Sydney’s Light Rail stoppage to roll on for days

Sydney's light rail vehicle

By Paul Hemsley and Julian Bajkowski

Mystery continues to surround the cause of a series of derailments that have forced the closure of Sydney’s Light Rail services, with operator Transdev now warning the disruption could endure for “several days”.

As thousands of commuters who usually rely on light rail service are either left stranded or put onto relief buses, the estimated time to fix the problem remains unclear as commuter frustrations grow by the day.

The problem began on the evening of Monday 7th October 2013 when two light rail vehicles derailed at Rozelle Bay and Wentworth Park at reduced speed, which Transdev Sydney suspects to be caused by a “network technical fault”.

Although the Wentworth Park vehicle was re-railed and removed from the site, the Rozelle Bay vehicle was derailed by four wheels and has remained at the location awaiting further re-railing assistance by work crews, forcing cancellation of all light rail services while Transdev attempts to identify the problem.

Transdev Sydney deputy managing director Matt Baynie said the incident was the first of its kind in 15 years of light rail operation and “Transdev will be working with the relevant authorities to determine the cause of the two derailments”.

However Mr Baynie explained that because of Transdev’s considerations for operational and customer safety, the operator cannot re-open services until the fault is thoroughly identified, investigated, rectified and tested to be safe.

Adding to the intrigue is the fact that the light rail is essentially a simple, two track line that consists of a loop at Central station and a switchback at the present terminus at Lilyfield, with a number of other optional switches in between.

Transdev has assured customers that buses will replace light rail services and that light rail tickets can be used to access buses, CBD and inner west trains and ferries at no extra cost.

However the substitution of buses on the light rail’s run is proving a challenge because its track is built on a reclaimed goods line which weaves through a series of deep cuttings, tunnels and dedicated viaducts which are problematic for road transport flow in terms of pick-ups and set downs at stops.

The outage has also highlighted the increasing reliance of commuters on the light rail service in Sydney, especially during peak hour when it is at heavy congestion on road and rail corridors.

The light rail’s survival and extension became a lightning rod issue during the NSW state election campaign, culminating in the previous Labor government being forced to guarantee its extension after years of deriding it as boutique, tokenistic infrastructure that was incapable of providing the volume of and utility of services required.

Since then Barry O’Farrell’s Coalition state government under Transport Minister Gladys Berejiklian has defied critics by commiting to the extension of the light rail network through the middle of the CBD along George Street to take the pressure off buses.

The network will also be extended to the south east as far as the University of New South Wales to provide a link to suburbs where buses are similarly approaching choking point.

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