One Track Thinking to Nowhere – The End of the Sydney Monorail

It seems that this post didn’t go live last Friday as it was supposed to. Being on shift work, I didn’t have a chance to check, so it will have to do for “todays” update.

The concept is a good one – elevate a mass transit system above the street to avoid conflicts with surface traffic. Make the mass transit system more or less automated, removing the possibility for human error. As it is more often than not with Sydney public transport, the idea was good, but the execution was poor. The Sydney Monorail was doomed from the start, much like the monorail in Springfield.

In March 2012, the NSW Liberal government announced that they had purchased the company that operates both the Sydney Monorail and the Sydney Light Rail systems (Metro Transit Sydney, previously owned by Connex – later Veolia). Veolia will continue to hold the contract to operate both the Sydney Monorail and the Sydney Light Rail, although the NSW State Government is proceeding with plans to decommission the monorail.

The Darling Harbour Monorail (as it was originally known) was suggested in the 1980’s as a means for getting people between the Sydney CBD and the redeveloped  Darling Harbour precinct (which at the time was undergoing a transformation from a working harbour and railhead to a public entertainment area). The Monorail operates in a counter-clockwise direction on a loop between the CBD and Darling Harbour, stopping at eight stations en-route.

Originally operated by TNT Harbourlink, the Sydney Monorail is a Von Roll Mk III type, with six trains built (with four operating at any given time). Each train consists of seven cars, with only the lead car unavailable for passengers (as this is where the operator sits). In February 2010, two Monorail trains collided at Darling Park (the CBD end of the Pyrmont Bridge) due to a safety system malfunction, putting four people in hospital and damaging two of the trains. Trains 1 and 4 were involved, with the rear car from train 1 being used to replace the damaged car on train 4. Train 3 has been in storage for many years, quite likely used as a parts-donor for the remaining trains

Widely criticised for its high price tag and lack of destinations, The Monorail does not interchange well with other forms of public transport, aside from the Sydney Light Rail line at Harbourside and Haymarket. The Monorail has for many years, been used mostly by tourists, overinflating the perceived patronage of the train. As the ticketing system consists of buying a token to be used in the turnstiles, it is possible to ride around in the circle as many times as a passenger desires. As tourists naturally want to see the city from the unique vantage point the monorail offers, they will take many trips around the circle, leading to crowding despite low ticket sales.

The Sydney Monorail is long past any prime it might once have had – it is an overpriced eyesore that fails as a mass transportation system. The concept of automated, overhead transport is not a new one, although elsewhere is has been better utilised and better executed, while the only example in Sydney has been a white elephant running to nowhere. Thankfully, the NSW State Government has realised this, and has given the green light to developers seeking to revitalise the entertainment precinct ( including the Convention Centre) to omit the monorail from their plans.

The removal of the monorail should provide ample opportunity to provide a replacement service that provides a more tangible mass transport solution – combined with planned extensions to the Light Rail system, and electronic ticketing, Sydneysiders might have another option to move within the CBD, rather than flagging down buses choked in traffic!

Over the coming weeks and months, I will endeavour to get out and record the Sydney Monorail prior to its demise. Photographs can be found here (link opens in a new window/tab).

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