Personal reflections on urbanism, urban life and sustainable urban design in Wellington, New Zealand.

Thursday, May 04, 2006

Back on track: CBD light rail

I was planning a series of posts comparing the various proposals for LRT (Light Rail Transit) in Wellington, but it looks like the current proposals are all very similar. So far they're only concentrating on the route as far as Courtenay Place, but with less specific plans for an eventual extension to the hospital and/or airport: despite the article from two weeks ago, I haven't found any specific suggestions for a CBD-airport route. There are still rumours of a LRT option in the upcoming Johnsonville corridor report, but that has yet to surface. So for the moment, I'll look at proposals that extend from the northern suburbs to Courtenay Place.

The main proponents of LRT are:
Of these, Option 3 only mention a Plimmerton-Courtenay Place route, but that's understandable given their focus on a sustainable alternative to Transmission Gully, and I imagine that they're interested in other routes as well. WELL-TRACK adds a Hutt Central line and the Greens add both a Hutt Line (with a Melling-Waterloo link) and the Johnsonville line, and both mention a waterfront heritage tram as an option. Of all of them, WELL-TRACK has much more detail, though the only place I've seen the detailed proposal online is as Appendix 1 of Efford's Transmission Gully paper (195kB PDF). For this post, I'll concentrate on the details of the CBD section, based upon Efford's report.

WELL-TRACK's suggested LRT routes for downtown WellingtonThe main Golden Mile loop starts on the western side of the railway station, with LRVs (Light Rail Vehicles) switching from the existing suburban rail lines to on-road tracks that cross the very top of Featherston St to the Lambton Hub bus terminal. From here, a double track line goes as far as Hunter St, using existing bus lanes as far as Bowen St and a new exclusive transitway (shared with buses) along the western side of Lambton Quay. Peter Dunne would hate it, of course, since cars would be restricted to the eastern half of the Quay, but it has the huge advantage that LRVs and buses won't have to deal with traffic lights.

The route would split between Hunter St and Manners Mall, a bit like the bus route does at the moment. The difference would be that southbound LRVs would follow Victoria St rather than doing the complicated zig-zag that the buses do (and will continue to do, to avoid Manners Mall). From Manners Mall to the end of Courtenay Place, the line would be double-track again.

Efford also mentions a waterfront route using heritage trams. While this would be primarily a tourist attraction like the Christchurch tram, Efford points out that there are plenty of reasons why this would be a more practical transport option than when a similar idea was suggested in 1993 (2.3MB PDF). Back then, there was no Stadium, no Te Papa, no Harbour Quays and virtually nothing on the waterfront, and the WELL-TRACK proposal now suggests a much more extensive route.

The line would start at the Ferry terminal and travel along the existing track beside Aotea and Waterloo Quays, thus servicing passengers from the Interislander and cruise ships as well as the Stadium and Harbour Quays. From there it could travel along a single lane of Customhouse and Jervois Quays (now with added pohutukawa!) and Cable St as far as Waitangi Park, with a link to Courtenay Place. It would mostly be single track, with passing tracks at Kumutoto and Te Papa, and there would also be a link along Bunny St to the Golden Mile line.

Next time, I'll look at possibilities for the Courtenay Place to Airport section.


At 8:07 am, May 05, 2006, Blogger Hadyn said...

Ha, Jo you're only allowed the SUV if you promise to be the only person in it. No car-pooling! That's cheating!

I often wondered why no tunnels and then I remember: the earthquakes.

At 5:06 pm, May 05, 2006, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Two things to say on this.

1) Light Rail on the Kapiti line is not a good idea. This line reaches out over 50 kilometers from the city. That is as far as the longest BART line on San Francisco's system. This line is an intersuburban line, it has large gaps inbetween stations of up to 6 kilometres. The short coming of Light Rail is that it is less comfortable and slower than suburban units (I'm talking proper modern units here not the excuses we see on our lines). With trains that could reach speeds of 150kph on this line you would see an express from Paraparaumu to Wellington in under 22 minutes compared to the current 55 minutes. This is the selling point on upgrading this line, this is what will get people out of cars, and this is what should be promoted.

2) Light Rail through the city is most defnitely possible. There are many options for routes depending on the budget. Ideally a subway to Courtenay Place would allow the high speed suburban units to offer one seat trips to most destinations, and take light rail off the streets in the dense, tight inner city where they are competing with pedestrians and busses. Alternatively a subway exiting at Dixon/Willis streets would be almost as good. From C plc. Light rail would likely follow a route along the "growth spine" down Cambridge/Kent Tce, Adeleide Road, Riddiford St, and then through a tunnel to Rongotai Road in Kilbernie.

The council should be making plans for this route by buying back land to widen Adeleide Road to 35 metres, turning it into an avenue with rail in the middle. It should also do this in conjunction with a plan to revitalise this area into a dense live/work/play centred around this.

The council or a community group really needs to get organised and build a vision for this so it can influence future developments.

At 11:38 am, May 08, 2006, Blogger Tom said...

Hi anonymous: you raise some very interesting points. I used to think the same about the Kapiti line, but the current proposals only have light rail as far as Plimmerton (or perhaps Pukerua Bay), with express trains for longer distances. Besides, the LRVs that Efford suggests would be capable of 100kmh on the existing rail track, making them at least as fast and comfortable as commuter rail. The Johnsonville line still seems like the easiest place to start, since the lines aren't used by long-distance trains and the rolling stock there is already in dire need of replacement.

