26 February 2019

John Cowper was just a boy when the old Sydney trams ground to a halt for the last time in 1961.

It’s a moment etched forever in his memory - 14-year-old John was lucky enough to ride the final tram service, which ran from Hunter Street to La Perouse.

John’s passion for trams hasn’t faltered over the years and last week he was among a group of transport enthusiasts invited to take a peek into the future on a tour of the Light Rail Maintenance Depot at Lilyfield.

“My visit to the Lilyfield maintenance depot is significant as it sees the recycling of a former railway yard into a necessary piece of infrastructure for the modern light rail system. The Rozelle Yards were an essential part in moving freight around in the days when Sydney Harbour was a ‘working harbour,’ he said.

Construction of the depot is complete with 1105m of track laid including 114m of aesthetic power supply (APS) which will be used for testing. The APS or “third rail” will run through the CBD between Circular Quay and Bathurst Street.

The new facility in Lilyfield is an important part of the light rail network and will keep the light rail vehicles in working order. The yard will house facilities needed to service and maintain the new light rail vehicles as well as facilities for maintenance crews and staff.

An amateur photographer, John has chosen the CBD & South East Light Rail as his passion project, capturing more than 7,000 images of construction progress.

“My lifelong interest in transport began as a 9-year-old on holidays with my parents in Brisbane - steam locomotives, trams and trolley buses. After the holiday, my interest grew in Sydney's declining tramway fleet and the last of the steam locomotives,” he said.

“The old trams didn’t rattle; they were kept in pretty good repair but the unmistakeable whine of their motors and their regeneration will live with me forever. It will be wonderful to hear them in Sydney streets again.”

Up to six light rail vehicles will be able to be serviced at one time in the Lilyfield depot with wheel repairs and replacements, structural and mechanical repairs carried out as needed.

The fleet of 60 new light rail vehicles will be housed in the Randwick Stabling Yard where they will return each night after a day’s service and undergo light maintenance works such as cleaning, sandbox servicing and vehicle inspections.

(Photo: Sydney Tramway Museum volunteer Vic Solomon and transport enthusiast Johnn Cowper at the Lilyfield Maintenance Depot)