While the “bus versus light-rail” argument over Dominion Road and Airport “mass transit” is now settled, it is inevitable that this argument will come up over and over again as we develop Auckland’s strategic public transport network over the coming years.

There are a number of different corridors that we might end up having a “bus versus light-rail” argument in the future. Theoretically we need to look at this question for all the “future strategic public transport” corridors. So it’s useful to think about the types of corridors that busways or bus rapid transit (BRT) might be best suited to, and those that are better suited to light-rail. In the Congestion Free Network 2 map we created two light-rail lines (blue and orange in the map below) with the other non-rail corridors being served by a variety of different types of bus infrastructure.

There are lots of arguments over bus versus light-rail internationally. A good starting point is to ignore anyone suggesting that the answer will always be one or the other. Both modes have their strengths and weaknesses, which means that the choice comes down to the characteristics of the corridor you’re looking at. To understand this in more detail it’s useful to look at how some of these mode decisions have been made in recent times, both in Auckland and overseas. The “Committee for Perth” also have a pretty good summary of the strengths and weakness of each mode, and therefore the corridors each may be best suited to.

First, let’s look Auckland Transport’s analysis to reach the conclusion that light-rail is needed along the Dominion Road/Queen Street corridor instead of bus improvements. The key driver for the project is addressing the very large number of buses trying to access the city centre along Symonds Street and Wellesley Street. The same issue exists on Fanshawe St for North Shore services.

The extremely high number of buses simply overwhelm the ability of these corridors to operate effectively. Reading a bit more into the detail of the issue, the large number of buses creates a whole variety of issues:

  • Insufficient space at bus stops for buses to wait while people getting on and off the bus
  • Too many buses to get through traffic light phases efficiently. This also prevents the ability to do signal preemption to speed up services.
  • Too many buses to turn around efficiently at the beginning and end of their services

Work on North Shore rapid transit also highlights the key trigger for needing to upgrade this corridor is when demand simply overwhelms the ability of the busway (particularly in the city centre and around busway stations) to efficiently meet demand:

In choosing light-rail for the Northwest Corridor in the Congestion Free Network, once again a key driver was projections of a large number of buses on city centre streets ill-suited to them. We said this:

Light rail was chosen due to its ability to provide long-term capacity for the Northwest while removing high numbers of future buses from the city centre, freeing up capacity for more isthmus and Onewa services. The route also helps address the possible imbalance between the North Shore and Dominion Rd/South-west/Airport demand, by splitting North Shore services between two routes.

Currently, the main buses from Westgate the 080/081 (Other routes are less direct) take between 1hr, and 1hr 45m to reach the CBD10. At 18.5km with an average speed of 40km/h (Speed will be higher in some sections, slower on others) the light rail will take 28 minutes, cutting between 32m to a 1hr 17m off a trip.

Looking around the world the shift from bus to light-rail seems to have similar drivers. In Sydney the key issue definitely seems to be about increasing capacity to their city centre in a way that is just not possible through more buses, or even through bigger buses. There’s also a strong link to improving city centre amenity, like in Auckland:

This doesn’t mean that every time there is a need for more capacity or improvements along a bus corridor, we need to shift to light-rail. In Auckland we have two good examples – one that exists and one planned – of bus rapid transit projects (albeit that one will need to be upgraded to light-rail in the longer run):

  • The Northern Busway shows us an excellent example of the benefits of bus rapid transit – we were able to build this project reasonably cheaply, leverage off existing infrastructure (in this case the Harbour Bridge) and also seamlessly link the trunk corridor with feeder arterial roads – mainly in the form of the various express “L shaped” routes that operate.
  • The Eastern Busway (AMETI) is another good example of a route well suited to bus rather than light-rail. It will have lower bus volumes and it’s location is away from the dense, space constrained city centre. Light-rail here would either need to duplicate heavy rail between Panmure and the City, or could result in a silly “two-transfer” scenario where people catch a feeder bus to Botany, light-rail from Botany to Panmure and then heavy rail from there to the city (or wherever else they are heading).

In both corridors it’s also fair to say that the existing land-use patterns present a number of challenges in achieving the kind of ‘transit oriented development’ that light-rail can be a catalyst for. The Northern Busway is next to a motorway and the Eastern Busway runs through the most car dependent part of Auckland, with much of its route along Ti Rakau Drive – a very unfriendly route for pedestrians and high intensity land-use activities.

