Some great news today from the Auckland Regional Council:

Trams to make a comeback on Auckland’s streets
Thursday, 3 June 2010, 12:04 pm
Press Release: Auckland Regional Council

All aboard the downtown tram! Trams to make a comeback on Auckland’s streets

Auckland Regional Council (ARC) sees waterfront tramway as part of its legacy to Auckland.

After an absence of more than 50 years electric trams are coming back to Auckland.

The ARC has given its formal support to a heritage tram project along Auckland’s waterfront, to be managed by Sea+City Projects Limited (Sea+City), an ARC Group subsidiary.

The project’s first phase will see heritage trams circuiting the 30 hectare redeveloped Wynyard Quarter linking it with the Britomart Transport Centre.

The proposal was first brought to the ARC’s Transport and Urban Development Committee last year by the Campaign for Better Transport and Auckland’s Museum of Transport and Technology (MOTAT). Feasibility studies have been carried out by the ARC and Sea+City who developed a two phased proposal for the tramway.

Phase one will focus on Wynyard Quarter with a single track loop circuiting Gateway Plaza, Jellicoe Street, Halsey Street, Gaunt Street and Beaumont Street. This is planned to be ready in time for the Rugby World Cup.

Sidings at the western end of Jellicoe Street would house the trams in buildings beside the proposed Silo Park which is being designed to attract people to the western end of Jellicoe Street.

“The return of trams to Auckland’s streets will make a real point of difference for the Wynyard Quarter,” says ARC Chairman, Michael Lee.

“This is a modest beginning, but the longest journey starts with one small step.”

Phase two will see the trams linking to the CBD and connecting with existing public transport at Britomart and on Queen Street.

In approving the project the ARC has recommended Sea+City to work with MOTAT on the technical aspects of tramway construction and management.

John Dalzell, Chief Executive and Project Director for Sea+City, says the concept of running trams around Wynyard Quarter will further activate the area for public use and enjoyment.

The ARC has signalled it would like to see Auckland heritage trams from MOTAT on the waterfront and has also been in discussions with officials of the Victorian government seeking some Melbourne trams on long term loan.

“Auckland’s popular electric trams were removed from the city streets in 1956 which was a terrible mistake in my opinion.”

“The ARC would like to see the return of some of those same trams to Auckland’s waterfront as part of the council’s legacy to the people of Auckland,” says Mr Lee.

No decisions have been made on who will operate the tramway which is being designed as an attraction for the public and visitors to Auckland while providing convenient access around the whole Wynyard Quarter. The tramway will eventually link the future Wynyard Headland Park, North Wharf and the Viaduct Events Centre with Britomart and Queens Wharf.

Here’s where the tram route will go (in red):

As I have outlined before, ideally the line would link into Britomart right from the start – and if it was to do so it would be really really useful to help get workers to the area (which is growing as an area of office developments). However, as the Te Wero Bridge (which is the part of the green line above that goes over the water) is quite a few years away from being constructed to a quality that can handle trams. However, it is a start and the first step in a process of getting trams back to central Auckland is always going to be the hardest step – and it seems that we have now made that difficult first step.

Pretty exciting I reckon.

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  1. While I would love to see trams return to Auckland and actually form a productive part of our PT infrastructure this project just seems like to much of a tourist trap for me, especially until it is linked to Britomart. Even then I can’t see the thousands of people that will be working in the area getting onto a couple of old trams to trundle off to work after having arrived in the city by bus, train or ferry. Also this will help to reinforce the idea in the general public that trams are old technology that belong in a museum rather than a modern form of transport.

    In saying this while it is good to have a step to start from, what I would like to see from some of the politicians is a master plan of the routes they could eventually go down. This would help the public perception that this isn’t just a nostalgia trip by a few people and could also show images of what a modern tram system would look like.

  2. Matt, that’s certainly the plan – but all plans have to start somewhere. I agree it would be useful for some sort of transport plan (there are enough of them out there!) to give some indication of where a future light-rail network would be useful/required. Linking this with Dominion Road and/or Tamaki Drive lines would be a good start!

  3. ” The tramway will eventually link the future Wynyard Headland Park, North Wharf and the Viaduct Events Centre with Britomart and Queens Wharf.”

