POLL: Sydney's monorail in Newcastle

SALVAGING Sydney’s monorail to thread together Newcastle’s inner city is an alternative worth exploring, according to the region’s tourism chief.

The state government decision to remove the monorail by mid-2014 has raised the possibility of an elevated replacement for the rail corridor between Wickham and Newcastle without blocking harbour access.

The monorail’s track was built in the Hunter in the 1980s.

Tourism Hunter chairman Will Creedon believes the idea should be considered. 

‘‘There’s a commercial reality to everything, but if it stacks up and provides a solution not just today but into the future, I’d absolutely look at anything that provides better access for visitors and residents,’’ he  said.

Transport for NSW is considering applications to take over the monorail, with a shortlist of candidates expected in coming weeks.

Mr Creedon’s optimism for the concept was shared by transportation engineer David Stewart, who said it was hypothetically an ‘‘interesting prospect’’ but would probably require a complete overhaul of the technology.

‘‘It would require an enormous acceptability test by the whole community,’’ he said.

‘‘It’s never been put forward ... it’s not that it’s not a feasible solution, it’s that everyone [planning for the city’s future] would have to go right back to square one again.’’

US-based regional and development economist and Hunter Transport for Business Development spokesman Dr Bruce McFarling said he believed the existing length of the monorail could link Civic Station with Darby Street or even The Junction.

But Dr McFarling said a business case would be required to work out if it was worthwhile, particularly if it was unable to bear the load on the existing heavy rail line.

Each of the six seven-car monorail vehicles carries a maximum of 170 passengers.

‘‘That type of monorail is more a complement than a replacement,’’ he said. ‘‘It doesn’t have the capacity or the speed to do the peak commute the current rail corridor does.’’

Bringing the track to town failed to win support from a number of authorities and stakeholders, with many believing its high cost and limited lifespan could be dealbreakers.

A Newcastle City Council spokeswoman said the council had not considered bidding on the track as the state government had indicated it was ‘‘at the end of its economic life’’.

Newcastle MP Tim Owen said the city’s focus was on allowing urban design to inform transport options rather than the other way around.

‘‘Sitting down and saying ‘let’s look at how we can fit a monorail into this’ isn’t the way we’re doing it,’’ he said.

Save Our Rail president Joan Dawson said bringing the track to town appeared an unlikely end to Newcastle’s transport debate.

‘‘I’ve seen various things describing it as a good idea but I really don’t see how it would be a useful piece of equipment,’’ Ms Dawson said.

‘‘We’re certainly interested in alternatives that would keep the rail services into Newcastle station  [but] the logistics of moving the thing up here would be a costly business, I imagine.’’

Regional Development Australia – Hunter chief executive Todd Williams said the monorail was more suitable to a large city as a novelty attraction than as an efficient form of public transport.

Disney-style monorail floated 25 years ago

A MONORAIL plan for Newcastle was first canvassed  in May 1988.

This was when the Newcastle Herald   revealed a $130million proposal for the stretch of rail  between Wickham and Newcastle stations.

The plan, proposed by a Newcastle consortium, would have replaced the heavy-rail corridor with a $22million ‘‘Novorail’’ based on Disneyland Florida’s train of that time.

‘‘By truncating the railway and replacing the rail lines and crossings with an above-ground facility, the city centre is immediately linked with The Foreshore and Wharf Road,’’ the report said.

The four-car vehicle would have taken between seven and 10 minutes to travel the distance, carrying 150 people.

Idea with a chequered history

NEXT year marks 25 years since the Sydney Monorail began running around Darling Harbour as a ‘‘people mover’’ solution to the area’s growth.

Now its  removal is planned and it will be gone  by mid-2014.

Since its beginning the monorail has courted controversy. 

The Sydney Morning Herald reported in 1988 that a light rail option  would have carried more people with lower fares.

It would also have been cheaper.

The monorail cost  blew out from 1985 estimates of $40million  to a $60million price tag.

The monorail’s box girder fabricated steel track and support pillars were manufactured in the Hunter in the late 1980s by SALLCO, a joint venture between Saipem Australia  and Allco Steel Corporation.

The cars were built in Switzerland.

But the project failed  to meet its opening deadline –    the January 1998 bicentenary celebrations.

And it hasn’t proved that popular with local commuters, either.

Data released this year show  more than half its patrons are tourists. The  fare – currently $5  – is said to be too expensive for many commuters.

Its journeys have not been without incident. Two monorails collided at the Darling Park station in 2010,  sending   four people to hospital, while dozens of passengers were pulled out of carriages in September after a power failure.

The privately operated  monorail was  bought  by the state government earlier 

this year to allow it to be removed.

Announcing its  demise  this year, NSW Premier Barry O’Farrell singled out the route as the reason the monorail had failed to win hearts and minds.

‘‘The real problem with the  monorail, I think for most Sydneysiders, is that it doesn’t actually go anywhere that you want to go,’’ Mr O’Farrell said.

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