Wellington Scoop

Considering light rail more seriously


by Brent Efford
When we met the Let’s Get Wellington Moving team last week, we found that not much serious consideration had been given to light rail, and there was little awareness of the ‘Wellington paradox’ – a city with some of the best preconditions for developing light rail in the world having a rail transit network which fails to achieve even the normal first function of intra-urban rail: penetrating the CBD.

However, LGWM seemed aware of the need to consider light rail more seriously if the study is to have credibility, and will be engaging some outside consultants to look at a potential route.

We only had an hour for the meeting and much was left unexplored, so we followed up with a message listing issues on which discussion wasn’t completed:

1 The historic aim of using light rail to complete the continuous operation of the Wellington rail system is absolutely essential. Expecting public transport patronage mode share to improve by more than a few percent when the spine mode – rail – stops at the edge of the CBD and doesn’t serve the densest corridor through the CBD, is fatuous.

If stopping all rail transit at the edge of the CBD, and forcibly transferring passengers to buses (or walking, or 50%+ not bothering and driving instead, as happens in Wellington) was a sensible and efficient way of organising a PT system, then every transit system would do it and save billions on the cost of building subways or even ordinary street tramways. In fact, though, no transit system (as distinct from long-distance and diesel commuter rail lines like the Wairarapa) does this – except Wellington’s.

There is a poor mode share for PT in Wellington – compared to typical European cities which do have that standard through-CBD facility.

2 Any use of “light rail” which does not serve the purpose of completing the rail system, and instead continues the “broken spine” dysfunction of the current arrangement, is inappropriate for a conurbation of Wellington’s size. Large cities >1M may have multiple disconnected rail transit systems but smaller urban areas like Wellington (and, e.g. Karlsruhe, pop 290,000) can’t afford that luxury.

Our rail system is already very “light rail like” and covers 92% of the high-density transport corridors traversed by the state highways. The remaining 8% happens to be the densest part of the corridors and the location of 50% of the region’s employment (according to your February 2017 report) – a weird and inexcusable anomaly.

3 The Golden Mile – Basin Reserve – Adelaide Road – Riddiford Street route is the spine around which Wellington was designed in 1840, along which the first steam trams operated in 1878, and around which the inner city has grown and densified. It remains the fastest, most level, least tortuous and most direct route and the one on which it will be easiest to provide a track free of motor traffic (due to street width, or the availability of parallel roads in the core CBD).

Other possible routes – e.g. via Wallace Street – do not offer these advantages and make no sense for modern light rail, even though they may have served as secondary tram routes until 1964.

4 Likewise, the running of a public transport route of any sort, let alone LRT, on, or alongside SH1 and through a second Mt Victoria Tunnel would be very poor practice for a number of reasons. Keeping public transport away from main highways and the congestion resulting from their on/off traffic movements obviously makes sense. As does the concept of sticking to one single PT spine linking all the major traffic centres. I believe (as a reference group member) that the PTSS only included the Mt Victoria LRT branch in the study in order to create the illusion of egregiously high cost to discredit the mode.

5 Overall, our assessment of the PTSS was a failing mark of only 20%. We dispute the use of it as an information resource regarding light rail as far as LGWM is concerned.

6 Rail:bus transfers are an inevitable feature of most PT systems but only work if they are small, with one train (or tram) meeting no more than two or three buses, as is the practice in the Hutt and Porirua/Kapiti.

One Big Interchange right at the point of maximum passenger flow – as at Wellington Railway Station – is not an acceptable solution and has long been rejected in every city except Wellington. It cripples the system, halving potential ridership.

7 We challenge the assumption that route is independent of mode and can be determined with equal validity for all modes. Trying to separate the route from the mode is a fad; there are quite different characteristics between BRT and LRT. BRT is very suburban while LRT fits urban environments. Downtown, LRT retains its characteristics such as high capacity and pedestrian-friendliness, whereas BRT vehicles are still just buses with all their inner-city safety, environmental and congestion issues. Refer to the Adelaide O-Bahn experience and even Auckland’s North Shore Busway as practical proof of this.

8 The not-so-long-term future of public, and all surface, transport is automatic, or autonomous, operation. Rail, even light rail in the streets, is capable of this now, and it should be assumed that when any tram-train system for Wellington comes to pass, or soon after, it will be automatic. So rail infrastructure is future-friendly, whereas scheduled buses serving low-density areas will inevitably be rendered obsolete by small autonomous vehicles.

9 There have been no new transport lanes between inner Wellington and the Eastern Suburbs provided since 1931, and no facilities exclusively for non-motor traffic since 1907 (and that one is only one lane). The solution is not a second Mt Victoria Tunnel but a Mt Albert Tunnel. Note the “resilience” advantages of a new route offering quick exit from a tsunami-prone area. The old tram route over Constable St/Crawford Rd is not a suitable alignment for modern light rail.

