The silence of the trams

Here is an impression from today’s Sydney Morning Herald of the not too distant future:


Yes light rail – which from here on I will call “trams” – back in Sydney. The proposal has been around for a while. See my posts Return of the tram (December 2012) and In Surry Hills last Monday — 1 (April 2014). But it appears not everyone is enthusiastic, as today’s Herald reports:

Thousands of unsupervised children would be forced to cross light rail tracks along the eastern suburbs extension each day on their way to school, bringing “real possibilities” of fatal accidents, according to evidence presented to planning authorities.

The $2.1 billion eastern suburbs light rail project may also cause road traffic to bank up behind trams, and even generate electromagnetic interference that could jeopardise equipment at a nearby cancer research facility, public submissions lodged in December said.

Major construction of the light rail line, from Circular Quay to George Street through Surry Hills to Randwick and Kingsford, is due to start in April. 

Transport for NSW has proposed changes to original light rail plans approved in June, such as downsizing a light rail stop at Moore Park, removing the proposed World Square stop and introducing 67-metre vehicles which would run less often than originally planned, but carry more passengers.

But in evidence to planning authorities, groups representing Sydney Girls and Boys High schools, both at Moore Park, say the changes will force a “surge of school children” to cross the tracks by foot during the morning and afternoon rush.

An elevated concourse has been removed from plans for Moore Park station, meaning it no longer connects to a proposed overhead bridge crossing Anzac Parade which would have linked to the schools. An underground pedestrian subway will be built, but would only open on special event days and not for school students.

“Injury even death are real possibilities,” resulting from the change, the Sydney Boys High school council said, foreshadowing “serious accidents”, especially if children dashed across the tracks to catch a departing tram.

A group representing the Sydney Girls High School community said about 2000 children would cross the tracks unsupervised in a short space of time, potentially putting them on a collision course with light-rail vehicles….

Yes my first thought was that when I was a boy at Sydney Boys High in the 1950s the school was sandwiched between major parts of what was then still among the largest tramway systems in the world.

Sydney had a larger system than Melbourne’s; in the 1950’s when it was shut down and even when compared with today. 293km at greatest extent (don’t quote me on that, I need to look at my Sydney Tramways books when I get the chance) and 1500 trams running during the most busy time during 1940’s petrol rationing. Melbourne has no more than 500. That’s 400 Million trips in one year for a total Australian population of only 7 million with almost 1 million in the forces overseas….. The only systems that were larger at the time were Leningrad and London.

Do look at this interesting page: Remnants of the Sydney Trams.

And here is a scene I often witnessed in the Anzac Parade of the 1950s. Look at all those SHS students!

See my 2012 post Trams down Cleveland Street via Memory Lane. The current Sydney Boys High and Sydney Girls High Councils would be having kittens!  On the other hand these new trams are incredibly long and probably very quiet. Hence the post title which relates to this 2010 story in the Melbourne Herald-Sun:

Modern trams were potentially more dangerous than ageing vehicles, research has found.

A study by The Alfred hospital emergency doctors, published in Emergency Medicine Australasia, found there were 15 deaths and 107 major trauma cases after tram accidents over eight years. Researchers said injuries became more common between 2001-08. Most injuries happened in the CBD and involved younger people.

Falls were the most common cause of injuries, with two thirds caused by sudden braking.

The leading cause of major injuries was trams hitting pedestrians.

“Older trams were slow moving and could be heard more distinctly,” they said. But the newer trams were were quieter, faster and “potentially more dangerous”…

See also Tram accident (Wikipedia).  It must be said that the current light rail running through Sydney’s Haymarket and part of the inner west has had, it seems, few accidents. Here is one from 2009:


Not fatal.

I think the schools can cope, as we did way back when. The other matter raised in this morning’s story is interesting. I am not qualified to comment, but here it is:

The university [of NSW] said the recently constructed Lowy Cancer Research Centre was located within 25 metres of a proposed stop, and light rail had been known to cause electromagnetic interference which could affect scientific and medical research equipment.

If the research was jeopardised, the facility would be forced to relocate or be lost to another university, the submission warned.

