Asia, economics, environment, geography, Health, Malaysia, population, Singapore

#Peatland and forest burning for palm oil production continues, but at what cost?

Travelling through East Kalimantan in 1987 the extent of forest clearance was immediately apparent. On the road from Balikpapan to Tenggarong most of the clear-felled areas I passed were tantamount to a tinderbox waiting for a firestorm.

Fire in logged areas was a regular occurrence in East Kalimantan and ten years after this visit, the inevitable happened. The El Nino of 1997-98 exacerbated yet another outbreak that went on to burn 25% of the province.

Air pollution over Southeast Asia in October 1997
Air pollution over Southeast Asia in October 1997

The El Nino of 2015-16

In June the Straits Times reported that peatland fires in Kalimantan and Sumatra that blanketed South-east Asia in thick haze last year released the greatest amount of climate-changing carbon since record blazes in 1997, producing emissions higher than in the whole of the European Union.

The Nature Climate Change 4 notes that El Niño events are a prominent feature of climate variability with global climatic impacts. The 1997/98 episode, often referred to as ‘the climate event of the twentieth century’1, 2, and the 1982/83 extreme El Niño3, featured a pronounced eastward extension of the west Pacific warm pool and development of atmospheric convection, and hence a huge rainfall increase, in the usually cold and dry equatorial eastern Pacific. Such a massive reorganization of atmospheric convection, which we define as an extreme El Niño, severely disrupted global weather patterns, affecting ecosystems4, 5, agriculture6, tropical cyclones, drought, bushfires, floods and other extreme weather events worldwide3, 7, 8, 9

Recent research on the 2015 fires reported in the Straits Times concluded that 884 million tonnes of carbon dioxide was emitted in the region last year, with 97 per cent originating from forest fires in Indonesia.

The results showed that regional carbon dioxide emissions from the fires were 11.3 million tonnes per day in September and October 2015, more than the 28-nation EU’s daily emissions of 8.9 million tonnes during the same period.

The researchers also said the emissions were worse than during the 1997 fires, considered the worst on record.

At that time, there was an even longer drought and widespread burning due to a stronger El Nino.

Research suggests 100,000 premature deaths

A palm oil concession in Indonesia's Riau Province
A palm oil concession in Indonesia’s Riau Province

Harvard and Columbia University researchers have used air pollution readings to calculate exposure to the toxic smoke haze that drifted across Indonesia, Singapore and Malaysia, last year. Their research suggests 100,000 premature deaths in Indonesia, Singapore and Malaysia, arising from this event.

The Sydney Morning Herald’s Indonesia correspondent Jewel Topsfield quotes the report from the Environmental Research Letters journal on September 19 as estimating “. . . that haze in 2015 resulted in 100,300 excess deaths across Indonesia, Malaysia and Singapore,” says the report, which was published in. This was largely the result of exposure the dangerous particulate matter of 2.5 microns or smaller (PM2.5).  The report states:

A combination of El Niño and pIOD conditions in July–October 2015 led to dry conditions that exacerbated agricultural and land clearing fires in southern Sumatra and Kalimantan. The resulting dense haze persisted across much of Equatorial Asia for weeks, imposing adverse public health impacts on populations in Indonesia, Singapore, and Malaysia. Using the adjoint of the GEOS-Chem global chemistry model together with health response functions, we estimate ~60 μg m−3 of population-weighted smoke PM2.5 exposure and 100 300 premature deaths across Indonesia, Malaysia, and Singapore due to extreme haze in 2015. These values are more than double the 25 μg m−3 of smoke PM2.5 and 37 600 premature deaths that we estimate for a similar haze event in the region in 2006. The approximate doubling of regional smoke exposure in 2015 compared to 2006 is consistent with observations of haze from both OMI AI and MODIS AOD during the two events.

Conditions are becoming worse with the El Nino Southern Oscillation (ENSO) cycle and Indian Ocean Dipole (IOD) potentiating factors.

enso_iod

 

The report notes that, “Exposure to air pollution increases the risk of death from a number of ailments including stroke and respiratory illnesses,” one of the researchers from Harvard University, Dr Shannon Koplitz, told Fairfax Media.

Indonesians were the worst affected with an estimated 91,600 excess deaths.

