A final decision on the future Wellington’s PT Spine has finally been made and it’s one that might upset a few people.

Faster, bigger buses have been officially chosen as the future of public transport in Wellington, snuffing out any chance of having light rail in the capital for the foreseeable future.

The Regional Transport Committee – a collective of Wellington’s mayors and the NZ Transport Agency – voted today to push ahead with plans to build a $268 million bus rapid transit network between the Wellington CBD and southern suburbs.

Detailed plans are yet to be drawn up, but it will involve hi-tech articulated or double-decker buses running along a dedicated busway between Wellington Railway Station and the suburbs of Newtown and Kilbirnie.

The route forms the southern part of Wellington’s public transport “spine”.

Today’s decision brings down the curtain on the Wellington Public Transport Spine Study, which began in 2011.

The Spine Study had looked at a number of different options for improving PT in Wellington from simple bus lanes all the way up to extending the existing heavy rail network through the CBD and beyond. The options were narrowed down to three:

  • Bus priority – $59 million, which involves more peak period bus lanes and priority traffic signals for buses, along the Golden Mile and Kent Terrace, through the Basin Reserve and along Adelaide Road to Newtown and through the Hataitai bus tunnel to Kilbirnie.
  • Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) – $209 million, which involves a dedicated busway, for modern, higher capacity buses separated from other traffic as much as possible, along the Golden Mile and Kent/Cambridge Terrace then around the Basin Reserve and along Adelaide Road to Newtown and through the (duplicated) Mt Victoria tunnel to Kilbirnie.
  • Light Rail Transit (LRT) – $940 million, which involves new tram vehicles running on dedicated tracks along the Golden Mile, Kent and Cambridge Terraces then around the Basin Reserve along Adelaide Road to Newtown and through a separate Mt Victoria tunnel to Kilbirnie

Spine Study Route Alignments

One of the big problems with the spine study is it made some odd assumptions like that light rail would require its own dedicated new tunnel under Mt Victoria while BRT wouldn’t, instead using a second Mt Victoria tunnel the NZTA plan to build as part of the RoNS work.

However even putting that aside I do feel that the BRT option is probably the right one. One of the reasons for that is that the BRT option wouldn’t just benefit the dedicated buses that might run on routes above but that other buses from the wider area would also benefit. This is as what we currently see in Auckland on the Northern Busway where the Northern Express services only run on the busway route however a large number of other bus routes like the popular 881 use the busway for part of their journey. This appears to have been a key factor in the decision.

Committee chairwoman Fran Wilde said the ability of rapid transit buses to go beyond the dedicated spine and continue to suburbs like Island Bay and Karori made it a winner.

“With some of the bus technology that’s now on the books, the difference between what people consider light rail and bus rapid transit to be is getting smaller and smaller.”

Building a light rail network through the middle of Wellington would have also caused severe disruption to those living and working in the city for a number of years, she said.

Wellington mayor Celia Wade-Brown, who was first elected in 2010 on the back of campaign promises to push for light rail, said today she had also been swayed by the ability of buses to go further than trams.

She welcomed the decision to proceed but cautioned that Wellington’s topography and road layout would make it impossible to build the type of busways seen oversees, which were generally isolated from all other traffic by concrete barriers.

“This is not going to be the highest quality bus rapid transit network in the known universe because that just wouldn’t work.”

Ms Wade-Brown said all options had been thoroughly considered as part of the spine study. The $380m cost of a rail tunnel was not the critical element holding back light rail, she said.

There are a couple of key comments in here that are worth expanding on. As Fran Wilde notes the differences between buses and light rail are getting smaller and smaller and that is likely to continue. Wellington already has some trolley buses however with other electric bus options being developed it doesn’t have to mean that BRT is any worse environmentally than light rail. Even more traditional looking diesel buses don’t seem to have been a problem in attracting passengers for Northern Busway services.

The other key comment is from Celia Wade-Brown where she says that Wellington won’t have the highest quality fully separated BRT. The reality is that any light rail system would suffer exactly the same constraints as the bus option.  Even so I’m sure they will be able to significantly improve bus priority along the route. This is also recognised in the spine study in that the estimated travel times for both BRT and LRT come out almost identical. 

In addition to all of this another advantage of the BRT option is simply that it can be built over time and in doing so each section can provide immediate benefits to existing services. Under a light rail scheme it isn’t until an entire route is really in place that the infrastructure becomes usable. That staging ability combined with the fact that buses from outside of the immediate area of the spine can also benefit from the infrastructure then I think it becomes quite clear that the BRT option was the better one.

But all of this doesn’t mean that light rail couldn’t happen at some point in the future, in fact most of the works needed to secure the right of way to implement a BRT system would also apply to a LRT system so that work would already have been done and it would just come down to the cost of laying tracks. BRT could be seen as means of building patronage numbers faster than possible otherwise which might help better justify light rail in the future. For those pushing for light rail it could be a case where sometimes the best way to achieve your goal is not always to go straight to the final solution.

Now that a final decision has been made hopefully those supporting PT in Wellington will focus on pushing to get the BRT infrastructure needed in place as soon as possible.

