Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Christchurch - Apocalypse Now, but good coffee is on the way

 Photo Credit;  -

Apocalypse Now? The much battered and demolished city of Christchurch as photographed from the top of the Alice in Videoland building in which C1 Espresso Cafe is setting up a new cafe. High St. foreground. 

 Photo Credit;  -

High Street looking North, Grand Chancellor no more, wall on left is the interior side of the West wall of the Excelsior Hotel!  

I am very aware many people I know, particularly over 40, are not on Facebook., so I asked the cafe's permission to show some samples of photos from their Facebook site on this blog, generously they said yes but can you credit our Facebook address. More background also here, on the C1 Espresso Cafe on their original website

Much of this area of the central city  is still "red-stickered" - no entry to non-authorised persons, because so many demolitions are still going on. The three highest buildings in these two photos are also earmarked for demolition, so there isn't going be too much left!  

But Alice's is building into their Video hire Palace (there is no other word) a small art house cinema, and the building will also host The Physic's Room Gallery. Everybody I know seems to be enchanted by going into Alice's - this good old public works building, solid as, a former post office, stands in the wasteland of sites now empty or crumbling edifices supported by steel bracing and yet inside it is like a magic treasure house of thousands of quality films and DVDs etc from across the world. 

In other words an absolute culture-rich Oasis - complete with palms, as below,  albeit in the snow!

                                                                               Photo NZ in Tranzit
Hi-Para Apartments - Lost Forever (see C1 website for immediate post quake photo)

Saved High Street facades - we hope - photos taken by David Welch in 2011 before February mega quake

Photo NZ in Tranzit

Photo NZ in Tranzit
This lovely art nouveau facade appears as a just wall supported by red containers,  in the bottom right corner of the second snow photo above. Presumably it is hoped it can retained and reattached to the new building. 

Not quite rose tinted but a fairly zooty view, probably also taken from the roof of Alice in Videoland, looking north in the days before we knew what real earthquakes can mean! This appears from the C1 Espresso website (not Facebook) The centre high rise is still standing in the second snow photo, but others have gone or are going. They didn't fall over in the earthquake but are too structurally compromised and unsafe and,  at very minimum,  uninsurable, so down they come. 

Sometimes the heart hurts with so much loss of familiar city, but then lots of great things are happening too! And we have all learnt in Christchurch that disasters are not necessarily consistent things, one person suffers catastrophic loss, some have loved ones brutally torn from their families, some suffer life changing injuries, others only suffer minor inconvenience and yet others again, suddenly make their fortune and gain unexpectedly in job promotion or a new career.  Life goes on whatever.

New news section; Metz busway narrows bus/tram differences

Quality Belgian* bus manufacturer Van Hool is supplying the electric vehicles (with on-board hybrid diesel power generating facility)  to be used on the four busway corridors being built in the French city of Metz. 

Read more about this at Wikipedia (the source of the above photo) or in the "Transport Politic" bold link, in the NEW news link section of NZ in Tranzit. 

The new addition is called  Tranzwatching Now [date] and will appear at the top right hand corner of this page.  I get dozens of email alerts a day, this will allow me to flick some I believe most relevant straight to the reader. This is partly included because various other pressures in my life (not least earning a living) and researching a reasonably substantial history book are making it very difficult to maintain blog frequency and freshness.  Not least to put in the long hours of research and information summarising necessary to post out a blogs of at least reasonably intelligent analysis or comment. The Tranzwatching Now section also offers better direct access (without wading through my blather) to read some of culled news and background info that influences me and may also influence or better inform readers. 

A reader recently made a comment about the suggested Northern busway from Highfield/Redwood running via bus lanes on Main North Road to Northlands - and sure this might be an aspect, it is a fair comment. 
But clearly a quality busway is looking more towards an ultimate evolution into articulated vehicles, platformed enclosed mini-stations (pre-pay entry by Metrocard) and sophisticated exclusive busway roading sections (for instance Winters Road to Rutland Street non-stop at 70 km per hour) that drastically enhance travel quality, never fight other traffic and cut journey times, northern areas to city centre. dramatically. 

Thirty years ago reading of shopping Mall expansions costing $12 million [now more likely to be $100 million] I thought they are mad, what a huge added cost to shop rents and prices for the consumers. But people love these huge marble emporiums. I think the same is going to apply for public transport, we are running a corner shop system and wondering why we are barely pulling the punters. As soon as we build the infrastructure and make it a class act the consumer feels honoured, uplifted, proud of their city  and public transport can really get moving.

It is the underlying concept of this blog that we as a city think we are doing public transport well. because we are comparing to the 1980s etc. In reality public transport will never offer a competitive alternative to car use as long as it just queues in traffic with other vehicles, or even relies on part-time and often compromised on-street bus lanes, as its core structure. Public transport is already at a disadvantage from the walk, wait and multiple point passenger loading times; it needs to absolutely shine for other aspects. I think in Christchurch Metro spends (pre-quake) about $68 million a year, half from fares, to carry a tiny percentile of total journeys made by all modes of travel. Better to fund the necessary infrastructure (spread cost over 25 years an extra $10-20 million) buying the land and building exclusive roading and rail structures to make public transport faster and easier to use than private cars in most circumstances, attracting tens of thousands of marginal car users away from using or even owning cars and/or households second cars. 