Last year Indonesia’s National Disaster management Agency (BNPB) acknowledged the severity of the situation reporting that hat 43 million Indonesians were affected by the smog in Sumatra and Kalimantan alone with 503,874 reported Acute Respiratory Infections (ARI).

fires_kompas_eng002
Based on a map appearing in Kompas, Tues 26 October, 2016

Topsfield reports Sutopo Purwo Nugroho from BNPB as claiming “There is nothing like that (91,000 premature deaths),”  and going on to say, “It is not true. The data is not valid. If there were high numbers of people dead we would have stated it in our almost daily forest fire press releases last year.”

It seems Sutopo Purwo Nugroho has misunderstood the data which pointed to premature deaths, rather than deaths in the present period.

Biggest Environmental Disaster of 21st Century

Topsfield  also quotes Erik Meijaard, an Indonesian-based honorary associate professor at the University of Queensland who says that “Indonesia’s fires are probably the biggest global environmental disaster of the 21st century”.

Meijaard wrote in The Jakarta Globe referencing the Mongabay Series: Indonesian Forests which noted that:

  • Greenhouse gas emissions from peat fires in Borneo and Sumatra are currently exceeding emissions from the entire U.S. economy, putting Indonesia on track to be one of the world’s largest carbon polluters this year.
  • According to the Global Fire Emissions Database (GFED) carbon emissions from Indonesia’s fires have just topped the CO2 equivalent of a billion tons.
  • The findings bring into sharp focus the importance of ending business-as-usual approaches to land management in Indonesia if the world hopes to curb greenhouse gas emissions.

While the health impacts are an obvious and continuing legacy of the rapacious forest burning there are other grave consequences.

Non-health consequence of forest clearing and burning

The impacts on endangered ecosystems and endangered animals, in particular, are well documented. Tragic as this is, particularly for animals such as the Sumatran Tiger and the Orang Utan, I’ve concentrated on less well known impacts. The WWF covers the issue of Palm Oil and Biodiversity Loss most thoroughly.

Subsidence of peatlands and their increasing vulnerability to sea level rise and flooding

Flooding in deltas and riparian lowlands is accelerated by the subsidence of peatlands.  Subsidence commonly occurs when channels are cut through peat lands as part of the clearing process. Peat dries out begins to release sequestered CO2 and shrinks. This is well documented in the Straits Times article which reminds us that unrestrained forest clearance to develop oil palm and pulpwood plantations leads to land subsidence.

The article observes that:

Millions of hectares of Indonesia’s former forest lands are slowly subsiding and could become flooded wastelands unable to grow food or timber-based products in one of the world’s most populous nations. Combined with rising sea levels, the scale of the problem becomes even more stark because much of the east coast of Sumatra is just a few metres above sea level.

It quotes Wetlands International which claims that between 70 per cent and 80 per cent of Sumatra’s peatlands have been drained, largely for agriculture.

Vast stretches of peatlands along Sumatra’s east coast that is mere metres about sea level. Mr Marcel Silvius of Wetlands International tells us:

These peatlands will become unproductive so that, over time, almost the entire east coast of Sumatra will consist of unproductive land that will become frequently flooded, adding that this means the livelihoods of the local communities will be jeopardised, and industrial plantations will not be possible any more.

Remediation is unlikely to be an option so the costs associated with this aspect of the palm oil industry are huge and inter-generational.

Siltation of drainage basins, mangroves and coastal waters

Clearing any land in humid environments increases run off and reduces the percolation of water into soils.  Run-off velocity in such situations also increases and without the protective forest layer erosion increases, top soil is lost and carried into water courses, streams and rivers. This in turn reduces the efficiency of channel flow, increasing flooding and also leading to increased siltation of estuaries and coastal waters.  Such siltation can disturb coastal mangroves and associated fish breeding areas.  River transport, coastal fishing and coastal navigation all suffer.

Muhammad Lukman, in research towards his PhD, has identified elevated levels of polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons in riparian and coastal sediments.   He suggests that his findings could be evidence of the effects of widespread, long-term and intense agricultural burnings along with the many forest/peat swamp fires that have frequently occurred in the past 20 years or so.

Some estimates of cost can be made in terms of the costs of flood mitigation and control measures, losses arising from flooding of agricultural land and settled areas, and the immediate impacts on navigation and fishing

Forced closure of schools and educational institutions;

On 25 September, 2015, as haze hovered above AQI 300 in Singapore, schools and kindergartens were closed and protective N95 masks distributed. Levels of smoke haze pollution were far higher in Indonesia where schools had been closed in the previous month. In Malaysia the government announced that schools would be closed in areas with an AQI over 200. On Monday 5 October, 2015, Detik online reported that in Pekanbaru, capital of Riau Province in Sumatra, schools had been closed for more than a month owing to the smoke haze. Finally the Department of National Education Pekanbaru forced students to go to school despite the smoke haze.

