Sydney light rail faces more delays from overhead utilities: Alstom
  • Updated 19

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Former Book Kitchen owner Amelia Birch says she was told to
Former Book Kitchen owner Amelia Birch says she was told to “go to Bali” to escape the light rail’s construction.

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The opening date of Sydney’s troubled new light rail line is in danger of further delays due to the “particular risk” of moving overhead power lines on the Kingsford leg, Alstom Transport has warned.

Mark Coxon, managing director of Alstom Transport, told a NSW parliamentary hearing that the French group – which has provided the light rail carriages and is responsible for testing and commissioning them – was trying to get the entire line ready for public operation by early 2020.

But Mr Coxon warned there was “a two-month risk” in getting the branch of the line that runs through Kingsford up and running to ongoing delays finishing the line’s construction, including shifting overhead utilities such as power lines.

Moving underground utilities in the 1.6 kilometre “wire free” section of light rail line in Sydney’s CBD has been a key reason for current delays, and delivery of the line is already running a year late.

“We can’t fight a natural disaster called Transport for NSW who has written us off and put us in a garbage heap,” Angela Vithoulkas said. Her cafe Vivo closed in late August after its lease ended.

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The light rail line will use overhead wires outside the CBD, including the legs that run to Kingsford near the University of NSW and Randwick.

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Alstom has started testing and commissioning trains in each of the line’s five precincts before construction is complete to try to speed up delivery.

Commissioning is starting with Randwick and finishing with Kingsford, with each precinct taking four to six months (commissioning will be done concurrently where possible.)

Alstom was initially due to start testing after construction, which is being led by Spain’s Acciona, had been finished but is under pressure from the NSW government to get trains operating as soon as possible.

Each train set will consist of two 33-metre carriages coupled together, making them 66 metres long. The coupled carriages will carry 450 people.

The Book Kitchen, which Amelia  Birch had owned for eight years with her husband, closed six weeks after hoardings ...
The Book Kitchen, which Amelia Birch had owned for eight years with her husband, closed six weeks after hoardings rising 2-3 metres high were put up outside the cafe.

Janie Barrett

Transdev Sydney managing director Brian Brennan said he could not confirm how long it would take trains to run the full length of the light rail line because discussions with NSW’s Roads and Maritime Services over whether the trains would get priority in the 55 traffic junctions they will cross had not been finalised. Transdev will operate the trains.

“It will take months to discuss with RMS,” Mr Brennan said. “I don’t know what the actual journey time is.”

The trip along the full route is currently estimated to take up to 38 minutes but will depend on whether the trains have to come to a full stop at traffic junctions.

Mr Brennan warned trips could also be delayed by traffic accidents, cars getting stuck in intersections when lights changed or delays in people getting on and off the trains.

‘Natural disaster called Transport for NSW’

Small businesses and residents expressed anger at NSW’s transport department for not providing more financial compensation early on in the construction process and not taking residents’ concerns over noise and pollution more seriously.

Angela Vithoulkas, the former owner of the Vivo Cafe on George Street, said Transport Minster Andrew Constance had not attended any meetings with small businesses despite being invited.

“We can’t fight a natural disaster called Transport for NSW who has written us off and put us in a garbage heap,” Ms Vithoulkas said. Vivo closed in late August after its lease ended.

Amelia Birch, the former owner of Surry Hills cafe The Book Kitchen, said former Transport for NSW light rail project director Jeff Goodling told business owners in 2015 that they should “go to Bali” for six months to escape the construction.

“Our jaws dropped at that point due to the severe oversight of what a stupid comment like that means to business owners,” Ms Birch said.

The Book Kitchen, which Ms Birch had owned for eight years with her husband, closed six weeks after hoardings rising 2-3 metres high were put up outside the cafe in early 2017. Ms Birch estimates her losses at $500,000.

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