Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Commuter rail link would serve all of Christchurch

Photo Diesel Unit at Onehunga Station, Auckland  2010 Wikimedia Commons

In a recent post I advocated building a rail link between Redwood area, just south of the Styx rail overbridge heading west to Johns Road, then past the airport down to Islington, creating what is in effect a circular rail network with lengthy spurs, able to be operated in all sorts of inter-active commuter patterns  (see map below).

Click on images to enlarge (this map superceded in November 2011 by the one below)

As well as adjoining many existing residential areas, industrial and office park areas and major shopping hubs, this network would also serve the airport and the proposed/existing Addington City sports and events zone, and the central city.  The network as proposed here would also serve (and no doubt foster) many new developments, such as Upper Styx or Islington Park. Or  for instance it might add a big boost to redevelopment in the older areas such as those around Charleston, Roimata, Philipstown,  if by boarding a train at Ensors Road residents could easily access almost every major industrial-office park zone and several huge retail employers stretching from Rangiora to Rolleston.

Obviously a very effective interlinked bus service will also play a key role, including a five minute free shuttle service from the city's premier rail and bus and long distance coach centre (and shopping/entertainment centre) built on the land of the former railway good sheds between Colombo Street and Durham Street overbridge (the area in photos below).

Given that this vast, if solid concrete, building appears to have survived some vicious erathquakes, and still have internal platforms (to the best of my knowledge) it may even be possible to modify, strengthen, and reface in attractive glass and stone desiogns etc the building itself

Although it lacks the direct rail to Cathedral Square quality of the proposed light rail route, the circular route pattern in the map above links well over 200,000 of our residents (and 100,000 more across the whole province)  into easy access to the central city by conventional and sturdy commuter rail. This would have a huge impact far in excess of the minimal cost-benefits of a singular line to Ilam. The commuter rail benefits include a reverse pattern flow - comfortable inner city apartment life-styles fostered in central areas because it is possible to get to work by rail to almost every major employment zone- as far afield as Rolleston or Rangiora. 

This suggested line - double tracked with grade separation (no inter-action with cars etc) in my vision would be built mainly as part of the  Auckland-Christchurch freight corridor but offer opportunity to structure in commuter rail, presumably mainly financed by Government and KiwiRail, as has happened in Auckland and Wellington. Indeed it would be silly to build such a freight corridor and not factor in passenger transport facilities and land use in adjoining areas, even if some commuter rail links might still be years away.

I believe this link rail project could be built for under the $400 million figure esrtmated for creating a light rail down Riccarton Road.

I also believe this western rail corridor delivers far more economic, environmental, and social punch for the money.

The rail loop corridor protects the long term mobility and potential quality of life of ALL city residents (in a way the Riccarton tram line does not)  if oil prices rise dramatically and permanently, as they may well do now that oil production appears to reached peak production.  Apart from much shorter drives to car parks at stations at the periphery of the city (eg Russley, Chapmans Road) trains and bikes can work exceedingly well together and some carriages could be designed especially for cyclists, with a network of quality cycleways tofro stations.

A great advantage of this rail corridor is that most of the infrastructure can be built in advance of extensive new housing, commercial and industrial areas - at East and West Belfast, The Styx Centre (Northwood), Styx Mill, Johns Road, Spitfire Centre, Dakaota Park, Russley, Masham, Broomfield, Islington Park, the Izone at Rolleston, Rolleston itself, Wigram, Addington and Sydenham and (in peak hours anyway) the expansion of the Woolston industrial area.  Potentially other areas, also to be linked in - Highfield and Prestons. This premature design removes conflict between trains, residents and cars (using over passes, underpasses or trenches and subways and also allows access to the rail to be maximized whether for bike and skateboard or for park and ride and kiss and ride. Glassed off  platforms could allow direct access into malls and shopping complexes.

I suggested in my previous posting that the line via the airport could be built in a cut and cover trench (as at New Lynn, Auckland) with a station under Orchard Road, adding perhaps $150-200 million to costs). However any station in this area would anyway need to be served by a people mover or a five minute shuttle bus service to airport terminals and work places in the general area.

Moving the line westwards, towards Russley Road on the surface seems a much more cost-effective option. This would work  if the overbridge being planned instead carried Memorial Avenue across the four laned Russley Road [rather than the reverse as currently proposed] and Memorial Avenue bridge continued across (above) the railway lines, with  the station concourse entering straight into the atrium or open mall space of the Spitfire Shopping complex planned for this area. With also of coursel platforms linked to Shuttle buses for the area, which currently sees 50,000 movements a day  - and growing.  

Moving Russley Road itself a few 10? metres eastwards (creating a gentle curve until past Avonhead Road) would create more room to run train double-tracks under the overbridge and on a corridor of land immediately west of Russley Road, in front of the existing industrial buildings (Check SB Global Logistics, Jamieson Place,  on Google maps to get a better understanding of the immediate area being described).

On my (potted) reading the basic line costs of double tracking and necessary signal cabling etc would be under $7 million per kilometre, including currently rural land purchase; the overbridges (such as Buchananans Road, Yaldhurst Road etc) about $15-20 million each, the smaller stations about $5-10 million each. (These figures are only extrapolated from Australia and NZ projects without all factors known and may be widely astray- welcome more accurate guesses!)

