Saturday, December 2, 2017

Western rail corridor loop route needed to future proof Christchurch ?

Christchurch Airport station as built under Orchard Road and Christchurch International Airport carpark? 
Not quite !  Actually Stockholm underground - Wikipedia

(This commentary was significantly updated/shortened from a post made back in June 2011 responding to proposals to built a light rail to airport)

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 Christchurch international 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 and freight rail patterns  (see maps below).

(ignore the small spur on right) The green space to construct this line (designated for future housing) is easier to see on Google Maps  as is the potential to take the line under several roads linking up with an elbow in Orchard Road, and then running under Orchard Road.  

(Ignore the small spur top right)the map above was expanded in November 2011 by the one below to create a figure 8 multi-function regional rail network  ( proposed lines in dots)

The same benefits of a loop route apply here in the relatively cheap looping of a service back from Rangiora through Woodend and Pegasus.  In this proposal commuter rail would terminate in the South East near Ferrymead Heritage Park, with park and ride and shuttle buses linking to rest of area. 

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 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,m residents could easily access almost every major industrial-office park zone and several huge retail employers stretching from Rangiora to Rolleston!

Although it lacks the direct "rail to Cathedral Square" quality of the [2011,2012] 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 light rail line proposed to Ilam by Bob Parker's team. 

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. 

Peak hour flow going both ways is a huge financial benefit in any public transport system.

This suggested new line between Styx and Islington would be double tracked with grade separation (NO inter-action with cars etc). In  my vision it would be built mainly as part of the  Auckland-Christchurch freight corridor but offer opportunity to structure in commuter rail, presumably also mostly financed by Government and KiwiRail, as has happened in Auckland and Wellington. 

I believe this link rail project could be built for not much more than the $400 million figure estimated for creating a light rail down Riccarton Road. (comparative new and upgraded railway spending to date in Auckland is over $2 billion, before the start of City Rail Link $3 billion plus, Wellington at least $800 million)

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

Preserving the current single line between Styx and Addington (and retaining the attractive cycle and walkway!) this would give Christchurch three lines access tofro the North.  

In the peak hour some commuter express trains might travel straight to Addington then reverse to central Christchurch (or vice versa), but many other services - and most at other times - could loop via airport with most of this route at high speed being grade separated. 

The longer route involved, I believe, is off set-by (a) speed of the services (b) frequency of services in a busier network - travel time in public transport is measured not just by journey time but by the [potential waiting] time between services (c) the multiplicity of functions, journey types - not just suburb-centre city but also suburb to suburb; suburb to airport; airport to city centre; suburb to multiple work zones across whole city; airport to sports stadium; provincial centres to airport and central city etc.

It offers quality service to multiple hubs AS WELL as the city centre, possibly the only way to generate sufficient usage to make commuter rail viable in a city with a population as small as Christchurch.  

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.  [or if they don't an congestion increases - 2017]

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 ideally some carriages could be designed especially for cyclists, with a network of quality cycleways tofro each station.

It also reinstates Christchurch truly at the centre of the Province in the sense residents from Timaru and Ashburton etc. and from Amberley and Rangiora etc can rail direct to the International airport and sports stadiums. 

A great advantage of this rail corridor suggested here 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, Dakota 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. 

This premature design factor, allows removal of 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 line and station under the length of Orchard Road, adding perhaps $150-200 million to costs). This could be double tracked as with all this link between Styx and Islington, but with a wall between the two tracks opposite the airport station platform [similar to picture above] so freight trains can use the walled off section 24/7 and passenger trains in either direction always cross into airport platform track on entering tunnel. In the middle of the night, freight could use both tracks. 

Although nothing is cheap in the building of rail; and light rail infrastructure, building a trench along Orchard Road (and under a small section of the airport periphery) would seem highly feasible - given this road can be closed in sections with out cutting access to any point.

The station itself would served by a people mover direct from the station and/or a five minute shuttle bus service to airport terminals and work places in the general area.

On my reading [in 2011] 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 Buchanans 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 Bob Parker's inspired (yeah right)  "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.

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 this idea 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. Indeed greater Christchurch may come to look more like a banana shape Rangiora to Rolleston being more the focus of growth and industry than the older parts of the city.

The conditions that once supported commuter rail to the port and population of Lyttelton are alas long gone, and there is, anyway, a growing bottleneck along the whole city-rail-tunnel-wharf corridor even for freight trains. A third track from Heathcote/Hillsboro to Waltham might be needed.

On the other hand a park and ride (and bus drop off/pick up zone) area near  Chapmans Road could service residents working in the north and west from all of the Sumner/Mt Pleasant, Redcliffs/Lyttelton/Harbour area. It would also link Ferrymead Heritage Park and the National Rail Museum of New Zealand direct to the city.

Wellington aside - it is unusual to build rail (light rail or commuter rail) in cities as small as Christchurch, in low density/wealthy/high car ownership countries such as Canada, USA, Australia or New Zealand(Canzus).

Over a period two plus years [about 4 years ago] I checked out a list of over 120 cities in "CANZUS" with metropolitan populations between 300,00 and a million in these four countries. 

Wellington is the ONLY city amongst these 120 cities that has its its own, seven day a week, multiple route, commuter rail system.(Noted - one or two cities have commuter rail links but these are tofro larger cities nearby - eg Newcastle to Sydney, Bridgeport to New York)

However a very effective route structure such as suggested here, with multiple  functions, and potential for peak hour travel operating in both directions and built-in potential for fast freight, separated from passenger rail, 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. 

The National Government took billions of dollars out of Canterbury road taxes to fund public transport infrastructure in Auckland, common justice alone suggests some transit  infrastructure spending Christchurch is well overdue.

I believe it would be criminal to investigate the current light rail proposal [or the Green party city-airport BRT proposal in 2017!!] without a full and proper study of the option above. 

You Tube (added April 2018)
an equal number of people expected to travel to the airport to greet or farewell passengers.

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