Wellington Scoop

LGWM: failing its health check

An open letter from Brent Efford to the Wellington Regional Council
Dear Daran, Roger, Thomas, Josh, Penny, Glenda, David, Jenny, Chris, Ken, Prue, Ros and Adrienne

As the Regional Council you:

* own the large Metlink rail transit network – the only real alternative to regional commuter motoring,
* manage public transport in the region
* are responsible for regional transport planning
* have a climate strategy recognising “transportation” as the region’s largest emissions source
* are a large player in the governance of Lets Get Wellington Moving.

I, on the other hand, am merely the voluntary part-time NZ agent of the UK-based Light Rail Transit Association (www.lrta.org), which has been around since 1937 advocating for light rail. I was assisted by the Regional Council in carrying out a Winston Churchill Fellowship study tour of light rail in the western US in 2003, and was a member of the Regional Land Transport Committee (as it was in those days) for several years.

I was also a helpless ‘reference group’ bystander in the Public Transport Spine Study of 2012/13, witnessing the manipulations involved in satisfying anti-rail political agendas, a process I now see being repeated.

Unsurprisingly, Lets Get Wellington Moving (LGWM) has failed its own health check. In fact, it is so sick that it was recommended that it be “paused” – put into an induced coma!

Hallucination is sometimes a symptom of severe illness. LGWM’s hallucinations include:

* The travel habits of three-quarters of the region’s people are seemingly irrelevant (“out of scope”);

* Previous studies of light rail through Wellington, despite drawing on worldwide experience, are also deemed irrelevant;

* A continuous rail system to increase PT use is “out of scope” (but state highway enhancements like a 2nd Mt Victoria Tunnel to give a “four lanes to the planes” ride from as far away as Levin, massively increasing long-distance car commuting, are clearly regarded as ‘in scope’);

* “Mass transit” is portrayed as an innovative new idea for Wellington, requiring special study and a new squad of consultants (reality: we actually have a 100 km Metlink rail transit system doing 70% of the regional public transport task, despite being incomplete – “mass transit” in any realist’s language. Extension/completion through the CBD has been studied repeatedly for 140 years, as I have documented in presentations and newsletters sent to you, and told LGWM in the few contacts I have been permitted);

* Keeping us virtually the only metropolis in the world where the main mass transit system does not penetrate the CBD is somehow believed to be conducive to “getting Wellington moving”.

Other hallucinatory symptoms relate to the proposed route of the stand-alone “mass transit” that LGWM does envisage: avoiding the convenient corridor where ‘mass people’ are (the Golden Mile and Courtenay Place) in favour of the inconvenient ‘mass car’ arterial – the waterfront and Taranaki St. Totally contrary to normal practice and commonsense.

Even more of a delusion is the route to Miramar: several sharp curves, crossing Cobham Drive (SH1) at grade and through the cutting, before heading to the airport. Hardly competitive with the mass of airport-bound cars and taxis!

The quite dishonest graphics issued by LGWM, and used naively in the news media, showing the waterfront and Cobham Drive with cyclists and trackless ‘sham trams’ but miraculously almost free of motor vehicles, is further evidence of the magical thinking indulged in by the study.

The LGWM study should have been set up with a ‘vaccine’ of reality within its terms of reference, to prevent the infection of this “out of scope” nonsense.

LGWM admits it has insufficient expertise, but then ignores the freely-provided conclusions of experts (such as the quotes below, which can be multiplied many times) and, worse, ignores the plainly-obvious experience of light rail around the world which doesn’t even require “expertise” to assimilate.

An earlier joint study, by the Wellington City Council and regional council – the “Light Rail Transit feasibility study” of 1995 – never envisaged that “light rail” would be anything other than an extension of the current ‘light rail-like’ network and noted (p 12)

“The location of the Railway Station on the northern edge of the CBD is a major deterrent to rail use in comparison with the use of a car, particularly for shorter distance travellers.”

Likewise, US consultant Tom Matoff of LTK Engineering Services, one of America’s most experienced light rail experts, and a contact made during my 2003 study tour, completed a pro-bono desktop study of converting the Johnsonville line to light rail to Courtenay Place in 2013, as a first stage towards regional light rail (tram-train). His report to me was attached to my 9/12/2020 newsletter. He comments (p 6):

The termination of “commuter” rail lines on the edge of the CBD, with a transfer required just to complete a basic journey to the center of town, and a service orientation to peak hours, is an antiquated concept based on historic precedents that are no longer valid. Public transport must compete for the public’s business, and to do so must be arranged to make the kinds of trips characteristic of the modern city, with dispersed trip patterns and non-traditional travel times, easy to make by bus and train.

Tom, now a close friend, made a similar comment in a later personal email:

Everyone should have high quality access to the heart of the urban region with no more than a single transfer of public transport vehicle, e.g. bus to rail. or auto-to-rail (park and ride). A second transfer to get to the heart of the city is a very bad design principle, unless you are trying to destroy the potential for public transport to compete with the automobile. A “high quality” transfer at the edge of the urban core is a recipe for sub-performance. Transfer once in the outer area, and ride through to the heart of the city on the vehicle (train) you have transferred to – THAT is the way to go.
(Email 18/6/2016).

