NSW Government Shadow Transport Minister, Jo Haylen MP, visited Manly earlier this week (12 July) to discuss applying political pressure for the reintroduction of the two remaining Freshwater Class ferries for full-time deployment between Manly and Circular Quay.
Arriving on the Victor Chang, one of nine Emerald Class ferries that have replaced the four Freshwater Class ferries, Ms Haylen met Northern Beaches Deputy Mayor Candy Bingham, Greg Donnelly MLC, and local activists from Save The Manly Ferry campaign group.
At present the ‘Freshies’ are only used on weekends and public holidays, while their recently-introduced replacements, the faster but significantly smaller, twin-hulled Emerald Class II ferries, run the regular weekday timetable.
Currently one of the newer Emerald ferries, Balmoral, is out for ‘scheduled maintenance’. It was replaced by one of the older Emeralds, which, in turn, have been repeatedly cancelled due to inclement weather. As such, many regular commuter services are being replaced by buses this winter, which has been met with commuter frustration.
Addressing the commonly-held belief that Freshwater ferries are more robust in rougher waters, the TfNSW spokesperson added: “It is a common misconception that Freshwater vessels can operate in a wider range of weather conditions than a modern catamaran, such as the Generation 2 Emerald Class ferries.
“The most pressing factor in service operation during more extreme weather events is customer comfort. Regardless of the vessel class operating the F1 route, ferry services rarely operate in conditions that are uncomfortable for customers.”
While TfNSW insists the new ferries are suitable for the route, a leaked memo from earlier this year indicates not everyone has been confident with their abilities.
Public (and union) anxiety that the new smaller vessels would be unable to negotiate the at-times giant swell through the heads of Sydney Harbour was reignited when a memo from operators Transdev was leaked to the media in April 2022.
On 10 March 2022, a Fleet Operations Temporary Memorandum issued by TransDev warned ferry captains that the new vessels risked becoming ‘airborne’ when steered into large waves.
The memo cautioned: “It was evident during the trials when navigating the Emerald Class Generation 2 vessel directly into the waves or on a 45-degree angle to the waves at speeds of round 10 knots, caused the vessel to become airborne and resulted in tunnel slamming. This can be detrimental to the vessel’s integrity and the safety and comfort of the crew and passengers.
“Running ahead of the swell must be avoided, as this may cause ‘trapping’, which results in the vessel bow-diving or broaching, and a loss of control.”
A bit of background
Cr Candy Bingham is a strong supporter of retaining the larger Freshwater Class ferries, at least until equivalent-sized, 1100-capacity, double-ended replacements are introduced. By contrast, the Emerald Class ferries have propellors at only one end and their passenger capacity is limited to around 400.
On 25 March 2021 Cr Bingham presented a petition of 22,000 signatures to the NSW Parliament calling for the retention of all four Freshwater Class ferries, which were projected to be retired permanently in 2023.
Manly MP James Griffin, who joined a protest ride on a ferry in December 2020 to express his support for retaining the Freshies, proposed they should continue in a reduced capacity, instead of permanent retirement. In January 2021 he told Manly Observer, “What can you point to that makes you so adamant that it needs to be all four? We can’t have large empty boats running Monday to Friday just because they are nice to look at.”
Although the Freshwater Class ferries were scheduled to be completely phased out by July 2021, in January 2021, the NSW Government’s then-Transport Minister Andrew Constance unexpectedly announced two would be retained in service, albeit only on weekends and public holidays, on an hourly timetable.
However, Cr Bingham was disappointed, and in a statement sent to Manly Observer at the time, said “Keeping two out of four Freshwater ferries and running them only on weekends and public holidays is not a solution.
“The ferries are not saved and here’s why: tourists don’t just visit on weekends. Sydney is an international city and tourists are here every day of the year. For tourists, the classic Manly Ferry is an experience in its own right. It’s probably the main reason they are going to Manly in the first place.
