nsw light rail project
citizenrod bad design transport planning environment technology
Image from NSW Transport website

Sydney’s light rail system does not pass near my house, nor near my place of work, so I don’t really get the chance to use it. But I was fortunate enough to catch it the other day as I made my way from Paddy’s Market to Glebe. And you know what, I enjoyed it. Sure, it wasn’t peak time, there were plenty of seats available, and it was a nice sunny day. So overall it was a good experience.

As I had time to appreciate the system, I began thinking how it worked. I’ve caught trams in Melbourne before, which I find very handy, but what I didn’t like about Melbourne’s tram system is the necessary cabling overhead that is used to power the trams. They are messy, ugly, and crisscross all over the place.

citizenrod bad design transport planning old technology

Now here I am, on Sydney’s light rail system, and I start thinking, hmm, I’m pretty sure these existing light rail trams are powered the same way, ie. with overhead power lines. I’ll make sure to check this once I get off I say to myself.

But then I think, surely the “new” light rail system will not use overhead power lines .

The new system that will run from Circular Quay to Kingsford. Surely they are not going to implement this mess of crisscrossing cables across the city and out to the suburbs….surely NOT?

citizenrod bad design transport planning power lines
Image from NSW Transport website

Surely YES!

After some research, I confirmed that yes, ugly, messy, crisscrossing cabling will be used to power the “new” light rail system. Did somebody say bad design?

After years fighting for underground power lines, to remove the mess of cables we have dangling across our city streets, we are now bringing them back. If you walk through the city today you will see that there are no power lines, they are all underground, where they should be. You may not have noticed, but make sure you check it out the next time you are in the city. You look up, or down a street, and it is clean and clear. No obstructing ridiculous cabling. Nice.

But not anymore. Get ready for crisscrossing overhead cabling right down the heart of the city, and all the way down past the stadium and out to the uni.

Like I always say:

Every problem is an opportunity.

Unfortunately in this situation, it appears the designers did not consider overhead power lines a problem. Which makes it difficult to take advantage of the opportunity, if it appears there is no problem to begin with. So, it seems this “problem” has been overlooked. But by whom?

Now, was it overlooked, or was it not disclosed when sold? Take a look at this next 3D rendering from the manufacturer of the new light rail system.

nsw light rail project

It does not show the overhead cabling, nor does it show the extra poles that will be required to be installed so as to hold that cabling. Interesting. Did the manufacturer believe they were ugly too, and hence left them out?

You can view the manufactures 3D renderings and 3D rendered animations on their website. It is very interesting to see (or not see) that the power lines, and the hundreds of extra poles needed to hold those power lines, have been conveniently left out…


I won’t go any further into the sale of the system, what was sold what wasn’t sold, what was assumed what wasn’t assumed, what legal issues may or may not arise, as the intention of my articles is to focus on design failings. Therefore I’ll stick to that.

So, we have what we have. The designers of the light rail system do not see overhead power lines as a problem. But I do, and some of you may agree with me. Therefore there is an opportunity here to design them out.

Designers, are you looking for something to fix with your design skills? There you go.

Manufacturers of light rail systems, are you looking to become the leader in your industry? To destroy your competition? There you go. Fix it.

I have only highlighted one design problem with the new light rail system, there are probably many more. Stay tuned..

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