Sydney Light Rail

Picture of Variotram 2101 approaching Sydney Terminal

July 2015 - As you may have noticed, I stopped updating this page some time back. Time constraints and other projects. However this page now now has a point of closure - on Tuesday morning of the 30th of June, 2015, the last of the 'Vario class' trams was removed from Pyrmont and loaded onto a transporter at Haymarket and taken to Penrith for storage. TfNSW has put the 6 remaining Vario class trams up for sale. 2106 was scrapped a couple of years ago after being out of service for some time after being cannibalised for parts. The date of this scrapping is uncertain.

The 'Inner West Light Rail' as it is now known is operated by Transdev under an operations franchise using 12 CAF Urbos 3 type trams supplied by TfNSW.

See the Wikipedia Light Rail in Sydney page for current details.

I've been attempting to compile a arrive and departure date fleet list. Any further information gratefully received.

Background - CGEA is operating, on behalf of the Sydney Light Rail Company, a 6.7km Light Rail line that runs between the old tram concourse at Sydney Terminal Station (Central) and Catherine St, Lilyfield, next to the railway yards at Rozelle. The ABB group was the main contractor and builder,for both the initial construction and the extension. ABB is no longer a railway rolling stock manufacturer having in the time since the initial system was built and the extension, divested it self of it's share of Adtrans. (ABB-DaimlerBenz Transportation), the original core system being an ABB project, with ABB contracted to supply the complete system.
  During April 2001 Bombardier, a Canadian based company, completed its aquisition of Adranz, making the 2nd time since the orginal Sydney Light Rail contract was signed that the holder of the Variotram design has changed owners. As part of the concessions to the European Competition regulations, the Variotram designs, inherited from ABB, were licenced to a Swiss firm Stadler to ensure that there was suffcient competition in the market place in Europe. (Particularly Germany). As a postscript, Bombardier subsquently sued Damiler Benz claiming they misrepesented the value of the Adtrans assets...

 The original system opened for public operation with a limited service on the 11th of August 1997 with 3 weeks of shakedown operations. The grand public opening was on August 31st, with full revenue service starting at 6am on Monday the 1st of September. Six years on the system is still plodding along with no major incidents, but political rangling still going on over the proposed extensions, low speed limits on the 'street' sections still in force and a lower than expected patronage, even after the Casino (seen to be the main source of passengers) opened. With out the much fought over CBD extension the systems value as a commuter operation is doubtful, however reports seem to indicate good patronage on the extension during the commuter peak periods, although these same reports suggest a lot of those passengers get off at Pyrmont Bay station, where the fare section break is, and walk over the old Pyrmont bridge into the city).
 When the system opened in 1997, TNT Transit systems, the owners of the Sydney monorail loop, were managing the operational side of the SLR system. However the French public transport company CGEA Transport , which is a subsidiary of VIVENDI, bought TNT Transit systems in August 1998. CGEA have created two new brandings Metro Light Rail and Metro Monorail and have some sort of common marketing and image. As trams the were redecorated for advertising the Metro Light Rail branding is was used, not SLR, but no wholesale rebranding of the fleet occurred, the SLR logos just slowly disappeared under advertising.
  During June/July 2000, CGEA's Hillside Trains operation in Melbourne, and SouthTrans buses in Sydney started getting Connex badges stuck all over every thing. Hillside Trains in Melbourne has been renamed ' Connex Melbourne'. Sydney's SouthTrans buses are now turning Connex yellow, their 'rainbow' strips turned pure yellow. It is quite possible Sydney's Metro Light Rail may also get 'Connex'ed, at some point, a number now carry A connex networks manifesto's on their bumper bars. It appears CGEA have recently decided to bring all their operations together under the connex brand.

  Except for the street section from Darling Drive (next to the Sydney Entertainment Centre) along Hay St to Sydney Terminal railway station, the track is built on the old Darling Harbour goods line, the new western extension continuing along the abandoned railway line. Speeds of up to 80km/hr are permitted on parts of the former railway, which is completely under ATC control, line side signals existing mainly for regulatory reasons. The light rail line is the only full installation of ATC equipment in NSW. There is a connection to the heavy rail network past the buffers at the Lilyfield station. This has been used at least once to bring in a rail profile grinder. Normally the interconnection is blocked by buffer stops, a set of gates and presumably a spike in the switch rail on the 'mainline' points.
  7 Adtranz Variotrams were purchased to operate services. No new trams were purchased for operating the Inner west extension, however a representative of MetroLight rail commented at public display in late 2000, that they may order more trams if the patronage on the extension warrants extra services. The current operational diagram requires 6 of the fleet of 7, improving the fleet utilization considerably over the previous level.
 The extension opened on Sunday the 13th of August 2000. (Making it almost 3 years exactly since the original system started operating). I have compiled a page showing before and after shots at various places along the extension.