    Shame they can’t get that going as the first stage, I guess the decision to put off the bridge has killed that for now.

  4. I like trams in Melbourne and light rail in London. I think the Dominion Rd scheme discussed yesterday would make a great tram route. But this proposal just sounds rubbish. Are they trying to hurt the tram brand by associating it with dodgy rattly old vehicles that entertain tourists for a few minutes while they loop around a part of the city that was selected not on the basis of need but because it would be easy to build?

    This is the transport equivalent of the Sydney monorail. Crap! I hope the new council have the good sense to scrap the scheme and concentrate on something that actually forms a part of a coherent transport strategy.

  5. Obi, if this was only ever going to be the extent of the line then I would agree with you. However, in the future there will be an essential need to get people from the CBD into Wynyard Quarter – and doing so via some sort of tram/light-rail system makes good sense.

    All that will be much much easier once this first step has been taken. Once the line is in place, or even while it’s being built, everyone will be discussing how and when it can be extended. Once we get that link over Te Wero Bridge into Britomart then I think the line will be very popular and very useful.

    Wynyard Quarter MUST have a very high PT modeshare, otherwise it simply won’t work (it’s surrounded on three sides by water and on the fourth by essentially a semi-motorway in Fanshawe Street). The road network just doesn’t have much capacity at all for further vehicles, so it needs a high quality transport linkage in the future. This is the first step to that future.

  6. This is fantasic news. Just out of interest, does anybody here have any infomation on the light rail system christine fletcher proposed back in the 90’s? Were there any proposed routes floated?

  7. This is a great step and really will guarantee that Te Wero bridge will have to be designed to carry trams, without this there would always be the risk of cost cutting ending up with a bridge that can only handle buses. In that respect I find this a great proposal. Whenever ths is upgraded to a modern tarm system it would still presumable need to be redone to allow double tracking through this area – unless it’s used as a massive turning circle.

  8. I definitely agree that this is the right direction for Auckland, but a mildly disappointing initial route. The only way it will get any commuters is if they run at a fairly high frequency (at least one every 5 minutes), and are either separated from the general traffic, or have right of way over cars. Ohterwise it would be quicker to walk, and would only attract tourists until the Britomart link is built.

    I agree with using the old trams for the moment: it is far cheaper, and I cant imagine tourists really flocking to a modern tram as a destination… our trams are definitely old enough that their age is a positive aesthetically, rather than a negative as if they were ‘1970s old’- I think they could add character to the area.

    Does anyone have any idea how much it costs to run something like this? I was surprised to find out a couple of months ago that a fare on the Motat tram is only $1 for the general public… I wonder how much of a subsidy it receives.

  9. This is terrific news. From small beginnings great plans can be developed. All PT supporters please get in and support this project. The 30 year wait is over from when light rail/trams first began to be discussed for re-introduction. Well done Mike Lee.

    It would be great to now see some of the big ideas from some of those who think the tram plans should be bigger and bolder. The brain-storming around the Dominion Road busway over the last day or two is inspiring. There will be many more clever ideas and customised solutions needed to help this tramway make those next steps.

    I am punting for a Ponsonby extension as the first priority next step after the link across Te Wero Bridge to Britomart has been completed. Yes its touristy, but it will also help begin transforming the vibrancy and atmosphere of Central Auckland. If the service is operated correctly and at the right ticket price a Ponsonby tram will also begin tying the CBD back together with its inner suburbs. This will begin repairing the damage done to the heart of Auckland when the motorway system and spaghetti junction isolated the CBD all those years ago. If pitched the right way I can really see the Ponsonby community pushing for this to happen asap, ditto Parnell.

    So guys – what route should the tram take to Ponsonby and how should it branch off from the Wynyard Quarter?

  10. I didn’t really emphasise in my last comment that this is incredibly good news! I can see todays historic decision hopefully having a massive long term effect on how Aucklanders get around, and enjoy their city. Trams are far superior to buses and this first step should secure them as a big part of Aucklands future. Massive thanks to Mike Lee and the ARC for their vision.

