street in 1920

Sadly the Sydney tram system became a victim of its own success as they were running at high frequencies, became overcrowded and caused congestion. Competition from private cars and private bus operators and the perception of traffic congestion led to the gradual closure of the tram lines. Overseas transport experts were called upon to advise the city on its post-war transport issues and recommended closure of the tram system while it was generally against the public opinion. In 1958, the Cahill State Government began to uproot the track and in 1961 the last tram ran. The closure of the tram system was a tragedy and some parts of Sydney died when the trams closed.

Sydney is now going back to the future and preparing for the return of the Light Rail to the CBD which will commence operation in 2019. Sydney’s CBD road network is currently over congested and heavily reliant on the bus network. Bus services are generally overcrowded and unreliable with buses frequently falling behind schedule before even reaching the suburbs. With Sydney’s rapid population growth and pressure on the road network, bus services in central Sydney are no longer considered fit for purpose. It will be impossible to increase the frequency of bus services to those areas not served by rail however the new CBD and South East Light Rail link will assist in unlocking the CBD road network and provide key links to areas not serviced by rail. The Light Rail will be able to take up to five times more people than buses and is considered to be a more reliable form of transport.

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Artist impression of Light Rail along George Street

The Gold Coast has just recently taken the plunge into Light Rail with the 13km route along the coast being in operation for the past year. The Gold Coast major Tom Tate was a self-confessed sceptic about the Gold Coast Light Rail project however it has been proven to be a huge success with 18,200 passengers a day which is well above the 14,000 passengers forecast by the State Government. The Gold Coast Light Rail has also set the foundation for an economic and property led resurgence with 23 developments planned along the route.

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Gold Coast Light Rail Project

 

While Sydney’s new Light Rail will have a number of future benefits, the construction will take over 3 years and may cause a number of major disruptions along the 12km route. During the construction period traffic lanes will be closed, deliveries to businesses will be disrupted and access to shops fronts may be difficult. There also may also be issues similar to the Gold Coast light rail project where shops went under and commuter times increased during the construction period.

Furthermore, the new Light Rail will result in the biggest overhaul of Sydney’s buses in decades which will see bus routes terminate at train stations outside central Sydney. The overhaul is required as buses will no longer be able to run along George Street once the construction of the Light Rail commences. Almost half of the 700 buses that enter the CBD will no longer be able to and according to the Transport for NSW, about 10% (3,800 people) of bus commuters will need to interchange to complete their journeys.

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Overview of bus network amendments

Although Sydney’s new Light Rail will temporally cause disruption to the CBD during its construction period and minimise the number of buses services entering the CBD, these will be outweighed by the future public benefits of the system. Once in operation the Light Rail will unlock the traffic congestion in the CBD, provide important links to key precincts which do not have rail access and will be a catalyst for future growth along the route. The Transport Minister Andrew Constance is asking that Sydneysiders ‘get on board and prepare for this significant change to ensure we keep the CBD moving and avoid chaos’.

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