Wellington Scoop

Choosing the best option

by Michael Barnett
LGWM’s four transport options are aimed at moving more people with fewer vehicles, enabling more housing development, and reducing greenhouse gas emissions. In FIT Wellington’s view: Option 4, which includes light rail to the south coast via Taranaki Street, is the strongest option whilst Option 2, bus rapid transit to the sea and skies, is the weakest.

Option 1, with light rail to the south coast plus a new public transport tunnel, is a stronger option than Option 3.

And leaving Vivian Street as the eastbound corridor for SH1 through-traffic is a lost opportunity for unlocking the huge potential for developing the Te Aro precinct.

LGWM needs to find ways to radically shorten the implementation timetable. Its approach appears to match mass rapid transit to projected future demand. As such, the options occupy the first 3 rungs of a demand ladder:

lower growth, lower demand → bus priority
medium growth, medium demand → 2-lane bus rapid transit
higher growth, higher demand → streetcar-style light rail
highest growth, highest demand → metro-style light rail (not used).

The proposals will reduce the number of cars by reducing the number of lanes for cars and transform the way we travel. FIT endorses this transit oriented development strategy.

FIT considers Option 4 is the strongest option because:

it keeps options open for future mass rapid transit to the east via Cambridge Terrace, if and when demand on that corridor grows;

it includes Light Rail to Newtown and Island Bay along Taranaki Street, which is more central with more development opportunities than the more peripheral Cambridge Terrace;

it brings mass rapid transit within 400 metres (a 5 minute walk) of all points on the Golden Mile;

it bypasses the Basin Reserve, simplifying changes there to improve active transport options;

and it is the lowest cost option, with the earliest completion date.

Best overseas practice is to build one light rail line at a time and to start design on the second line (mass rapid transit to the east) as soon as construction starts on the first line, and so on. Option 4 is consistent with this approach, which maximises development potential on each corridor.

FIT believe Option 2 should be discarded because it is the weakest, highest risk option. If growth or mode-shift on the Island Bay corridor exceed LGWM’s projections, Wellington would face expensive, technically challenging and disruptive works to upgrade the corridor from BRT to light rail. Without such an upgrade, Wellington would have little choice other than progressively overloading the corridor with BRT vehicles, inevitably degrading system performance as buses get in each other’s way.

The risk that Option 2 has underestimated demand on the north–south corridor may be low, but the impact is very high. If demand significantly exceeds projections, the only mitigation would be to upgrade the corridor.

In our opinion, Option 1 is stronger than Option 3 as it offers better public transport improvements to the eastern suburbs; better bus priority and a better layout at the Basin Reserve, including cross-platform transfers between the south (light rail) and east (bus priority) corridors. However, it is the most expensive option with the longest delivery timetable. If demand on the eastern corridor significantly exceeds projections, upgrading the bus priority lanes to bus rapid transit would be relatively straightforward. Upgrading to light rail may well be impractical.

In reviewing the options presented, we see several opportunities for enhancement:

the route to Island Bay could become a genuine rapid transit route if light rail did not have to share its lanes with buses and other vehicles;
LGWM should give some thought to how the mass rapid transit network will be extended in future (for example, to Karori);
FIT favours a “MRT trunk, bus feeder” network design, rather than the “avoid transfers” approach that LGWM seems to have taken; a reliable and frequent service overcomes transfer penalties.

The light rail proposals are at the streetcar (slower) rather than the metro (faster) end of the light rail design spectrum. Experience in other cities teaches that people will walk farther to catch a faster service.

FIT considers it would also be desirable to review the project scope and include a rerouting of SH1 eastbound traffic off Vivian Street onto Karo Drive. We support LGWM’s original proposal to do this, which would create a two-way thoroughfare from the Terrace Tunnel to the Basin Reserve.

Michael Barnett is Convenor of FIT (Fair Intelligent Transport) Wellington.


  1. Peter B, 18. November 2021, 14:03

    There needs to be a push to get experienced staff who have had the opportunity to design and install bicycle routes and light rail systems from overseas into Wellington. There are key overseas cities where the staff would jump at the opportunity to exchange for up to 12 months to Wellington on the basis of their successful performance. With $240m being spent on bicycle resources over 10 years, Welly people need the confidence that they are getting maximum bang for buck. Bicycle routes not bicycle lanes. Advanced traffic signals activated by bicycles that give priority without stopping as installed overseas. The wheel has been invented we do not have to reinvent the wheel.

