Wellington Scoop

Sham trams, wishful thinking and the Zhuzhou experiment

by Brent Efford
Last month’s forum on ‘trackless trams’ was clearly no friend of rail, light or heavy.

The message being pedalled was that – far from being a fixed asset conferring multiple advantages of energy efficiency, smoothness, comfort, capacity, predictability, precision, permanence and sheer charisma (‘it’s real on steel’ is the way I put it) – steel rails are a liability which a ‘trackless’ transit system would avoid and be more popular as a result.

Photos and brief video clips showed a specially prepared guideway being used for a Chinese guided bus experiment masquerading as a ’trackless tram’ (cost not known). Let’s Get Wellington Moving’s graphics showed the sham tram being used on guideways in a largely traffic-free Customhouse Quay and Taranaki Street – currently major traffic arteries. Where the traffic would go was not explained.

Questions were held until the end and I only got to ask one. However answers to my other unasked “tricky questions” (invited by chair Celia Wade-Brown) can be surmised from the presentations and answers to other questioners:

a) Can the CRRC experimental vehicles run on Wellington’s existing rail network?

No need to ask this question – Lets Get Wellington Moving has ignored our mass transit system and has determined that it is quite OK for Wellington to become (after the Auckland City Rail Link is complete) the only city with its core mass transit system not penetrating the CBD. So an incompatible system running south of the Railway Station is officially quite OK.

(b) How will the CRRC guided bus on a short route attract more car commuters to public transport than a continuous rail spine with ‘direct through service’?

The speakers didn’t attempt to claim that a guided bus would attract ‘more’ passengers, only that it would be ‘like light rail but cheaper’ (the old debunked’bus rapid transit’ refrain). The massive patronage increases arising from introducing direct through service on previously-truncated rail transit services around the world is an inconvenient truth or elephant in the room best ignored!

(c) Where in the world (presumably just in China) has the CRRC guided bus technology proven itself in intensive revenue service? Anywhere similar to Wellington?

There were plenty of examples quoted of cities which were “considering” the CRRC system, including many in Australia, and no doubt Wellington will be added to the list for their next presentation. However actual running (Peter Newman showed some video clips) is confined to the experimental line in Zhuzhou, China. The enthusiasm for such an unproven system, compared with the worldwide experience of real trams in hundreds of systems, seems more faith-based than provoked by rigorous analysis.

(d) How can it be claimed that the CRRC guided bus system does not require extensive guideway foundation work when Wellington’s bus lane experience (in Manners Mall etc) suggests the opposite?

No one asked this directly, and references to guideway requirements were ambiguous. On the one hand the impression was created that only a painted dotted line on an existing road – trackless tram enthusiast Professor Peter Newman has been quoted as saying “done in a weekend” on another occasion – is needed, but the speakers also made it clear that an exclusive right of way is required.

The transport professionals at the meeting would have been well aware that heavy rubber-tired vehicles like buses (whatever they are called) without high-tensile steel rails to spread the rolling load, are particularly hard on pavement. If precisely guided on the same track each time (rather than the slight variations inevitable with manual steering) doubly so. The reinforced concrete put into Manners Street, exceeding the earthquake-proven tram track in Christchurch in depth (and probably per-metre cost – $5,000 in Chch’s case) proves the point.

(e) What sort of ride quality will the sham tram provide over ordinary streets without a strengthened foundation similar to a proper tramway?

Not asked directly, but it is claimed by CRRC that their sham tram has a special hydraulic suspension system which smooths out all the bumps which can be expected from a roadway not reinforced to Manners Mall standards. A magic bus indeed – if true, this would be a feat which has eluded all other bus manufacturers.

(f) What evidence is there that a bus lane with two dashed lines painted on it will provide more property value uplift and transit-oriented development than a proper tramway with steel rails?

Since the sham tram is only an experimental prototype in Zhuzhou and there is no diverse or historical application in Wellington-relevant cities from which statistically-valid real-world experience can be drawn, we only have Professor Newman’s wishful thinking to go on. It is the charisma of the steel rails, with their visibility, permanence, precise location and implied commitment that generates so much of the attention from developers and passengers alike. It is hard to see just another bus lane, with or without the paint, capturing that.

(g) Is the CRRC system proprietary, or can it be used by any competing vehicle manufacturer?

China may be notorious for stealing intellectual property but they don’t give it away! We can be sure that it will be proprietary, like all other guided bus systems, and a commitment to the CRRC system infrastructure will mean Wellington will be a captive customer, having to buy that company’s vehicles for replacements or expansions, as well. That is assuming that CRRC remains in the market, which other guided bus pioneers have not. Being captive to one system from one supplier will, of course, mean that there will be no competitive tendering, with all the financial and strategic risks that entails.
Light rail, in contrast, is completely open-source, with hundreds of systems (many of which have been evolving for over 100 years), many competing manufacturers and an almost infinite variety of guideway designs in evidence.