10 Constructing a short tunnel under the airport runway would also have challenges, notably trying to avoid disruption to flights. However, by promoting a runway extension, the airport company already acknowledges that on some occasions the pain of some interruption to flights for engineering works is justified if there are considered to be long-term gains as a result. If it is good enough for a runway extension it is good enough for massively improved surface transport access.

Our civil engineer suggests this potential construction methodology, similar to that being used in Albert St, Auckland:
– The construction windows are likely to be 5 or 6 hours.
– Concrete with rapid set cement would be needed
– The reinforcing would either be fibre reinforcing or prefabricated cages.
– To build tunnel walls a heavy trencher could be used like this.
– After each pour asphalt may need to be placed for a smooth surface.
– The roof would then be poured on the walls.
– Once the walls and roof are in place, the inside may be excavated.

Brent Efford is Information Officer of Trams-Action and NZ Agent of the Light Rail Transit Assn.


  1. CPH, 11. May 2017, 21:05

    This latest article makes the same mistakes as the previous ones – it focuses on the engineering and ignores the economics. There’s no getting around the fact that light rail in Wellington will cost $500million or more, and there’s no way the system will ever pay for itself. Sure, light rail would be a lovely thing. But so would personal jet packs, a fleet of flying cars and a flotilla of electric submarines running at ten minute intervals to the Miramar wharf. All of which are just as realistic as this suggestion.

  2. Glen Smith, 12. May 2017, 8:35

    CPH: What sort of analysis did you use to decide that light rail wouldn’t pay for itself?. If you look at the projected increase in congestion from the Hutt alone (about 400% by 2041) and look at the cost of this (see previously referenced research of the cost of congestion during the Hutt Rail washout which was several million dollars per day) then you could charge no extra in ticket fees and the savings in congestion alone would more than pay for light rail in only a few year. The problem is that people like you (and our politicians) only use narrow blinkered and frankly stupid financial analysis.

  3. luke, 12. May 2017, 9:53

    $500million would buy a lot of light rail, but I’m not sure it would get very much in terms of roads within wellington – three basin flyover equivalents perhaps.

  4. Kerry Wood, 12. May 2017, 10:20

    Brent: I must admit admit that I have trouble understanding some of this. In your point 2, how can larger and wealthier cities afford the ‘luxury’ of dysfunctional rail termini, a dozen of them in central London alone? I can see the advantage of through-running, but the Railway Station can never be just another stop on the way to Wellington Airport.

    This is a mistake made in the Spine Study: recognizing only the disadvantages of connections. Light rail can only manage without connections in a hypothetical city one kilometre wide and ten kilometres long.

    FIT are proposing trams 2.4 m wide, for easier fit through Wellington’s narrow streets, but I understand that tram-trains would be 2.65 m wide. I suggest you take a close look at how wider tram-trains will run down Riddiford Street: it is tight.

    What tram-trains really need is a business case: I look forward to it.

  5. CPH, 12. May 2017, 13:05

    Glen Smith – Your claim that a light rail system to Miramar would somehow ease congestion to the Hutt Valley seems like magical thinking, not rational analysis. Anyone with a pocket calculator and a modicum of common sense can see that light rail is an expensive boondoggle. According to the papers, Tranzit are buying 228 new buses to take over the contract from NZ Bus, and each of these will (apparently) cost about $350,000, for a total investment of approximately $80million. Assuming a new light rail system takes every one of those buses off the road – which seems unlikely – then you’ve spent $500million on light rail to replace $80million worth of buses! That’s the reason no reputable politician will touch this thing.

  6. Andrew, 12. May 2017, 16:04

    CPH, the $500 million is not just for rolling stock, which is the effective equivalent of the $80 million of buses. Apples and oranges huh?

  7. David Bond, 12. May 2017, 16:59

    And the voice of a little mouse squeaking as loudly as it can from the corner of the room says:
    “We need to consider the possibilities of extending the existing heavy rail system also!”

  8. CPH, 12. May 2017, 17:37

    Andrew – that’s precisely my point. The reason light rail is so frighteningly expensive is because the infrastructure that already exists (i.e. roads) has to be duplicated in a very expensive set of tracks. That doesn’t come for free, and the additional cost doesn’t seem to get you anything other than slightly better travel times during the rush hour peaks. There’s no rational argument for spending an extra $400+ million just to save 10 minutes on the trip from Miramar.

  9. Passenger, 12. May 2017, 17:56

    There is a rational argument: the operating cost of light rail per passenger is significantly lower than that for buses, because one driver is carrying about 6 times as many people. Which also means a considerable reduction in congestion on CBD roads.

  10. CPH, 12. May 2017, 18:20

    Passenger – If that was true, then the business case for light rail would have made it years ago. The fact that it hasn’t demonstrates that it doesn’t stack up. There is not enough patronage on the route to justify the huge costs, and the congestion savings only apply for the peak times. For the rest of the day, light rail won’t be any faster than the current bus service, which is vastly cheaper. And don’t forget that congestion may be made worse by trams on the shared streets.