The capital cost of a car invites repeated use to spread the benefits of such a large outlay. It is my guess it is not the car owners themselves that will be the backbone of public transport growth , who but for such a good public transport system those who might have bought a car or second car, older teenagers, emerging adults, couples that both work, students, inner suburb residents, that can boost public transport usage to more attractive frequencies by virtue making 400-600 trips a year, work/study access and recreational use combined, per person.  

Top quality public transport is a double edge sword "for defence of the realm"  - when oil goes through the roof in price, the wealthiest and most attractive cities for economic growth will be those with the most sophisticated public transport system; OR a miracle for addicted-motorists appears and electric cars or ones that run on water or wine etc continue to fill our streets, cities grow ever more congested as population grows (not least of course perpetuating the present pattern, strangling easy access to the city centre, meaning the tree rots out from the middle, as the branches suck out the energy), in this scenario a "built infrastructure" public transport system (rail or busway, it barely matters if corridors are consolidated and exclusive) guarantees ease of central city and cross town access, less than 20 minutes from any part of the city's main contingent build up area, even in peak hours (on Express vehicles). I imagine 75% of public transport operations may still be on street, in the suburbs or at city centre, but the key elements are the infrastructural supports at congested points, acting like stents in arteries to keep blood of life pumping around the city. 

Leaving aside a myriad of important details such as driver courtesy, stop location and vehicle cleanness etc etc I believe the key transit formula could  be expressed  as Quality competitive public transport = built infrastructure + frequent services + easy to grasp simple route and schedule structure. 

It is good to see even in a broad early stages way,  that the Christchurch City 30 year transport plan appears to be at least making a nod in that direction - read it yourself also available via Tranzwatching Now. However words are cheap and the reality is that a huge earthquake rebuild of conventional roads will steal a lot of fire from public transport, just at a time when many opportunities - indeed  "best chance ever opportunities"  - exist to advance such infrastructure.

*Thanks to "Just Passing" for noting I had this incorrectly described as Dutch firm ( for two months!)

Saturday, June 23, 2012

The Third Cathedral of Christchurch?

Much debate goes on  in Christchurch about saving (or not) the two Cathedrals - one Anglican an icon of the city centre; one a superb Romanesque Catholic basilica. 

Both have been dreadfully munted by the huge earthquakes that tore the centre of Christchurch and (mainly) eastern suburbs apart.

But there is a third cathedral, so to speak, which still stands, and indeed stands waiting "to be called.".

I am using a fair dollop of artistic license here -  playing on the not uncommon usage of the expression "cathedral" to describe some of the great cavernous concourses or elegant  and ornamental railway stations of the world.

Here's few examples, these culled from only a few minutes searching on Google - Antwerp Station;    St Pancras Station (or more about same from the New York Times); Bristol Temple Meads;  Canary Wharf London 

And here's some even more spectacular station buildings (these just for interest).

You get the ghist. A big space of grand proportions can really reach inside the human soul, lift the spirit up into the rafters, make us feel good.

There's another thing vaguely Biblical about Christchurch's "Third Cathedral" - it's the humblest building in the whole city!  Indeed at the moment little more than a derelict rubbish dump. "As you do unto the least of me..." etc

The "Cathedral" of which I speak is this building below - all 200 plus metres of it; 

This was New Zealand Railways goods shed,  number 3  I think. I am told  there were seven separate sheds once - though this one designed for bulk storage was probably the longest. It sits at the "bottom of main street" so to speak, in Sydenham, between the Colombo Street overbridge and the Durham Street overbridge.

Amazingly considering Sydenham took such a hammering from both of the two largest earthquakes, the building is still standing, no visible or reported structural damage as far as I know.  It would provide a remarkable station concourse, although  of course much re-lined and platforms and other more attractive features such as a glass atrium might be constructed on the actual sides of the building.

It could allow not only a railway station, but a completely new and far for more flexible under-cover bus exchange, a long distance and tour coach depot, car share, bike hire, rental car outlet  and much more beside. Electric shuttle buses or modern or heritage trams could actually drive throught the very middle of the building. Trams or bus services could connect to the central city every 2 or 3 minutes. 

The key point of a bus exchange is facility to transfer, so whilst having a good bus station in the city centre is needed, as long as all major routes travel through the city  the point at which meet and cross in  common can be anywhere, though obviously interaction with passenger rail would be the prime driver in this case - effectively rail would deliver passengers to the centre hub of city bus route spokes in every direction.

Some added options that spring to mind are that this massive station  might also include a cinema, theatre complex or inside circus space; or a memorial museum to the earthquake which includes, (literal or abstract versions) wall sections of prominent buildings lost, the section rebuilt to orginal plan in  bricks, limestone, bluestone etc; or even a spiritual religous centre constructed from the stone and beautiful woordwork of several different churches now lost; or a vast covered children's playground - with things like sizeable pirate ships etc; a native forest walk, with mountain stream wekas, wood pidgeons etc; a giant international street and farmers market open to at least 10pm every night. Sections of the saw-tooth roof could have glass removed or replaced by coloured and tinted glass, or by hydraulic louvres allowing natural sunlight or closure according to the weather. The industrial quality of the building might be made part of the interactive design and strengthening, perhaps incorporating giant machinery parts or even a whole embedded steam locomotive.....or it could have an added central tower building looking to mountains and Port Hills.

