Sydney Architecture Images-
Gone but not forgotten
The Sydney Monorail
|Various. Eight stops along the route.|
|Darling Harbour and CBD|
|1988-2013 (TNT Harbourlink was awarded a 50 year concession until 2038).|
01. Harbourside Harbourside Station Located adjacent to
the Harbourside Shopping Centre at the western end of the Pyrmont Bridge
02. Convention Convention Station Served the Sydney
Convention and Exhibition Centre
03. Paddy's Markets Paddy's Markets Station Formerly
named Powerhouse Museum, and originally Haymarket
|04. Chinatown Chinatown Station Located inside the One Dixon Street shopping centre, opened in 2001 as Garden Plaza it closed on 26 July 2004, and then reopened as Chinatown station on 18 December 2006 By 2012 the station was unmanned and only open between 07:00 and 09:00 on weekdays only, with the station entrance locked outside these hours. (I must say that this was a really good example of late '80s flamboyant architecture. The incorporation with Straesser Poli Little's Garden Plaza building was quite cool).|
05. World Square World Square Station Temporary station
in operation until 2005, when the station was rebuilt and incorporated
into the new adjacent building
06. Galeries Victoria Galleries Victoria Station
Originally named Park Plaza. The temporary entrance provided until 2000,
when the station was incorporated into the new adjacent building
07. City Centre City Centre Station Temporary station
until mid-1989, during construction of the City Centre Shopping Arcade,
temporary station was partially suspended above Pitt Street
08. Darling Park Darling Park Station Originally planned
to be named Casino, but Sydney's casino was eventually built in Pyrmont.
Sydney Monorail was initially conceived in the late 1980s as part of the redevelopment of 50 hectares (120 acres) of land at Darling Harbour, providing a passenger link with the Sydney CBD. Initially operated by TNT Harbourlink, the monorail opened on 21 July 1988 after a construction period of 26 months. The first test services ran in October 1987 on a 500 metre section at Darling Harbour.
TNT Harbourlink was awarded a 50 year concession until 2038.
The original operation hours were to be 06:00 to midnight, but after two years of operation patronage counts were half those expected, and planned stations at Market Street (to be named Casino, as part of the gaming venue planned to be built on the site) and Harbour Street (to be named Gardenside) were not built for some time.
In August 1998 TNT sold the monorail to CGEA Transport Sydney, which was owned by CGEA Transport (later renamed Connex) (51%), Australian Infrastructure Fund (19%), Utilities Trust of Australia (19%) and Legal & General (11%).
The Government of New South Wales bought both the monorail and the light rail service from Metro Transport Sydney on 23 March 2012 to enable it to extend the light rail system without having to negotiate with the private owners, and to remove the monorail from the area near Haymarket required for the expanded Sydney Convention and Exhibition Centre.
The monorail ceased operating on 30 June 2013 and was dismantled. Two carriages and 10 metres of track will be preserved at the Powerhouse Museum. Two carriages will be used as meeting rooms in Google's offices in Pyrmont.
Off the rail
June 28, 2013
On June 30, the Monorail reaches the end of its troubled journey. Barry Divola takes one last ride on the little engine that, er, couldn't.
When was the last time you had to go to Darling Harbour? (No one actually wants to go there, right? So you probably had to go there for some reason.) Do you recall standing there at Town Hall station, scratching your chin and thinking, "Now, I have two choices here. I could search for a Monorail station, buy a ticket for $5, wait five minutes for it to arrive and then take the five-minute ride to where I need to go. Or I could walk and get there in exactly the same time for free."
You are not an idiot. I know which choice you made in that little hypothetical game we just played. Let's face it, unless you worked in the Convention Centre, ate at Chinatown for lunch every day and needed regular access to the Havaianas vending machine in the Galeries Victoria, there was never really any need for you to set foot on the Monorail at all. And yet, back in the '80s our politicians - there to make our lives richer, better and easier - decided a monorail was exactly what the people of Sydney needed.