Even the regional council’s former Transport Manager, who supervised several light rail studies in the 1990s (and in 1993 even announced one as being close to implementation!), Dr David Watson, has commented about those studies:

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 …
(Email Dr David Watson to Dr Neil Douglas, 6/3/2015)

If that isn’t enough, please consider this:

* Housing availability and affordability is now acknowledged to be in a crisis situation, particularly in Wellington. The Wellington City Council’s Draft Spacial Plan cites “better public transport” as a key requirement for enabling further densification. It is difficult to see how this can be achieved without a complete and integrated rail spine running through the region’s centre.

* A complete and integrated rail spine would encourage moderate densification, in the form of transit-oriented development (TOD) near rail lines, throughout the region. This would be highly preferable to cramming all the expected population growth into high-rises just in the Wellington CBD. The light rail extension through the Lower Hutt CBD, proposed in the 1999 Regional Land Transport Strategy, would be instrumental in building TOD in that satellite city, for example.

* As the owner of the Metlink rail transit network, the Regional Council should have an interest in its commercial success. Overseas experience of the cases where direct through service in a rail network have replaced CBD-edge stub terminals indicate that a patronage increase of at least 100% can be expected. This will not all be from new trips – much will be diversion from private cars. Nevertheless, the benefit to inner-city business activity and vitality, as well as the extra fare revenue, will be obvious.

* A stand-alone ‘mass transit’ system south of the Railway Station will be considerably more expensive than a simple, staged, extension of the existing rail infrastructure. The reason being the necessity to have a large workshop/servicing/storage facility established early in the construction process. The articulated light rail vehicles required will be at least 30m long, but should be about 43m (the length of the Matangis), or even more, for maximum productivity. A suitable site of adequate area does not exist within the Town Belt, and even in the eastern suburbs would require considerable property purchase. It would almost certainly cost at least $200M, and would mean that the whole line at least as far as Kilbirnie would have to be built in one stage before any of it could be used.

* A light rail line built as an extension of the existing rail system would, of course, need no such new depot – saving $200M.

* The existing EMU depot at Thorndon is very suitable for sharing with light rail vehicles and tram-trains. The light rail extension could be staged in practical chunks – Courtenay Place, then Hospital, then Kilbirnie, then Airport/Miramar – reducing construction risk markedly.

* The Glengowrie tram depot in Adelaide is about the minimum size of depot for a small fleet of articulated trams on a single light rail line. Have a search and look on Google Earth and consider how it could be fitted in anywhere south of Wellington Railway Station, and how much the extra unnecessary cost would be.

* Continuity is king, as far as effective sustainable transport infrastructure is concerned. Whether we are talking about closing the gaps in the NIMT electrification, or providing mass transit throughout the Wellington region, or even just providing trunk bus services like the #1 and 2 routes within Wellington City, an unbroken end to end service is essential. A change of vehicle at the edge of the densest (and main economic) area is an absurdity rejected by all other public transport operators.

* Responsibility for the future: completing light rail infrastructure through town (and the NIMT electrification) will make possible automated tram-train services from the eastern suburbs and airport, through the region’s main street, every hour, to as far away as Palmerston North and Masterton, by 2050 – in addition to more frequent services closer in, of course. Contemplate what that could do for achieving zero-carbon transport targets, compared with the current policy of a fragmented public transport spine!

A cure requires direction by LGWM’s governors – including you. Some of you have knowledge of light rail and should know the essential truth of how healthy and vigorous rail transit systems are organised, with ‘direct through service’, not a broken spine.

The ball is in your court.

Ngā mihi
Brent Efford
NZ Agent, Light Rail Transit Assn


  1. Daran Ponter, 22. February 2021, 12:25

    Kia ora Brent, Indicative business cases are in-train (or in-BRT, in-LRT or in-trackless tram!). We expect to have these in the next two months. The indicative business cases will include scenarios for further engagement with the Wellington regional public. Slower than we would have liked? You bet. But we always knew that this was a long planning phase – there is a lot of money at stake and the choices we make at this juncture are critical to the way we are able to move about the City in the future. I envisage that you will have something substantial to bite down on within a few months.

  2. Brent Efford, 22. February 2021, 12:42

    Hmmm … Daran’s process-driven response only indicates that my key point, about the essentiality of an unbroken mass transit spine, is being ignored and certainly isn’t in the terms of reference. Otherwise “BRT’ or a sham tram wouldn’t be in the running, and the only ‘studying’ involved would be about details of the CBD route, just as it was in the 1990s.

  3. michael, 22. February 2021, 13:14

    @Daran Ponter: More consultation? We have had years of it going nowhere. Can someone just make a decision and get on with it.

  4. Art Vandelay, 22. February 2021, 14:20

    Great article Brent. With all the answers that are so obvious to anyone who has travelled to a functioning city in Europe. With regards to the route through the CBD, I’d be interested to hear your thoughts on the option of Featherston Street for the rail corridor.
    There is a blog post written by yours truly here. Guy M has also proposed Featherston Street as one of the options here.

    I’m aware it is secondary to your main point, but like you say above, the marketing for the current proposals is dishonest. I think if people can imagine and get excited about a proper (and realistic) route then that’s part of the battle won.

