Monday, October 17, 2011

Christchurch commuter rail potential; One map = ten thousand words

Map updated 31 Oct 2011, alterations made for clarity and to bring in rail system between Woodend and Pegasus
Posting updated 7 November 7 2011 to clarify and expand some points.

CERA ( Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Authority) has released a document today, about 30 pages long with lovely coloured maps, defining the areas either previously planned or proposed and now adopted under "martial law" upon which new housing in greater Christchurch can been built. The city has to relocate tens of thousands of residents away from some eastern areas followed massive damage caused by a series of over 8,000 eathquakes.

The main area map CERA has put out is too good to ignore and I have immediately seized upon it to illustrate the rail proposals that I have raised in NZ in Tranzit over the last year or two. I don't think these concepts are so odd, indeed appear to have far greater social, environmental and economic potential (city-wide) than the light rail concept. I have had a few supportive responses privately, yet two years down the track (to borrow an appropriate expression) I am still waiting to hear a single person or organisation publicly say they think these concepts should be investigated, particularly before or concurrent with the planned light rail study.

In this map above dark green represents (mainly) open farmland which is to be converted to housing subdivisions; medium green represents proposed or planned industrial or office park areas; the light green land near the airport represents land re-opened for (I believe) commercial and industrial development. The dark lines represent existing railway lines - with several links added.

Christchurch people will easily identify the existing rail corridors (a) running horizontally across the bottom of the map from Rolleston to Port Lyttelton (b) running vertically from an inverted "T intersection at Addington northwards on tracks up across the Waimakariri River to Kaiapoi then Rangiora (star at top left of map).

Rather than waste $400 million on a fanciful light rail, along an already congested road, a line that goes a mere 7.5 km and is only vaguely related to the key tasks of public transport, NZ in Tranzit advocates that the city should work towards establishing a commuter rail network supported by a vastly improved bus system. Based on similar projects elsewhere it seems much of the basics of this could be established for under $500 million (consistent with spending on rail in Wellington in the last decade) with as much again, spent across the subsequent decade, building on this foundation. The Government/KiwiRail would presumably fund a substantial portion as they have done elsewhere in NZ.

The map above illustrates three new conventional "heavy" railway lines (to be developed over 20 years) that NZ in Tranzit advocates a link between Islington and Redwood via the Airport; a spur across from Northwood/Styx Centre to Prestons; and (one day) a northern added loop across from Rangiora to Woodend and Pegasus back to Kaiapoi. A park and ride/shuttle bus terminus for commuter rail services could also be built at Heathcote or Ferrymead as a terminus serving the Sumner peninsula and some Lyttelton Harbour settlements.

Building on the success of the The Orbiter bus route and the city's ring road expressway, these proposals address the need for people to move across the city and outer areas,  as well directly in to its centre,  in a fast but relaxed manner.  Even before the earthquake only 50,000 people - about a quarter of the work-force - worked in the central area, and there is an unmet need to effectively service work zones elsewhere by public transport. 

This simple but all embracing patterns ties the larger part of Christchurch and indeed much of Canterbury directly into the city centre and almost every major employment zone in greater Christchurch. With adequate peripheral park and ride stations and linked shuttle buses and segregated busway corridors, this pattern allows for maximum work-force mobility and flexibility (Live anywhere; Work anywhere; Socialise anywhere!). At the same time it protects the city's productivity and quality of life better as oil begins its predicted climb and climate change impacts more and more upon the world economy.

Added value is offered in direct rail connections city (and province) to the Airport - rare even in many larger cities  - for air passengers, airport workers and bulk freight movement.

Another aspect with great potential is the direct link this pattern offers to "Addington City" - the combining of the Metropolitan Race Course and Whatsit's Latest Name Event Centre with a new "Lancaster Park"  build on the currently partly derelict Council owned Rugby League grounds. Promoters of this concept have raised the vision of a giant complex, well away from housing, which not only hosts major events at the threre aforementioned centres, but in essence is a village of associated sports and entertainment and hospitality venues going all the time.   Apart from television coverage, complications of accessing large sports venues because of intense congerstion and long delays are recognised as a major deterrent to attendance overseas art big stadiums leading to reduced crowds and revenue (as mentioned for example in this article from Adelaide a couple of years back). A rail system that can plug into such big crowd events - racing, rugby, cricket, concerts - as well as the Airport and the Central City life  - seems well set to  punch above its weight on weekend and evening patronage, boosting averages considerably.

