Transportation Planning Casebook/Sydney Monorail


Monorails are railway systems in which the train runs along a single rail all beam. While having some advantages such as above ground rails and quiet travel, the technology has struggled to gain traction in public transit in relation to technologies such as trains and light rail due to its lower capacity and cost inefficiency. Usually found in airport transfers or medium capacity metros, the use of monorails has been generally been confined to tourist transit, rather than large scale commuter travel.[1]

The Sydney Monorail was announced in 1984 to support the redevelopment of Darling Harbour, with the Sydney Convention Centre, Harbour Side Shopping Centre and a host of entertainment options being built to revitalise the previously industrial inlet. Although light rail was proposed, the private funding from TNT assisted the monorail in becoming the preferred option. Despite protests over its cost and damage to both the environment and city image building went ahead, with service beginning in July 1988. [2]

Throughout its operation, ownership of the system switched from TNT to CGEA and eventually to the state government, who closed the monorail in 2013. With patronage dwindling due to various factors such as low patronage to Darling Harbour and delays on World Square construction, the route was ultimately limited in connecting useful transit locations. While tourists took advantage of the views from the city sky, locals' reduced usage meant that revenue was never enough to cover investment. [3]

List of ActorsEdit

Stakeholder group Actor Issue/Interest
Federal Government Federal Government As the source of government revenue through national taxation, the federal government provides grants for road and public transport projects.
State Government Premier and Minister for Transport From the monorail's opening in 1988 to its closure in 2013, the following politicians have held these two positions: [4]


  • Barrie Unsworth (1986-1988)
  • Nicholas Greiner (1988-1992)
  • John Fahey (1992-1995)
  • Robert Carr (1995-2005)
  • Morris Iemma (2005-2008)
  • Nathan Rees (2008-2009)
  • Kristina Keneally (2009-2011)
  • Barry O-Farrell (2011-2014)

Ministers for Transport:

  • Terry Sheahan (1987-1988)
  • Bruce Baird (1988-1995)
  • Brian Langton (1995-1997)
  • Michael Costa (2003-2005)
  • John Watkins (2005-2009)
  • David Campbell (2009-2010)
  • John Roberston (2010-2011)
  • Gladys Berejiklian (2011-2015)
Department of Planning and Infrastructure (currently Department of Planning, Infrastructure and Environment) This government department was responsible for implementing the state's transport policies.[5]
Ministry of Transport (currently Transport for NSW) This agency's function is to build transport infrastructure and manage transport services in the state.[6]
Local Government City of Sydney Council The Monorail loop ran in its entirety through the City of Sydney Local Government Area.[7]
General Public Citizens As the monorail was publicly funded, there was an obligation to taxpayers for the operation to be justified financially.
Local residents Noise pollution effected those in the area.

As with all transport infrastructure, land values change with the introduction of the monorail.[8]

Tourists The monorail connected the key tourist destinations of Darling Harbour and the city centre. The route also provided a unique viewpoint of the city.
Workers Union Rail, Tram and Bus Union NSW is the union body representing employees in public transport industries.[9]
Private Sector Local business owners With several monorail stations located near businesses, changes in foot traffic to/from the stations had effects on shops, eateries and other attractions.[10]

Trains were built by the Swiss industrial group, Von Roll Holding.[11]

Ownership and operation Monorail was run by the following companies:[12]
  • Thomas Nationwide Transport (1988-1998)
  • CGEA Transport, currently Transdev (1988-2013)


Time Events
1984 The monorail was first proposed as part of Darling Harbour's $200 million redevelopment plan.[13]
1985 Transport Minister Laurie Brereton announced the construction of Monorail.[14]

As the investor and operator, TNT harbour link was given a 50-years franchise.[15]

NSW Government established the Darling Harbour Authority (Further Amendment Bill) in November 1985 to avoid legal challenges while constructing the monorail.[13]