  11. John Rankin, 12. May 2017, 18:49

    @CPH what light rail buys you is efficient movement of large numbers of people: a standard vehicle lane converted to light rail can carry at least 10 times the number of people per hour; a bus lane converted to light rail can carry over twice the number of people per hour. People choosing to travel on light rail will have a congestion-free journey.

    The productivity of a light rail operator is 14 times that of a bus driver: 7 times as many people (pace @Passenger): 420 versus 60 for light rail vehicles that will fit in Wellington’s streets; at twice the speed. And as @Brent points out, by the time light rail comes to fruition in Wellington (even starting today, it’s likely to be post-2025) the vehicles will probably be autonomous.

    Light rail vehicles have a much longer operating life than buses: you need to consider the total cost of ownership over the life of the asset. The commonly quoted number is that light rail is cheaper to operate than buses if your corridor is carrying more than about 2500 passengers per hour per direction. The Golden Mile is already at 6000 passengers per hour per direction during peak periods. Wellington city’s population is predicted to grow by 50,000 people within the next 25 years. How are we going to get around efficiently without a high capacity transport system on the busiest corridors?

    Yes, a bus costs less to buy than a tram. A shovel costs less than earth-moving equipment. Should we be buying lots of shovels to build the Transmission Gully motorway? Teaspoons are even cheaper. Should we not be matching our level of investment to the size of the problem we are facing? If the problem is getting bigger, at some point we need to make the investment necessary to deliver a more productive solution.

    I note that France has one of the highest productivity levels in the OECD; NZ has one of the lowest. I am aware of 14 cities in France with a population similar to or smaller than Wellington’s population, which have light rail systems. It is hard to see how New Zealand is going to increase its productivity if we keep on doing what we have always done. Growing productivity requires capital investment and making best use of scarce resources (like land in the city), not just buying the cheap option.

  12. CPH, 12. May 2017, 19:09

    John Rankin – Leaving aside your cherry-picking of largely meaningless productivity statistics and population growth figures (does anyone seriously believe that 50,000 putative new Wellingtonians are all going to live on this projected light rail line?), the fact is that the people who are in favour of light rail have yet to present a coherent financial analysis that shows the city would be better off as a result. My professional background is in financial analysis, and it’s obvious to me that you could raise the productivity of drivers by two orders of magnitude, and it still wouldn’t come anywhere close to justifying half a billion dollars in capital costs. It’s just a red herring.

    Personally, I think light rail is a delightful solution from a technical standpoint, but I’m also enough of a financial realist to know that these things need to make economic sense. And perhaps if the people who are so keen on light rail would focus on the financials that are important to decision makers, then we might be a little bit closer to getting a light rail system and would not have to suffer our way through articles that discuss the drying time of cement!

  13. Ross Clark, 12. May 2017, 20:35

    If Wellington actually wanted light rail, would it have paid for it itself, in full, already? Some other thoughts to promote discussion:

    * The main focus of the railway system is in terms of meeting peak commuter flows. On my sums, and I stand to be corrected, about two-thirds of the people who work in the CBD, do so within a ten-minute walk of the railway station.

    * Outside the peak, rail’s role is a lot less; it would help if the offpeak frequencies could be improved over the current half-hourly pattern.

    * Wellington’s bus traffic would flow much more easily if the availability of parking, commuter in particular, could be controlled.

    * Like David Bond, I am interested in heavy rail options. Note that in metro systems, the underground stations are about as costly as the tunnelling.

    * What sort of air pollution problem does Wellington have, or more accurately, where?

    * Some of the appeal of light rail would be dissipated if its travel times were affected by car traffic congestion.

  14. Keith Flinders, 12. May 2017, 20:39

    CPH. Using your approach, then the Matangi units on the Hutt and Kapiti lines should not have had $500 million spent on them, and buses should have been used instead. I shudder to think of the impact upon the urban motorways of not having rail.

    Buses in Wellington carry about double the number of passengers per annum that the suburban train system does.

    Traffic congestion is costing this city a small fortune, and ultimately we all end up paying for it. Buses are but part of this issue, granted. Congestion is getting noticeably worse, especially at weekends. Public Transport doesn’t cover the cost of having it, and hasn’t since before WW2.

  15. Glen Smith, 12. May 2017, 20:42

    CPH: Simple question for you. We have a Hutt Road/motorway with 4 lane capacity which is packed with cars crawling at 15km/hr for many hours of the day. This is projected to get 400% worse by 2041 (source Opus TN24 report) costing likely hundreds of millions of dollars in congestion costs per year (based on the Hutt washout research – can’t give more exact figures because our wise and noble transport planners are too busy playing with their toy car sets to assess this). Right next door are two railway tracks with the potential capacity equivalent to 16 lanes of traffic but this is under-utilised. Why is this capacity so under-utilised? Answer that simple question and you will understand why we need to extend rail as an uninterrupted high quality corridor across the city and why doing so will save the hundreds of millions in congestion costs and more than pay for the cost of the extension.

  16. John Rankin, 12. May 2017, 20:50

    @CPH makes a few questionable assertions.

