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IT'S no secret - I love trains. I've had a passion for Australian rail since I was a little kid, to the point where my mum once grew worried about this all-engrossing fixation as all I ever did was sit and draw steam locomotives. "Why don't you draw the Harbour Bridge or a farm or something else…" she'd ask. Why would you want to draw a farm when you can draw trains? All those wheels and tracks and engines and carriages…But nowadays, my love of trains in waning - trains are now out to destroy my family.
We live in a Surry Hills terrace house that is about to cop six years of heavy construction in building Transport 4 NSW's light rail from Central Station to Randwick. The dual railway will run the full length of Devonshire Street in Surry Hills, directly alongside my house and then through a block of 69 - soon to be demolished - apartments before spitting out over the eastern distributor and into Moore Park. We first learned of this gargantuan initiative by way of a rather innocuous T4NSW pamphlet dropped in the letterbox - and then tipped off by a government insider that our house could be slated for a D9 bulldozer as well. Apart from the fact some engineer's pen would rule a line through the value of our house - our chief concern has been our autistic son - who was forced to suffer the construction of Clover Moore's unfathomable Bourke Street cycleway. On the face of it, the cycleway - a sort of glorified, painted- green footpath - sounded fairly harmless yet the manner in which it was built was nothing short of disgraceful - unannounced building work under floodlights commencing at 9:30 pm, angry residents arguing with equally aggressive contractors, day-long jack-hammering firing up at the stroke of 7am - all this happening while trying to calm a terrified autistic four-year-old unable to deal with extraneous noise. Peripheral sounds - even a vacuum cleaner - cause him an alarming degree of angst. For my boy, the six year construction of the railway will be nothing short of catastrophic.
Further, we're concerned our house - built at the time of the American Civil War - might not survive the percussive impact of heavy machinery demolishing the 69 apartments next door and then tearing the ground adjacent apart for the railway. It's a worry - during the construction of the council library around the corner in Crown Street the terrace house alongside it suddenly collapsed - roof-to-ground in an instant. That no-one was inside at the time was sheer good luck - but I don't want my family inside our house while the government is smashing its way through Surry Hills.
I approached the Transport Minister Gladys Berejeklian with our problem - because of the railway's ongoing construction and the resultant devaluation of our house - we can't sell - and we because of our son's condition - we can't stay. We'd suggested the government take our house as part of the acquisition program - if it's still standing by the end of construction it might be worth something. Yet that probably won't happen. Despite the Minister and the Deputy Director General Chris Lock personally assuring me there will be no night work - guess what? They're about to commence preliminary test drilling in front of our house - at night. We recently met with the Project Director Jeff Goodling, a highly-paid tram expert parachuted in from Portland Oregon - (because we need people from overseas to show us Australians how to do things) - who smiled and informed us about how all the exact route for the railway is still undecided - and yes, they'll soon commence night-drilling. It's a truly horrible business - last week I sat in on a T4NSW meeting about the acquisition of the apartment block next door - while some owners embraced the buyout, others were devastated their homes were about to be destroyed. There will shortly be 69 less residences in Surry Hills and a scramble for those people to find accommodation. As for us - we're not gambling with our son - and he's not going to be there when the bulldozers arrive. My wife and son are moving away and he will start a new school in a far less catastrophic environment. I'll get to see them on the weekends - but hell or high water, T4NSW won't destroy my family.
This article first appeared on www.dailytelegraph.com.au
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