Waterfront trams are being tipped as key Auckland tourist attractions, with a possible later benefit for public transport.
Although the Auckland Regional Council has no plans for a modern light rail network to serve commuters, its transport committee voted yesterday to press on with an investigation of potential tram routes through the Tank Farm to Britomart.
A staff feasibility report prepared after an approach by the Campaign for Better Transport and the Museum of Transport and Technology (Motat) said Auckland’s waterfront was a major destination and attraction for residents and visitors alike, and should be enjoyed by as many people as possible.
It suggested that tram routes be developed in stages, starting in Daldy and Jellicoe Sts – which are in the frontline of ambitious land development plans of the regional council and Auckland City.
Electric tram lines along Gaunt and Halsey Sts could later close an initial loop, to be followed by a route wending around the southern and eastern edges of the Viaduct Harbour to Britomart.
Developing a final direct link across the harbour from Quay St to Jellicoe St would have to wait for the proposed $47.3 million Te Wero bridge to be built in 2016.
The transport committee stopped short of adding a Rugby World Cup deadline for developing a partial tram route in Daldy and Jellicoe Sts, which the staff report said would be technically feasible but would carry a “significant risk.”
But regional chairman Mike Lee said that, with his organisation set to be supplanted in 11 months by the new Auckland Council, it was time to redouble efforts “to leave a legacy for the benefit of the people of the region”.
“To some extent we are like a cricket team down to the last 10 overs – we may be near the end of the game but it is time to start the big hitting,” he said.
Council urban development group manager Martin White said the entire network apart from the final Te Wero bridge link could be built for $30.2 million.
That would include $3 million for six “heritage” trams held in storage in Melbourne, similar to most of those used by Motat, which carries almost 200,000 passengers a year on its 1.9km network at Western Springs.
Mr White suggested that the waterfront trams could run every 20 minutes in each direction, using passing loops on a single track around the Tank Farm and duplicate tracks around Quay St and Britomart.
But Mr Lee was unimpressed that the budget estimate included $3.5 million for a “tramshed” to accommodate the fleet.
“I don’t want this to be gold-plated by consultants – that is a ludicrous sum,” he said, suggesting the council take frugality lessons from Motat in developing a tramway.
Finance committee chairman Bill Burrill was a lone dissenter, saying trams were not included in the council’s 10-year financial plan and that three buses could provide an adequate service around the same area for capital spending of less than $3 million.
Mr Lee said a tramway had been a feature of planning for the Tank Farm from the outset, and he couldn’t envisage tourists lining up to be carried by bus around the precinct.
Motat tramway manager Colin Zeff said Christchurch’s heritage tourist trams had done wonders for that city, although they were initially opposed by almost every business owner along their route.
A map is included in the print edition, and I have a rather crude version of that below, with the possible separate stages of the proposal.
I think that the idea in general is a very good one. This part of Auckland will be a very high quality urban development and deserves a primary transportation network that matches its quality – and trams is the obvious one in that respect. It could also be an excellent first step in a larger tram network for Auckland in the future – hopefully up Queen Street then along Dominion Road, as well as a Tamaki Drive line that I think could be really successful. However, I think that the “staging” of the proposal is slightly wrong – in that I think stage one has to link from Britomart station – otherwise I really don’t think it will be of much use to people living and working in the area. I doubt people are likely to pay for a ride on the tram instead of walking 750m if only stage 1 was complete. So perhaps stages 1 and 3 to start with – with stage 4 happening when the the Te Wero bridge is completed, and stage 2 being optional in my opinion.
In any case, the broad idea is a good one and I really hope it happens.