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If we start today, Wellington could have a world-class light rail tram service between the Railway Station and the Airport, via the Hospital, by 2030, for an estimated cost as low as $450 million.
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FIT stands for Fair, Intelligent Transport. We are a group of Wellingtonians who want to see a change in transport priorities so the private motor vehicle no longer dominates other transport modes. We want to see a city designed for people, not cars. Our vision for Wellington is a modern, vibrant city which includes:
In collaboration with Generation Zero, we have reviewed the latest business plan for the development of public transport in Wellington.
We consider there are grave deficiencies in the proposals for BRT and the spine study on which it is based. In particular, the underlying assumptions adopted for light rail in the spine study inevitably gave a high-cost, low-benefit option. We believe these assumptions are no longer appropriate.
We believe that the spine study identifies the wrong route for rapid transit from the CBD to Kilbirnie. We also believe that alternative routes exist which avoid the choke point at the Basin Reserve, and that light rail would provide a far more cost-effective solution than the BRT currently proposed. The body of this report presents evidence to support this view.
This report presents options for light rail through central Wellington to Kilbirnie and on to the Airport, together with a supporting bus network. We acknowledge that there are other route options for light rail than those presented here; in particular, we recognise the desirability of operating along the full length of the golden mile. A route via the Basin Reserve would also be feasible.
With the introduction of light rail along one of the identified routes, buses in the central city can be reduced to manageable numbers.
BRT for Wellington will not be rapid and will not meet the minimum internationally adopted standard requirements for a bus system to qualify as BRT. We expect that light rail in Wellington will be cheaper than the street-widening and amenity costs of BRT.
BRT is an effective solution in many cities. The problems in Wellington are:
High capacity also demands frequent buses, which are too easily slowed by delays at traffic signals or bus stops. BRT needs a high priority at traffic signals (or a flyover) and overtaking lanes at stops. BRT can be space-intensive; for example, BRT stops in Brisbane are nearly twice the width of Manners Mall (27m versus 15m).
Peak capacity for light rail running on-street is about 40 trams an hour: lower than for buses because there is rarely space to berth two trams at a stop. Light rail capacity depends on vehicle capacity rather than frequency, carrying around 300–400 people in Wellington. Even a few buses sharing a light rail route will disrupt route capacity, but excluding all buses from the central city may not be possible: Wellington needs a second route for the remaining buses.
Planned, near-seamless transfers at quality interchanges are necessary for light rail in Wellington, and all quality, city-wide systems. Transfers will dramatically reduce bus-kilometres, mainly on the golden mile, allowing more and better services on remaining routes. Good design of interchanges and timetables minimizes transfer times (generally 2–5 minutes),1 making many trips faster overall.
Transfers are a successful and uncontroversial feature of most overseas public transport systems, including those using BRT. The claimed unpopularity of transfers in Wellington is based on unsatisfactory questions posed in the spine study without balancing information. This approach unnecessarily biased respondents against transfers, e.g.
Of course nobody wants transfers if they can avoid them. But no information was given on how the inconvenience can be minimized or mitigated when combined with modern light rail. Respondents will have in their minds the painfully slow and erratic transfers experienced in Wellington.
And, of course, everybody wants faster, cheaper and much more reliable trips anywhere-to-anywhere, but can be put off by biased questions. This bias compromises the validity of the spine study’s conclusions.
This section presents options for light rail from Wellington Railway Station to the Airport, via Wellington Hospital.
Light rail is a form of public transport providing fast, efficient, clean service to people in urban areas. It uses electric vehicles, running on tracks in existing roads, separated from other traffic. It’s designed to carry lots of people, with connections to buses and suburban trains at major interchanges.
French public transport planners have developed what they refer to as The Art of Insertion. The art of inserting light rail into a city like Wellington requires embracing five design principles:
We have identified feasible and affordable options for light rail and a supporting bus network. We are confident that we have workable options, combining buses and light rail, but have not identified a best or preferred option. We propose buses and light rail on fully separated routes, both on or close to the golden mile.
We have identified a single light rail route from the Railway Station to Wellington Hospital, Kilbirnie and Wellington Airport, with options in three places: south of the Railway Station; the Michael Fowler Centre; and Wellington Hospital. Only the last option, 3a or 3b, will materially affect costs. See Light rail route and options.
