Wellington Scoop

Barriers to light rail – they’re imaginary or mythical

by Kerry Wood
My two earlier articles showed that light rail is potentially the best value for public transport in Wellington, and that it must be well-integrated with bus services. This article shows why the barriers to light rail are much lower than many people believe (Global Research survey, for LGWM, 2018).

Perhaps the most important perceived barrier is damage in a large earthquake. However, the seismic resilience of steel rails set in reinforced concrete slabs is hardly worse than roads, and perhaps better. Christchurch’s heritage tramway — with modern tracks similar to light rail — was hardly damaged in 2011.

After a large earthquake, the only immediately available surface transport modes are walking and cycling; bikes can be carried over slips and rubble. The real public transport question is recovery time. Many light rail systems can be found around the Pacific ‘ring of fire,’ in Japan, Korea and the United States; design codes are available. The Christchurch tramway was quickly restored when tourism became a priority, and rapid-transit could expect to be much further up the priority list.

Other disruptions are breakdowns, crashes, derailments or power-failures, all needing detailed recovery plans:

. Planning for breakdowns (including power cuts) includes using two substations on the same site, each supplied from either of two high-voltage circuits. A crippled vehicle can be towed by a converted road-vehicle, or pushed by a following light rail vehicle (there is a safe procedure). Daily computer-diagnostic checks boost reliability, and can also be useful for a breakdown. Derailments need special equipment, quickly available.

. Most light rail crashes are caused by motor vehicles obstructing the tracks: 95% of crashes in one UK survey. Total casualties on six UK systems in 2002–3 were three deaths (possibly including suicides) and seven minor injuries.

. Obstructions can be managed by single-line working, using permanent cross-over tracks designed to handle unusual situations. Temporary light rail tracks laid on the road surface are a long-term option.

In many cases the best first-response to a serious incident will be a prearranged plan to pull buses off other routes, maintaining a reduced service everywhere.

Another disruption needing management is the light rail construction phase, especially in the central area. In Wellington this is relatively easy. Parts of the golden mile are two-lane and — short of widening — cannot carry both buses and light rail. The simplest solution is light rail on the waterfront and buses on the golden mile.

Most other light rail problems are mythical:


Cities using modern light rail and having a smaller population than Wellington (WCC area, 211,000) include Besançon (Fr, 135,000), Frankfurt am Oder (D, 58,000) and Valenciennes (Fr, 44,000).

Population density

Light rail viability depends not on population density but on ridership, and costs break even with buses at about 3000 peak-hour passengers an hour. At 6000 passengers an hour, central Wellington can already justify light rail. Light rail is competitive because of low operating costs, dominated by the cost of employing drivers. A light rail vehicle 66 m long (the same as proposed for Auckland) can carry as many passengers as six or eight buses.

In Wellington there are multiple sources of all-day traffic, as well as commuters. All-day feeder bus routes would deliver passengers to light rail at Miramar, Kilbirnie, Wellington Hospital and the Railway Station. Most present-day bus passengers would save time by connecting to or from light rail at these hubs. Present-day peak-only services would become feeder routes. More all-day ridership would come from passengers, visitors and shift-workers going to and from the airport and hospital, as well as shop customers and staff in Miramar, Kilbirnie, Newtown and on the golden mile.

Inflexible on fixed routes

Inflexible public transport is an advantage:
. A commitment to service. A light rail stop will obviously be around for a long time, boosting land value and facilitating medium density development.
. Costly hubs, a necessary part of rapid transit, have been properly thought through, located and modelled to maximise ridership. The best places for hubs are the busiest destinations.

Buses are too flexible, allowing planners and engineers to close routes for a parade, or design compromised bus lanes. A common sight in Wellington is buses running with two wheels in a bus lane and two in a traffic lane, or entirely in the traffic lane because the bus lane is blocked.

Poor resilience

The mythical part of the resilience problem is disruptions caused by parades, street parties and demonstrations. All were raised by the PTSS Option Hearings Subcommittee and all are easily managed using three measures:

. Keep light rail off the parade route, or relocate the parade route.
. Relocate regular events such as street parties (or perhaps the light rail route).
. Schedule other events at times when ridership is low enough for buses to substitute for light rail.