(h) What financial guarantees are there against the CRRC system, once installed, proving unreliable and having to be replaced, as has happened with the guided bus systems in Nancy and Caen? (Not to mention the similar Civis optical system which failed immediately in Las Vegas.)

It is unlikely that such guarantees, which would be in the order of hundreds of millions of dollars, would be given once infrastructure is involved. We have some experience of CRRC as the cheapest bidder for KiwiRail: the DL locomotives which had severe mechanical faults and were found to be full of asbestos, contrary to the contract, and the fleet of container wagons with defective brakes. The faults were remediated, at great disruption, by CRRC staff working in temporary workshops in NZ – but no infrastructure rework was required, of course.

(i) What experience is there of the CRRC guided bus sharing pedestrian malls? Grass and similar soft landscaping? Viaducts and tunnels?

Almost certainly, none. Certainly the brief video clips and photographs didn’t show any sharing of the sham tram guideway. While theoretically possible, buses guided or otherwise are not considered appropriate sharers of pedestrian space. Compare this with trams – go no further than Christchurch, where much of the tramway, using 100+ year old vehicles much less pedestrian-friendly than modern trams, nevertheless share pedestrian space for much of the tramway’s length. Even running through an indoor shopping centre. This pedestrian sharing in places is common in Europe, and even in Melbourne.

Because any form of bus requires a hard paved right of way, either asphalt or concrete, with a very solid foundation, obviously grass or other green landscaping is out of the question. Trams need only two steel railheads about 70mm wide, enabling many different treatments for the remainder of the right of way surface. Grass is common, particularly in Europe, and other groundcover planting can also be used. In Houston the light rail in Main Street even runs through an ornamental pool. Also see item 4(c) below.

Tunnels no problem, of course. Viaducts would need heavy balustrades in case of failure of the electronic guidance – making them more costly than the railed equivalent. Extra cost which the Manners Mall experience suggests might even apply to a surface guideway!

(j) How would the CRRC system achieve direct through service between the Wellington and Hutt CBDs, as proposed in 1999?

It couldn’t, leaving the Wellington rail transit system pretty much the only one in the world with no direct through service between most of the economy and most of the population. Even worse, it would rob future generations of the opportunity to remediate the situation and develop a continuous, automated, electric rail spine from the Airport/eastern suburbs, through the region’s CBD and the other regional centres and eventually connecting to Palmerston North and Masterton. It won’t ‘happen overnight’, but it is our ethical duty to make it easier for future generations to make it happen in their time.

(k) What is there in the Lets Get Wellington Moving ‘mass transit’ proposal (which does not involve integration with our existing rail mass transit) that will attract car commuters from north of Wellington Railway Station onto the rail system?

This was the only question I actually got to ask, of Barry Mein the LGWM project director. Despite the contribution that regional car commuting makes to inner Wellington congestion, there was no real answer. He expressed the expectation that the physical characteristics of the big interchange at the Wellington Railway Station would be improved and this would influence the modal split.

Actual world experience suggests that this would be only in the order of a few percent at best – but providing direct through service can be expected to at least double rail use. That, after all, is why the Auckland City Rail Link is being constructed.

Brent Efford is NZ Agent for the Light Rail Transit Association.


  1. Peter, 18. July 2019, 11:22

    Thank you for speaking so much sense and logic Brent, I love your work. It’s unbelievable to me that LGWM ignores the potential of the existing railway network. Transfers are such a turnoff when it comes to using public transport and the rail network will never reach its full potential if people are forced to transfer to get into the city.

    We need transport experts who can see the big picture making these long-term decisions for us, not myopic politicians whose only interest is to keep the checkbook looking good and pander to the perceived desires of their voterbase (WCC has declared a climate emergency, but four lanes to the planes is going to happen before we make an effort to fix public transport? really?)

  2. David Mackenzie, 18. July 2019, 11:43

    Bringing back the trolley buses may be cheaper than either option.

  3. Mason, 18. July 2019, 11:52

    If heavy rail continued to Courtenay Place, that would give us a station in Te Aro making just about the entire cbd walkable from a station. That would allow a lot of car trips to be replaced by rail and free up cbd space for buses from the eastern suburbs, Island Bay etc.

  4. Ms Green, 18. July 2019, 11:57

    Isn’t the mayor riding around on one of these sham trams/buses in China, right now?

  5. Roy Kutel, 18. July 2019, 12:47

    Well said David – I second that but unfortunately we are but two people. With a misguided GWRC and a lacsadaisical WCC, it just won’t happen. We need to dismantle GWRC just like they dismantled our 100% electric Wellington city transport network!