Secondly, there are two reasons why I haven't suggested a subway. One is the obvious issue of cost, practicality and disruption. The other is that since tram stops are at street level, they are much safer and more convenient for passengers than underground stations.

In terms of the Courtenay to Airport link, have a look at today's post on the subject. I certainly agree that Adelaide Rd should become the hub of a dense mixed-use community, rather than a bleak light-industrial strip, and apparently it will be the first part of the growth spine to undergo an urban design study. There are encouraging signs that the council is starting to see urban form and transport as inextricable issues that have to be dealt with through an integrated approach: I just hope that their talk of "seamless public transport" along the growth spine turns out to be more than just a couple of bus lanes.

At 11:42 am, May 08, 2006, Blogger Tom said...

I've just managed to dig up Brent Efford's suggestion about the Kapiti line:

"Light rail would probably be best operated from Plimmerton south, enabling more frequent stops
to be provided. The existing EMUs would run express south of Plimmerton, stopping only
at Porirua, thus providing a fast service which would make rail more attractive for Kapiti

That's from pp7-8 of the PDF that I linked to.

At 2:44 am, May 09, 2006, Blogger Libertyscott said...

LRT wont happen in Wellington because generally speaking LRT, unless it is already there (and a sunk cost) is either too much or too little compared to buses or heavy rail. Too much, because it is duplicating the infrastructure of a bus lane with vehicles that are many times the cost, and infrastructure that is many times the cost of roads. Too little, because when the amount of traffic is such that individual buses (double deck or articulated) are not enough to run frequently, then you really are talking about heavy rail to properly separate flows of traffic from each other and run high capacity services. LRT vehicles cost five times that of buses (and only last twice as long), their infrastructure costs far more per km to build and maintain (because it isn’t shared).

That’s the problem. LRT is useless on Wellington rail lines to Paraparaumu and Upper Hutt, because it has to operate at relatively high speeds for long stretches (meaning you’re building electric motors able to operate at different torques from tram speeds) and mingle with freight traffic (meaning it needs building to handle collisions with wagons, which makes the vehicles heavier). Almost everywhere this is avoided for safety reason. Johnsonville line on its own is not economic for LRT. Given the government/GW has funding for new electric units to replace the English Electrics within the next five years, it is pointless talking about light rail. For the same money you can get more buses, more trains and more bus priority measures.

Having said that I love trams and LRT always seems very attractive – which it should be, it is very expensive and nowhere are the people using it ever paying for more than a small proportion of the costs. In Melbourne the trams are well loved and looked after, but the buses are a shadow of what they could be, even though they are just as important.

At 5:03 pm, May 09, 2006, Blogger Tom said...

"LRT, unless it is already there (and a sunk cost) is either too much or too little". We already have 70% of a proper rail network: it's what's stopped Wellington from turning into Auckland. It just stops in the wrong place. By completing the rail network, we aren't starting from scratch but building on an already half-decent system.

"LRT is useless on Wellington rail lines to Paraparaumu and Upper Hutt, because it has to ... mingle with freight traffic ... Almost everywhere this is avoided for safety reasons." Karlsruhe has had LRV sharing tracks with freight and EMU since 1992, and the same model has been followed by several cities since then.

"It is very expensive and nowhere are the people using it ever paying for more than a small proportion of the costs" - and where in the world are drivers paying the full cost for the roads, road maintenance, pollution and social disruption that a car-dependent lifestyle demands, let alone the damage it does to urban form and cohesion?

Drivers also benefit from good PT systems, since the space efficiency of rail frees up road space. If all the 12,000 commuters who arrive by rail each morning switched to cars, how much would it cost to build the extra lanes required? The 35% subsidy that Wellington PT enjoys (our 65% fare recovery ratio is extraordinarily high by world standards) seems like a bargain.

At 9:04 am, June 19, 2006, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Yes Karlsruhe does have LRT sharing heavy rail tracks. It was an appropriate mode for a number of lightly trafficked branch lines that didn't justify a full heavy rail service.

That argument might well be applied to the Johnsonville line but not to the Hutt and Kapiti lines which form a core backbone to the region.

These idealy need to be high speed lines with well spaced stations providing fast (120km) frequent service linking the region.

Outside of the congested peak our trains are incredibly slow compared with driving. Light rail to Upper Hutt of Plimmerton would just not compete with the car for speed.

This principle has underpinned the new rail lines in Perth. You just can't drive as fast as the train, and on the motorways shared with trains they overtake the cars at all times of the day which gives a powerful and very successful incentive for using public transport.

As for an underground extension from Wellington Station to Courtenay Place. Budget from $200m for a simple bored tunel CBD loop (no grand terminal stations like Britomart). Hell of a lot less disruption than digging up the whole CBD for tram tracks and still a fraction of the cost of Transmission Gully.

Personally I love tramways, but they are a complimentary mode well suited to shorter trips in denser urban corridors (such as current trolley routes in Wellington).

At 10:50 pm, November 17, 2006, Anonymous Anonymous said...

A correction to lx's view of Karlsruhe: its LRVs don't just on "lightly trafficked branch lines" - they also share main lines with conventional passenger and freight trains.


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