The Sydney Monorail – originally named “TNT Harbourlink” – was a gift to the city for the Australian Bicentenary in 1988 from transport mogul and the head of TNT, Sir Peter Abeles, with the approval of the NSW Minister for Public Works, Laurie Brereton.
Managed by the authority set up to plan and oversee the construction of the Darling Harbour Project, the installation of the monorail – constructed from steel box girders 18 feet (5.5 metres) above ground level on steel columns – overrode thirteen existing laws, including those on environment and planning, heritage, traffic and fire safety, as well as the authority of the Sydney City Council.
There were eight stations with up to six trains of seven carriages each operating simultaneously. It was originally intended for the system to operate automatically, but after a number of breakdowns soon after opening, it was decided to retain drivers.
Apart from being considered a general eyesore and an intrusion on heritage and architectural values of the city streetscape, the monorail was impractical because it didn’t connect with any of the major transport hubs in the city.
In fact, it didn’t actually go anywhere, just running around in a single 2.2-mile (3.6 kilometre) anticlockwise loop. A complete circuit of the loop took 12 minutes.
Nor did the investment make economic sense. Critics pointed out that constructing a Light Rail service would have been $20 million cheaper to build, service more passengers per hour and cost 40% less for a ticket.
Originally intended to run until 2038, the ill-fated monorail gradually became harder to justify economically.
It was also dangerous, with accidents putting passengers at risk, culminating in 2010 when the failure of an underground cable led to the system shutting down, leaving nearly 100 passengers stranded above the city for several hours until they were rescued by the Fire Service.
To most Sydneysiders, it was, at best, a tourist attraction, a gimmick and a fad whose novelty dissipated over time, and at worst, an eyesore destroying the streetscape, a white elephant, and a liability rather than an asset. The monorail was finally decommissioned in 2013.