    “the business case for light rail would have made it years ago. The fact that it hasn’t demonstrates that it doesn’t stack up.” A business case is an opinion; I prefer facts. Of the 400 operational light rail systems world-wide, how many have decided that they got it wrong and stopped investing in light rail? How about the 60 light rail systems under construction and the 200 more on the drawing board? Are their business cases all wrong? Did the 14 similarly-sized French cities with light rail all get it wrong? Or is there some unique aspect of Wellington’s transport needs that makes light rail economically unjustified? Perhaps you are right and Wellington knows something that nobody else does. Perhaps the light rail design proposed for Wellington was not very good, so the business case didn’t stack up.

    “There is not enough patronage on the route to justify the huge costs” Other cities think that 75 buses an hour justifies light rail. Wellington peaks at 140.

    “the congestion savings only apply for the peak times. For the rest of the day, light rail won’t be any faster than the current bus service, which is vastly cheaper.” No, off-peak, the airport to railway station bus timetable is 33 minutes. Light rail designed to a reasonable standard would do the trip in 17. The peak-hour light-rail journey would be faster than the off-peak journey, because the frequency would be higher so the wait time would be lower. The actual travel time remains the same.

    “And don’t forget that congestion may be made worse by trams on the shared streets.” No, to succeed, light rail requires a dedicated right-of-way. Light rail would not replace all the current bus services on the corridor. For example, passengers from Hataitai, Brooklyn or Eastbourne would not be expected to transfer from bus to light rail to journey through the Golden Mile. So an effective light rail corridor would most likely leave some buses on the Golden Mile and take 2 lanes elsewhere. One option would be Railway Station to a stop on Lambton Quay at or near Midland Park, then head to Jervois Quay, eg via Panama and Hunter Streets. There are other options, but the principle is 4 public transport lanes: 2 for buses and 2 for light rail.

    @CPH is correct that it would be possible for incompetent or uninformed planners to design and build a light rail system badly, and it could be an expensive white elephant, with the failings he outlines. But with 400 operational systems to learn from, and extensive documentation of successful practice, there is no excuse for getting it wrong.

  17. TrevorH, 13. May 2017, 9:09

    I just don’t get this light rail thing. $500 million plus for a system that would run only as far as the airport and which commuters from say Miramar would be required to change to from buses in the middle of their journey doesn’t make any sense.

  18. Brent Efford, 13. May 2017, 11:22

    Kerry – you might understand better if you reviewed what I actually wrote – “…Large cities >1M may have multiple disconnected rail transit systems …” and not some imaginary construct. I would have thought that the point was obvious: big cities justify a lot of infrastructure including maybe several rail lines through the CBD; prudently, smaller cities like Wellington more appropriately generally make do with one.

    London is a good case: criss-crossed by many trans-CBD underground rail transit lines which have evolved since 1863 – but several incompatible with the others because of tunnel and rollingstock size. The heavy rail suburban lines, meanwhile, are being linked by multi-billion pound schemes like Thameslink and Crossrail. Hardly an advertisement for the superiority of the CBD-edge stub terminal. Similar circumstances and ambitions for huge new projects exist in New York and other really big metropolises.
    Los Angeles has separate light rail lines now being connected by the Downtown Connector subway under the CBD. There is also a heavy rail subway which is being extended – and even Union Station is planned to be converted from a stub terminal for diesel commuter trains to a through running facility (it already is for the Gold Line light rail).
    Even coming down in scale to the ‘few-million’ cities, we find multiple rail systems traversing the CBD in preference to the terminus at the edge. Melbourne has both its suburban rail system underground (and a second CBD underground on the way) and its famous trams (on separate gauges, too). Sydney achieved CBD-penetration of its suburban rail system from 1926, has light rail down George St under construction and a separate metro line ready to start construction.
    In San Francisco, the (very) heavy rail BART system subway runs right through the CBD under Market St. One level up is the Muni Metro light rail – run automatically – and on the street above that is the F Line heritage trolley operation, connected to the Muni Metro line at both ends.
    True, Houston, Dallas, San Diego, San Jose, Sacramento and Portland (of US cities I know) are all over 1M, and only have light rail – and it serves them well.

    The business case for tram-train was developed by the regional council over 20 years ago. You choose to ignore it, but you can’t avoid (then Transport Manager) Dr Watson’s statement regarding the regional council’s investigations in the 1990s (which you have already seen):
    “We always came to the same conclusion. Light rail as a stand alone service ( Station to airport ) was not a winner. We needed to extend to Johnsonville or even the Hutt. We looked at operating standard units and light rail on the same tracks and then allowing the light rail to extend into the City. We saw no problem with this.”

