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Abandoned tunnels at St James station in Sydney's city centre remain eerily quiet, almost two years after the NSW government spruiked plans to transform them into a tourist attraction.
The project to turn two disused tunnels and four platforms into bars, restaurants, shops or other attractions is running well behind Sydney Trains' initial timeline to finalise a contract by June last year, following a call to the private sector for expressions of interest.
Transport Minister Andrew Constance announced plans to transform the abandoned tunnels almost two years ago. CREDIT:CHRISTOPHER PEARCE
The competitive bid process began after Transport Minister Andrew Constance announced plans in October 2018 to transform Sydney's "hidden gem" into a tourist drawcard to rival similar attractions in London, Paris and New York.
However, the government is yet to reveal any progress in the project to revitalise about 6000 square metres of underground space.
Asked why the initial timetable had not been met, the state's transport agency said re-imagining underground infrastructure was a "significant and complex project" for the transport system.
"Transport for NSW is working with industry to investigate opportunities. It is critical all relevant matters and opportunities are considered," a spokesman said.
The disused tunnels and platforms cover about 6000 square metresCREDIT:CHRISTOPHER PEARCE
A "sensitive" briefing document shows that the Transport Minister gave the green light in early March this year for the state's main transport agency and Sydney Trains to proceed with a "selective (non-public) market sounding" for the project.
That approval was made shortly before COVID-19 restrictions were imposed.
Despite the pandemic, a spokeswoman for Mr Constance said the government remained committed to revitalising the unused tunnels and returning them to the community. "The procurement and project development process for this project is ongoing," she said.
The tunnels were built in the 1920s.CREDIT:CHRISTOPHER PEARCE
Transport for NSW has refused to release to the Herald about 10 documents relating to the project, citing commercial confidentiality and the fact that Sydney Trains is yet to complete the expressions of interest process.
"Sydney Trains is yet to proceed to the next steps, such as conduct due diligence, prepare feasibility assessments, market sounding and engage in future tendering processes," it said.
Costs and options under consideration for the tunnels are among details redacted from another eight documents the agency has agreed to release under freedom of information laws.
The briefing document in March shows a "retail uplift-type project" for the abandoned tunnels is the aim. However, it notes that "proceeding to delivery phase will be subject to successful market sounding and detailed feasibility".
Labor's transport spokesman, Chris Minns, said the government was "very good" at issuing press releases but needed to deliver on the projects it had promised such as the St James revamp. "We will not rebuild our economy on the back of spin from the government," he said.
The disused tunnels were built in the 1920s, and are about 30 metres below city streets, snaking beneath Hyde Park and Macquarie Street, towards Martin Place.
They were intended to link a rail line to be built from the eastern suburbs to the northern beaches but those plans were never completed. In World War II, the tunnels were used as air raid shelters.
This article first appeared on www.smh.com.au
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