Monday, August 29, 2011

Christchurch Light Rail Link could cost the city commuter rail

click on images to enlarge

If the city is going to build rail infra-structure into the hundreds of millions, blogster David Welch argues that money would be better spent on creating a Western Rail Corridor creating a circular route with several spurs.

Building a rail link between Styx and Islington via the Airport would create a commuter rail loop, by linking up the existing single track northern line [blue above] with an added grade separated (no level crossings) double track from Styx [red above] across to the Airport industrial zone continuing south and rejoining the main trunk line with a similar three way junction at Islington.

This adds circa 10 km to those services, feight or passenger entering the city (from either direction, north or south) using the "Via Airport" route but would save much shunting time and complications, link many industrial areas, and put tens of thousands of people within relatively fast rail access of thousands of jobs, even far from home, such as at Rangiora or Rolleston. The lack of level crossings (the rail always passes over or under roads) on this new link would allow both freight and commuter trains relatively fast access, despite the added city access distance,  whilst offering an important and valuable chance to keep passenger and freight (which move at different speeds and in different movement patterns) running separately even in peak hours. 

Much of the cost of the cost of this extra 10 km track - if found viable by profesional investigation  - would presumably be met by Government/KiwiRail as part of the planned "Auckland-Christchurch rail freight corridor",  not for the most part out of local rates. This would bring Christchurch into line with Government investment in Wellington and Auckland.

The map above - the grey areas are still fields, undeveloped yet designated future housing zones; the boxed in bold area to the left already a partly developed industrial zone, make it clear UNLESS THE FOCUS OF THIS CITY is on planning and setting aside land for this corridor NOW whilst the Government is developing and funding the Auckland-Christchurch rail corridor, opportunity will be lost or built out. Many advantages of the present situation could be very difficult to retrospectively regain. Indeed even in the scenario above,  land best for a rail corridor beside or near Johns Road industrial area may be already partly foreclosed by large new factories and warehouses etc.

Anyone with a good familiarity with Christchurch will recognise the design below as hugely resilient (system itself can not close due to derailment on any one line etc) and one that can advance various spurs (or not) according to future growth (or not) as long as land corridors are identified early and protected. 

This pattern below is hugely multi-faceted in its value and service potential not least it could cushion and protect many of the city and metropolitan  area's outer growth zones, existing or planned,  against loss in property values/greatly increased  travel costs in the event of expected future oil price increases. Having a work force that can easily and rapidly access (in relative comfort) diverse work places, from Rangiora to Rolleston to City and Woolston and everywhere between, maintains quality of life; it also allows businesses to access appropriate personnel, and suitably skilled or experienced staff more easily, a core foundation of prosperity.

Click on image to enlarge

\With spurs to Rolleston (and Ashburton/Timaru); a spur to Ensors Road (peak hours to Woolston industrial area); and the existing main line to Kaiapoi, Rangiora  this would create a hugely versatile circular route that could be grown and expanded over time. This includes possibly a spur across from Belfast through East Belfast the top of a major new subdivision proposed, Highfield, then into the heart of Prestons. Or  and perhaps one day a loop from Sefton incorporating Woodend/Pegasus and back to Kaiapoi;  or  a spur to Halswell. Perhaps even 50 years hence - commuter services tofro a busy town of Darfield grown to Ashburton size. The "ring of steel rail" at the centre, acts as "round-about" to which growth can be attached and services can run in multiple patterns; equally it echoes Christchurch's most successful bus route (albeit further west) The Orbiter.
I believe hundreds of millions of long term potential cost-benefit returns in freight and passenger services could be lost if the city continues to live in the vague and fluffy rail dreams typical of the last decade and does not do the hard miles of research and strategic planning.

Presumably regardless of what happens Christchurch will grow and this includes rail freight - eventually leading to the inescapable need to double track the current (and only) single main line from Belfast through Bryndwr and Fendalton to Christchurch station. Without added options such as the western rail corridor this may become a necessity, even if still years away. Then again rapid growth in bulk wine exports, milk or milk products, timber etc or other yet unforseen factors could force this need  ahead of natural incremental growth. The current line, as is, offers no future proofing of rapid unimpeded freight (or passenger) movements.