So, let’s take a look at the different types of corridors where light-rail and bus rapid transit might perform strongly:

Light-rail

  • Corridors with particularly high bus volumes and projected future demand
  • Corridors serving constrained, high-amenity locations where expanding road space for extra capacity, loading or turnaround facilities is particularly difficult
  • Corridors with lots of good opportunities for transit oriented developments and intensification.

Bus Rapid transit

  • Lower demand corridors and those serving less constrained locations
  • Corridors where there is huge value in being able to implement an improvement incrementally and leverage off existing infrastructure
  • Corridors with less opportunity for transit oriented development and intensification.

Using these three tests should be useful in guiding decisions about Auckland’s future strategic PT corridors. For example, it suggests that bus will probably be fine for the Airport to Manukau to Botany route (lower demand and less constrained terminus points) and for the Upper Harbour Westgate to Albany corridor (same points as above, and probably even less opportunity for land-use change).

There are however a couple of complicating factors in all of this:

  • Logically, routes would evolve from bus to light-rail over time. As Ottawa has been experiencing this over the last few years, transitioning from one to the other is very challenging. Depending on how far out the timing of this transition might be, it might be better to jump to light-rail earlier than is strictly necessary. The North West corridor is a particularly good example of this and locally the North Shore will probably illustrate how difficult the transition is.
  • Technology is developing in this space, which means that the differences between bus rapid transit and light-rail will probably decline over time. However with pressing needs we can’t wait forever for this technology to evolve before jumping in.
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96 comments

  1. Building light rail means building the whole route, with BRT that’s not always the case. Current busway is the prime example of that. With LR it’s not possible to have ‘missing sections’ where the vehicles are supposed to mix with general traffic. That straightaway improves the quality of customer experience. Till this day a an incident on the bridge easily removes the “rapid” from our BRT implementation.
    And users (and potential new users) can easily see that.

    1. Yes that’s right. The key to upgrading that route is a new dedicated crossing, and as with other routes, starting in the centre first.

      But anyway the more urgent directions are the three absent of any Rapid Transit network: East, Northwest, and Southwest and the over-crowded and inefficient one: The Isthmus. Then the need to increase capacity on the Northern Busway will be pressing too.

      The really interesting question is could the could the whole two line through-routed Light Rail programme in the CFN be more cost effective and efficiently delivered in one big deal, with consortia pitching to deliver the whole network over time, provide and maintain the vehicles, with land-value capture etc…?

      1. That be one mother of a tender 🙂 I suspect it would take years to get the documents ready. I think something similar to current arrangement with the buses (where Auckland is split into a number of areas tendered out to different companies), but on with larger areas could work.

        On the current busway – i’m not advocating upgrading it to LR now (even though we probably should 😉 ), I’m merely stating that if shortcuts can be made – they’ll be made, generally to the detriment of the end result, choosing a technology that doesn’t allow for those shortcuts increases the likelihood of the end result actually meets the requirements at the time of completion.

        1. Not only would it be a mother of a tender, it would be a mother of a client that would dare to propose and sustain such a programme. So far, entities like HLC have only taken on minor and local roads within the development site. Even Crown Infrastructure Partners have NZTA doing only very specific connectors into the Drury job.

          When was the last time the NZ state masterplanned an entire town and integrated it with transport infrastructure and with industry?

          The Minister would need to form a massive hybrid entity. As Fletcher Building and previous Ministers have found in Christchurch, the risks to the Crown and to developers of doing so are very high within our real estate and banking markets.

      2. Obviously the best tendering answer will depend on the specifics of each corridor. The industry will always ask for a bigger package.

        There are some practical economies of scale, and economic limits, for LRT. You need a depot to operate from, which can then comfortably service up to 50 LRVs. So you do not see many economic startups of LRT with initial track length under 5km, and preferably 10km. You could then comfortably go to a street track length of 20km, or high speed corridor length of 30km. There is probably not any economy of scale beyond that length. If you look at the big LRT networks recently built in French cities, they typically opened with a line of 15-20km length, and then extended in stages of say 20 km each.

        There were some “big bang” solutions at Bordeaux and Strasbourg, and Montpellier was built in stages but very quickly, with a 50km network built in 10 years. They all work well too.

