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.



  1. You should start posting your ideas over at:

  2. If you are going to do it, you should have at least two dedicated through lines for commuter and probably two for dedicated freight. The freight lines could pass furtherest away from the station or even cut/cover trench them so they are not seen. This would give simple street level access for a future Colombo St tram to the station.
    The main station itself should have capacity to terminate at least four trains.
    In any case heaps of options.


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