    I just hope that the world has learnt from their mid 20th century mistake, and are all the wiser now as to the consequences of effectively forcing people away from PT by ripping up tracks and cutting funding. One of my biggest fears is going down a path like that again in the future, and all this great work being undone.

  11. @Steve

    From memory, the Fletcher led council proposed light rail, rather than trams.

    It was tied up with the revised Britomart plan and the route – as I hazily recall – would have seen it come out from the Britomart staion, up Queen Street, left at Wellesley, across Grafton Gully (using a new bridge) *under* the hospital and then connect with the Western Line at Boston Street / Park Road.

    Effectively, it would have created a great little central line for us. But then we had Banks, yelling about the ‘great white elephant at the bottom of Queen Street’, the return of the usual stuffed C&R shirts and…well…you probably know the rest…

  12. Ironic that Going Solar, the Melbourne based weekly Transport newsletter included several “headlines that you won’t see this week”. When I saw this article about trams returning in Auckland, I assumed it was a similar joke!
    This is a small start, but could be the start of something great.
    I still think that Queen Street would benefit from a “historic” tram. Remove all traffic from Queen St except a tram running from Ferry Terminal to Town Hall, that just goes back and forth, frequently, possibly even free so it could be hop on and hop off. The tourists would love it, and the numbers of people it would shift around the CBD would be massive. Queen St could be the envy of other cities.

  13. Al, after the line links to Britomart, Queen St is an obvious future step, as is running it next to Beaumont St, up College Hill to Ponsonby. That’s the beauty of this project, it puts the trams in the CBD. Everyone will then be interested in where to extend the line.

  14. Admin… You’ve written hundreds of posts here describing novel (and generally useful) public transport schemes. As far as I recall, you’ve never sat down and proposed a loop around Wynyard using trams that have been salvaged from the scrap yard. Either you have missed the most pressing need for Auckland transport, or this is an odd scheme that has come out of left field and is being promoted for reasons that don’t make a lot of sense.

    Also… A lot of official transport plans have been around for years (sometimes tens of years) while they wait for funding or full scale development. The CBD tunnel and rail to the airport spring to mind. But I’ve never heard of any plan to run worn out trams in a useless loop around Wynyard that might be extended to Britomart in the future. Aren’t you a bit suspicious that a scheme that no one has ever heard of and no one has ever identified a need for is suddenly approved?

    The fact that MOTAT are behind the scheme and that it needs to be ready for the RWC should tip you off that this is entertainment, not transport.

    (Oh, and about the “hundreds of posts”… thanks! I really don’t know how you do it.)

  15. Obi, I have actually written a few posts about trams before, including posts about linking them in with Wynyard Quarter. As I have said before, if this current loop is all that we ever get, then I agree it’s a pretty hopeless transport outcome. However, I see it (as does Mike Lee) as a first step towards a modern light-rail/tram system in Auckland.

    Trams will attract a mix of tourists and commuters (once linked to Britomart, I agree it’s just tourists until then) but that’s a good thing and helps its viability. If we want the next step to also be focused on tourists, maybe we extend to Ponsonby or along Tamaki Drive. If we want the next step to be commuter focused, then maybe up Queen St and along Dominion Rd.

    The point is that the first step is the hardest, but we have now taken it (even if it is just a little step).

  16. David… Thanks for the links. I’d missed those completely. One of them talks about “heritage” trams (which is code for “trams salvaged from museums”) while the other talks about a modern system. To me that suggests that ARC hasn’t thought this out well. It apparently needs to be running by next year for the RWC, which is strange because there is nothing out there that would attract rugby fans. In fact I don’t see any justification for the scheduling… I work at Air NZ every so often and all I can see nearby is light industry, chandlers shops, and tanks. Is there a pressing need for rugby fans to be able to purchase yacht supplies?

    Auckland risks seeing trams as a quaint tourist gimmick rather than as a modern form of public transport. It risks putting in place infrastructure that is designed to support vintage trams rather than modern light rail. This will be standards setting, especially if it is extended. In which case the standards (gauge, electricity supply, and signaling, and intersection control) should be modern ones.