  6. Dave B, 18. July 2019, 12:51

    We condemn Wellington to transport-mediocrity if we continue to ignore the need for a continuous public-transport spine from one end of the region to the other. We have 90% of this in place in the form of the highly-effective regional rail system, but it stops at Wellington Station and fails to connect with a major chunk of the region beyond, including the southern CBD. No such barrier exists for car-users who are able to make through-journeys with no impediment other than a slower journey at peak times.

    Now our transport authorities in their various bunkers seem happy to promote “four-lanes-to-the-planes” (in the belief that this will make it easier for car-users to make their through-journeys. They seem equally happy to devote zero consideration to providing the same joined-up capability for public transport users. How many people from, say, Upper Hutt or Paraparaumu would use public transport to access Wellington Airport? The train part of the journey is generally fine, because the service runs reliably, safely and independently in its own protected corridor. But the transfer to bus and the slow crawl from there just kills it. Even the “Airport Flyer” bus has certain peak-time journeys timetabled at a snail-paced 40 minutes from Wellington Station to the airport.

    Will four-lanes-to-the-planes plus “trackless trams” really get Wellington moving? Will more roads not simply generate more traffic by encouraging more driving? And will trackless trams offer any more than a slight improvement in comfort over the present bus service? Will they beat the Airport Flyer? And will train-passengers from the rest of the region that is served by rail, somehow be induced to transfer to the trackless tram to make through-journeys? Or will travelers from Upper Hutt and Paraparaumu who currently don’t consider using public transport because of its awkwardness, suddenly find it sufficiently appealing to leave their cars at home? Will they forsake the multi-$billion inducement-to-drive created by all the motorway investment? And will they not be swayed by the Airport company’s massive effort to boost car-parking and disallow any more public transport from serving the precinct?

    If our transport authorities really believe that this strategy will do anything other than worsen Wellington’s traffic problems and increase carbon-emissions, then they are deluded.

  7. Brendan, 18. July 2019, 16:51

    Dave B – the railway station is within a 2 minute walk from Government, a 1 minute walk from Inland Revenue and a 5 minute walk from Treasury. How much closer do you want your railway to be? Isn’t a short walk healthy for people?

    I say use the many hectares of idle flat land right behind the railway station for apartments and offices. The waste of land that is the railway yards is an ugly scandal.

  8. michael, 18. July 2019, 18:13

    Why doesn’t the council consider what many other cities have done and provide a FREE bus service that continually loops around the city. ie from the railway station to the library/council chambers(assuming we have one), the hospital and back via what over stops are deemed appropriate.

  9. Peter S, 18. July 2019, 19:55

    Good on you Brent for fighting for your cause, but I truly believe that any rail (light or heavy) is but a pipe-dream for Wgtn. Similarly trackless trams seem like a pie in the sky idea, as you rightly detail in this article. Regarding your real steel… Not every train arriving at Wgtn rail would be able to proceed through the CBD, so there would be transfers for lots of people. Where is the route going to go? What use is a Quays route for people on the Terrace, Willis St etc? A golden mile route will interfere with all those buses. Can’t tunnel under the CBD (will be under water soon anyway). It would only be working at proper capacity at rush hours, the rest of the time it would be near empty. Do we really need to allow for so much growth? Nothing wrong with being a small compact city.
    And really, what’s wrong with bendy buses??? Just need a dedicated route, multiple entry doors and a better transfer at the rail (bus stop right in front, or under Thorndon Quay!
    And yes @michael, lets have FREE buses, and a loop, both ways around CBD, Kilbirnie and Newtown.

  10. Dave B, 18. July 2019, 20:57

    Brendan, I think your comment must be in reply to something another Dave B wrote on another topic in another universe. Either that, or you have missed the whole point of what this subject is all about.

  11. Alan, 18. July 2019, 20:58

    Let’s just look at one practicality of this exercise. “A painted dotted line done in a weekend”. I have never heard so much nonsense. The time it takes to finish some jobs in this city would suggest they wouldn’t have a show of organising the myriad cones required for the job let alone getting the painted dotted line installed. Why is it that the job is made to sound so easy whereas in reality it would be far from it.

  12. Dave B, 18. July 2019, 21:19

    Peter S, you might think an extension of rail (light or heavy) is a pipe-dream, but what is your view on the alternative which is more motorways, and more traffic? I don’t think somehow suspending growth and keeping Wellington “a small and compact city” is an option. It is growing and more and more people are going to need to move around.

    You make a bald statement – “Not every train arriving at Wgtn rail would be able to proceed through the CBD”. That is the problem – and the thinking – that we need to fix. I suggest it is easier to accommodate every train through the CBD than every car that every person will end up bringing in if we don’t provide a better alternative.

    How do you think we should deal with the growing volumes of traffic coming in from all over the region?

