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Monorail for sale

01 Jun 1998

After going round in circles for a decade, Sydney's Darling Harbour monorail could be heading for pastures new. Australian business group TNT announced at the end of April that the single-track loop opened in July 1988 is up for sale. Built at a cost of A$65m to offer visitors a leisurely tour of the city centre and the refurbished waterfront, the line has failed to attract serious volumes of traffic and has never shown a profit. Asking price is said to be around A$30m.

Our correspondent also reports that TNT may be looking to pull out of the Sydney Light Rail consortium, whose 3·6 km line parallels the monorail along the back of the Darling Harbour exhibition and conference centre. The consortium wants to extend west to Lilyfield and north into the city centre to create a genuine public transport corridor, but the NSW government has decided to delay any decision until after the 2000 Olympic Games. No matter that residents might find a tramway into the city of practical benefit, the shopkeepers who have spent a decade watching the monorails rumbling past their shop windows are rather more sceptical. With ridership still below budget, the delay could prove too much for the light rail promoters.

TNT's latest rail venture seems just as uncertain; it is backing the A$2bn Inter-Capital Express venture to introduce German high-speed trains between Sydney and Canberra. ICE was shortlisted in April along with the Speedrail TGV venture backed by GEC Alsthom, Capital Rail with an Adtranz X2000 derivative, and the ever-hopeful Transrapid promoters offering a 550 km/h maglev line which could cut the journey time to just 59 min.

All four groups envisage they could have the line ready by around 2002, but none is now in a position to harness the publicity and business incentive of serving the Olympics. If Canberra really wants a 'high-tech' plaything, perhaps it could buy a second-hand monorail instead. Going cheap, low-mileage, with one careful owner. o