    As for what I would do? I’d wait until there was actually a need to take large numbers of people to the Quarter. In the mean time, have people hop off a bus at Fanshawe St and walk. Then I’d plan to run modern trams up Queen St and Dominion Rd, because that does make sense to me.

    1. I agree to some extent, Obi. Cities around the world are littered with projects that are pushed through before world cups or olympics and never go beyond that. But the points admin makes have some validity so I can only hope my pessimism is unrealistic. It reminds me of the tram project in Christchurch which always seemed like a tourist doddle to me. Anyone know how that has panned out over the last few years? Is it integrated with other transport?

  17. “: Steve
    June 3rd, 2010 at 11:13 pm · Reply

    This is fantasic news. Just out of interest, does anybody here have any infomation on the light rail system christine fletcher proposed back in the 90’s? Were there any proposed routes floated?”

    The light rail system had quite lofty goals. Initially it involved converting the three existing heavy rail lines to take trams (aka ‘light rail’), and running a city line between the location of Britomart and the western line in the vicinity of the Dominion Rd overbridge (i.e. a street level version of the CBD tunnel).

    The northern busway was originally planned for a’light rail’ tramway, and the Central Connector throught the universities/Grafton and Dominion Rd were for tram routes. After the light rail scheme faltered these three corridors were reallocated for buses, the first two being in use today and the third soon to be started.

    Other proposed extensions were an Airport Line, a Howick-Botany Line, an upper harbour line, a line along the Northwestern Motorway, the Avondale-Southdown corridor and a route from the busway corridor to Devonport via Takapuna.

    In short the goal of the light rail project was to build/convert every proposed ‘rapid transit network’ line that is currently on the regional transport plan as a route for tram vehicles (they have been there for about two decades) and a fair few of the ‘quality transit network’ lines too.

    At home in the attic I have a copy of the 1996 regional land transport strategy that outlines it all, I should try and scan the map of the light rail network, it is enought to make you cry to think we came close to getting all that!

    By the way Richard C, in the Auckland context ‘light rail’ simply refers to modern trams that mostly run on off-street tracks (but can also run on street where suitable). Technically there isn’t any difference between a ‘tram’ and ‘light rail vehicle’, they are two names for slightly different applications of the same technology. I think they liked to use the term ‘light rail’ because it distanced the project from old perceptions of rattly wooden things stuck in traffic in the middle of the road.

  18. Nick: “it involved converting the three existing heavy rail lines to take trams”

    Presumably they wanted to run light rail and heavy freight rail on the same lines. That doesn’t sound very safe. I thought best practice was to keep the two separate.

  19. “But then we had Banks, yelling about the ‘great white elephant at the bottom of Queen Street’, the return of the usual stuffed C&R shirts and…well…you probably know the rest…”

    Yes indeed, I remember it well – and in the end against the odds Britomart *did* get completed, by which time Mayor Banks was happy to show up for the grand opening and get his name on the plaque. Sigh.

    I can also just remember when the ‘light rail’ project for Auckland was in play in Auckland politics, to the point where it even earnt a mention on Shortland Street – not that this did the proposal any good in the long run…

    I’m not sure about the merits of a vintage mini-tramway for the world cup. But I suppose that, being elderly Australian survivors, the vintage trams will at least make for a consistent theme with Auckland’s creaky ADL and ADK railcars…

  20. This has to be the most stupid money wasting idea that the ARC have ever dreamed up.

    I sincerely hope that Lee and any of the current ARC don’t get onto the Auckland Council!

  21. Hopefully this will put pressure on to get Sea and City and the Te Wero bridge started pronto..!

  22. Obi, yes that was one reason why the scheme started to fall apart, they needed to keep the existing lines for freight and couldn’t really mix trams and freight trains on the same track. They eventually decided to go with heavy passenger rail on the southern and eastern lines, and convert the western line to light rail (via the Queen St tramway). This second concept fell through over issues with making the western inaccessible to freight, then the whole lot imploded politically and we ended up with the heavy rail and busway option we have today.

    Thats why Briomart ended up the way it is now, somewhat choked capacity wise with some funny stub tunnels and the ‘light rail ramps’. They only intended to have two lines of heavy rail traffic, the rest was to be with ‘light rail’ at street level.

