Controversy over the CBD and South East Light Rail project has reignited debate about the incomplete Eastern Suburbs Railway line, with Surry Hills residents claiming its completion could negate the need for the light rail project.
Activists in Surry Hills, where the light rail lines are expected to cause parking and access issues in Devonshire St, as well as the resumption of homes at the Olivia Gardens apartment complex, say the State Government would do better to complete the Eastern Suburbs Railway instead.
Plans for the CBD and South East Light Rail see the lines connecting Kingsford and Randwick with the CBD via Central Station, easing pressure on bus services to facilities such as the University of NSW (UNSW).
However, the 1967 plan for the Eastern Suburbs Railway – which currently terminates at Bondi Junction – had the railway line continue on from Bondi Junction to a further five stations: Charing Cross, Frenchman’s Rd, Randwick, UNSW and Kingsford.
The five stations were dumped from the project after a 1976 review instituted by the Wran Government.
People Unite Surry Hills (PUSH) spokesperson Venietta Slama-Powell said completion of the underground network would bring greater transport benefits to the Eastern Suburbs than light rail, with less disruption.
“An extension of the Eastern Suburbs underground railway to [those five stations] would deliver a dedicated heavy rail service that can carry more passengers, and give direct access to Sydney’s extensive heavy rail network, rather than people having to catch light rail to Central and then change to trains,” said Ms Slama-Powell.
“Aside from the construction period, it would also be less disruptive than above-ground services and wouldn’t require demolition of homes.”
Ms Slama Powell said unused platforms at Redfern, Central, Museum and St James Stations, and unused tunnels in the vicinity of Hyde Park and Oxford St, built for an abandoned railway project, could be brought into service as part of an expanded Eastern Suburbs Railway.
“To us, it makes sense to build on existing infrastructure rather than make something entirely new from scratch,” she said.
But Gavin Gatenby, Co-convenor of the EcoTransit lobby group, said that while completing the Eastern Suburbs Railway would be a good idea at some future point, it was not practical in the short-term.
“It would cost considerably more to build a heavy rail line – perhaps four times more, not including the tunneling required,” said Mr Gatenby.
“Then there’s the fact that many places that would be served by the light rail – like Fox Studios and the Sydney Cricket Ground – would not be serviced by an [Eastern Suburbs Railway] extension.”
Transport for NSW backed Mr Gatenby’s assessment, citing issues with amenity and expense.
“The 1967 route was based on a route via Bondi Junction and Charing Cross to Kingsford, with a travel time not dissimilar to buses today for transport to Central,” said a Transport for NSW spokeperson.
“It was an indirect route with no real benefits compared to on road transport and would be considerably more expensive.”
The spokesperson said the CBD and South East Light Rail line was developed in conjunction with local stakeholders from government, business and community sectors, and was whittled down from a shortlist of 11 possible routes.
Ms Slama-Powell reiterated calls for detailed modeling of the 11 different routes to be released.