Friday, December 16, 2011

Light Rail Backers Battle On

Bus Rapid Transit is increasingly giving light rail a run for its money in the USA, delivering far more extensive services than light rail can for the same dollar.

Judging by this Detroit news article headlined  Light rail backers battle on common sense is winning out in that city too.

There are some interesting parallels between Christchurch and Detroit here.

In the past the Christchurch City Council ignored the chance to put a very useful direct bus link between new growth areas in the South West (12,000 new houses are planned for Wigram, Awatea, Henderson and Halswell in the coming decades) and the University, Middketon industrial/office park area,  Westfield and the Airport.

Likewise the chance to link Belfast with the central city in 15 minutes in peak hours  by a busway across from Grimseys Road and down Rutland Street and Caledonia Road into the city never appears to have been seriously investigated, despite wide promotion of the concept to Mayor Garry Moore, city and Ecan councillors and local body election candidates in the middle of last decade.

An obsession with light rail in city hall appears to keep city vision blinkered against other forms of public transport technology.  Notwithstanding the huge and continuing success and patronage growth of the Northern Busway in Auckland (over 2 million passengers a year and a bus departing every three minutes in peak hours) Christchurch City seems to operate in a cocoon without conscious knowledge or understanding of this concept (people often mix it up with conventional buses systems or bus lanes only).

So the parallel is not precise. No councilors are specifically pushing busways as an alternative to light rail. But it is clear  in Detroit as elsewhere $500 million can deliver four busways serving variuous areas including the airport and employment zones, compared to the single light rail line proposed.  (This said most US busways do not include much off road or faster segregated corridor running)

In Detroit there has beem debate pitching regional transport needs against light rail.

One big difference, the Detroit Mayor welcomed the busway proposals, ""A light-rail system 3.8 miles up Woodward doesn't speak to regional transportation, not when 60 percent of the employed of the city work outside the city," he said.

Quite so.

In Christchurch light rail as a concept suitable for Christchurch battles on too.

Responding to pressure the Central City Plan now incorporates conventional commuter rail, using the existing rail corridors but retains the dream of a light rail serving Riccarton Road and other suburban areas. The tram-train concept,  which has been developed in a limited number of locations overseas (where trams use conventional railway lines for part of their route) is invoked in the new City plan.

However it is  unclear whether this has been investigated even in preliminary way - it is hard to imagine that any rail vehicle without a full size body and chassis  could safely operate amongst heavy freight trains, including 8 full and 8 empty coal trains a day,  in a situation where curfews limiting freight movement hours would be virtually impossible.

For further info about Detroit's situation, see also "For less than $500M, a bus rapid transit system could cover nearly 110 miles also this report here, in even greater depth, which also addresses the Detroit economic situation (the biggest city in Michigan is expected to be broke in April next year!)

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