  2. I think another example is this with the question on whether the Southern Airport Line (Airport to Botany via Manukau and Puhinui) should be bus or light rail:

    In short:
    The a train from the Northern Airport Line would be able to continue onto the Southern Airport Line and complete its trip at Manukau before doing the reverse back to the City Centre. It would be like post City Rail Link where currently terminating services at Britomart can run through the CRL improving efficiency and capacity of the network.
    I think this is good compromise for the Southern Airport Line allowing capacity, efficiency and connectivity for Southern Auckland workers to their employment places without the major expense of a full LRT line to Botany.

    quote context: http://pllqt.it/R2PyYk

    Allowing the two lines to join each other like this https://voakl.files.wordpress.com/2017/03/light-rail-to-airport-and-manukau.jpg gives better connectivity, accessibility and equity especially for Southern Auckland works working in the large Airport industrial complex along SH20A

    Given the Manukau to Airport section of the Southern Airport Line intersects with Manukau Bus Station at Manukau, the Southern, Eastern and Regional Rapid Lines at Puhinui Station and will be the “express” link to the Airport from the north having that section as LRT rather than bus would be prudent. Dig once and build it right FIRST TIME!

    1. The Terminus is a natural terminus. A good end-of-the-line. It is not like the city centre, or even a metro centre like Manukau City. There will always be transfer points, and the airport is a logical one.

      But also go through the check lists above:

      Bus Rapid transit

      1. Lower demand corridors and those serving less constrained locations
      2. Corridors where there is huge value in being able to implement an improvement incrementally and leverage off existing infrastructure
      3. Corridors with less opportunity for transit oriented development and intensification.

      The Airport Botany line conforms to 1. and 2., only 3. applies less. That is there are lots of opportunities for development on this route, but good BRT should help achieve that too given the existing wide road patterns.

      Botany is a more pressing location for through-routing than the airport so it is more important there is mode continuity at that end of the line. Either to Howick and/or Panmure.

      1. Problem is you are treating the Airport as an end destination. It isnt, not for the south where the workers work in the industrial complex further north otherwise we got a double transfer (Manukau or Puhinui then Airport) which is cumbersome given patronage volumes.

        I am also thinking of demand levels and future development. As I said earlier Manukau to the Airport intersects with a major bus station and a rail station that will have three lines running through it. The transfer opportunity there alone is large if you have the trains at every 10-15 mins on the heavy rail network and the Southern Airport Line at every 10.

        Remember trams can be modular for a lack of better terms. While the Northern Airport Line might start with a full double 2 or 3 car set (giving 4 or 6 cars) the Southern could start with 2 or 3 car sets and bump up the couplings as demand grows – just like our heavy rail network.

        And finally the Auckland Plan Refresh. The Development Strategy has stated both Manukau and the City Centre sit as Major nodes with similar outputs. I think that is enough to give equal treatment. Again Dig Once and Build Right first time.

        1. ‘Remember trams can be modular for a lack of better terms. While the Northern Airport Line might start with a full double 2 or 3 car set (giving 4 or 6 cars) the Southern could start with 2 or 3 car sets and bump up the couplings as demand grows – just like our heavy rail network’.

          I thought you were talking about through routing, which means it would be the same tram both north and south of the airport.

          1. Not all northern airport line trains (central line) need to continue though at the airport. At the other end not all Central LRT trains need to continue though at Britomart to the Shore. If and once that is built.

        2. Terminate the BRT in the industrial area after running through the air terminal then. In fact you could have a terminating pattern or a balloon loop that covers off three or four stops in the industrial area very well, better than the LRT could.

        3. Auckland and Manukau may well be equal on paper but they certainly are not in reality. The Auckland CBD is and will likely always be the biggest employment location in the country.

          1. More jobs sure but equal in output in GDP terms.
            Again the Southern Airport Line intersects 3 heavy rail lines and a major bus station so the patronage will always be there.
            The Southern Airport Line isn’t just about passengers at the airport but employment and visitors

          2. I wouldn’t have thought the Auckland CBD and Manukau CBD GDP would be anywhere near equal, or are you comparing the Auckland CBD with the whole of Manukau?

          3. Ignoring their current relative GDP contributions.

            The Airport-Manukau complex has one the the CBD does not have – land for growth. There are several growth areas – Puhinui gateway, the Puhunui FUZ zone, Mangere/Otuatua industrial and the airport complex itself.

            Manukau is actually a key node in this equation as it can act as the anchor point from traffic from the north (both metro and regional), south (regional) and east.

          4. Wairoa has quite a lot of room for growth as well. I don’t doubt the Manukau CBD will be more significant in the future but I can’t see it being anywhere near as significant as the Auckland CBD, probably more like Parramatta in Sydney.

          5. According to Council the definition of Manukau Ben is using is all of the old Manukau and Papakura Council areas.

      2. Perhaps true “Botany is a more pressing location for through-routing than the airport so it is more important there is mode continuity at that end of the line. Either to Howick and/or Panmure.” so why does the bus New Network have everything terminate at Botany. If we are transferring there now with buses why not from a LRT route?

