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A $1.6 billion light rail line will be built between Circular Quay and Sydney's eastern suburbs, reducing congestion in the city, NSW Premier Barry O'Farrell says.
The 12km link to Randwick will run down George Street, past the Moore Park precinct, Randwick Racecourse, the University of NSW and to the Prince of Wales Hospital.
It will be built by 2020.
The line is the major new announcement in the government's final 20 year transport masterplan, which restates its commitments to the northwest and southwest rail links, Sydney's West Connex road project announced earlier this year, and its bridges to the bush program.
The stretch of George Street between Bathurst and Hunter Streets will focus on pedestrians for the light rail project - about 40 per cent of the major artery.
"This is a once-in-a-generation project to revitalise the centre of Sydney by reducing congestion and offering a fast, attractive public transport option to key locations," Mr O'Farrell said on Thursday.
The light rail line, together with a redesigned bus network in the city, would reduce by more than 220 the number of buses entering the CBD every hour of the morning peak, the government said.
"With the introduction of light rail and the redesigned bus network announced today, we will be able to significantly reduce the number of buses clogging the city's streets and provide fast and reliable links for people to key destinations like the Prince of Wales Hospital, University of NSW, SCG, Allianz Stadium, Moore Park, Central and Circular Quay," NSW Transport Minister Gladys Berejiklian said.
Tourism & Transport Forum (TTF) deputy chief executive Trent Zimmerman said the light rail network would improve public transport to the city.
"Sydney's public transport future looks bright with commitments to both a second harbour rail crossing and the light rail extension," he said in a statement.
The light rail would transform George Street into a pedestrian-friendly retail boulevard befitting a global city.
Visitors would also benefit from the rail project linking Circular Quay, Town Hall and Central, he added.
"Just as importantly, the project will provide a new and better transport service for Sydney residents working in and visiting the CBD."
Mr Zimmerman said bus congestion had reached critical mass in Sydney.
He also applauded the government's commitment to a second harbour rail crossing.
"Without it, the Sydney Harbour Bridge will become a bottleneck, leading to longer commutes and overcrowded carriages across the network."
Mr Zimmerman called for the master plan to be enshrined in legislation to ensure its durability to end "the era of new plans every time there is a new minister".
Patricia Forsythe, executive director of the Sydney Business Chamber, said the light rail would transform commuting in the CBD.
"The time has come for us to accept that our growing city means we will have to start changing the way we access the inner city," she said in a statement.
But Ms Forsythe warned of a period of upheaval.
"Common sense will tell us that building a light rail system in the CBD, especially in George Street, will not be without its challenges and there will be difficulty during the construction phase," she said.
"But these are challenges our city dealt with during the construction of the city circle rail line and the Harbour Bridge and we can handle them today."
Dr Tim Williams, chief executive of the Committee For Sydney, said the light rail would boost the CBD's retail economy while taking enormous pressure off the transport corridors.
"This is exactly the sort of, bold, big city decision that Sydney has been crying out for," he said in a statement.
"Decades from now this decision will be regarded as the one that got Sydney back on track."
Dr Williams said the current congestion of buses and vehicles, and the noise and pollution they create, had formed a barrier to moving around the city.
Infrastructure Partnerships Australia chief executive Brendan Lyon said the plan was a "sensible way forward" that would address many of the state's infrastructure shortfalls.
"Everyone can see that NSW is a long way behind on its infrastructure program, so today's commitment to a long-term pipeline of major infrastructure investments is a critical step forward," he said in a statement.
"The plan announced today will remove 220 buses from the CBD during the morning peak.
"Sydney is facing acute transport and infrastructure challenges."
Mr Lyon said he was particularly pleased the government had endorsed the WestConnex motorway proposal.
"Completing the missing, eastern sections is a non-negotiable investment for the state and national economies," he said.
University of NSW Vice-Chancellor Fred Hilmer welcomed the light rail link, saying it would be one of the most significant pieces of infrastructure supporting the university in its 60-plus years of operation.
"This important decision opens access to UNSW and new opportunities for thousands of students from around Sydney, including the western suburbs, who have found the commute to campus just too difficult," he said in a statement.
The UNSW Kensington campus is the only university currently without rail access despite being the biggest in NSW, with more than 50,000 students and staff, he said.
Light rail would mean a leap forward from the current "chaotic mess" on George Street, the Property Council of Australia (PCA) said.
"Unfortunately the deficiencies in its transport network to date have strangled the city," NSW PCA executive director Glenn Byres told reporters in Sydney.
"We think it's got the capacity to make a quantum leap in the productivity and movement of people around the city."
Mr Byres said disruption to businesses and commuters would have to be carefully managed, but light rail would ultimately improve the flow of commuters and offer a regular, more reliable and high-patronage service.
City of Sydney Lord Mayor Clover Moore has hailed the state government's move towards light rail as a major achievement for Australia, not just Sydney.
"This isn't just for the CBD. It has a flow-on effect," she told reporters on Thursday.
"The CBD area is ... the global city of Australia and worth over $100 billion to the national economy and 25 per cent of the state's economy."
Ms Moore said the council had been campaigning for major improvement to transport in the CBD and its surrounds for years.
"Sydney really needs this network," she said.
"It's the right thing to do for our city, and it's what other major cities are doing.
"There will be great rejoicing in the business community and for workers and residents."
Tourism and Transport Forum (TTF) chief executive John Lee backed a recommendation in the master plan to lift the hourly cap on aircraft movements at Sydney Airport from 80 to 85.
"There is no sound reason for capping the number of aircraft movements at Sydney Airport to 80 an hour," he said in a statement.
"The cap is arbitrary and was introduced for purely political purposes.
"Allowing an additional five movements an hour is a good first step towards alleviating the unnecessary restrictions and making Sydney Airport more efficient."
Mr Lee said it would also improve Sydney Airport's capacity during times of peak demand and reduce the potential for delays, which has a flow-on impact at airports around the country.
He called on the federal government to give the proposal "serious consideration".
This article first appeared on www.news.com.au
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