  5. Helene Ritchie, 22. February 2021, 15:13

    Dear Daran et al. Take notice of Brent! He does not plead for more consultation and more irrelevant business cases which will not produce the desired and necessary change any time soon or ever. He pleads for continuity of rail service and action, based on information already existing (and for a long time). Where is the climate change carbon emission reduction that was promised in some Emergency statement (and election platform)? Do you guys (City Council as well) really think that the public are just waiting with open mouths, for the next consultation and the one after that and after that and well…after that?

  6. Dave B, 22. February 2021, 19:03

    @ Daran Ponter: You indicate that LGWM is currently evaluating BRT, LRT or trackless tram. None of these will provide service-continuity with the rail system we already have, unless LRT is evaluated as “tram-train” (a variant of LRT which is able to share tracks with conventional rail).
    The evaluation should be between LRT (Tram train variant), and extension of the Matangi metro-service that we currently have (preferable).
    The options of BRT, LRT (non-tram-train) or trackless-trams running only south from the present railway station will not address the serious need for proper regional PT-connectivity. To install an expensive new system that does not permit through train movements from the existing regional rail system is complete folly.

  7. Cr Daran Ponter, 22. February 2021, 20:10

    @ Helene Ritchie – I’m surprised at you Helene, placing such little store in community engagement. So you’re saying that all we need to do is adopt Brent’s plan, with no further engagement? Why didn’t someone just say that at the start? I fully realise that the LGWM process is behind schedule and that the tedium of the process is starting to set in. But I am committed to a process that my Council can stand behind – that’s 12 regional councillors. Scenarios for the indicative business cases are close to being released – for all the faults of LGWM I am sure that the public would expects to have their say on decisions that will affect them for years to come.

    I’m a fan of LRT and so are many of my fellow councillors – but at the end of the day they will have to weigh up the merits of the proposals against a range of different criteria – as will the WCC and NZTA – so let’s see everything on the table.

  8. Brent Efford, 22. February 2021, 20:40

    In response to Art – Lambton Quay is technically by far the best light rail (tram) route. It was trams between 1879 to 1964 that made it the ‘main street’! The Golden Mile was favoured by every study that I know of (the 1995 study did so in detail) until LGWM came along with its ‘avoid the Golden Mile’ obsession. The main reason is that LQ doesn’t have any cross streets and both tram lines can be put on the west side of the median, allowing the operation of ‘trains’ of 2 units of 43m long trams without blocking any intersections.
    If the Golden Mile is substantially pedestrianised it would be an even better tram route – such restricted-traffic arrangements are the norm for city centre trams overseas. And in Christchurch.
    Featherston St, OTOH, is needed for essential road vehicle traffic, including commercial vehicle access into the cross streets.

  9. Geoff Palmer, 22. February 2021, 21:20

    And let’s not forget LGWM is currently costing us as much as $1million per week.
    “More than $11 million was spent on the programme in the first half of this year [2020] but it was recently revealed those costs were now up to $4m a month.”

  10. Ross Clark, 23. February 2021, 7:24

    Brent – points well made, as usual, but how are we going to get the Feds (=NZTA) to play ball and pay for a substantial proportion of the bill? That’s been the stumbling-block for a very long time.

  11. Michael Gibson, 23. February 2021, 8:35

    Daran – forgive me for commenting on your approach to Helene’s comments which, I believe, come from a valued and experienced background. But you simply do not explain why we, in Wellington, don’t have a bus to and from the Airport. Why is this? It is a huge disgrace.

  12. Casey, 23. February 2021, 10:17

    Ross: Are NZTA still miffed that their flyover proposal was knocked back, and are they dead set on four lanes to planes? The opinion of many is that a second Mt. Victoria tunnel can’t solve congestion and it will only add more space for cars to sit whilst held up in peak hours. A joined up proper bypass would have resolved some of the road capacity issue but destroyed a huge swathe of Te Aro in the process.

  13. Ralf, 23. February 2021, 12:19

    When I came to Wellington in the late naughties, not having a train service was an exception. Nowadays having a train service is a rare exception (for me, who uses PT only on weekends/public holidays, and actually I am not using PT much anymore thanks to all the downgrading). Buses are replacing trains on up to 50% of days (e.g. in December and January), though of course they are not buses, because then they would have to accept Snapper and offer Off-Peak-Prices, instead they are labelled “ChooChoo, I am a train”, so you can enjoy paying peak prices for substandard service.

    For the consultation I expect that LGWM will offer a couple of car tunnels to be built through the town between 2024 and 2028 and some form of Mass Transit in the 2030s. Since this plan will be rejected by a majority, LGWM will go back to the drawing board and come with another consultation in 2022. LGWM is a consultancy shop after all, the money still keeps moving.

    The only “plan” I can see is to push people into cars, and that will over time shift public opinion so that in a couple of years there will be a political majority to get some car tunnels.

  14. luke, 23. February 2021, 13:00

    Lgwm is a delaying process until a more road-friendly government is in position to deliver a motorway to the airport. The last thing they want is alternatives to car dependance like quality public transport (not buses) to take the funding away from highway building.

  15. Michael Gibson, 23. February 2021, 16:11

    In response to my unanswered question to Daran Ponter, my attention has been drawn to the following advice given to him at GW’s last Transport Committee: “In order to procure an airport service, Metlink Officers must identify the proposed unit in the Draft Regional Public Transport Plan to formally begin the process of establishing a unit in order to procure a service.”
    No wonder GW is in a mess! Comment please, Daran!