.. possibilities are endless but done well [not too kitsch] this tough old survivor could become as much an icon of Christchurch as the city's real Cathedrals have been in the past, Cathedrals which could take decades to reconstruct. if at all.

The original internal platforms have been removed but a substantial apron of land exists between the north face of the shed and the railway line to Lyttelton. I imagine more than enough land to create a  through-line passenger platform (for trains continuing to Heathcote) and one or two terminal-line platforms, handling loading or unloading of three or four short trains or diesel railcar units at a time. (This apron area is currently covered with earthquake rubble from a demolition firm that leased the site and has gone broke. see photos below) 

In the view of NZ in Tranzit blog Christchurch has at least six great assets which are currently being ignored or under utilised or just not even investigated

1. Sufficient open land in the Northwest to build in a top quality fully grade separated rail corridor between Styx Bridge, the Airport, Islington and Hornby, and linked to existing and potential event centres and sports stadiums at Addington and Waltham and to the city centre

2. A huge heap of masonry rubble that could be used to create contoured landscapes to assist the building of over passes, underpasses and noise controls of both rail and airport

3. The partly constructed site for a fantastic rail, bus and airport connection transport [as above]  including a reinvented internal bus exchange, as above.

4. The potential for the regional council to pick up some bargain basement diesel railcar rolling stock when Auckland passenger rail goes electric, to reduce the number and loan cost of new vehicles needed in passenger rail start-up phase

5. A very modern technologically advanced bus system which isn't really getting the level of roading infrastructure support (including transfer stations) to make it truly competive with cars and attract a substantial share of peak commuter traffic.

6 A central tramway circuit three quarters built,  that could be converted to a street car system, including services via the station as suggested above;  with a separated Heritage tram route and tourist package, linked to the surviving historic areas and Hagley Park and Gardens.

6. The effect of the earthquake in removing some buildings at key sites where negotiation to purchase land and move frontages back by a mere four metres, could eliminate or reduce bottlenecks and allow added bus priority queue jumper lanes or turning lanes to free up intersections in general etc. Opportunities that may never exist again without huge expense.

"Empty" land, open sites, a half made station, cheap rolling stock, a half made internal street car track and a good bus system.

Ready to roll?  

Or all opportunities lost, for want of a vision, a strategy and a driver organisation?

I pray not.

Note;  For past postings on these subjects search Styx, coal trains, busway, Annex, Victoria Street, in box at top left of blog.


Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Wheels Missing on Highfield's Green Energy Claim

Project legit Graffitti on Grimseys Road QEII Drive cycle underpass

I was impressed to read earlier in the year that the large new subdivision to be built east of Redwood, called Highfield would be the first in the country where solar panels and solar (assisted) water heating would be the norm in every house.

 According to The Press report retrieved here
"All 2200 homes in Christchurch's proposed Highfield subdivision will be fitted with solar-energy systems, making it New Zealand's biggest solar community. The systems, consisting of both photovoltaic and hot- water panels, would supply about a quarter of a typical home's energy needs, developer Maxim Projects says.

When the vast documentation that precedes all major new projects appeared in our local library (Proposed Plan Change 67 I think is the official title) I naturally thought what are the developers doing about public transport? The City Council has a minimal effort programme and Metro is on the funding cutback downgrade; so things are very gloomy but perhaps something innovative might be coming from these developers. 

I thought this because I had been quite impressed reading - scanning (it's several volumes, many hundreds of pages) - the even larger folders supporting the Prestons development

I liked the way they designed a bus route into the heart of the Prestons subdivision, serving the hub but also identified specific stops, showing where people could walk through green areas, parks or alleys to easily access streets further away in getting to and from bus stops. 
The East Belfast subdivision (whatever its official new name is) did similar.

The land in the north of Christchurch -  the farmland north of QEII Drive - is apparently stable and safe to build upon with suitable preparation but does suffer one problem, distance from major work zones and from the central city. This includes "distance" as  in time waste and congestion queues as much as in actual kilometres. 

Maybe I missed something, in my quick visit to those two vast volumes of City Plan Change 67 (the Highfield proposal), but solar energy aside the whole thing had the distinct smell of the 1980s or earlier -  build a vast subdivision a long way from major employment and shopping zones,  with nothing but a rudimentary bus service that will take 30-40 minutes (or longer with transfers) to get to the city and most workplaces through congested roads. 

On the map of Highfield in the hefty Plan Change documents a few dotted lines show "possible bus route". What?  Possible? Possible?  You've got to be joking! What sort of planning and upgrading of public transport in Christchurch can such a flaky presentation as this represent? 

The whole world is moving towards planned land use and public transport infrastructure as a tight package and here is an outlying suburb planned on a she'll be right basis, plonk a bus here basis. Indeed the "possible" route itself is quite circuitous, a necessity because the subdivision makes no attempt to create easy links between streets to facilitate fast easy bus routes that empower public transport as an option.

