Tram network completely off the rails!
by Kerry Ridgway Plans to alleviate Sydney's escalating transport crisis with the reintroduction of a tram network have been thwarted by the University of New South Wales (UNSW) and Randwick Council, in Sydney's eastern suburbs. The Coogee Light Rail corridor, envisaged to dramatically reduce Sydney's transport congestion, will not be reinstated after the hotly contested site was sold to residential developers. With rezoning imminent to the profit makers protected by the certainty of Council support, the matter is now conveniently over, and there has been no further comment from those responsible. For fuming environmentalists, Coogee residents and others affected by this myopic decision, it is an issue they claim is far from over. "The University of New South Wales wanted money", says Construction, Forestry, Mining and Energy Union Media Officer, Phil Davey. "But they wouldn't have got it if light rail went ahead. By January, two new owners made applications to put apartments on the land, which may ruin the chance of light rail running through there. "The university is overlooking the potential to provide viable public transport for poor students, reduce current traffic, and create an alternative to cars. We put an interim green ban on the construction of these apartments in order to encourage the university to negotiate." As State Member for the Greens and UNSW Council representative, Lee Rhiannon elaborates, "The University of New South Wales is in the extraordinary situation of being the only university in Sydney that doesn't have a rail line for students or a planned one. "Sydney University and The University of Western Sydney already have rail lines for students while Macquarie University and the University of Technology Sydney (Ku-ring-gai campus) are destined to have one when the Parrachat line is opened in 2006. "The University administration will tell you that the light rail proposal has been rejected because there is a heavy rail link in the vicinity [the CBD to Bond Junction line]. But it's not close enough to the university and the government is unlikely to put another line closer in the foreseeable future. "They talk of a bus link to Green Square, [in the inner southern suburb of Zetland] but Green Square isn't designed for it and buses can't handle up to 30,000 students a day. Without proper transport provisions students won't come to the university." The Coogee Light Rail Campaign website, put out by Eco Transit, states that trams have the capacity to carry four times as many people as buses. Besides the obvious benefits of little commuter congestion, it also means that light rail is extremely cost effective. "It is much more economically sound because of its capacity to move people to and from work, and from the prospect of having a more reliable transport network", says Eco Transit President Michelle Zeibots. "If it's working properly people always know they'll get to their destination and people are likely to use it more." A Swiss light rail expert confirms that the corridor would facilitate the use of less expensive operations than other routes because of its pre- existing track, while its close proximity to a densely populated area would justify its existence. One argument used by the development lobby was that having a tram network so close to residents would cause intense noise disturbance. The other difficulty was an archway which blocked the line, that wasn't problematic with the insertion of an alternate route. RORTED (Residents Opposing the Randwick Tramway Easement Development) has spent a decade stressing that ambitious development projects would do much more than cause noise. "The Randwick City Council is already one of the most densely populated communities in the New South Wales metropolitan area, containing 126,000 people", says RORTED member, Faye Hurst. "With more and more developments being approved (some of which don't comply with Council's own Local Environment Plan) Randwick will end up like a ghetto. Yet the ALP-controlled Council was elected on the promise to oppose over-development." Convincing people of this has been a battle of colossal proportions. Having protest signs stolen and experiencing the usual bureaucratic inertia was bad enough. Now it appears that an influential light rail feasibility report given to Randwick Council by RORTED and the CFMEU did not make the final meeting for development approval. Meanwhile, organisations like Eco Transit, which support light rail, are being left strategically bereft of funds. "We need funding to better inform people about the issues", says Ms Zeibots. "But Governments operate on an adversarial basis. If you don't have a government organisation that [champions] your cause, you don't get funding. No government department specialises in this mode of transport so light rail is left out." All this in the face of the State Government's spirited rhetoric about the future of light rail. Ms Zeibots stressed that those opposing the development are not favouring one mode of transport over another. "We are trying to integrate light rail into the existing train network. Light rail capacity and catchment properties in the eastern suburbs is part of a broader set of solutions that need to be achieved to better Sydney's transport problem."