    From the late 1970s NZ Rail developed tram-train proposals for Auckland and Wellington, in 1993 Dr Watson announced a tram-train scheme (stillborn, of course), in 1995 a comprehensive Works/MVA report endorsed tram-train, it was part of the 1999 transport strategy and more recently US transit guru Tom Matoff has followed this up with his own report on the Johnsonville Line. Yet you demand that Trams-Action justify tram-train specifically to you! And suggesting that the whole system should be capacity-constrained by under-sized trams because one block in Riddiford St is a bit tight (but actually is plenty wide enough) strains credulity. Building a new system to the constraints of a legacy system really would be idiotic – as would be routing it anywhere other than northern Adelaide Rd.

    Remember we are talking about a sustainable, electric, trunk transport system which will revolutionise Wellington and bring it into the automated, post-carbon, era. Don’t make the same mistake as Adelaide, which bought narrow trams for an added-to-the-order discount for its first new line – the sort of ‘cheap option’ that John Rankin refers to – and now finds its tram expansion plans compromised.

    CPH – since you are keen on economic analysis, perhaps you could inform us about the profit to be expected on the $650M Kapiti Expressway, which has been so much in the news. Remember to adjust for the extra carbon emissions it has induced, and will increase post-Transmission Gully, at the rate of $190/tonne, which is the level required if we are to make a serious attempt at mitigating climate change. Incidentally, the Americanism “boondoggle” is, oddly, never applied to even the most expensive roads, like the inexplicably un-opened Auckland Waterview Connection.

  19. Casey, 13. May 2017, 11:28

    When the new bus routes are introduced next year some Miramar residents are going to have to change buses to get out of Miramar!
    Light rail needs to include both the airport and Miramar.

  20. CPH, 13. May 2017, 12:40

    John Rankin et al – The purpose of business cases is to prevent exactly the sort of argument-from-analogy that you seem so fond of. While there are lessons that can be learned from the experiences of other cities, they do not in and of themselves justify spending many hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars. For example, the gas-to-gasoline conversion conversion process is well understood and had been used effectively in other countries, but that didn’t stop it being a white elephant and multimillion dollar failure in Motonui when Rob Muldoon decided to implement it here, did it?

    No public sector decision maker would contemplate a huge capital project without a business case that conforms to the NZ Treasury standard. This is for good reason: too many departments and councils have been caught out with bad financial decisions, so there is now a process (sponsored by NZ Treasury) to assess investments on their merits. Whether you agree with the process or not, this is the gateway through which all major public sector infrastructure investments in this country need to pass. So it seems to me that those advocating for light rail either need to use the process laid down by Treasury, or they will be relegated to ineffectually throwing stones at it from the outside, and light rail will remain a pipe dream as a consequence.

  21. Luke, 13. May 2017, 12:53

    The beauty of light rail is it can be built in stages, first Courtenay Place, then Newtown, then Kilbirnie etc rather than one huge upfront cost. We didn’t build the motorway network in one go but incrementally. Otherwise it’d never have happened.

    The key is frequency and transfers. Retrofitting lightrail to the existing heavy rail network is IMO an unnecessary cost as public transport should work as a network rather than individual one seat anywhere to anywhere.

  22. Russell Tregonning, 13. May 2017, 13:17

    Addressing climate change is the issue of our times. Transport is the largest source of carbon emissions in Wellington city. Congestion-free, all-electric rail will not only address this, but will also increase public transport needed for a more liveable city. The costs, based on installations overseas, will be cheaper than the so-called 4-lanes-to-the-planes: these proposed urban motorways will only encourage more private car use causing climate-hostile emissions and unhealthy pollution.

    Let’s not get bogged down with detail at this stage. We need to encourage LGWM in its intention to get overseas consultant light rail experts alongside an independent review of the dated PTSS. We need light rail properly assessed and included in the LGWM scenarios.

  23. DonM, 13. May 2017, 15:36

    TrevorH, You are right in questioning this. As for claims that it would pay for itself in relieving congestion, congestion relief doesn’t actually provide any funding. It would end up as yet another grandiose rort, doubtless supported by the same economic analysts who have sold their souls in support of a long list of other Wellington white elephants including the Convention Centre and the airport extension. It’s time to give the long-suffering ratepayers a break from all of this.

  24. John Rankin, 13. May 2017, 16:24

    I support @Casey and @TrevorH that a business case for light rail needs to include assessing a Miramar extension option. I also endorse @GlenSmith’s comment about our seeming inability to account properly for congestion cost savings in rail business cases. We can apparently justify new roads on “strategic” grounds (whatever that means), but apply a different and much tougher standard to rail projects.

  25. Mike Mellor, 13. May 2017, 16:25

    CPH: “… light rail in Wellington will cost $500million or more, and there’s no way the system will ever pay for itself” – NZTA is proposing to spend much more than that on state highways, and there is no way that they will pay for themselves. And all the suggested highway changes (eg new tunnels) will do is duplicate existing facilities to save a few minutes during the peaks, so there’s clearly no justification for them, either.

    Casey: you’re correct. The airport is just one of the eastern suburbs destinations, with Miramar becoming increasingly important. Just look at the queues of traffic heading into town in the evening peak, for which there is no public transport provision (inbound bus frequencies are worse in the evening peak than they are off peak).

