Engineering, Environment and Sustainability, Passenger Rail, Safety, Standards & Regulation

Media hammering light rail is short-term view of long-term benefit

Sydney light rail. Artist's impression: Transport for NSW

COMMENT: When I was in high school, my parents renovated the family home, and I had to move into a smaller room for six months. Outrageous, I know.

I sulked about it and dragged my feet, no doubt causing unnecessary frustration and stress for my parents along the way.

I acted that way because I lacked foresight; I was unable to recognise my short-term inconvenience would have a long-term payoff.

The installation of a light rail line is a long-term, transformational project.

Light rail is not always going to be the best option, of course. Discussion over the long-term value of any major project – both within the industry, and in mass media – should always be encouraged.

But media whining over short-term, necessary disruptions as part of a major project is just a waste of time. Worse, it will more than likely result in a waste of public money.

The NSW government has decided that a light rail line is the right choice for the Sydney CBD. So it’s moving forward with pre-construction works already underway, and a hefty construction schedule slated for the next 24 months.

As part of the plan, the state government has launched the Tomorrow’s Sydney campaign.

The gist of the campaign is to let Sydneysiders know there will be significant disruptions over the next few years, in and around the Sydney CBD. This is a fact that neither the campaign, nor the ministers involved, have shied away from.

“Building a light rail [line] will not be easy and sacrifices are needed,” transport minister Andrew Constance said in July. “There will be disruption,” he said, “but the change will eventually be for the better when light rail is in action.”

Despite this, articles on light rail in Sydney’s media have focused almost exclusively on dramatising every imaginable aspect of the works. Stories have focused on moving cycleways, narrowing footpaths, changing bus schemes, growing traffic jams, interference with retail; the list goes on.

Stories about the benefits of the finished product, however, have been few and far between.

In its latest heinous act, the state government announced on August 13 it was moving some of the George Street works forward, so they would not impact retail businesses as heavily during the Christmas shopping period.

This is how the Daily Telegraph chose to break that news in its August 14 edition:


Daily Telegraph, August 14, 2015.
Daily Telegraph, August 14, 2015.


Elsewhere, opposition transport spokesperson Ryan Park asked the ABC why the government has made this change now, considering “Christmas occurs on the same day each and every year”. A good point, you have to admit.

But Park also used the opportunity to stress the impact of temporary disruptions. “In eight weeks’ time, this city will grind to a halt,” he was quoted. “George Street will essentially be shut down.”

Sydney’s busiest retail street will be ‘shut down’? No.

Shops will remain open, and foot traffic will remain. To say the street will ‘grind to a halt’ seems a bit dramatic.

So far, the government has spent $6 million on Tomorrow’s Sydney, a change management campaign, worth spending money on.

But $6 million of public funding is already a big number to put in headlines. And Constance says he’s prepared to keep spending money on Tomorrow’s Sydney until the campaign is successful.

I’m sure the media would not hesitate to lampoon the government if that spending was to increase. But perhaps if people asked why more money was needed to win the public over, they may find the media itself is the primary culprit stalling change.

Relax, everyone. The government is renovating your already world-class city. There’s no point sulking over it.


  1. People want better public transport but don’t want to put up with the works that make it happen? A catch-22 situation it seems. People have no idea what they really want!

  2. Given the lengths of time for each section to be completed, as posted, it appears that the government has taken the longest possible time for the works and added a week, so as to be assured of finishing each section on time. At least when the CSELR is up and running we will have something worthwhile, though it could be much improved for the same, or less, money.

    But you wait till we have WestConnex up and running – we will have massive disruption, plus have spent $15B for no benefit as the cars will not have anywhere extra to park in Sydney, so there will not be enough cars to pay the tolls to make the tunnel worthwhile. Trucks may well benefit, but they will still use streets, when the containers could have been carried by train- if the existing rail line to Port Botany had been improved. If only …..

  3. Never ceases to amaze me, if it was for a road, all would be quiet but, because it’s rail, all the naysayers and NIMBY’s come out of the wood work and tell you the sky is falling! The plain truth of the matter is, where ever light Rail/trams are installed throughout the world (and there are many) the city is the better for it!

    Sadly, we now go through short term pain and expense for the shortsightedness of previous politicians. Sydney will be so much the better for having trams back and efforts should be made now to plan to extend the two branch’s to Coogee and Maroubra/La Perouse.