The Environmental Impact Study for the CBD and South East Light Rail is due to be completed by the end of this year, finalising the project before construction begins. Enough details have been released about the project that a fairly complete picture can be drawn of what it will look like and how it will operate.
Trams will operate along an overhead wire free zone starting from where the pedestrianised zone beings at Bathurst St and continues all the way to Circular Quay. Along this portion of the alignment trams will be powered by onboard batteries which are recharged with overhead wires at each stop. Overseas experience suggests batteries could allow for up to 2km of travel at a time before recharging (Source: George Street Concept Design, 2013, City of Sydney, p. 27). This will also allow limited operation should there be a short term power outage, but will also prevent trams on the Inner West Line from operating on George St (though these trams would still be able to travel to Kingsford and Randwick). This move is supported by the City of Sydney on the basis that “it will ensure that…space is preserved for pedestrians [and respect]…the streetscape of George Street and its heritage buildings”; but opposed by advocacy group Action for Public Transport, commenting that “this system would add unacceptably to initial and running costs, would detract from reliability, and would probably not supply enough power for the air-conditioning”.
The trams on the CSELR will also be longer than the Inner West ones, being 45m long compared to the current 30m long trams, which have a capacity of 300 passengers and 200 passengers respectively. These longer trams mean that the 45m CSELR trams will not be able to operate on the Inner West line at all.
The net effect is an effective segregation of the two lines, forcing them to operate independently.
Tram stops at Central Station (Chalmers St) and Moore Park will be double the regular length, allowing 2 trams to load an unload simultaneously, with turnback sidings allowing shuttle services from Central to the Moore Park sports stadiums to provide a high capacity transport connection for special events like double headers. The Central Station and Circular Quay stops will also have a third platform. Meanwhile, the UNSW stop (probably the busiest stop outside of the CBD and special events) will be on UNSW property itself, preventing the need for students and university staff to cross the road unless they need to reach the smaller Western campus end of UNSW.
Rawson Place will be closed off to cars and turned into a bus and tram interchange. Buses leaving the CBD will pass through Rawson Place itself, allowing a cross platform transfer, while inbound buses will stop on the Western side of Pitt Street, from which the tram stop will be a short walk away. This avoids the need to cross the road in order to transfer from bus to tram or vice versa.
Outside of the CBD
The route across South Dowling Street, Moore Park, and Anzac Parade has yet to be determined, with a cut and cover tunnel or viaduct being the two options. The advantages of a tunnel are the lower visual impact and maintaining full use of Moore Park. The advantages of a viaduct are a shorter construction time and grade separation over South Dowling Street. The government has a preference for the tunnel option, but has also taken feedback from the public on the two options before making a final decision.
Upgrading the Anzac Parade corridor will increase the passenger capacity in each direction from the current 10,000 passengers/hour to 15,000 passengers/hour. It does this by replacing some buses (the equivalent of 4,000 passengers/hour with trams that carry 9,000 passengers/hour), which will now not continue past Kingsford and Randwick. They will instead be rerouted as orbital routes that do not reach the city, and instead continue towards destination like Bondi Junction or Green Square. Anyone continuing into the CBD will get off their bus and onto a tram, either by crossing the platform at Kingsford or walking across High Cross Park at Randwick.
Buses and fares
Some buses will be kept on. In particular, preliminary details of the bus redesign suggest that all peak hour express buses that travel via the Eastern Distributor will be maintained, largely as they service the Northern end of the CBD rather than the Southern end. In addition, at least one bus lane will be retained on the existing Anzac Parade busway. Some buses that travel via Cleveland and Oxford Streets will also be retained as these corridors are not served by light rail.
Transport Sydney understands that fares for light rail will be calculated as though they are buses, meaning that there should not be a fare penalty for passengers changing from bus to tram or vice versa. This would prevent current bus users from having to pay more once light rail begins operating and many passengers are forced to make a transfer from bus to tram.
Development and the construction period
The improvement in transport infrastructure will be followed by higher housing densities, with the NSW Government designating Randwick (and Anzac Parade South, to which the light rail line could easily be extended into) for increased dwelling construction, including 30,000 new dwellings for Kingsford. This issue was prominent enough for the newly elected local MP to campaign about it at the recent September federal election.
The years of construction are also likely to see significant strain on the existing transport network, with George Street closed down and bus lanes removed long before trams begin operating. With construction set to take 4 to 5 years, it could prove to be a protracted period of pain. The government is set to announce a revised bus network for this construction period by the end of the year, around the same time it released the Environmental Impact Study. It then has until the end of the decade to come up with a second bus network redesign for when the light rail finally comes online.