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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 [1], as presented to regional councillors this week.

Appendix 1 [2] provides details of cable installations.

Appendix 2 [3] 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 [4], and replaced with diesels till electric buses become available, probably in the year 2025.