Monday, May 18, 2009

Sydney's real infrastructure debacle... ditching the extensive tram network by 1961

Sydney has suffered many planning misfortunes and missteps, including the lack of a heavy rail connection to the northern beaches, despite long-standing plans to do so, and the seemingly endless indecision over the location of a "second" major airport (although some may argue that Bankstown airport already fills that role). My personal favourite though would have to be the dismantling of what was the 2nd-most extensive tram system in the British Commonwealth - second only to the London network and many times larger that Melbourne's. This startling removal of track, electric catenary and associated tram sheds was largely "achieved" by 1961. Tracks were ripped up or submerged under tar; tramcars were sold for scrap or burned; and land and buildings were reused as bus depots or sold.

Why oh why did we ditch light rail? Wikipedia says this: The overcrowded and heaving trams running at a high frequency, in competition with growing private motor car and bus use, created congestion. Competition from the private car, private bus operators and the perception of traffic congestion led to the gradual closure of lines from the 1940s.

Buses, you see, were more flexible in their routing and interfered less with other vehicular traffic. Which was good in theory, but the government-run bus routes largely replicated the tram routes anyway; and as both bus and car traffic grew the road network hit its natural limit as well - stopping everything in its peak-hour tracks.

Now this infrastructure planning miracle was achieved after seeking the input of overseas "experts" and largely executed by Labor governments. Interestingly, again quoting Wikipedia, closure was supported by the NRMA, but generally went against public opinion. Thank you once again, National Roads and Motoring Association. Nothing ever really changes, does it?

All that aside, some tantalising remnants of Sydney's trams exist, to remind us of our folly. For instance there are tramway remnants along Anzac Parade, through Randwick and Kensington, including reserved track and "bus stops" facing the "wrong way" (ie towards the trams, not the buses) towards La Perouse. There is a tram bridge at Annandale and sheds at Rozelle, Tempe and Newtown, plus recycled tram depots like Randwick bus workshops and a shopping centre at North Sydney. And plenty more, if you look closely enough.


Dan said...

THanks for your great comments and sleuth work. I have begun to notice some of the remnants of the Sydney tram network, particularly the remaining rosettes on buildings in the city and Sydney's east (all through Paddington and Darlinghurst on Oxford St there are great examples). THere are some great old cut-off street corners too - I hope one day that we'll see trams running along our streets again.

On Anzac Pde the other day, my (English) wife asked, why is the median so wide? When I told her, she asked me, why don't they just put the trams back? WHy indeed!

I need some help - I have been looking for the old Bondi tram loop under Bondi Road...where is this??? It's very confusing, I can't seem to find the cutting you talk about. Can you help?

gtveloce said...

Hi Dan - I think you mean where the track left Bondi Road at Denham Street, into Fletcher Street and then went left into a reservation, now called Rowland Ave. It dropped into a cutting, went under Wilga Street and then under Bondi Road. I've posted more today on this, hope it helps!

Cheers, Rob.