Wellington Scoop

How they’re spending $49m


When the mayor welcomed the Budget allocation of $50m for Wellington’s commuter trains, there were no details. Today we learnt that $49m of the total is to be spent on the Hutt line – it’s a huge job.

KiwiRail announced:

The project, which will see 1274 wooden poles and 38 kilometres of overhead wires replaced, is expected to be completed in 2021. Instead of wooden poles, there’ll be steel masts. And the project will include undergrounding the system that supplies power to the signals.

On Budget day, the Mayor described the money as “catch up” investment to enable sustainable operation of the rail network.

“Thousands of Wellingtonians rely on trains to get to work and to get around the region. Having a reliable train service is absolutely crucial to the health of the capital.”

So that’s how they’re spending $49m. When will they tell us how the last million will be spent?

The Regional Council’s Barbara Donaldson says much more than a million is needed:

“This is a major step forward in improving our rail network infrastructure and ensuring a more reliable and sustainable service to people from the Hutt Valley who make five million journeys each year on the Hutt Line. Significant investment is needed … due to the aging nature of the network and we are hoping for further investment to upgrade the rest of the infrastructure to unlock capacity…”


  1. Jonny Utzone, 22. May 2018, 18:30

    What a sad state of affairs. Its just bog standard maintenance and not investment. Surely, no need for a fanfare. What do rail fares, rates and the NZTA grant pay for these days? The maintenance should already be being done: just like the sleepers, the stations and the trains.

    For the bean counter, it works out at $38,461 per replaced wooden pole (about 8 poles per week over 3 years) or $1.3 million per kilometer of overhead wire replaced.

  2. michael, 23. May 2018, 9:35

    @ Jonny Utzone: Absolutely agree.
    In 2016 Kiwirail revenue was ‎NZ$694 million. What has happened to regular maintenance being part of good business practice.

  3. Chris Laidlaw, 23. May 2018, 9:40

    Quite right. There is a huge backlog of deferred maintenance on crown rail assets in this region which is now, finally being confronted.

  4. sean, 23. May 2018, 10:31

    Except it is not regular maintenance. This is capital replacement of an asset, reinvestment in an asset, that has been maintained and operated since it was built 1949 – 1955.

  5. greenwelly, 23. May 2018, 14:47

    @Sean, Isn’t that what accumulated depreciation is supposed to fund? Mind you, I suspect that jam jar got raided a long time ago.

  6. sean, 23. May 2018, 16:12

    No – depreciation in these cases is quite the reverse. The original one off investment is in effect a “loan”, which is then recovered or paid back over the life of the asset by the user(s). It is not putting aside money in a “jar” for next time. Once the asset has been fully depreciated it might be useful for a while longer “free” or it might need replacement, but this is a fresh decision based on the future, not the past.
    Reinvest and start the cycle again, or not?
    For me, the good news in this case is the decision was “yes”.

  7. Glen Smith, 24. May 2018, 11:39

    It is good to see some overdue investment in our rail system. Maximising the efficiency of the rail network will be essential in avoiding the predicted rapidly escalating rise in congestion. Of course this sum is only half of what NZTA spent on their pointless ‘Smart’ motorway with 4 laning alone.
    It is also good to see Barbara Donaldson talking about “further investment to upgrade the rest of the infrastructure to unlock capacity…”. The lack of capacity, especially in the area just north of the Station, is one of the main reasons Chris Calvi-Freeman gave as to why removal of transfer at the station wasn’t being properly considered due to lack of capacity on our existing network for ‘through’ running trains to the airport. Improved track layout and modern signalling has the potential to markedly improve this capacity. Hopefully before an across town rail corridor at the ‘light’ end of the spectrum is pushed through (which will impose a 10-15 minute transfer penalty on all future across town users..forever…most of whom will likely stay in their cars) all options for improving capacity, adding through running trains and thereby removing this transfer penalty will be fully considered.

  8. luke, 25. May 2018, 9:35

    the only way I can see Heavy Rail going south of the station is on some sort of Bangkok Style flyover above the Quays. Tunnelling would be in the multiple billions.