  13. Wellington Commuter, 18. July 2019, 22:17

    Brent Efford claims “Last month’s forum on ‘trackless trams’ was clearly no friend of rail, light or heavy.” It is interesting because when the leading trackless tram proponent at the forum, Professor Peter Newman, was a champion of light rail he was widely quoted by LRT advocates … like Brent Efford. So when he supported light rail Prof Newman was right but when he doesn’t he is wrong.

  14. Roy Kutel, 18. July 2019, 22:49

    michael – a ‘loop bus’ around the central city was tried – it was a yellow bus as I recall – it failed to get many passengers so it was removed.

  15. Donald T., 18. July 2019, 22:57

    Dave B – where is your new underground 8 platform southern rail terminus going to be? Or are you planning to keep on digging to Picton?

  16. Ross Clark, 19. July 2019, 6:52

    @Michael. Agreed – frequent direct buses from the railway station via the Quays, first stop top end of Taranaki St, and then down to about Webb St would actually work. And free’s always good! (You don’t really need a bus or indeed light rail link to the station if you are within a ten-minute walk, as two-thirds of the jobs in the CBD already are). More prosaically, this is something we could do *now.*

  17. Alf the Aspirational Apterxy, 19. July 2019, 8:31

    A climate change emergency has been declared in Wellington. If Councillors are serious about the import of their momentous declaration then it’s time to start retreating from the CBD and the Airport. The remnants of Wellington will need to be based in suburban hubs on the higher ground areas to the north and west, with possible island outposts on what was the Miramar Peninsula. Light rail, heavy rail and Shelly Bay make absolutely no sense in this future which is now inevitable. Let’s do some forward planning if this is what we truly believe.

  18. D.W., 19. July 2019, 10:25

    Let’s not forget the prescient Rex Nichols who advocated a trackless tram back in the 1990s for Cuba Street. The wheels of ‘progress’ keep on a turning.

  19. Ralf, 19. July 2019, 11:01

    The LGWM proposal is set up to extract money from the government for more roads. The improvements on other modes are in the proposal only as a distraction. The retreat from Light Rail to Bendy Buses is further proof. On one hand they say that Bendy Buses give us the same advantages as LR but on the other hand the point is that these are cheap and can be implemented by just painting a line on the road. And in the worst case scenario we would be the guinea pigs using a new system for the first time and it would cost massively more.

    Note that no one is stopping the our councils from implementing Bus priority TODAY. That they are not doing that is telling. They do not want the fight with car users. Which also means removing car lanes from Jervois Quay is not an option.

  20. John Rankin, 19. July 2019, 11:09

    @DaveB asks an excellent question: “How many people from, say, Upper Hutt or Paraparaumu would use public transport to access Wellington Airport?” Let’s try to answer it:

    – suppose that’s 100,000 people making 2 return trips to the airport per year
    – that’s about 4000 return trips per week or 600 return trips per day
    – if these trips happen in a 12 hour window and Upper Hutt and Paraparaumu each get a train every half hour, that’s about 12 people per train
    – if the train carries 25% of all airport trips, the average train will be carrying 3 people to the airport

    Extending the suburban rail lines to the airport to carry 3 people per train does not strike me as the best use of our scarce infrastructure dollars. By the same logic, building 4 lanes to the planes to carry the other 36 people per hour in cars doesn’t make sense either.

    @RossClark makes a good point: we could run buses from the station forecourt along the Quays to Taranaki St and Webb St starting right now. I’d brand the service to say loud and clear, “this is where the future rapid transit service will run.” This is common practice overseas: identify a future rapid transit corridor; put on express bus service to prove the demand.

  21. Henry Filth, 19. July 2019, 14:46

    8 rails to the planes?

  22. CC, 19. July 2019, 15:29

    Using your logic John, the Airport Flyer would only carry an average of about 1 passenger per trip on its Lower Hutt run.

  23. Dave B, 19. July 2019, 15:36

    John, the airport is only one (example) destination that people from the rest of the region might want to access south of the city. There are many more. Your argument is akin to saying why bother with a ferry to the South island when only a handful of people want to go to Picton.

    Agreed, a limited-stop high-frequency bus connecting as far as possible with every train, starting at Platform 9 and running direct to Courtenay Place, Newtown, Kilbirnie and Airport would be a massive step forwards in joining Wellington up, compared to what we have now. It would be a good pre-cursor to judge the likely demand for an extended rail service. It would also help de-congest buses on the “Golden Mile”. You are right – it could be installed pretty-much now. But I am not holding my breath as it has been suggested many times before with zero-effect.