Unlike the "light rail network" which is expected to to cost $1.9 billion and would take years to develop in sequence, line by line after the proposed City-Riccarton tram line, the Western Rail Corridor and associated commuter system, in one move brings a huge chunk of greater Christchurch into one linked system for (probably) less than $500 million while simultaneously hugely upgrading our rail freight base and its potential doorstop link to industry. Commuter rail of course also has much greater elasticity and room for expansion than either buses or light rail - in the event of a new "Lancaster Park" at Addington and big Test matches and similar, adding carriages and locomotives to the DMU unit system means rail could deliver tens of thousands directly into the area, from all of Canterbury - and directly.

I have suggested in my last posting on this issue a bus subway under the railway line at Clarence Street with access to Addington station above. Elements like this would add greatly to the cost but to some extent the rail network with its many component parts could be built in stages. For instance  land for a railway corridor spur to West Belfast, (and a tunnel under the new Motorway), the top of the proposed Highfield subdivision and the middle of the proposed Prestons subdivision could all be set aside, or even developed as a segregated busway link to the Styx Centre station, in the years it takes to build up a population base sufficient to add rail services. On the other hand the designated rail corridor might suggest more concentration of housing towards this corridor, apartments (with a nice rural, mountain view) to three or four storeys etc.

I imagine some chagrin from Lyttelton and eastern suburb residents might be felt towards this particular design proposal, but  Christchurch is very in size small to carry viable commuter rail and I think that would be pushing the envelope beyond common sense.  The made here suggestion relies on tacking commuter rail onto the Government's Auckland-Christchurch freight corridor upgrade; the probable increased use in public transport post peak oil; onto an effective system based on multiple traffic generator points and multiple use patterns. Not least it also recognises the greater stability of stony north and west land, which suggests a greater rebuild of thousands of lost houses (from the earthquake) in these areas rather than in the east. With its many swamps and large green spaces (QEII, golf courses, estuary etc) the eastside always was always more of  a challenge in terms of sufficient population and geography, to service with a frequent multi-directional public transport network. This challenge seems likely to greatly increase with the reversion of many unstable areas, formerly housing, back to park or paddock. Lyttelton (even adding Heathcote and Diamond Harbour populations ) falls too far short in of any minimum viability for commuter rail, quite apart from the long walk up the hill better mitigated by the bus routes.

The conditions that once supported commuter rail to port are long gone, and instead there is a serious bottleneck with great vulnerability for freight. On the other hand a park and ride (and bus drop off/pick up zone) area at Chapmans Road might attract residents working in the north and west from all of the Sumner/Lyttelton/Harbour area.

Wellington aside - it is unusual to build rail (light rail or commuter rail) in cities as small as Christchurch, in low density countries such as Canada, USA or Australia.  There are over 120 cities between 300,00 and a million in these four countries and Wellington is the only city with its own proper (7 day a week, multiple routes) commuter rail system (one or two cities have commuter links to bigger cities - eg Newcastle to Sydney).

However a very effective route structure with multiple overlapping functions, and timing (after earthquakes, before oil shocks, as part of rail freight expansion) could just put Christchurch ahead of the class, creating a very resilient infrastructure to support the city's growth and economic survival in the years ahead.

I believe it would be criminal to investigate the current light rail proposal without a wider study of all options!!

Read More about this concept and associated busways and transfers stations ;


  1. Depending on what happens with property in eastern suburbs, it may be possible to Link Prestons to Chch via the Eastern suburbs at some point also. Then you effectively have a figure eight.

  2. Yes, if commuter rail suceded well as shown, the council could identify a corridor and place Notices of Requirement on properties, meaning if they are ever sold the council gets first option to purchase, a process that could span decades I imagine. The other alternative I push - a bit on the backburner at the moment, is segregated busways, bus rapid transit, if these not only run quickly across town or to the city centre and also cross throgh suburban rail centres then that is a very effective use of resources.

  3. Sounds great Dave. How would this impact on strengthening the city centre? Looks like it might favor suburban hubs.

  4. Hi Walter - yes it has a dispersed feel, yet the pattern is all essentially the city centre being approached from five different compass points. In my opinion cutting out one way streets and much traffic in the city can not help but create huge congestion around the four Avenues and approach roads. People only say they want to get out of cars, never trust feedback style survey has been my experience. As the present plans are to run bus routes along these as now, and no provision has ever been made to widen for bus lanes or create alternatives for bus corridors, railway will probably be the only easy quick way into town. Christchurch has a hugely exaggerated problem (in a sense)of that facing all cities, over investment in a central core going out of fashion. Multi-billion costs or losses face Christchurch which ever way it turns - shift the city centre for long term land security; or rebuild at the same location with risk of huge potential trust, liability and insurance issues; or re-invent itself as multiple hubs. Overshadowing all this is the potential huge recession, decline in capital projects, consumerism if oil starts to rocket upwards.
    I feel a strength of this rail design I am putting forward is that it could work for any of these options or challenges ahead.