In Peter’s weekly wrap up post on Sunday he included a piece from Alan Davies who looked at what it would take financially to build a tram network the size of Melbourne’s.

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.

Auckland Isthmus tramlines

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?

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  1. That per mile cost from the US probably includes stations, marshaling/maintenance yards, control systems, utility relocation, and soft costs and maybe others like fare systems.

    Hong Kong has a wee little tram line. Any useful info to be derived from that?

  2. I believe that the trams were built on concrete foundations, alot of which are still under our “sealed” roads today. Given that we have electric streetlamps (for attaching tram wires), and that road maintenance still happens, why couldn’t we start reintroducing the trams? (Or the trolleybuses, at least).

    Just a thought …

    1. I think if you tried to hang wires off of our street lights then you will find that the street lights turn horizontal.

      Also, modern LRT is substantially heavier than the old trams so you’d be better off not trying to retrofit.

  3. If it were to cost $2 billion, which would be the better option, the CRL or trams?
    Trams would get my vote by a long way – but then I live in the old Auckland City which would be the only place to gain much from trams, as opposed to the CRL where it is Waitakere and Manukau that gain the most.

    1. Not apples and apples, Jimbo. No tram Network will stretch from Swanson to Pukekohe at any price. A better question to ask is are there current bus routes that on demand could justify being upgraded to LRT?; we thought so when we designed the CFN, where we have Dominion Rd- Queen St- Wynyard as LRT. And this route, like pretty much any logical LRT in Auckland is perfectly combatible with the post CRL rail Rapid Transit Network. In fact when you look at it the old tram network is exactly the areas not serviced by rail (or Busway), which is not surprising as they did exist together when they were built.

      1. are there existing bus routes that justify being upgraded to LRT?

        Some comparable figures for you:
        – Dublin’s Luas (LRT) carries circa 15 million passengers per line p.a. and operates at close to 100% cost recovery.
        – Dominion Rd carries 2-3 million passengers p.a. and operates at close to 100% cost recovery.

      2. Key things for LRT to work well:
        – Contiguous corridor free from other traffic
        – High demands, i.e. in excess of ~5,000 passengers per hour in peak hour and ~40-50,000 per day
        – Relatively flat demand profile (i.e. high base to peak ratio

  4. Erroneous comparisons at times – the Gold Coast included construction, purchasing trams plus operation and maintenance for 30 years.

  5. Curious as to why the tram discussion only ever happens in the context of rolling out trams to the places which used to have them. What about some discussion about trams along Tamaki Drive? I don’t see the point in rolling out another mode of transport to places that are already well served by other modes, especially using an outdated map that doesn’t show the bulk of the population base.

    1. I personally think a tram along Tamaki drive would be fantastic and should even get additional funding from waterfront Auckland or whoever they call themselves these days. Take all car parking off, have protected two way cycling north side. Turn the rest into a shared space or very limited car. Then we would have something cool and connect to the CFN plan Wynyard,Queen St, Dominion Rd, maybe also a link up parnell rise to Newmarket. Maybe Takapuna to Devonport. But I guess bus priority first full spectrum all arterials , CRL etc, kill NZTA projects before we could even look at this.

    2. yeah Tamaki Drive is one option, also Lake Rd? But in either case, and with the old routes, the big issue is the quality of the Right of Way. Our plan involves the removal of cars from Queen St [which should happen anyway, and serious signal and street priority on Dominion Rd… Tamaki Drive looks a bit trickier, especially as it’s such an obvious route for cycling and there is only so much road width there.

      Note with Dom Rd AT have chosen to remove cycling to prioritise Transit, personally I think cycling is the bigger priority on Tamaki Drive over LRT held up in traffic.

      1. The sea wall will need work at some stage soon, that’s probably going to be the best time to discuss options for including LRT etc.

    3. How much width do you need for light rail, and how wide is Tamaki Dr now kerb to kerb at various bays? Totally agree about not sacrificing two way cycle along here.

  6. Wouldn’t it be possible for a tram/light rail system to also use the existing train tracks to get out to, say, Avondale? The modern tram system in Manchester has tracks on the road where the trams move at the speed of the other traffic in the central city, then, when on dedicated track, they get to belt along at near train speeds. I remember hearing it described as “a Tube that drops you right outside Marks & Spencer”.

    1. yeah it’s all technically possible but is it useful? The great advantage of LRT on current overloaded bus routes is bringing higher capacity rail to areas NOT covered by the existing rail network with their upgraded services. In particular reaching that big triangle between the Western and Onehunga Lines [in our view].

      Also separate networks add resilience, both our motorway and rail systems are tight and prone to total shut down under to single outage events.

      A new separate LRT network, where it can be optimised and justified makes sense.

    2. Karlsruhe has mixed light and heavy rail. But could you imagine the carnage if heavy met light. Remember in New Zealand we would put in the cheapest signal system that was state of the art 25 years ago and get some guy in Wellington to operate it.

  7. The red link bus should be easy to replace with a tram from the existing Wynyard Quarter tracks, along the viaduct road and up Queen Street. That would create a fantastic tourist attraction, rather than the pointless merry-go-round of a tram that currently exists.

    1. Yup, get the cars out of Queen at the same time so it goes faster than walking pace, just like Bourke and Swanston Sts in Melbourne.

      But why stop there; send the thing all the way up Dominion Rd too where the buses are overloaded now….?