Such a cyclical problem will cause significant disruption to educational services and the development of human resources, particularly in Indonesia.

Closure of airports and disruption of airline schedules.

During the burning season 2015 flights were frequently cancelled at Sultan Syarif Kasim II (SSK II) airport Pekanbaru, in Riau province with visibility down to between 300 to 600 metres in the area. Elsewhere Kuching International Airport (KIA) in Sarawak, Malaysia was closed on September 10 with visibility down to some 400 metres. In Indonesia, poor visibility due to smoke disrupted flight schedules at Pinang Kampai Airport, Riau. All of these events have direct measurable impacts.

Losses sustained by the tourism industry and other business sectors

Last year Reuters quoted Irvin Seah, DBS economist in Singapore, who said, In 1997, the level of pollution was not this severe, and noting that the tourism industry’s contribution to the economy was relatively smaller back then.

The Reuters report observes that Tourism makes up 6.4 percent of Malaysia’s economy and about 5 to 6 percent of Singapore’s and quotes an ANZ research report that says, in Singapore, Shopping, restaurants, bars and outdoor entertainment will all suffer during this hazy period.

Among the events disrupted or even cancelled due to the haze were the 2015 FINA Swimming World Cup in Singapore and the Kuala Lumpur Marathon in Malaysia.

While losses in tourism and ancillary sectors can be calculated there are increased costs to businesses across the board. Developing and implementing disaster relief plans for employees is one area that is immediately obvious, then there are the issues of work days lost owing to respiratory or cardio pulmonary illnesses, disruptions to supply chains and various other schedules of usual business activity. Finally there is the matter of impacts on ventilation and air conditioning filtration systems particularly in Indonesia, Malaysia and Singapore.

Impact on global warming

This was also broached in the previous post Forest Burning and haze in Indonesia, Malaysia and Singapore. The precise impact of any one burning event is difficult to judge, but the immense quantities of carbon stored in the peatlands of Indonesia is cause for concern. One estimate suggests that Indonesia’s 1997 fires released 810 to 2,670 million tonnes of carbon into the atmosphere, the equivalent of 13 to 40 per cent of the fossil fuels emitted worldwide that year.

In a report entitled ‘Indonesian haze: Why it’s everyone’s problem’ on 18 September, 2015, CNN observed that, it’s a persistent, annual problem that disrupts lives, costs the governments of Indonesia, Singapore and Malaysia billions of dollars, and leaves millions of people at risk of respiratory and other diseases. The land that burns is extremely carbon rich, raising Indonesia’s contribution to climate change.

The CNN report also reminds us that in 2014 Indonesia was ranked the world’s sixth worst emitter of green house gasses.

environment, geography, Health, Indonesia

Forest Burning and haze in Indonesia, Malaysia and Singapore.

Living with the haze in Singapore.

Thunder, lightning and rain were a blessing through the night. Listening to the gentle tapping of rain drops on the window confirmed I’d been right switching off the airconditioning and air filter last thing. Rain always brings an interlude of clearer atmosphere. This was no exception with the PSI dropping to 87 and the PM2.5 to 95 from peaks of 224 and 274 in the previous 24 hours.

12015004_10153587953709694_6412679897148484678_o

Sitting here in Singapore over the past two weeks I’ve watched as levels of air pollution have risen. In this connected island nation with it’s ultra fast Internet gathering information about the problem is easy. The Haze Information Portal is my first reliable source of data. When the levels of air pollution rise to unhealthy I wear a mask to help filter out the PM2.5 the particles in the air that are smaller than 2.5 microns, the ones that can travel deep into the lungs.

The Air Quality Index (AQI)

Anyone living in a city listed in the Air Quality Index website can check their city’s AQI by using this link I’ve set up for South, Singapore. Just click on this link and search for your own city.

aqi_cols

The pollution indices and color codes available on this website follow the EPA graduation, as defined by AirNow and explained in wikipedia.

An experiment

As an experiment I just walked about 300 metres to the Zion Road Hawker Centre without wearing my mask. The entire journey was conducted with PM2.5 at 167, in the red band. I wore a mask on the return journey. Now my nose is itchy, I’m sneezing, I can feel a burning sensation deep inside my nose and the back of my throat. My voice is slightly hoarse. I’m actually in an at risk group and I’m by no means alone.

This is the last time I’ll attempt the experiment.

