BY ALEC SMART
Last Thursday a public forum was held at Vivo Café on George Street in the city, for people adversely
affected by Sydney’s light rail construction.
The forum was hosted by cafe owner, City of Sydney Councillor Angela Vithoulkas, whose business
has been negatively impacted by the light rail project.
Cr Vithoulkas announced that legal action seeking financial compensation from the NSW
Government would be launched.
“The reason we called this meeting was because the NSW State Government has consistently said
they’ve never heard anyone complain,” she said.
“I have had two forums before this, and the NSW Business Commissioner was present at both to
take details of people’s stories to the NSW Cabinet. I don’t know if that happened, because they
refuse to tell me. However, the Premier was here three weeks ago and she reiterated that no one has
ever complained to her about problems with the light rail.”
Radio 2GB’s Alan Jones addressed the meeting, attended by over 100 business owners and
residents who live and trade along the new CBD and South East Light Rail Route.
Mr Jones said: “There can never be something wrong with listening to the people, but unfortunately
on this occasion, it’s something the Government hasn’t done.”
Cr Vithoulkas announced the launch of the ‘Save Small Businesses and Communities Fighting Fund’
to support the class action. The initial legal work will cost at least $50,000. T-shirts are being sold as
part of the fundraising campaign.
“We have been living in a construction zone for two years, with two more to go… we do want
compensation,” said Cr Vithoulkas.
“The class action is down the track, but the legal mechanisms are awfully complicated,” said Mr
“In the meantime, there has to be a commitment by the NSW Government to appropriately
compensate people that have been damaged irreparably. They need to form a panel to hear
representations. The people affected can present their case with their bank or accountant, so that no
one will cheat the system. This would not run into a lot of money and the goodwill would be
“There needs to be appropriate compensation as a result of the damage that’s been done by a
decision of government. It’s a simple and unarguable proposition,” he said.
The forum heard numerous accounts from shop and restaurant owners who have ceased trading or
are facing closure, due to a variety of issues linked to the light rail construction work.
Some of the worst grievances include barricades inhibiting access to premises, excessive noise, road
and foot traffic diverted away from retail areas, and significant financial losses.
Several residents claimed that Transport for NSW had repeatedly said that the shortfall in customers
during the construction phase would be offset by a significant increase once the light rail begins
operating. But with the works already running close to a year over schedule — not to mention billions
over budget– the promise is too far away to be any consolation — as well as the loss in business
growing more each day.
Many residents whose homes adjoin the light rail construction complained of dust, fumes, noise,
bright lights at all hours, restricted movement for people with disabilities, heavy machinery operating
overnight and long detours around work sites.
Among those who addressed the forum was Randwick resident Andrew, whose home fronts the
construction work on Anzac Parade.
He said: “They often work overnight until 4am, stop, then start again at 7am. I’ve documented it and
taken photographs. I bought a noise level meter and recorded over 100 decibels in my living room
from jackhammers – equivalent to standing a metre away from a lawnmower.”
“They set up a generator under my window that flooded my place with diesel fumes, a clear breach of
OH&S Laws, but when I called the EPA they claimed it was safe,” he said.
Amelia, who owned and managed a café in Surry Hills for seven years, said she had to close her
business when the light rail construction work reduced customers to an unsustainable level.
She said: “We had 1200-1500 people coming through our doors every week, most of those locals
and regulars. As soon as the contractors put the barricades up, we were down 40% in the first week.
Second week was 50%. And when I was told that all our outdoor seating would be taken away the
week after, we had to let go 12 members of staff.”
“We adapted our business to try and get us through, but there was no foot traffic, they blocked it off.
We were completely invisible. The day I met the business liquidator was the day I finally felt in control
of what was happening to me,” she said.
Construction on the 12km CBD and South East Light Rail route began in October 2015, and is being
staged across 31 construction zones. The project will result in a light rail service from Circular Quay
along George Street (with a newly pedestrianized section between Hunter and Bathurst Streets) and
through Surry Hills to Moore Park, where it diverts into two forks to Kingsford via Anzac Parade and
Randwick via Alison Road and High Street.
On completion, there will be 20 platforms, including interchanges at ferry, bus and railway stations.
However, completion is not expected until 2019.
It was revealed in July this year that the new trams – a fleet of sixty Citadis X05 trams from France,
each 67 metres in length (the first of which arrived on August 1) are incompatible with the existing
inner-west line between Ultimo and Dulwich Hill. This means that passengers travelling light rail from
the inner west to Moore Park for sporting events and concerts will have to change trams at Central
Railway Station to continue their journey.
The forum was also attended by Jody McKay, Shadow Transport Minister; City of Sydney Councillor
Linda Scott; and Randwick City Councillor and former Mayor, Tony Bowen.