More councils sign onto Sydney’s extended light rail

By Paul Hemsley and Julian Bajkowski

The concerted push to add swift and serious passenger transport capacity to Sydney’s notoriously gridlocked Eastern Suburbs has continued at pace after New South Wales Minister for Transport Gladys Berejiklian signed key agreements with Randwick City Council, Centennial Parklands and the University of NSW (UNSW) to support the building of the $1.6 billion CBD and South East Light Rail Project.

The agreement between the government and key stakeholders to extend the existing light rail network by 12km is a significant development for Australia’s largest city because it will finally start to integrate different public transport modes and tie itself into City of Sydney Lord Mayor Clover Moore’s $1.9 billion urban renewal project that favours people over cars.

The decision to opt for light rail by Mr O’Farrell and Ms Berejiklian under the State Infrastructure Strategy proved a pleasant surprise for many public transport advocates who were unsure whether a more conservative government would be brave enough to take on a transport mode persistently derided by the previous Labor government as boutique solution that would only benefit green-leaning inner metropolitan residents.

Notably, the new light rail run to the east will effectively restore a major tramway corridor that operated until Sydney dumped trams for buses in 1961. Sydney’s previous tram network in the east once extended as far as La Perouse and even had a spur line that ferried felons from city’s criminal courts to the infamous and still operational Long Bay prison in specially modified gaol tram.

The reactivation of light rail by the NSW government in Sydney was enthusiastically welcomed by Ms Moore who has committed $220 million to the light rail extension in March 2013 to let the City actively influence the state government’s planning and design of the project.

The big benefit for passengers headed to and from the east of the CBD is that the light rail extension now has a strategic alignment with the area’s extensive education, health and sporting precincts.

It will be a major transport alternative for staff and students attending UNSW in Kensington who now either have to drive or take the bus because of its relative inaccessibility if compared to campuses near or on heavy rail station like the University of Sydney, University of Technology Sydney and Macquarie University.

Another painfully crowded bottleneck for commuters is the Moore Park precinct that includes the Sydney Cricket Ground, Allianz football stadium, Hordern Pavilion and Fox Studios entertainment quarter that regularly result in convoys of buses to crawling along narrow inner city streets to Central station.

Ms Berejiklian said the light project would transform Sydney, providing high-capacity, reliable “turn-up-and-go” services that will act as a catalyst for urban renewal along the route.

“This new service will greatly improve access during major events at Moore Park providing a fantastic public transport option for the hundreds of thousands of sports fans, park users and concert goers who visit the area every year,” Ms Berejiklian said.

She said the state government has recognised that designing and constructing a project of this scale, through urban and park environments, would be challenging and complex.

“The key to successful delivery lies in developing strong working relationships with our key partners,” Ms Berejiklian said.

She said the agreements signed with Randwick City Council, Centennial Parklands and UNSW set out matters of importance to all parties and provide a foundation for an ongoing partnership that will support the efficient delivery of light rail.

Although the agreement indicates a robust and unanimous desire for light rail in Sydney’s eastern suburbs, it is also the latest manifestation in what could be becoming national trend towards greater deployment of light rail in inner urban areas as both local and state governments try cater to increased population densities.

The latest NSW Budget included a renewal of light rail in Newcastle as a way to reconnect the CBD and the harbour for pedestrians after it was divided for decades by a heavy rail line and station that will now be dismantled.

In the West Perth has recently has plumped for light rail project worth $15.8 million as it seeks ways to get people around the CBD without their cars.

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