  Trams were confirmed to have operated onto the extension on the 22nd of June 2000, with a Usenet aus.rail poster sighting 2101 at Glebe station in the afternoon. I took this this picture of 2103 at Glebe at lunch time on the 23rd of June 2000. For the next 7 weeks a Ghost service operated on the line most days, working the bugs out of the operational side of the new trackage. (First systems testing , Signals, the track beacons, points, power supplies then setting of speed limits, driver training trips and then rostered operations). All this testing didn't stop a signal failure on the day, technicians replaced a balise on the inbound track at Jubilee Park shortly after the official opening ceremony!

 The NSW State Government approved the Inner west and city loop extensions in principle at the same time, commissioning an Environmental Impact Study which returned a positive finding, the Sydney Light Rail company proposing to build both extensions in the one package. However a group of retailers in the Pitt St Mall area (City Retail Core) are bitterly opposed to the plans, but further afield there was general support for the idea. The EIS was conducted by Mandis Roberts consultants. Eventually the state government kicked in $16 Million to refurbish the former goods line to Lilyfield in return for extension of the service west with out the CBD loop, which is still 'on hold' until the cross city road tunnel is built. Originally the SLR partners offered the western extension 'free' in return for approval to build the city loop.

  The company hopes to further extend from Catherine St, Lilyfield, with a Inner West stage 2 plan being mooted that has the tramway turn off the Balmain Goods line near the former Leichhardt tram depot (now a Sydney Buses depot) and run up Norton St, terminating just short of Marion St. There are other plans being mooted to have the trams run all the way to Ashfield railway station, although what route this would follow is not clear. There have also been suggestions of a truncated Stage 1 CBD loop, down only as far as Park St, with the rest to the Quay following later.
  On the 23rd of May 2001, the Sydney Morning Herald carried an article about Sydney Light Rail advertising for a 'project manager' to oversee planning for the city loop. The company has been more than pleased with the patronage figures on the western externsion, and I guess is hoping to build on that sucess. The article also mentions the proposed Bondi Beach heavy rail extension, a project the government had effecively cancelled the previous day by refusing any sort of guarentees to the private consortum proposing the link. Offically the city tram loop is still 'on hold' until the cross city road tunnel is built, and Pitt St Mall property owners are bound to reactivate their 'pedestrian risk' campain against trams in the mall.

  If the full system ever gets built, it could result in 14 (or more) trams being built. The Variotram was superseded as an Adtranz product, replaced by the Incentro, an altogether similar light rail car. (Adtranz advertisments featured an Incentro tram crossing George St on the SLR system!). Any further trams will probably be a standard 'system' tram and not a Variotram. Money has also been granted to the Loftus tram museum by the state government's heritage program to conserve a number of former Sydney tramway R class tram bodies for possible future use on the City loop. If the city loop ever gets to be reality, Sydney R class corridor cars will be sharing the loop with low floor Variotrams and 'system' cars. The old R class however will not meet disability access guidelines, so exactly what role they will play is not clear, but the tourist potential of heritage cars is seen as significant.
  The current and proposed routes for the Sydney light rail extensions were published in the 'Inner Western Suburbs Courier', a local newspaper for the inner west of Sydney. The route is shown here, as presented in the local paper. This has since been amended to have a Inner West stage 2 to Norton St, Leichhardt, and even extensions as far as Ashfield railway station.

There was also a Kensington (UNSW) route that would in part run along the former Moore Park (currently busway) tram routes. The Kensington route was mentioned in the now buried Light Rail Strategic Plan and was one of the sweeteners put in the Eastern Distributor Tollway project to get the plan past an Independent eastern suburbs rep in state Parliament. (I vote allowing the tollway to take a chunk of Moore Park, they agreed to 'study' a Kensington light rail route.) Subsequently that was buried again as uneconomic due to the difficulty of getting from Moore Park to Central. (Small congested streets, tunnels would be expensive) and that the tramway would have to steal passengers from Sydney Buses most profitable routes to be viable. This could end up causing Sydney Buses to run at a loss!.

  One of the component suppliers for the project teledata has a small description of the project, focusing on the product they delivered - their Transport Management System. Don't do any thing silly on a SLR station - MAVIX is watching. The MAVIX system links not only the CCTV system watching the stations but it also manages communications to the trams, the location of each tram, signal and power system status, i.e. pretty well every operational aspect of the light railway.

  The signal system itself is probably the first application of cab signaling on any railway in Australia. Heavy rail systems ( particularly Queensland ) have various levels of Automatic Train Protection systems, but none at this stage also offer cab signals, only overspeed and stop signal protection. The signals visible on the Light Rail system are a DOT requirement and not an operational requirement. A tram with failed cab signaling equipment had to be handled within the safety system, and not drive 'blind' to the depot.

 When the first railcar arrived in the early hours of the morning on the 31st of May, 1997, my girlfriend and I were on hand to witness the event. We then posted this article to USENET about our observations.

  When the system opened for its first public run on the 11th of August 1997, we were there again,riding on the first trip, I again have written an article on the opening event.

  On the 31st of August 1997, an official opening was held at Haymarket.

  On the 13th of August 2000, the first extension opened to Lilyfield.

