Trams .. and the Expansion of Sydney’s Light Rail System

Sydney’s once in our lifetime chance at universally accessible public transport!

In the middle of all the wonderful experiences we are enjoying over here on the waterways of Europe, Stewart has felt driven to do everything he can in relation to plans in development in Sydney Australia regarding the extension of the Light Rail system in the centre of the city.

As we know, he can be very vocal about many things, particularly on disability and accessibility issues, and often as not he has a point. This is his take on trams and it sounds as if he has good support in some of the right places back in Sydney.

In Sydney there are far too few buses that people in wheelchairs can board. Only certain railway stations have lifts, and none of the carriages are accessible without the arrangement of special ramps. There are never enough wheelchair accessible taxis, so often there’s a long wait.

So going anywhere takes enormous planning, waiting, expense and stress.

Over here, both in the UK and on the Continent, we’ve seen and experienced the very best of Light Rail (trams in everyday language) – an excellent transport system for everyone.

If things can be like this here, why not in Sydney and throughout Australia?

Proposed rail extension loop for Barangaroo development (orange line).

The short lengths of light rail in Sydney are soon to be extended. In the next few years this will link many areas of the inner-city; Lilyfield, Marrickville, Newtown, Ultimo etc,  Then Walsh Bay and Barangaroo, and it may even be routed through the streets of the CBD. More areas could soon follow.

The whole system could and I reckon, should be made universally accessible.

What would that mean?

Well, that everyone no matter of their limitations; age, disability, stature, kids in strollers, cycles, wheelchairs, Zimmer frames, walking sticks etc, etc could buy a ticket, get onto a platform and then into their carriage without having to make advance phone-calls, wait for hours for taxis, wait for staff to put down ramps to get in taxis, trams or trains, or be hauled, pushed or pulled on board and all the other dehumanizing stuff which can accompany travel on public transport – even the present Light Rail in Australia.

To make Sydney’s other public transport options universally accessible will take huge amounts of money and time to get them “up to speed”; putting in lifts, raising platforms, investing in new train carriages and all the rest. The chance of this any time soon is remote.

But in the extensions to the present light rail network, there is a wonderful opportunity to put a new system in place at minimal cost. As if it’s done now, it will be much cheaper than fixing things in the future.

The trams we saw and rode in here in Valenciennes in northern France last week were a great example of just how good and how accessible a light rail system can be.

The sleek and efficient accessible light rail system of Valenciennes.

It’s probably the best from the perspective of universal access for wheelchair users, the aged, infirm, shoppers with trolleys and parents with strollers or prams, we have ever experienced.

Getting on and off was a breeze for us all.

There are no signs ‘Wheelchair users here’ as there is no need as there is plenty of open space.

Everyone else seemed to love it too; it always seemed full of happy, smiling, helpful people.

Key Features

1. The driver sat behind their controls at all times. No getting out putting down ramps for wheelchairs. As this system is run on streets along with cars, pedestrians and bikes it needs drivers. Systems which travel exclusively on their own “territory” sometimes do not have a driver; the Docklands Light Rail in London for example.

2. All platforms were level with the floors of carriages, with long, gentle ramps at the ends.

3. The gap between the carriage floors and the platforms was small; 4-5 centimetres, often less. In most doorways there was also a metal strip which helped narrow the gap further, making it even easier to transfer. These strips seemed to compensate for the space between carriage and platform needed to allow the doors to move out to open, though it hardly needed to be. Closer inspection might be needed.

Minimum ‘gap’ between platform and carriage and at the same level.

4. There was lots of open space within the carriages in which to park.

5. No signage was needed to say “wheelchair accessible”, or “wheelchairs park here!” It just was and you could be with the rest of your group of travellers as we, and people in Valenciennes seem to feel everything should be.

Small wheels don’t get caught in the ‘gap’ between platform and carriage.

6. Ticket purchase stations on each platform were at accessible heights, as were ticket validation points on the trams.

Others around the world also seem very impressed with the Valenciennes system if this website is to be believed

So as I say if Valenciennes in a far northern part of France the rest likes to call “The Sticks”; Ch’ti, population 50,000, surely so can Sydney??

Over the last three years since first riding on the Docklands Light Rail, I’ve been trying to encourage Transport NSW to put in a similar system. I’ve written papers, sent countless emails and made phone calls. Often its been two steps forward, then two steps back. I now have friends in Australia pressing NSW Transport to honour earlier commitments on making the extensions truly accessible, so let’s see how they go!

Thanks and best wishes to them!


Report on Valenciennes tram:

Sydney Light Rail:

About Lesley and Stewart

Loving great waterways of the world.
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