  26. Glen Smith, 13. May 2017, 23:42

    CPH. As you say, a proper business case for light rail should be investigated. The question is who should be doing this, and have they done their job properly? This shouldn’t be the job of the public (whether rail advocates or not). As a GP I don’t say to my patients ‘yes some medication may be the right option but I’m not going to do anything until you investigate it and prove to me that it would be the best thing to do’. That is my job to know or investigate. Yet the organisations who should be undertaking this analysis (the NZTA and the Regional Council) have refused to do their jobs in a thorough manner for many years. The only modelling and costing that I have seen of what (in my view) is the most logical route for rail was undertaken by Neil Douglas (experienced transport economist) and Daryl Cockburn (town planner) in the Scoop article of 12 Sept 2013 when they costed rail via a Quays/ Wakefield street route at $93 million. Lets pretend we have a real Transport Agency and they have $100million to spend. They want to get the best transport outcomes for this money. Should they spend it on a ‘Smart Motorway’ (to nowhere) or an ugly flyover for a tiny minority of car users to save a minute or two?. Or should they put in place a high quality rail extension that would open up the whole of the city to rail commuters and provide high quality across town Public Transport transit with the capacity of up to 10,000 passengers per hour?. It is a ‘no- brainer’. Yet our transport planners haven’t even investigated this option.

  27. CPH, 14. May 2017, 9:36

    Glen Smith – your comment goes to the heart of the matter. I suggest that at least some of the analysis required for a business case was done in the Spine Study, which concluded that light rail was not the preferred option. So clearly transport planners have been evaluating the alternative of light rail, though they might not have arrived at the conclusion you would like.

    The Douglas/Cockburn article looks to me more like an implementation feasibility study than a business case; it makes the point that a section of the light rail network could be built for about $100million and states some of the benefits of doing so. It would be a useful component of a business case, but no decision maker would invest half a billion dollars on the basis of that alone.

    There are plenty of precedents for organizations getting business cases written in order to influence the public debate, and there would seem to be few obstacles to light rail advocates doing the same. Of course, it might conclude that light rail is not the correct solution, but that’s a risk the advocates would have to take.

  28. Troy H, 14. May 2017, 11:43

    Man’s C02 emissions are not the driver of climate. The ocean (water vapour) and sun are the two drivers of climate.
    Electric cars will have no effect on the climate, Russell.

  29. John Rankin, 14. May 2017, 18:13

    @CPH I agree with you that a proper business case for light rail needs to be developed, just as a proper business case ought to be developed for “Roads of National Significance” — except that these get a free pass because they are “strategic”. My assessment of the spine study, as a non-expert lay person, is that its business case for light rail failed because of poor route design, which depressed potential ridership and introduced unnecessary costs and assumptions about potential ridership which seemed to reflect the opinions of the business case developers, not evidence from comparable systems in other cities. Others have made more detailed critiques. Garbage in, garbage out.

    I note your earlier comment that preparing financial analyses is your area of expertise. While I’m of the view that it’s NZTA’s job to develop business cases as part of its project investigation and planning process, and that they are the people with the best resources to do the job, if you were to offer your services to help develop a case, using the best evidence we can get, I would be pleased to work with you. Perhaps @GlenSmith and others would also like to participate and contribute their knowledge. What about it, @CPH, are you willing to work with us on a light rail business case, in spite of your certainty that it will not pass the threshold for investment? For avoidance of doubt, there is no money to pay you, I’m afraid.

    I’m sure Wellington.Scoop would be willing to publish the results of your analysis, so they can be subjected to independent public scrutiny. I invite other commenters on this thread to sign up too. In particular, the business case from the 1990s @Brent drew our attention to would seem to be a good place to start.

  30. Robert M, 15. May 2017, 9:21

    My view is that Wellington streets are generally too narrow for two way operation of both the present trolley buses or future light rail and the installation of light rail would have to be largely on the basis of a series of one way loops. Possibly Vivian St would be used west east ( Willis-Kent) extending straight on through the Hataitai trolley tunnel and on Moxham with one way south on Kent and North via Johns st – Taranaki – Manners- Willis- Lambton.
    One of the other fundamental problems with all electric rail or trolley systems in NZ is resistance by Councils and the Government to paying for large numbers of skilled and highly educated electrical technicians and electricians. Generally and probably regrettably the preference is to want staff who are lower skilled and paid and therefore rely on diesel buses for passenger transport.

  31. Kerry, 16. May 2017, 10:25

    Casey and others
    As you say the problem with not going to Miramar is changing twice, which can be fixed by running all eastern suburbs services to Kilbirnie.
    The problem with going to Miramar is how to do it: split the route at Miro St, go round by the Airport, or go round by Miramar to the Airport? The answer might be that the airport will be a secondary problem by then: go by Miramar.

