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First tram tracks laid for George Street light rail

Sydney Morning Herald, 19 December 2016
[NSW] Transport Minister Andrew Constance is confident the state government and Sydney lord mayor Clover Moore will come to a mutually agreeable design for the light rail line and pedestrian boulevard down George Street. Mr Constance on Monday witnessed the first section of track laid on George Street for the tram project, which is scheduled to be finished in 2019.

The design of the line down George Street has been criticised by Cr Moore, who has threatened to withhold some of the City of Sydney’s $220 million contribution to the $2.1 billion project.

But Mr Constance said he and Cr Moore were not far apart in their vision for what the tram line would look like.

“I absolutely share her vision for an incredible boulevard,” he said, adding that Transport for NSW was working with the City of Sydney on where and what sort of trees to plant along the line.

“We will get a happy landing on it,” he said.

The City of Sydney had criticised the early designs of shelters to be built outside the Queen Victoria Building and Wynyard as too large and imposing, and too cluttered with furniture.

But an issue for the state government is that it needs to design shelters consistent with disability standards. Mr Constance said he would not compromise on those standards.

“We have reduced some of the canopies, which initially from Transport’s designs were unacceptable – I agree with Clover on that,” Mr Constance said.

“We are also working hard to get a lot of the kit that sits alongside the canopies, get them off-street, get them into buildings,” he said.

“The key point is that the design principles weren’t embedded into the contract, which is a key learning for other light rail projects into the future.”

Mr Constance was joined for the laying of the first George Street track – between Park and Bathurst streets – by Patricia Forsythe, the executive director of the Sydney Business Chamber, and Tim Williams, the chief executive of advocacy group the Committee for Sydney.

“There is no doubt that this project, combined with the fact that buses have already left George Street, combined with the work that’s done in terms of the pedestrian area … we are going to see a street that’s second to none and one that’s going to be a magnet for business,” said Ms Forsythe.

Dr Williams said the project would transform what had been a “sewer for buses” into a world-class boulevard.

“Once this is built, everybody will forget that there was some opposition to it,” he said.

The management of the light rail project was the subject to a highly critical auditor-general’s report last month. The report said the increase in the expected cost of the line from $1.6 billion to $2.1 billion was not due to “huge wins” in the project, as had been claimed by former transport minister Gladys Berejiklian.

Tim Reardon, the Secretary of Transport for NSW, did not answer questions about how this incorrect information had been put into the public domain.

“I’m not aware of what you mean by incorrect information,” Mr Reardon said.

Labor’s acting leader, Michael Daley, said the project was proceeding on the “back of a half-a-billion-dollar lie.”

“Today we might be seeing the first sign of the tracks but there’s still no sign of the truth,” Mr Daley said.