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Transport for NSW | Treading Lightly: Light Rail Drives Sustainable Outcomes

ISCA 2020 IMPACTS REPORT FEATURETransport for NSW | Treading Lightly: Light Rail Drives Sustainable Outcomes


Three game-changing light rail projects across Greater Sydney and Newcastle are pioneering innovative sustainability solutions, and delivering more public transport capacity and reliable services for the people of New South Wales (NSW).

Through Sydney’s CBD and South East Light Rail, Newcastle Light Rail on the NSW mid-coast, and Parramatta Light Rail in Sydney’s Central River City, Transport for NSW (TfNSW) and the NSW Government are developing safe, integrated, and sustainable  transport systems for customers.

These major infrastructure projects require a large and diverse range of skills, goods and services to successfully deliver their intended outcomes. TNSW is focused on maximising the social, economic and environmental benefits through investment into these major infrastructure projects. TfNSW Environment and Sustainability Policy (2020) outlines nine focus areas, which inform the organisation’s approach to sustainability across all projects; leadership, environmental protection, energy and carbon, resilience, sustainable procurement, whole of life, social, awareness and communication. 

TfNSW commitments to social and economic initiatives create legacies, evidence of TfNSW focus on putting customers at the centre of everything they do. Through landscaping, urban design, and local access enhancements via road and pedestrian upgrades, light rail accelerates urban renewal across the length of its route, in contrast to heavy rail, which sees more localised renewal around train stations. 

By working with contractors to implement strategic procurement practices across its major metropolitan and regional NSW projects, TfNSW achieves jobs growth and economic development of disadvantaged and diverse NSW communities and businesses. TfNSW initiatives and goals include social procurement, Indigenous participation, the Industry Skills Legacy Program (ISLP) and Learning Workers, compelling delivery partners to increase workforce diversity and inclusion, and inspire future talent. 

Sydney’s CBD and South East Light Rail project, which comprises the new L2 Randwick (opened December 2019) and L3 Kingsford (opened April 2020) light rail lines, is leading the way as a major sustainable transport solution for the city. The Sydney’s CBD and South East Light Rail is contributing to a more sustainable city by providing high frequency public transport that is more efficient and reliable, quieter, and cleaner when compared to private car use. The project addresses Sydney’s growing population, its associated traffic congestion and provides an environmentally focused mode of transport, using 10 times less energy than a car (per passenger kilometre), and was the catalyst for central Sydney’s pedestrianisation.

Using regenerative braking HESOP technology, the trams on the network recover more than 99 per cent of the energy usually lost during braking. The recovered energy is then reused to power other trams running on the same line, or injected back into the power network. 

The project was subject to a range of strict environmental performance conditions and was able to meet ambitious sustainability targets. The project achieved an “Excellent” Design Rating from the Infrastructure Sustainability Council of Australia (ISCA), and the highest possible score in ISCA’s innovation category, with Australian first innovations including the Alstom HESOP system – which is a harmonic and energy savings optimiser – and the geothermal cooling system in the High Cross Park substation.

Newcastle’s new light rail network (opened February 2019) was the first light rail program in Australasia to achieve an ‘Excellent’ rating for both Design and As Built ISCA ratings. The Newcastle Light Rail is helping to create a vibrant regional hub while also providing social, environmental, and economic benefits. The project served as a catalyst for the revitalisation of Newcastle, leading to a regeneration of the central business district.

Newcastle_Grand-Opening_997-1.jpg
Image: Newcastle Light Rail


Sustainability was at the forefront of the project’s design process and the project has set a benchmark for the future of public transport in NSW and across Australia. Industry-leading sustainability initiatives on the project include: an Australian-first design ensuring no overhead wires and an on-board energy-storage system reducing energy and material use. Solar panels are also providing the light rail depot with power for its operating needs.

Other design features benefitting the Newcastle community include the acknowledgement of the city’s history the restoration of the historic Cottage Creek Bridge, reuse of sandstone blocks from the former 1872 Honeysuckle Station, and reuse of a remnant pier from the old AA Company Bridge, critical to the early coal industry in Newcastle, for pedestrian seating.

In Sydney’s Central River City, the Parramatta Light Rail project currently under construction (expected to open in 2023) is one of the NSW Government’s latest major infrastructure projects being delivered to serve a growing Sydney.

PLR_Lennox-Bridge-2020.jpgImage: Parramatta Light Rail

The Parramatta Light Rail is expected to create new communities, connect great places, and help both locals and visitors move around and explore what the region has to offer. By 2026, around 28,000 people will use Parramatta Light Rail every day and an estimated 130,000 people will be living within walking distance of Parramatta Light Rail stops. 

Sustainability is core to the Parramatta Light Rail project, with the project’s public Sustainability Strategy and targets for construction set to achieve exceptional sustainability outcomes: 
  • 5% of the overall project workforce from disadvantaged, disabled, and underrepresented groups
  • 1.5% of the total estimated contract value spent supporting Indigenous participation
  • 20% of all trades positions to be apprentices 
  • 8% of the overall workforce aged under 25 upon engagement on the project
  • 20% of the total labour force made up of trainees
  • 2% of the workforce to be women in non-traditional roles
The project has an equally strong focus on environmental sustainability, pledging a 15 per cent reduction in overall water use and at least a 15 per cent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions. The new light rail network is expected to take the equivalent of 25,000 cars off the road by 2041, and see more than 3,500 trees planted in Parramatta’s streets that are most susceptible to heat. 

With NSW’s population continuing to expand, transport capacity across the state needs to grow and flex, while ensuring focus on sustainability initiatives is at the forefront of TfNSW projects. The Sydney CBD and South East Light Rail, Newcastle Light Rail, and Parramatta Light Rail projects will play a key role in enabling the state’s sustainable transport future by contributing to better sustainability practices, energy efficiency, and reducing the state’s carbon footprint.


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The 2020 ISCA Impacts Report is testament to ISCA's purpose, ‘ensuring all infrastructure delivers social, cultural, environmental and economic benefits’ both now and in the future.

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