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FIT sees the issues around track gauge as far too costly and technical to be decided—in advance of detailed information—by a debate between groups of non-professionals. It should be an outcome of a full study, not an input, or might even be left to tenderers. In the end, we see it as an economic decision for the investor to make, based on the net present value of future costs and benefits.

FIT considers the following options are viable and there is insufficient information to prefer any one over the others at this stage:

  • standard gauge 1435 mm
  • KiwiRail gauge 1067 mm
  • mixed gauge: 1435 mm and 1067 mm
  • the same gauge as Auckland

For what it’s worth and based on our current knowledge, FIT’s present position on the various options is this:

Standard gauge: 1435 mm.

The usual choice for new light rail systems (see the World System List), widely available and likely to be the best choice if Wellington wants to buy off-the-shelf vehicles with maximum contestability of supply.

KiwiRail gauge: 1067 mm.

The obvious choice for tram-trains in Wellington, but rarely used for light rail. The Trams Action e-magazine (57, August 2015) has an article on narrow-gauge light rail but—surprisingly—gives no specific examples of KiwiRail gauge. Could be sourced as a modified metre-gauge vehicle.

FIT sees these difficulties:

  • Potentially more costly vehicles because standard designs may not cater for an unusual gauge. Such vehicles should not be considered in advance of a decision to use tram-trains on KiwiRail tracks.
  • KiwiRail gauge is satisfactory for vehicles 2.4 m wide but not recommended for vehicles 2.65 m wide, which offer higher capacity for a given length.

See extracts from an email from a Siemens representative, plus a counter-view.

Mixed gauge: 1435 and 1067 mm.

Standard gauge track through the city could be adapted for tram-trains if necessary, by adding a third rail. This is a fairly common light rail practice, and in Wellington it would avoid the cost and risk of accepting KiwiRail gauge and then never adopting tram-trains. Clearly, this would represent a future cost.

The same gauge as Auckland.

Potentially the best choice, and Christchurch might also be interested:

  • Reduced vehicle and equipment costs because of larger orders.
  • Reduced vehicle inventory held for contingencies such as a tram-on-tram collision, because one light rail system could borrow a vehicle or two from another.
Metre gauge (included for completeness).

Supplied by many light rail manufacturers but inadvisable for trams 2.65 m wide, and impracticable for tram-trains in Wellington: rails would be too close together, separated by less than the width of a rail. Need not be considered further.


Extracts from an email from Herr Mathias Hofmann, Product Manager for Siemens LRVs, 7 September 2013 (in response to an enquiry about tram-trains):

Dear Mr. Wood,

Thank you for your inquiry regarding technical features of our Avenio Light Rail Vehicle. I am the Product Manager for LRVs within Siemens and I am pleased to answer…

Knowing that Wellington up to now does not have any LRT in place, I am a bit surprised that it is planned to implement 1067 mm gauge, a gauge which is very rarely used in the light rail sector nowadays… As the selection of 1067 mm gauge for a new system represents a very exceptional case, the number of vehicle suppliers which have a solution available or are willing to develop one will be reduced to only a few — especially when you talk about 5–7 km of line. According to my experience approx. 10–15 vehicles are needed for operation, a number which makes it unattractive to a lot of suppliers to design a special solution for just such a small order size.

Therefore I would definitely recommend to re-consider the gauge and a change to the conventional normal gauge. This would be very beneficial to prevent the technical challenges mentioned above, to avoid the costs for such special solution, and, maybe the most important argument, to attract more potential suppliers and thus improving price competition. Only if you plan to connect with an existing track (as it was the case in Brisbane) the 1067 mm would be a reasonable choice from my point of view. However, this would really be a cost driver and may even make the entire project not viable.

I hope that my answers are helpful for you and the project. In case you have any further need for information, please feel free to contact me.

Best regards,

Matthias Hofmann.
Product Manager Light Rail Vehicles

On the other hand, an email from Tom Matoff to Brent Efford dated 7 October 2016 presents a different view:


If you will forgive a brief intrusion from a friendly foreigner, I can confirm on behalf of one of my firm’s own car engineers, a Swiss formerly employed by Stadler, that as Brent says there is no downside to specifying a 1067mm gauge. The civil and systems work (rails and special work, signals, traction power) are the same, and Light Rail Vehicles simply have minor adjustments to the trucks (bogies) of meter gauge cars, of which there are many in operation. The car bodies themselves are probably identical. There would be no problem soliciting tenders to furnish LRVs at 1067mm gauge from internationally respected car builders.

Tom Matoff
Transportation Planning Director
LTK Engineering Services (USA)

Page last modified 27 February 2018 at 11:36 AM