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  1. All projections suggest declining PT patronage in Wellington in the future because of idiotic RoNS project and little growth.

    It might be a struggle to even justify the BRT option economically.

    1. Congratulations to the Regional Council, they are not plunging us Wellington ratepayers into more debt!
      This is little more than the status quo dressed up as a BRT. We’ll get a few more bus lanes, a couple more “B” traffic lights, and a botched transport “hub” system. Ask any commuter if they like the idea of “transfers”. Ugh, it’s just a money saving technique for the operators.

      Don’t ya just love the way it is “greened up” with the prospect of electric traction. Get real, to achieve the “R” in BRT will require diesel end of story.

  2. As much as I have loved using LRT and trams in Prague and Melbourne, I have to agree that BRT is the way forward. I am a much bigger fan of it after seeing what can be achieved in Brisbane. The BRT system there is really comprehensive and works very well. It is basically rubber wheeled trams.

    The good thing is that when the capacity gets overloaded and the cars start to thin, you can always put in rails and start LRT on the same route (assuming like the Northern Busway it is graded for LRT). The important thing is to get the separate ROW.

  3. It’s probably the best option, given that no-one’s prepared to pay for a heavy rail extension. Calling the proposal “BRT” is a stretch, but it’s considerably better bus priority than what’s existing.

    Even if LRT were the same price, it still has the big disadvantage of needing transfers. There’s no one overwhelmingly popular route, since south Wellington is pretty much just uniform lowish-density housing down a bunch of valleys. Combining separate branch routes into a high-frequency spine has been Wellington’s successful strategy until now and it’s still the best option. So: buses. Trolleys, for preference. Just needs more priority over cars and trucks and bikes (and sadly, perhaps, pedestrians).

    1. Electric buses, preferably..whether trolleys or battery powered with intermittent electric charging.. plenty of fossil fuel free options.

  4. I hope that when Wellington dumps their wonderful (old?) buses that they give them to Auckland to replace some of the clapped out old crates that are plying the Auckland routes. Particularly Howick, Birkenhead and Waiheke Island services. In fact especially Waiheke where the buses are downright dangerous.

  5. Does anyone else here remember how the ARC opted for a rapid bus option in the late 1980’s only to have it peer reviewed in the infamous Stewart Joy report which claimed they had over-estimated costs for light rail and that LRT could use the same tracks as heavy rail. So for about a decade nothing at all happened as enthusiasts and pragmatists argued. I hope Wellington doesn’t have too many LRT enthusiasts so they can get on with things.

    1. We have lots of Light Rail fans down here in Wellington and the constant promotion has led to no investment in the bus service . . . to the extent that patronage has declined back to 2008 levels. Of course, with the highest %Green vote in the country this is to be expected that Wellington will have large numbers stopping the good solution so we can get the “perfect solution” 🙁 The price for living in the capital I guess.

      As for “getting on with things”, I hold little hope of that as the huge bills for the previous rail upgrades are arriving (and the GWRC is promoting $49M of further rail investment) so, in practice, there will not be any local money left for BRT in Wellington.

      1. What a shame. You can usually pick them from the crazed look they get talking about light rail in some city they lived in once (where LRT was usually heavily subsidised directly by taxpayers or indirectly by spending too little on other PT). Some systems have been successful but many have been mistakes. Even the Docklands LR was a mistake despite high patronage. I worked with the people who recommended it, they told me it was intended to serve a residential development, but when Thatcher removed the planning rules it was too late to change to an extension of the Tube. Eventually it required the Jubilee Line Extension and Limehouse link to make the place work.

        1. John – what is also making the Docklands Light Rail work well is London City Airport – over half of whose users, use public transport to get to and from there – and the southern connection across to Woolwich will connect into CrossRail.

  6. Looking at the map, why would you run bus services through both the Mt Vic tunnel and the funny old bus tunnel? They both follow essentially the same route. The duplication doesn’t add much to the catchment area for buses. I would have thought it’d be better to consolidate on one or the other and run services more frequently, rather than splitting the same buses across two parallel routes.

    Being single lane, the old bus tunnel isn’t really suitable for any sort of rapid network. If you closed it for buses and blocked it off enough to stop cars using it as an illegal rat run, then it’d make a nice bicycle and pedestrian alternative to the Mt Vic tunnel.

    1. Those are the options Obi, they are only doing one of the three. Presumably some services will still use the old tunnel, but I assume the bulk will be on the new one.

    2. The bus tunnel is also fairly congested during peak hour. I saw four buses queuing up at the tunnel last time.

    3. That “funny old bus tunnel” carries more passengers in the morning peak than Adelaide Road. It is part of a congestion free corridor that bypasses the state highway through Mt Victoria. Thanks to it being bus only, there is only local traffic using the roads on each side leaving the way free for buses.

      The proposed BRT route using the duplicated via Mt Vic tunnel doesn’t have dedicated lanes proposed through the tunnel. So the buses would be mixed in with general traffic on a route that is 600m longer than via the old bus tunnel.