  8. Since everyone seems to be suggesting routes, I’ll put forward Te Irirangi Drive from Botany to Manukau and possibly Puhinui to the Airport which could easily be converted if a busway is built before hand. Light rail could be an option instead of heavy rail. who knows? who knows?

      1. Well first step is to actually build it, but I’m confident it will have the patronage to support a second phase of implementing light rail. Looking at the popularity and patronage of the Northern busway and the fact that it’s in an area that is poorly served by public transport it is sure to draw in users. But yes it will need to stay a busway for sometime before moving on to phase 2, although it definitely makes the top 5 in the to do list of light rail in my opinion.

    1. We need to be brutal to car mode for immediate dents into mode share.Te Irirangi Drive needs a bus lane right now with Gt Sth Rd to Manukau Station Rd. We need a full blown class b as per the CFN plan 2030. Pakuranga Rd all the way to Botany Rd, Botany Rd down to Botany Town Centre and Ti Rakau Dr back to Pakuranga Plaza. One dedicated lane each way. Then a bus lane as much as practicable right now to Panmure Station. Resource the buses that is half of east Auckland and some of south auckland. Relocate bus stops to side streets and pump up the circulation of buses to both train stations.

      1. Also the direct cross to Puhinui Station. A great station frequency wise or was when I was using it 5 months ago. I think Manukau has improved though.

    2. Actually also a cross line that takes buses from Ti Irirangi to Puhinui Station according to 2030 plan which makes sense for southbound traffic howick, botany east tamaki rather than going to Manukau station. Puhinui good also as has a far better frequency than Manukau station or it used to when I was going Manukau to newmarket.

  9. Design, consultation and implementation of the ‘new network’, RTN lines along the NW and AMETI busway and extending the Northern busway are all far more important than trams or LRT on city streets at this time.

    1. Agreed. We need bus to be set free first. Not much point having anything if they are held up in traffic. The sooner both bus and cycle set free the better. We need to reclaim road corridor width then we can look at higher capacity options. Definately LRT would be cool in places but we need bus network to fire up first, heavy rail maximised and extended. The sooner we directly address the too much width for car travel, parking, and turning the better otherwise options like LRT will never happen. We need to do a full arterial remark and open up both bus and cycle immediately. Time to reboot the road network and add 2 x full network effects. Or we could keep going waterview lanes for Africa vs one solitary bus lane on Fanshawe St? Even the bus priority list does not contain anywhere near the Class A network for 2030. If it is an RTN at least give it a PT seed of a bus lane with signal priority.

      1. Just giving more to the people who already have access to decent public transport isn’t an effective way to get the public on board. One of the main bug-bears most PT detractors have about the NEX busway is that there’s no similar option for people on the south side of the bridge. Hell, even for the cricket the other day, transport was free for everyone on the NEX with a ticket. Everyone else apparently wasn’t worth worrying about. How do you think that makes everyone who doesn’t live on the Shore feel about catching PT?

        There has to be a rollout of services to places where there currently are few and we need to pretty much double frequency on most suburban bus routes before it will become a viable option for PT. For what we pay for it, that’s the least we should expect.

        1. So there is no geade seperated public transport south of the bridge? Tgat train I caught was just a dream?

        2. AMETI is a south east busway just in case you didn’t know. Look I’m all in favour of adding a class b priority with full bus lanes on all arterials right now no second to lose and up resource the full future class a network with 40% fleet. That is 4 star in a blink of an eye if we had some solid leadership.

  10. Aaah I love this because to me restoring/rebooting the tram network is a no-brainer – and not just as a nostalgia trip for privileged ‘old Auckland’ dwellers. By rebuilding we throw down a marker and it can then be used as a template/ to build sister networks around AK – eg nodes at Henderson, Takapua, Otahuhu etc.

    Connected by high speed rail and other modes. Then this city would start to realise some of its potential as a liveable city, and local communities could start to fight back against the transit hegemony of the motor vehicle and the obsession with cars and roads and strip malls and big box retail (that really only lines the pockets of the car dealers, oil companies and property developers).

    The potential cost per km for trams or light rail is blindingly cheap compared to the capital, social and hidden costs of more tarmac and more cars (and buses for that matter). And the statement they make is one of a confident, environmentally-sensitive, cultured, efficient city. No other mode comes close. And it’s not even guesswork – so many European cities have already modelled what is possible and yet we struggle to avert our gaze from failed North American-style transport ideologies. Bring it on.

  11. Light rail very soon to make us like so many, cultured, efficient overseas cities. Wynyard Quarter, to Britomart, up Queen street without cars, Dominion Road to start. Along Tamaki Drive with cycle ways and without parking, not needed with light rail. It is so convenient to use, and will lead us to being a liveable city, which we cannot be with roads and cars dominating.

  12. Bring it on I say. I have just returned from Istanbul, where the new trams/light rail and Metro system help make a large city bearable. Osh would not be happy there, but no one seems to J walk into a tram. Their Metro goes right out to the airport at high speed. So much easier than dealing with taxi drivers. According to my Dad, who is a former MOW surveryor, in 1950 !WORKing on what is now the CRL one reason the tram lines were taken up here was a problem with termites in the Jarrah sleepers. I personally suspect a plot, as well and that a general belief in the car as a transport paradigm was the main cause of Auckland trams’ demise.

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