Friday 21st of June 2019

a slow tram delayed to somewhere light...

tram tracks

The civil construction company building Sydney's troubled light rail has revealed the project has been delayed again, and will not be complete until May 2020.

Key points: 
  • Sydney's light rail project has been plagued by delays and court battles
  • It was supposed to be finished before the March 2019 State election, but has been delayed several times
  • Last month, the Premier said she was confident it would be open by the end of 2019


Bede Noonan, the Managing Director of Acciona Infrastructure Australia, told a parliamentary inquiry the NSW Government was informed of the two-month delay in August.

Last month, Premier Gladys Berejiklian said she was hopeful the project — which runs from Circular Quay to Randwick — would be open by late 2019.

It was initially supposed to be finished before the State Election, in March 2019.

Mr Noonan told the committee he was "sincerely sorry" for the disruption and pain caused by the project.

"I would like to assure the committee, residents and businesses that we regret the delays, disruption, and impacts that the Sydney Light Rail project has caused," he said.

Acciona is suing the NSW Government for more than $1 billion over claims of "misleading and deceptive" conduct.

The litigation relates to changes in guidelines provided by electricity company Ausgrid.

Mr Noonan said Acciona's biggest challenge had been dealing with Ausgrid's power assets and underground pits in George Street.

"This has had the greatest impact on the lack of certainty of the works and ultimately the disruption overall and impact on residents and businesses," he said.


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destroying businesses for a 1920s technology...

Australia's peak infrastructure body rejected a $500 million funding request for the Sydney light rail, saying the project would increase congestion and did not stack up economically.

Key points: 
  • The assessment claimed "the light rail system does not generate time savings for commuters".
  • It identified potential overcrowding, saying the system "would be at capacity immediately and would not be able to accommodate growth".
  • The document warned against ignoring the impact on small businesses, claiming "disturbance costs are likely to be substantial and are not included in the current economic appraisal".

A leaked assessment, delivered to the NSW Government in April 2013 and obtained by the ABC and Fairfax media, revealed Infrastructure Australia (IA) had major concerns about the project.

The NSW Government asked IA — which independently assesses the national infrastructure projects — to help fund the light rail, which has since been plagued by problems and delays.

The assessment reveals IA thought the line from Circular Quay to Randwick was poor value, and would be overcrowded and increase congestion on city roads.


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Picture at top by Gus Leonisky (taken October 3 2018).

trackless trams... too late...

I went to China to check out the CRRC trackless tram (they call it autonomous rail transit, or ART). I came back convinced it’s a transformative transit technology.

Light rail is a connecting service. It joins up corridors or links heavy rail stations to surrounding areas and sometimes completes shorter corridors that lack rail lines. Buses were filling these functions in most cities but failing on two fronts:

  • buses were not competing with cars so cities were filling with traffic
  • buses did not enable denser development to be viable so cities were sprawling rather than redeveloping.

Light rail had many success stories of competing with cars and attracting denser development, so commentators like me did our best to make them policy-relevant (see, for example, herehere and here).


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The picture at top shows some of the problems encountered by building a seriously solid network of rails: Study the photograph.

In it, I made sure I captured the "utilities" — the electric cables, the gas lines, the phone lines, the drains, etcetera, that once covered by the rails could become problematic for such utilities. Can the high voltage of the tram system disturb data transmission for example? As you know by the number of potholes in your street often started by a utility service digging to fix a pipe, they need access. As well, these utilities CANNOT be concreted into the structure of the rail system. They have to be protected by special casings.

lucky the company settled for less...

The NSW State Government has settled a year-long legal dispute with construction company Acciona over Sydney's light rail project, agreeing to a $576 million compensation payout.

Key points: 
  • With today's compensation payout, the total bill for the light rail project will be more than $3 billion 
  • The payout is part of a long-running dispute with Acciona over the complexity of the project
  • The first part of the project will be finished in December, with the second part finished in March 


The final payout, confirmed by the State Government this morning, will take the trouble-plagued project's total cost to more than $3 billion — almost double the original price tag predicted by then-transport minister Gladys Berejiklian in 2012.

Acciona sued the NSW Government for misleading or deceptive conduct in April last year. It was initially chasing $1.2 billion over issues relating to the cost of digging up and replacing Ausgrid powerlines for the project, which has turned Sydney's George Street — and parts of Sydney's eastern suburbs — into a construction site. 

The NSW Government accused the company of ordering a go-slow at the time, pushing the already delayed project back further. 

Of the $576 million payout confirmed today, it is understood $129 million will be held back until construction deadlines are met.

The first portion of the light rail, to Randwick in the city's east, must be complete by December. 

The second leg of the project, to the south-east suburb of Kingsford, will need to be finished by March.

The project was supposed to be finished before the March state election.


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