Thursday, July 2, 2015

The tramway and the railway from Parramatta to Castle Hill

Sydney once had an extensive tram network, as did Newcastle and even Broken Hill. It seems odd that we (as a community) closed it all down, only to have regrets later. But there are always reasons.

The main reasons are cars, trucks and buses, of course. Oil got cheap and plentiful and vehicles got cheaper and more numerous. And then investment in railways and tramways was diverted to roadways. And so on, until we get to today, our world of regret.

Of course some people protested at the time, but governments mostly do what gets them votes. And if unsure what voters want then they just use a proxy, like patronage. What are people actually doing? Well they are effectively voting with their feet. Or if you don't use it, you lose it.

And that's essentially why the railways to Camden, Kurrajong and Castle Hill (or Rogan's Hill) were closed, coupled with escalating operating costs, ongoing repairs (especially after floods) and the mounting opportunity costs. But the reasons underneath the big picture of "costs" - the specifics - were also interwoven and interesting.

The background to closing the Rogan's Hill line that went up via Castle Hill is like that. The demand for freight transport from orchardists to market in Sydney drove the initial tramway development but unsuitable track (and some pesky laws about what trams could do) restricted it to passenger traffic. The fruit growers were unhappy. Despite the immense success of the passenger line the fruit growers pressed their case and a heavier rail line was laid with a connection to the mainline at Westmead. And whilst that pleased the growers it resulted in a less attractive passenger service. Patronage fell just as alternative bus companies sprung up. And patronage kept falling.

Still, there was freight traffic. But the demand for particular types of citrus fruit changed and the Murrumbidgee Irrigation Area met that need better than north west Sydney could. So freight declined, too.

When the crunch came the costs were high but the patronage was low. What else could be done? Keep it running at great loss for a few decades on a 'wait and see' basis? Or close it?

There's a detailed article here and a broad outline of Western Sydney's rail history here.