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IN ITS heyday the Sydney tramway network spanned almost every major nook and cranny of the eastern suburbs — making it the largest light rail network southern hemisphere.
In fact, it was one of the largest tram networks in the world and, as the city’s bloated and delayed current light rail project comes to a standstill because of a row between the NSW Government and its Spanish contractor, frustrated Sydneysiders are wondering why the original lines were ripped out in the first place.
Restless public transport enthusiasts say a map of the massive former transport system at its peak, which was uploaded on to social media today, shows how Sydney stuffed up it’s public transport and city planning when the tracks were pulled apart in 1950s and ’60s.
The map shows how trams and trains could take Sydneysiders all the way from Alexandria and Erskineville in the city’s inner-west to all the major beaches to the east.
The lines, measuring 291km, spanned the entire length of the eastern suburbs from Watsons Bay in the north, down to La Perouse in the south.
The old network. Picture: WikipediaSource:Supplied
The new project. Picture: Transport NSWSource:Supplied
Records also show that the trams were extremely popular back in the day. In 1945, patronage peaked at 405 million passenger journeys.
This popularity was echoed by Rowan Parkin, a 77-year-old from Bronte in the city’s east, who fondly remembers rolling into the city on a tram as a child
“They were fantastic, you could get to pretty much everywhere you wanted to go and they were filled with people” he told news.com.au.
“Not everybody had cars back then so it was just how you got around. But soon more and more people started to get cars, my parents used to tell me that buses were the future, so that was the end of that.”
From the late 1800s up until the mid-1900s, trams were just “part of everyday life for the people of Sydney,” Sydney Tramway Museum director Scott Curnow said.
Tram on George Street, 1956. Picture: City of Sydney ArchivesSource:Supplied
“When you were going to school, to work, the races, the beach, the Easter Show, you took the tram — that was the way you travelled around Sydney, that was just the norm,” he told ABC.
“So there was a constant stream of trams going down that street, there was always a tram to get somewhere.”
According to newspaper clippings, unearthed by Sydney Living Museums (SLM),the tram had come to symbolise a bygone era in the 1950s.
“Buses the world over have proved themselves the most modern and efficient type of public transport, and have superseded trams in all important overseas cities,” said Mr H.E. Richards, of the National Roads and Motorists’ Association (NRMA), according to a 1953 Sydney Morning Herald piece.
“Buses are far more mobile and get away from the rigid tracks. Buses will certainly speed up vehicular traffic and eliminate bottlenecks.
Construction has come to a standstill in Sydney. Picture: SuppliedSource:Supplied
“The lifting of tram tracks will remove a constant source of danger to vehicular traffic both in wet weather when rails cause skids and when tracks are in a neglected state and develop potholes.”
The State Government was determined to phase trams out for these reasons and Pitt Street’s last tram ran in the early hours of September 29, 1957.
It was cheered by hundreds of people as it made its way down the busy CBD street draped with black streamers and decked with bouquets of red carnations and poppies.
“Sydney’s last tram ran from Hunter Street in the city to La Perouse in 1961, ending 100 years of tram services,” wrote SLM’s assistant curator Annie Stevens in a piece about the history of Sydney’s trams.
“The next year saw the completion of Sydney’s first freeway, the Cahill Expressway, followed a few years later by the Warringah Freeway to the north of the Sydney Harbour Bridge.”
And while Sydney took a punt by moving towards a heavier reliance on roads and buses, Melbourne hedged its bets with trams.
“While the NSW Government acted to remove tracks and trams from Sydney streets, Melbourne sought to expand its tramway system, and currently has the largest tramway network in the world,” wrote Ms Stevens.
Trams were phased out in favour of buses. Picture: City of Sydney ArchivesSource:Supplied
Now, in a bizarre twist, Sydney is now looking at its history and attempting to construct another light rail system — which is incredibly unambitious when you compare it to the map of the city’s former network.
Yet the delayed project, which NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian believes will be “running sometime in 2019”, has come to halt because of a messy contractual dispute and looming court battle.
A Spanish subcontractor responsible for building the project, running from the CBD to Sydney’s eastern suburbs, has reportedly demanded an extra $1.2 billion claiming it was misled about the project’s complexity.
The subcontractor, Acciona, has been accused of implementing a construction “go- slow” until the matter is resolved, with the firm taking its case to the NSW Supreme Court on Friday.
The light rail, originally budgeted to cost $1.6 billion before a $500 million blowout, was to be completed in 2018 before that deadline was pushed back to 2019.
NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian wants the new light rail system up and running sometime in 2019, Picture: AAP Image/Paul BravenSource:AAP
The Labor opposition suggests it may not be operational for many years.
The Premier, however, maintains the project remains on track. “They (Acciona) have put a claim in and all the deadlines, all the time frames, all the budgets are what they are,” Ms Berejiklian told reporters in Sydney on Wednesday.
“As of today, the timeline is there and the budget is there.
“People want to see the job completed on time and on budget — that’s my intention.”
However, the construction of the project rolls on indefinitely — businesses along its route continue to suffer.
Angela Vithoulkas, a City of Sydney councillor and small business owner whose cafe has been directly affected by the light rail works is livid.
Ms Vithoulkas told news.com.au earlier this week that the construction work has been a “horror story” and a “blame game” is underway between the government and the builders.
“They’re already two years behind schedule in my (area) and when people ask me when it will be finished I have one reply: ‘never’,” she said.
This article first appeared on www.news.com.au
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