Friday, 27 December 2013

Tram systems of yore

Michell Library published 1907
Screen shot of 1903 map of Sydney (CoS archives)
The Robinson map of Sydney just before the turn of the century shows the tram rails to Randwick. The Railway terminus was at Devonshire Street. There were separate tram rails along Cleveland Street and the extension of Castlereagh Street past the cemetery (now Chalmers Street) to the Railway station and Parramatta Road tram tracks, and to Circular Quay via Flinders and Elizabeth Streets.

The map of Sydney in 1903 which can be downloaded from the CoS archives shows the tram lines in Devonshire Street being built over to establish the steam train terminal at Central. Tram rails in Eddy Avenue maintained the separate tram services to Central Station and Parramatta Road and to Circular Quay. This made sense because Elizabeth Street narrowed to two lanes northbound at the Supreme Court building. In fact, maintaining separate services to Central and Circular Quay from the Eastern Suburbs has been the cornerstone of public transport planning from the second half of the nineteenth century until the election of the O'Farrell government.
Central Square renamed Railway Square
The Devonshire Street tunnel under the railway tracks was for pedestrians only. Tram services from Pitt Street terminated at Railway Square or could could continue along Parramatta Road and City Road. The current bus services from the Eastern and South Eastern Suburbs follow the routes established by the trams.

Steam trams had been introduced to Sydney in 1879, with electrification starting in 1898, and had been extended to become the largest system in Australia. The tram rails south along Castlereagh Street and north along Pitt Street were part of the construction of Central Steam Train Station in the first years of the twentieth century.

Before the Harbour Bridge was built to reach destinations north of the Harbour you had little choice but to use public transport to Circular Quay transfer to a ferry to Milson Point, Cremorne Wharf, Mosman Wharf, Taronga  or Manly and continue the journey on public transport. The tram services had high patronage.

For more than 130 years, the imperative of transport planning has been to minimise congestion in Elizabeth Street northbound. The O'Farrell government is reversing this policy. Services to the south east that avoided carriages dumping passengers at Central and Railway Square and running on empty to Circular Quay are to be given the exclusive right to travel along George Street and the bus services displaced from George Street - the Broadway and Harbour Bridge services - cannot avoid the bottlenecks in Elizabeth Street northbound.

Booz & Company trots out the usual schoolboy howlers about light rail: "A single light rail vehicle can carry the equivalent of five standard rigid buses while using the same road length as just three buses". In fact the road length "used" by the trams and the necessary stops is two times the length of the carriages plus the separation needed to avoid them running into the backs of each other.

Booz & Company do make one pertinent observation, however. The trams will be able to run on empty along George Street more cheaply for the operators since they employ four less drivers than rigid buses or two less drivers than bendy buses. This is the only rational argument offered by TfNSW as to the economic benefits of the Project.

In the past the approach was far more rational - minimise vehicles running on empty. It is ridiculously easy to refine this approach with the advent of the Oyster (aka Opal) Card as I pointed out in my letter to the Minister in April and have reiterated in my Submission to the EIS.

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