  16. Mike Mellor, 23. February 2021, 16:50

    Whatever we do in the long term, there are two fundamental shorter-term realities;

    – any rail link will likely take a decade or so at least to implement;
    – the Miramar peninsula is a more important transport objective than the airport alone.

    Given the first point, we need to be something now to improve the passenger experience through Wellington Station. A through rail trip would be lovely, but there will be ten or so long years before that happens. An immediate priority must be to improve the awkward, non-intuitive and costly (in the current absence of free transfers) connection at the station, and an upgrade to on-site bus information so that it matches the high standard of train information (at the moment it’s nowhere near). In comparison with major infrastructure changes, this will be quicker and easier.

    Secondly, it’s Miramar, with its commuters (in both directions) and substantial off-peak traffic that’s the ultimate eastern destination, not the much more limited traffic generated by the airport. The upgraded no. 2 bus (the most frequent route in the region, all day every day) and the 30x and 31x expresses show that the demand is there.

    While we’re doing the essential planning for the long term, the short term will have slipped by (as unfortunately seems to be happening) unless we focus on that, too.

  17. Mike Mellor, 23. February 2021, 20:49

    Michael G: an Airport unit is already identified in the current (2014) Regional Public Transport Plan.

  18. Cr Daran Ponter, 23. February 2021, 21:15

    @ Michael Gibson. For someone who is not short to find fault in the Regional Council, you seem to be inviting GWRC to run roughshod over all the requirements we have to meet to put in place a new Airport service. That might have been how things rolled when you were a regional councillor, but it ain’t happening on my watch. We will do things by the book and get a better service in place … that means following the process set out in the Public Transport Operating Model – as painful as that is for everyone.

  19. Dave B, 23. February 2021, 21:36

    Agreed Mike. The proposed reincarnated airport bus is a good opportunity for creating an interim regional connecting service between the railway station and the airport and eastern suburbs. Ideally it should serve Miramar also, but whether the one service should attempt to serve both Miramar and the airport, or whether separate branches would be better (like the present No2 branches to Miramar or Seatoun), would need to be considered.
    But the important thing is that this should not be just another bus that routinely takes 35 minutes from the railway station to the airport or Miramar Shops (again like the No2 at peak hours). For this reason it must not go via the Golden Mile. If the objection to running express via the waterfront is poor pedestrian-access from the city to southbound services, a first stop close to the City-to-Sea bridge would answer this.

  20. Northland, 23. February 2021, 22:36

    6+ years at up to $1 million a week and nothing to show for it. If you add all that up, its about the same cost as rebuilding the Central Library (from scratch). Instead we’ve been given nothing more than a load of hot air!

  21. Kerry Wood, 24. February 2021, 11:59

    Brent Efford’s open letter to Councillors may safely be ignored.
    It began in 1992, with the with the ‘Superlink’ study, the first proposal for light rail in Wellington. Brent and I were the main authors, assisted by Daryl Cockburn and the late Graeme Butler. It was published by Transport 2000 (Brent) and the Inter-Professional Group, a group set up to manage Brent. Denis Foot was involved.
    Inevitably, Superlink was an oddity. The Johnsonville Line was to be heavily amended to carry eight trains an hour each way — for capacity — as well as a new stop at the Kaiwharawhara ferry terminal, for an extension to the Hutt. The track gauge was to be 1067mm, the same as KiwiRail. That was acceptable in 1992, but Brent still insists that it be used.
    Since 1992, full-length low-floor trams have become usual, 150mm wider than a bus. The traction motors fit beneath raised seats and the central aisle is suitable for prams or wheelchairs. This allows faster boarding and better passenger safety (no steps), but is impractical for 1067mm track gauge. This is why Brisbane adopted BRT rather than light rail.
    Brent has never produced a picture of a modern tram running on 1067mm track gauge, because they don’t exist. Fortunately there is a simple, economic solution. The conventional light rail system adopted by LGWM can easily achieve best-practice.

  22. Sam Donald, 24. February 2021, 13:11

    Brent talks about the urgent need for densification in Wellington to address the housing crisis, yet calls for tram-trains connecting Miramar with, presumably Kapiti, the Hutt Valley, the Wairarapa (and Johnsonville?) as the solution. What city is this densification to be in then? I would have thought our first priority for addressing the Wellington region’s housing, climate and transport issues is densification within the Wellington City CBD, inner and outer suburbs.

    The sooner that a fast, frequent, low boarding height, quiet, comfortable, cost effective, commercially available (ideally the same as Auckland) LRT system is operational within Wellington the better. At the very least, there needs to be a route committed to as a matter of urgency so that transit oriented development, particularly residential, can be planned for.

    Avoiding a hub at Wellington Station misses the point that people won’t want to wait around at the airport, or Kilbirnie, or Newtown etc. for “their train” when they could instead catch the next service to the Wellington Station hub and change there to the appropriate line / service to get them to their destination in the shortest possible timeframe.

    Same goes for the opposite direction, as only a fraction of services on the lines into Wellington could possibly be through-running services. So even with tram-trains, a vast proportion of passengers will still change at Wellington Station.

    Some of those passengers would also arrive at Wellington Station, or other stations along an LRT route, by bus or cycle and so again getting the best possible transfer solution at Wellington Station, as @ Mike Mellor says, is key. Through-running services are a red herring.