As I said the distinct smell of old technologies. These days are surely a time of a very high risk future, with oil production now appearing to have peaked, the world unable to pump out more than 75 mbpd for the last seven years despite massive growth in car ownership and fuel consumption from countries such as India, China and Russia. Oil price rises have hardly begun to rise yet but already people are cutting privately journeys significantly, as reflected in this survey last week in Auckland

Presumably solving the post-earthquake housing shortage does not also include building in protection and mitigation for the expected disastrous effects - and much greater effects than the earthquakes because every part of the country/world will be suffering -  likely from the effects from the climate change and oil price escalation. No where is it clear that the developers are (a) aware of this (b) working with local Government to address this at the very core of their project (c) that local government is itself in competent hands when it comes to public transport infrastructure planning.

The Appendix 10 to the Plan Change 67 (part of another huge volume)  covers Transport and this includes Public Transport, of course. It also includes all the magical chants and incantations that we hear so often and that have now almost replaced actually strategic planning, concrete projects and making hard nosed decisions as a Council culture. The section  has a whole section of tick boxes as to how well the project meets the City Council's various criteria. 

At 26 pages this section is far too lengthy to fully enumerate in this short blog but here a few samples (Councilspeak in bold; developers response in normal type)

Transport Objective 
An efficient , safe and sustainable transport system in the city which provides for ease of accessibility for people and goods
Assessment; consistent;The Plan change is not expected to generate any adverse effects on the transport system.

7.1.5 Policy; Minimising Adverse Effects
To encourage changes in the transport system towards sustainability
Assessment; consistent; The Transportation Assessment demonstrates that the 
PLan Change is supportive of walking, cycling and public transport modes of travel.

and in the specific public transport section

M 1.3.10 Provide traffic management schemes that give priority to public passenger transport services over private motor vehicles (especially single occupancy vehicles) in areas of traffic congestion, particularly on high demand transport corridors.
Assessment; N/A

M 1.3.12 Develop an interconnected network of passenger transport services that provide frequent and convenient access to key employment, educational, shopping and recreational zones
Assessment; N/A

and much more of the same.

I am not assuming that private developers should be replace the role of long term forward the transport planners for the city but I do ask; 

"What is the point of requesting compliance with all the fine words and proclaimed strategic goals if all a developer has to say is - "Yep a bus can run down this street or maybe that one, no probs mate". 

If one of the largest subdivisions in the city has no more planning or strategy than a "possible" conventional and fairly convoluted bus route,  in what sense is this any different from 1975 (or indeed 1935) in encouraging "To encourage changes in the transport system towards sustainability"?

The Highfield scheme doesn't yet have a clear commitment from council as to where these junction onto QEII will be, and where traffic will go from the point they enter these roads. But how long can this road go with out additional traffic signals for traffic turning right across two lanes? And therefore slowing the whole ring road.  And if buses are to feed onto the same road, what provisions are made for an added separate bus lane?  

Even on a quiet Saturday afternoon the Grimseys Road/QEII Drive outlet gets queues at times!       
Inherent in the design of these new subdivisions must be how people get from these areas to the major work zones, which I would guess are (a) central city...within a few years back and roaring (b) the "indycorr' - industrial/office park corridor surrounding the rail line between Heathcote/Woolston and Islington (c) the general Airport area-Sheffield Crescent-Orchard Road. With increasing congestion. 

It may not be the developer's task to see how this is done but I do think it should be a mandatory thing a "longer distance" sustainable mobility plan is discussed and negotiated with City and Ecan planners in the very earliest preparation stages, so determined and agreed bus routes, street design, bus stop placement and public transport routes and infrastructure are embedded. No one would describe Highfield as a sophisticated transit orientated development, and the part-time NZTA bus lanes on Main North Road - two kilometres west? - are the only piece of public transport infrastructure in the area.

The Northern Busway option, so simple, so long ignored

In the case of Grimseys Road/Redwood area (and soon Highfield area?) I have long advocated that the city build a simple bus/cycle/pedestrian subway under QEII drive, allowing a busway corridor  to continue on another bus underpass/or bus only over-bridge bridge across Cranford Street, skirt the ponding area then down the alignment of Rutland Street, through a redesigned and greatly enhanced Massey Crescent area, and then via Caledonia Road, a direct north-city link that completely by-passes Northlands, Papanui Road, Merivale and Carlton Corner AND Cranford Street congestion. At the few intersections - Innes Road, Edgeware Road, Bealey Avenue bus priority signals would ensure very little time was ever spent at traffic lights.  

This would give express buses a journey time of only 10 minute to city from Northlands, or of only 15 minutes from Belfast, using this non-stop transit-only access path into the city, for tens of thousands of northern residents (including those Rangiora and Kaiapoi). 

It could probably be built for under $100 million, a small fraction compared to over $2 billion spent on bus,busway and railway infrastructure in Auckland and Wellington in the last decade. And this would amount would include significant landscaping and improvements - a new Rutland Park and Massey Crescent-Edgeware Pool "greenway" corridor and housing complex included.  

I would imagine, seeing the way the world is going, that the buses - at least the full time high frequency branded service - would be fully electric or use hybrids running on electricity only through the built up areas and some possibly articulated buses. Adaptation to light rail might be considered in a decade or two once higher density housing along the route and the city ratepayer base has grown sufficiently, though clearly the corridor must be identified, created  and protected now.  