      Factor in induced traffic on the duplicated Mt Vic tunnel and buses would end up being slowed down unless you want to argue that the duplicated Mt Vic tunnel will be congestion free for ever more.

      At least the LRT option had a dedicated tunnel than wouldn’t get congested as it wasn’t shared with cars. But why build a new LRT tunnel when there is already an old LRT tunnel built over 100 years ago currently being used by buses? This old single track tunnel would be more than adequate for high capacity trams operating every 5 minutes.

  7. I’m disappointed that buses were chosen over light rail. What we must now do is fully investigate the bus system.
    Why, for example, must we have buses follow the current Lambton-Willis-Manners-Courtenay route? It would be much better to route them down the Quays on the waterfront (only 1-3 blocks from the current route). That would allow the Golden Mile to become pedestrian/cycle only and much more pleasant in general. Furthermore the route along the Quays has a lot more space and would allow the buses to have their segregated space and not be mixing with pedestrians, cars and cyclists. The central city would be safer, more pleasant and much more liveable!

    1. I actually agree with this. Insisting that buses go down Lambton, Willis and Courtenay is artificially restricting road capacity and causing congestion. And with the ridiculous trolley buses, well, one break down and everything clogs up in about a minute.

      1. I disagree with this. It’s not public transport that restrict road capacity there, it’s cars. Buses bring far more people into that area of the city. Bringing buses down Willis and Lambton puts the whole cbd – including the Terrace – within easy walking distance of bus commuters. Shifting public transport out to the Quays makes that very much less attractive, which could easily brings bad results if not handled very very carefully.

        You could easily make Lambton more pedestrian / cycle friendly by banning private cars, and turning an extra lane or two of Lambton into pedestrian / bike space, if that’s the aim. Though it sounds like Sigmund’s preference is increasing road space for cars.

        1. Wrong. I’d remove cars from Lambton altogether. And buses. Pedestrians sharing space with an ever-increasing number of buses is never going to work/end well – particularly given the frequency of bus v pedestrian calamities in central Wellington. the cars have Featherston – either move buses to there and remove cars or shift the buses over to the quays altogether.

  8. Wellington needs a CRL! It has a rail system which currently disgorges 15,000 people/day at the northern edge of the CBD, regardless of whether this is anywhere near their desired destination or not. However it seems Wgtn is to get a $268m bus rapid transit “system” from the city to Kilbirnie. And this is additional to the $2.4bn Levin-Airport motorway being promised.

    None of this will fix the main deficiency that the arterial regional rail system (which was seriously proposed for extension in the 1960′s) fails to serve the corridor of recognised demand from Ngauranga to the Airport. OK, an improved bus/rail interchange may help, but it still makes no sense to impose a disruptive interchange on the arterial flow. (Consider the lengths roading advocates go to to avoid such discontinuities for major traffic flows!). It also fails to address the perennial issue of conflict between pedestrians and buses through the CBD, resulting in a poor compromise for both.
    If $268m + $2.4bn could be re-directed to rail investment, it would buy a very decent extension of services to where the potential demand is. Unfortunately the vision of how this could utterly transform travel patterns throughout the whole Wellington region is lost on most people, particularly politicians. No serious investigation has been done as to feasibility, options, costings or cost-benefits. The so-called analysis by the Public Transport Spine Study was hopelessly defective but nobody with any clout appeared to scrutinise it..

    Auckland’s CRL will set the standard of what can be achieved with this sort of rail development. My hope is that somehow this $2.668bn of misdirected investment for Wellington will be delayed and stalled long enough for the penny to drop that what is good for Auckland is also good for Wellington.

    1. A couple of problems I see with that idea:

      1. Auckland’s CBD is on a slope, which means the Auckland tunnel is cut and cover for only a short distance and can then be bored. It also has a good straight route for a tunnel. Wellington’s route would have to run under a large number of existing buildings. Which means either demolishing them, building a cut and cover tunnel, then building over top of the tunnel. Or getting dispensation to bore under buildings, then going really deep.

      2. You’ve built a tunnel from the current railway station through to the far side of Mt Vic and/or the Basin. Then you either keep tunneling, or you have to cut a swath through the suburbs. Or if you terminate the service elsewhere in the CBD, then you need to build a vast terminus railway station in a dense part of the city. None of these options are good ones.

      1. Easiest way through to at least Civic square is at-grade (or slightly below if possible) along Waterloo+Jervois Quays, then cover over to develop the airspace as a linear park and turn the former road-route into a peaceful boulevard as has long been promised. This would greatly enhance city-to-sea connectivity which the present arterial road ruins. Civic Sq station could be covered but with open sides and incorporated into a much better elevated connection between Civ Sq and Waterfront than the present one. All things that have been expressed as desirable in many past plans. And a cheap “tunnel-without digging” option that no-one has remotely considered.

        And incidentally, a 1Km “stage 1” extension to a 2-track station at Civic Sq with a crossover before the platform could be a working entity, handling up to 20 tph!!! This in itself would be a huge benefit to the city, in bringing a further 1Km of the CBD within reach of rail.

