Wellington Scoop

The vanishing trolley buses: cheaper to keep them than scrap them

Detailed independent analysis by an experienced Wellington engineer has provided financial evidence which shows that retaining the city’s trolley buses would be more economical than scrapping them, as the Greater Wellington Regional Council is intending.

The research was presented to regional councillors this week by Allan Neilson, a former senior electrical engineer with KiwiRail.

His analysis shows that the cost of scrapping the trolley buses will be about $34million. Whereas the cost of keeping them in operation would be only $15million.

    GWRC funding to date

Significant public funding has already been provided by GWRC to upgrade the trolleybus overhead network in the last 5-7 years, and these costs are broadly assessed as follows:

a) 17.3km of overhead rebuilt by WCCL at $0.8M per kilometre, or $13.84M (about $14M)
b) Installation of the TBOPs to date by WCCL at $100k each, or about $1.2M
c) Some additional funding to WELL for some minor capitalised replacement of the DC traction power supply equipment (conservatively estimated at $1M20).

Aggregated cost – $16M

    Life extension costs

The capital improvement costs that would be necessary to extend the life of the infrastructure assets of trolleybus operations for 10-12 years past mid 2017 are broadly assessed as follows:

d) Upgrade of essential elements of the DC traction feeder system – $4.52M
e) Major and partial renewal of the trolleybus overhead lines – $7.2M
f) Installation of the remaining TBOP’s – $2.2M

Aggregated cost – $14.9M (say $15M)

    Costs of abandoning the trolleybus system

The cost of abandonment of the trolleybus system has the following financial implications to the various parties:

g) Write-off of the non-depreciated portion of the assessed $16M from recently replaced assets by WCCL and WELL funded by GWRC (say $10M)
h) Costs to remove the trolleybus overhead (anticipated to be in the order of $10M taking into account scrap recovery credits)
i) Write-off of the non-depreciated portion of the trolleybus vehicles by the vehicle owner (actual value unknown but expected to be a figure of the order of $14M if 50% of the purchase price is used and straight line depreciation applies)

Aggregated costs – approximately $34M (of which $20M is a charge to public entities).

And here is the report in full, as presented to regional councillors this week.

Appendix 1 provides details of cable installations.

Appendix 2 provides a very detailed assessment of the overhead lines used by Wellington’s trolley buses.

Disregarding the information in the above documents, regional councillors voted that trolley buses will be scrapped in 2017, and replaced with diesels till electric buses become available, probably in the year 2025.


  1. Michael Barnett, 18. December 2015, 13:45

    Very interesting and well researched data by someone who is obviously an expert in his field. I now wait to see how Greater Wellington’s business case stacks up – somehow I don’t see how it can.

  2. Martin, 18. December 2015, 15:10

    It won’t matter. Although the GWRC says the decision is based on economics, it is a political decision made by people who have an ideological dislike of anything that doesn’t involve more exhaust smoke, more car parks and more ugly concrete flyovers.

  3. Curtis Nixon, 18. December 2015, 22:32

    Electric transport is the future. We already have electric trolley buses, it is crazed vandalism to get rid of them until the advanced electric buses are introduced. Maybe an electric light rail system could run off a standardised and upgraded trolley bus power system, but if there are no more trolleys we will never know. This is National government warping local government decisions. Another good reason to dis-establish GWRC.

  4. Ben Foden, 20. December 2015, 0:39

    That research from someone as experienced as Allan Neilson can fail to have any effect on our elected representatives shows how biased and one-eyed they have become in the decision.
    Such a paradox between what they want, what they have, what they will be getting. These people shouldn’t be making decisions like this – they’ve ignored every bit of feedback that does not match their wish. I’ve never been more disgusted in any NZ political representatives.

  5. Elaine Hampton, 22. December 2015, 11:02

    With the exception of Sue Kedgley and Paul Bruce, I couldn’t agree more.
    Diesel buses will be as useless as the overseas terminal was by the time it was completed.
    Time for the Regional Council to start representing voters, not outside interests. Stop wasting our money, tax take is still public money.

