Wellington Scoop

A win-win case for rapid light rail along the waterfront


by Daryl Cockburn and Neil Douglas
We believe the time for light rail in Wellington is now. It could provide the arterial high capacity, high quality and rapid southern public transport connection that Wellington needs.

Rapid Light Rail appeals to people more than bus and rail transport – this is a continual finding from market research overseas. That’s because the image, status, and higher quality of modern trams gives them the ‘feel-good’ factor, and feeling good about ourselves is a fundamental desire that should be key in planning Wellington’s future transport.

We have developed an alternative waterfront route for rapid light rail in Wellington which is far more cost-effective and can operate at reasonable speed without pedestrian interaction and without construction disrupt costs. With office developments, WestPac stadium and Te Papa all being built since the 1992 study, a light rail route along Jervois Quay is attractive. It would also enable diesel buses to be reduced on Lambton Quay and Willis Street, leaving these streets for pedestrians and cyclists ‘first.’ A win-win.

At $93million, the first stage from the station to the Embassy would be the same price as the divisive Basin Reserve flyover being imposed on Wellington by the Transport Agency. We think Wellingtonians deserve to be given a choice: light rail or the flyover. Our local election candidates should be judged on how they would spend $93million: would they build a concrete flyover or make Wellington the envy of New Zealand with classy light rail.

The city side of the boulevard along Wellington’s waterfront quays from the station to the Embassy is the ideal corridor to introduce rapid light rail, and could be easily extended to the Stadium and CentrePort. A junction on to the main line will enable the existing rail depot facilities to be used. The dilapidated eastern side of the railway station would be revitalised with a new platform & veranda.


A new rapid, high capacity rail service would take 7 minutes from the Embassy to the station – twice the speed of buses. There is only one corner – where Wakefield Street meets Cambridge & Kent Terraces – and only three stations; at Clarries for Lambton Quay (a 200m walk)and Queens Wharf; the back of Civic Square for Willis & Cuba Streets (both 200m); and behind Reading Cinemas for Te Papa (200m )and Courtenay Place, (a 100m walk). The stations will provide easy and quick walks to all Golden Mile destinations. And the pedestrian experience along our nation’s premier retail and business street would be enhanced by the removal of diesel buses.

Three-quarters of our region’s population lives north of the railway station and around 11 million trips per year are made by rail to and from the station. Most of these are to places of work or study within a walking distance of the station. The RLR would not seek to attract these ‘healthy walking’ trips but aim to attract the rail users who transfer to buses, or the car users who currently don’t use public transport because of the ‘steel to rubber wheels transfer penalty’.

The airport at the southern end provides a strategic ultimate destination for the rapid light rail service. The airport is not a major trip generator, but it would be an anchor destination conveying an exotic association for locals and a highly marketable image for visitors. As a strategic transport link, it would help garner national funding support. Airport patronage is forecast to double from 5 to 10 million trips in 2030. The high quality Airport Flyer bus service is highly rated, unsubsidised and clear evidence that people will pay for higher quality. RLR would build on this demand by providing an even higher quality service and a service less subject to unreliable traffic conditions.

Our initial costs, based on official UK Department of Transport figures, place the infrastructure cost at $93million for the three kilometre first stage from the Stadium to the Embassy. Two pairs of rapid light rail vehicles could provide a 10 minute shuttle with the vehicles leased rather than purchased. Our project would be designed to achieve an economic benefit-cost ratio of 1.3 which should justify most of the capital costs to be funded by central government.

Daryl Cockburn is a Wellington architect & town planner. Dr Neil Douglas is a Wellington transport economist who has carried out over 30 transport surveys, including this year when he designed and analysed a large-scale market research study for Sydney Light Rail, involving over 6,000 interviews of bus, rail and LRT users.

Read also
World expert says costs of light rail have been over-stated


  1. Ross Clark, 24. September 2013, 2:46

    “Forward planner on the Livingston New Town project”.

    So were you the person who left it full of roundabouts?!

  2. Daryl Cockburn, 24. September 2013, 11:28

    Yes Ross. We had no choice. It was the 1st Mk4 new town based on 100% car ownership for immigrants, who couldn’t drive, from the Glasgow clearances for its failed Ring Road etc, which I had to watch when I was in charge of its CBD plan-making. That combined 6 year experience taught me a lot about the damage cars do. Livingston built over the belle arable land of the Almond Valley. The 4.5ac cloverleaf interchanges were on a 2x1km grid! Glasgow demolished the homes of 20K people in one year, and took no records of where they went, probably mainly Canada & Oz. I returned and saw our “Thorndon Trench” but not the metro planned, when I had left in 1967, under The Terrace with level access to Lambton Quay. Then at the by-pass Environment Court the judge thought it would be like Tinakori Rd, easy for pedestrians. The Oil Age has damaged our cities. What wasted opportunities

  3. insider, 24. September 2013, 21:12

    @ daryl: I suspect Tony Randle doesn’t need a masters to be able to spot bulls@&t. Your need to parade your qualifications is about as convincing as your costings.

    Remember the yellow hopper buses that used to take a very similar route? The only people who used them were tourists. Wellingtonians wouldn’t ride them, but I’m sure you know best being qualified and all. It’s ironic that we get public transport fanatics bombarding us regularly about how wonderful and convenient it is, then come up with proposals like this that are less convenient in terms of stops and access to places people want to go, and we the plebs are expected to stand by and uncritically cheer.

  4. Daryl Cockburn, 26. September 2013, 11:20

    Insider: Tony’s terms “claiming to be professionals” and “dreamers” promoted a reply. It wasn’t a “parade”.
    The yellow hopper bus route wasn’t conveniently alongside the back of Post Office Square, Civic Square and Readings in both directions. The Q is: would speed near the Golden Mile be more valuable than being actually in it but slow? The rest of the line would be fast past the hospital east and/or south like many LR plans including GenerationZero’s excellent plan.
    Why not sign with your name?

  5. Margaret Tobin, 29. September 2013, 17:02

    Having travelled to Europe twice now I am more convinced than ever Wellington is missing out on useful transport particularly around the city hub. A tram travelling between Courtenay Place and the Westpac stadium would be a winner for people going to any of the stops in between. Going along the waterfront route is good for sightseeing and convenience. Putting our commuter buses along this route as has been proposed would be congestive. Quick, quiet and attractive trams additional to the current buses on Lambton Quay are desirable.
    Over time trams all the way to the airport would be an added bonus. This would provide great extra commuter options and sightseeing for visitors.