Sydney- light rail to be built into Central Business District

All change for light rail 

Jacob Saulwick Transport  The Sydney Morning Herald
March 31, 2011

THE O'Farrell government will soon be asked to approve a sweeping overhaul of Sydney's central business district, including plans for light rail down George Street and significant changes to bus routes.

Transport bureaucrats and consultants are close to finishing two studies that have the potential to reshape the way residents move about the CBD.

The studies, commissioned by the former Labor government, have identified George Street as the best route to run a tram line. It would go from Central Station to Alfred Street near Circular Quay.

But the government would also need to be prepared to redirect cars and buses to accommodate the trams.

The Premier, Barry O'Farrell, has nominated transport as his first priority in government. If Mr O'Farrell and his transport minister, Gladys Berejiklian, moved fast on CBD light rail, the project could be finished before the 2015 election.

Discussions with officials close to government and industry experts reveal the most likely spot for a light rail interchange would be at the southern end of the city at Rawson Place, near Eddy Avenue at Central.

Two tracks of light rail would run down George Street. The wider stretch of the street near Central Station could accommodate the tram lines alongside cars and buses. But as George Street narrows to the north, cars and some bus routes would need to shift off the corridor.

The lord mayor of Sydney, Clover Moore, has argued for a pedestrian boulevard, free of all cars and buses, on George Street near the Town Hall. However industry experts have told the Herald it would be extremely difficult to redirect all buses off any stretch of George Street. In particular, the long Metrobuses would find it difficult to chart other routes through the city.

A spokesman for Mr O'Farrell said: "We are committed to light rail in the CBD, but the government will be seeking briefings from Transport NSW on the current status of the plans."

The main advantage of light rail in the CBD is that, running regularly, it could transport up to twice as many people as buses without the congestion. Travelling from Central to Circular Quay by bus takes 35 minutes in peak hour, the City of Sydney estimates. But traffic-calming measures alongside light rail could cut the trip to 17 minutes.

Shifting bus routes to accommodate light rail would be a challenge. Some routes arriving in the city would need to either terminate near Central or pass across the city, requiring commuters to change to light rail to continue towards Circular Quay.

The extra interchange, however, would need a fare and ticketing structure that did not make commuters pay more to change.

Plans prepared for the previous government identified the George Street corridor as the first stage of a CBD light rail network. The work would leave open the option to extend the line along Hickson Road and to Barangaroo.

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