This is part three of my series that looks at how we can improve Wellington’s rail network.

  • In Part 1 I summarised the network and recent upgrades to it.
  • In Part 2 I looked at some of the upgrades likely to be progressed in the near future and the need to improve the Wairarapa line.

In today’s post, we will look at a few more ways we can improve the Wellington rail network.

Improving Cycle/Walking Connections

This is a no-brainer, improving safe quality links to/from the stations increases the catchment of the network for very little money in the grand scheme of things. Safe and abundant bike parking at stations like in the Netherlands is a must, as is working with the private sector or rolling out an in-house bike share programme.

Moving from a Suburban Railway System to a Metro System

The Wellington Regional Rail Plan 2010-2035 shows a large amount of tension if the Wellington rail network is a suburban or a metro network, in the end settling for a compromise preferred pathway where the inner network is considered metro while the outer suburban.

Future Wellington Rail Network

This compromise results in a weird timetabled system that, for the sake of maybe a few minutes savings for the outer network, is:

  1. Not intuitive to passengers and creates unnecessary confusion;
  2. Doesn’t maximise train loadings all at the expense of reliability and the inner network;
  3. Reduces the frequency of the network both the inner and outer;
  4. Reduces the reliability of the network as more complicated movements means more room for error;

    Future Confusing Wellington Service Pattern

All very confusing, luckily so far this is something we have managed to avoid in Auckland though the mention of investigating of more limited stops services has me concerned. The other difference Auckland plans to have in the future four tracks from Westfield – Papakura making expresses a much easier proposition.

From a network perspective, it would make more sense to procure new or decent second hand DMU’s fit for regional travel for the Capital Connection and Wairarapa Lines then truncate them on the outer part of the metro network. You could then run frequent shuttle services all day while freeing up space for a clockface frequent all stops metro network.

The time savings lost from losing an express service can be made up with an increase in frequency and reliability.

The Melling Line

The Melling line is very odd and I am not sure what it really is serving as there is not much walking catchment. If you only have a certain amount of free train capacity slots on the inner network it seems a little wasteful in my opinion. The solution here would be to build a turnback at Petone and instead of running an infrequent service to the city run a super frequent shuttle back and forward between Melling and Petone.

Melling Line

Extending the Hutt Line 

It may also be worth investigating whether to extend the Hutt line extending electrification/double tracking by one or two stations adding stations at Maoribank and/or Clouston Park.

If the stations are feasible but the double tracking and electrification are not then they could become part of the Wairarapa line.

Removing Level Crossings

Looking at having a level crossing removal programme like Auckland could also be useful.

The Capital Connection 

The Capital Connection is a once-daily return service running from Palmerston North – Wellington. Being only once a day makes it hard to rely on as if you miss it you are in trouble, also it means it can get very crowded.

A recent business case showed

The line would have a benefit-cost ratio of 9.4, meaning every dollar invested would create $9.40 in benefits.

It may also be worth investigating if the service should start at Feilding not far from Palmerston North where the station is right in the heart of the town rather than Palmerston North, adding a few more passing loops for increased frequency as well as completing the Otaki deviation fixing the windy alignment of that section. The latter two upgrades also benefit KiwiRail’s freight operations.

Like the Wairarapa line, the Capital Connection with increased frequency would create the opportunity to better connect with more frequent regional bus services from towns such as Foxton, which are not on the rail line but close to neighbouring towns as well the Capital Connection.

As mentioned before procuring some new or decent second hand DMU’s fit for regional travel alongside some network upgrades would be ideal for this route. The service could bounce back between Feilding and the outer metro network making the service much more reliable, amenable and useful.

Queensland DMU

If the Capital Connection became frequent enough the increased service could be an alternative to extending the electrification and metro network to Otaki which was estimated between $50m – $60m not including additional rolling stock.

Looking at Improved Signalling

At current Wellington operates on an older system to Auckland where we operate a system which is European Train Control System Level 1 compliant. There are a few advantages to having ETCS:

  1. Increased headways allowing a potential 24 trains per hour per direction;
  2. Full bi-directional signalling giving resilience and capacity at key points;
  3. Automatic train protection protecting trains from overspeed and signals passed at danger risk the latter which happened in 2016.

KiwiRail estimates installing ETCS Level 1 would be around $175 – 200 million. The real issue is why there are huge advantages to having automatic train protection, Wellington doesn’t have the same capacity constraints headway wise or junction wise that can’t be fixed really cheaply. For example, adding a fourth track in the Wellington station approach yards reducing conflicts, or clearer signals.