Assets stranded by new technology

Autonomous electric buses would not affect light rail viability because the same technology suits either mode. The light rail cost advantage would be lost but that is barely relevant in Wellington, because buses need so much more space.

There is no possibility of autonomous cars radically increasing road capacity; cars are inherently inefficient users of road, space, whether moving or parked. Walking and cycling both have up to ten times the person-capacity of human-driven cars, on the same lane-width.

Real-world considerations ensure that autonomous cars cannot close the gap:

. Autonomous cars must usually slow or stop at junctions. Traffic signals are common and many junctions have three or four legs but only one main commuter route.
. Gaps between cars must ensure that a queue can stop safely. Autonomous vehicles should be able work with shorter gaps than the two seconds recommended for human drivers, but only under special and very costly conditions:

. No human drivers in the queue
. Separate routes for pedestrians and cyclists
. Grade-separation at all crossings.

Safety requires scope for closely-grouped autonomous vehicles to make an emergency stop at any time. In an emergency, autonomous control must limit queue deceleration to something manageable by trucks and buses.

Who would want to live on streets meeting these requirements?


  1. Neil Douglas, 11. April 2018, 13:46

    Kerry, informative always but, lest we forget, your UK accident stats fail to mention the Croydon Sandilands 2016 derailment which killed 7 and injured 51. This was the accident in the UK with fatalities since 1959, so the two fatalities you mention for 2002/3 must be something other than tram accidents. (I note the cost graph in your first article originated from Croydon LRT). The Croydon tram came off the rails at 0615 on Nov 9th 2016 at a corner in a cutting (during heavy rain and in the dark) near the Sandilands tram stop. The tram was going at 73kph when the speed limit was 20kph. The accident was the deadliest in the UK since 1917 when a Dover tram killed 11.

    This link gives more info on the Croydon accident:

  2. Roy Kutel, 11. April 2018, 14:11

    Hey Kerry, Melbourne provides some tram accident stats with 15 deaths and over 1,700 injuries that required hospital care between 2000 and 2008. 2013 was a bad year in Melbourne too, with two pedestrians killed after being hit by trams and a car driver killed in a collision. There were also 30 serious injuries.

    And trams are not universally good for cyclists either. Two months ago a Northcote cyclist was seriously injured after getting hit by a tram, with the police warning people about the inability of trams to diverge from tracks.

  3. Kerry, 11. April 2018, 15:40

    Neil. Well yes, there are outliers, such as Croydon: a driver forgot to slow down… The figures I used are from:
    (Steer Davies Gleave, 2005, prepared for the Passenger Transport Executive Group, Table 7.2)

    SDG says ‘such as Croydon’ and Transport for London were interested in light rail for the proposed Uxbridge and Cross-River, so I expect the assumed capital costs given by TfL are reasonable. After all, the 3000 passengers an hour break-even figure is hardly new: it was given in the 1992 Superlink study for Wellington.

    Roy. Thanks for the Melbourne view. I can guess at a range of explanations, but I can only be sure that light rail is safer than buses and far safer than cars. Even in Melbourne, the annual death rate is about two a year, for a very large system using some pretty ancient trams: this isn’t light rail. Older vehicles will tend to be less safe, just like cars. The high proportion of passengers injured in a tram is not a surprise either. Part of the trouble is emergency stops by normally smooth-running vehicles, catching standing passengers unawares.

    Bicycles and light rail are usually only a problem when the bicycle tyres get caught in the grooved rail.

  4. Neil Douglas, 11. April 2018, 17:55

    Kerry, the 2004 TfL cost graph is old and needs updating. It’s also whole of life including construction as well as operating costs. Croydon has 10 street kms out of a total of 28 kms, the rest being old rail line. Croydon’s capital cost works out at NZ$ 50m per km (today’s dollars). Unfortunately, the current Sydney experience is five times higher at $250m per km which would shift the LRT cost curve way skyward. Clearly, Wellington would need to work to a lower engineering standard (maybe Melbourne?).