Summarising the benefits of light rail as suggested here:
The identified route does not run by the Basin Reserve, although it is within the area defined in the N2A study. Recent events suggest difficulties in finding a reserved route, and multi-segment trams can be difficult on large, multi-lane roundabouts. This corridor is more suited to buses, with no particular reason to run a high-capacity route that way.
At the city end, we propose two alternatives; see Inner City Map, options 1a and 1b:
Principal considerations in deciding between options will be vehicle speed, walking distance and passenger numbers walking. Further investigation is needed to determine whether a dedicated light rail route on Lambton Quay south of Panama Street is feasible, as this would require removing buses from this part of Lambton Quay. Such a route would then follow Willeston, Victoria and Wakefield streets to Cuba St (option 2a) or Willeston St to Jervois Quay and Taranaki St (option 2b). We have identified this as a desirable route, but do not have enough information to determine feasibility and cost.
In the southern CBD we propose either a Cuba St route or a faster route via Taranaki St (options 2a and 2b); Wallace St with access to Wellington High School and Massey University; then on to Newtown via John and Riddiford Streets via Wellington Hospital. This route, running west of the Basin Reserve, would be better aligned with the light rail design principles, with more opportunities at the Hospital and through Newtown. The curves in the John St area mean slightly reduced operating speeds.
South of Wellington Hospital we propose a route to Kilbirnie by either Wellington Zoo or Constable Street and Crawford Road (options 3a & 3b). In each case the proposed Kilbirnie interchange is on commercial land at Coutts Street, opposite Bay Road. These options have important cost effects, because of tunnels: option 3a will cost an additional $212 million. This area is discussed further in Indicative costs.
The main advantage of a Constable Street route is cost because it bypasses the longest tunnel. The main disadvantages are loss of patronage in the denser Newtown area, and a more difficult route in Kilbirnie.
For option 3a we propose a single-track tunnel to Kilbirnie. Single track is justified because the heaviest light rail traffic will be in the city centre and a reduced service can be justified south of Wellington Hospital. Tunnel capacity should be at least 12 trams an hour each way, or say 3500 passengers an hour. This is an initial estimate and can probably be increased after timetable modelling. A second tunnel will be needed if capacity is ever reached.
Either option will require a tunnel beneath the airport runway. A single-track tunnel will be satisfactory for option 3b, but option 3a may need a two-way layout. This can be checked using timetable modelling but is assumed at this stage.
Constable Street is not particularly difficult for light rail (eastbound traffic can be diverted by Mein and Coromandel Streets, which is already a rat-run), but Crawford Road presents two challenges:
Buses would fill several essential roles:
These needs will have to be “rationed”, to manage a peak-hour maximum of 60 buses an hour on all routes (for congestion-free running) and the cost of running buses and light rail in competition. Other bus services would terminate at one of the interchanges.
The first light rail line in a new city typically takes 10 years from the go-ahead: the existing bus route will need alterations to boost capacity until light rail can take over.
Light rail costs have fallen in recent years, and last year the International Railway Journal quoted €25–30m per kilometre for a typical line in France: NZ $42–51m/km. Now Besançon, France has opened a new line for €17.5m/km: $30m/km. Using these figures as a guide, we consider the costs set out in Comparative costs of options 3a and 3b are reasonable. We have assumed:
|Railway Station to Hospital|
|3.8km @ $40m/km||$152m||$152m|
|Design & contingency (20%)||$30m||$30m|
|Hospital to Kilbirnie|
|2.3km @ $40m/km via Zoo||$92m||−|
|Single-track tunnel beneath Mt Albert: 720m @ $200k/m||$144m||−|
|2.2km @ $40m/km via Constable St||−||$88m|
|Design & contingency (20%)||$47m||$18m|
|Kilbirnie to Airport|
|2.1km @ $40m/km||$84m||$84m|
|Double track tunnel beneath runway: 250m tunnel @ $300k/m||$75m||−|
|Single track tunnel beneath runway: 250m tunnel @ $200k/m||−||$50m|
|Planning, design & contingency (20%)||$32m||$26m|
This proposal should be relatively inexpensive to build, given good project management and good control of nice-to-have costs:
At this stage tunnelling costs are based on five assumptions:
We acknowledge there are challenges in the Constable St option, but are confident that the engineers could find workable solutions. Clearly, the cost saving would be considerable—enough to fund over 4km of light rail construction, such as a line to Island Bay. A detailed study will be needed to determine which option is best value for money.
We seek support to:
1 2009 Opus survey and 2011 Bus Review (↑)
2 Option Cost Analysis, page 8 (↑)