        To me the abundance of newish McMansions along Te Irirangi Dr seems to discount LRT to some degree.

          1. Yes I know, but I mean the other direction, nothing goes through Botany from north or west if I’m not mistaken. So my point is LRT from Manukau/Airport could terminate at Botany and not be a problem.

  3. Light Rail is not always the solution. Buses can run much closer together (say 12 seconds apart) giving capacities approaching heavy rail metro systems. Light rail cannot do that because steel wheels on steel rails means that it cannot stop in a short distance.

    This article mentions Ottawa and Sydney but it is completely silent about Brisbane, Australia, which is a very relevant example because their busway was deliberately NOT converted to Light Rail. Light Rail on Brisbane’s busways would give no capacity advantage at all over buses.

    Indeed, recent studies by Brisbane City Council show that replacing the Brisbane Busway with a Metro would not be value for money. Now they are going with larger capacity BRT vehicles instead. Note, light rail didn’t even make contention.

    Brisbane Metro
    https://www.brisbane.qld.gov.au/traffic-transport/public-transport/brisbane-metro

    “Based on assessments undertaken as part of the Business Case, Brisbane Metro is expected to cost $944 million and will deliver a benefit cost ratio of 1.91, meaning for every $1 of total expenditure, the Project is expected to return $1.91 of benefits to Brisbane’s economy.”

    In the Auckland case, underground public transport access rather than running on surface streets for public transport is necessary to reach high passenger throughput levels.

    1. The article explicitly says:

      ‘There are lots of arguments over bus versus light-rail internationally. A good starting point is to ignore anyone suggesting that the answer will always be one or the other. Both modes have their strengths and weaknesses, which means that the choice comes down to the characteristics of the corridor you’re looking at.’

    2. Modern light rail has magnetic emergency track brakes that can stop far quicker than anything relying on rubber wheels friction with a road surface.

      Buses twelve seconds apart would require bus stops ten buses long, with the means for each bus to manoeuvre in and out independently. That’s literally three times the size of the Smales Farm main platform, for example. Nice in theory, but where would we actually be able to build such a thing?

  4. Is the planned light rail going to use the same track gauge as our heavy rail system?
    This would mean that a light rail line from east Auckland could use the heavy rail line from Panmure to the city, like in many European cities. – has this option been considered at all?

    1. No it would be an outrageous departure from the New Zealand way of doing things to allow any infrastructure to match with anything that exists. The New Zealand way is to spend a fortune on a busway, then spend another fortune changing it to light rail with as much disruption as possible and finally when the numbers allow we can spend a third fortune building a heavy rail system to replace the light rail. If they used the same gauge rails or the same power system then where would be the fun in that?

      1. Switzerland has a number of different rail gauges and has a very efficient and effective rail network. Makes more sense to build an LR network that is best for what we want than worry about the small chance that it will connect with the HR network one day.

        1. That is what people said when the busway was built. There is a low chance it will ever become a light rail and no chance it will become heavy rail. Now as the capacity point becomes a realistic target it needs to be light rail but they say there is a low chance or it becoming heavy rail. Yet people want to to go to Silverdale. Do you really want low floor light rail units strung together in multiples pretending to be slow trains forever over that sort of distance?

          1. I still don’t see the logic of building narrow gauge LR for future HR use, when the busway would require a significant upgrade to allow for HR anyway. Are you suggesting we do all of that now? I imagine replacing the Wairau Bridge would be a significant additional expense.

            I don’t think we should be using 80kmh low floor LR on this route, should be 100kmh high-floor.

          2. The low-floor / hi-floor doesn’t matter now as you can buy LRV’s with pivoting bogies with solves the issue

          3. Most people were saying there is a high chance it would become light rail. It was the timing of this that was the discussion. And yes its needed sooner than most had thought.

            The main reason it wasn’t built as light rail initially was the crossing, currently buses can just use the same lanes on the Auckland Harbour Bridge. There was enough opposition from mainly the North Shore who didn’t want a busway yet alone a light rail connection that if we were to propose the extra cost of an extra crossing at that time, there was no way the rapid transit would of been built. Now this rapid transit line is our best example of rapid transit working in Auckland.

      2. I agree mfwic, we need to immediately make all the buses compatible with ferry routes, and the ferries need to run on the train lines, and of course the trains need to work on the busway and stop at the bus stop in front of the dairy down my local street.

        I don’t know why we need to do this, but you have been extremely convincing in your case that transit lines that will never interoperate must be interoperable.

