The light rail extension from Lilyfield to Dulwich Hill

| April 7, 2014

Many cities have already introduced light rail networks as an alternative transport solution. Daniel Kogoy remembers a grassroot campaign that has helped to bring trams back to Sydney.

Sydney developed one of the world’s most extensive tram networks in the late 19th and early 20th century. In an act of extreme shortsightedness, the system was completely dismantled in the 1950s and 60s.

In recent decades many cities around the world have been reintroducing trams in the form of modern light rail networks. Cities have found light rail to be an elegant transport solution as it is fast, reliable, environmentally friendly, accessible and helps revitalize tired downtown areas and shopping strips.

With the opening of the Dulwich Hill line, and approval for the George Street to Randwick line, Sydney has finally joined the light rail revolution.  Momentum is building for further extensions in western Sydney, down Parramatta Road and into the heart of Balmain.

The impact of the grassroots campaign that won the extension to Dulwich Hill cannot be underestimated in bringing trams back to Sydney.

As early as 2004, the Greens were campaigning alongside the community for the extension of the light rail as part of the successful campaign to stop the M4East Motorway. The light rail campaign then took off in mid 2008 when public transport advocacy group, Ecotransit, launched its light rail to Dulwich Hill campaign.

Jamie Parker and Ecotransit campaigning for light rail to Dulwich Hill
Jamie Parker and Ecotransit campaigning for light rail to Dulwich Hill

Ecotransit organised countless street stalls, gathered thousands of signatures in support of its petition, held public meetings with transport experts Michelle Zeibots and Garry Glazebrook, met with key state government stakeholders, and kept the issue alive in the local press.

It was a few months out from the local government elections and local Greens candidates for Leichhardt, Ashfield and Marrickville Councils all made the Ecotransit campaign a key part of their election platform.

What a campaign it was! All you had to say to someone was ‘light rail’ and they would eagerly sign the petition. Standing outside public transport hubs on cold winter mornings, people keenly took the Ecotransit newspapers and unlike other election material they actually seemed to read them!

Greens members worked closely with Ecotransit handing out newspapers, attaching light rail coreflutes to telegraph poles and outlining the benefits of the line in the community.

At the 2008 local government election we Greens secured a record number of councillors across the inner west including 50% of the councillors and the mayoralty on Leichhardt Council.

With Jamie Parker and the Greens supporting the Ecotransit campaign from the mayoral office, we ensured that the issue stayed at the top of the agenda. The former State Labor government wasted $500 million on the Rozelle Metro – rumoured to have been designed on the back of a beer coaster – in a desperate effort to trump the light rail and hold onto the state seat of Balmain. In its dying last days and under threat from the Greens in Balmain and Marrickville, state Labor finally gave in to community demands and approved the light rail.

The Ecotransit community campaign for light rail to Dulwich Hill helped usher in the Sydney light rail renaissance. We have since seen the George Street and UNSW light rail approved, and support is growing for a Parramatta Council led western Sydney network and for Jamie Parker’s plan to run light rail down Parramatta Road and into the heart of Balmain.