Light Rail Transit Association - UK Development Group 


February 2001 



A major event, such as the Olympic Games, can be a near perfect means of putting to test long held theories on "moving the masses". The topography in Sydney is so different from Melbourne's that simply drawing a comparison with the games held there in 1956 would not be too helpful. Another major difference is that Melbourne's urban transit system relies mainly on trams whereas Sydney has placed its urban transit faith mainly on buses supplemented by private cars.

Transit operators world wide will no doubt have watched closely, not so much to see which country gained most gold medals, but to observe the success or otherwise of using buses as the principal carrier. TRANSIT AUSTRALIA, one of Australia's leading journals on urban transit matters, can be credited with speedy reporting for proceeding so quickly with a comprehensive account of "getting the crowds there, and then home again" (1).


Although a world record was set at completing all the permanent sporting venues for the games earlier than any other host city, much concern developed because this efficiency appeared to be lacking with its transport methodology. Because Sydney had pinned so much faith in the diesel bus over the years, it became logical to develop specially prepared plans to continue using the bus to move the Olympic crowds in the urban area. To do this it was estimated that 3500 buses and about 5000 drivers would be needed. Getting contestants and spectators onto their correct buses and to the many scattered venues turned out to be a major problem in itself. To help the public, a forest of banners was utilised (10,000 altogether) on 9 metre high structures to mark bus stops and certain important entrances.


Throughout the games many streets in central Sydney became no-go areas and kilometres of fencing were erected, partly to restrict vehicle movement as well as barring anyone without the correct ticket for that particular area. To recognise transport workers, all bus drivers were supplied with a uniform and badge which authorised passage through checkpoints.

Various ways were employed to reduce public demand for road space, mainly by encouraging motorists to use public transport. Certain bus routes were free whereas other methods, such as combined tickets that included the bus fare as well as stadium admission, were used. Another device, that of restricting parking spaces partly backfired with cars choking some entrances and delaying buses. This also happened at a park and ride site where cars had to mix with buses. Some sporting events had to be delayed when a police escort was needed to negotiate a traffic jam.


There were a few instances where directions to passengers included lengthy walks to access the Olympic Park. At least two railway services had stations nominated for Olympic passengers to leave the train and continue on foot. One was Lidcombe (2.8km walk) and the other Concord West (1.6km walk). There was little evidence that anyone had actually done this. In general though, passenger information and coordination was helped by the extra staff specially trained for such a purpose. Additional help was also available via the 1500 pagers issued to train guards who could then pass on information to passengers about delays. It was recorded by TRANSIT AUSTRALIA that the rail network functioned almost without fault.

With so many buses involved it was inevitable that mechanical breakdowns would occur. One did occur with the US men's beach volleyball team on their way to the opening ceremony. A passenger with MEDIA connections, actually riding on the bus, managed to flag down a passing MEDIA bus and convinced the driver to change his intended destination.


The newly opened light rail extension to Lillyfield helped the tram system to carry a higher load than expected and the normal 24 hour service to City-Star City was extended to Lilyfield daily from 6am to 2am. An apparently drunken man headbutted a tram early one morning after the closing ceremony. This was duly recorded in the incident log at the Olympic transport operations centre and an amusing comment duly appeared in TRANSIT AUSTRALIA, score : tram 1, pedestrian nil.


A lack of publicity that this closure would happen after the firework display caused gridlock in the western part of the city. As would-be rail passengers were diverted to buses, buses in York Street for example were blocked by cars and a "wall of people". The reason given for this CBD rail closure was the narrowness of the rail platforms and doubts that public safety could be guaranteed.

SUMMING UP THE TASK (a few of the many comments)

During the Olympic period (15th September to 1st October) over 38 million journeys were taken on Sydney's public transport system. One factor that played a big part in helping the system to go so well was the rule that after 6am no heavy trucks could enter the CBD or use major arteries. After this event it has become clear that people could be persuaded to abandon their cars and use public transport contrary to the views of road planners. Sydney had turned out to be a better city with fewer cars on the roads. Out of all this has come the suggestion that the existing light rail line should be extended from Central Station to Circular Quay.


Sydney has hosted the largest Paralympic Games ever held in the 40 years history of the movement and the fleet of shuttle buses for these games had many low-floor vehicles amongst them. Unlike the games themselves, a limited amount of free parking was available providing it had been booked in advance. The rail service that operated was basically to the normal timetable but supplemented with a few special services to Olympic Park.


Future Olympic Games sites (Salt Lake City with the Winter games in 2002 and Athens hosting the Summer games in 2004) and places yet to bid for them had representatives assessing Sydney's planning and especially transport. Both Salt Lake City and Athens will have gained much actual experience giving them confidence for their own preparations. Whereas Sydney borrowed buses and virtually sidetracked the Metro Light Rail system, it is interesting to note that Salt Lake City is fast expanding its light rail network and borrowing LRV's from Dallas (2). Athens is working on similar lines by building some major extensions to its metro system as well as planning a light rail system, all before 2004 (3). From USA comes news that Houston, an Olympic hopeful, is working towards the possibility of being chosen for 2012 (4). Until recently, Houston's planners had turned a "cold shoulder" towards the Metropolitan Transit Authority's beleaguered efforts to build a light rail network but however, that attitude is changing. Having seen Sydney's rail system first hand, and now voter endorsed, Houston's Council has just voted by 11 to 4 to start building a 7.5 mile light rail line through the city streets.


  1. Sydney's Olympic Transport - Parts 1 & 2 - TRANSIT AUSTRALIA - December 2000. Parts 3 & 4 - TRANSIT AUSTRALIA - January 2001.
  2. TRAMWAYS & URBAN TRANSIT (page 467) - December 2000.
  3. RAILWAY GAZETTE INTERNATIONAL (pages 40-42) January 2001.
  4. THE HOUSTON CHRONICLE 3 Star Edition - 21st November 2000
  1. It has been considered that this Fact Sheet rather underplays the role of rail which was a major mode of transport to the main site at Olympic Park, where a new multi-track station was built on-site on a new rail loop. The two long-walk stations mentioned were very much subsidiary to this new main station.
  2. Since the Fact Sheet was written Houston (referred to in the conclusion) has started building its light rail line. There are still ongoing efforts being made to stop this from proceeding.
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