        1. Now with logic like that you have somehow convinced me that firstly nothing will ever need to be upgraded and if it does, then choosing the most disruptive path is no problem. You have also convinced me that there are no savings to be had using the same equipment on multiple lines. We can have a separate depot for each a separate team to maintain the trains and a stock of totally diferent parts and keep extra vehicles in reserve for each line rather than a smaller reserve for the whole lot. I mean it isn’t like any of that costs money. Or maybe we could get the Americas Cup economists to write a report saying costs are actually benefits and it will actually all be an advantage to spend more.

          1. You know what also costs money? Building a new light rail line to peculiar New Zealand rail track and loading gauge, and procuring odd trains that are custom built to a custom design that is incompatible with any industry standard of car width, bogies or wheels that gets dropped by the manufacturer without any support before the last one is even delivered.

            Are you seriously suggesting that intentionally avoiding standardized LRT track and vehicles components in favour of a bodge-up to kinda match some of the legacy heavy rail lines will same money?!

            Go ask Adelaide how great their bespoke O Bahn line is for parts stock and vehicles, then ask why we would want to replicate that one-off situation in Auckland?

          2. Have a look at the product lines of the major manufacturers, see how many of them offer a narrow gauge LRT product. It’s usually one per manufacturer, as a special order. They can build you anything you want, as long as you pay for it.

  5. From personal experience in unfamiliar cities, I always find railed metropolitan transport systems are superior from a user friendly point of view. If you make a mistake, it is always easier to cross the line to the other side and return to your start point.
    For reasons not always obvious to the visitor, at some point bus routes tend to wander off their main course on devious and baffling little routes of their own.
    A railed system is usually much more user friendly and has all the other advantages listed in the Committee of Perth Report referred to by Matt Lowrie

    1. Agree, even the best BRT systems can’t help but throw in a few different running patterns. These running patterns may only deviate near the end of the route but as a user you are often left baffled as to which bus is safe to take even though they all go where you want to.

      I imagine a few visitors have let 881 and East Coast Bays buses go past even though they go to where they want on the northern busway.

      1. There are advantages to the buses that fan out at the end or start of the route. They enable buses to preload so the don’t spend much time at bus way stops, they give regular uses confidence in getting to their final destination. They can increase sociability as people end up on the same bus together. So works well if high percentage of regular users. Chances are these people may have worse service if rail started. Other factor consider is Silverdale, Albany and Constellation stations are generally places people pass through rather than stop at.

        1. Agree, however I would argue that fanning out makes all door boarding harder, which slows things down. It either requires hop card readers at all relevant suburban stops, which I imagine wouldn’t be cheap or a convoluted mix of tagging on the bus in the suburbs and tagging at the station on the busway.

          I suspect this is the main reason we don’t have all door boarding on the NEX at the moment (except in the CBD).

          1. A bus way which fans out is less efficient than a straight line busway but has more potential stops for people to get on. If your bus way stations are creating delays due to boarding and alighting fanning out can increase a busway carrying capacity by having boarding alighting off the main busway route.

  6. One of the big reason for having light rail is going to go away if prediction of battery electric buses are true. I know that there are congestion issues with the shear number of buses required for the city center but out here in the south the buses are never full. My observation is 380 has similar passengers too the bus running down great south road is it 33. And 380 is going too double in frequency next month. I can’t see the need for light or heavy rail to the Airport yet. Every time I see the Airport express it looks empty compared to 380 from Papatoetoe. The main thing is to future proof the routes so we can have the option. And remember this is boom times and it might not continue.
    Another thing I have being thinking of is to have trains running express to Puhinui from Britomart . There could be one each hour via Newmarket or Panmure then on to the bus for the airport. This would cut the travel time to the airport by heaps.I suppose the express trains could continue all stops to Papakura.The 380 bus covers the industrial areas both north and south of the airport just stay aboard.. Extend the single track line from Onehunga to Mangere town center. Build the Light rail to Onehunga if you must.

    1. Not sure that the fact that the buses in a certain area are not full now is a reason that LRT where currently planned, is going to fail. The investment in upgraded infrastructure and properly planned railed routes has paid off big time so far.
      And to the Airport it can’t come soon enough………………………..Be bold!

      1. I didn’t say it would fail just that I didn’t think it was necessary. But maybe you know something about the future size of Auckland my guess is that growth will drop off for a few years. You can be bold with your own money.

        1. Even the lower range forecasts for Auckland have significant population growth. There has also been proven to be a lot of latent demand within the existing population, whenever we build quality rapid transit people flock, there is no reason to think that will change any time soon.

          I do however agree with you, buses will likely be sufficient for this route for a long time.