  23. Mike Mellor, 24. February 2021, 13:56

    Kerry: there are fully low-floor trams on metre gauge (see the Avenio M trams in Ulm, for example), so a version on the wider (but much rarer, for trams) 1,067mm gauge used here would be technically perfectly possible, not “impractical”. However, I’m not sure that any such are capable of full tram-train operation on tracks shared with heavy freight trains, as would be the case here, and different platform heights and train capacities would present significant issues that (to my knowledge) have never been addressed in the Wellington context. It would be good to have KiwiRail’s technical comments on this – they would be an essential player.

    Dave B: a stop on the sea side of the City-to-Sea bridge would not only be six lanes away from the CBD but also two longish flights of steps away, plus either a tortuous route through Civic Square or across the narrow bridge beside it. On top of that, the Quays are congested at peak times, which vehicles calling at stops would add to: a car-free Golden Mile would be much more reliable, and reliability is key. As we see every day, cars and high-capacity public transport do not mix, and that needs fixing (fast!), not adding to.

  24. luke, 24. February 2021, 15:02

    As an interim, how about a frequent express bus along the quays from the Station to Courtenay Place free for people transferring to/from rail services to prove the latent demand which a lot of us suspect exists.

  25. bsmith, 24. February 2021, 15:37

    So many have hidden agendas. Light rail etc etc, is a complete nonsense, that most don’t want, and one we as a city cannot afford. Create four lanes to the peninsula, and have dedicated bus and (dare I say it, cycle lanes). Once the nimbys stop screaming, they can either pack up and leave, or put up with it. It’s time to stop the politicking and get on with it. I await the howls of derision.

  26. Kerry Wood, 24. February 2021, 16:31

    Mike M. Yes, metre gauge is fine, but not 1067mm. It is technically practical but needs a redesign of the bogie, which would be far too costly for a small system such as Wellington.

  27. John Rankin, 24. February 2021, 16:46

    @HeleneRitchie: if LGWM were to adopt Brent’s proposal, as you suggest, you would need to ask them to answer some big questions. Despite what Brent calls LGWM’s “dishonest graphics”, LGWM has given us a pretty good idea what its “mass rapid transit” (not the same as “mass transit”) would look like in Wellington. Here are a few things we know for LGWM’s proposal, but don’t know for Brent’s proposal.

    1. low floor or high floor vehicles? If high floor, what would Golden Mile stations look like; if low floor, the modern light rail standard, what happens at existing main line stations and will they fit existing tunnels?

    2. where will the buses currently using the Golden Mile go? There are only 2 lanes between Panama St and Taranaki St. LGWM estimates that there will still be up to 40 buses per hour on the Golden Mile after mass rapid transit is running.

    3. what is the station to airport travel time? LGWM is designing for 20 minutes rapid transit; following an old streetcar route along a pedestrian-friendly Golden Mile is a recipe for slow transit. As @MikeMellor notes, Miramar is the big eastern suburbs destination, not the airport.

    4. what is the plan for the Basin Reserve? If trains run on Courtenay Place, they end up on Kent and Cambridge, so have to cross the Basin somehow. If the claim is an at-grade crossing, what impact will this have on east-west traffic? The choice is grade separation or, if trains have priority over cars, traffic snarl-ups. The number of trains per hour plus east-west traffic volume puts the Basin well above the level indicating grade separation. LGWM’s route sidesteps the problem.

    5. what will the future railway station layout look like? How will the 8 existing tracks be reduced to the 2 proposed. How will the signalling system on the new tracks interface to the existing system.

    6. will the proposed vehicles have lavatories? These are non-standard on off-the-shelf light rail vehicles; highly desirable for rail trips over 1 hour.

    7. why tram-train rather than extending the existing suburban rail system, as @DaveB proposes? If through-running is considered an essential requirement, @DaveB’s proposal is worth investigating, although it would not be cheap.

    @MikeMellor, on the matter of track gauge, AFAIK modern light rail vehicles can be bought off-the-shelf, tested and certified, with metre gauge or standard gauge (same truck, different axles, inside or outside the traction motors), from a wide range of suppliers. KiwiRail gauge light rail vehicles would be a custom design and build. So it’s both “technically perfectly possible” and “impractical”. I’m with @DaveB and @KerryWood, whatever design you choose, stick with proven, off-the-shelf technology where possible.

    As Mike says, it would be good to have KiwiRail’s comments on this. Brent’s beautiful theory has to be able to survive attack by a gang of ugly facts. LGWM appears to have done its due diligence and consulted a range of experts whose professional reputations are on the line, which is one reason it has taken so long.

  28. John Rankin, 24. February 2021, 17:10

    @bsmith: you have expressed a preference for what LGWM calls BRT (bus rapid transit). You have also constrained this to 2 lanes, meaning that if it is to meet the minimum standard to qualify as BRT, it will have about half the capacity of light rail on the same 2 lanes.

    What is your plan for upgrading when it runs out of capacity? Will you add ever more buses so that the service progressively degrades, or will you upgrade the line to light rail? If the latter, good luck with that. How come, when the population was far lower, we could afford to build a suburban rail network, but today, according to you, we can’t afford a 10km light rail line? More to the point, why was central government happy to meet the cost of Transmission Gully, but won’t meet the cost of urban rapid transit?