        Beyond Civic Sq, things would get more complicated but if the alignment then followed Taranaki St it would soon meet rising ground which could be tunnelled. A second station would be under the intersection Taranaki/Courtenay Pl.

        Far fetched as this may sound, it is important to keep in mind the lengths roading designers will go to, to realise their schemes. Currently $88m is being spent on a 300m cut-and-cover trench to bury SH1 past the War Memorial. This is primarily so that John Key can get a photo-op on Anzac Day 2015. This scheme is separate from the controversial Basin Flyover and appeared out-of-nowehere a year or two ago, complete with funding. The actual traffic benefits achieved are close on zero as it grade-separates only one minor intersection. So why shouldn’t rail press for this sort of largesse (and deliver far more benefit)?

      2. Real problems are population and growth. It’s been hard enough to get the CRL accepted for a booming city of 1.4mil.

        Next issue is the absence of a such an obvious gap in the network. Yes the WGTN Terminus terminates too soon, is premature if you like, but unlike the situation in AKL where there is a clear missing link only 3.5 km long that by being fixed will transform the capacity and frequency of the whole existing network, all WGTN can get is a better spread of stations, but still a dead end. A double track loop I guess is the answer; but how much would that cost, especially all the way out to the airport?

        We will still have transfers at a number of key stations, especially Newmarket, Newton, Britomart… transferring to proper BRT at WGTN station will be pretty good so long as they build it right and run it at sufficient frequency and with a new electric fleet.

        I repeat: A real ‘train-like’ ROW, high freq., and new electric units- I’ll be on it.

      3. Hate to stand accused of shadenfreude here, but it is a little interesting to see how Wellington is being f**ked over by your politicans (local and national).

        Considering how much short changing has gone on in the past 100+ years of other cities in NZ – in favour of Wellington wanted “gold plated” solutions, the fact that this time Wellington City is playing second fiddle for once to other areas and having to accept a less than ideal transport solution is just.

      4. “Wellington’s route would have to run under a large number of existing buildings. Which means either demolishing them, building a cut and cover tunnel, then building over top of the tunnel. Or getting dispensation to bore under buildings, then going really deep.” I am fairly sure there would be a queue of building owners keen to sell up before they are required to demolish or strengthen. You just have to get past the heritage people

  9. Refer here for more comment:

    A number of other things to remember here. First, from the regional catchment to the CBD:

    * While the main railway station isn’t that well-located, it still has about two-thirds of the CBD’s jobs within a ten-minute walk, beyond which the distance does become something of an impedance to using public transport. The areas beyond that ten-minute radius tend to be less concentrated for employment.

    * Also, the Wellington CBD has 70-75 percent of the jobs in the city proper. This is a significant contrast with Auckland, where the CBD has about 40 percent (?) of the jobs in the Isthmus proper.

    * The use of buses from the current railway station is about 15-17 percent of the main railway station load; about 1.7m trips on my sums, but about 70 percent of that is actually to within the CBD. The extent of through-trips (rail to beyond the CBD) is about half a million trips per year; this is critical for understanding why the apparent absence of a public transport ‘spine’ may not matter quite as much as people think. (Because demand from Ngauranga to the Airport is far less peaked than normal commuter demand, the scope for public transport to capture more than a small share of this market is actually limited).

    * The main ‘cheap fix’ would be to provide a free direct bus from the station to about Taranaki Street and/or Courtenay Place – free’s always good – to encourage the use of rail for people who live in the railway catchment but work in the farther reaches of the CBD.

    Second, from the city proper to the CBD, which would be the main justification for light rail. BRT and LRT would do fairly well at shifting car *passengers* across to public transport, but you would probably need light rail to convert car *drivers*.

    * That said, any investment in light rail would be next to wasted if at the same time the city continued to allow the provision of some 30,000 commuter car parks in the CBD (for some 26,000 or so cars). Frankly, the city is showing absolutely no willingness to do this (sorry for harping on here, but if parking is provided people will use it, no matter how good your competing public transport services). This is the issue the Council refuses to address.

    * That also means that if parking was constrained, more people would use buses – but the buses would work better than they do now, because a bus is a far more efficient use of road space than a car. LRT is somewhat better again, admittedly.

    Conclusion? I think the real reason why the light rail proposal was allowed to ‘die on the table’ was that the Council got spooked at both the cost and the complete unwillingness of the Feds to pay for it. Even the LRT version that Generation Zero were promoting was still being costed at $400m minimum, and I am all too aware of what happens with big public transport schemes which go far over time and beyond budget (see ‘Edinburgh Trams Fiasco’ on youtube for a laugh-till-you-cry sendup of the problems: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7yOqU4-zE5w)

  10. It is a pity that a full rail connection between Wellington Airport and Palmerston North Airport was not given equal evaluation. The benefits of such a connection would spread wider than the lower speed connections proposed.

    Light rail through Wellington with a connection to a Palmerston North train and bus connection to the Palmerston North Airport would not provide the convenience of a direct airport terminal to airport terminal rail connection.

    Why does this rail connection need to be made?