Source of the haze

After a few days living with the haze, particularly if PM2.5 reaches Hazardous, which it has done, reflecting on the cause of the problem is inevitable. In our case the problem is Indonesia, Sumatra to be precise, although it’s not alone, Kalimantan also has huge problems. Of course none of this is new, it’s been going on for a while. A friend who lived in Singapore back in 1993-94 reports encountering the haze.

This season in 2013 was also bad for haze but arguably the worst to date was the period 1997-98. At that time major forest and peatland fires broke out in South East Asia. Some of the areas plagued by fire were already very familiar to me, notably the Kutai region of eastern Kalimantan. An El Nino induced drought brought the critical conditions necessary for fire to break out in areas that had already been partly cleared of forest cover and contained huge fuel loads. A total of 10 million ha of forest was burnt during that time, primarily in Indonesia, but also in Malaysia, Brunei and Thailand. The fires burned or damaged over 1.45 million ha of peatlands, about 4% of the total peatland areas in the region. One million hectare of peat swamp forest in Indonesia was damaged in this period (BAPPENAS, 1999). Fires in the area of peat soils were identified as the major contributors (about 60% of particulates) to the smoke and haze which enveloped a major part of the region and contributed to an estimated economic loss of US$9 billion. [1]

Indonesian environments and palm oil plantations

Most people probably think of Indonesia as a land of rice fields and rainforests, and it is, but it’s also a land of monsoon forests, mangroves, nipa palm swamps and swamp forests. It’s in these swamp forests that the source of the problem lies dormant. If they are left undeveloped or developed in sustainable ways the problem usually doesn’t arise, but unfortunately they are falling victim to the rapidly expanding oil palm industry. Indonesia is the world’s largest Crude Palm Oil producer with about 10 million hectares of Palm Oil Plantation, more than 600 Palm Oil Mills, about 120 refineries, and some palm kernel oil mills, oleo chemical companies and biodiesel factories.

Palm oil is the world’s most widely consumed vegetable oil representing 34% of all vegetable oils consumed with soybean oil in second place at 27% of vegetable oils consumed. As the world’s largest palm oil producer, Indonesia is responsible for 52% of the world output. Production grew 11% per year between 1993 and 2013. Malaysia produces 34% of the global output. Combined Indonesian and Malaysian palm oil production in 2012 was valued at about $40 billion.

Well established palm oil plantations

Around 70% of Indonesia’s palm oil plantations are in Sumatra and the remaining 30% in Kalimantan. These islands also contain stands of tropical rainforests. Early palm oil plantations were often established in areas where rainforests had been logged for their valuable timber.  One notable area was the coastal fringe to the north-east of 3°N 99°E in North Sumatra province then extending south-east into the inland areas of Riau and Jambi provinces.

Mapping the Sumatran palm oil industry

Oil palm map
    Coastal areas of Sumatra support extensive swamp forests 
 Acknowledgement: B. Barus, Diar Shiddiq, L.S. Iman , B. H. Trisasongko, Komarsa, G, dan R. Kusumo) Staf Bagian Inderaja dan Informasi Spasial, Departemen Ilmu Tanah dan Sumberdaya Lahan, IPB; Peneliti Pusat Pengkajian Perencanaan dan Pengembangan Wilayah, LPPM, IPB;  Presented in National Seminar Sustainable Peat Land Management in the Agricultural Land Resources Agency (ALRA), Bogor, May 4, 2012

Early oil palm plantation development tended to be mostly in well-drained areas with undulating to hilly landforms.

Sumatra Topography. (CCL. Author Sadalmelik)
         Sumatra Topography. (CCL. Author Sadalmelik)

Recent oil palm plantation development is being undertaken in the swamp forests and associated peatlands within the north-eastern coastal areas of Sumatra.

Tropical swamp forests and peatlands in Indonesia

Peatlands cover at least 9% of the Indonesian land surface, the exact area is somewhere between 16.8 and 27.0 million ha. They form in swamp forests. The process of peat land formation is illustrated in the following diagrams.

Peat Dome

Peat is dead organic matter accumulated in a wet oxygen depleted environment, it is about 90% water and 10% plant matter. Such a high water content creates what is called a perched water table in the peat dome. Water retained in a peat dome is higher than in surrounding areas.

Deposits can accumulate over 1000s of years and those in South East Asia have been forming since sea levels stabilised after the Pleistocene, at the beginning of the Holocene.