  2. Dave B, 18. November 2021, 14:15

    No thought yet by anyone, that the mass rapid transit system we already have (the regional rail network) should be extended to the Eastern Suburbs as a priority ahead of additional road tunnels. The region is hamstrung by having its principal public transport artery stopping dead where it does. The present railway station is the only access-point for the entire Wellington City, to the vitally important Hutt and Kapiti Lines. These lines need extending southwards.
    A separate light rail or bus system that only connects to rail via a forced-interchange for everyone, is akin to terminating the regional State Highways at Thorndon and forcing everyone to park-up there and change to another transport mode for travel beyond. In other words, nonsensical.

  3. JAB, 18. November 2021, 14:25

    Hoping for a little feedback here. The general public has in the past had far better ideas than the designers of these projects (Basin Reserve flyover.) How can we ensure that good quality submissions/feedback are not buried by the councils? There doesn’t seem to be a public question and answer blog with consultation.
    If we could get 25% of the cars out of the inner city zone during the morning peak, would that be a good result that could avoid a lot of other costs?
    All of them cost $6-$7 billion which is very expensive for a total Wgtn City midline population increase of 36,000 over 30 years. Can we actually afford it.

  4. Ralf, 18. November 2021, 15:07

    I concur with many of these comments, e.g. no dedicated lane south of Newtown means BRT is just a bus and LR is just a tram (and cannot pass cars parking/having accidents/breakdowns). But some comments do not go far enough, e.g. completion date is a joke. We need changes this decade to lower transport emissions (e.g. the government has a 20% VKT reduction target towards 2030, which is too low IMO, but of course too ambitious for Wellington.) The costs are way too high, with the long project date. Do you really think the government will provide any money for this? Note that Act has a good chance to be in government in 2024. Then this is dead for a couple of years until the next swing in government (which will probably start from scratch then). Furthermore there is money for roads in all of these proposals. Obviously there should be no more money for roads until transport emissions are zero.

    Finally the biggest mistake is to link bike lanes with this dead duck. Any bike lane attached to LGWM will not be built because LGWM will not be built. This needs to be decoupled. If the government is willing to spend a couple of billions and all people involved really want to lower emissions within this decade, then I propose to buy an eBike for everyone in Wellington with this money. And then move in aggressively with bike lanes. Then we might have lower emissions this decade. PT is not an option to lower emissions; when it goes live in the 2040s we are already at zero emissions anyway, right? All of these points are part of my submission.

  5. pedge, 18. November 2021, 15:18

    JAB. I think we can’t afford not to. Look at what has happened to the cost of Transmission Gully. Things only get more and more expensive the longer we leave them. $6-7 billion sounds a lot, but like many countries our infrastructure spending over the years has been very low. The Mt Vic tunnel was built in the 30s, the Trrace tunnel and urban motorway in the 70s. What have we done of any significance since? No new rail lines, tinkering with the bus routes, few proper cycle lanes, an inner-city bypass that doesn’t bypass anything and a few new interchanges in the Hutt.

    We already have some of the lowest productivity rates in the developed world; we need to think of the spending as an investment. Sitting in traffic on the motorway and circling blocks looking for parking is surely part of that problem. I already find myself changing plans and avoiding going places because of the difficulty getting around this region. There must be many others doing the same.

  6. John Rankin, 19. November 2021, 11:31

    DaveB, by my reading of the LGWM documents, Option 4 (streetcar on Taranaki St) gives most flexibility for future choice of mode for mass rapid transit to the eastern suburbs. Options 1 and 2 would lock in bus priority / 2-lane bus rapid transit as the eastern mode. Option 3 (streetcar on Cambridge Terrace) also keeps mass rapid transit options for the eastern suburbs open, but perhaps less so than Option 4.

    If LGWM finds either Option 3 or Option 4 is the preferred option, we will have to see the detailed design to assess how well it enables (or constrains) future options for mass rapid transit to the eastern suburbs.

  7. Kerry, 21. November 2021, 13:10

    Dave B. Extending Mass Rapid Transit to the eastern suburbs was never going to be cheap, and is now virtually impractical. The Regional Council has a map of sea level rise, and is predicting a likely 2m rise by the end of the century. Wellington will soon need sea-walls, designed so that they can be raised as needed, for use after 2100.
    Light rail can run on-street because modern trams have a minimum curve radius of 25m, with a similar emergency-stop braking distance as a bus. If the sea-walls were over-topped, the passenger-risk would be manageable.
    Extending the existing Matangi system would be much more difficult. Their minimum curve radius is some 160m, ruling out on-street use. The Matangis would have to run in tunnel, making passenger-rescue impractical.
    The only effective safety measure would be making all the underground station-entrances three or more metres above street-level. That would include all stops from the Railway Station to about Ghuznee or Vivian Streets, and in Kilbirnie or Miramar. The only advantage of using Matangis would be that some passengers could avoid a change at the Railway Station. This would be worth little or nothing in a public transport system designed to exploit transfers.