  5. John Rankin, 11. April 2018, 18:44

    Neil, it would also be useful to know what operating speed the graph uses, since this affects the operating costs. If it uses the UK average of 30 km/hr and Wellington chooses a central city route that only lets us achieve 20 km/hr (say), that will also move the LRT cost curve in a skyward direction.

    Yes, if we pick a waterfront route we’ll lose riders from the outer edges of a 500 metre walking radius, but on the other hand, we may buy so much travel time and frequency that our ridership goes up. It all depends on what we are trying to achieve. Even with a waterfront route, I think it’s unlikely we can get a 30 km/hr average speed for a route through Newtown past the Zoo.

    Do we know what engineering standard Auckland is planning to use for its LRT lines? Is there a reason Wellington would want to use a different standard?

  6. Ross Clark, 11. April 2018, 23:58

    “Gentlemen, we haven’t got any money, so we’re going to have to think” (Ernest Rutherford, attrib.)

    The money issues I and others continue to raise are not a myth. The Edinburgh light rail scheme was initially meant to cost £550m for 11 miles of route. We got 8 miles of route, for about £780m – the city having foolishly signed up to a deal in which they bore all the liability for the cost overruns (well over £200m, in the end).

    Separately, I would like to suggest that connecting the region to the CBD requires a separate solution to connecting the city to the CBD. There is not much in the way of city-to-region traffic, certainly not for work journeys. So a connection between the railway station and about Courtenay Place could well be kept separate from whatever we do up the Golden Mile.

  7. Chris Calvi-Freeman, 12. April 2018, 8:25

    Just finished compiling my PowerPoint presentation on a possible LRT system for Wellington. Presenting to fellow WCC councillors and invited GWRC councillors today. [via twitter]

  8. Helen B, 12. April 2018, 9:01

    Ross you make a very good point but you won’t find a sane private company that will take on all the risk because of the unknowns of the underground utilities.

    Chris it is nice to hear you are spending time developing your ideas but surely it is the job of the paid council officers to develop the plan? I thought this is what LGWM was doing. Hopefully your plan won’t create more confusion.

  9. luke, 12. April 2018, 9:46

    trams cannot swerve to avoid somebody and inadvertantly hit somebody else instead, like a bus can.

  10. Kerry, 12. April 2018, 10:20

    Luke. Light rail tracks are no wider than bus lanes, making them no more difficult to cross, and the ‘swept path’ is marked on the road. Stand, walk, cycle or sit outside the marks and you are safe. Some European cafes have outside seating so close that a customer could reach out and touch a passing vehicle, but I wouldn’t accept that beside a bus lane.

  11. Roy Kutel, 12. April 2018, 10:56

    Luke & Kerry: this Melbourne study shows that increasing the distance between stops reduces accidents since trams don’t have to brake and accelerate so much and the chance of collisions between trams and other road users is lowered.

  12. John Rankin, 12. April 2018, 12:18

    @HelenB: construction cost risk is only part of the risk profile. We also need to consider ridership risk. Should we expect a commercial system operator to assume at least part of the ridership risk? If so, then one consequence is that the operator may reasonably expect to have final say on the route and stop locations, which will affect construction cost.

    LGWM has been much exercised about whether there will be enough demand along the entire light rail route to justify the level of investment needed. Many of the comments on Kerry’s articles have been about how best to deliver the patronage that light rail needs to be economically viable. These comments have not converged on a consensus view.

    I would find it somewhat reassuring if a commercial system operator would take on a share of both the construction and ridership risks. This would create strong incentives and disciplines around system design decisions. Is this too much to expect?

  13. Ross Clark, 12. April 2018, 22:17

    Helen B: You won’t find a sane private company that will take on all the risk because of the unknowns of the underground utilities.

    This was precisely the problem in Edinburgh. The contract was let on the basis that shifting utilities would take a certain length of time and cost a certain amount of money. But there proved to be far more under the asphalt than anyone had realised, so the work took twice as long as expected and cost twice as much. As a result this threw the whole construction programme out of kilter, leading to vastly increased costs on building the part of the network which involves street running. The risk from cost over-runs in projects of this nature is quite substantial, and should makes one very reluctant to take on board estimates of both cost and time, unless very substantial contingencies are built into both. Who bears the risk? is a very important question.