    2. The 380’s current lack of frequency is one reason for lack of patronage. Also lack of bus priority & merandering route. You could also argue lack of off-peak train frequency to make transfer time minimal and reliable also doesn’t help. Fix all these and it should be greatly improved.

      1. I will let you know if Patronage on 380 improves with the increased frequency. The round the block loop at Papatoetoe doesn’t help but that’s only on the trip to the airport. There is bus Priority on Lambie Drive but the buses quite often don’t use it if they are running ahead of time. The service is very punctual to Papatoetoe station although I notice it is quite often late at Mangere town center probably due to congestion at the airport. Deparure from Onehunga seem to be on time so not so bad. But the Papatoetoe Airport return is all good as is punctuality on the trains. My overseas trips all start with a 15 min walk to Papatoetoe station to catch the 380 bus magic and relaxing. Have wheely suitcase will travel.

  7. Hasn’t all the CCFAS stuff continued to assume 30,000 odd private vehicles a day into the city centre indefinitely though? Seems strange to focus on the buses when we still have Hobson Nelson and Fanshawe pouring private vehicles into the city centre of like to see more urgency removing these vehicles before getting too worried about some buses.

    Also it’s unclear how vehicle type affects the potential for adjacent land use?

      1. So easy to do, repurpose Road and parking space, keep adding quality Transit capacity, keep adding separated cycle lanes. Boom. Thriving city, declining vehicle disbenebit. Delivery access improves. Requires smart explicit policy followed through at culture level in agencies.

  8. There’s another factor surely which is relevant in deciding whether a line should be bus or LRT – the extent to which services can be leveraged off existing parts of the LR network to create a real “rapid” network. I could see, for example, a westward extension of the “Southwest” Line from Mt Roskill along the Avondale-Southdown alignment to Mt Albert and thence to Pt Chev to connect together the Northwestern, Western and Southwest lines. Another such link would be an extension to New Lynn along Maioro St and Tiverton/Wolverton to give much better connectivity to New Lynn. An eastern extension along the HR corridor from Onehunga to Penrose and further to Sylvia Park would complete the route.

    Sure these bits could be done by bus, but the way things are currently planned a trip cross town on this alignment would involve bus from Pt Chev to Mt Roskill, LR to Onehunga, HR to Penrose and then bus again to Sylvia Park. A LRT line all the way from Pt Chev to Sylvia Park would create a real “rapid” network linking ALL rapid lines in the isthmus and making South to West travel, and eastern isthmus to West (including far northwest) destinations an absolute breeze.

    All possible by incremental extension of the current proposed LR line to the airport and a pragmatic conversion of the Onehunga branch to LR – surely more appropriate for that branch anyway.

    BTW – does anyone know whether LR will adopt the “standard“ 750v DC system for LR systems or some other? I appreciate that there are many systems in use worldwide but this seems the currently favoured one.

  9. The best of both worlds would be pave in a way that can support both light rail and bus. For example the route has light rail tracks and bus asphalt and fully protected.

  10. There are many good comments here but overall, capacity is still the major driver. The French explicitly recommend that BRT works well for demands up to 2-3000 pass/hr (probably now 3-4000 pass/hr with bigger buses) and then LRT is best for 3000 to 7-10,000 pass/hr. When demand is below these levels BRT really is better than LRT. Low utilisation LRTs end up running low service frequency, and passengers would be better off with a more frequent bus.

    Space is the other other important factor. For an outer fringe greenfield site, BRT is a lot cheaper. That advantage disappears as space gets tight and land costs rise, because LRT does not need the same amount of space at stops.

    1. Isn’t demand somewhat dependent on mode? Look how the new trains increased demand on the rail network – surely a change from smelly cramped diesel buses to light rail would get a lot more shore boys/girls out of their cars.

      1. Generally yes light or heavy rail does attract more passengers than BRT. However if you have a BRT running electric or gas hybrid buses in a corridor with high quality stops and good amenity, the difference gets pretty small. The Adelaide O Bahn gets very similar pasenger demand to the tram line (really an LRT) in that city.

        One drawback of high volume BRT is operating cost. Once you are running enough buses to move 3000+ passengers per hour per direction, you can save money running an LRV every 4 to 6 minutes instead, and redeploy the buses to feeder routes.

