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A bridge too far: Passengers on Sydney's new ferries would get 'their heads knocked off' on upper deck, say politicos

Can we make them higher?

As if we needed a reminder that joined-up thinking in government is rarer than hens' teeth, New South Wales has bought 10 River Class ferries that won't fit under two bridges in Sydney's Parramatta suburb if people are sitting on the upper deck.

Well, they will – just – but a public transport association has suggested the result would be 10 bloody stumps from the waist up.

So what is to be done? Will the eastern Australian state send them back to Indonesia for a refund?

Not according to a Transport for NSW [TfNSW] spokeswoman, who told the Sydney Morning Herald: "While customers are able to enjoy the upper deck during their commute, they will need to move to the lower deck when passing the bridge."

The boats are due to enter service later this year.

Naturally, the opposition has seized the opportunity to call it a "fiasco". Shadow minister for transport Christopher Minns thundered: "Unless [NSW Transport Minister] Andrew Constance himself is going to yell 'duck' as these ferries pass under bridges, this looks to be a huge time waste for ferry staff.

"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."

The state government and operator Transdev claimed that they were aware of the issue when the ferries were ordered, saying that some charter boats with viewing decks have the same problem.

But Graeme Taylor, of Sydney-based consumer group Action for Public Transport, was unimpressed with the excuse. "They bought an off-the-shelf option so the thing doesn't fit properly," he said.

"[People] would be severed from the waist up, at high tide it's a matter of centimetres."

Government said "operational procedures" would be implemented to move people off the top as it approaches the offending bridges "including signage, announcements and crew directing commuters".

Four of the ferries have arrived in Newcastle to the north of Sydney for final works and trials. The cost of leasing the vessels is part of a AU$1.3bn contract awarded to Transdev in February 2019.

Minns slammed the outcome as "another national joke" that ranks alongside "intercity trains that don't fit the track, or the 'Ferry McFerryface' fiasco".

He refers to NSW's 2018 order of 55 trains that were 20cm too wide for existing tunnels, and a public vote the same year that allegedly named another Sydney ferry after the meme that refuses to die, when it was in reality chosen by Constance.

Again, rather than backtracking, NSW relaxed safety standards and modified the tunnels. Sadly, we suspect messing with bridge heights is far more difficult due to the many knock-on effects it'd have on the rest of the transport network.

So if you find yourself enjoying the sights on a ferry along the Parramatta River one day – when [GESTURES BROADLY] is done with – remember to duck or you could end up with a shave that's three feet too close. ®

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