    So not derision, merely a request that you show your proposed solution will meet Wellington’s needs. What we choose now will shape the city for the next 100 years.

  29. Mike Mellor, 24. February 2021, 17:34

    luke, Google Maps currently shows Jervois Quay northbound as severely congested, then Customhouse Quay to Ballance St as congested. How would a frequent express bus cope with that? (The Golden Mile is also shown as congested, though not as badly as the quays, and plans to fix that had overwhelming support in LGWM consultation).

  30. Helene Ritchie, 24. February 2021, 18:40

    Glad I’m not on the Regional Council when the next consultation takes place and the one after that. You clearly all are the experts.

  31. Glen Smith, 24. February 2021, 23:28

    Brent. Excellent article challenging the blinkered thinking of our current planners (and some of our light rail advocates). Agree absolutely that having a seamless across-town rail PT corridor, housing seamless regional transport lines (based on actual regional travel patterns rather than an arbitrary demarcation point at the Station) is essential. Commentators such as Sam and Kerry who think that “through-running services are a red herring” and that the separate “light rail system adopted by LGWM can easily achieve best-practice” need to go back at look again at optimal regional transport design (a radial connective design) and the empirical data that outlines not only the huge number of trips that cross the CBD but also the potent disincentive that fractured lines have on PT uptake.

    I also agree that ‘Track-Sharing’ (rail units of different characteristics sharing a common rail corridor- you call this ‘Tram-Trains’ but that implies across town units at only the very ‘light’ end of the rail spectrum) is the way to achieve this. As Dave says “The evaluation should be between LRT (Tram train variant), and extension of the Matangi metro-service that we currently have (preferable)”. I think the second of these, while ideal, is unachievable (and, if Track-Sharing is done well, with units closer to the ‘heavier’ end of the rail spectrum, there may not actually be that much difference between the two). I think a very good regional network incorporating ‘Track-Sharing’ is highly achievable, but I don’t think you should underestimate the huge logistical challenges involved and I am not sure your specific proposal has thought through all of these challenges.

    As I understand it you propose regional lines all running ‘light’ rail units that are around 43m long, with low floors and that ‘trackshare’ on our regional lines before all running across town along a single Golden Mile corridor- (correct me if that is not your proposal).
    This proposal is simply not logistically feasible, or desirable for a number of reasons, some of which John Rankin has touched on.

    If you run 43m units rather than 180m 8-carriage Matangis you need 4 times as many units per hour at peak time crossing the rail yards north of the Station to carry the same passenger load, an area that is already struggling to cope with the current number of trains per hour. How do you propose to achieve this?

    If you run rail down the Golden Mile do you displace buses? Or are you planning to run both current buses AND rail in the same corridor? If displacing current buses then do bus users have to transfer to rail? And if so are you simply creating seamless rail lines at the expense of fractured bus lines? If buses and trains share how are you going to create the necessary capacity when the Spine Study showed that neither BRT nor LRT would have adequate capacity on a single Golden Mile corridor and a ‘second spine’ would be required for either?

    If you run all units through than they will all only be partially full at best (once Station riders- who occupy ALL of our current rail capacity- get off), wasting limited across town capacity with half empty trains crowding the Golden Mile. And if you run all trains down the Golden Mile you will be forcing the huge number of across town travellers to all take a slow trip down the most congested pedestrian shopping streets in the whole city, when none of them want to be there- (they just want to get from one side of the city to the other as fast as possible).

    Low floor units will make integration into our existing network technically difficult. Light rail commentators seem obsessed with having low floor units without giving any logical reason. Given the volume of commuters that can be anticipated, dedicated platform space at designated ‘stations’ will be required and these platforms can be at any height (including existing network height).

    These are some of the barriers. I think all barriers can be overcome but will requires some thought, planning, modelling and investigation. It is a pity that a demonstrably dysfunctional LGWM team has wasted so much time while apparently not actually investigating options for seamless regional corridors. However we shouldn’t allow frustration at their inadequacies to cause us to rush into a cheap and nasty inferior option that we will then spend decades or centuries regretting.

    In my article of 27 October (tracksharing- how to extend the rail network across the CBD) I presented an option that overcame essentially all of these barriers.

  32. Kerry, 25. February 2021, 12:38

    No plausible case for tram-trains in Wellington has ever been presented. Light rail is a good choice for Wellington but there is no case for grafting tram-trains.
    In November 2018 I presented a technical paper to the local RTSA group, on the light rail route developed by FIT Wellington. I stated that tram-trains seemed unlikely, and Brent demanded a presentation in response. It followed in February 2019 but with virtually no technical evidence. One part is Wellington railway history. It begins with horse-drawn trams in the 1880s, highlighting the errors blocking Brent’s one true solution, to the present day. Another part is the tram-train cities, notably Karlsruhe, irrelevant in Wellington. Similarity to Karlsruhe would need a railway terminus somewhere near the KiwiRail ferry terminal.
    Tom Matoff, an American expert, has done some work for Brent and is quoted as saying: “The termination of ‘commuter’ rail lines on the edge of the CBD, with a transfer required just to complete a basic journey to the centre of town… is an antiquated concept.” Tom has not visited Wellington, and has fallen for Brent’s false claim that all passengers have to transfer “at the edge of the CBD.” Brent omits another of Tom’s observations: “I strongly emphasise that this is all subject to confirming analysis using a complete and sophisticated operational modelling tool that takes vehicle operating characteristics and details of track alignment and train control system efficiency and signalling into account.” This is far too complex for any amateur group. The usual approach is German regulations, suitable for German main-lines but highly unlikely to suit KiwiRail. Another doubtful area is a particularly difficult track gauge. Why is it that Brent has never produced a photograph of a modern tram running on 1067mm track-gauge? Do such vehicles exist?
    Tom is clear about the risks: “To the greatest degree possible, the LRVs should be compatible with existing rail standards: 1067 mm gauge, New Zealand Railways wheel profile…” Long-distance trains terminate at most railway termini around the world, and passengers either walk or transfer to buses or light rail. The few exceptions are irrelevant to Wellington.