    Certainly light rail construction can be staged, but not at Courtenay Place: the first stage almost has to run to the Hospital. Courtenay Place would need too many transfers and is a very bad place for transfers. How to turn northbound buses to go back to the south?
    I fully agree about running on KiwiRail tracks, although other extensions would be possible: Karori, convert the Johnsonville Line or run independently to the Hutt, then perhaps the Melling Line.

    Robert M
    Your comment about narrow streets is dead right, your conclusion a bit pessimistic. The French call it the ‘Art of Insertion’. I have been working on this for some time and now have the outline of a workable route and stops, hopefully to be published before long.
    — Because it is a challenge, FIT have chosen to use trams 2.4 m wide, narrower that the more usual 2.65 m but still a standard width. Double track needs only 6.1 m width under UK rules.
    — The city does not need any new one-way loops: most of it can be done on existing parking lanes, or the seaward side of the waterfront (where there is no turning traffic).
    — Wallace St is tougher, and the best we can find is to close the street to through traffic, with residents sharing space with light rail.
    — Riddiford St and Mansfield St are tight but practical, with narrowed lanes and footpaths, parking on only one side, and space for semi-segregated tram lanes.
    — FIT proposes a single-track tunnel to Kilbirnie: more costly than going by Constable St but avoiding multiple problems in Kilbirnie.
    — Coutts St is the same width as Riddiford St but poses other problems because it is mostly residential. But again, it is practical.
    And of course all this is just one proposal. There are other ways of doing it.

  32. Ross Clark, 16. May 2017, 21:51

    How much additional PT patronage would a light rail scheme (either to Courtenay Place or the Hospital) achieve in practice?

    (To put that remark in context, there are about 12m rail passengers a year, and about 15m NZBus passengers per year).

  33. Kerry, 17. May 2017, 14:16

    Auckland is getting around 20% annual growth on the upgraded passenger trains (pre CRL), and the Northern Busway is getting much the same. With no surveys done or interpreted, a similar figure seems reasonable for light rail in Wellington: say double in four years.
    There will also be some spinoff growth on buses connecting to light rail: in the FIT proposal that is Railway Station; Te Aro; Wellington Hospital; and Kilbirnie.
    But ignore anybody who says a Wellington Busway can do the same: Auckland double-deck buses stop at off-road hubs, with room to overtake.

  34. John Rankin, 18. May 2017, 14:09

    @Ross A number of similar cities overseas have public transport ridership per capita double that of Wellington. In a few cities it’s even higher. It would be a realistic and achievable goal to expect an immediate jump in ridership of about 25% in the 6 months after opening the first light rail line. As @Kerry notes, doubling within less than 5 years would be no more than has been routinely achieved elsewhere.

  35. Wellington Commuter, 18. May 2017, 20:02

    Having so far kept out of the latest round of argument for Wellington light rail, I cannot let the comment “…ignore anybody who says a Wellington Busway can do the same: Auckland double-deck buses stop at off-road hubs, with room to overtake” pass without comment.

    I will restrict myself to three comments:

    1) IMO the above statement is correct, the key to Wellington getting Bus Rapid Transit is enabling off-line bus stops at peak times. This is the key investment (along with other measures) needed to provide the peak capacity needed to carry more peak hour commuters on a bus-only system. In particular it will enable peak-hour express buses straight into the CDB.
    2) Building off-line bus stops through the CDB (and a few other places) would be expensive but less expensive than light rail. LRT supporters above claim it can be put in for “only” $100 million, to which I would respond that even half that would be enough to build the off-line bus stops needed to implement the equivalent BRT solution. In other words, if the sort of money demanded by light rail is on the table, a form of rapid bus to handle demand CAN be built in Wellington.
    3) Most importantly, the key argument against light rail and for Bush Rapid Transit is not cost but PT service (ie PT travel time, reliability and frequency). Even in its ideal form, a light rail service would be no better than the equivalent BRT bus but for many Wellingtonians … perhaps a majority … it would be worse. In the form proposed above, a commuter from Lyall Bay would have to bus to Kilbirnie, wait & get onto a tram that than goes to Newtown before heading into town. The Spine Study said light rail via Newtown would be seven minutes slower than BRT via the Mt Vic tunnel (a key reason why it came last in the options analysis).

    I am not against light rail because it is unaffordable. I am against light rail because, compared to equivalently costed bus based solutions, the PT service is worse, for some worse than now.

  36. Ross Clark, 18. May 2017, 20:18

    @John Rankin: “A number of similar cities overseas have public transport ridership per capita which is double that of Wellington”. I live in one of them. If Wellington City’s trips per person per year is around 100 for the city area proper, where I am in Scotland it sits at 250 trips/person/year for the city area proper (500,000 people). And most of that is bus-based (120m bus pax per year, 5m more on the tram line).

    My take on light rail for Wellington is that it would generate an additional 3m trips per year if extended down to Courtenay Place, based on a doubling of the number of train passengers who then use a bus to get elsewhere in the CBD. So, 1.5m additional trips on rail, on a base of 12m; and 1.5m additional CBD trips, on a current bus market of 15m.