Bi-directional movement would be useful but its more a nice to have than needed. There are also other ways to address some of the safety concerns but this should be thought about for the medium-long term.

So a few ideas to improve the Wellington rail network what do you think?

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  1. The Melling Line used to be much longer, extending all the way to Manor Park, but has since been ripped out. I think this is a shame.

    However there are now discussions about moving the Melling Station further south (making the link a few hundred metres shorter), and further away from the Melling Interchange where there are plans for a redesign.

    I actually prefer to see the Melling Station moved over to the other side of the river and on top of the Riverbank carpark. This means the station would be much closer to the Hutt City CBD and a much better catchment. The only issue is the cost for a rail crossing the river and some property acquisition.

      1. Harriet, the GWRC are calling for input right at the moment into their 10 year plan – so please don’t leave it too long !

        1. Melling would be the easiest way to serve Lower Hutt cbd, wheather by pedestrian bridge over the river or taking the rail line over. Perhaps more patronage would be generated by turning the stations carpark into transit oriented development. A pedestrian overbridge from the station over the ‘motorway’ direct to Harbourview would also help walkup catchment. Weekend service and off peak frequency would need to be addressed.

    1. There were quite a few reasons for the truncation of the railway line along the western side of the Hutt Valley to what is now the Melling Branch.
      * A growing intensity of residential development on the eastern side of the Hutt Valley, especially post-WW2, attracted a greater focus for provision of infrastructure and transport services. An extension of the Hutt Valley Branch, that had effectively stalled at Waterloo since the 1920s, was seen as the best way to serve the growing population of the Hutt Valley into the future.
      * Improvements to Western Hutt Road over the years have required more land in what was (and to some extent still is) a narrow corridor beside the Hutt River. Parts of the original railway formation have been consumed by road works since the line’s closure. This obviously would have been more difficult and expensive had this line remained open.
      * The risk of winter flooding from the Hutt River was a constant concern whilst the railway ran along the western side of the valley. The eastern route is far less prone to this menace.
      * When the present route opened at the same time the old route was closed, the new double-track line was quite adequate for contemporary traffic requirements. There was just no need to keep the old route, it had served its purpose.

      Depending on your perspective, there were some “cons” to the closure of the old route. Several (small) communities on the western side of the valley lost their direct rail connection, most notably Belmont. Also, for services to/from north of Manor Park, now have a slightly longer route into Wellington via the eastern line. The original Melling station was sited north of Melling Link Road and was moved to its present location to avoid having a level crossing there, which arguably made more sense as now the station is closer to its users.

      Years ago, there was mention made in some report of the possibility of terminating the line across the river to bring it closer to a larger catchment, but that is probably about as likely as reinstating the line back through to Manor Park.

      1. In the early 90s a detailed report was produced by consultants for Hutt City Council showing the Melling Line extended on street through the city centre to Waterloo – essentially tramtrain, before that term gained currency.

        1. I’ve heard of some people advocating for tram-trains to Lower Hutt using the Melting line but they’re usually just the usual tram-train fanboys (like a certain guy called Brett).

          But I’ve never heard of any offical report commissioned by the Hutt council. And I find it a bit of a stretch to believe. I’d be interested you’ve got any actual name of this report or any evidence.

    2. The railway line wasn’t just moved to serve the growing suburban spread of Lower Hutt. It was also to improve SH2 to a limited access road.

      Personally; I think it was a big shame that the line wasn’t retained to Belmont as there would be a catchment from residents in Belmont and Kelson and even the more eastern parts of Naenae.

      Who knows though; maybe one day in the distant future there will be enough of a justification to move SH2 more eastward and reconnect the line.

    3. The Melling line was part of the original Wellington to Masterton railway line until the 1954 when the Taita to Manor Park was completed.

  2. A big gap is having a bridge from Stokes Valley to Manor Park Station. Manor Park is one of the lowest patronage on the Hutt line but could be boosted with a simple walking/cycling connection over the Hutt River.

    Melling should just be ditched in favour of improved bus services. It only runs in peak during the week, so most users have to use buses or other transport the rest of the time anyway.

    It is mind-boggling that the new motorway interchange at Haywards Hill Road (intersection of SH58 and SH2) didn’t remove the level crossing. Total failure of integrated transport planning, and the agencies involved should be shamed for such poor work.