About 70% of tropical peatlands are found in South East Asia. Most occur in coastal or peri-coastal swamp forests or lowland river catchments in areas of Indonesia in Sumatra, Borneo (Kalimantan) and West Papua, Papua. They play an important role in flood mitigation during wet seasons and maintaining water supply during dry seasons.

Tropical peat domes can be up to 50 km wide occupying entire catchments between adjacent rivers.

Although peat swamp forests have many species of valuable dipterocarps limited access, and the preponderance of dipterocarps in the larger tropical forests within more well-drained areas, ensured that they were less disturbed until recently. Consequently they have remained an important habitat for animals. In Sumatra peat swamp forests are habitat for endangered species like Orang Utan, Sumatran Tigers and Rhinocerous.

A store of carbon

Peat deposits are a large and highly concentrated carbon store. Peatlands and organic soils contain 30 percent of the world’s soil carbon but only cover 3 percent of the Earth’s land area. [3]  It is estimated that carbon storage in peatlands is up to 58 kg per cubic metre. Their capacity for carbon sequestration alone makes them a valuable global asset.

 Exploiting Sumatra’s peat lands

Given the huge income earning potential of the palm oil industry the clearing of swamp forests is increasing. In Indonesia cleared peatlands under oil palm cultivation are expected to increase to between 6 and 9 million ha by 2020, amounting to about one-third of total peatlands.  Such a large intervention will have major environmental consequences.

At a global scale, CO2 emission from peatland drainage in Southeast Asia is contributing the equivalent of 1.3% to 3.1% of current global CO2 emissions from the combustion of fossil fuel. If current peatland development and management practices continue, these emissions are predicted to continue for decades. 

Methods of clearing

Clearing swamp forests and associated peatlands is a two stage process:

  1. canals are dug through peat domes so that water drains away.  This causes the peat dome to subside.
  2. remaining forest cover is slashed and burned.

The process is well documented in Singapore’s Straits Times newspaper of October 1, 2015. There are some brilliant graphics.

The CO2 problem

Once peatlands are drained they begin to release CO2.  Once they are burnt the release of CO2 increases dramatically.

In an average tropical peat fire 33 cm of peat is lost, which corresponds to 702 t CO2 ha-1 (Ballhorn et al. 2009; Couwenberg et al. 2009). This is more than 15 times the annual oxidative loss from 50 cm deep drained peat soil and exceeds average Holocene accumulation rates by 100 to 550 times. As a result of burning peat and vegetation in Indonesia during the severe El Niño event of 1997/98 about 1.8-3.0 Gt of carbon dioxide were released to the atmosphere (Page et al. 2002; Van der Werf et al. 2008b; Couwenberg et al. 2009). 

Subsidence in the coastal and peri-coastal areas where peatlands are drained and burned presents additional problems going into the future.  More severe flooding exacerbated by sea level rise could render significant cleared tracts of land peatland unusable.

Summarising the impacts

Solutions

  • Finally the search facility in the Food and Agriculture Organisation website will turn up a rich stream of information on the problem and solutions

Why the air pollution and fires are such a problem at the moment

Apart from illegal and unregulated forest burning, three other geographic factors influence the problem, at any time.  These factors are climatic and meteorological. Their interaction can intensify or modify the air pollution problem on a given day.

A primary driver is the monsoon

The southern monsoon brings south-west to south-easterly winds to Indonesia and mainland South east Asia

monsoons

aus to sing
Wind directions between Australia & S E Asia October 1, 2015.

The influence of the monsoon is easily shown in this wind direction chart for Thursday October 1, 2015.

While the Australian continent is still relatively cool, winds are spilling out of Australia as south easterlies. Moving off shore they become easterlies then as they pass over the Equator they are deflected becoming south easterlies as the pass over Sumatra.  Now they begin to blow smoke over Sumatra, Singapore and Malaysia.

Variations in Weather

The wind direction on a given day will influence the intensity of the haze blowing over Singapore. This is determined by pressure cells.

2015-10-01_TopChart_07
Synoptic chart of October 1, 2015

Variations in the isobars, particularly the wavy patterns along the Equator further influence local wind direction.