May, 1988 Trial services commenced.[16]
July 21, 1988 The commercial service of Monorail started.[17]
1990 Actual patronage was around 50% of the expected level. Previously planned stations at Market Street and Harbour Street were not built.[18]
August 10, 1998, The monorail was sold by TNT to multiple buyers, including CGEA Transport Sydney (51%), Australian Infrastructure Fund (19%), Utilities Trust of Australia (19%) and Legal & General (11%).[19][20]
1999 The share of CGEA was bought by the latter three holders shown above, who are also the co-owners of the Sydney Light Rail Company (SLRC). Then SLRC combined the monorail and light rail together, forming the Metro Transport Sydney. CGEA stayed as the operator of the monorail.[21]
2005 Monorail operator CGEA Transport changed their brand name to Veolia Transport Sydney.[22]
March 23, 2012 The Government of New South Wales took ownership of both the monorail and the light rail from Metro Transport Sydney in order to remove it. Veolia Transport remained as the service provider.[23]
July, 2013 Permanent closure of the monorail line. Removal of the stations and tracks commenced.[24]
April, 2014 Removal work of the tracks and most of the stations was completed.

Map of LocationsEdit

The Sydney Monorail was a 3.6 kilometre loop featuring the following eight stations:

  • Harbourside
  • Darling Park
  • City Centre
  • Galeries Victoria
  • World Square
  • Chinatown (closed in 2006)
  • Paddy's Markets
  • Convention

This route served major attractions such as Powerhouse Museum, Sydney Convention, Exhibition and Entertainment Centres, Sydney Aquarium and Harbourside Shopping Centre. Due to these locations drawing large numbers of tourists, the monorail carriages featured advertising to attractions such as the aquarium.[11]

Darling Park, Harbourside, Chinatown and World Square stations still remain, with the state government and City of Sydney council at odds as to who should remove the stations. [25]

Policy IssuesEdit

Monorail Approvement in 1988

Early IntroductionEdit

The government’s decision on redevelopment of Darling Harbour was announced by the premier of NSW in 1984, where two maintenances of the redevelopment of Darling Harbour include the Sydney Convention Centre and the Harbour Side Shopping Centre. As part of such development, the state government intended to build a transport link from Darling Harbour to the Sydney Central business district. Numerous transport options have been looked into and the light rail system and the monorail system stood out. The light rail system is investigated to have reduced ticket prices by half or acquired the street space, where the monorail system was viewed as futuristic at the time.

Although the Darling Harbour Transport Plan didn't recommend a monorail and the light rail is more preferred by the Sydney City Council, Transport Minister Laurie Brereton announced a monorail would be built in November, 1975, operating by the Australian Transport Company, TNT. Given the level of opposition to the announcement, the monorail system was then quickly placed under the aegis of the authority set up to plan and oversee the construction of the Darling Harbour Project (Ross). It could be argued that this was a way of avoiding lengthy legal battles over whether a range of laws and regulations were being violated, and indeed, such was the probability of legal challenges that 'the NSW Government introduced into Parliament the Darling Harbour Authority (Further Amendment) Bill in November 1985’.

In the Minister for Transport’s speech given in the Legislative Council, he mentioned that ‘the purpose of the bill is to allow construction of the monorail for the bicentenary’, where it was then achieved by overriding thirteen existing laws, including those on environment and planning, heritage, traffic and fire safety, as well as the authority of the Sydney City Council (Ross).

Monorail FaresEdit

A variety of Monorail fares are set dependent upon the many uses and needs of the customers. The following table shows the Monorail fares for the single trips.

Children 5 years and under FREE
Concession $3.50
Adults and children over 5 years $5.00

The $5 monorails’ tickets of such a short trip is considered expensive for most Sydney-siders, where most passengers chose to walk to their destinations instead. One of the passengers Barry Matheson mentioned in the street interview that “we’d be happy to call an ambulance or some sort of transport to get to our home quickly. I don’t think anyone would be wanting to take the monorail anyway” (Price, 2019).

Problems and IncidentsEdit

While the monorail opened to much fanfare, it soon became a plague of problems. The automatic system designed for the monorail experienced plague of problem and frequent breakdown, resulting in TNT making the decision to convert the monorail to manual operation through the use of drivers (Price, 2019). The preliminarily designed computer-controlled driverless system was never used again in the monorails’ lifetime.

On the 28th of July, 1988, an electric fault caused the system to stop operating, where 50 passengers were stranded in carriages for two hours between 3:50 and 5:50 pm. TNT was then criticised for failing to call emergency services until 5:40 pm. The passengers were on the rooftop disembarking at a station by the time the fire brigade arrived at the scene.