  9. Glen Smith, 26. May 2018, 7:57

    Luke. An across town rail corridor doesn’t have to be ‘heavy’ rail (which has no precise definition) but of high enough quality to run units with specifications that allow them to track share on our current network. This would need to be fully dedicated. A high quality fully dedicated surface corridor is, in my view, highly achievable via a SH1 route but not a Newtown route. Planners need to think very very carefully before they sacrifice forever the possibility of a seamless rail network (and the resulting far lower uptake of PT) in order to run rail through Newtown, a suburb that is, and will continue to be, well serviced by buses.

  10. Glen Smith, 29. May 2018, 8:20

    Following on from the note above: back in 2013 I concluded that the most direct, fastest, cheapest, least destructive route for getting a rail corridor to the eastern suburbs and the airport that was dedicated and of high enough quality to enable removal of the transfer penalty at the station (and so maximise PT uptake) was following a SH1 route alongside the required additional road capacity.
    I wrote to world tunnelling expert Alun Thomas (previously of Ramboll, who built the stunning underwater Fehmarnbelt road-rail tunnel, but since headhunted by Minova to head their world tunnelling division) who recommended a stacked dual road-rail tunnel which, based on previous research, would likely be 25% cheaper than separate tunnels. He offered to do a feasibility study.
    The professional approach when presented with an option recommended by a world expert would be to examine it in a neutral objective manner. But when presented with this information, the Regional Council refused to even look at the idea.

    I had hoped that the formation of the joint LGWM governance group would see a more professional approach. This would involve feasibility studies, including modelling and costing, for both a Newtown route and a SH1 route which would then be presented to the client (the public) for their consideration. Sadly this doesn’t seem to have occurred. In a recent letter in the Cook Strait News, Chris Calvi-Freeman of the governance group stated ‘..light rail…would run through Newtown, not Mt Victoria. A second Mt Victoria tunnel is under investigation, but for motor traffic, not light rail’.
    When the NZTA tried to push through their pet road-only scheme and failed to examine objectively a range of options and solutions for the Basin Reserve, they were rightly criticised. However it seems now that the public are having the ‘light rail via Newtown’ fraternities’ pet rail scheme imposed upon them without being presented with any objective examination of the alternatives.

    As George Orwell said in Animal Farm: ‘The creatures outside looked from pig to man, and from man to pig, and from pig to man again; but already it was impossible to say which was which’.

  11. Neil Douglas, 29. May 2018, 18:19

    Glen – check out the Brisbane BAT for a double stack tunnel. The $5 billion 5km Brisbane Bus and Train tunnel got quite a long way ‘down the track’ before it was shunted into a siding by Cross River tunnel.

  12. Dave B, 29. May 2018, 20:11

    Luke, Glen, there is another possibility for extending ‘heavy rail’ at least as far as Civic Square (1Km) without the cost of full-blown tunnelling, and that is to extend it at-grade (ground level, or slightly below), then box-over and landscape. This would achieve many of the benefits of a tunnel without actually having to dig one. The trade-off is that to do this along the waterfront would require relinquishing the current waterfront road-route as a traffic-artery. However this has long been proposed for other reasons and without going into detail here, has much in its favour, while the loss of traffic-capacity may not be as detrimental as might at first seem.

    For a heavy rail extension beyond Civic Square or away from the waterfront, tunnelling would be necessary. It is hard to imagine a city which rejected the Basin Reserve Flyover welcoming a Bangkok-style elevated railway over its streets.

    But the massive benefits of extending the successful regional rail system we already have should not be down-played. This option should be receiving every bit as much consideration as light rail or ‘4-lanes to the planes’.

  13. Neil Douglas, 30. May 2018, 8:27

    @Dave – and moving down the coast from Brisbane we have the new elevated rail lines of S.E. Melbourne (a project to remove level crossings). Difficult to see LGWM considering this for the Basin Reserve (given the flyover) or the waterfront but you never know, trains being so loved by those who eco-care. Perhaps in Upper Hutt?