  37. Kerry, 18. May 2017, 21:45

    Wellington Commuter. I think you are repeating a mistake in the Spine Study: using the term ‘Bus Rapid Transit’ without saying what you mean. An almost inevitable result is claiming the costs of ‘BRT-lite’ and the advantages of full BRT.

    If you look on the Auckland Transport website you will find two JMAC reports in 2016. The first of them (January) shows in Figure 1 a diagram of system trade-offs, including ‘route flexibility’, ‘route capacity’ and ‘spatial requirements’. ‘BRT’ appears in three places:
    — One with low capacity, cost and space requirements.
    — One with moderate capacity and cost, but high space requirements.
    — One with high capacity, moderate cost and high space requirements.
    The second and third of these are titled ‘Median of grade-separated BRT’.

    Figure 10 of the same paper shows a typical high-capacity BRT stop: it looks very large for Wellington streets, or under buildings for that matter.

    If you still think high-capacity BRT in Wellington will be cheaper than light rail, I suggest you identify a route, with space for median-running, stops and any necessary flyovers on major junctions. (Work out how many buses an hour, and the required green-signal time at junctions. If there is little or no time left for motor vehicles you need a flyover).

    Light rail appears in the figure as higher capacity, high cost and moderate space requirements. It fits fairly comfortably on Wellington streets, with space for traffic lanes, semi-segregated tracks (almost congestion-free) in most places. However, there is some loss of parking. Private land purchase is limited to one hub, with space for passenger circulation, buses and light rail transfers (another four hubs are on public land and the Airport would be the responsibility of WIA).

  38. Ross Clark, 19. May 2017, 22:21

    Guys, guys, guys … all the light rail investment in Wellington will not make much difference if at the same time one is not doing something to tackle parking availability, especially commuter parking availability. And even when trams are provided with a reasonable degree of traffic segregation, they will still get caught up in general traffic congestion, and not just at the peaks (am seeing this where I am now).

    Off-peak rail frequencies also need to be looked at; at half-hourly that is not nearly strong enough to encourage people to use the trains, instead of using their cars; even if there were a direct connection into Wellington City. And far more could be done, *now*, to give more priority to bus services.

  39. Mike, 20. May 2017, 22:11

    Ross, no-one controls parking availability, so a reduction is not going to happen. Perhaps you could give examples of light rail cities where such reductions have been made, so that we can see if they are an essential precondition. (Off hand, the only relevant example I can think of is Nottingham, but there it was just workplace parking that was affected, with a levy introduced.)

    But Nature has helped in Wellington, with closure and demolition of car parks – and it’s interesting that the surface level car park replacing the demolished Reading multi-storey one has been largely empty whenever I’ve been past. Where have all the cars gone?

    And agreed that more bus priority is needed now, with better off-peak rail frequencies – the latter are planned to run every 20 mins instead of every 30 mins from September.

  40. Ross Clark, 22. May 2017, 22:00

    “No-one controls parking availability, so a reduction is not going to happen”. I am going to ask an extremely stupid question here: why not?

    The point is that I can’t see how a tram system will make significant difference to modal share without at the same time there being in place constrictions of some sort on road use. Otherwise, many people will stay in their cars; because if people can park, they will drive. Evidence: the use made of the Westpac Stadium carpark during the week, despite its location. The Nottingham example you gave is a helpful one; it makes for an excellent compare-and-contrast with Edinburgh, given that both cities have a tram system and are of similar population. Edinburgh has double the per capita use of its public transport networks that Nottingham has.

    That said, tnx for the confirmation of what is happening on offpeak rail frequencies; based on what I have seen here in Britain, a 15-minute frequency would be more preferable again.

  41. Mike, 22. May 2017, 22:38

    Thanks, Ross – so despite the many recent light rail systems round the world, you don’t seem to be able give an example of one to support your theory that changes in commuter parking are a pre-requisite rather than just desirable (which they clearly are) – so why should Wellington be any different?

    Edinburgh and Nottingham may be comparable in many respects, though their tram systems are very different. It would be very interesting to know why Edinburgh’s public transport usage is so high: do they control commuter parking?

    And agreed that 15-minute train frequency would be better, and it fits in better with the 10/15/30/60-minute bus frequency pattern. But that would give little time for freight trains, with the single-line steep stretch between Pukerua Bay and Paekakariki being particularly problematic. Should have been fixed years ago!

  42. Ross Clark, 23. May 2017, 20:19

    Mike – if I can find data on parking availability in these centres, I’ll note it here; but I can’t imagine the cities with LRT systems having the levels of parking availability which Wellington has, for one thing.

    Edinburgh’s parking is controlled, not least by its geography, and previous Councils only allowed one big parking building in the city centre. I’ve thought about this a lot, and all I can put it down to is that there is a ‘culture’ of public transport use here which does not exist in other centres; in which people do *want* to use the public transport. For example, off-peak use rates are pretty high – way better than I ever remember in Wellington.

    So – to put this very interesting discussion in a *slightly* different direction – what could we be doing , now, to promote bus use? 🙂