Double tracking and increased freight on the Belfast-Addington line  is likely to will be hugely disruptive and politically costly, provoking great resident resistence (not least possible decline in property values as the line gets busier). It will also destroy a much used marvellous bike and pedestrian "highway", Addington to Northcote. In contrast, in conjunction with building a double track western link, this line becomes one of three lines accessing Christchurch or Canterbury beyond, maximum flexibility and security. And the line least likely to be used for heavy night freight!

The suggested Islington Junction, indicative only [it is impossible for me to calculate rail curvatures needed]  incorporating access to new housing areas around Hei Hei and Masham and the huge new Islington Park industrial area (which could benefit from or compromise the possibility of future rail). In this map - Hornby (in green) reflects how large this area is, how effective rail could be in offering city residents easy access to this workzone.

Further west - to the left off the map above - Rolleston's IZone, the largest industrial estate in NZ is being created. Also of course Rolleston town building towards circa 15,000 residents.

In general rail services running direct to the city centre and Woolston, with others looping around through Airport and Northern industrial areas, would ensure wide coverage tofro multiple employment zones in a city, where even pre-quake (PQ) less than a third of the work force was employed in the CBD. One of the great modern criticisms levelled at public transport; it is still too tied to the central city commuter and not versatile enough to serve multiple dispersed workzones (including commercial hubs and suburban malls) - hugely answered in the strategy employed in this proposa. 


Other major associated infrastructure possible includes building an Airport station in an underground trench (Under Orchard Road) as with the $160 million New Lynne Rail/Bus centre in Auckland [photo of trench being built below]. In this case twin tunnels would ensure freight segregation (during commuter rail operation) and and a 10 minute shuttle bus service linked to each commuter train arrival would link tofro Dakota Park, the airport terminal entrances, the Antarctic Centre, Orchard Road and Sheffield Park industrial areas.

Building the New Lynne rail trench in 2010              Photo NZ in Tranzit

Further infrastructure might include a sensible cut and cover tunnel under the present rail station in Addington with escalators and lifts to rail platforms. This would involve redeveloping Clarence Street in Addington (Woods Mill) to increase width perhaps with three or four storey live work type apartment buildings. Buses, taxis, cyclists, pedestrians only would be able to travel under the railway line, completely bypassing the congestion associated with Whiteleigh Avenue and the rail crossing. Segregated lanes through the Tower Junction area (as below) and priority bus signsls for northbound buses exiting this scentre would guarantee continuous flow and reliable journey times.

Green = exclusive bus lanes with signal priority (including Orbiter route and services from city to Riccarton and University) on bus subway near current station.  Pink = station platforms possible.

This would not only serve the booming office parks (and likely intensified housing) around Addington and the Woods Mill site, particularly the huge triangle of land, empty sites or with derelict buildings or older single unit housing now in L3 zone and ripe for redevelopment between the railway, Whiteleigh Avenue and Lincoln Road.

The railway link could also serve a sports and events centre - a virtual recreational city as suggested by Architectural designer Ken Taylor in The Press this morning,  on the other side of Whiteleigh Avenue. This concept builds on an established tradition including sports venues already well established on the site of the former showgrounds. This area includes the CCC owned rugby league grounds, race course and the CBS Events stadium. Huge crowds from across the whole province could be brought in and out of this area by rail - with all the carparks in the outer suburbs. Possibly a "new Lancaster Park" could be created here  - it would be an excellent synthesis of infrastructure - the more or less continuous events at the race course, sports ground and events centre (indoor sports, concerts and expos etc) and would boost weekend and evening rail use considerably, lifting the patronage closer to that needed to support rail.

A further useful move would be widening Lincoln Road opposite Clarence Road, creating traffic signals and a suitable centre lane turning bay for buses (including articulated buses) from the city while allowing cars and bike lanes up the inside. The opportunity for this post quake is huge due to earthquake demolitions [see photo below] - in a years time the few extra metres needed to achieve such a widening may be taken by a four storey office/shop complex built to the existing boundary! Transport corridors must be identified and secured, even years ahead of project implementation - effective linear corridors only need one or two blocks to be rendered useless.

Upgrading Addington Station with a bus (etc) subway could also allow it to be used a temporary station in an embryonic commuter rail for the city until a larger more adequate rail centre is built in the city area proper.