  14. Glen Smith, 30. May 2018, 17:07

    Yes, Alun forwarded me links to the proposed Brisbane stacked road/rail tunnel (http://www.railwaygazette.com/news/single-view/view/double-deck-rail-and-bus-tunnel-proposed-for-brisbane.html). He proposed a similar size tunnel (15m bore) but with added segregated cycle and pedestrian compartments which he felt would be ‘simple and economical’ (he didnt specify but presumably beside the road compartment).
    The figures I saw were 5 billion Australian for a 5.4 km tunnel or around $A900m per kilometer. For a 600m long Mt Victoria Tunnel this would equate to $A540m or around $NZ590m, in line with the estimate of 25% saving on a dual tunnel. Of course there are a lot of variables there. The Brisbane proposal used a tunnel boring machine (likely cheaper over long distances) while Mt Victoria would be blast/drill. However Brisbane included 3 costly stations 40m underground while Mt Victoria would be a straight bore. The way to pin the cost down would be a costed feasibility study which he offered to do. However this would have required the Regional Council/ NZTA to undertake their duties in a thorough and competent manner and their performance to date, along with the trolley debacle, has demonstrated they are incapable of doing this.

    Dave. I am not sure why you feel we have to extend ‘heavy’ rail across town rather than ‘track sharing’ of ‘heavy’ units with lighter units. No definition exists for ‘light’ vs ‘heavy’ rail. The difference is a collection of continuous and non continuous variables (collision performance, wheel profiles, signalling systems, floor height/ boarding arrangements, power supplies, braking perfomance etc). The question is not fixating on the ‘light’ or ‘heavy’ boxes that we currently try to shove rail into, but can we design, and get a company to manufacture, a rail unit that has features (ie a mixture of these continuous and non continuous variables) which allow it to run on our existing network and also on a high quality across town surface corridor (which we are building from scratch so again can create to whatever specifications we require). On our existing network these ‘medium weight’ across town units would run alongside the existing ‘heavy’ Matangi units which would terminate at the station. This sort of track sharing has been achieved overseas (see previous references or search ‘track sharing’) and no one has provided any sound technical reason why this is impossible here. However it appears our planners can’t even be bothered considering this. The result will be a permanently flawed rail system that will be extremely costly in the long term- the 10-15 minute Station transfer penalty will result in lower PT uptake and increased long term congestion costs (likely tens of millions per year if not hundreds of millions based on the long term congestion projections and costings from the 2013 rail washout). Do it once and do it right.

  15. Dave B, 31. May 2018, 19:22

    Hi Glen. I think I may have answered your question before, but here it is again. Reasons for extending “heavy rail”:

    1. The Matangi fleet will be able to use the extension. We will not need an additional or replacement fleet for the extension. Trains will be able to run seamlessly over the extension from all Matangi-served parts of the region. I am not sure what service pattern you envisage if a separate ‘light’ fleet-only was allowed to use the extension, but given that you assume the Matangis will remain, it seems evident that the extension under your proposal would not be able to accept the full regional service. If passengers arriving in Wellington on Matangis have to transfer to light trains to use the extension, will there be the capacity for them on these trains? (see my point 3 below).

    2. There is a need for a fully segregated rapid transit corridor, free of road-traffic, pedestrians and level-crossings – i.e. largely in-keeping with the network we currently have. The “tram-train” concept of trying to combine main-line services with running in the public street will result in a compromise between: a) rapidity of the service, b) capacity of the service, and c) safety of road-users. A 30Km/h speed limit in all pedestrian-rich areas would very likely need to apply, as it currently does with the buses. I accept that a fully-segregated corridor does not preclude some form of light rail using it, but since the main cost lies in the achievement of such a corridor rather than in the adaptation of it for particular vehicle weights, what is the point of going to all that cost and then not allowing the full regional service to use it?

    3. Even at today’s levels of rail patronage, the peak levels of passenger-throughput likely to use a seamless CBD extension are greater than can be handled by a non-segregated corridor. That may sound odd for a small city like Wellington, but our current a.m. peak passenger flow off the trains is approx. 12,000pph over a 15-minute window (Tranz Metro fact-sheet, 2015). True, not all of these people would wish to travel over the new extension, but given the convenience that such a facility would provide, there is a high likelihood that patronage (of the whole network) would experience a step-change. 5,000pph is a practical limit to the mass-transit carrying-capacity of a normal street before it starts to resemble a de-facto rail- or bus-corridor (this equates to 15 comfortably-full 60m trams each-way per hour, or 75 comfortably-full buses). Lambton Quay already exceeds this bus-density during the peaks, and this is without the addition of the rail patronage, most of which disperses on foot and does not transfer to bus.