The Sydney Monorail becomes extinct on Sunday June 30 after making its last 20-minute circuit on that road to nowheresville. The grand folly that saw the late Sir Peter Abeles' TNT Group convince Neville Wran's state government that a "futuristic fun-ride" (as no one apart from the Monorail spruikers ever called it), doing a limp lap of Darling Harbour and the southern part of the CBD, was a better bet than an integrated light-rail system that linked the CBD to Circular Quay and beyond, comes to its final stop.
A "SCAPM" protest poster.
The light-rail proposal would have been $20 million cheaper to build, ticketing would have been incremental and less expensive, and the thing would actually have gone places where the people of Sydney may have wanted to travel - like, you know, where they work and live and eat and stuff.
But how boringly sensible, useful and forward-thinking would that have been? It was much better to echo the bamboozled citizens of Springfield in the classic episode of The Simpsons, "Marge vs. the Monorail" - when they were hoodwinked by a shyster, and chanted, "Monorail! Monorail! Monorail!"
There were 20 different proposals submitted for the original transport project. One was the Lazertube-Skywalk. Yes, you read that correctly. A 3.6-kilometre moving footpath. And yes, that is one very Lucasfilm-like name for what is essentially a really long travelator. Obviously this idea was the work of an urban planner who chucked a sickie the day before his proposal was due and all he could find in the house was a video of The Jetsons and a bottle of tequila. But honestly, would that have been any worse than the Monorail?
An impression of the proposed "High Line" redesign of the Monorail track.
In the promotional material from 1988, TNT boasted that its baby could handle 5000 passengers an hour. Full marks for wishful thinking. On a sunny afternoon, I sat on the Monorail for almost an hour and a half and did four complete circuits. Thirteen people got in and out of my compartment in that time. I talked to all of them about why they were here today.
Two Canadian tourists had been to the top of Centrepoint Tower and were killing time with a loop on the Monorail before heading to the Maritime Museum. "It looks better from the ground than the view that these windows give you," said the husband, pointing to the smudged panes, some with spiderweb cracks across their surface.
Mariana Panggoro, from Maroubra, was only on board because her two young sons wanted to go for a ride before it was pulled down. "With the Light Rail going to the same places and buses all through the city, it's not really worth using the Monorail if you live here," she said. "Especially because it's so expensive."
Viana Liauw is one person who will miss it. She told me she catches the Monorail every day as she works as a telco salesperson in the CBD and lives in Pyrmont. "If you buy the Smart card, it works out at $3.30 a ride," she said. "I think they should keep it. It's good for attracting tourists to the area."
Well, not enough tourists, apparently. The high Australian dollar, which has become the new scapegoat for everything from clawed-back promised tax cuts to the failure of Celebrity Splash!, has apparently been the silver bullet that killed this white elephant. The monorail in The Simpsons self-destructed on its inaugural journey. The Sydney Monorail has suffered a drawn-out death lasting 25 years, but its story bears many of the hallmarks of the satirical cartoon. Let me count the ways.
It was meant to cost $40 million. It cost $65 million. It was meant to make its first journey on Australia Day, 1988, to celebrate the Bicentennial. It wasn't ready and made its maiden trip on the not-so-auspicious date of July 21 of that year. It was predicted there would be 12 million passengers annually. For much of its life, it moved less than a third of that number and by 2003, it was down to 2.58 million. The initial ticket price was a dollar. By 1996, it was $2.50. In 2013, it would set you back $5. If you calculate the money spent for distance covered, it's possibly the most expensive form of mass transit on the planet.
Oh, and did I mention it doesn't travel anywhere you're interested in going anyway? Okay, I'll shut up about that now.
Proving that absolutely everything associated with the Monorail was woeful, even the protesters who were against it had a terrible acronym - SCAPM. That's Sydney Citizens Against the Proposed Monorail. I mean, come on, people! SCAM was the obvious name to go with. Can I retrospectively propose that you didn't need "proposed" in there?
At least the critics were entertaining, using such colourful language that it makes you wonder whatever happened to the art of hyperbole in today's urban-planning debate. The late architect Harry Seidler, who was perhaps secretly relieved that something apart from his reviled Blues Point Tower was being hailed as our city's biggest eyesore, called it "the most tragic thing that has happened to the urban fabric of Sydney".
