Low blow: Sydney’s new ferries won’t fit under bridges with passengers on top deck

The New South Wales government has confirmed that 10 newly purchased ferries will not be able to safely pass under bridges along the Parramatta River if commuters are sitting on the top decks.

Purchased from Indonesia, the new River Class ferries are set to join the NSW transport fleet later in the year, operating along the Parramatta River and on inner harbour routes.

The new boats include an upper deck with 10 seats, but these commuters must be called below before the boat can travel under the Camellia Railway Bridge and the Gasworks Bridge near Parramatta due to their low clearance levels.

The NSW shadow minister for transport, Christopher Minns, has criticised the government’s decision to purchase the ferries off-the-shelf rather than have them custom built.

“This is another example of what happens when you buy ‘off the shelf’ transport infrastructure from other countries. There are too many variables in our transport system,” he said.

“We’d like the government to tell transport commuters what safety measures they are putting in place to keep commuters safe … It’s hard to believe they went ahead with this order knowing that the ferries wouldn’t fit under the bridge.”

Minns suggested to the Sydney Morning Herald that commuters would risk decapitation in they did not move below decks.

“Now alongside late-running trains and Covid-safe buses, commuters will have to worry about bridges knocking their heads off as they battle Sydney’s transport.”

However, a spokesperson for Transport for NSW said the practice of removing people from the top deck while travelling sections of the Parramatta River was not new.

“The process of customers moving to the lower deck between Rydalmere and Parramatta [one stop] is already in place for the existing fleet of charter vessels currently used by Transdev Sydney Ferries,” they said.

“These charter vessels have a viewing deck, while other vessels used by Transdev Sydney Ferries on the Parramatta River do not.”

They suggested the ferries were purchased with the bridges clearance levels in mind, but the government opted to include a top deck to give passengers the options of open-air viewing for the rest of the journey.

The purchasing of ill-fitting public transport isn’t new to the NSW government. In 2018 they were heavily criticised for ordering 55 new trains worth $2bn that were too wide to safely fit through some tunnels, as well as too wide for some stations.

The government later widened the tunnels to accommodate the trains.

Now it will be the responsibility of the crew on board the new ferries to ensure all passengers have moved below decks before travelling under the two bridges.

The new River Cat Fleet will have the capacity for 200 customers and will replace the SuperCats and HarbourCats ferries as well as four charter vessels that are currently being used to supplement the regular river timetables.