There are other obstacles too in the way of what seems like the good idea of reviving part of Sydney’s once great tram network. There have been a cost blowout, problems dealing with infrastructure like cabling and pipes under existing streets, and arguments about the size of the trams.

After a series of design changes, Transport Minister Gladys Berejiklian this week confirmed the new light rail vehicles to run from George Street to Randwick and Kingsford in the eastern suburbs would be 67 metres long.

That is a few metres short of a Boeing 747. It is almost four times as long as one of State Transit’s bendy buses. It is double the length of the longest tram in Melbourne. And it is about half the length of some George Street blocks.

In fact, it is extremely difficult to find any cities in the world running trams as long as those now planned for Sydney.

Sydney’s 67-metre trams will be two vehicles coupled together, manufactured by the French conglomerate Alstom…

But Venietta Slama-Powell, the convener of PUSH, a group attempting to stop construction of the light rail project, said she had multiple concerns about the 67-metre trams.

She said the trams would take  more time to cross intersections at streets such as South Dowling Street and Bourke Street. And,  after recent incidents involving pedestrians and buses in central Sydney, she raised safety concerns. “Buses are far shorter and going at slower speeds than what is proposed for the light rail,” she said.

Before the Labor government of Joseph Cahill started to remove Sydney’s tram lines in the 1950s, the city had one of the most extensive networks in the world.

According to a recent report by The Bureau of Infrastructure, Transport and Regional Economics, Sydney in the late 1940s had “probably the most heavily patronised tram system, in terms of per capita usage, the world has yet seen”.

More than 400,000 people a day rode on Sydney’s trams in the late 1940s.

Fairfax Media has previously revealed that costs for the light rail project had blown out from $1.6 billion to $2.2 billion.

So will it happen? Or will the “too hard basket” win? The NSW government does seem determined.


Taking my cue yesterday from the Sydney Morning Herald story I was rather assuming that it was the trams themselves that worried Sydney Boys and Girls High Schools.

Thousands of unsupervised children would be forced to cross light rail tracks along the eastern suburbs extension each day on their way to school, bringing “real possibilities” of fatal accidents, according to evidence presented to planning authorities…

But as the ABC version of the story – published after my post – makes clear, it is the danger presented by Anzac Parade itself that seems more important.

Two high schools adjacent to the proposed light rail in Sydney’s east have raised safety concerns about the development.

Sydney Boys High School Council, Sydney Boys High P and C Association and Sydney Girls High have said more than 2,000 students could cross the light rail tracks every day.

In its submission to the amended Environmental Impact Statement, Sydney Boys High School Council said if the plan went ahead, many more students would be forced to cross the road.

“As a direct result of the South-East Light Rail, an additional 2,000 per day will need to cross Anzac Parade to reach the Moore Park Stop,” the submission said.

“This will represent an exodus of students over a short time period, 3:00pm to 3:30pm, which is also a peak time for traffic.

“Put in another way, 10,000 additional crossings over Anzac Parade will be needed per school week by school children.”

The submission said the position of the light rail station will have a major impact.

“The Light Rail station will be located on the eastern side of Anzac Parade opposite Sydney Boys High School,” it said.

“All students whether they travel east along Anzac Parade or in the opposite direction to go to Central will have to cross the very busy Anzac Parade and the Bus Only Roadway before reaching the Moore Park Stop.”

Sydney Boys High School’s P and C committee agreed the proposed position of the light rail stop was a problem.

“We note that the Moore Park Stop is not being placed below ground so it will be visible to students who are crossing Anzac Parade,” the submission said.

“Inevitably some students will see a tram approaching and not wait until pedestrian crossing lights turn in their favour.”

In its submission, Sydney Girls High said it was unclear whether the second pedestrian bridge proposed over Anzac Parade in the Moore Park district as a solution would connect directly with light rail station…

There are grounds for concern.

Also I thought, wrongly it seems, that the Bus Only Roadway through Moore Park would go, as that used to be the tram track in the old days, as you may see:

That’s Anzac Parade on the right.

For some in-depth on the CBD and South-East Light Rail see the Transport Sydney Blog.