This Addington station could also be linked to a "bus mall" utilising roading on Maxwell Street near Rotheram street behind Westfield - a vastly superior bus station/corridor to bus laning/or light railing  central Riccarton. With current wide ornamental berms and wide streets open to redesign this has huge potential for for a high density bus through-road and interchange, closely linked to Malls and future high density housing areas.

This "bus mall" or might not include purchasing properties to run a continuous bus link from Mandeville Street to Rattray Street, in both cases with better street management and bus priority measures (segegated lanes or lights) exiting and re-entering Riccarton Road, having avoided much of the worst current traffic bottleneck.

Click on images to enlarge

Permanent bus lanes shown in green (road widening to allow added queue jumper bus lanes at Moorhouse Avenue and Hagley Avenue [proposed five storey building set back five metres]; again at  Barrington St (and Lincoln Road) and again at Whiteleigh Ave (and Blenheim Road). When will politicians in Christchurch begin to realise there is little point in spending almost $60 million a year running buses and then plonking them in traffic jams or easily invaded lanes,  so they are twice as slow as private car travel!

Maxwell Street, Riccarton - with adequate protection for houses from noise and pollution (houses anyway situated opposite a busy car-park) huge potential to create an attractive bus station and free flow bus services through Riccarton at all times rather than have buses sitting in slow moving congested traffic queues on Riccarton Road, only a block north.

Rotheram Street, Riccarton viewed from close to the best site for a Riccarton bus interchange, 100 metres from a Westfield Mall entrance, adjacent to a popular bar and cafe zone and only 300 metres (2-3 minutes walk)  from Riccarton  Road (note bus in distance). Why congest Riccarton Rd further ? 

In the bottom left hand corner of the map above another long term bus infrastructure project, previously mooted by this blog, a direct southwest area (SWAP area) link, by-passing much congestion, via a busway utilising Annex Road and travelling under the motorway and rail yards to the University, Burnside, Sheffield Park and Airport

However the MAIN commuter rail and long distance rail and bus centre for Christchurch might be better built near the heart of the city utilising the land (and possibly retrofitting) of the former goods sheds between Durham Street and Colombo Street

Photos shown there is ample area here to create (if needed) multiple platforms for commuter and regional and intercity rail whilst keeping separate and clear-run the very important through rail to Lyttelton (12 coaltrains return each day, quite apart from any other freight). Suggestions of running commuter rail to Lyttelton I see as ridiculous, the tiny populations falling so far outside any known cost-benefit ratio, as well as tying up expensive vehicles for 50 minutes per return trip and adding to the current rail tunnel bottleneck problems. However some peak hour trips might run to a station in the Woolston industrial area or terminate (and park up) at Ensors Road rail yards opposite CPIT Sullivan Avenue Campus.

Potential for higher density housing (to four or five stories) or purpose built subdivisions (including walkway access to stations) in various adjacent areas to the rail loop and the suggested spur lines would allow residents easy rail access to workplaces as diverse as Woolston; Middleton, Hornby, Islington, Rolleston, Belfast and Papanui-Belfast or even Rangiora and Kaiapoi.

Heavy freight tofro Picton-Rolleston-Ashburton etc or from northern timber and dairy industries to Lyttelton, can, respectively, completely by-pass the city OR enter the city and head straight into Lyttelton without need for switching locomotives. Not least the Western rail Corridor in association with the current North line offers three lines and two different ways of accessing the city and links multiple residential areas (built or possible) to almost all major industrial areas - a huge protection of mobility whatever the oil price and solid support system for our future economic growth and prosperity.

In Summary

The current light rail proposal appears to lack any great depth of analysis, overlaps many existing functions already well served (in most cases better served)  by current through bus routes. I don't believe it offers even a small portion of  the huge environmental, social and economic levels of return of spending the same amount of focus, human energy and finance on the projects above, where much of the infrastructure (land use, zoning, roading) is not built yet and can be pre-planned to maximum effectiveness in advance.

There is is only so much money in the public kitty - even under a very generous Labour Government public transport policy and in more prosperous times Wellington has  received "only" about $500 million towards public tranport. Auckland, sizewise, a roughly equivalent amount $2 billion (including rail and busways).

It is unlikely Christchurch can extract more than $500 million in funding from the Government.  Even in the better small city systems in comparable countries (Cananda, Australia, NZ and USA) it is rare for public transport to win more tham 15% of all journeys, including kids and seniors, which means limited "poltical clout".