    Wellington Airport closes for several days most years due to fog/high winds. Usually Palmerston North airport is open during these times. A full national transport system would use this fact with a direct rail connection. A through-Wellington route by rail would provide a faster connection between Thorndon and the airport than any other connection, including Ministerial limousine with police escort. Opening the line would give any politician a wonderful bit of publicity.

    Ok why else would you build it other than preventing a few hundred people having enforced sitting periods at Wellington Airport and preventing politicians getting home quick on the weekend?

    1. It would need to be a regular, electric service between Wellington and Palmerston North. Such a regular rail connection between the two major urban areas in a region is typical in the developed world. The connection would be a useful asset and would reduce the need for the Transmission Gully motorway roller-coaster. Money for the Transmission Gully project would be better used on the airport-airport connection.

    2. The connection would need a couple of stations on the route between the existing Wellington Station and a terminal station at the Airport to be useful to a significant portion of the Wellington public. Courtenay Place and Haitaitai would be logical locations .Putting a regular high-speed public transport link on this route would be best utilised by bus services feeding the stations on the line. Looking at the locations it is apparent that at least some bus routes possible would be clear of many of the road bottle-necks currently seen as a congestion problem in Wellington’s Eastern Suburbs.

    3. A rail connection would be fast. Airlines could use the connection as part of their ticketing. An airport terminal could be built into the existing Wellington Railway Station. Transfers between Wellington Airport and Palmerston North would take a little over an hour which is a lot less than some people spend these days waiting for better weather at Rongotai.

    4. A rail connection could protect the CBD from flooding.

    5. The connection would probably result in the loss of less than a dozen houses, and a few commercial buildings; far less than competing roading projects. Miramar South School is being closed down. The airport company is presently buying out owners of dwellings close to the runway.

    5. There is other money being spent on less useful road connections such as the basin flyover, that would be much better spent on an airport-airport connection.

    6. Manawatu railway towns such as Levin and Shannon would get a boost as dormitory towns for Wellington and Palmerston North.

    How to build it?

    1. Cut and cover from the present Wellington Railway Station to Courtenay Place via Customhouse and Jervois Quays and Wakefield Street with an underground station in the vicinity of the Wakefield/Cambridge Terrace/Courtenay Place intersections. This need not leave the surface of the roads at the existing level. Both a knowledge of tsunamis and global sea level rise suggest a seawall along the quays wold be valuable in protecting the reclaimed areas of the Wellington CBD from the odd catastrophic inundation. Lifting the roads a couple of metres might be partially paid for by insurance companies if sold to them appropriately.

    2 Thrust a new tunnel under Mt Victoria from Courtenay Place under Haitaitai to emerge out of the small cliff below Overtoun Terrace. Build an underground station at Haitaitai.

    3. Run an elevated line down Cobham Drive’s central reservation, from where the line would descend through the industrial area at the rear of the Kilbirnie Fire Station.

    4. Thrust a tunnel from Jean Batten Street under the airport to Calabar Road. Calabar Road would need to be raised over the emerging line.

    5. Build a simple end of line station immediately adjacent to the airport terminal, or on Miramar South School grounds, with moving footpath connection to the airport terminal.

    6. At the Palmerston North End the connection requires less than 600m of new line and a couple of road bridges, again with a simple terminal station, which would serve the airport and the city’s travelers to and from Wellington.

    7. The Main Trunk line would need electrification from Waikanae to Palmerston North and a section at the Wellington region’s lower voltage would need to run through the Palmerston North Station and Rail Yards, or the trains would need a dual voltage system (like the Channel tunnel trains).

    Overall the damage at Haitaitai and Miramar South to the urban fabric of Wellington would be minimal compared to the damage to Haitaitai of putting another road tunnel through from the basin with connection to Cobham Drive. The full electrification of the Main Trunk Line to Palmerston North would change economics of commuter trains on the line. Such a connection would make the internal airlinks of New Zealand more reliable and make business and tourism into Wellington more practical. These benefits would appear to me to be significant and should be considered in any cost-benefit analysis of this airport-airport rail connection.

      1. Delusions of grandeur, as usual from Wellington. Population growth is pretty flat (comparatively). Commercial prospects are pretty grim. Industry – almost non-existent. Public sector – fluctuates. Doesn’t really seem to warrant a cool billion or so to me. May as well just build a new airport north of the city, one that isn’t constrained by a ridiculous runway and godawful weather.

        1. You are dead right. Wellington does not need $2.4 billion of motorway construction thrown at it. But if someone insists on showering us with funding it should be to extend rail instead.

  11. Another point.

    Parking at the airport is expensive and generally exposed to the weather. If the railway station is well designed it would be more practical for anyone who can park and ride to use the railway to get to and from the airport, rather than drive and park at the airport.

    1. Got a link? How does that make even the slightest sense? If Adelaide’s rail project is a good idea, it’s a good idea regardless of what happens thousands of miles away.

  12. I wish Wellington Station Platform has a decent renovation. A nice big shelter covering all the platforms would be nice and removing the existing ones to make it more airy.

