14 Dec 2019

Controversial light rail opens in Sydney six decades after trams axed

6:02 pm on 14 December 2019

Hours into its much-heralded and delayed launch, the $A2.96 billion Sydney Light Rail network has come to a halt at Circular Quay by mechanical issues.

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Sydney businesses are taking legal action seeking millions of dollars for the disruption caused by bringing light rail back to Sydney's streets. Photo: CC-BY-SA-4.0 /Self-published work

The service officially opened between the CBD and Randwick at 11:00am on Saturday, but by 2:30pm trams at Circular Quay had frozen due to technical faults.

Despite months of testing across the network, NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian warned at the launch there was the expectation of "teething problems".

Multiple passengers reported the issue on Twitter, calling it a "light rail fail" and a "joke".

Transport Minister Andrew Constance's office said at 3:00pm (local time) that full services were expected to resume within 15 minutes.

There were also complaints of lengthy journeys and poor air-conditioning.

Major cost over-runs

The final price tag is $A2.96 billion ($NZ3.08b) - more than $1.3b over its initial cost.

The project was first mooted by former opposition leader Barry O'Farrell and then shadow transport minister Gladys Berejiklian ahead of the 2011 election.

When it was officially announced in 2012 after they took office, the project was set to cost $1.6b.

That figure became $2.1b in 2014 - an increase the Auditor-General found to be the result of "mispricing and omissions in the business case".

Then, when contractor Acciona took legal action against the government for misleading and deceptive conduct in 2018, it settled for $576 million which added more to the government's spend.

But it is not just the budget that has blown out, so too has the timeline, as the project was supposed to open ahead of the March election this year.

In total, it has taken four years and two months from the start of construction to today.

Read and / or listen to The Detail's story on Auckland's new light rail system

The finer details

The new track runs 12km and has 19 stops.

In the east there are two starts to the line - one at Kingsford which travels via the University of New South Wales (UNSW) in Kensington, while the other is at Randwick and goes via the Racecourse.

The fork meets at Moore Park and the light rail travels through Surry Hills to Central Station and then down George Street to Circular Quay.

But for now, only the Randwick to Circular Quay section will open as the line from Kingsford via the university will not be ready for operation until March.

A trip from Randwick to Circular Quay is expected to take 50 minutes - but one person complained on Twitter that the journey took 90 minutes even before the breakdown.

The aim is have the travel time down to 38 minutes, but that's expected to take months to "bed down".

Over this opening weekend trams will run every six minutes, while during the week they will turn up every four to eight minutes.

So almost six decades after passengers took Sydney's last tram from George Street, they can do so from today once more.

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Almost 60 years after Sydney's tram lines were ripped up, passengers are travelling by rail again through some CBD streets. Photo: New South Wales government

Class action looms

The original Sydney tram lines ripped up between 1957 and 1961 followed much of the same route which has now been rebuilt.

George Street was where the first electric tram operated in 1899 and at their peak, services departed every eight seconds.

But bringing trams back to Australia's oldest street was messy, disruptive and slow.

Despite today's opening, there is still one issue looming for the government - a class action brought by businesses, including those on George Street, affected by construction.

They are seeking millions in damages and the case is expected to go before the Supreme Court next year.

The long-anticipated light rail will be privately operated and maintained by the ALTRAC consortium which designed and built the project after being awarded the contract in 2014.

Workers are seen at the construction site of the 12 kilometer-long new light railway system in the central business district of Sydney on August 28, 2017. -

A familiar scene in central Sydney - contractors working to build a new light rail system for the city. Photo: AFP


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