One of the most notable accidents for the monorail took place in February 2010. Two monorail trains collided at the Darling Park Station, hospitalising four people including a three-year-old boy and a pregnant woman.


With all the issues occurring, in early 2012, state government announced its intention to purchase Metro Transport Sydney for $18,600,000, where the Metro Monorail was rebranded to the Sydney Monorail. However, almost immediately after, the state government announced that the monorail would close in three years and be removed for infrastructure developments in the CBD and Darling Harbour. As such, the state government’s action of purchasing Metro Transport can hence result in extending the light rail system and demolish the monorail without the need to negotiate with the private owners.

At the end of 2012, the closing date of the monorail system was confirmed to be the 30th of June, 2013. Barry Robert O'Farrell, the New South Wales premier at the time quoted that “the real problem with the monorail for most Sydney-siders is that it doesn’t actually go anywhere that you want to go”. He suggests that the decision paves the way for the development of a world-class Sydney International Convention Exhibition and entertainment precinct as the New South Wales government aiming to make NSW more international.


Darling Harbour Redevelopment PlanEdit

To mark Australia’s bicentennial celebration, a total of $200 million redevelopment scheme of Darling Harbour had been proposed, including a new transport infrastructure that would support the new entertainment and retail precinct. Among all eight short-listed initiatives, the majority of them adopted suspension designs that have elevated tracks or monorail. Only one light rail transit system was taken into consideration.[13] The monorail and the light rail remained as the final two contenders. The monorail would be a bicentenary gift by TNT, thus it would not require any investments from the NSW government. And TNT claimed that it’ll be an autonomous people mover (APM) with a $1 fare that operates above the street level so that avoid congesting the street.[26]

The light rail proposal would cost 20 million less than the monorail and has other merits such as 40% cheaper on fare price, and higher passenger capacity.[27] Moreover, it was supported by National Trust, and public transport supporters, and environmental organisations. Eventually, the monorail won the bidding, making it widely criticized as a political decision rather than a rational one. It is regarded by the NSW government as the most advanced transport mode that has a high sense of ‘futuristic’ representing transportation in the 21st century. Laurie Brereton, the Minister of Transport, regarded monorail as the most efficient solution and claimed that the conventional light rail would turn Sydney back to the 1960s city which streets are congested by trams.[3]

Protest and opposition.Edit

After the $60 million monorail project was proposed, it attracted a series of protests and critics. On July 20, 1986, more than 7,000 people went on the streets to protest against the monorail.

Major critics were about its damage to the environment, heritage and the city image.[2]


In November 1985 the construction of the monorail was announced by Minister of Transport, Laurie Brereton, at the same time, NSW Government established the Darling Harbour Authority (Further Amendment Bill) in November 1985 to ensure the construction progress on schedule and to avoid legal challenges during the construction.[13]

Commercial Service CommencementEdit

Planned to open to service in January 1988, before the Royal Visit, the construction was delayed by the difficulties of underground earthwork in the CBD area. And by July 21, the monorail was finally ready for commercial service. The promised driverless feature was cancelled due to safety concerns.[3]


Two years after the initial service, by the early 1990s, the patronage of the monorail was still about half of the expected level. Many reasons have caused this low patronage level. Its major attraction nodes, Darling Harbour and World Square failed to derive enough passenger demand. Darling Harbour transition to entertainment and shopping centre did not go as successfully as it planned to be, while World Square construction took a few years to complete. The management realised the route of the monorail was hard to make a profit since it simply did not cover enough catchment regions. A station at Circular Quay would be a game-changer. At some point, the monorail managed to return profits by operating but never close to cover the investment. TNT has found another way to profit which is the carriage advertisement.[3]

Sold by TNTEdit

In August 1998, after ten years of struggle, TNT was merged into TNT Post Group and only keeping its core business: mail and logistics. The monorail was then sold to multiple infrastructure funds, including CGEA Transport Sydney (51%), Australian Infrastructure Fund (19%), Utilities Trust of Australia (19%) and Legal & General (11%).[19] Later, the latter three funds reformed as Sydney Light Rail Company (SLRC) which also owned the Sydney Light Rail line. CGEA Transport (Later Connex) remained as the operator of the monorail after selling its share. CGEA changed their name to Veolia Transport Sydney in 2005 and again changed into Veolia Transdev after merging with Transdev.[21]

Government takeover and closureEdit

On 23rd March 2012, NSW Government took ownership of both the monorail and the light rail from Metro Transport Sydney so that to remove it in 2013 to make space for another transformation of Darling Harbour.[3] Veolia Transport remained as the service provider for the last year of operation.


