So Long Monorail

Is there a chance the track could bend?

So, the news broke yesterday that New South Wales state government is going to shut down the Sydney Monorail. This is unsurprising – for reasons I’ll discuss below – but has stirred up some rather fierce debate, much of which is being played out in the comments sections of the major news sites.

The comments posted have generally been of three types, typified by the only slightly fictionalised examples below…

“About time! The monorail is a joke. It doesn’t go anywhere useful, it doesn’t connect with the rest of the city’s transport and no one except tourists ever uses it. It should have been shut down years ago!”
CBD Office Drone from Sydney

“This is a real shame! When I go to Sydney twice a year to buy sheep crutching ointment my kids love riding on the monorail! What am I going to do with them now? Save the Monorail!”
Country Kev from Coonnaboollabillybar

“Is there a chance the track could bend?”
Disco Stu from Disco Stu Likes Disco Music

My opinion? Shutting the monorail is sad, but makes sense.

The simple fact is that the monorail system is coming to the end of it’s useful life. It was built in 1988 in a burst of raw bicentennial enthusiasm to demonstrate to the world that Australia was a modern, vibrant country. As with most similar projects it looked cool, but was fairly useless, the entire circuit covering a mere 3.6 kilometres and linking the Darling Harbour redevelopment (another bicentennial project) to the Darling Harbour redevelopment. The rest of the stations were placed with no thought as to where people might actually like to go to, and totally failed to integrate with the rest of the city’s public transport. The fares have been ridiculously high ever since it opened – on a dollars per kilometre basis it costs more to ride the Sydney Monorail than to travel in a first class sleeper cabin on the Orient Express.  In other words it is, and always has been a massive white elephant.

Nonetheless it has been kept running – mostly as a tourist attraction – for the last 24 years via a sort of grudging civic pride. The rails have been maintained, more or less, and the six sets of carriages have slowly been cannibalised for parts, with only four now in service.

Now however the system has hit the wall. If the monorail is to be kept running it requires a complete overhaul – at the very least new carriages need to be purchased. The problem is that the system was built to a proprietary standard – only carriages and equipment from the original manufacturer will work – and, guess what? The original manufacturer no longer makes monorails. Result? You just can’t get the parts.

This leaves the government with three options…

1: Spend tens of millions of dollars buying new carriages and equipment from a new supplier, and overhauling the entire system to be able to use said new carriages and equipment.

2: Spend hundreds of millions (if not a few billion) doing the above, and expanding the network to link it properly into the public transport network and take people to places they actually might like to go.

3: Spend a few hundred thousand dollars to shut it down.

While option two would be fantastic, the only sensible one is three. Shut it down.

It’ll be sad to see it go, but the city will survive just fine without it.

It would be nice if they can keep a few of the pillars and a short section of track as a kind of memorial for urban history wonks such as myself though. Maybe I’ll write a letter or something…

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