Light Rail announced for Sydney CBD

The State Government has finally announced funding for extending the existing light rail network in Sydney, including a line through the city centre. I’ve been wishing for this for a long time, but I can’t get excited. The current plan could see light rail in Sydney go the way of the monorail; a monument to white elephants everywhere.

The announcement was part of the Metropolitan Transport Plan.

The problem with the plan is that it is a single line down one side of the city centre, and that it has only one line feeding from outside the CBD. This means that it is useful for anyone traveling between any of the following spots: parts of the inner west; central station; china town; and Barangaroo, when it eventually built. Given the expense of taking over a city street for light rail (Sussex St), it’s hard to see how the patronage stacks up.

Secondly, the new line does not replace any existing bus routes, essentially creating a completely new transit route. This is no bad thing in itself, but it means that no buses will be removed from Sydney’s streets by the light rail extension.

Improving the situation would take the release of a study on what a Sydney light rail network would look like. This would certainly build a better business case for the current plan, and lessen the chance that NSW Treasury could axe the project before any capital works are done.

For example, the line down Sussex St could be extended to a loop up Castlereagh St to connect the feeder line(s) to the rest of the city centre, and also to heavy rail station points at Circular Quay, Martin Place, and Museum. A further feeder line could be built through up Anzac Parade and onto Kensington/Maroubra, passing Oxford St, the Moore Park sporting complex, Randwick race course, the University of NSW and medium density housing along the way. Anzac Parade is a former tram line and much of the land reserve remains. Many buses that plow this route already could therefore be taken off city streets with the introduction of the light rail route.

Further, the public transport (bus) corridor to be reserved for the Green Square development could be built for the eventual addition of light rail through to Roseberry when the population density later supported it.

A thorough plan for a full network of light rail is needed. The current line should not be isolated by patchwork planning and disorderly decision making. The whole network does not need to be costed and committed just yet, it should be staged as funding comes available and demand increases to suitable levels.

Speaking of disorderly decision making, it is clear that the light rail got approval to avoid criticism of the lack of transport to Barangaroo after the Metro was scrapped. However, under the current plan there only a minority of potential workers will have access to Baragaroo via public transport unless a significant new bus routes are added, further adding to bus congestion in Sydney’s CBD.

The challenge will be to get the NSW Government to follow up with a more comprehensive light rail plan.


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