  33. luke, 25. February 2021, 13:29

    Off the shelf light rail, tacked onto the Auckland order (and hopefully other NZ cities) for economies of scale seems logical to me. The issue of where to maintain and store them is an issue but I suggest the former Rail yards at Ngauranga accessed by running an access track parallel to the existing Hutt line (on the vacant portion within the rail corridor formerly occupied by the long gone Industrial main track).

  34. Dave B, 25. February 2021, 15:11

    @ Luke. Better to borrow the tunnel boring machine that Auckland is currently using for its City Rail Link as soon as they have finished with it. Then set it to work burrowing tunnels under Wellington for a proper heavy-rail extension that will benefit all rail-served parts of the region. A separate light rail system in Wellington will not do this. And anyway, Auckland has yet to decide whether to build light rail or something more substantive that doesn’t just run in the streets.

  35. bsmith, 25. February 2021, 15:26

    @john rankin, a double lane highway across the city to the eastern suburbs with feeder roads is the only solution. How will light rail, say to the airport/hospital, help anybody, for instance those who don’t live within gooey of it?. A decent bus service servicing all suburbs, being able to take advantage of a four lane highway, is the only fiscally responsible course of action.

  36. Dave B, 25. February 2021, 16:40

    @ bsmith. You make the mistake of assuming a new four-lane highway will fix congestion. Most people know only too well that it will further entrench car-dependency, and become congested itself. Traffic problem worsened, not solved.

  37. Michael Barnett, 25. February 2021, 17:07

    Brent’s focus on the northern corridor into the city continues to ignore the fact that more than 50% of the commuter population travelling into the CBD travel from the east, west and southern suburbs of Wellington. His fixation on a broken spine and the futility of a hub at Wellington rail station goes against the sound advice of experts like Jan Gehl (Cities for People), Jarrett Walker and others who have advised the respective Councils in the past. LGWM have come up with a good plan for developing the city’s transport infrastructure. The trouble for Wellington is the lack of political will to get on and implement it. Surely the consultation process has been hammered to death. Forget further review, just get on and do it I say.

  38. John Rankin, 25. February 2021, 18:34

    @GlenSmith: “Light rail commentators seem obsessed with having low floor units without giving any logical reason.” If the light rail design is for on-street operation at street speeds, low floor vehicles are the most common modern design. Entry is only a couple of cm higher than existing footpaths, making stations cheaper to build and safer for pedestrians. If the design is for a dedicated right-of-way and high speed operation (often called light metro), high floor vehicles are more common. Stations cost more but are often integrated with or connected to other services.

    Either way, the passenger experience is level boarding. LGWM is proposing on-street operation, so has gone with generally accepted current practice of low floor vehicles.

    If the plan is a short (10km) extension to an existing high-floor suburban network, using low floor vehicles doesn’t make a lot of sense. On the other hand, I have not seen any designs for what a high-floor platform on the Golden Mile would look like.

    Hence my opinion that if you decide to extend the existing network, @DaveB’s proposal is the way to go. But as Glen points out, this would provide a lot more capacity on the new line than is needed. As I suggested to @bsmith, in the long run it’s better to plan too much capacity than too little. Of the 3 options LGWM has put forward, light rail has the highest capacity and for me, this is sufficient reason to reject BRT and trackless tram.

  39. Dave B, 25. February 2021, 19:01

    But @ Michael Barnett, the alternative being pushed-for is 4-lanes-to-the-planes from north of Levin. This is not simply a local roading solution to a local traffic problem but a major regional scheme. Can you not see that a credible public transport alternative to this has to be a continuous regional rail spine? This is not “focusing on the Northern Corridor”, but connecting up the entire region, from which the south is currently disconnected.
    Forcing all regional rail travelers to interchange to a separate light rail system is like building 4-lanes-to-the-planes but not connecting it to the existing motorway. Or building Transmission Gully for specialized vehicles only, which cannot travel on the rest of the road system. You simply wouldn’t do it.

  40. bsmith, 26. February 2021, 6:43

    @dave b, most people want to get in their vehicle, and go where they want, when they want. They dont want to have to walk, cycle or scoot, to somehow connect with a mythical light rail system, that wont service the population. Cars will always play a part of the national mentality, whether thats fossil fuels/electric or hydrogen.