  24. Guy M, 19. July 2019, 16:11

    John Rankin – numbers can be twisted any way you want to prove a point. Let’s look at those numbers a different way. Wellington airport is the third busiest airport in the country, with just over 6 million passengers a year (says wikipedia). We’re a business and parliament city, so let’s say that at least half of those seats are for people going to work / meetings in the city. I make that at least 3,000,000 people a year who would be direct potential clients of a speedy Public Transport service from A to B (Airport to Beehive). That is a level at least 30 times higher than you state will use it all the way out to the Hutt or the Kapiti Coast, and so would be well served by installing a decent system.

    Seems to me that if we get the best possible service underway, i.e. not a silly toy bendy-bus-set, we can save on those 3-6 million taxi trips and $40 fares into town. 3 million @ $40 each = $120 million a year in taxi fares, and ultimately, if it is to do with government, this all comes straight out of your taxes. I’d rather that my taxes didn’t go on taxis. On the other hand, if the regional government cock it up by insisting on a half-arsed measure like a moderately faster, marginally more public system like a Trackless Tram, then all those “civil servants” will continue to take a taxi because it is simpler and easier. We absolutely need the best system that money can buy. Over to you John.

  25. Guy M, 19. July 2019, 16:32

    If anyone actually is seriously advocating that a “Trackless Tram System” can be installed just by painting a dotted white line on existing asphalt, they are lying through their teeth, or stupid beyond belief. Laying a heavily built reinforced concrete bed for a TTS is likely to take just as long as laying steel tracks – indeed, quite probably longer – and is also likely to be a similar amount of cost, or more. Nothing of quality ever comes cheap in this world.

  26. Mason, 19. July 2019, 19:45

    Trackless trams/bendy buses with a cab at both ends are obviously a time staller until a change to a more pro roads government gets in.

  27. John Rankin, 19. July 2019, 21:35

    @GuyM: Thank you; you just proved my point. The core argument given for through-running suburban trains to the airport is so people from places like Upper Hutt and Paraparamu don’t have to change at the station. But as you point out, the bulk of the demand is between the airport and the city centre, which a light rail line will service very effectively; through running is an expensive nice-to-have. It appears LGWM reached the same conclusion.

    @DaveB: Yes and the other advantage of an express bus service as you describe it is that it would give us hard data about how much of a barrier a properly-designed transfer at the station really is. But I expect GW is occupied with other, more important bus-related matters at the moment.

    @CC: Correct. I think you’ll find, and this supports Guy’s point, that most of the people on the Airport Flyer who get on at the airport get off before the Flyer heads out to the Hutt. Conversely, most of the people who get on the Flyer in the Hutt get off before it gets to the airport.

  28. Dave B, 19. July 2019, 22:33

    @ John Rankin: Just to state again, most people from anywhere in the north of the region including the many rail-served areas, who want to go anywhere south of Wellington CBD, will not bother using public transport.
    I contend that a separate light rail system local to Wellington City will do little to change this. Tram-train stands a better chance but I see large hurdles to this being implementable and if it were to succeed I predict it would rapidly become swamped at peak-times.
    Extending the existing rail service would bring the same huge regional benefits that rail already brings along the corridors it serves. And sure there are large hurdles against this too, but these hurdles don’t seem to prevent inner-city motorways from being seriously considered.

  29. mason, 20. July 2019, 11:29

    If we were to expand the heavy rail south, would we be sending all kapiti, hutt, jvil services? Trying to figure out how many tracks we would need and how much capacity would be required.

  30. Glen Smith, 20. July 2019, 23:51

    Brent. Another good article of which I essentially agree with everything except your desire to run rail everywhere and at the very ‘lightest’ end of the rail spectrum in the form of ‘trams’ (which Trams.co.uk defines as ‘..a vehicle which runs on fixed rails and is designed to travel on streets, sharing roadspace with other traffic and pedestrians’) through malls and other crowded multipurpose spaces (such as the Golden Mile) rather than on high quality dedicated and preferably fully segregated corridors.
    Even if trackless trams can be determined to be safe (and judging by how often my computer crashes I think I would rather have my PT vehicle guided by some steel rails in the ground rather than some electrical system when travelling at 80km/hr) and viable (the track record leaves serious doubts about this) then there are 2 reasons that I see as compelling for choosing rail.
    The first is the goal of extending our truncated rail system across the CBD to remove the potent transfer penalty at the station and produce a seamless regional transport network. You, Dave B and I all share the same goal, but with different visions of how to achieve this – you want to run ‘trams’ at the ‘light’ end of the rail spectrum with all ‘running through’, Dave B wants to run our existing trains at the ‘heavy’ end of the rail spectrum with all ‘running through’, while I think both these options involve large logistical problems and suggest adding a subset of ‘medium’ weight through trains that ‘trackshare’ with our Matangis (which would continue to service demand to the station) as the best immediate practical solution. It would be nice if our planners presented options, at which point the best choice may become obvious, but don’t hold your breath on that one.