  14. Kerry, 13. April 2018, 10:06

    Ross. Good point but, again, I think it is a manageable problem.

    First, have the route surveyed using ground penetrating radar, using the best gear available, early enough to inform decision-making. Doing it too late in the project is a bigger risk than doing it too early, especially in known difficult areas such as the Basin Reserve and Willis St. At a guess, Sydney would not be going to court if that had been done. Up-to-date radar should be able to spot everything that matters, in three dimensions. Only 20 years ago, cables were sometimes laid just above plastic pipes, in the hope that putting a signal into the cable would allow location of the pipe. Once lost (no drawings) finding unknown drains was very difficult. There was no way of tracing them until somebody came across an unknown manhole, or an unknown connection. I once found a 900 mm drain that way.

    Second, check the grade of drains that have to be lowered, to see how much will have to be relaid. Drains are often the biggest problem, because they have to be laid to a fall (pumping may create more problems than it solves). If a drain is lowered at one point, it has to be relaid downstream, at a flatter gradient,until it is back at the level of the old pipe. It sounds as if Sydney has hit this problem.

    And third, keep the bottom of the track formation as high as reasonably practical. In researching this I came across light rail contract drawings specifying that the top of all services be at least 900 mm below the road surface, and many Wellington drains are higher than that. Two methods are:
    — Keep the concrete slab as thin as reasonably possible.
    — Think about raising the road surface in places, or lay the tracks above road level. This is a common practice anyway (by 150 mm in the UK design code) so that motor vehicles are discouraged but can still cross the tracks at low speed.

  15. Alastair M, 13. April 2018, 13:02

    Does any reader recall the extensive and protracted road works that were put into the stretch of Manners Street when it was returned to bus-only road use (from its previous Manners Mall pedestrian-only use)?
    There was considerable excavation and then a sub-surface reinforced concrete “road” laid below the current road surface. The justification that I recall for all that engineering was to future proof that section of the Golden Mile for light rail.
    I assume that could be seen as a recent working example of the scale of road work that would be required for light rail through the city.
    In the Manners Mall case there was no traffic disruption, as the area was pedestrian only at the time the work commenced.

  16. Patrick Morgan, 16. April 2018, 22:26

    I’m excited about light rail for Wellington, says Phil Twyford at the Transport Summit So, not just more buses. Light rail is on the table. [via twitter]

  17. Jonny Utzone, 17. April 2018, 10:02

    Err Patrick, Light Rail has been ‘on the table’ since 1992 (at least). Show me the money!

  18. Kerry, 17. April 2018, 14:21

    Jonny. This is probably the first Minister who has known about any light rail proposal for Wellington. Certainly Phil Twyford is the first who has expressed interest, at a national ‘summit’ meeting on the new draft Government Policy Statement for Transport.
    This is the beginning of transport policy in New Zealand entering the twenty-first century, recognising the futility of ever-greater road-building, the necessity of managing carbon emissions and the need to design cities for people, not cars.
    Light rail was officially rejected in the notoriously bad but still official PTSS study in 2013. Now it is far more certain than it has ever been.

  19. Neil Douglas, 18. April 2018, 11:18

    @Kerry, Michael Cullen back in 2006 mentioned extending the J’ville line to Courtenay Place in advocating the line’s retention in this letter to WCC Mayor Prendergast and GWRC Buchanan about the idea of spending $70 million to convert it to a Busway.

  20. Kerry, 18. April 2018, 19:14

    Neil. Oops, missed that one, but it doesn’t have as much push behind it as we saw on Monday. And with no plans for the Johnsonville Line for a while, KiwiRail can concentrate more important stuff.

  21. Daniel Eyre, 23. April 2018, 18:11

    I’m all for upgrading the more popular Wellington bus routes to trams. Those routes certainly have patronage levels that would justify it and would run more efficiently as trams. Wellington was built around tramways and the same routes exist today as bus routes. And the road routes they ran are wide enough in many places (Courtenay place, Kent/Cambridge terrace, etc) to allow the trams to have their own corridor. Plus it could be a good reason to pedestrianise Manners Mall and Lambton Quay with the tram running down it.