  41. John Rankin, 26. February 2021, 9:16

    @bsmith: the problem with your thesis is that most people also choose to live in cities, where space is finite, and cars take up way more space than every other form of transport. If you want to live in a city and get around by car, the brutal facts of geometry mean you have 3 choices:

    1. stop growing (not going to happen in Wellington)
    2. knock down houses to make room for more cars and pave farmland for more urban sprawl (what we currently do)
    3. move to more spatially efficient ways of living (redesigning the places we live to make Wellington a 15 minute city)

    You can’t win against geometry. Your preferences necessarily require option 2. I am fortunate and in a position to choose option 3; most people are not so lucky. It can be done; in Vancouver, for example, about 75% of the population lives in 15 minute neighbourhoods. @bsmith: you’d probably hate it. You might also want to read up on the EROEI (energy returned on energy invested) for hydrogen. When you do, you may conclude that private cars are never going to run on hydrogen. Fighting geometry and fighting physics is a losing strategy. Wisely, LGWM has chosen not to.

  42. bsmith, 26. February 2021, 9:51

    @john rankin … I don’t believe for one minute that most kiwis desire to live in a crowded polluted city. Sure it suits some, and if you never travel far, by all means forego the vehicle (your choice). But this country’s population have an entrenched 1/4 acre paradise mentality (and why shouldnt they). You overlook electric vehicles, and please don’t compare Vancouver (population 2.5 million plus), to Wgtn.. The bottom line is light rail in any guise will end up a huge white elephant that serves only a minority of ratepayers.

  43. greenwelly, 26. February 2021, 10:33

    Using Vancouver as an example is a double edged sword, sure it’s lovely an dense, with 15 minute neighbourhoods. BUT … and here is the kicker, Vancouver is even more unaffordable than Wellington.

  44. Claire, 26. February 2021, 10:45

    bsmith – you are correct. The problem of more people in the city is shrinking. Traffic is higher on Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday. More people are working from home on Monday and Friday. Traffic is down on those days. Also people are moving to the Wairarapa and may be working from home for some of the week. The results of the spatial plan suggest that more people prefer the cottage with the back yard than the tenth floor of an apartment block. Growth does equal money for the WCC but it may not materialise.

  45. Keith Flinders, 26. February 2021, 11:03

    bsmith: Talking with under 25 year old voters, as I did as a candidate in the 2016 elections, many even in the more affluent areas saw no need to have their own cars if there was a reliable and frequent public transport service available. A generational attitude change is in action now.

    Light rail mixed with feeder buses will suit very well the demands of a more tightly-packed Wellington of the near future. Look to the Hutt Valley as to how well the rail service serves that population, and what chaos there would be now if the pre-WW2 planners had not had the foresight. You might also argue that the regional rail service only serves a small section of the population.

    My prediction is that light rail remains decades away, whilst a cheaper and ineffective BRT is foist on the Wellington public first. Cost versus value always wins the day, alas.

  46. Claire, 26. February 2021, 11:37

    Keith. The spatial plan report points to the under 35 population having a different view from the over 35s. This is likely due to life stages – they have now bought a house and had children so therefore want a backyard and a car. The over 35 ‘disagrees’ for high rise buildings in inner city suburbs is dramatic.

  47. bsmith, 26. February 2021, 13:04

    @keith flinders. I agree with you, many younger people enjoy the city/nightlife and all it has to offer. If I was younger I would be the same. But once that younger generation settles down, has a family and all that entails, I don’t believe they will still be using public transport, at the very least they will have a vehicle. Your last paragraph sums up my whole argument, as Wellingtonians we cannot afford a light rail system, and shouldn’t be considering it. I fail to accept that decent public transport, based around buses/expanded roading is not achievable.

    @claire, I agree, it seems to me this council, and certain sections of the community, are driving people from the city, when they should be encouraging them back.

  48. Kerry, 26. February 2021, 13:58

    Keith. You may be right, but I sure hope not. BRT works in Auckland, with off-road stops, but it won’t work in Wellington. It doesn’t work properly unless there are four bus lanes at stops, and where would you put that in Wellington? The golden mile route is up against the same problem, and overloading is routine at peak hours. Good bus systems need a maximum of about 60 buses an hour, and the golden mile is about double that. The options seem to be light rail or chaos.

  49. John Rankin, 26. February 2021, 15:19

    @greenwelly: it’s a bit more nuanced than that. There was a study done in Vancouver about affordability, covering the greater Vancouver region (pop. 2.5M) and just the city of Vancouver (pop. 0.75M).

    What they found is that lower housing costs in the outer parts of the region were offset by higher transport costs, and higher housing costs in the city were offset by lower transport costs. You are better off spending more on housing and less on transport, because transport is purely an expense, whereas housing is an appreciating asset. Building low-cost car-dependent housing in distant suburbs is a recipe for an ever-widening wealth gap between urban rich and suburban poor. By all means move to the Wairarapa, but you may not be able to afford to move back, perhaps when you are older and need to be closer to specialist health care services.

    If you go to Vancouver, you see housing development happens in the central city and along its rapid transit lines. While @bsmith may not like it, the people I know who live there, including many kiwis, love it, in part because it’s so easy to get around, no matter whether you walk, cycle, use public transport, or drive. Since the central city is the fastest growing suburb in the Wellington region, it seems a lot of people here agree.

    I fail to understand how electric vehicles will solve our transport problems, since they are just as spatially inefficient as ICE vehicles.

  50. Wellington.Scoop, 26. February 2021, 15:21

    Comments are now closed, as our system has reached the maximum that it can cope with.