    The other compelling factor however is what you describe as the ‘charisma’ of rail but I would describe by saying that widespread research evidence shows that rail is far more effective than bus at attracting discretionary transport trips (people like travelling by train more than bus and will choose rail over car more frequently than bus over car). One question is whether ‘trackless trams’ would have the same ‘charisma’ or whether discretionary riders would view them more like buses. I suspect buses. The issue of buses vs rail was examined in an excellent research article by the Victoria Transport Policy Institute in 2012 The author defines terms precisely, objectively critiques methodology and takes a wide ‘meta analysis’ from a wide range of research data to present an ‘overview’ while recognising that each case is separate and that ‘this.. does not mean that every rail transit project is cost-effective, or that rail is always better than bus or highway improvements’. He ‘..attempts to provide a fair and balanced evaluation of the advantages and disadvantages of each mode, and identify situations in which each is most appropriate’. He recognizes that road/ PT is an equilibrium, that when roadways are near ‘critical volume’ small changes in mode from car to PT can produce large differences in congestion (and cost savings), that costings should include all the secondary societal costs associated with different transport modes, that PT and housing development are closely linked, and that PT isn’t only an economic decision but has significant societal benefits for those disadvantaged or without access to car transport. I recommend it to readers and especially our planners and councillors – it’s reasonably long and has a lot of figures but is quite readable.

    The conclusions from the analysis are compelling. He concludes that ‘Rail transit costs are usually less than combined road, vehicle and parking costs’ and that rail produces societal benefits many times higher than the subsidy expense ($12.5 billion subsidy produced over $110 billion in economic benefits). Cities with ‘large rail’ outperformed ‘bus only’ cities by a large margin in essentially every objective measurement and ‘small rail’ outperformed ‘bus only’ cities by smaller margins in most objective measures. The larger the rail network the greater the benefit because ‘Rail systems experience significant economies of scale and network effects: the more complete the system the more it helps achieve transportation and land use planning objectives’. He defines ‘large rail’ as ‘more than 20% of central city commutes are by transit, and more than half of transit passenger-miles are by rail’. Wellington would be close to this and would certainly exceed this with an across town rail spine. The proviso here is that the ‘large rail’ cities studied were truly large and he notes that ‘These benefits cannot be attributed entirely to rail transit. They partly reflect the larger average size of Large Rail cities. But taking size into account, cities with large, well-established rail transit systems still perform better in various ways than cities that lack rail systems’.

    Rail is more expensive initially but over time this is recovered many fold by savings in societal and other costs. Taking a cheap but demonstrably inferior option is rarely a sound economic decision. Around 20 years ago we paid for a good quality NZ made couch set that our friends ridiculed us to some degree about. This is still in near new condition (and I hope to pass it on to my grandchildren) while friends have been through a number of cheaper (but cumulatively more expensive) imported couches. Penny pinch in haste then suffer the ongoing cost (and regret) at leisure.

    Do it once and do it right. Lets build a seamless regional transport network for our grandchildren to inherit that rivals the high quality (but truncated) rail system our ancestors passed on to us. A disjointed trackless tram system won’t achieve.

  31. mason, 21. July 2019, 18:03

    Assuming the options for extending heavy rail are basically elevated (akin to Melbourne’s skyrail) along the quays, or underground, which i’m picking will be rather expensive (although those sorts of amounts are politically acceptable for roading projects).

  32. Russel C., 22. July 2019, 7:08

    mason – Rail went down Jervois Quay and was removed – too much severance. Elevated rail will never happen. We are not Chicago in the early 1900s.

  33. Glen Smith, 22. July 2019, 8:38

    Mason. If you define ‘heavy’ rail as requiring full segregation (something our current network doesn’t achieve) then it has to go underground or overhead, both of which would be expensive, intrusive and unlikely given funding and political realities. On the other hand rail at the truly ‘light’ end of the spectrum (such as ‘trams’ designed to share crowded multipurpose spaces) would have barriers to ‘tracksharing’ with our Matangis /freight (this is why I prefer the term ‘tracksharing’ rather then ‘tram-train) and would struggle to attract discretionary drivers. As the author in the referenced article notes

    ‘Reducing [the] point of equilibrium is the only way to reduce congestion over the long run. The quality of travel alternatives has a significant effect on this equilibrium: If alternatives are inferior, few motorists will shift mode and the level of equilibrium will be high. If travel alternatives are relatively attractive, more motorists will shift modes, resulting in a lower equilibrium’ and that ‘To reduce congestion, transit must attract discretionary riders (travelers who would otherwise drive), which requires fast, comfortable, convenient and affordable service’.

