The latest ferry terminal constructed under the NSW Roads and Maritime Service (RMS) Wharf Upgrade Program is at Birchgrove on the Cockatoo Island line.
I had my doubts about the project's priority, given the low ridership from Birchgrove and higher priorities elsewhere, like Watsons Bay. This is compounded by the lack of landside disability access, which is the responsibility of Inner West Council. On the face of it, the old practice of simply replacing timber piles from time to time for the old stepped wharf would probably have been a better use of taxpayer funds.
But it is built now and was re-opened for use yesterday.
To its credit, RMS is learning from previous upgrades and making innovations to overcome shortcomings evident in earlier projects. An earlier post on this blog describes the improvements at Milsons Point.
The striking innovation at Birchgrove is the fender design. A fender acts as a cushion between the ferry and the pontoon to avoid damage to either the wharf or vessel when a ferry berths. The image below shows vertical fenders at Balmain East wharf, which was rebuilt by RMS in 2015.
The problem with this design is the fenders can be an obstacle in themselves making it tricky for a catamaran ferry to avoid clipping them. The wide gap between the vessel and pontoon also pose a risk for children falling into the water. It does happen!
RMS has tackled the problem at Birchgrove by modifying the shape of the vertical fenders and adding "whalers" to the fender system. Whalers are horizontal timber beams which are connected at each end to vertical fenders. The shape of the vertical fenders are also modified to provide a rounded, smooth surface.
The end result is that the berthing face is more or less a straight line and there is very little gap between the boat and pontoon if there is good alignment between the pontoon deck and the vessel freeboard. This is clear from the image below showing a First Fleet class ferry berthing yesterday at Birchgrove.
While crowding is not an issue at Birchgrove, the pontoon layout looks better designed than other similar sized pontoons for passenger egress. Seating is further away from the gangway area, so disembarking passengers can exit without interference.
Early days, but I give Birchgrove wharf a thumbs up!