    But unfortunately a few years ago; the NZTA changed the laws surrounding light rail operation in NZ, which has made any new tramway mixing with automobile traffic near impossible. Until these laws get changed again, we can put trams in Wellington in the pipe-dream basket sorry.

  22. Daniel Eyre, 23. April 2018, 18:34

    Reading some of the naysayer comments. Yes in the last decade there have been some light rail boondoggles around the world (especially in the USA) where the introduction of light rail has been mismanaged by people without competency and costs have blown out. The fiasco of the tram system in Edinburgh is often raised and there have also been serious issues with the the new tram systems build constructed in Newcastle NSW and in Sydney. But this is cherry-picking.

    Sydney has had a light rail system for 20 years now serving the inner west and with tram operation into the Sydney CBD and it’s certainly not been a failure by any measure. And while Edinburgh’s tram has been a fiasco, not very far south and on the other side of Hadrian’s Wall is Newcastle (on Tyne) which is home to one of the most successful light rail systems in the world (albeit without any tram operation). Manchester’s Metrolink and Croydon Tramlink have both been successes (although the Croydon tram has been robbed of its intended extensions by the London council).

    Light railways exist across the world and are being built in many places with a strange “renaissance” occurring. Yes some in recent years like Edinburgh have been total disasters, but most have not been by any stretch. Surely it would be best to study all of these systems and find the reasons for success and failures, ensuring that light introduced in NZ is a success, rather than to dismiss any prospect of light rail altogether?

  23. D. J. Vu, 23. April 2018, 18:38

    @Daniel and what replaced the trams? Trolley buses, which did everything a tram could do but with rubber wheels so providing the latitude to move around parked vehicles. Wellington’s trolley buses weren’t ‘pipe-dream vehicles’ but unique public transport that suited our quirky capital and should have been marketed to the hilt. Laidlaw and his fellow regional councillors should be ‘in court’ answering to the crime of eco-vandalism.

    If we’d spent say $200 million, we’d have a truly fantastic NETWORK, the envy of the southern hemisphere. We’d also save $1.3 billion on the capital cost of a single Light Rail corridor to the airport. And we’d have the system NOW, not in 2028.

  24. Cllr Chris Calvi-Freeman, 23. April 2018, 18:53

    Apples with apples please, D.J.Vu. For about $1.3b, Wellington would have a single spine linking a whole series of attractors (airport, hospital, CBD, railway station etc) and running faster and far more reliably than a bunch of new trolley buses. It’s that reliability, together with ease of boarding, a very smooth ride and a certain cachet that will bring far more riders to a light rail service than to any number of new trolley buses.

  25. Kerry, 23. April 2018, 19:38

    DJ: Some answers in the two earlier articles.

  26. Daniel Eyre, 23. April 2018, 20:12

    To D.J. Vu: The fact that there were ever parked vehicles for trolleybuses to have to manoeuvre around is an inherent disadvantage of trolleybuses over trams. Trams never need to manoeuvre around parked cars.

    In Germany it’s a rule-of-thumb (Faustregel) that for routes serving more than 4000 passengers per work day, trams are more economical than buses. As fuel prices are higher in NZ than in Germany that would probably be lower here. Trams are also more attractive to ride than buses given the motion of the two vehicular bodies. Trams need tracks but don’t need a paved road which allows them to run over pedestrianised areas and grasslands while making little impact. Trams are capable of moving higher capacities of passengers than buses. So no: trolleybuses cannot do everything a tram does.

    Unfortunately, the trolleybuses are gone and nobody’s talking about bringing them back. It makes as much sense to lament that past as it does to lament losing the trams back in 1963. How about we look to the future instead of living in the past?
    Who knows? Maybe introducing a modern tramway into Wellington could justify using the same power supply (this time more than the underpowered old one) for reintroducing trolleys on some routes?