    The trick is to find a middle ground. Design a surface corridor that is of high enough quality to accommodate units that are ‘heavy’ enough to ‘trackshare’ on our existing network but ‘light’ enough not to require expensive full segregation (ie dedicated but not fully segregated and with interactions with traffic reduced to as few as possible and generally right of way at these intersections with roads- as occurs at level crossings throughout the country’). This would involve a bit of ‘threading the needle’ to find a workable compromise/design but no-one has produced evidence that this can’t be achieved.

  34. Dave B, 22. July 2019, 14:34

    Or. . . “heavy rail” can run at-grade (not underground and not elevated), and you cover it over with a box-structure which can then be imaginatively landscaped, worked into building-developments or put to other uses. You get the benefits of a tunnel without actually having to dig one.

    In fact such a “linear mound” along our waterfront may well become necessary as a barrier against sea-level rise. Does anyone remember the “green mound” – a 5m high grassed-over pile of dirt that used to sit next to Frank Kitts Park? It was loved by many as a place to sit in the sun, to scamper up-and-over, or to eat your lunch on. Well imagine a long version of that with trains running through it!

  35. Ian Artfield, 22. July 2019, 16:19

    Why cover it over Dave B? Just leave it as an open scar on the landscape, severing access to the waterfront.

  36. Dave B, 22. July 2019, 19:02

    @ Ian A. You mean an open scar like that awful 6-lane road that effectively severs access to the waterfront and has done so for decades? The same road that time-and-again has been proposed for de-trafficking and turning into a ‘boulevard’, but apart from a few trees planted in the median nothing has actually happened.

    I think a covered-over-and-landscaped railway would be a massive improvement over the traffic-sewer that is there currently.

  37. Mason, 22. July 2019, 22:41

    That is true. Why is a six-lane defacto motorway not seen as a scar? The severance it causes to non-motorists is huge.

  38. Brendan, 23. July 2019, 8:33

    At least you can walk across most roads whereas railways are invariably fenced off because of the high amounts of electricity ready to zap and frizzle you oh and because steel wheels take an age to squeal to a stop. Rubber is so fantastically 21st century by comparison.

  39. D.W., 23. July 2019, 9:36

    Mason – when the motorway is in a tunnel, as would have been the case for the Te Aro by-pass if it hadn’t been for the Greens who made sure that Karo Drive is a bent scar for evermore.

  40. mason, 23. July 2019, 10:51

    Thank goodness we didn’t build that, i’ve been told we can’t tunnel underground because it’s expensive and earthquake issues! Although i’m also told mexico and japan have subways in high earthquake areas.

  41. Dave B, 23. July 2019, 13:52

    Dead right Mason. During the 1985 Mexico Earthquake one of the safest places to be was in the underground metro. There you were protected from falling buildings. The tunnels were largely undamaged, apparently due to their concrete-box structure and the service was up and running again after a few days. The main blockages were caused by debris falling on the above-ground sections. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mexico_City_Metro

  42. John Rankin, 23. July 2019, 15:09

    @DaveB: FYI this is what WSP Opus wrote in its technical note to LGWM:

    The interface of the Light Rail service and the central Wellington Rail Station is crucial to ensuring passengers can conveniently transfer between modes, if required. With buses, trains and trams all potentially converging at the railway station it will become the most significant transport hub in the City. This presents a great opportunity to rethink the wider station area including the forecourt, Bunny Street and the linkage across Featherston Street to the Lambton Quay bus station. Ideally a master-planning exercise should … create a vision for this important gateway that optimises public transport interchange within high quality urban realm environment. The potential to intensify land use around this highly accessible location should also be considered. Fundamentally it will be important to keep connecting distances between modes as short as possible and to create a highly legible environment with real time information provided for connecting journeys.

    While my opinion is that a well-designed interchange will be better value for money, I would hope that LGWM’s rapid transit business case will include a heavy rail extension (by whatever means) as one of the options. Failing that, the tender documents should be technology-neutral, so a potential heavy rail extension can be considered if a supplier thinks this is the best option.

  43. Dave B, 23. July 2019, 19:20

    Hi John. I agree that if there absolutely has to be an interchange with forced transfer from one rail system to another, then it would be essential to make it as easy and as efficient a transfer as possible. WSP Opus is right that this would be crucial.

    My own view is that the regional rail spine is such a major transport artery that imposing any interchange on what could be upwards of 10,000pph would be an absolute, undesirable, last-resort. By all means do this to lesser branches of the network, but not the principal arterial flow. This would be as unhelpful as demanding that all car-users coming in on the motorway park at Thorndon and transfer to some other mode. We go to great lengths (and cost) to provide motorists with arterial roads to give them as fast and as seamless a journey as possible. Why can we not apply this same thinking to the single, most intensively-used arterial public-transport route?