The map below ( a little outdated the Northern Motorway will now terminate at QEII Drive) conveys the importance of good land use in transport planning; it takes a largely undeveloped areas (one a ponding reserve) and creates a public transport control and device that almost entirely by-passes heavy congestion on Papanui Road and Cranford Street corridors, and at the Harewood Road and QEII Drive/Main North Road junction. Conventional services would continue to service these areas but the whole northern area could be quick quick no stress access to the city. What enormous appeal to live so close (travel time wise) to the heart of the new city yet enjoy suburban space and comforts.

A key factor for Highfield is the need to "drain" public transport catchment area at the Southern end (QEII Drive) so routes do not need to double back to the Prestons Road overbridge (hardly a direct express service in that case!) With a motorway between Redwood and Highfield this means Highfield buses could not conveniently use the subway suggested here. Either there would need to be bus subways from both areas OR a bus subway under the Northern Motorway near QEII Drive linking Highfield area to the feed-in point of the subway in the map.

Below is the current cycle subway below QEII Drive at the south end of Grimseys Road - a simple concrete trench with presumably the same level of overhead weight-bearing engineering as would be needed to create a comparable bus tunnel of similar dimensions, except of course a couple of metres deeper. 

The city has already lost an important chance to link Birmingham Drive and Hillmorton Hospital  to Lincoln Road and even Middleton Road, the University and Airport by not ensuring their was a simple bus only subway under the new motorway, will it continue to blow away more opportunities?

It is not rocket science that is is commitment to quality public transport and quality public transport access to northern suburbs tofro city that makes good bus services certain.

Obtaining clear run corridors that reduce journey time and give public transport an attractive advantage over cars is the internationally recognised as key to a competent mass transit strategy. But whilst Auckland and Wellington move into spending their third billion in public transport transport infrastructure Christchurch doesn't even have a serious mass transit infrastructure strategy!

As a result a 1950s style bus route is all that is "possible" !

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Message from WHO is most likely to drive electric bus development

 Electric buses in China - Wikimedia Commons

The World Health Organisation has added the exhaust from diesel to the World Health Organisation's list of most carcinogenic substances this week.It is now ranked  alongside arsenic, asbestos, formaldehyde, mustard gas and plutonium as a major health hazard.

It was reported in the NZ Herald that although diesel emissions were previously classed as “probably carcinogenic” WHO agency working group chairman Christopher Portier said definitely yesterday that "diesel engine exhaust causes lung cancer in humans. The agency said there was also a "positive association" between diesel exhaust and a greater risk of bladder cancer. It noted that large numbers of people were exposed to diesel fumes in everyday life, at work and elsewhere. It reaffirmed an assessment of petrol exhaust as "possibly carcinogenic to humans".

I have been driving heavy trade diesel vehicles every working week (though not every day in recent years) for almost all of the last 35 years. Ooops!  I imagine any person who drove buses for the Christchurch Transport Board in the 1970s will never forget those pre-dawn mornings  wading through a knee-deep fug of diesel fumes created by 150 plus 25 year old AEC buses left idling all night on frosty nights, to avoid key components (such as valves on the compressed air interlock system) freezing up!! The fuel costs were cheaper than the breakdown/won't start factor, even if the real cost was pollution. Biking to work I could often smell the whiff of diesel a block away. The local Catholic College next door were very upset by the remnants of this "below the knees cloud" drifting into their yard!

The AEC "Mark IV" buses in Colombo St, Christchurch 1960s; grand old
 workhorses but farting out a fug of diesel fumes where ever they went

I don't think anyone exposed to diesel fumes would ever imagine for one moment that they were harmless, that there would be some risk has always been taken for granted.  Like all these other "long term exposure" risks of modern life one has to take them with a grain of salt. Sure it pays to act sensibly but also know that almost everything we do carries some risk (electro-magnetic effects from cell phones etc may turn out to have far worse long term residual degeneration effects). I am not aware of a massive lung or bowel cancer death syndrome amongst former workmates, or the thousands of truckies (and how does one separate the diesel from the long hours sitting in driving jobs, also said to foster cancer below?). Stats might show a distinct blip but I won't be losing too much sleep about having to add "diesel" to the 101 things that may end the life of someone my age.

This said society's, governments, city councils, have to act responsibly to minimise risks and such a serious classification can not be dismissed lightly. The writing may well be on the wall for the use of diesel in built-up areas, commercial and residential, for delivery trucks and - of course - buses. 

However, the timing is not inappropriate because there is much to suggest the standard diesel engine, however much improved, will no longer be a mainstay of urban bus fleets in a decade or two. 

Many major car manufacturers are involved in partnerships with bus manufacturers etc, seeking to create the most effective, fully electric, quickly rechargeable buses. A factor of course is that much of the technology developed, refined and trialled on urban buses (doing high mileage in easily monitored situations) can subsequently be applied or adjusted from trucks and cars. 