Environmental crusader and unionist Jack Mundey, never afraid of calling a spade a shovel, said it represented "the rape of the city". Celebrity manager Harry M. Miller, who always liked to put on a big show, went right out there with "the most appalling piece of visual pollution I've encountered anywhere in the world, only slightly behind the bombing of Hiroshima".
Various city councillors of differing political persuasions weighed in over the years. Clover Moore never liked it. Frank Sartor had no time for it. Kathryn Greiner said she would like to "unbolt the nuts" herself. I'm not sure if it's technically correct to unbolt nuts, but one has to admire her willingness to get her hands dirty, especially considering it was her husband, then premier Nick Greiner, who officially cut the ribbon in 1988, having reluctantly inherited the project from the previous government.
The schooner-quaffing unions hated it; the chardonnay-sipping arty end of town hated it - in fact, the Monorail was one of the few things that united just about everyone. Maybe they should relocate it to the border of Israel and Palestine.
Over the years, as passenger numbers took a steady nosedive, one wonders what the operators could have done to attract people. On-board weddings? A list of bars to visit along the route, while hopping on and off in an increasingly clumsy manner? A speed-dating service on a mode of transport that is not speedy, has dated badly and is anti-climactic once entered?
I'm sorry to report that all three of those suggestions, ridiculous as they may sound, are not fictional. They were real options that were not only considered, but implemented. Despite their genius, numbers still dwindled.
A decade ago, they even tried to rebrand the Monorail as a retro experience for hip young things who were into old stuff. In 2003, Metro Transport's chief executive Abigail Goldberg said, "What we're seeing is a new generation ... which doesn't have that mental baggage" attached to the Monorail. She claimed this bold new generation was into its "1970s retro" styling. She spoke of a brave new advertising campaign featuring these trendsetters, presumably crammed into the carriages, marvelling at this groovy form of transport and then disembarking, possibly to frequent a nearby discotheque or fondue restaurant in the totally far-out entertainment precinct of Darling Harbour.
Now, I was there in the '70s. I wrote a book called Nineteen Seventysomething, which was basically a love letter to the '70s. The Monorail did not feature once. This is not surprising, as the Monorail was opened in 1988 and had about as much to do with the '70s as Duran Duran.
Sadly for the DID (Decade Identification Deficient) Ms Goldberg, the hordes of retro-seeking young people failed to turn up in their flares and platform shoes to dance the bus stop and the hustle en masse on her not-so-mass transit.
As I disembarked the Monorail on my final journey on that sunny afternoon, I looked back at the sparsely populated carriages and felt a twinge of remorse for the old thing. I mean, it was a product of the '80s, a frightening time when pop stars and sportsmen had mullets, leg-warmers were not yet extinct and rich businessmen could get state governments to bend to their will and build whatever ridiculous plaything they wished in Sydney.
We've all learnt a lot since then and, fortunately, that kind of thing could never happen in 2013.
But wait ... What's that noise down at Barangaroo? D'oh!
Sydney Citizens Against the Proposed Monorail (SCAPM) is formed. Then radio host Mike Carlton, who helped organise the SCAPM rally the following year, said, "The 'Monster-rail' is about as popular in this city as Colonel Gaddafi at an airline check-in counter."
Construction starts on the last remaining link of the Monorail, on the western side of Pyrmont Bridge, as part of the Darling Harbour project.
The Simpsons episode "Marge vs. the Monorail" premieres on January 14. The plot focuses on Springfield's purchase of a monorail from a con man, and Marge's protest against the purchase.
A speed-dating service on a mode of transport that is not speedy, and has dated badly, is launched in January under the moniker "Sex above the City".
On September 24, an Ausgrid failure in a local underground cable leads to a complete shutdown of the Monorail system, resulting in the need for cherry pickers to come to the rescue of stranded passengers.
Sydney landscape architect David Vago reveals his impression of a proposed "high-line" redesign of the Monorail tracks. Vago's plan suggests turning the tracks into an elevated boardwalk and cycleway.