  13. Patrick, I would have to agree with you on growth and population of Wellington, were it not for the fact that $2.6+ billion is set to be thrown at its transport system anyway. So given this, is what they are proposing the best use of this kind of money? A gold-plated motorway to duplicate a route which is already pretty easy to drive 95% of the time? And now a couple of brass-plated BRT routes which do not fix the issue of a broken journey for a major arterial flow of passengers, fed by the “funnel” of an excellent regional rail system to a dead stop at the edge of the CBD with a huge amount of the city un-served.

    To date, Wellington’s rail-usage is still in excess of Auckland’s, and would also grow immensely if this impediment were properly fixed. Forced interchanging is all very well on secondary passenger flows, but to impose it on a main arterial flow is plain stupid. A bit like terminating the motorway which comes into Wellington from the north, at a huge carpark in Thorndon and expecting all motorists to leave their cars and transfer to another mode from there on! Now consider that a conventional train of 4-8 cars arrives in wellington every two minutes during the height of the a.m. peak, often two trains simultaneously. How many BRT vehicles will be waiting to receive the transferring load? Of those 15,000 existing passenger-arrivals per day, about 12,000 arrive during a 2-3 hour period, so for a small city, the peak train-passenger flows are exceptionally high, and that is on today’s figures. Currently we get away with this situation only because the vast majority choose to walk to their destinations and walking is an extremely benign and innocuous way to move large numbers of people. If 75% of them chose to continue on an extended service (a figure suggested by a 1960’s study of extending heavy rail), this would be a lot of people to funnel down the Golden Mile on buses. Of course in reality, people would not bother to cram into a crowded BRT vehicle for an extra few stops and will simply continue walking, or driving, as they do now.

    What the Public Transport Spine Study correctly identified is that most rail-users have destinations within 900m of the station. Then it rather dumbly concluded that “there is therefore little demand for rail services to run further”, rather than acknowledging that the many whose destinations lie further away simply do not bother with rail. They mainly use cars, and it is for them that fantastic sums are considered necessary to build more motorways. The argument is like saying that before the Auckland Harbour Bridge was built, few people made the ferry trip across to the Shore, therefore there was little demand for a bridge!

    Regarding the end-point of a proposed heavy-rail extension in Wellington, this would be best served by a single-track “balloon-loop” rather than a terminus, so effectively a double track railway would continue on from the present terminus and loop around on itself at the end. This way, the familiar traumas of a multi-track terminus station are avoided. Trains simply continue round the loop without having to cross each other’s paths or wait for vacant platforms. As with a CRL-focussed service in Auckland, turnaround dwells would occur at the outer termini, not in the city as at present. Some degree of dwell-flexibility could be provided if two or more platform-roads were provided on the loop (best done at the Airport – perhaps the adjacent golf course could relinquish a little of their land!).

    As for the cost of such project, scare-off figures are often bandied about by those opposed, but to determine a realistic costing would first require a degree of commitment to the concept in order to seriously look into how it might be done and what it would cost. This level of commitment is currently focussed only on motorways with a BRT system tacked on for expediency. One aspect strongly in favour of a heavy rail extension is that we already have most of the trains, tried and proved, and a fair proportion of the running-time over the extension would be made up by existing trains avoiding the current turn-around dwell at Wellington. My estimate, based on comparable projects elsewhere (unlike the non-comparable mega-projects the Spine Study looked at in Singapore, Hong Kong and Mumbai!) is that the cost would be less than what is currently proposed for roading in the region. Does it not deserve a closer look?

    1. Dave, I agree, the govt. is spending literally Billions to get people to back in their cars. Its a crazy and ultimately disastrous policy. So if the question was how could we best invest in Wellington’s future across all modes I am in total agreement with you. But as the road binge is happening, and as Ross says above it doesn’t help that city car parking is oversupplied and underpriced, although that is clearly something that could be addressed along with any new project. To the city’s great benefit too!

      It looks like the the best bet for now is to fight for the highest quality BRT you can get, and remember that does mean the construction of a ROW that can be upgraded at a later date…. And also fight for de-carring the centre city for quality of life reasons and to make the BRT more viable [this is best done gradually].

      You have a govt. that clearly dislikes your city, perhaps because of some perception around it being populated by a different political class, but also you face the same petty jealousies and inefficiencies of too many local authorities. So easy to divide and rule just as Auckland was for so long. Without the big single council we would not be where we are with the CRL now.

  14. Ross, why do you conclude that because demand for rail-to-bus cross-city trips is currently limited, that demand for through-rail trips also would be limited? The demand for travel in the N2A corridor is such that a high-cost motorway is considered justified. Currently people do not attempt cross-city journeys by public transport BECAUSE it is often awkward and off-putting. I believe it if fallacious to predict future demand WITH a rail extension from today’s situation WITHOUT. It is like trying to gauge demand for a bridge over a river by the number of people observed swimming across it. This is the trap the authors of the PTSS fell into (or were instructed to fall into).

    1. DaveB:

      OK – while the N2A traffic is getting heavier over time, with consequent growth in delay, I don’t think that you could get a rail investment which would make nonpeak trips, in particular, any faster than car traffic, and then cars would retain some significant advantages of their own, even under congested conditions. For example, the current offpeak rail frequency is only half-hourly, and this would need to be upscaled to at least every fifteen minutes – but this probably needs to be done anyway.