    I’d like to see parts of the scheme revised as the middle tier on the PT system, i.e. keep the RTNs as heavy rail with the CBD rail tunnel, but still build the Queen St light rail spine, the Dominion Rd line and various other extensions to fill in the gaps between the core heavy rail network.

  23. I agree with admin and a few others that although it is small, its a start, and its better than nothing. I very much doubt that any council or government will just come out and say they have half a billion dollars for a comprehensive tram system for the entirety of Auckland, to be built from scratch, or even a full line down dominion rd. Thats quite a risk. No councils or governments like taking big gambles like that. Especially when its something, that , if it fails has to be ripped up so visibly.

    The only way it will happen is if we start small, and add a little more to britomart, and then in a few years, add another km or so to the town hall, and gradually inch forward. Once we have a ‘full’ line, i.e. britomart to parnell, or something, then a the council might have the gumption to build another full line. But I think its going to be a slow start followed by a quickening pace of tram line development.

    Here is an article today mentioning trams to go from wynard to the strand. Its not a firm plan or even likely to happen (I thought the convention centre was going at Wynard?/) but it shows that once you have a small start how the trams could grow along with various development plans in the city.

  24. Saljen, that article shows the whole point of the project in many ways actually. What is it, one day announced and already different groups are talking about how the line could be extended, and are excited about the prospect.

  25. @Richard C – a tram is merely another name for light rail, which is also called a street car in the US.

  26. “Yes indeed, I remember it well – and in the end against the odds Britomart *did* get completed, by which time Mayor Banks was happy to show up for the grand opening and get his name on the plaque. Sigh.”

    It was not against the odds at all, from what I understand the contract that Christine Fletcher signed off on, on one of her last days in office had an exit clause which meant cancelling the project was going to cost more than going ahead. I remember Banks’ first words when winning were that he was going to look immediately at how to cancel Britomart.

  27. I don’t understand why it has to be a “loop”…of course the major question is>

    what is there..yachting supply shops? seems a bizarre decision.

    surely a good tram route to start would be from britomart..along tamaki drive to mission bay…or how about a “star” network..that means a quick tram ride to ponsonbyfrom either upper queen (eg krd)..and of course a tram from eden park to the city.

    don’t mean to be all negative here..but why not start with a route that is practical.
    parnell is another good choice…via uni and domain…heck lots of cool possible routes.
    if people want a tramride for tourist purposes, they can already do that at motat?

    all I know is when my parents went to germany they said it was almost impossible to drive into the middle of town from any direction only some very limited routes. the networks designed so people can park their car and take a tram into downtown…I can’t remember the exact city names..zurich/munich/hannover…

    why not do this in auckland? if it clogs up innner city streets..well..all more reason to take the train

  28. I’m always round the tank farm area to go to marine shops and bus there wherever possible, now I’ll be able to have do a quick circuit on the tram while I’m there.

  29. Jonathon, the point is they are about to start developing the Wynyard wharf area into a whole new precinct of the CBD, so this is one idea to get people to go there. Yes the route was originally intended to start at Britomart, but they have delayed the necessary viaduct harbour bridge until 2016 so unfortunately that won’t happen just yet… so it has to be just a tourist attraction for the next few years.

  30. “Presumably they wanted to run light rail and heavy freight rail on the same lines. That doesn’t sound very safe. I thought best practice was to keep the two separate.”

    I disagree. I wrote my thesis on this – German research (and practical experience in Karlsruhe over decades of operation) shows that done right, there is no real safety loss at all. Basically, by the time you have an actual crash, so many other things have to already have gone wrong that do NOT depend on the “tram or heavy rail” vehicle question that the minor issue of the trams having a less solid body does not really reduce the safety to a serious degree. Also trams can brake much quicker than heavy rail vehicles, so in certain situations safety is actually increased.

    As for the Tank Farm loop – I am sadly in agreement with Obi. This is a tourist trap that will leave tourists very disappointed, to boot. Not much to see out there, unless you are interested in industrial wastelands. With Jarbury’s green line in the original map, it’s a great idea. Without, it is a waste of money, which will decrease the likelihood of light rail for Auckland, not increase it.

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