Perhaps some of tomorrow’s buses may hybrids, combining electricity with a gas or diesel motor. Mostly these now appear to be built according to the same concept developed by John Turton of Designline in Ashburton, NZ, late last century. That is having the diesel or gas motor not to directly run the vehicle, alternating with the electric motors,  but rather to power an electricity generator as a top up to the electricity regenerated from braking.  This requires a much smaller fuel engine and fuel usage and keeps the bus essentially fully electrically driven. A factor for these vehicles is that it allows the buses to sit quietly and generate no fumes in traffic queues.

Mercedes have combined some of these same principles and technologies with hydrogen fuel cell buses being tested in European cities, as noted in this report from Power Engineering webmag;

Compared with previous fuel-cell buses tested from 2003, the new Citaro FuelCell Hybrid offers significant innovations, with a lithium-ion battery pack charged by braking energy recovery, electric motors in the wheel hubs, electrified power take-off units and more advanced fuel cells. The cells have a service life of at least five years, or 12,000 operating hours. ……The new FuelCell bus is a further development of Mercedes' BlueTec hybrid buses, which derive their electric power from a diesel generator. In the new set-up, the diesel engine and generator are ditched and the fuel cells generate the electricity for the drive motors, without producing any emissions, while also reducing tare weight.  The improved fuel-cell components and the hybridisation with lithium-ion batteries result in a reduction in hydrogen consumption of almost 50 per cent for the Hybrid compared with the previous generation

An earlier model Mercedes Citaro Fuel Cell bus in London. The photographer that contributed this Wikimedia commented; "Note the exhaust, which because this is a fuel cell vehicle is (according to the boffins) pure water vapour". [Hmmm, Is that not also an emission?]

However breakthroughs in the last five years in batteries that can be recharged in less than ten minutes would seem to be the real driver of a major shift to electric buses.  

General Motors are working in the USA with the Proterra Eco-liner, several buses being trialed on normal timetable work in small cities on the foothills on the edge of Los Angeles. A Press release a year ago illustrates the potential operating economies of fully electric buses (my bolding)
 Proterra's EcoRide™ BE-35 battery electric bus is averaging up to 24 mpg (diesel equivalent) in service, a more than 600-percent improvement over a typical diesel bus. Using technology developed by Proterra, the lightweight, composite-body bus recharges in about 10 minutes.

Mitsubishi Heavy Industries is in a four way group working with major North American bus builder New Flyer and other local organisations up in Winnipeg, Manitoba, also to develop a bus suitable for the North American market.  The first prototype hit the road just this week and the Provincial Premier launching the bus aptly noted that this "is the future of public transport 

But it is perhaps the Chinese that are furthermost down the track, hundreds of fully electric buses now in service in various cities. The biggest electric bus producer BYD is now selling electric buses across the Globe, their speciality the Iron Phosphate battery which is said to be totally biodegradable.

Swedish heavy vehicle giant Volvo is working with Chinese to produce electric buses under the Sunwin brand name.  In April the city of Qingdao (population approx 8 million) began building a drive through power station specifically for the recharging of electric buses, notably the 180 fully electric twelve metre long articulated buses it plans to use, some of these operating through a tunnel under a bay, without producing exhaust fumes.

Chen Gang, deputy chief engineer of the project said, “Electric buses can get recharged in the station’s recharging system, and the battery replacement work will be operated by a robot. The bus battery status is monitored by the real-time monitoring center, which takes charge of the battery replacement.” The average replacement interval for each bus is about eight minutes. The power station can recharge six buses at the same time, and the worn out batteries will be retrieved for further processing.

However not every electric bus operation needs to be implemented at the level of  Qingdao's fleet and charging plant. Check out this BBC report (and You Tube) on a small Warwickshire, UK,  bus operator, 40 years in the business but obviously keen to taste the future before he retires.

And sooner or later Wellington's relatively new trolley buses will need to be retired and the colourful but old fashion network of overhead wires is looking distinctly redundant, according to a recent "Dominion-Post" report "Is it time to Ditch the Trolley Buses"

NZ Bus chief executive Zane Fulljames told Greater Wellington regional councillors last month. By the end of the decade, he said, technology should exist to allow for a network of battery-powered buses in a city the size of Wellington, which would save the council about $10m a year that it currently spent on maintaining the trolley buses and their network of overhead wires Councillors had a real opportunity to build a long-term plan allowing for the transition from trolley buses, to diesel-electric hybrids, to fully electric buses in that time, he said.

However perhaps a timely reminder that there is no perfect solution to high density humanity challenges belongs to a health researcher, quoted in the same article 

Kapiti environmental health researcher James Chappell is excited by the idea of Wellington having a network of battery buses, but has qualms about the technology. He is about to publish a manual on electrosomatics  the health effects triggered by electric and magnetic fields. The electric bus proposal needed serious research, he said.

As Hank Williams sung "No matter how we struggle and strive nobody gets out of this world alive".

Strangely beautiful in an ugly way, the tensioned wires of Wellington trolleybus system give an old fashioned busyness to Wellington's landscape but are likely to be a very redundant technology within a few years

Monday, June 4, 2012

A Commuter rail network for Christchurch still on track? Reading between the lines, NZ in Tranzit thinks it may be closer than we think

Photo of Diesel Units (eventually to become surplus ?) at Britomart Station  in Auckland -  could this be a photo of Christchurch International Airport, Bus and Rail Station  in 2018? - Wikipedia

Can National maintain credibility continuing to massively fund public transport infrastructure in Auckland (photo) and Wellington whilst short-changing Christchurch's naive and gullible local bodies?  Or is the Government going to step into the picture with its own trump card?  NZ in Tranzit indulges in some intuitive speculation

Commuter rail for Christchurch may be just down the track. That is what NZ in Tranzit is reading between the lines in recent news about rail funding.