      Recently I wrote a paper on this for Brent Efford, who circulated it as part of a newsletter he writes. The intention of the essay was to try to predict likely volumes for both BRT and LRT, working off the current traffic distributions. If you (or anyone else) would like a copy, email me on ross dot clark at scotland dot gsi gov uk, and I’ll send you that and the spreadsheet I developed for the work as well.

  15. Gosh, I am disappointed with the weak response by the mayor of Wellington and others. I think that those in the NZ PT industry have perhaps become so used to being knocked back that they have lowered their ambitions. There is absolutely no comparison between a modern bus and say, Melbourne’s most recent brand new trams in passenger attractiveness, and the ability to shape and guide the urban landscape to a more sustainable form for decades to come.

    Which is the closest to the current and future urban form along the Wellington-Newtown-Kilbirnie-Airport corridor? Any one of a dozen Melbourne tram routes? Or – the urban form typical of that served by Brisbane’s busway network?

    This is a genuine question. I have some familiarity with Melbourne, but have had much less time in Brisbane which did seem very much more suburban in form – like much of Auckland. In contrast, the build form of those tram corridors in Melbourne really do have similarities with the urban form of Wellington.

    1. Not even close. I’ve lived in both – living in Melbourne now.

      Melbourne has substantial more space for grade separation, vital for a tram to be worthwhile, either through existing large roads or a hangover from original planning days when substantial grass or tree planting was factored in. Wellington has… almost none. Melbourne density is also far far greater than Wellington, especially the airport side of Mt Vic, with interconnecting nodes feeding trams and vice versa (i.e. a supporting train network). The two really aren’t comparable. Maybe the outer burbs of Melbourne, but they don’t have tram services, instead relying on buses.

      What is comparable, is tram versus bus. With dedicated lanes, buses are faster, more flexible and cheaper to run. They also generally have substantially more seating, whereas trams have very little and really are standing room only. And a broke-down bus doesn’t jam the whole system. One slightly off tram and you can kiss goodbye to catching that flight. Trolley bus too – no one seems to care when they’re not used on weekends but ohhhhhh take them off the road permanently and suddenly the world is ending.

  16. If the present Govt is still with us beyond this coming November, then I agree, all is lost for any rail-based solution for Wellington – at least any time soon. The country will then be inextricably committed to a ‘Think Big Roads’ policy, whereby the central role of its economy will be to support road-building.

    However there is a chance that we may soon have a different Govt with strong Green input. This leaves open the possibility of resiling from at least some of the RoNS. If this happens then the whole scene could change, National’s hand of cards could be thrown into the air and allowed to settle more sensibly. Who knows, the CRL might even be completed before National’s delaying-machine thinks it should even be started!

    In terms of the future of New Zealand’s transport system (and the future mortgaging of our economy), we are this year facing an Election of National Significance! Unfortunately most people seem to be soundly asleep to this..

    1. Hahaha! Exactly what are you basing this all on? We had a Labour government for 9 years that did… well, exactly what with public transport? There’s no evidence to support your conclusion that a Green-supported Labour administration would suddenly be laying down the tracks across central Wellington. Not least of all because it’s a ridiculous idea, and the Greens have never actually had the burden of government on their shoulders – it’s all ladeda till they become responsible for something.

      But this persistent local belief that a train or tram network should link to a Wellington Airport with nonstop flights to the capitals of Asia appears pretty pervasive. Reality can be a downer sometimes, I guess. And nothing thumps you in the head more than reality when you’re in government.

      1. The last Labour Govt “came right” on its attitude to rail during its final year in office. Prior to that I agree it was pretty hopeless. If Lab/Green get in this time, sure there is no guarantee that they would make any of this happen, BUT IT IS OUR BEST CHANCE. The Nats won’t do it.
        You think the Airport corridor doesn’t need new, high-speed connectivity? Tell that to NZTA who want to blow a cool billion on an unnecessary motorway. Actually the most far-fetched scheme one could possibly dream up is a Levin-Airport motorway, but somehow Steven Joyce popped up out of the woodwork and was given the keys of power to take us into asphalt la-la land. Who says the Greens couldn’t pull something equally audacious if they were given the chance? Sure, government is about more than just transport, though you could be forgiven for thinking National’s only interest is roads. They have been conspicuously focussed on channelling huge sums into roading while cutting or selling just about everything else. Preaching fiscal responsibility while splurging on a motorway wish-list that makes Lab/Green spending plans look miserly. I think we have had enough of this nonsense. Time to give the others a chance to undo some of the damage and take us forward for a change.

        1. The Greens have no experience in government – they have no idea what it’s like when suddenly you have actual responsibility. Unless of course they start printing money out of their behinds in which case we’ll have far more serious problems on our hands.

          Wellington’s roading in and out has been ignored for decades and the city’s too small to warrant an investment in both. Meanwhile, it has a ridiculously placed airport that is constrained and always will be. Smart money is on a long term airport solution north of Wellington. But that would require planning which is what you’re all for, no?