ENSO

The southern oscillation plays an important role, particularly when the Indonesian and Philippines archipelagos move into an El Nino.  Aridity increases both intensifying and prolonging fire regimes.

areas affected
Areas experience reduced ocean temperatures and evaporation during the El Nino phase.
environment, history, Personal comment, trams

Sydney’s Trams their Rise, Decline, Demise and Rebirth

Chatting with students in class about Australia in the 1950s inevitably led to me reflect on the demise of Sydney’s tramway system. I loved trams as a child, I still do, and it remains a delight to be somewhere trams are still in use. The elevation, comfort , relative quiet and freedom from vibration when trams stop to collect passengers, or in traffic, contributes to a more peaceful journey than travel by bus or car. Some tram journeys are wonderful experiences and according to the GS Tram Site “there are almost 3200 cities in the world that have now, or had in the past, tram and/or LRT systems.”

In Constantinople/Istanbul the journey from Sultanahmet past the Grand Bazzar via Agia Sophia to the Spice Markets on the banks of the Golden Horn is enchanting.  From a childhood perspective the trip from Randwick to Flinders St along the margins of Centennial Park, past the Sydney Showground and Cricket Ground with water hens, ducks, ferris wheels and the Cricket Ground’s green domes was embued with its own magic.

In Sydney the only serious rival for trams are the ferries, but that’s another story.

Tram’s First appearance in Sydney

Trams made an early appearance in Sydney.  A limited horse drawn service appeared appeared as early as 1861, running from Central to Circular Quay and there were horse tram services still running as late as 1894, as shown in this photo from State Records NSW.

Horsedrawn tram

By 1879 the first steam tramway was established.  The photograph of this tram is from 1879 and is part of a collection from State Records NSW.

Steam Tram

Steam trams continued to be an important means of transport as Sydney grew through the next two decades.  When steam trams first appeared Sydney was a small city with 95% of the population living in the City of Sydney area and the immediate inner-city suburbs of  Woolloomooloo and Darlinghurst in the east, Redfern and Newtown in the south, Glebe, Annandale and Balmain to the west.

In the 1880s suburbs such as Leichhardt, Petersham, Stanmore and Summer Hill began to develop.  These suburbs  were the outer growth zone of Sydney.  Beyond lay  dairy farms and market gardening.  Trams were part of this development.

1920s Expansion

By the 1920s suburban expansion was becoming very rapid.  Supported by an increasingly extensive urban tramway network there was a wave of development and suburbs like Bondi, Bronte, Clovelly, Coogee, Daceyville,  Kensington, Kingsford, Maroubra, Randwick, Waverley, Willoughby, Canterbury, Bankstown, Haberfield, Concord, Five Dock, Auburn, Dundas and Eastwood grew rapidly. Trams were also operating on the north shore of the harbour from Milson’s as far as Chatswood in the early 1900s.  After the opening of the Harbour Bridge in 1932, trams also serviced suburbs such as Neutral Bay, Cremorne and Mosman.

World’s Largest Tram Network

The following photograph of trams in Railway Square Sydney was taken in 1927 just five years before Sydney’s urban tramway system had acquired the status of the world’s largest. Tragically, 30 years later it was gone.

1927 Railway Square. State Records NSW

As a child growing up in the Eastern Suburbs of Sydney, during the 1950s and early 1960s, I lived through the demise of trams and the beginning of the automobile revolution.

In the following photograph from the early 1950s, taken looking south along George St from Martin Place  towards the intersection of George and Barrack Sts, the relative absence of cars is most apparent.  At this time cars were still expensive and new cars luxury items.

George St looking south from Martin Place, early 1950s. From State Records NSW

With the mass production of cars over the ensuing ten years and the change over to a transport system based on cars and buses, the impact was dramatic.

George St, Sydney looking south from Goulburn St 1960. From State Records NSW

My students were quick to find the ‘tram graveyard‘, indeed they and successive generations of their peers had found it some years before and set about transforming the trams that remained.

Sydney’s Trams Today

The present Central to Lilyfield route is a very different experience to the trams of yesteryear, for starters it’s expensive and also over engineered. It carries a few commuters but so far its main clientele seem to be tourists and patrons for the Star City Casino.  I sometimes jump on to go to the city or the Fish markets.  The line is to be extended to Dulwich Hill and there’s even talk of resurrecting the trams from the graveyard and running them around s a tourist attraction.  The Barangaroo incorporates trams running along Hickson Rd to Millers Point and Walsh Bay.

Artists Impression of Hickson Road and part of the Barangaroo development

So I guess there’s still hope for a return to a more extensive tramway system and a greener city. Indeed, some of the features of the proposed Barangaroo development include a restriction on the size of underground car parking in the southern commercial precinct to two levels and an emphasis on public transport, bicycle paths and pedestrian bridges to the CBD.

For more on Sydney’s trams see “Remnants of Sydney’s Once Great Tramway“.