    4. The practicalities and costs of achieving a tram-train style of solution acceptable to both rail and road authorities should not be underestimated. A trial project in Sheffield, UK has shown that implementing this is far from simple. This is not to say it can’t be done, but it is likely not to be the cheap and easy option it may first seem.

    The Karlsruhe shared-track system – now a successful showcase for the tram-train concept – began as a city tram system seeking to extend its reach over existing rail lines which had spare capacity. In Wellington we have a heavily-used regional rail system which needs to extend its reach through the CBD and into a completely non-rail-served southern quarter. There are no lightly-used rail-lines with spare capacity just waiting to be shared. The situation is quite different.

    What I can envisage happening is that any proposal to install a city tram route with future potential for extension over the main lines may very well end up not achieving this and failing to progress beyond just being a city tram route, or perhaps running to Johnsonville. Conversely if responsibility for the extension falls on the heavy-rail operator, it would most likely wish to extend the network compatibly with what is there now. Like you Glen, I have no confidence in any ‘rail solution’ that purports to address regional transport issues without providing seamless regional connectivity on all lines. All-in-all, I consider that extension of the rail network we have is our best chance for achieving this regional connectivity and impacting regional traffic growth which does not look like it will be solved by any other means. Wellington’s version of the City Rail Link in effect.

  16. Ross Clark, 1. June 2018, 21:06

    Dave B – thank you very much for this explanation. I also have questions as to whether LRVs can safely be run on networks which are also handling heavy rail and/or freights; I get the impression from dealing with rolling stock engineers that the whole idea is enough to give them kittens!

    As I’ve said before, extending rail’s reach into the CBD is a distinct issue from using light rail to connect the city better into the CBD, and I don’t think that the ‘through’ market would ever be large enough to justify a ‘through’ solution of the sort tram-train would purport to provide.

  17. Citizen Joe, 2. June 2018, 10:16

    Dave B, Wellington had a rail line along the quays many many years ago but it was ripped up. Over the Tasman, heavy rail has been removed from a 2 km stretch along the Hunter river into Newcastle CBD with Light Rail replacing it. All intercity passengers now interchange at Wickham. The hoped for gain is a redevelopment of Hunter street and improved accessibility to the waterfront. ,Simply stated, heavy rail is rarely pretty on the eye. Just look at the rail yards on your way into Wellington.

    If you want to be visionary and beautify square kilometres of space then bury the rail line from Kaiwharawhara and move the port and rail freight to Seaview? Selling off the land should pay for your extension.

  18. Glen Smith, 3. June 2018, 18:18

    Dave. I see we agree that any rail network that doesn’t remove transfer at the station will be fundamentally flawed forever, and that rail at the very ‘light’ end of the rail spectrum will struggle to be compatible with our current network. Therefore the ‘light’ rail plans that are apparently about to be imposed upon us will result in a fundamentally flawed network forever. I also agree that any rail corridor needs to be high quality and ‘dedicated’.
    I disagree however that across town rail has to be at the other ‘heavy rail’ extreme of the rail continuum and instead that something between ‘light’ and ‘heavy’ is the logical compromise.
    Specifically I disagree that this corridor has to be ‘fully segregated’ and free of level crossings or interactions with cars or pedestrians, rather than just ‘dedicated’ with full rail priority. None of our current ‘heavy’ rail network (including regional rail) achieves ‘full segregation’ and if interactions are well managed any safety concerns can be eliminated. However interactions should be minimised and I think there is good scope for rationalisation of traffic flows around what I view as the best route, and for separation of rail and pedestrians via overbridges (similar to the City to Sea bridge at Civic Square).
    Also I disagree that Matangis have to be able to use the across town corridor. The Matangis are, and will continue to be, well utilised serving our current network and northern end of the CBD. This involves large multi unit trains up to 8 carriages long arriving up to every 1-2 minutes at peak times. It would be impossible to have all these crossings the city, very difficult to achieve platforms that can accommodate trains up to 8 units long, and no reason we need to have this across town capacity in the foreseeable future since most people will still likely want to just go to the Station. The logical solution therefore is to have a mixture of trains approaching from the north with Matangis terminating at the Station interspersed with a new stock (since we aiming to increase rail share requiring a larger train fleet) of shorter ‘across town’ trains. Commuters would select the service they require- to minimize ‘Station’ commuters occupying ‘across town’ capacity I suggest across town units would ‘shadow’ the Matangis (so ‘Station’ commuters would be depleted before the ‘across town’ unit arrived).
    The new ‘across’ town units can be manufactured to any specifications we require (likely at a higher price than ‘off the rack’ units but this would be tiny compared to long term increased congestion costs of a non seamless network). The units would obviously need the same rail gauge and floor height, with across town stations having raised platforms. They would also likely be dual voltage, have greater braking capacity (for safety), ability to handle corners of lower radius and have collision performance to meet network standards. As I say no one has provided sound technical reasons why such units aren’t possible. As the ‘track sharing’ site says most obstacles aren’t technical but due to narrow blinkered political mindsets that can’t be bothered properly assessing all options.