    And where did I ever say anything about any “single-spine” or any airport? I’m talking only about better public transport for Wellington and this being met by upgrading some bus lines to tramways. In particular; Routes 1 & 2.

  27. D. J. Vu, 23. April 2018, 20:47

    @CCF, I’ll agree with your “certain cachet”: Rolls v mini? Both attract the eye but for swankiness v quirkiness. I think Wellington suits quirky. A new trolley would be as smooth as a new tram and less noisy (no krrrrrr around the bends). A trolley would also be as quick and as reliable if the same traffic priority measures were put in place (apples with apples anyone?). And capacity, we could have had articulated trolleys for the peak? And with better storage batteries, trolleys could have ventured into all suburbs (recharging as they pass under the city centre overhead wiring).

    Affordability? Well obviously I’d agree that, if Central Govt is paying, Wellington should go for the swankiest system possible but if it’s ratepayer money, what would we sanely recommend? I admit it’s now hypothetical since Wellington is right ‘off its trolley’ when it comes to transport.

  28. D. J. Vu, 23. April 2018, 21:11

    They say Melbourne is pretty, though I’ve never been. Daniel might say it’s probably the best place he’s ever been. Trams everywhere. On the opposite side of the world, a mini (a new German one mind you) stops Nottingham’s trams and people have to lift the mini out of the way.

  29. Sean, 24. April 2018, 9:25

    “…the trolleybuses are gone and nobody’s talking about bringing them back. It makes as much sense to lament that past as it does to lament losing the trams back in 1963. How about we look to the future instead of living in the past?”
    Because the people and institutions that did this are still in the driving seat for Wellington transport decision making unchecked and will bring the same culture and vision to any future decisions on transport. This is a current issue, not one of the past.

  30. Daniel Eyre, 24. April 2018, 10:38

    Sean: Yes those people are in power in the GWRC. They need to be voted out. But the trolleybuses are not coming back. The chance to save them has been missed. There’s no point in even talking about them.

  31. Helen B, 24. April 2018, 11:10

    I think the GWRC needs to be replaced after their decision to do away with the trolley buses.

  32. Andrew, 24. April 2018, 15:36

    We fully should be talking about the trolley bus saga. It was not a single decision that got rid of them but a chain of events that started years ago. Do you think Mark Blumsky thought his support in selling Capital Power would one day result in the trolley network being removed? If you want to wander around repeating past mistakes, then by all means ignore history.

  33. Daniel Eyre, 24. April 2018, 17:55

    What will be achieved by moaning about the trolleybuses going? The people responsible kept getting elected. Swain, Wilde, Laidlaw, McKinnon, Laban, etc. Too late now! Part of learning from the mistakes and trying to not see them repeated is to move on instead of moaning. Move on by organising opposition and getting others elected. There’s no point in living in the past.

  34. Mike Mellor, 24. April 2018, 20:44

    Daniel Eyre: “… the NZTA changed the laws surrounding light rail operation in NZ, which has made any new tramway mixing with automobile traffic near impossible. Until these laws get changed again, we can put trams in Wellington in the pipe-dream basket.” Leaving aside the fact that NZTA has no power to change laws, no-one seems to have told Let’s Get Wellington Moving (WCC, GWRC, NZTA) about this, nor Auckland Transport or the Christchurch City Council. Could you give a reference for this, please?

    “And while Edinburgh’s tram has been a fiasco”, “some in recent years like Edinburgh have been total disasters” – Edinburgh’s construction was certainly a disaster, but not its operation: it made an operating profit a year ahead of projections, passenger satisfaction is 99%, and its success is such that the council has selected bidders for extending the line.

  35. Neil Douglas, 24. April 2018, 23:21

    Mike, high satisfaction with public transport is pretty endemic in the UK. For Autumn 2017, the 5 LRT systems in England scored 91% for overall journey satisfaction (ranging from 90% for Midland Metro to 97% for Blackpool). For ‘heavy’ rail, satisfaction was 10% points lower at 81%.

    Bus passenger satisfaction ranged from 74% in Worcestershire to 94% in Bournemouth. The figures (which add ‘fairly satisfied’ to ‘very satisfied’) are based on surveys organised by Transport Focus.