It now appears fairly likely that the National Government/NZTA or KiwiRail (or all three) are currently scoping out the costs and benefits of up-grading rail in general, and introducing some sort of commuter rail system, for Christchurch as a big infrastructure boost to the earthquake ravished city  An obvious stepping stone to this was the dropping of the rather ludicrous proposals for light rail from the city rebuild plan back in April, which would have diverted a huge amount of money away from actual public transport.

Back at the time of the Budget the Government announced that the first beneficiary of assets sales - notably the Mighty River Power Company - would be KiwiRail, receiving a further $250 million towards its $750 million turn around plan.

This weekend another massive grant, with a focus on further upgrades to commuter rail in Auckland and Wellington has been announced

According to Saturday's STUFF online

The New Zealand Transport Agency announced yesterday it would pump $9 billion into upgrading existing local transport systems over the next three years.

The money includes nearly $900m – a 33 per cent hike – devoted to public transport, "with a particular focus on improving the reliability and punctuality of commuter rail services in Auckland and Wellington".

NZTA chief executive Geoff Dangerfield said it was the biggest investment in public transport under the National Land Transport Programme. The investment followed discussions with councils about their transport priorities over the next three years and would give them certainty as they prepared long-term infrastructure programmes.

Details of exactly what would be funded would not be released for several months. But the increased spending on public transport was targeted at "improving peak-time services which help to reduce severe congestion", Mr Dangerfield said.

Over $2 billion has already been invested in Auckland and Wellington rail and busway infrastructure over the last decade. The strategic mass transit plans of these centres,made back around the turn of the century, have now been largely completed. On a per capita basis without regional fuel taxes in NZ, approximately 10-13% of this amount will have come from the pockets of Canterbury taxpayers ($210-$260 million?).

For Auckland this amount included double tracking all lines, creating a loop pattern around the main body of the Waitemata isthmus, rebuilding and opening suburban extension lines to Manakau and Onehunga, electrification and purchase of electric trains; for Wellington this included the complete upgrade of the Wairarapa line and replacement with more modern superior carriages, extending the Kapiti Line to Waikanae; dropping tunnel floors (removing one tunnel completely) around Pukerua Bay and expanding the capacity of the Wellington railway yards to handle greater traffic more effectively.

Both cities still have large ticket agendas being promoted by their respective Mayors; Auckland's Len Brown wants to create a 3km underground loop between Britomart Station, the city's main terminus, and Mount Eden (expected cost around $3 billion) and in Wellington, green Mayor Celia Wade-Brown wants light rail from Wellington Railway station and the CBD station to Wellington airport - though this would fall outside KiwiRail funding.

With one project too big and the Government unsympathetic, there are two or three reasons why preparing funding streams for a rail upgrade in Christchurch MAY be hidden in these massive cash dispersements to KiwiRail.

The first factor is the Government's stated commitment to the "Auckland-Christchurch rail corridor" as the major heavy freight backbone of New Zealand. A major aim of course will be to cut running times, meet schedules consistently (including inter-island rail ferry sailings) and increase loading capacity and rail-road trucking transfer systems.

I make no claims to be an expert in rail, but logically (if nothing else) Christchurch will not be left out of this upgrade.

Effectiveness of rail in our area, my guess, currently has several major challenges; an anaemic single track through tight housing with multiple grade level crossings coming from the North - a line which can not turn eastwards at Addington, even when freight (such as logs) is destined straight to Lyttelton; around sixteen lengthy and relatively slow coal trains a day (ie 8 full, 8 empty) coming off the Midland line, each of these needing to be scheduled through both the Lyttelton tunnel and Otira Tunnel (where added engines are use on steep tunnel gradient) as well as fitting in with conventional container train movements etc. Adding to this the is the rapid increasing road traffic movements linked to the area now being nicknamed SoMo (south of Moorhouse) and planned large increase in South West area subdivisions, creating competition between rail and road access on level crossings, particularly at Annex Road; Matipo Street;Whiteleigh Avenue; Lincoln Road. There are multiple problems here if rail traffic is to significantly increase or the city wishes to future-proof as a base for population and economic growth, to cover the decades ahead.

A second factor is that Christchurch stands at a cusp, of still having open and undeveloped land in the north-west of the city, mostly tagged for housing or new industrial and office park developments. Over 10,000 earthquakes have shown "older" land (much longer compacted former swamp land?) to be far more stable than eastern riverside and estuarine lands - the base of the Port Hills where the Heathcote River now flows was actually still sea a mere 20,000 years ago. It seems the process of shifting the population fulcrum of the city north and west will accelerate. The chance to built an exceptionally high quality new rail link Styx Bridge to Islington - using embankments or contoured land forms to create grade separated crossings, underpasses or overpasses, and double tracked to the latest technology, before or as part of new developments is a rare opportunity for any city!