          But keep living in the fantasy land that is everyone on bikes and catching high speed trains from the CBD to the airport to fly to Auckland (given it takes about 15-20 minute son the bus now, I don’t really see the benefit but hey, this is a Scandinavian wet dream afterall). Have fun paying for it.

  17. Some posters have talked about free bus services in the CBD e.g.Ross Clark

    * The main ‘cheap fix’ would be to provide a free direct bus from the station to about Taranaki Street and/or Courtenay Place – free’s always good – to encourage the use of rail for people who live in the railway catchment but work in the farther reaches of the CBD.

    In fact, when GWRC finally gets their Integrated ticketing going (it got hung up as much as anything by the Auckland Snapper/Hop fight),
    train passengers won’t spend any more to take the bus to pretty well anywhere in the CBD, as it’s in the same zone as the Railway Station. This will even rail services up with Eastbourne/Khandallah buses which add to the Golden Mile congestion by going right through to Courtenay Place. Once there is the free transfer, it will be interesting to see whether the BRT buses loading at the Thorndon Interchange can cope with peak-time crowds.

  18. Bus services don’t need to be free in the CBD – it would be to reduce the number of fare zones within Wellington city from 3 down to 1. Punitive fares are charged to city dwellers for relatively small trips. It’s a bit off!

    1. True, after the latest round of GWRC Fare increases the One Zone Children’s cash fare will be $2 . . . more than the Auckland’s One Stage Adult Fare !

  19. To improve the attractiveness of rail for the ‘last mile’ to the south end of the CBD:

    Rejig Wellington station to absolutely minimise interchange walk to buses. Rearrange the forecourt so that buses can run past the front door. Get rid of the brick building beside the westernmost platform (which could be converted into a side platform) so buses can stop beside the platform. At this point, aim for a step free interchange walk of 10 metres.

    1. I have often thought that a good pre-cursor to any rail extension would be a dedicated bus service connecting as seemlessly as possible with all trains, then running limited-stop via Waterloo/jervois Quays to Courtenay Place, then Newtown, Kilbirnie, Airport or wherever. It should definitely not be routed via the “Slowdown Mile”. The crux would be that a bus would meet every train for transfers in either direction, and I envisage it coming alongside Platform 9 on the east side of the station, from where (with a bit of reorganisation) it could quickly turn round and depart down the Quays. Rapidity, no-fuss, and no-additional-ticketing would be the essence. If GWRC do not buy into the idea then it should be run by Tranz Metro as an adjunct to the rail service. It should be kept away from the present Go Wellington empire, which doesn’t appear to see its role as connecting with trains. It would fill a significant gap in the CBD PT market for a rapid cross-city connection. Early success and an inability to cope with surging demand would be the best indication that extension of rail services should be considered. And a far better indication of what is really needed than the weasel-words of the PTSS.

      1. Thank you – this is precisely what I was talking about above. Years ago I worked for Tranz Metro, and did an exercise to see how long it would take to get from Courtenay Place to the railway station at 5.15pm or so. The answer: in a direct taxi, no longer than ten minutes, and this was going down the Quays.

  20. It would be so much faster if you didn’t have to get off the train. Cut and cover rail line up the quays and Wakefield Street would surely be in the same cost league as the basin flyover? Forget buses, you have to replace them every 10 years.Trams are good for at least twice as long and look at how long the old English Electric EMUs lasted! Rail is a much sounder investment, and if you have a dedicated track why bother with trams?

    1. Agree. A bus-extension of rail would ideally be a way of proving that the demand is there to do the job properly. A sensible city/country would have extended rail back in the 1960’s when it was originally proposed.
      Rail is the main public-transport access into Wellington City from the entire rest-of-the-region. How ridiculous is it that this major artery has been left unconnected and undeveloped for the last 50 years?
      Most people agree that the rail system is useful and makes a beneficial contribution to the region. Why then is there such recitance to seeing it extended in order to spread those benefits more widely? Why are the legacy lines with which we have been gifted, somehow considered to be the only ones we can ever have?
      Thank goodness Auckland is at last breaking out of this stultified state and forcing a reluctant govt to take notice.

  21. Go Wellington has a really bad day: Trolley on 2 route to city at lunchtime yesterday suffered problems all the way to town. It finally gave up completely in Manners Street. While it was stuck there, buses were all stuck behind it because the road is too narrow. A bus immediately behind the trolley tried to reverse to attempt to get out from behind the trolley and overtake, but it hit the bus behind it. http://www.stuff.co.nz/dominion-post/news/65501185/Two-bus-crash-in-central-Wellington
    In the evening, a trolley stopped outside Burger King for 10 minutes because its Snapper system wasn’t working. Driver could have let passengers on for free, or at least communicated with passengers or the bus waiting behind it, but did neither. Eventually the trolley waiting behind the stopped bus got impatient and decided to overtake. The poles of one of these buses came off and broke two windows in the first bus. (I have a photo but can’t post it here) Luckily no passengers were injured. No transport system will work unless the CBD streets are widened to allow buses to pass each other easily.

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