    1. @ Ben: Not true about Melling. It runs an hourly service between the peaks. It is primarily used by park/kiss-and-riders from the Western Hill suburbs, and also by those walking over the Melling Bridge to Lower Hutt centre which is not far away (much closer than Waterloo which purports to be “Hutt Central” station).
      I fully agree with dharborne that the line should be extended across the river to an even more central location.

      The issue at Haywards I presume is that the level crossing which should have been eliminated is not on the state highway and therefore not under the jurisdiction of NZTA. As it is a dead-end, low-use local road only, it was probably not high on Hutt City Council’s priority list either. But agree, given the huge amount of money showered on the interchange project, a million or two to bridge over the railway would have been chump change.

      1. I stand corrected, although I will say, hourly service isn’t particularly attractive for casual or unplanned trips, whereas the more frequent bus services will attract far more people.

        Extending rail into Lower Hutt central is surely going to be more expensive than it’s worth.

    2. The Melling line justifies itself with its patronage levels.

      And it’s inevitable that at some stage in the future; the streets close to Melling and Western Hutt station will see some development into higher-density housing.

    3. Yes I have said for years that there should be a bridge from the mouth of Stokes valley to Manor park which would give a connection for Stokes Valley and Taita to not only SH2 but also the Haywards hill road.

  3. If there’s one thing Auckland does need, it’s more emphasis on speed and that means LS/Express trains at peak times. There should be at least one LS train on all lines in the AM and PM peak instead of inflicting the tedious stop/start pattern on a large number of passengers(and potential passengers) for the sake of a few who might have a slightly longer wait.

    1. The last thing Auckland needs is 20 min frequencies as soon as the new bus network, which relies on a lot more connections is implemented.

    2. Mainly need to fix Auckland’s dwell times by nearly half to solve that tedious problem. Also 3rd/4th main around Westfield. So often train dawdles or stops down there so as to not clash with another service, even on the weekend..or perhaps it’s just keeping to the slow timetable.

  4. Harriet, where did you get these ideas from? Are these purely your own impressions or are you citing some other source here?:

    1.Not intuitive to passengers and creates unnecessary confusion;
    2.Doesn’t maximise train loadings all at the expense of reliability and the inner network;
    3.Reduces the frequency of the network both the inner and outer;
    4.Reduces the reliability of the network as more complicated movements means more room for error;

    Just to put a Wellingtonian’s slant on it:

    1. Full information about how the system operates is readily available. Every station now has a timetable on-display plus a real-time information screen on each platform (in contrast to past decades when many intermediate stations displayed no information at all! Then, I agree, it was confusing). Also, don’t be put off by the Strategy Diagram reproduced above. I find this confusing and it’s not how I would have drawn it.

    2. The current express / all-stops operation has no trouble in attracting patronage. Indeed the reason for moving to the more-intensive RS1 timetable is that patronage is continuing to rise. The express services in particular are very popular and in the case of the Wairarapa service (which runs ‘express’ through the metro area), people will pay a premium to use it to key metro stations which it stops at! And the advantage of the inner-area stoppers is to give passengers from these stations a much better chance of getting a seat instead of finding every train already packed full with outer folk.

    3. During the peak period, certain journeys between intermediate stations require a change of trains, however the timetable is designed as far as possible to limit these to lower-demand situations. It is accepted that the counter-peak direction during peak-hours will offer a lower frequency than the peak-direction. This is not unreasonable and enables the express return of empty trains back to the start to subsequently pick up more peak loads. Stopping everything everywhere would create a much bigger compromise for many more people.

    4. As regards reliability, I am not aware that it is impacted directly as a result of this pattern of service. The worst that can happen is that an express gets held-up behind a late-running stopper and loses its speed-advantage through the inner area. However the benefit to ‘outer’ passengers not having to endure stop-start, doors-open-doors-close at every station still remains.

    While there may indeed be a loss of simplicity from this type of operation, there are significant benefits also. Auckland has chosen its own set of compromises and misses out on some of these benefits. I would remark that these compromises are aggravated by the current excessive dwell-times imposed on every train at every stop. Auckland would arguably stand to benefit more than Wellington by running expresses.

    If we were to canvass operations of similar size and reach internationally, I suspect we would find Wellington’s pattern to be the more common. It certainly happened on the “BedPan” service (now “Thameslink”) north of London where I grew up. And I suspect that Auckland will also need to get used to it once longer-distance outer-regional services get added to the mix.

