Trams, trains and automobiles

Contrary to my pessimistic prediction, it looks more and more likely that the NSW government will drop the CBD Metro, or at least change it for the better.

First there were repeated confirmations that the project would proceed. Then Premier Keneally said the plans weren’t finalised. Later, they stopped the compulsory acquisition of properties in Rozelle, hinting that the terminus there would not be built. In the process they angered Balmain Tigers Leagues Club, who had been told they’d have to vacate their premises for five years, and went ahead with the enormous expense and extensive preparations to move. Now the State government is creaking under the combined pressure from residents, the Opposition, and most recently the release of a definitive transport report commissioned by Fairfax Media and written by independent experts.

I can only hope that Labor listens to the cries of the voters and exhortations of the engineers. I’m not popping champagne corks yet, but the events of the past nine months have given me hope.

There is something I’d like to add to this discussion.

Land-use is intimately related to transport planning, and a big issue here in the Inner West at the moment is the future of White Bay, a large industrial site on the peninsula that used to be Glebe Island, between Balmain and Pyrmont, and curving around White Bay proper.

It props up the western end of Anzac Bridge that connects to Victoria Road and the City West Link. It used to be Sydney’s principal centre for receiving, storing and distributing imported motor vehicles and dry bulk goods (going over the bridge you could see up to 5,000 cars parked there, waiting to be sent to dealers), but that was shut down in preparation for a complete rebuilding of the site. A large set of cement silos dominate the area, and there is the old abandoned power station behind them (which you can see at the top of the picture, click here for a better view), a perpetual eyesore which is bristling with potential for redevelopment.

An old masterplan was written in 2000, with an emphasis on improving the port facilities, but a new one considering other options has been promised since 2007. University of Sydney architecture students have come up with their own alternative masterplan, featuring mixed use residential, commercial, light industrial, retail, community facilities, recreational and park land areas, a beach, swimming pool, a working harbour employment zone, marinas, light rail, ferry wharves, solar energy and agricultural precinct (self sustainability concept), storm water retention and on-site effluent treatment and recycling. They call it Eco City.

With the imminent redevelopment of Barangaroo, cruise ships are now going to dock at White Bay on the Rozelle side and be bussed back into the city, a half-arsed solution if ever I saw one.

Whatever ends up being built, there is something that I believe will benefit every plan – a light rail extension between Lilyfield station and John Street Square station (JSS) across the old Glebe Island Bridge. I’m not the first to have this bright idea, it’s very similar to EcoTransit’s “Light Rail West Stage One”. However, they propose taking over streets in Pyrmont and joining the existing line at Star City station, whereas I believe cutting a short tunnel from Bank Street through the sandstone peninsula head to JSS will be better. Firstly, it doesn’t take away any driving or parking space – the only clash with cars is a crossing at Bank St (which has very little traffic anyway). Secondly, it doesn’t require any major grade change – JSS is cut deeply into the ground – whereas any street route will go up and down and all around. Thirdly, interfacing with JSS is very simple – the light rail occupies a space meant for heavy rail, and has ample space to accommodate an interchange – while the approach to Star City station is complicated by existing major buildings and a messy above ground/below ground/below building combination.

The merits of this extension are obvious. Lilyfield, Rozelle and White Bay get a public transport route to the CBD that is separated from the traffic on the City West Link, Victoria Road and Anzac Bridge, and more direct than the current winding path of the existing light rail. It will be cheap and quick to build. There is no interference with high-rises and their basements/car parks. It will have almost zero impact on road vehicle amenity. It will merge beautifully in the future with the eminently sensible Dulwich Hill extension proposal (which will get built if the government has a skerrick of common sense).

There are potential problems, but I have good reason to believe they are minor and easily overcome. Doubling the number of trams (because that’s basically what they are) on the line east of JSS is no problem, as it currently carries only four services an hour. Glebe Island Bridge needs to be periodically opened for water traffic, but this only needs to happen about four times a day (and that’s being generous), and shouldn’t have any impact on the trams. If it is deemed necessary to open it longer than 10 minutes (with 2 minutes to open and 2 minutes to close), it is simply a matter of eliminating four services across the bridge for those times. I can’t think of any other possible issues.

So there you have it. A small contribution to our transport network, but I think a valuable and viable one.

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3 Responses to Trams, trains and automobiles

  1. john walker says:

    The track record in NSW suggests that canceling is the only thing they can do well. Given the total stuff up of the duplication for freight through sw sydney; -Oops we forgot to check power , gas, telephone and water pipes before starting work -Duh! Its just as well that they wont be tunneling under any CBD foundations for the time being.

  2. john walker says:

    State rail/ city rail and public transport, (and much else in NSW) in general are massively over burdened with upper- middle & senior managements. Management has grown (by the hundreds) at the expense of payments to staffing at the pointy end. Costs of projects have expanded at a very much faster rate than the costs of materials like steel(which has increased at a rate much higher than inflation ) . The capacity of management to actually do real work has dropped in direct proportion to the increased expenditure on management. Far too many have no practical experience in either building or direct knowledge of the needs of the public. Obsessive micro- managing is the only thing NSW is, currently ,any good at.

  3. john walker says:

    Whilst it will have a big majority and a fair bit of good will.
    The next government of NSW faces some very big legacy problems. The public service has been badly damaged ,its ability to run just about anything is problematic, is overloaded with obsessive micro managers and almost all of the talent has left.

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