  8. JAB, 21. November 2021, 18:08

    I’m going through the numbers and am starting to wonder why we even need this. It’s very expensive, some parts appear to have been captured by minority interest groups at a huge cost per head, and some groups who could do with a few ‘incentives’ have been dismissed in a couple of lines. Main question is, apart from a submission, how does one go about getting this checked with feedback from others?

  9. Luke, 21. November 2021, 23:06

    Melbourne style skyrail along the waterfront would get heavy rail thru the CBD.

  10. Dave B, 22. November 2021, 13:47

    Kerry – some points for you to note:

    1) The route I propose for standard-rail extension to the Eastern suburbs is via the waterfront, at-grade/covered-over. The covering-structure would double as a flood-protection barrier for the city in the event of periodic sea-incursion events (but not as a permanent sea wall). Beyond Frank Kitts park it would need to descend to 6m below current ground-level, to pass under Wakefield Street and Courtenay Place on an alignment beneath Taranaki St. This section would require separate flood-protection, but no more so than many building-basements that already exsit at this depth. Beyond Courtenay Place it would climb with Taranaki Street till bored-tunnelling could begin beneath Karo Drive. From there it would be in bored tunnel to Kilbirnie, with a cut-and-cover interruption for a station at Newtown in the vicinity of Mercy Park. It would emerge from tunnel in the vicinity of Cockburn Street, Kilbirnie, and would then assume the corridor of the Leonie Gill Walkway (which I understand also carries a sewer-main) to Rongotai and a proposed new tunnel under the airport runway. Termination would be via a runaround-loop on or beneath Miramar Golf-course, possibly including a short tunnelled section beneath the hill rising to Strathmore Park. Very little of this alignment would be at any more risk of sea-level rise that the surrounding area.

    2) The above proposal would be an alternative to further road-tunnelling or motorway extension as currently envisaged for the Eastern Suburbs. The idea would be to connect to the wider using an extended rail system rather than adding more road-capacity. The regional connectivity this would enable is far ahead of what a separate light rail system in the streets of Wellington could achieve.

    3) The minimum radius-of-curvature that a Matangi unit can negotiate is 70m, according to the specs. The 160m you quote is the minimum currently encountered on a small part of the Johnsonville Line (except for a very short stretch at 93m through the points at Wadestown Loop). However, for the most part the present rail network does not have curves sharper than 200m and this is what I have assumed for the proposal I have described. Anything sharper than this involves an undesirable speed restriction and this is also true for light rail. The 25m-radius curves you assume for light rail in-the-street would probably require to be negotiated at walking-speed.

    4) The oft-claimed ‘advantage’ that light rail vehicles can stop in emergencies as a bus does, tends not to acknowledge that doing this is highly undesirable for passengers and a system which requires to impose this as part of normal operation is not a particularly safe system. Having been in a light rail vehicle in Geneva when an emergency-brake happened, I can attest to standing-passengers being bodily thrown around. Standard rail on its own right-of-way is largely free of the need for this.

    5) You state that “Matangis would have to run in tunnel, making passenger-rescue impractical”. Why would passenger-rescue be any more impractical from the tunnels the Matangis currently run through, or from any other underground metro rail system as found all over the world? Are you referring specifically to tunnels that might be flooded? I should mention that Britomart Station in Auckland is some 7m below sea level, effectively in a tunnel.

  11. Kerry, 23. November 2021, 7:50

    Dave B. I know Britomart is below sea level, but that is irrelevant. The figure that matters is the height above maximum sea level of the places where water can enter the underground system. Looking at it the other way around, where in Wellington are the Matangi benefits that outweigh light rail?

  12. John Rankin, 26. November 2021, 19:10

    DaveB: I hope you will be putting in a submission to LGWM. They will almost certainly pick one of these 4 options as the preferred option (perhaps with some minor modifications based on feedback). I suggest you support the option that you consider will best support a future extension of the existing rail network and give an example of how this extension could be effected (as you have done above).

    It seems to me that we aren’t seeing enough joined-up thinking. Planning the future of the existing rail network stops at the railway station. LGWM has been directed to provide an interface at the railway station. Are we planning a rail network that reflects existing organisational structures, rather than the region’s underlying transport needs?

  13. Dave B, 2. December 2021, 17:49

    John Rankin. Yes, I am planning to submit (for the umpteenth time!)


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