    1. That was my impression as well. These perceived problems are not the view of the actual users.

      Wellington’s network is very well run, utilising resources where and when they are needed. If they ran all trains to the end of the line with the same frequency it would result in a major cost blowout.

      One of the reasons Auckland’s opex is so much higher than Wellington is because after all the inner network crowds alight from the train, it keeps going with mostly empty seats all the way to the end of the network. That’s not a good way to run a cost-effective service at all, and Auckland could learn a thing or two from Wellington in that regard.

    2. Looking at the timetable the express services save some commuters five minutes. The loss from this is that frequencies are 20 mins as opposed to 10 mins for almost all commuters. Lower frequency means many people will have to catch a train earlier than they would like to make their destination on time, which evaporates the 5 minute saving by running express.

      Auckland is building a metro network, trying to make as many different PT trips as possible viable. Wellington is continuing with a suburban network that gives commuters with a bit of flexibility in their exact work hours the best possible service. That may well be best for Wellington but it is certainly not best for Auckland.

      I agree Auckland will have express trains at some stage, but these are only likely to run on sections with triple or quad track, they won’t come at the expense of 10 min frequencies across the network.

  5. Is the RS1 pattern even possible with double tracking? I would have thought squeezing seven express trains in between five all stops services between Taita and Wellington would be pretty challenging.

    There is nothing metro about what is being proposed, very few stations would have a service every ten mins.

    1. There’s no intention that the network will become a metro: in the Regional Rail Plan that word is used in a geographical sense rather than to mean a particular type of railway operation. It will continue to be a suburban railway rather than a metro, and “Moving from a Suburban Railway System to a Metro System” is not a good summary of what the RRP is about.

  6. The Melling line actually used to be the main line to the Wairarapa, cut back to Melling when the route via Waterloo was completed in 1955. As Dave B says, it’s become mainly a park&ride, very well situated right beside SH2. And it is easily walkable from Lower Hutt City centre, but you’d never know it – the route is not intuitive, and wayfinding information is nonexistent..

    As for DMUs for Wairarapa/Capital Connection, GWRC has put in a budget bid for 16 EDMUs, running off the overhead in the electrified area, diesel elsewhere (and the QR unit pictured is an EMU, not a DMU – the pantograph is clearly visible at

    And I fully agree with Dave’s comments about the “weird” timetabling: such a layered approach is common round the world, and I don’t think that the criticisms of the service pattern hold water. It seems to work pretty well, ensuring that complete trainloads of outer-suburban passengers don’t clutter up inner-suburban units while providing them with a fast service. The resulting 20-minute headways for intermediate stations are not ideal, but it’s a pretty effective compromise (and all timetabling is a compromise).

  7. I can’t see how Wellington’s railway network could move to a metro operation without extending the line into wellington CBD with a tunnel.
    Changing the Melling line to a shuttle service would only result in killing off the Melling line. Because the resulting inconvenient and extra time added resulting from it would offer no advantage over driving for local residents. In the long term; the areas the line serves are certain to see some urban development of higher-density housing so it makes sense to keep it as it is.

    Now that the overpass was been built at McKay’s crossing there aren’t really any level crossing remaining that cause congestion with automobile traffic. There’s sometimes a few issues at the crossings that adjacent to Linden and Redwood stations but the rest of the crossings on the Johnsonville, Upper Hutt and Porirua lines don’t really cause any problems.

    The Capital connection itself, let alone any upgrades, could become more justified if Otaki and Levin see some growth, which is quite likely with the improvements in roading. It was the Waikanae passengers that made the Capital connection highly profitable, but now that’s served by the Paraparaumu line with an electrification extension so they’ve dropped significantly and the service into unprofitability.
    But then again; if enough passengers for the capital connection came from Otaki it would probably eventually also see extension of electrification and inclusion to the Wellington network as would Levin at some later stage.
    I doubt that Fielding would provide enough new commuters for the Capital connection but I suppose that trialing it as a terminus (with earlier departure times) couldn’t hurt. These passengers would have to be for people wanting to get from Fielding to Wellington given that the Milson location of the current Palmerston North station isn’t convenient for anyone to Palmerston North as it is over 1km from the CBD and even further from the University.

    One thing that’s never been considered much (at least I’ve never tracked down any feasibility study) is providing Porirua East with a branch of commuter rail, if only initially to Ascot Park. It would of course require extensive works including tunnelling and would probably have a price tag over 500 million dollars but in my opinion it would definitely be an investment for the future.

