Latest delay a nightmare for planners of CBD and South East Light Rail

The discovery of bones near Sydney’s Central Railway Station has caused quite a fright for planners of the city’s new light rail system. Not because it was a particularly gruesome scene — the area was once home to Devonshire Street Cemetery — but because it threw another delay into an already plagued project.

The light rail system — which comes with at least a $2.1 billion price tag — was originally set to open in March 2019. A series of delays has pushed that date back to May 2020. Builder Acciona Australia, which is suing the New South Wales government for allegedly concealing that the government had not reached agreement with Ausgrid on how to deal with power lines along the route. As a result, Acciona has doubled its estimate on construction costs to $1.8 billion.

Now, it’s a problem from more than a century ago that’s rearing its ugly head to slow things down. The cemetery was consecrated in 1820, and workers began moving remains in 1901 as construction on the central station began. Families who could not afford to bury family members in the cemetery proper, or who were burying the deceased after the cemetery filled up in 1860, interred loved ones on the outskirts of the cemetery.

The bones found on the Chalmers Street section of track were removed and confirmed as human. Work has stopped only on that section, but the delay will continue until archaeologists survey the site and clear it for more construction.

When complete, the 12-kilometre CBD and South East Light Rail line will link Sydney’s Central Business District to the eastern suburbs, running from Circular Quay to Kingsford and Randwick, as the metropolitan area expands. While the latest setback may only be temporary, it doesn’t help the outlook on a project that people such as Sydney city councillor Angela Vithoulkas have already deemed a “horror story.”