Sydney Monorail - a Photo Essay
photos and commentary by Kim Pedersen

Editor's Note: After 25 years, the Sydney Monorail closed on June 30, 2013. The 3.6-kilometer loop peoplemover monorail had been the subject of debate since it opened. During its lifetime it was mostly ridden by tourists, but the final days of the monorail saw a spike in local patronage. Riders clambered for a chance to get a last ride on the iconic Von Roll-built system. The system, like many other Von Roll-built monorails, was plagued with technical problems since opening. Sources with firsthand knowledge have told The Monorail Society that the operator company also did a less than stellar job maintaining Sydney Monorail.

Welcome to Sydney, Australia. Sydney is the most populous city in Australia. It's known for its iconic Sydney Harbour Bridge, Sydney Opera House, and amongst we monorailists, one of the most photogenic urban monorails in the world. If you compare the above picture with the map below, you'll see that we are looking down on much of the Sydney Monorail route. That big white-roofed building in the foreground is the Sydney Exhibition Centre. In the distance it's possible to spot the Sydney Harbour Bridge, and to the right of it, the jagged-edged Sydney Opera House.


The monorail is a single-line loop, which somewhat limits its usefullness as peoplemover. The flaw of a single line peoplemover loops can be explained with the above map. If you were to get on the monorail at City Centre and ride it down to Darling Park, it's a relatively short ride. If you want to return from Darling Park back to City Centre, you would then be forced to ride the rest of the entire loop and stop at six stations along the way. That's no problem for monorailists that enjoy the ride, as a complete loop ride is still less than 15 minutes, but perhaps an unwelcome time addition for locals interested in the quickest transport during their lunch break. The Sydney Monorail still does provide a valuable transit link between popular destinations in and near downtown, and a full loop ride is a wonderful way to take in the sights of the city. It carries around four million passengers each year. As we take our tour, I recommend using the above map to keep track of where we are.

One of the great things about riding a monorail is the view from above. I like 'the view from above' in other ways too, whether it's an airplane, on a mountain or way up in a tower. To get a better view of Sydney, my family and I zipped up to the top of Sydney Tower. You'll see several images taken from up there in this essay. This one illustrates the main function of the Sydney Monorail, which is to connect downtown (bottom), with Darling Harbour (top). Darling Harbour is a giant redevelopment area of what was once a derelict part of Sydney's commercial port. In the 1980s it was redeveloped as a pedestrian and tourist precinct. The Sydney Monorail was built by Von Roll Monorail of Switzerland and opened in July of 1988.

As I like to do in our photo essays, we'll follow the track in our tour. We start at City Centre, where the monorail station is built into the building. I love stations like this, but there really aren't that many of them. Since Sydney Monorail is a 3.6 kilometer loop, we will return to this spot!

Like many cities, Sydney is filled with contrasts in architecture and style. The modern look of the totally automated monorail arguably blends in well with old and new buildings alike. We're on Market Street heading towards the harbour, the ornate building behind the train is QVB (Queen Victoria Building-1898). Shoppers, be sure to check it out!

Here's our first look at Sydney Tower, as seen on one of the most creative aspects of the Sydney Monorail. To appease NIMBYs that didn't like the idea of 'ugly' monorail structure in their downtown (some continue to whine and moan about it), the designers of the system added marbled pylon supports with mirrored supports in so-called sensitive areas. They look fantastic and did not add much to the final cost of the system. The system was designed and built in a record 26 months.

Here's your classic Kodak Photo Spot for Sydney Monorail. The track makes a graceful crossing of both Market and Clarence Streets as it descends down a hill towards the harbour. Sydney Tower and the skyline add to the appeal for photographers, yours truly included.

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