The Official Opening

  August 31st 1997 marked the official opening of the Sydney Light Rail system, after 3 weeks of limited service test running.

  At around 9:45am Jenny and I arrived at Haymarket where 3 trams were parked next to Haymarket Station. Finishing touches were being applied to a large polystyrene block wall that was spanning the light rail tracks between the University of Technology buildings and the monorail station. 2105 was waiting behind the barrier, its driver receiving instuctions. Radio station 2WS had a mobile broadcast unit set up. Street performers were wandering around showing off their tricks. At around 10:30am the 3 trams, 2107, 2103 and 2106, moved off one at a time and disappeared up towards Central. Shortly afterwards the official party started to arrive.

  Soon a drum beat could be heard from Dixon Street. With the police blocking Hay Street, two Chinese dragons and their accompanying musicians crossed over the road and danced their way down the tracks to Haymarket Station where a shrine was set up on the platform. After about 10 minutes of dancing a large string of firecrackers was set off and the Chinese blessing of the track was completed. The resulting smoke from the firecrackers unfortunately set off the fire alarms in Paddy's Markets.

  With all of the VIPs assembled, the town crier started the proceedings at about 11:10 with a small speech about what a great city Sydney is and how we were looking to the past to find our future.

  The crier handed the ceremony over to the MC, who introduced Rob Schwarzer, Frank Sartor (Lord Mayor of Sydney), Brian Langton (Minister for Transport) and Bob Carr (Premier of New South Wales). Frank Sartor praised the tramway and the proposed extensions, adding "rethink the monorail" to the end of his speech.

  Near the end of Bob Carr's speech, 4 costumed roller-bladers came down the track from George Street wearing 'tram' headpieces in a rough approximation of a new Sydney tram. They were carrying a lever that was delivered to the Premier, and placed by him in a specially prepared lever frame.

 With an opening declaration, the Premier pushed over the lever in its little frame. This was the cue to start a sequence of fireworks on the roof of Paddy's Markets. Starting toward the George Street end, a number of fireworks exploded and SLR banners dropped down the wall. After the last of this sequence fired, SLR 2105 burst through the polystyrene wall with more fireworks and the releasing of several hundred balloons, before coming to a stand beside the Haymarket platform. Some styrene blocks had landed on its roof.

 After a few minutes waiting, during which the MC told the waiting crowd to be patient, 2107 came down from Central and the first load of VIPs started to board. I assume more speeches were made for the media, as 2107 took about 10 minutes to load and depart. Soon 2103 came down and more VIPs loaded, with 2106 coming right up behind for remainder.

 After a small delay, the crowd finally decended onto 2105, which was only allowed to load to just under its seating capacity. We were unable to get on board. Presumably quite a crowd had gathered at Central, and SLR control directed a tram to run through Haymarket without picking up so as to help move people from further along. At this point Jenny and I gave up and walked up to Central.

  At Central the Sydney tramway museum had brought in a restored (but non-functional) C class tram, and had set up a display of both historic and contemporary Sydney tramway pictures. There were queues running both ways along the tram platform, with enough waiting people to fill several trams to capacity. Jenny and I went for lunch instead of waiting.

  After lunch we walked down to Darling Harbour and went to Convention station. There was a 2WS stall set up and quite a few people on both platforms. Shortly a tram arrived and we barely managed to squeeze on board. After an hour and half they were still running at crush load.

  At Pyrmont Bay, more people tried to board than were leaving. A Maritime Museum representative, dressed as a pirate, yelled out his spiel to the throng on the tram, trying to interest people in the museum.

  The Casino stop was much the same, with the crush loading still being tested. John Street Square however was somewhat different, with little interest beside a jazz band on the platform.

  As we were approaching the Fish Markets, 2105 came past us, still carring 3 styrene blocks on its roof! A number of people left the tram at Fish Markets, but we were still crush loaded! We alighted at Wentworth Park and checked out the platform, where a number of stalls were set up, one with information about the proposed extensions. Here, after the departure of the still crush loaded tram we arrived on, we obtained a couple of SLR ballons, and a clown was demonstrating card tricks and his juggling skills.

  Soon another packed tram arrived and we squeezed on board. As we departed, another tram was waiting back at the signal for access to Wentworth Park station. As we arrived back at the Fish Markets, King Neptune and two mermaids were posing for photos. We alighted again at John Street Square and I took a couple of photos in the covered station of trams stopped on both platforms.

  We rode the recently commissioned lift up to Harris Street and walked alongside the only part of the railway cutting which is still uncovered. We then continued our walk down into the Casino station platform.

  The first tram that arrived was full, and we made no attempt to board. When the driver tried to close the doors, the centre doors got stuck. It would appear that the tram was so heavily loaded that the 'floating' section containing the centre door was too low and the door was dragging on the platform. After an SLR officer gave the doors a shove, they closed and the vehicle departed. The next tram to arrive was also crush loaded and its centre door also brushed the platform but didn't quite stick. Again we didn't try to board. The third arrival had a little space (inside, not near the doors!) and we literally pushed our way on board. The door on this tram also didn't close properly, but this time it was my SLR balloon (tied to my pack) that had obstructed it!

  At Pyrmont Bay we were again encouraged by some street theatrics to leave the tram, but we were on our way to Haymarket. As we sped past the depot, a quick look showed that possibly the first time since the trams started arriving, it was empty; all 7 were in service.

  At Paddy's Markets again, we got our commemorative Paddy's SLR fridge magnets and then parted ways with the SLR celebrations. Even at 3:45pm we were being passed by crush loaded trams! A band had taken over the stage used for the official speeches and a party was in progress.

  The day seems to have proved to be a big success for the Sydney Light Rail Company, although unfortunate events on the other side of the world will have the day remembered for less cheerful reasons.

Photos of the day are at Opening

Media Links

© Matthew Geier, 1997