Variotram Vitals

 The variotram is a full low floor tram. The floor is 350mm above the rail, dipping to 290mm at the doors. The design is modular and can be easily extended to make a longer car, most of the stations on the SLR system could be relatively cheaply extended if required. The trams are fitted for multiple unit operation, however in service, the couplers are folded up and hidden behind the bumper on the ends. It has been reported that 3 trams were tested in multiple unit operation before the system opened. There have been no reported instances of multiple unit operation in service. Only Central and Star City platforms are long enough to allow multiple unit station stops.

 The bogies have no axles between the wheels and the powered bogies are fitted with gear less hub motors. Tram fanatics should note that the system uses a 750VDC overhead line, not the traditional 600VDC line. Not only does the increased line voltage make the running of vintage trams on the line difficult, but there is some suggestion that Sydney bogie trams will swing outside the SLR loading guage on curves - the Variotram's articulated design allows a wide body car without over swing on curves and parts of the system may have taken advantage of this. This hasn't however stopped the City council, the SLR and the Loftus Tram Museum from planning to restore a number of derelict Sydney R class trams to use on the proposed CBD loop. (I assume they would be fitted with pantographs, 750VDC solid state traction systems,and Air Conditioning!)

Sydney Variotram Vitals
Length  28.28m 
Width  2.65m 
Height  3.388mm 
Weight  36,000kg 
Seating Capacity  74 
Standing Capacity  103 
Total Passengers  223 
Track guage  1435mm 
Minimum Curve radius  16.4m 
Wheel diameter (new/worn)  630/570mm 
Line voltage  750V 
Traction Motors (rated Output) 8 x 45kw 
Maximum speed  80km/hr 
Bogie wheelbase  1800mm 
Bogie to articulation  2100mm 

  At some point shortly after operations commenced, the cars all got lifted a couple of centimetres, I assume to overcome problems with the doors dragging along the platforms when the cars were heavily loaded. (I saw this happen at Star City, with the door fouling on the platform and failing to close).
 Additionally during the first half of 1999 sanding gear was added after persistent problems climbing the east ramp up to Central Station after light rain. The original Sydney trams ran the other way through the tram concourse at Central station, thus were going down this steep grade. This upgrade was apparently done free by Adtranz to cure the performance problems...
 I have also seen a report that at least one of the trams has been fitted with a flange lubricator in an attempt to cut down on curving noise. It will only take one unit fitted to have the desired effect on all trams as it will lubricate the flangeway for every one else. (This has apparently been quite successful, the trams are quiet even on the sharp curves now!).

  Many now carry all over advertising, that cover the entire body including the road numbers!. I compiled a page with photos of the various versions of the liveries. (No longer being updated).

 I have a running 'log' of pictures taken at various stages of construction, delivery and testing at These pages consist mainly of index files generated automatically. In some cases I have tried to caption the file names to assist with identification.
 Many early images of the original construction work and the early days of the operations of the system are from an Apple Quicktake 150 digital camera, which is pretty well a toy and not a serious camera. The bigger high definition shots taken back in 1997 are scanned 35mm prints. A small number of pictures were scanned from newspaper articles and captioned as such. The later shots were taken with a Kodak DC200 digital camera, and of the extension, many are taken with a Nikon CoolPix 950 digital camera, switching between the Kodak and Nikon depending on availability of the Nikon, which belongs to my work.


  This is a small, but growing collection of local tramway links. Not every one likes trams. While most links are tram friendly articles, some people only see trams as a something that should stay dead, and reflect this in their articles. Tram friends should remember that those old anti-tram arguments from the 50s and 60s can still be applied today, and that a return to the 'good old days' of street running trams is defiantly not on the agenda. The only way trams will grow in Sydney is if reserved rights of way can be found. Except small sections of street running to access business centre's, street running will only cause more problems than it solves.

Most of these are from the Sydney Morning Herald , due to their excellent on-line presence on the net, unfortunately the SMH site has started taking old articles offline. Mirroring them to my own site before they remove them is not possible due to copyright constraints. The old articles can be retrieved using the pay per page Fairfax media online research service. Jackson Wells, a PR firm specializing in railway promotions are the publicity agents for Sydney Light Rail. They have also briefly experimented with putting their clients press releases on the Internet, and I had linked to those as appropriate, however now they are all gone. I'm more than happy to add other links that people might spot, I often forget to scan the SMH site and I might miss other things.

Jackson Wells - Press releases

  Jackson wells had many of their client PR's on-line. This is a partial list of the SLR press releases that were online. Unfortunately it seems Jackson Wells do not consider their Web site an archival site, and alas most of these releases now seem to be missing, presumably deleted as they are old news now. While Jackson Wells still say the SLR (CGEA Transport) are a customer of theirs on their web site, there doesn't appear to be any recent press releases online. It looks like Jackson Wells abandoned the idea of online press releases.

Metro Light Rail's News

  During July 2000, a Metro Light Rail News section appeared on the Metro Light Rail web site, hidden under the 'Proposed Western Extension' part of the splash screen. Unfortunatly they only produced these e-newsletters in the lead up to the opening of the extension. I hope they keep them online for reference. We can only hope. An official news letter always helps.

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Copyright © 1998-2002 Matthew Geier

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