    However Edinburgh LRT definitely tops the satisfaction scores. The Henry Royce quote comes to mind: “quality is remembered long after price is forgotten”.

  36. Daniel Eyre, 25. April 2018, 11:53

    Mike Mellor: I put it a bit too simplistically when I said “change the laws”. But the NZTA do write the regulations and they were supposed to write regulations on traffic control devices. But as you can see in this link, they never got around to completing this. And unfortunately until this gets addressed any new light rail system built in New Zealand will have to be separated from automobile traffic like heavy rail. And (of course) the GWRC is well aware of this. Because this is why the light rail scheme proposed in the spine study was so gold-plated and (unnecessarily) separated from automobile traffic in its own corridors and resultantly so horrendously expensive.

    As for the Edinburgh trams: I’m not denying that they now have respectable patronage and have returned profitability earlier than expected. My point was not to rubbish light rail or trams as a mode of transport (something I thought would be obvious) but more to warn about what will happen if these projects are not properly implemented.

  37. John Rankin, 25. April 2018, 13:56

    @NeilDouglas: Henry Royce was perhaps imperfectly recalling Benjamin Franklin: “The bitterness of poor quality remains long after the sweetness of low price is forgotten.”

  38. Mike Mellor, 25. April 2018, 15:52

    Thanks, Daniel, but that’s a large document: could you identify what specifically makes “any new tramway mixing with automobile traffic near impossible”, please? At a quick glance I can’t see anything that makes such mixing impossible – and anyway only an Act of Parliament, not an NZTA document, could prohibit such mixing.

    The most recent extension of the street-running Christchurch tramway was opened by the then PM in 2015, so trams mixing with other traffic was certainly possible then – what has changed since?

  39. Daniel Eyre, 25. April 2018, 16:11

    Mike Mellor: If you read the footnotes it says
    “The initially proposed Part 14 Bus and transit lanes, Part 15 Cycles, Part 16 Pedestrians and Part 17 Heavy motor vehicles will be incorporated into Part 4 Traffic control devices for general use – at intersections and Part 5 Traffic control devices for general use – between intersections. The need for separate parts to cover these topics will be reviewed after the publication of Parts 4 and 5. Recently published guide documents covering these topics could also be reviewed.”
    Parts 4 and Part 5 have never been published. Until these get published; any NEW light rail system has to be regarded as heavy rail. Christchurch is a LEGACY system.

  40. Neil Douglas, 25. April 2018, 16:48

    @JR. Yes perhaps Henry Royce was recalling Benjamin Franklin but you’d have to agree that a Rolls Royce costs a lot of money which puts it the rich person’s domain.

    I had a Rover (3rd hand) which was known as the ‘the poor man’s Rolls’. It got me from A to B at the same speed and same comfort as a Rolls but it had nowhere near the same ‘cache’ as Councillor Calvi Freeman so eloquently put it when comparing Light Rail to our scrapped trolley bus system).

    That reverses us back to the question of whether Wellington can afford Light Rail. Our sister capital Canberra argued that they could afford LRT, being the richest state per capita (bureaucrats pay themselves well). Indeed some argued that Canberra couldn’t afford to be without it.

    Wellington? Well we don’t have the same taxation system as Federal Australia to fund it ourselves. We could go for a PPP to
    move the capital off the balance sheet and replace it with a series of annual payments. But beware of a Carillion style bankruptcy. So realistically, Wellington will need a big dollop of Central Government ‘largesse’. Perhaps a billion?

  41. Mike Mellor, 25. April 2018, 17:15

    Thanks, Daniel, but that footnote makes no mention of rail (either light or heavy), nor of any differentiation between new and legacy systems, so it can’t be the source of your assertion that “any NEW light rail system has to be regarded as heavy rail” – so where did you get that from?

    In fact, light rail on-street operation is provided for under the Land Transport (Road User) Rule 2004 (as at 1 October 2017) http://www.legislation.govt.nz/regulation/public/2004/0427/latest/whole.html, which defines a light rail vehicle as “a rail vehicle that is designed to run along a road among other road vehicles and users”. Clearly no problem there!

