Sydney tram tracks come full circle

10 September 2019

Historic steel rails, salvaged from the twilight years of Sydney’s former tram network, are now playing host to vintage passenger trams that roll along a scenic old rail corridor from the Sydney Tramway Museum at Loftus into the Royal National Park.

Around 150m of old tram tracks – dating back to the late 1950s and excavated during Sydney Light Rail works on Anzac Parade in Kensington – have been re-used to upgrade the 67m historic South Hill track, part of the Museum’s main line from Sutherland to Loftus and through the bushland.

Transport for NSW Coordinator General Marg Prendergast said two semi-trailer loads of steel rails, sleepers and sections of concrete encasements were dug out by CBD and South East Light Rail contractors and donated to the Museum in 2017 and the first sections of these tracks have recently been re-laid.

“The CBD and South East Light Rail project has a commitment to preserving environmental and cultural heritage along the alignment,” Ms Prendergast said.

“It’s heart-warming to think parts of the old tramway rails from Anzac Parade heading into Ascot Street that led to the original Randwick Racecourse - which is now the site of Randwick Stabling Yards that houses Sydney’s new tram fleet - have a new home at South Hill where vintage trams will glide over them again.

“When trams start shooting through the heart of the CBD, we’ll soon have the newest and oldest trams operating at opposite ends of Sydney.”

Vintage trams dating from 1896 to those operating at the closure of the Sydney system in 1961 – including the popular 80 seat ‘O-Class’ cars (designed specifically in Sydney for Sydney and often referred to as ‘toast racks’) – run up the South Hill and along the Parkline route into the Royal National Park.

Sydney Tramway Museum volunteers along with Community Corrections Program participants (run by the NSW Department of Justice) spent four months in early 2019 excavating, laying rescued track, welding and levelling to upgrade the South Hill section of the Royal National Park line.

Museum director and electrical engineer, Greg Sutherland said the upgrade had taken 12 weeks with the infrastructure crew working on Wednesdays and Saturdays.

“The parts of track excavated from Anzac Parade, Kensington were originally laid as upgraded rail in the late 1950s to replace even older tracks that were wearing thin,” Mr Sutherland said.

“No rescued material has been wasted – some of the original concrete has been smashed up and used for reinforcement and sections of rail that is too worn and brittle have been repurposed as sleepers,” he said.

The news comes as the first tram in 61 years recently ran the entire length of the new light rail line from Randwick to Circular Quay as tram testing ramps up.

Trams are now being tested on George Street from Town Hall to Circular Quay at night ahead of daytime testing in the CBD in coming weeks.

Transport for NSW has launched its “Heads Up, Play it Safe around Light Rail” safety campaign to educate all roads users – pedestrians, cyclists and motorists – about changed traffic conditions and safe interaction with trams as tram testing expands.

“Pedestrians are reminded to look out before they step out, use designated crossings and avoid distractions like mobile phones when walking near or crossing the tram corridor,” Ms Prendergast said.