    Figures from the former Tranz Metro in 2015 indicated that some 3000 people arrive in Wellington by train within a 15-minute window at the peak-of-the-peak – i.e. a short-term flow-rate of 12,000pph. The De Leuw Cather study of 1963 (which proposed extension of heavy rail) estimated that three-quarters of rail passengers would wish to continue further on the train if it were possible. So we could be looking at 9,000pph wanting to do this, based on 2015 figures. Now add:
    a) subsequent patronage growth since 2015 (reportedly nudging 8%pa at the moment), and
    b) the likely skyrocketing in patronage that such an extension to the regional rail system would bring,
    – and figures of 10,000pph start to sound very conservative.
    – and likewise the brevity of the peak-of-the-peak over which they occur.

    If an interchange – even a super-efficient one – is imposed, then I believe this skyrocketing will not happen. Travellers from elsewhere in the region, when presented with a train giving then a single-seat ride to- or close-to some desired destination south of the city, are much more likely to consider using that service than if they are presented with the same old train-service that kicks everyone out at the same Wellington Railway Station, but hey, there’s a new light rail line they can change onto (provided it’s not completely chokka). I do not believe the promise of this at the end of the usual train journey will induce the culture-shift towards using rail for these journeys that a one-seat ride might. Regional travelers wanting to cross the great-divide (between north and south) would still likely gravitate towards their cars.

    Let’s Get Wellington Moving is really about “Let’s Get the Wellington Region Moving”. It recognizes this in its roading proposals (4-lanes-to-the-planes), but it misses this aspect when it comes to public transport. I don’t believe there is any consideration of extending heavy rail in any business case – not even the token-consideration that the 2013 PT Spine Study gave it. However I would love to be wrong about this. In my view the lack of a through-rail-connection is the stand-out biggest impediment to efficient regional transport, and its impacts are felt region-wide, across all transport modes.

  44. Brendan, 23. July 2019, 20:46

    mason – should we red sticker the Terrace road Tunnel, Arras road tunnel and Mt Vic road tunnel because of earthquake risk?

  45. John Rankin, 23. July 2019, 21:18

    @DaveB: have you made a submission to LGWM about the option of a heavy rail extension (whatever form this may take)? It seems to me that at this point in the process, the message which LGWM needs to hear is that the rapid transit business case should properly evaluate a short list of qualified solutions, taking a regional view of rapid transit, in the same way that the SH1 proposal takes a regional view. At a minimum, the business case ought to include the rationale and evidence for not considering a heavy rail extension.

    I fear that LGWM has done the typical New Zealand thing of leaping to a preferred solution without properly defining the problem and evaluating the options. I’m as guilty of this as the next person, in that my opinion is light rail presents the best value option in the medium to long term. However, if I was preparing a business case I would put my opinion to one side, evaluate a range of solution options, and follow where the evidence leads. I would also seek information from potential suppliers, through a formal request for information and registration of interest.

  46. Roy Kutel, 23. July 2019, 21:59

    JR that is exactly what GWRC did in 2012 with their Spine Study. The transport spine was defined as the Railway Station to the Airport and then the consultants sifted through 100 different technology options one of which was heavy rail in a tunnel to Courtenay Place. They narrowed down the options gradually to LRT, BRT and Bus Priority and then found out, through a peer reviewed Business Case, that Bus Priority provided the best bang for buck and that LRT gave 5 cents of economic benefit for every dollar of cost.

    The study was done by an internationally respected company AECOM with the economics done by John Bolland and with the peer review done by Ian Wallis and Associates. It cost $1million.

    What do you think would change if the study was repeated?

  47. Micky, 24. July 2019, 7:04

    Yeah Brendan let’s sticker everything. Let’s not use the airport in case there is an earthquake. Let’s not swim in the sea in case of an earthquake.
    Sticker the city, as it’s not safe in an earthquake.

  48. Dave B, 24. July 2019, 8:59

    @ Roy Kutel, I think you will find that AECOM was to a large extent producing the Spine Study report that GWRC was paying them to produce, outcome included. It was not a genuine, unbiased business-case, I can assure you (having read it!).

  49. Dave B, 24. July 2019, 11:40

    @ John Rankin, in answer to your question, yes I put in a submission to LGWM in late 2017. I recommended exactly what you suggest – that an unbiased evaluation be done of FIT’s light rail proposals, Tramsactions “tram-train” scheme, and heavy rail extension. I also suggested the current Inner City Bypass – Karo Drive road-route be considered for being made bi-directional as-is (i.e. no expensive new infrastructure). I have seen nothing to confirm that any of my submission-points have been taken into account or even registered.
    Over the years I have submitted many times, also orally presented at many hearings. The result is always the same. It falls on deaf ears and feels like a complete waste of time.

  50. wellington.scoop, 24. July 2019, 11:56

    Comments on this subject are now closed, as our system has reached capacity.