After the closure in July 2013, the removal of the monorail network commenced right away. Four stations and a 3.6km long elevated track were dislodged to allow the extension for the Sydney Convention, Exhibition and Entertainment Precinct which is on the monorail route.

All demolition and removal works were completed in April 2014.[24]

Discussion QuestionsEdit

  • Was the Sydney Monorail a successful or failed project? What were the factors that contributed to its success or failure?
  • Is the monorail system suitable as part of an urban public transport system? Why?
  • What are the benefits of using the PPP model for infrastructure development?

Additional readingsEdit


  1. n.d. What is a Monorail?. [online] Available at: <> [Accessed 29 April 2021].
  2. a b McNeilage, A., 2012. A brief history of the monorail. The Sydney Morning Herald. Available at: [Accessed April 30, 2021].
  3. a b c d e Saulwick, J., 2013. Never the rail deal. The Sydney Morning Herald. Available at: [Accessed April 30, 2021].
  4. n.d. NSW Parliamentary Record. [online] Available at: <> [Accessed 28 April 2021]
  5. NSW Dept of Planning, Industry and Environment. n.d. NSW Dept of Planning, Industry and Environment. [online] Available at: <> [Accessed 28 April 2021].
  6. Spigelman, J., 2002. Public Sector Employment and Management (Departments) Order 2011. NSW Government.
  7. City of Sydney. 2021. Areas of service - City of Sydney. [online] Available at: <> [Accessed 28 April 2021].
  8. n.d. 3. Property development — creation of value – Parliament of Australia. [online] Available at: <> [Accessed 28 April 2021].
  9. Transport Workers’ Union. n.d. Homepage. [online] Available at: <> [Accessed 28 April 2021].
  10. n.d. Sydney Monorail : [online] Available at: <> [Accessed 28 April 2021].
  11. a b 2021. Sydney Monorail cars. [online] Available at: <> [Accessed 28 April 2021].
  12. Transport Workers’ Union. n.d. Homepage. [online] Available at: <> [Accessed 28 April 2021].
  13. a b c d Thorne, R. & Clark, M.M., 1989. other articles/reports. Ross Thorne - human factors in design - other. Available at: Accessed [April 30, 2021].
  14. Motorail wins Darling Harbour" Railway Gazette International December 1985 page 901
  15. Sydney Light Rail Extension Stage 1 Inner West Extension Archived 7 April 2014 at the Wayback Machine Transport NSW July 2010
  16. Monorail's First Tests" Railway Digest December 1987 page 389
  17. Anon, Sydney Monorail. Sydney Monorail | Sydney Metro. Available at:,and%20closed%20in%20June%202013. [Accessed April 30, 2021].
  18. Churchman, Geoffrey B (1995). Railway Electrification in Australia and New Zealand. IPL Books. ISBN 0-646-06893-8.
  19. a b Stock Exchange Announcement Archived 5 March 2016 at the Wayback Machine Australian Infrastructure Fund 11 August 1998
  20. Non-core business TNT Annual Report 1998
  21. a b "Overview of Connex Worldwide and in Australia". Metro Light Rail. Archived from the original on 25 April 2003. [Retrieved 30 April 2021].
  22. "New South Wales". Veolia Transport Australia. Archived from the original on 21 October 2009. Retrieved c.
  23. ABC News, 2012. Last stop: Sydney's monorail to be scrapped. ABC News. Available at: [Accessed April 30, 2021].
  24. a b Transport for NSW, 2017. Completed projects. Transport for NSW. Available at: [Accessed April 30, 2021].
  25. O'Sullivan, M., 2021. ‘Rubbish in our sky’: Sydney monorail station left in limbo after seven years. The Sydney Morning Herald, [online] Available at: <> [Accessed 28 April 2021].
  26. Anon, Farewell Monorail. Available at:
  27. Tracey Aubin, Sydney Morning Herald, 29 April 1988
  28. The Office of Transport Safety Investigations, 2010. Rail Safety Investigation Report: Monorail Collision Darling Park. [online] Sydney. Available at: <> [Accessed 29 April 2021].