  11. Just moved to Kumeu and joined the morning crawlie to get to work in Ak cbd. And what a fekin disaster that carpark called the SH16 moway is. Tried bus but thats worse.
    Wot I cant understand is that just a wee way from my new home there is a perfectly good railway line, just a single track. I thought it was closed but then I was gobbed to see and hear a long line of container and box wagons pulled by a pair of impressive rumbly diesels, 5051 and 5074 if that means anything to anyone.
    So where is the passenger trains running on that line, have never seen one and a neeb tells me a Swansong station is as far west as fast electric trains go. WTF? Why all this talk here about new build lite rail out nw when there is a perfectly good normal railway with stations already in situ? Its just gatta be zillions cheaper to get some trains running than new build something that does not exist?
    WHy is GA pushing lite rail instead of maximizing use of rail infra that is already existing? for nw?

    1. The most immediate reasons why passenger trains don’t run north of Swanson is that if a EMU train gets stuck in the Waitakere Tunnel, there is no way to escape as our trains don’t have exit doors on the end like the ones in Wellington. There is also the issue that electrification does not extend north of Swanson.

      However even if these issues were solved, the Western Line is very slow as it takes a very indirect route with many stations. It’s already 53 minutes from Swanson to Britomart, from Kumeu would be about 73 minutes.

      However light rail would be substantially more direct, by following the path of SH16. Kumeu to Britomart would probably take less than 40 minutes.

      1. This is arch-conservatism, as the diesel service without end-doors happily ran through the Waitakere Tunnel for years.

        Anyway the simple answer is that when a further batch of EMUs is bought for Auckland, end-doors are specified. These can then be the ones that operate the future extended Western service.

        A more comprehensive approach would be to double-track the line further west, including widening of the Waitakere Tunnel.

        1. Why would you spend a whole lot of money on an indirect route when it will be superceeded with a more direct one? I can understand the logic of a diesel shuttle service in the interim but not any further long term investment.

          1. Would that ‘whole lot of money’ not be a pittsnce compared to the cost of making a brand new lite rail system? The rail line kumeu to swanson is already there and operational but Lite rail is just a distant dream. I have been catching up on GA archives and some of those battery emus would be perfect. That wiatekere tunnel opening or widening also looks minor compared to infra needed for lite rail.
            Why cant we have both? Might be needed looking at housing growth out here. Just do rail first, lower cost, shorter timetable

          2. It would certainly be cheaper but it would be an inferior solution. LR will be built to Westgate anyway so an extension to Kumeu over greenfields would not be massively expensive and would give a trip of around 15 – 25 mins quicker when compared with post-CRL HR.

            The battery EMUs cost about 50 % more than regular EMUs with a battery life of 7 years, they weren’t cheap and looks like it’s not going to happen. I’d definitely support using the DMUs to run a shuttle between Kumeu and Swanson in the interim.

      1. The current Western Line service is utterly hamstrung by the Newmarket reversal and insistence on all-trains-all-stops. Would be possible now to have every other train skip Newmarket (and overtake the ‘stopper’ while it is berthed there), then continue limited-stop to Swanson, but the powers-that-be do not want to rock the all-stops boat. Ironical really, because an all-stops mentality is one of the factors that normally makes light rail slower than heavy rail!

        Once the CRL is operational the Western Line will automatically improve by no longer having to go via Newmarket. But it could benefit more by installing overtaking-tracks at Henderson enabling expresses to overtake stoppers there. Possibly elsewhere also??

        Would be much cheaper to speed the Western Line up in this way, plus extend it out further west, than build a whole new light rail route. Not saying this shouldn’t be done also, but there is great potential to do more with what we have, if the p-t-b would be a little more enthusiastic.

        Also deal with the current ridiculous dwell-times which still let the service down. On a recent visit to London I timed the dwell-times on a typical crowded underground train and they were about 30s.

        1. If the express left Britomart 10 minutes after the stopper, the stopper would have to wait quite a long time at Newmarket to allow it to overtake. Are you instead suggesting we get rid of consistent 10 minute departures from Britomart?

          Any express services will mean some stations don’t have 10 min frequency at peak, a very Wellington solution that I am pleased we don’t have here.

          1. Yes Jezza, if some trains were to run as expresses on today’s network we would need to alter the 10-min departure-pattern from Britomart. This would be the trade-off for speeding up certain journeys and making this aspect of the service more-attractive. I agree, a fixed and frequent service-interval is valuable feature of any PT service but in this case it comes at a detriment to other aspects of the service and in my view is perhaps given too much weight.

            However once the CRL is up and running it will be possible to maintain a 10-min base-pattern while also interspersing additional trains into this (e.g. expresses to Kumeu).

          2. Wellington can keep it’s crappy old school thinking operating patterns thanks. They’re a relic if old school rail planning that are inappropriate in Auckland. Moving to regular 10 min frequencies has delivered a way better customer experience than saving a few minutes (like we used to have with some express trains).