“And the amount these visitors pour into the Manly and Northern Beaches economy is huge – Northern Beaches Council estimates it at $500M a year. These figures are so big, and the Manly Ferry is such an icon for Sydney as a whole, that we are calling for Tourism Minister Stuart Ayers to intervene to guarantee that all four classic ferries will be saved. He would be there if half of the Opera House was under threat.”
Retention, not retirement
The Shadow Transport Minister states she is a keen supporter of retaining the Freshies full-time, seven days a week. On 31 October 2021, Ms Haylen posted an open letter to then NSW Transport Minister Rob Stokes calling on him to reverse the Government’s decision to retire the Queenscliff.
In the letter she said, “The overseas-built Emeralds meant to replace the Queenscliff have been beset with design and operational problems and are yet to come into service. They are also unable to safely carry passengers in swells that are over three metres which commonly occur during the crossing of Sydney Heads….
“Capacity on the replacement Emerald Class is only 400, compared to the Queenscliff and other Freshwater Class Manly ferries which sit 1,100 passengers. Such a significant drop in capacity could mean that passengers are left on the wharf…
“Rob Stokes must save the Queenscliff. Mothballing one of our iconic Manly ferries will lead to service cancellations, delays and reduced capacity right at the start of the service’s summer peak.”
After her 12 July meeting with Cr Bingham and the Save The Manly Ferry campaigners, Ms Haylen told Manly Observer, “The Government needs to listen to the community across the Northern Beaches. They want a reliable Manly ferry service instead of a service that is often cancelled because the overseas built Emerald Class 2 vessels aren’t up to the job.
“Save The Manly Ferry have led the campaign to bring back the Freshwater Class Manly Ferries. It’s great to meet with them, and I’m here to support their campaign to bring back the iconic Freshwater class ferries so that the Northern Beaches and all of Sydney gets the reliable Manly ferry service it deserves.”
Deputy Mayor Candy Bingham said it was pleasing to see committed interest from the Shadow Transport Minister in the Manly ferry service.
She told Manly Observer, “Ms Haylen was right up to date with all the issues of the flawed Emerald ferries that have been assigned to the Manly route to replace the traditional Freshwater ferries. There was general agreement that these vessels were not up to the task.
“We had a very fruitful discussion about a 5 year plan to rectify the situation.”
Transport for NSW reply
Manly Observer asked Transport for NSW (TfNSW) if three possible options could be considered:
- Extend the daily service of the existing Freshwater class ferries (Freshwater and Collaroy) beyond weekends and public holidays.
- Repair the two Freshwater class ferries (Narrabeen and Queenscliff) that have been retired and put them back in service.
- Invest in a more rugged ocean-going ferry (more like the Freshwater than the Emeralds) capable of both withstanding the heavy waves that frequently roll in through Sydney Heads and with a larger passenger capacity.
However, TfNSW are not, at present, considering other options beyond the existing ferry service between Manly and the City.
A TfNSW spokesperson told Manly Observer, “The NSW Government has committed to retaining two Freshwater Class ferries that will continue to operate alongside the Generation 2 Emerald Class ferries on weekends and public holidays on the F1 Circular Quay to Manly route.
“Regardless of the vessel class operating the route, ferry services rarely operate during large swells, (at or above 4.5m) for customer comfort reasons. Swells in excess of 4.5m are a rare occurrence, impacting less than 3% of F1 ferry services.
“Generation II Emerald Class ferries are purpose-built to operate in heavy swells. They are also fully accessible, significantly reduce carbon emissions and allow for more weekly services to better suit the needs of customers. Despite having smaller capacity, due to being able to operate the route faster than Freshwater ferries, the Generation 2 Emerald Class ferries can transport more passengers per day.”
Rally for Freshies return
On Sunday 24 July, Save the Manly Ferry campaigners are hosting a rally at Manly Town Hall (corner The Corso and Belgrave St, central Manly) from 11am.
Facebook event details: https://www.facebook.com/events/425300542826684/
Manly Observer has since learned from Transport for NSW that the MV Queenscliff will be brought back in service on the F1 route between Manly and Circular Quay some time in 2023.