Western Rail Corridor (via Airport) Christchurch

Commuter rail to Lyttelton in 1929 (I think I rode in the same ancient wooden carriage when I arrived in Christchurch one frosty morning in 1968 forty years later!) But commuter rail to Lyttelton nowadays? absurd.  NZ in Tranzit suggests some more realistic options. Post copyright source.

I have suggested in previous postings that Canterbury civic authorities could investigate the potential, and the cost/benefit ratio, of a completely new railway line, a corridor linking Styx to Islington.

Heading south from Belfast this is seen as veering Westwards after the the Styx overbridge, more or less between Barnes Road and Sturrocks Rd, continuing across to Johns Road. This line would then travel through the airport area (possibly via an underground cut and cover trench with an enclosed platform station - doors open only for passenger trains) along the Orchard Road alignment. This line would then travel south across Yaldhurst Road, traveling past Masham until arrival at Islington where it would rejoin the South Island Main Trunk line.

It is forseen that both the Redwood and Islington rail junctions would be three-way, allowing trains (freight or passenger) to travel in any direction, in different patterns around the de facto loop caused by an additional western corridor.

How useful this would be is hard to estimate from my armchair! But with very little of this land is currently built upon. It it will be significantly cheaper to designate the rail corridor land now, even if the rail itself was not built for another 10 or 20 years. Once factories and residential areas, shopping malls and street designs are made without any reference to a possible rail corridor and possibly compromising land needed it would be hugely intrusive and expensive to try to retrospectively impose such a line.

A major motivation is my belief that greater Christchurch is far too small in area spread and population to support a commuter rail system or if so would need to be linked to upgrading of freight access to Christchurch. Wellington [with unusual factors] aside, no other city under a million metropolitan population in other similar low density and high car use countries, Canada, Australia and USA (approx 115 cities) operates a commuter rail network . (A few are on regional rail lines to larger cities eg Newcastle/Sydney; Bridgeport/New York).

If Christchurch was to operate a modest regional or commuter rail system, it would seem to me to be vital to try to incorporate as many major passenger traffic generator locations as possible, higher density housing enclaves and major employment zones. To some extent this trades off wider coverage for speed of terminus to city trip, though with diversified employment locations this will not be true for all passengers. Retaining the current Papanui-Addington line would allow flexibility but mainly just be used for peak-hour commuter services direct from Rangiora, (reversing into city station as they do with Britomart) with other commuter services and all off peak services whether from Rolleston or Rangiora looping past Airport.

Trains travelling into the city from the North at the moment have to turn westward at Addington, campaigned against by Greens Leader the late Rod Donald in 2005 and now too difficult to alter. Access to the city centre (Colombo Street) is offered via the Western Corridor route suggested here albeit by a significant deviation looping, an extra 10 km longer route. This said it could be  (a)  entirely grade separated (no level crossings, allowing faster speeds) (b) would offer a reasonably fast journey for the sizeable number of people from northern areas who work in areas other than the central city (c) could still be an attractive alternative and comparatively fast for those from longer distances travelling to the city, including offering the so called X factor, the more relaxed style people seem to associate with rail access to the city.

The main industrial/office park/commercial centre areas covered are those at Belfast, Johns Road, Orchard Rd, Airport, Islington, and Hornby and (by transferring at Islington) access to New Zealand's biggest industrial estate in building, the iZone at Rolleston. With suitable shuttle buses entwined these trains would also serve Sheffield Crescent Tech Park, Edmonton Road, Parkhouse, Birmingham Drive and the University, Addington Office Parks  - a large chunk of the cities industrial/office park zones - before travelling to the city centre (Colombo Street overbridge) Waltham and Ensors Road. This route would also attract some air passengers, possibly from across the whole Canterbury region. Obviously the presence of a rail corridor may stimulate other industries in which direct rail siding access for bulk product import or export from the site is a major advantage.   

Much of the value, or not, of this line would also lie with its use to freight operations, including the freeflow of trains to and from the North to Lyttelton, and the creation of what is in effect a two track exit corridor North from Christchurch - perhaps even more valuable than double tracking as it is unlikely both lines would ever be closed or blocked simultaneously. I would imagine based on the Oakleigh-Marsden Point line in planning the cost of implementing just the rail system itself might be under $100 million, but with very substantial additional costs for overbridges and underpasses, trenches and stations, and of course for the land itself probably heading up towards $3-400 million in total. (Railway coridors themselves don't actually take up much land and potential would exist to designate and set aside enough land for double tracking but only build a single line with passing loops first). The Heathcote-Islington area of the line is already double tracked (18km) with apparent room for more passing loops.

Total freight traffic in NZ is expected to double by 2040. KiwiRail which under previous ownership has slumped to only 18% of the long haul cross strait freight traffic, is making a concerted effort to win this trade back by offering quality higher speed freight on the specifically identified  "Auckland-Christchurch" corridor. This would seem likely to place great stress on the very limited current northern line between Styx Bridge and Addington (via Papanui and Bryndwr) which does not appear to be capable of being double tracked without great political opposition from neighbours and those using the excellent cycle/pedestrian way. This is also constantlyintersected  by level crossings.

This would suggest a totally up to date heavy capacity line with world class infrastructure and grade separated offering exit/entrance corridor into Christchurch from the north - in the first instance built for freight movement - is a timely project to consider.

The electrification of Auckland rail planned also suggests a future NZ surplus of reasonably modern and attractive diesel units that could be fitted up with new engines at prices well below the $15 million or so needed for entirely new units of this size.

Expansion of Pegasus/Woodend and [maybe] Ravenswood suggests further possibility exists to create a triangular route between Kaiapoi and Rangiora and Woodend etc incorporating all major residential (and industrial areas) in North Canterbury, also in a convenient, "go either way" loop.

Check out some ideas for a Western Rail Corridor in a rough and ready Google map - which gives an idea of the land currently in open land (some it in the airport noise zone will remain so), or currently industrial etc  and my  guess at possible stations (rather close together may need less!) go to Google Maps. Click drop down box Search options, click on User-created maps, type or paste in Potential Western Rail Corridor Christchurch . You may have to click on the title twice to bring the crudely drawn overmap up. Good luck!

NOTE  Ignore 524km rail line across alps and out into sea over the Tasman!! And possibly other glitches that would not for love or money delete!! This on about the third map I made over as many hours. - the choice was an inept map and my sanity or absolutely crazed rage and permanent loopiness!! Google user made maps is free, its a marvellous concept but by God it is a diabolical design system at current level of development!!

 Christchurch light rail link could cost city commuter rail