A major City Central station complex, with higher density housing areas nearby, could be built in Sydenham, between Durham Street and Colombo Street overbridges. This may only involve the site itself but possibly this could recycle and strengthen and enhance the vast disused Goods Shed on site, a building that appears to have withstood the massive earthquakes well. This might be converted into a spectacular multi-level complex of cafes and franchises, with hanging gardens or full size indoor trees and native bush, and offer a Bus Exchange (transfer station role); a long distance shuttle bus and coach service point, and a regional and intercity and suburban rail hub, all in one place. Features such as stone walls and arches etc from historic buildings such as churches, to far damaged to ever be rebuild could be integrated into parts of the design or used to resurface the mundane concrete walls, in effect a living multi-dimensional architectural memorial to parts of the cityscape lost forever. 

As is obvious from the photo below (looking West of Colombo overbridge) the curvature of the main line from South to Lyttelton at this point preserves a very important free run for freight and coal trains, whilst leaving ample room for suburban and even long distance passenger platforms to built on the apron of land, if the internal platforms -  presumably still existing - are unsuitable.  Living in Sydenham or Centrtal and rail to work at the Airport, in Belfast, Rolleston or Rangiora?

Carrying high levels of passenger traffic in  both directions at peak hours is another big factor in making rail viable.

The potential is inherent for very intelligent, environmentally sound,  land use to be developed hand-in-glove with station sites and roading patterns in new subdivisions and industrial areas. A spectacular feature could be the creation of a network of broad sealed off road cycle tracks radiating out from suburban stations - if every train had some carriages with wheel on access to bicycle racks in the front area of some carriages - it would be possible to bike and rail and bike easily (no lycra needed!!) to almost every corner of Christchurch. Perhaps Christchurch could become the southern hemisphere's more sprawling and generously spaced out version of a low density green city, a "Copenhagen of the plains". An added factor - if oil prices shoots through the roof - what enormous protection this offers for maintaining a quality life-style, avoiding transport poverty or potential workers too poor to get to work sites.

Commuter rail is rare in low density cities under a million, and Wellington apart, in CANZUS is entirely linked to (mainly peak hour) services to larger cities - Newcastle or Wollongong to Sydney; Bridgeport, Connecticut to New York etc. For a city of our size and geographic footprint to undertake such an expensive option needs the most astute and balanced use of resources. The present rail network lacks enough destinations, depth of residential areas in the right places or traffic generators to be a realistic base, but adding the links proposed above can change this. The strengths of this design are passengers are likely to hopping on and off at every station, going to and from multiple destinations,  in a design that not only brings the outermost areas into the city centre but also incorporates almost every major employment zone in greater Christchurch. It allows people to get around the city - indeed around the whole metropolitan area - as well as get to and fro the city. Secondary strengths such as access to the airport (an impossible dream for many cities) and  doorstep rail access to "Addington City" events and sports complex for the whole province will ensure a broader range of off-peak usage, test match access etc significantly lifting the off-peak averages . The via airport link future proofs the city for future freight movements including potential for a top class grade separated line.  The city centre a very easily accessible hub even for those living in outer areas. but just as important - outer areas will be very accessible to a more densely populated inner city area. This to me is truly building for the future - a little project perhaps a little too big for our size city, yet not so big the city can not grow into the framework it offers. It is a freight and passenger transport system that will foster growth in every way.

Commuter rail will be accessible to such a large chunk of residents and could become major wellspring of Christchurch's central city reborn vitality and continued "liveability". Christchurch could still be a city  punching well above its weight  and size despite all the incredible devastation and tragedy the city and its residents have come through.

Auckland rail - diesel unit at Onehunga Photo Wikimedia.Com
As well as new rail cars for core services seven days a week opportunity may arise for Christchurch to purchase a large amount of redundant diesel rolling stock when Auckland's $600 million rail electrification nears completion. These could be used in peak hours, as stand by units and for conveying crowds to large events from across the city and province.

1 comment:

  1. Probably, trains should run with as few stops as possible or express to the city limits (Hornby, Belfast) with buses exchanging at these locations. The development of railable bus technology in Japan will make it possible to operate buses on the rail lines and feed out for a seamless journey without exchanging.