  19. Dave B, 5. June 2018, 13:59

    Thanks for your replies guys. A few rejoinders as follows:

    @ Ross Clark – As regards Light Rail Vehicles capable of sharing the network with ‘heavy rail’, Germany has demonstrated that it can be done safely. My concern is more that the peak intensity of service required will be incompatible with a street-running environment, or else will be a speed-limited and environment-dominating compromise. Karlsruhe has undergrounded its tram-train operation through its CBD for this very reason.

    I cannot support your view that the ‘through’ market would be insufficient to justify a seamless, extended rail service through the city. I believe it is much more likely that such a development (if properly done) would unleash a torrent of demand. The ‘through market’ is hugely repressed at the moment by the fragmented and uncoordinated service offered. Meanwhile the raw demand is considered sufficient to warrant a motorway extension!

    @ Citizen Joe – The decision to remove regional rail from Newcastle’s CBD was hugely controversial and was heavily influenced by developers keen to get their hands on the land (think Wellington Waterfront and the firms continually pushing to develop that!). There were other ways to mitigate the severing-effect of a heavy rail corridor but these did not afford the same development opportunities for the greedy.

    If you read an earlier comment of mine above you will see that I am proposing to “extend heavy rail at grade (or slightly below), then box-over and landscape”. Covering-over rail facilities and developing the airspace above them is far cheaper than burying them at full-depth.

    @ Glen Smith – You support the concept of a continuous rail extension, but you are obviously assuming that peak demand will be significantly less than the numbers currently funnelled into Wellington by our existing rail network, “since most people will still likely want to just go to the station”. This sounds like a very rash assumption, similar to Ross Clark’s. The De Leuw Cather study of 1963 which proposed extension of the heavy rail system suggested that “More than three quarters of the railway commuters would be better-served through reduced travel time and more convenient delivery to central area destinations. Passengers would use the station closest to their place of business in the central city as follows. . .” (and a table then follows of predicted daily patronage which is about double ours today!). I will happily send you a copy of this if you are interested.

  20. Ross Clark, 6. June 2018, 10:03

    David B:

    I cannot support your view that the ‘through’ market would be insufficient to justify a seamless, extended rail service through the city. I believe it is much more likely that such a development (if properly done) would unleash a torrent of demand. The ‘through market’ is hugely repressed at the moment by the fragmented and uncoordinated service offered. Meanwhile the raw demand is considered sufficient to warrant a motorway extension!

    The trouble with the through-market is that it is not a peak market, for the most part, and in its origin-destination patterns, it is also much more dispersed than the sort of flows that would be well-suited to public transport. Outside the peak, private transport will nearly always be faster. (If anyone is interested, I do have some evidence for what I am arguing).

