As Sydney builds its light rail, its last tram leaves for Victoria

Sydney’s last tram gets ready for its last journey Photo: Nic Walker Sydney’s last tram in the Rozelle tramsheds, which are about to be redeveloped. Photo: Nic Walker
Nanjing Night Net

An artist’s impression of the City of Sydney’s plan for George Street in 2020. Photo: Supplied

Trams on the corner of George and Druitt streets, outside the QVB in the Sydney CBD in 1920. Photo: Supplied

Trams run down George Street in the early 20th century. Photo: Supplied

Half a century ago, Sydney’s last tram pierced the streets of Sydney’s eastern suburbs on a journey that would mark the end of the light rail in the hearts and minds of many Sydneysiders.

On Thursday, the last tram of that era embarked on a journey of resurrection, departing from the Rozelle tramsheds for Victoria after being neglected by successive NSW governments who enthroned cars and buses as the kings of Sydney’s roads.

Battered, bruised and graffitied with “bonez” and “babs was here” scrawled along it, the tram began its trip at the same time as the City of Sydney released its George St: 2020 paper on Thursday.

The paper gives the city a glimpse of a familiar future as the council mapped out its plans for the return of the George Street light rail route, on the exact path that up to 1500 trams once pounded the concrete.

During the 1920s, Sydney’s tram network was the largest in the southern hemisphere. So ubiquitous was the tram that entire suburbs and areas, like Bondi Junction and Maroubra Junction, were named after the point at which its lines met.

From 2019 the 21st century’s version of the “transport of the future”, or trams rebranded as light rail, will once again propel their way down George Street and Anzac Parade.

According to the City of Sydney plan, light rail will run down the middle of George Street, with a tree zone on either side, followed by a variable “flex-zone” for street furniture and an almost four metre pedestrian area along  buildings’ edges.

Though glamorised with all the mod cons of 2015, it’s a route that was already well established in 1920.

“This transformation is a unique opportunity to ensure that George Street becomes a world class boulevard that is also a thriving business and retail environment,”  Lord Mayor Clover Moore said.

The cost of building the light rail  from George Street to Kingsford is expected to blow out to $2.1 billion by the time it is complete in 2019.

It is a figure that has left some wondering what would have happened if Sydney had just left its tramway network intact.

“Having the infrastructure there would have made a huge difference to the city today,” said Harold Clark, the president of the Sydney Tramway Society. “We would have a world class system but we gave it away because it was the flavour of the month to give it all up for cars and buses.”

The cost of the light rail project may prevent the government from expanding its capacity to anywhere near the level of its heyday, said Gavin Gatenby, from the advocacy group EcoTransit.

“The whole point about light rail is that it’s affordable, high-capacity and very flexible. It should be much cheaper than this. The fact that prices have been driven up so high means that we are not able to afford the amount of light rail we should be able to get.”

Mr Clark, who rode the city’s last tram in 1961, also regrets that the city’s last vintage trams have been left to rot.

“Now that we have light rail returning, they could have been made into fantastic tourist attractions, like the city circle line in Melbourne or the cable car in San Francisco.”

As for Sydney’s last tram, after the graffiti is cleaned and the emerald green restored in Victoria, it will come home again to its final stop at Mirvac’s Harold Park precinct in Sydney’s inner west. There it will form the centrepiece of the old tramsheds, which are being redeveloped into a shopping centre that also promises to blend old and new.

This story Administrator ready to work first appeared on Nanjing Night Net.

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