The Light Fail
It’s 10.22am on a Wednesday morning and I’m sitting in the middle of Crown Street, Surry Hills. We haven’t moved for over 15 minutes. Why? I’m on the light rail, doing a review for our dear readers of The Beast, and it has broken down. The irony is not lost on me.
Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you would have heard about the Liberal state government’s trouble-plagued public transport initiative, which they assured us would ease Sydney’s traffic congestion.
Since construction began in October 2015, the project has been the source of numerous nightmares for the Berejiklian government. Many businesses and residents were affected during the continuously delayed construction, there was outrage at the loss of nearly a thousand trees in Centennial and Moore Parks, and there was the ongoing beef with Spanish contractor Acciona Infrastructure over modifications to the line. Worst of all, these modifications meant the project went $1 billion over budget.
In December last year, the L2 Randwick Line finally began transporting passengers. However, the Liberal government didn’t even get to enjoy this moment as one of the trams broke down within hours of the opening ceremony. Criticism surrounding the speed of the light rail, or lack thereof, soon followed. An end-to-end journey from Circular Quay to Randwick takes over 50 minutes, meaning the average speed is 11.16 kilometres per hour – only marginally faster than the average jogging speed of an adult. Labor has claimed these speeds are the slowest in the world.
I decided to test the light rail out for myself to see if it really was as bad as reported. I tapped on at High Street, Randwick just after 10am. My first thoughts were that it was nicer than a bus. I have spent a lot of time on buses over the years and they are truly horrible things; noisy, smelly metal boxes, stuffed full of glum-faced plebs, coughing and spluttering all over each other as they get shuttled to jobs they hate.
But you don’t have to deal with these horrors on the light rail, because each vehicle can carry 450 passengers – the equivalent of nine buses. The cabins are spacious, modern and air-conditioned, and the large windows allow you to take in our beautiful city during the journey. There is also plenty of time to enjoy the sites, because the light rail is as slow as reported. In fact, it feels as if you’re on a roller coaster crawling to the peak of its track, but you don’t get to enjoy the exhilarating descent that would usually follow.
Then there are the painfully long stops. I’ve spent less time waiting on the tarmac in a Jetstar aircraft than I have at each of the light rail stops. This is all compounded by the fact that we seem to have no priority at any of the traffic lights.
Transport for NSW says the reason the tram is so slow is to allow distracted shoppers time to adjust to the trams’ presence. It is also looking to improve the journey time towards 40 minutes – still slower than the current buses. Randwick, Clovelly and Coogee residents must be hoping it will do a bit better than that though, because the light rail will be the main transport option into the city when the buses are axed shortly.
It’s 10.24am and I’m still stuck on George Street. Apparently “technical issues” are to blame. A few people have jumped off in a huff, but given my duty to you I have decided to give it another 20 minutes before I join them. I’ve also decided to use my time productively and finish this story while I’m waiting. Here are my concluding thoughts:
I’m not too worried about the light rail breaking down. Firstly, the thing doesn’t go fast enough for any mechanical issue to be a real danger to anyone and, secondly, it’s new, and all new operations are going to experience teething problems. But the speed. The speed is a serious issue.
The government has said that safety concerns are the reason for the sloth-like pace, but I don’t think this is worth worrying about. Sydney already has a problem with entitled pedestrians expecting cars to stop for them as if they are cute little ducklings. If the light rail were to ‘nudge’ just one of these clowns, I guarantee that others would be more cautious around the tracks – problem solved.
For the record, the tram got moving again after 21 minutes. I was not on it.