Any funding that can be obtained from Government, ratepayers or earthquake recovery sources and fares needs to be most judiciously allocated to create real and significant economic benefits for years ahead. And politically and democratically needs to benefit ALL of the city in reducing or holding level car usage in peak hour whilst offering direct access benefits to a significant portion of residents and businesses

This blogster believes it would be EXTREMELY foolish to pour $400 million in to a 7.5 km  light rail corridor benefitting probably less than 15% of the city population. In contrast commuter rail as suggested here - though  shooting high for such a small city - could  benefit a huge portion of greater Christchurch, stretching from Rangiora to Rolleston and much of the northwestern suburbs.

It follows if light rail as planned  goes ahead it will in all  likehood to cost the city hundreds of millions of dollars more than $406 million estimated in lost opportunity. Light rail will absorb most of the likely funding or ratepayer contribution into one sparse line, and much of the energy focus of the city, while not even addressing the wider transport needs of greater Christchurch .

These needs specifically include reducing longer car journeys (the ones that cause - and suffer - the greatest time waste, add the most to congestion (at multiple intersections) and generate the most pollution, and keeping the central facilities easily accessible by public transport from all corners of the city.

Nor can a single light weight rail system along congested Riccarton Road tie together the city together in an effective city wide public transport network, a system built on the primary and dynamic world-wide trend of modern public transport, uncontested road or rail space and priority signal systems for public transport vehicles.


  1. Fantastic--how wonderful to think that what seemed to be a ridiculously expensive pipe-dream could actually be made to work! Let's just hope this well-researched and carefully thought out plan gets the attention it deserves, before any irrevocable steps in the wrong direction have been taken.

  2. Love it all as usual. Keep up the good work! You tell'em.

  3. Have you sent this to The Press? It is really well thought out.

  4. Nice work. Would you recommend a build using Cape gauge, or build the new section Std gauge (with a 3rd rail for compatability with Cape).
    The only reason I suggest is perhaps eventually you might want to upgrade the Chch-Timaru link for higher speed trains, which would bring even more areas into commute distance.
    Perhaps looking into the future too much!?

  5. I agree with almost everything that you have said - apart from the not continuing to lyttleton. The Diamond harbour area etc is likley to grow faster if the ferry links to a train line + Lyttelton is likley to be a "destination" in the weekends and evenings (times when freight is less likley to be traveling - although the coastal plan might affect this)

  6. Your western bypass line is reminiscent of the ill-fated Sockburn-Styx Line, a proposal to link Sockburn and Styx railway stations with an alternate line to the west of Christchurch. First mooted in the 1940s, the Government teased Christchurch with the idea for decades before finally admitting what was already widely suspected and officially canned the project in 1985. The Railways Department had purchased much of the land required for the rail corridor and it was intended to attract industrial customers to purchase sites adjoining the new line for direct rail access with private sidings. Eventually, the industrial businesses gave up waiting for the Government to commit to the line’s construction, and with the death of commuter rail in the mid-1970s, there was little justification to proceed with the line. In some respects it was similar to the Avondale-Southdown Line in Auckland but at least in that case KiwiRail is still holding on to the idea of building it “some day”.

    Given that the idea of a western bypass line was abandoned nearly three decades ago after years of failing to find justification to build it, and having disposed of the land that had been set aside for its construction, it is hard to see the Government committing to such a proposal now. Local support for commuter rail must be proven before approval is likely for large rail infrastructure projects, particularly those intended for passenger rail.