  42. Daniel Eyre, 25. April 2018, 18:41

    Mike Mellor; It’s irrelevant if the regulations recognise light rail vehicles. Until regulations for traffic control devices related to light rail are defined, they have to comply to heavy rail regulations. You can disbelieve me all you want. But if you try and promote street running trams in NZ and get anywhere, sooner or later you will discover what I’m telling you for yourself (unless the Ministry of Transport sends a rocket up the NZTA). So it’s no skin off of my nose.

  43. Mike Mellor, 25. April 2018, 20:03

    Thanks, Daniel. Since you don’t seem to be able to produce any evidence to support that, I think it’ll have to rest there – and I’m sure that LGWM, WCC, GWRC, NZTA etc will have everything under control!

  44. greenwelly, 25. April 2018, 20:37

    Daniel. Light rail down Queen Street and Dominion Road is a major government policy in Auckland, This is an activist/progressive government and key policy planks are not going to be thwarted by the fact that rules and regs make it difficult, I can guarantee that the rule of law will be moulded to mert political demands.

  45. John Rankin, 26. April 2018, 10:42

    @NeilDouglas asks whether Wellington can afford light rail. The new draft land transport GPS has a capital fund for “rapid transit” so provided Wellington proposes a light rail project that qualifies as “rapid”, it will be affordable in principle. Unless Auckland spends it all.

    The devil, as always, is in the detail. Wellington could do worse than hire some qualified Canadians who have a track record of delivering successful PPP arrangements.

  46. DC, 26. April 2018, 12:48

    Yes John Rankin! Rapid light rail for Wellington (Phase I) as suggested five years ago here on Wellington.Scoop.

  47. Daryl Cockburn, 26. April 2018, 13:07

    Yes John it has to be RLR rapid light rail as we proposed along the waterfront in 2013. That was 20 years after we proposed “Superlink”. And it must be light in cost unlike Sydney.

  48. Mike Mellor, 27. April 2018, 10:01

    The precise light rail route is a detail (but a very important one) to be sorted out by professionals once the rail principle is accepted.

    A major consideration is speed, where it’s rapidity for people that’s important, with the speed of the vehicle being just one factor. Also important is how long it takes to get to/from the boarding/alighting stops, and in this respect a route that goes along the very edge of the CBD will be at a disadvantage compared to one that goes through the centre – particularly if the peripheral route is the wrong side of a multi-lane highway.

    So speedy trams along the waterfront may well provide a slower journey for many passengers than slower trams through the CBD – and they will certainly have a smaller catchment area, reducing potential patronage.

  49. Segway Jones, 27. April 2018, 10:58

    @Mike: rapid means rapid not snail light rail! How can a tram through Lambton Quay ever be rapid especially when it’s stuck behind a bus or three? ‘Professionals’ would have an impossible job justifying funding from central government for such ‘snail’ Light Rail. And wait till trams get to Adelaide Road near the hospital. Traffic Priority you may say? Well, the only vehicles that should get priority are ambulances.

  50. John Rankin, 27. April 2018, 11:13

    @MikeMellor: as far as I can tell, there are 5 factors which the route has to optimize to deliver a “rapid” journey. An ideal rapid transit service would be:

    1. Close; stops are close to major destinations, say within a 5 minute walk (400 metres, without hold ups to cross busy streets)

    2. Frequent; vehicles turn up quickly, say at least every 10 minutes, 7am to 7pm, 7 days a week

    3. Reliable; vehicles turn up on time, say arrive no more than one minute early, leave no more than one minute late

    4. Fast; widely spaced stops, short dwell times and high cruising speeds, say achieving an average speed of at least 25 km/hr

    5. Straight; the line should be as straight as practical, say a length within 5% of the most direct route

    Given Wellington’s geographic constraints, achieving all 5 will be tough and we will have to make trade-offs. I guess that’s a challenge for the LGWM folks to solve. As Mike notes elsewhere, the perfect is the enemy of the good.

    [Comments are now closed – we’ve reached the maximum of 50 that our system can cope with.]