Saturday, March 10, 2012

KiwiRail See No Prospect of Lyttelton Commuter Rail link

KiwiRail have made it clear they are not interested in integrating commuter rail into the Lyttelton scenario. This is clear in a submission made to the Christchurch City Council Draft Recovery Plan for Lyttelton. 

The core historic commercial area of Lyttelton was devastated by the February 22nd earthquake in 2011.  The city council has just published a summary of the 197 submissions made on Lyttelton's recovery strategy ( access to the full PDF doc is available from a link at the centre of this CCC website page). 

The section on rail access is summed up in the paragraphs quoted below.

"Light rail and train transport options were commonly commented on. There was quite a lot of support for light rail in particular, as well as Lyttelton to central city links. It was commented that it  could be a good tourism venture but it might be costly.

We strongly support the creation of a passenger rail link to Lyttelton.
Infrastructure is in place and with sufficient planning the existing rail link could
effectively be used for both freight and passenger services. This would enhance
Lyttelton’s accessibility for local people, visitors and cruise ship passengers, and
would add to Lyttelton’s viability as a destination (submitter 144).

Kiwirail did however make the following comment:

While we appreciate the Council’s desire to provide better access to the  coastline, it is likely that most (if not all) the existing land capacity we currently  utilise for our operations will still be required to meet future demands. For this  reason, we are keen to ensure that our operational conditions (including the rail  footprint) remain largely the same as they are today (submitter 195)."

This blogster believes the KiwiRail response is (a) predictable (b) totally justified in any quick calculation of cost-benefit ratios. Pursuing commuter rail for Lyttelton is in reality a non-issue!!

I am no supporter of  sloppy or wasteful use of public resources that also bring public transport into disrepute when the same systems if well planned can be so much more practically,  socially and financially cost effective.

It seems to me too many people approach rail options full of fantasies and dreams rather than any sensible calculation of costs, even in the broadest way. Unfortunately few things are so dear to create and can leech public money so rapidly and continuously as a train service failing to attract adequate patronage levels.

I am hardly in a position to do a sophisticated study but below is a few guesstimates based on my knowledge of localities and typical rail costs etc.  I was a local business association representative on Banks Peninsula Promotions, an unpaid BP District Council organisation, keen to attract business/tourists to Lyttelton back in the early 1990s, so these are not new issues for me.

Lyttelton has a resident population of about 3,500 (at most) and nowadays probably an influx of workers well below 500* in any work day, some of these on shift work outside normal hours or visiting (briefly) seamen.  To this might be added 1,400 (many retired) living in Diamond Harbour, Purau etc and 2500 in Heathcote.  To this might be added (generously?) 1000 tourists averaged a day(mostly day or evening cafe traffic trips by city residents) .  Many of the tourist groups will of course already be traveling by car or tour bus, day tripping around,  and cafe entertainment groups will typically also share a car, or be families going to Corsair Bay etc, too far for most from the rail line.

This gives a "top" user possible catchment base of 9,000 - - all added together still below the 10,000 suburban population enclave that, I believe, is normally considered the minimum necessary catchment to sustain a half hourly bus service in a New Zealand city.

Very few commuter rail systems in European cities attract more than 25% of commuter traffic and that is with these offering services every three minutes  (etc) and complex subway and rail networks.  Wellington by far the best patronage of any small rail system in the developed (high car ownership) low density world gets 17% of commuter trips (ostensibly)  - lets say Lyttelton achieved 12% - 1050 passengers a day - on a half hourly service (circa 50 trips per day) that equates to about 20 passengers a trip. However these same passengers will have to walk up the steep hills a considerable distance (far more than with the bus routes) and in most cases, at the other end, get a connecting bus into the city, to jobs, to their holiday accommodation or the bus exchange point to transfer to elsewhere.  Hardly appealing or likely to "enhance Lyttelton's accessibility" as suggested in the submission quoted above.

Operating costs per kilometre for commuter trains are typically double those for a bus service,  though this would probably increase significantly with the sensible, safe, supportive (for elderly, handicapped, tourists] and attractive system of having a guard host-person for every 70 seater carriage unit,  as is done in Auckland. 

Nor is this is not counting the real cost of aggregated annual capital expenditure to be paid off across the years, say three $15 million dollar double DMU units to serve Lyttelton.

It would seem to me to be even be at the very bottom margin of viable for rail, the population/casual use upon the corridor served  would needed to be at least triple the present - and this in a bay and a valley both hugely constricted from significant growth in residential areas or industrial and commercial employment zones.  And this does not even address the added complications of delays, breakdowns and complex schedules needed if the bottleneck tunnel and rail yards must be shared between constant coal and freight train, shunting and commuter trains.

Instead of wasting $45 million on trains, and double the operating costs, for less effective services,  it would be better to build on the strength of Lyttelton's existing fairly high frequency bus services, two routes one (28) to city operating every 15 minutes week day, day-times. Much could be done to improve these - and (a) links to the Diamond Harbour Ferry - bizarrely not even served by the 535 bus route,  nor linked times identified on 28 route timetables (b) a future commuter rail station at Ferrymead and/or Ensors Road (c) The Orbiter at Ensors Road (d) CPIT at Sullivan Avenue and City (d) the tourist and university zones west of the city.   

The potential exists to up Lyttelton (and the other main arterial high frequency routes 3, 5, 7, etc) into a branded service with guaranteed consistent 15 minute services between set hours (notably until 11pm).  This would be particularly important for Lyttelton hospitality trade, the more so if such a branded service linked to tourist accomodation and more concentrated younger singles flatting and hostel residential zones.

There maybe a place for commuter rail in greater Christchurch but commuter rail to Lyttelton would not be a sensible call, now,  or indeed, probably ever.

* I have excluded truck drivers delivering to and from the Port in this guess.

1 comment:

  1. Shame the electrification was removed back in the day. You get the feeling if the existing network was already electrified, it would be slightly easier to justify reinstating commuter rail.
    But I agree any such service would likely terminate trains at heathcoat/ferrymead, with shuttle bus to Lyttleton.