The Guardian April 25, 2001


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."

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