  6. Dave McArthur, 24. December 2015, 16:44

    I struggle to find words to describe our GWRC and the word “evil” keeps recurring? Why such an extreme description of our Council’s decision to destroy a few wires and poles? Surely our councillors are nice people who just reflect the culture of Wellington people and love their families like the rest of us? I guess the word “evil” keeps springing to mind because some of the greatest atrocities in history have been triggered by well-meaning, nice people. For instance, in our culture it is common for nice people to use what are perhaps the most dangerous devices ever invented: cars and jets.
    Then I am reminded Wellington is the colonial outpost of the City of London with its vast empire founded in the Combustion Revolution. Our Wellington culture is founded in the evil belief that Earth’s biomass (living and fossilized) exists for us to burn.
    Nice people here justified the whole-scale burning of the forests of this land in the name of “taming the bush”, “productivity” and “feeding the Home Country”. Nice people here justified ripping up our tram and rail tracks in the name of “modernity” and “efficiency”.
    Nice people here assembled a huge array of hidden subsidies to car and jet users in the name of “equity’ and “fairness”. Nice people here pioneered the first national ETS in the name of “caring for Earth’s climate. Nice people here have devised the most ingenious, deceitful Greenwash on the planet in the name of “the economy” and “the dollar”. And now nice people here have approved the destruction of the trolley bus wire system in the name of “modernity” and “environmentalism” even in the weeks of a global consensus that human activity can destroy the climate balances that sustain all human kind.
    So perhaps “evil” is not too strong a word to describe the culture underlying our city’s veneer of civilization. The culture of our GWRC is part of a greater malaise that could well cause our destruction.

    The current chair of the GWRC Chris Laidlaw. For whatever reason, consistently stymied public discussion of the intelligence potential of our electrical systems in his role as host of Radio NZ Sunday. A thousand interviewees have explained to Chris in a thousand different ways how our future resides in our wise use of our electrical potential and still he cannot connect the dots despite his considerable intellect. In this case he and fellow councillors wilfully fail to connect the dots to understand the trolley bus system has the potential to enable efficient (lightweight) bus and train systems PLUS the potential to enable a city-wide spine of democratic, cheap high-speed broadband systems with high-quality content. Who can put a value on that?

  7. Gerry Hill, 24. December 2015, 17:20

    To remove trolleybuses is a huge mistake .
    More cities are reintroducing fleets including vintage stock . These varied fleets are appreciated by locals and Tourists..

  8. David K. Myers, 25. December 2015, 4:50

    I feel quite encouraged now that I read this article regarding Wellington’ s
    trolleybuses, and absolutely right too, It would be cheaper to retain them rather than to withdraw them. I am a great enthusiast fort them and other modes of green public transport, and it’s disheartening to hear how someone with the wrong mind would take a step back and replace them with diesel powered motorbuses.

  9. luke, 25. December 2015, 22:30

    seems to me the only reason they are removing them is so newlands coach lines can take over the island bay route.

  10. Jonno Woodford-Robinson, 28. December 2015, 23:57

    Interestingly, so far all the comments are in favour of keeping the trolley buses. Makes far more sense to keep them until the fully electric fleet are available in 2025, especially now that we (as far as I’m aware) have supposedly agreed with the rest of the world to reduce our carbon emissions – how can anyone consider replacing carbon neutral vehicles with fossil fuelled ones in today’s climate? (In both senses of the word!)

  11. Brendan W Robinson, 29. December 2015, 10:38

    After the VolksWagon scandal, can we even trust these vehicle manufacturers to tell the truth about their emissions? Since then it’s been found that the tests done by all manufacturers are on ‘if a person was driving a vehicle to save fuel’. i.e. the best case scenario.

    The manufacturers’ emissions tests won’t be to the degree of intensity that Wellington’s hills will put on these buses. A fully loaded hybrid diesel bus driven up a steep hill, by a driver who is in a hurry and doesn’t care about fuel efficiency, is still going to belch out plenty of exhaust fumes. That’s a situation that won’t be tested on in the lab.