The US has over 45 operating streetcar and light rail systems but none of them are anywhere near as large as Melbourne’s tram system. Melbourne has the largest extant urban streetcar network in the world with 249 kilometres of double track and 487 trams.
If Melbourne’s tram network had been removed in the 1950s and 60s like similar systems in Sydney, Brisbane, Adelaide, Perth and many regional centres were, it would be astronomically expensive to build something like it today from scratch. The cost of rolling stock alone would be in the region of $3 Billion (1).
Based on the actual $1.6 Billion it cost to build the newly opened 13 km Gold Coast G:link line, a network the size of Melbourne’s could have an all-up cost in the region of $30 Billion.
Or if we extrapolate from the estimated $2.2 Billion it’s taking to build Sydney’s new 12 km CBD and South Eastern Light Rail system, the all-up cost could be in the region of $45 Billion.
That got me thinking about how much it might cost if we ever decided to completely rebuild Auckland’s old tram network. The old network is shown below which was built primarily in the first few decades of the 20th century – horse drawn trams existed before that – and ripped out in the 1950’s.
In total the old network is about 70km in length so quite a bit shorter than Melbourne’s network. Even today the bus routes that largely replicate the tram network are some of the busiest in the city, in large part because the suburbs built on the back of the trams were designed to make it fairly easy to use them.
So what would it cost. The only local example we have of laying tram tracks is in Wynyard Quarter where the
horizontal Ferris Wheel Auckland Dockline Tram exists. It consists of 1.3km of single track and cost about $8 million which included a special noise and vibration dampening section along Jellicoe St. By figures seen overseas this price seems remarkably cheap and if we could built out an entire network at that figure it would cost around $900 million although that doesn’t include the cost of trams or places to store and maintain them. I would be incredibly surprised if we could do it for that cheap.
Looking over at North America it seems that costs are generally around US$35 million per mile (NZ$28m per km) and at that rate it would cost $4 billion to build out the old network.
Finally using the Australian figures from the start of the post and converted to NZ dollars we get a cost of over $9 billion based on the Gold Coast example or around $13.5 billion based on the Sydney example.
That’s quite a bit of variety in prices although of course as Davies he mentions in his post the cost is driven in large part by how much segregation the modes have. Further he points out that any large scale roll out would likely have some cost efficiencies which would bring the sums down a bit.
If we ever decided to properly reintroduce trams or light rail back to Auckland it’s not likely the entire old network would be rebuilt as it was however it’s certain that heavily used routes like Dominion Rd would still be prime candidates. The real question is if an increase in patronage, savings in operational costs (due to fewer drivers, cheaper fuel etc.), reduced emissions and reduced bus congestion in the city centre make such an idea viable?