  21. Glen Smith, 8. June 2018, 23:24

    Ross Clark. What evidence do you have that the ‘peak-market’ is not a ‘through-market’??.
    Appendix 2 of the Ngauranga to Airport stage 3 technical report gives a breakdown of traffic flows. Interpreting traffic flow data is difficult since people can enter or exit but the flow still looks the same. However the motorway from the north forms a somewhat unique case in that there are only exits (except for minor volumes entering at Hawkestone Street) so you can follow where these motorway commuters go.
    In fig A2-1 (second page), of the sample of 5840 cars approaching the city from the north during the am peak, 3410 travel through the Terrace Tunnel (which serves as a city ‘bypass’) to exit south of the main CBD in Te Aro. This is 58% and doesnt include cars that use the waterfront as a ‘through’ route or those travelling to a ‘midtown’ destination that would be better served by a ‘midtown’ station. Dave is right – it is likely that 75% of peak commuters would be better served by a seamless continuation of our rail network.
    Dave. A copy of the De Leuw Cather study would be appreciated. Kerry has my e-mail. Apologies for my imprecise use of the word ‘most’. Let’s modify that to ‘a significant proportion of’ (my guess might be more around half because I suspect ‘through’ car trips may be a subset of a type that can less easily be undertaken by PT). The principle is the same in that there is no point in having the full rail capacity traversing the city, and so having separate ‘station’ trains (Matangis) and ‘through’ trains (new specifically designed units) is still, in my view, sensible. It would however be prudent to think long term and futureproof for a high ‘through’ capacity. There are two ways of expanding this – running more frequent trains (so each Matangi could be interspersed with 2 or 3 ‘through’ units – ?one to Courtenay place and one to the Airport) or running larger trains (which would require longer platforms).
    Running more frequent units may hit problems with the ‘bottleneck’ just north of the station. As I said above, this capacity can be, and will need to be, expanded since whether commuters walk from the Station or continue by rail (whether ‘light’ or ‘heavy’) they have to traverse this bottleneck, but our planners seem to be ignoring this issue. Longer platforms up to around 90 m (around 2 double Matangis) should be achievable with the route and station locations I proposed (except for a single ‘midtown’ station at Frank Kitts park as suggested by Kerry and John rather than separate Queens Wharf and Civic Square stations) which would give almost full coverage (500m radius) of the CBD plus Mt Victoria, Hataitai, north and central Kilbirnie, Rongotai, southern Miramar (depending on the Airports plans for Calabar Road ‘realignment’) and the Airport, with future coverage of central/northern Miramer. Newtown would be on the North/ South (Newlands to Island Bay) bus corridor travelling via the Golden Mile with rail transfers at the Basin, Courtenay and the Station.
    Expansion of the rail ‘bottleneck’ capacity, and around 90 m across town platforms would give a very high potential future ‘through’ capacity on a seamless high quality ‘dedicated’ (but not fully ‘segregated’) surface corridor without having to go ‘underground’ or ‘overhead’. Happy to send you plans.

  22. Ross Clark, 11. June 2018, 23:57

    Ross Clark. What evidence do you have that the ‘peak-market’ is not a ‘through-market’??.

    Sorry, should have been clearer. The public transport market is not a through-market; and what flows there are, are much more likely to be offpeak (because three-quarters of the jobs in Wellington City are within the CBD itself).

    Thanks for the statistics on motorway traffic flows in the peak. While the bulk of this will be for commuting purposes, I would think that the workplaces are far too dispersed for public transport to have more than a marginal market share. The key factor is end-to-end journey time; even under congested conditions, it will generally be faster to drive, even with a proper (=rail) public transport service.

  23. Jonny Utzone, 12. June 2018, 10:50

    You’re on the ball again Ross although I’d add that convenience (frequency and information) is the real killer for PT. The car is just so easy to use. You get in, switch on the GPS, drive to your destination listening to the instructions/and or radio, and then park a few metres from your destination. Of if you are like me, you get on your bicycle. Anyway compare and contrast with public transport.

    Perhaps this is why a (in)famous iron lady said “A man who, beyond the age of 26, finds himself on a bus can count himself as a failure”.

    I look forward to some comments from any ‘failures’ out there.

  24. Andy Mellon, 12. June 2018, 19:20

    I catch the train and then walk the 3.5km to work at the other end. It’s less stressful, I get 15 minutes on the train to read a book (as opposed to 30-45 minutes in the car) and the walk is good for me. I’d call needlessly sitting in a traffic jam for a longer time (and having to pay more for parking than the train journey costs) a relative failure.

  25. Jonny Utzone, 12. June 2018, 22:44

    Yes Andy bus or train is okay for commuting because you know where you’re going because you do it every weekday but consider an off-peak trip that you haven’t made before by bus or train. That’s where the car comes into its own (if you can’t cycle).