It would be a very foolish Council indeed that ignored such a remarkable opportunity, as our two Councils  seems to have done. At very least it should be evaluated by a professional consultancy team for cost benefit factors.

Being able to incorporate the Airport and several major commercial and industrial zones, as well incorporate the city's premier sports stadium and large venue entertainment zone  at Addington, gives a huge seven day and evening week patronage generating factor, an advantage over many urban rail corridors only really servicing peak hour commuters.  Access to these facilities is also linked also directly to largest Metropolitan area outer settlements Rangiora and Rolleston, as well as to the Province, notably Ashburton and Timaru; as well as Dunedin and Greymouth. Such easy Island wide access means bigger crowds and bigger name performers. All of this would add enormous punch to including a commuter rail element in that likely  freight upgrade.

And was ever a city so suited for bikes on trains??

By world standards this must be almost unique -  a ten aces winner!!! - freight upgrade; commuter system introduction; easy central city access; city wide-residential workplace access; worker/traveller airport access; chance to create a fully integrated cycleway-rail-cycle carriage system; city wide link to primary sports stadium/largest event centre; regional and Te Wai Pounamu wide doorstop access to all of the above.

With a "figure "8" and spurs" rail pattern, as below, this would also consolidate the urban development strategy not so much by restriction and legislative enforcement as by the strong commercial and social incentive to be close to the line and associated hub points - tying extended urban growth to a high density corridor naturally.

NZ in Tranzit suggested ultimate rail pattern (light green = new industrial; dark green =  new residential areas)

Even though the rolling stock is probably getting bit long in the tooth, or may need a major refit, it can’t escape the notice of KiwiRail/the Government that dozens of diesel rail car units will become available when Auckland goes electric - a saving of hundreds of millions - if used to jumpstart a Christchurch ciommuter system. It is a means by which commuter rail costs in Christchurch could be kept low at early stages, new vehicles phased in further down the track.

A third factor is the sheer in-balance of public transport infrastructure spending - it is absurd that a city almost the size of Wellington has received only a tiny fraction of the money invested in transit builds in Auckland and Wellington. National really needs an attractive "flagship" project to mark a visionary leadership role in restoring Christchurch, and to counter-act its tattered reputation for unpopular arrogance and disinterest in preserving democratic process, embodied in Tsar Brownlee's crude manner.
Hitler built the autobahns, Stalin the Moscow underground; and John Keys ..... ok this is pushing the analogy a bit far!! But it is amazing how much leadership that delivers palpable gains will be forgiven the methods used!

Ideally a system of very high quality segregated bus-ways would be far more effective and flexible than commuter rail, well suited to our smaller city. These could serve broader areas more frequently and far more directly for much less cost than rail. But unfortunately fifty years of degraded bus services, never receiving a fraction of the infrastructure funding rail has received, run as "on street, back of the traffic queue" budget options creates the illusion that buses are passe or down-market, ineffective, slow, vulnerable to poor driving or rude drivers. These are all things that can overcome in a properly funded, integrated, bus system, but the capacity of rail to bring huge numbers into the city at peak times and for big events can’t be denied. Politically the kiwi citizen's strong sense of justice and fairness in all things and the obvious natural symmetry between the three sister larger city axis of Auckland/Wellington/Christchurch implies commuter rail for all three. Busways in this context will need to be implemented on the tailcoat of rail, part of a larger scheme.

A fourth reason to suspect commuter rail is being checked out – despite Christchurch’s much higher profile these days and the role transport systems will play in reviving the city the word “Christchurch” does not appear in recent funding reports about public transport, suggesting something very big is under wraps, until all the cost benefit ratios and implications are seriously researched and fully examined fully.

Up to now various Government's have been able to trade on the appalling weak leadership, lack of quality research and misguided and appallingly amateurish visions on public transport issues in Christchurch by elected leaders and planners - and this extends right from the days of Mayor Garry Moore through to Mayor Bob Parker, and ECan governance from Sir Kerry Burke to Dame Margaret Bazely. This won't last forever, as streets get more and more congested, as fuel costs climb steadily upwards, people will begin to ask more and more "What the hell were these people doing all the years?"

Why are millions of Canterbury dollars being spent on rail in Auckland and Wellington and next to nothing in Christchurch and Canterbury will inevitably become a major issue if car use gets less  and less attractive.

Transport corridors and public transport projects (or not) are often the single biggest election issues in the rise and fall of Mayors, Councils and Members of Parliament in multiple cities around the world. The transport issue was a major issue in the case in the [largely unexpected?] defeat of John Banks and election of Len Brown to Mayor of Auckland.

Light rail was virtually anyway guaranteed to be an election loser for Mayor Parker at the polls (for goodness sake, why would ratepayers vote for such a hugely expensive system only accessible or useful for about 10% of those voting?). In contrast commuter rail incorporating large areas of metropolitan Christchurch, mostly paid for by NZ taxpayers rather than ratepayers, could be a winner for National Government to regain popularity - and they probably know it!

Yep - I think I still hear a train a coming ...

PS -  For a totally different perspective be sure to check out the links sent by one of the blog's readers, Glen, click on in the comments section below!!