            The western line is also the worst line in Auckland to propose this on. It has much fewer Britomart focused trips and more interline trips to destinations along the way. For example, of all trips that don’t involve a transfer to south or east (to keep it easier), there were about 6.4m trips last fiscual year. Of that only 40% started or ended at Britomart. That compares with about 58% for the entire network (including western line). Moving to express our skip stop services would make things worse for little gain.

            Note: I also say this as someone who lives out past Henderson so would benefit from faster trips. Further, even with CRL I’d rather have 5-min frequency all stop services than express/non-express each operating every 10.

          3. I imagine the consistent 10 minute pattern is pretty important to the effective running of the Britomart entrance at peak. The only real option is to have some skip Newmarket meaning there is a 7/13 min running pattern west of Newmarket. I don’t think allows for any express services, given the service the skips Newmarket would only be 7 mins behind the previous train.

            While this is a 3 min benefit to those travelling West to Britomart who’s schedule fits a 20 min running pattern, it is an inconvenience to anyone travelling to Newmarket or transferring to Southern trains. Not sure it is worth it, especially when it wouldn’t work during the period Mt Eden station is being constructed and there is only a single track through the site anyway.

            I would have thought passing loops at selected stations for express services would slow the all stops service being passed. This service would have to wait for the express to catch up pass and get far enough ahead to proceed and this would be if they lined up perfectly.

            This appears to be a solution looking for a problem and creating other problems while it’s at it. The whole point of the CRL was to have a base pattern more frequent than every 10 mins.

          4. Matt, the CFN2 has Southern Line trains expressing past Papatoetoe, Middlemore, Greenlane, and Remuera stations. Will this require quad tracking, considering you are proposing 18tph in each direction on these sections?

          5. Matt L, Wellington’s patronage is also growing in spite of its “crappy old school thinking operating pattern thanks”. The (relatively few) peak-hour express services that run are generally packed out, so presumably some people appreciate them. The Wairarapa and Capital Connection services which obviously need to run express through the Metro area to achieve what they do, are nevertheless mobbed by shorter-distance passengers looking for a faster ride in spite of a premium being charged.

            Some of Wellington’s expresses are of course counter-peak empty return runs which are advertised in the timetable and are available for passenger use. Auckland has these too, but generally not available to passengers.

            My recommendation that the Western Line be sped up by allowing express-running was in the context of suggestions that the service should be extended further west and a comment above that the line’s current slowness makes it “useless” (for getting anywhere fast). By not considering express-running, this valuable asset will only ever fulfil its present limited local role.

            Current proposals to build a totally-separate rapid (presumably express!) light rail route out West will likely have a lot of hurdles to overcome before it becomes a reality. Meanwhile as people have repeatedly pointed out, the NAL already exists and could provide a successful Wairarapa-type service much more readily and cheaply than this longer-term project, at least once the CRL opens.

            Why knock this idea?

          6. I’m not sure it is a ‘limited local role’ when it moves around 6 million passengers a year.

            I don’t think the Kumeu area has as bigger catchment as the Wairarapa so I’m not sure it would be as successful as those services, especially as it would have to terminate at Mt Eden or Newmarket if it is diesel. I doubt it is worth messing around with a line that moves as many as the western line just to account for this currently small catchment.

            Also Labour propose to have NW LR built by 2027, while the CRL opening date is 2024. There really is only three years when this stop gap measure would be useful.

            From all evidence I’ve seen it is simply not possible to run express services with all-stops 10 min services on the same tracks. Any introduction of express trains would either require a third track or a reduction in service for a number of stations, not sure which stations you are suggesting.

      1. Yes, yes, my neeb made same suggestion so tonight i drove backroad wiatekere rd which seems to almost completely parallel the rail line to swanson station. Will do that 7am and get electric train to city leaving volt in station carpark whichseems to be free!! Could not find car recharge point though.

  12. An article on the Dublin Area bus network redesign shows the ends fanning out. This can lead to more people on a busway as less people have to board and alight.

  13. Is it not true that the Unitary Plan allows for a lot of intensification in Mission Bay, Kohi, St Heliers? A light rail line down Tamaki Drive could help intensification in these areas…although I know on current patronage this line would otherwise not justify the cost. Or did the communities manage to lower the proposed building heights in these areas?

    1. “Is it not true that the Unitary Plan allows for a lot of intensification in Mission Bay, Kohi, St Heliers?”

      It is not true. There was never much upzoning proposed and what little was proposed was watered down.

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