  7. Thanks for the intelligent comment ( I mainly get spam!). Yes I am very aware of the past situation as you describe, but it is exactly that, PAST. Rail last century was waiting for new factories and freight traffic in that area, at at time when much of that sort of product production was moving off shore; instead NZ grew a huge consumer sector (including cheap used car imports and massive decentralised malls and big box buying centres) and a suburban sprawl; a major fly in tourist industry and a focus on sophisticated development of bulk primary products and technical innovation. All these factors come into play with the western bypass concept - primarily linking huge new and existing housing areas to industry (almost every major employment zone in greater Christchurch is trackside or less than 5 minutes feeder bus service away). But it also addresses long term development of container traffic to Picton/Wellington and north (from or via Christchurch) and bulk transport of coal, oil, dairy and timber - all of which are extremely vulnerable with the existing northbound single track, with multiple crossings, to future growth limitations or delays. By creating a pattern of continuous loops it boosters access not only to the central city but also most major shopping complexes built or planned (Rolleston, Rangiora, Kaiapoi, Supa Centre/Styx; Spitfire Park; Hornby Hub, Northlands, Westfield, Tower Junction, SoMo and Garlands Road transition)and offers an airport-city (or Timaru etc) direct link and has the potential to carry thousands into the proposed sports events and entertainment complex, earning hugely useful extra income off-peak. Almost none of this relates to the past Styx - Sockburn corridor and the patterns of 30 years ago. But it does suggest a very strong cost-benefit ratio is likely, achieved by multiple synergies brought together in the right combination. This infrastructure built for growth, protection and ease of moving around almost all the greater Christchurch area.

  8. You obviously have thought a lot about this - more than the planners!

    I have been working on the idea of redevelopment of the city to the west of the airport - a satellite city which could be funded by land sales of Ecan and CCC land out there. I have a blog

    I now think my idea is too restrictive - and it should be just one part of building a city for $1M people - and tie in with public transport and roading to suit. So although I see a light rail running through the satellite city, via the airport an Ilam and to the CBD - I also see a system of expressways around the perimeter of both the new city and existing part. This feeds of the low density outer suburbs - and could tie the east through to the new west area so they didn't feel so isolated.

    Christchurh is a difficult city for rail - as you really need ribbon development - but if the rebuild was designed around the trasnport corridors as you say then there is a better chance. Nothing in the CBD plan released yesterday suggests it has even been considered.

    Any transport advice on my plan is appreciated - the idea was selling the sections out west would pay for the light rail link right thru to the CBD - so it is not a drain on public finds. Ecan have over 50km2 out there - unaffected by the quakes. People seem to have some weird problem with 'urban sprawl'in Chch - happy to pay twice the price for a house or rents to support the idea that land should be restricted.

    Interested in your comments....

  9. I Believe Kiwi rail had already planed to do that and already purchases the corridor but the plan fell through.

  10. Hey, part right mate; New Zealand Rail had a corridor of land that ran through to Sockburn in case of building a new link - this was dumped back in "new Right" sell-down of assets back in the mid 1980s. The one above is entirely a different route, the other was not connected to the major new industrial areas and housing in NOrthwest (Think Sheffield Park) , nor to the the Airport . Not that the Nats or Parker will ever do this line, dream on !! - Denis the Menace

  11. This is a excellent Idea I have been thinking about it for some time. Even if there is not enough demand in Chch for commuter rail (which is debatable) there is a lot of demand for rapid freight movement and a western bypass is what is needed a good connection to the airport and future growth areas of Hornby and west chch. someone above said something about a high speed connection to Timaru that is unlikely to happen as the speed limit on rail in nz is 80kmh and the main factor in that is curves and bridges. NZ rail gauge is really to narrow for fast rail. looking at your map the spur to prestons is quite interesting now if the council were smart with all the redzone properties they could buy/set aside a lane going round the east of the city past new Brighton and eastgate down to woolston. there probably isn't enough demand for commuter rail but freight trips from lyttenton to further north would be easy as you wouldn't have to go through addington and even if not a rail line straight just keep it as a cycleway to stop it being developed till needed. the tunnel remains a bottle neck though and with freight booming something will have to be done about that in the future. also in Hornby you could run a spur off the railway line to across SH1 into the middle of the new industrial area and make a inland port next to it. you would only approx. have to run 6 or so trains across state highway 1 a day and traffic there will drop once the next part of the southern motorway is built. one last thing commuter rail generally needs a central station so with all the buildings in the CBD to come down you could run the tram down Colombo street or near there and back up to high street so you still have that loop you would make it quite cheap maybe 3-5 dollars to go anywhere on the tram which would make it a commuter system and not just a tourist gimmick and put a pedestrian over bridge over moorhouse ave from the railway station to the tram a couple more trams would need to be brought one every 5/10 min would be needed in peak times. all this would be nice and probably solve a lot of Christchurch's congestion but would cost well in excess of 1 billion. but these future transport lanes need to be identified and set aside for future use even if not built on straight away. future proofing

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