  8. The GRWC business case for EDMU’s is based on the following –

    1. To allow suburban train services or Metro services to be extended to Otaki without the need to electrify from Waikane to Otaki

    2. To improve services on the Wairarapa Line from Wellington to Featherston, Woodside (Greytown), Carterton and Masterton.

    3. Upgrade the Capital Connection to at least 3 return daily service between Wellington and Palmerston North.

    This will give Metlink the flexibility plus it will form the basis for the government’s plan for regional rail services in the lower North Island.

    It would be nice to upgrade the track from Masterton to Woodville, Hastings and Napier to passenger rail specifications to allow the re-introduction of Wellington to Hastings and Napier passenger services using EDMUs.

    Depending on the range of the EDMU’s, there is no reason why EDMU’s can not be used for the re-introduction of Wellington to Palmerston North, Whanganui and New Plymouth passenger rail services.

      1. Great trip that one. And they could sell tickets, to watch the roads on the other side of the Gorge continue to wash away down into the river.

      2. Patrick Reynolds – Via Masterton. There is a freight track north from Masterton to Woodville –

        By upgrading the line between Masterton and Woodville for passenger services and operate a EDMU service between Wellington, Upper Hutt, Featherston, Masterton, Woodville, Hastings and Napier as a daily service, then Eketahuna, Pahiatua and Mangatainoka (home of Tui Brewery) farming communities can be added to regional passenger rail access to Hastings, Napier, Masterton, Upper Hutt and Wellington. There will be no requirement to use the Manawatu Gorge.

    1. The old Bay Express wasn’t a commercial success, so why would a new service on the same route work? Even if you’re suggesting a Wellington – Napier service via Wairarapa instead of Palmerston North, it’d still face the same issues as its predecessor. Just who would use it and why?

      The three remaining KiwiRail Scenic services still exist because they have features that appeal to tourists. What about a Wellington – Napier service is going to bring in the tourists? Locals won’t use such a service in sufficient numbers while the alternatives of driving or flying are more competitive on time and probably cost. To enable passenger rail journey times on that route competitive with an equivalent road journey would require an investment that’d be hard to justify.

      1. I’m pretty sure that the bay express returned a profit until its last 3-4 years of operation (when its patronage plummeted).

        I’m not saying that it would return a profit today.

      2. During the 1990’s when the following Tranz Scenic services operated, the then General Manager (Passenger) John Moriarty stated that the overall network was “a steady little earner” for the wider Tranz Rail business. True, some routes ran at a loss, but some didn’t and the passenger network as an ‘organic-whole’ made a profit.

        (Overlander, Northerner, Kaimai, Geyserland, Bay Express, Capital Connection, Tranz Coastal, Tranz Alpine, and Southerner.)

        What changed this was:

        a) A shift from marginal costing to “fully allocated costing” – the aim being to make a “commercial return” on passenger trains, but they proved not to be sustainable on this greedy basis and the company ‘killed the golden goose’ and lost its steady little earner.

        b) Controlling-shareholder Fay-Richwhite’s purge from the exec team of all who actually had an interest in passenger trains and installation of hatchet-man Michael Beard to asset-strip the organisation for maximum cash extraction (to the personal accounts of Messrs F&W). An Australian company “West Cost Rail” briefly took a major share of the passenger business intending to build it up, but the unfortunate death of its principal and main driving force meant that the momentum was lost. Toll Holdings purchased Tranz Rail in 2003 openly declaring that they had no interest in running passenger trains.

        So, ‘Killed by a combination of greed and disinterest’ would aptly sum up what happened to these passenger services. It is not that they were not a commercial success, nor that there was no local demand for them. Since then, KiwiRail have intentionally focussed only on the tourism sector, and so for about 2 decades now, no-one has sought to grow or re-grow the carelessly-discarded, general long-distance passenger-rail market.

        Let’s see what the new government’s regional rail initiative yields before declaring that “Locals won’t use such a service in sufficient numbers”.

        1. Not sure you can really say they killed the golden goose when the profitable services are the ones still running. All of the other services were loosing passengers, the losses they were making were only getting bigger, most rational companies would look to cut these services.

        2. The only passenger train services that was loosing money under the old Tranz Scenic passenger brand, was the Geyserland Express and the Southerner between Dunedin and Invercargill. The Southerner just broke even between Christchurch and Dunedin. The Kaimai Express was another just break even service.

          The Tranz Coastal (now Coastal Pacific) service between Christchurch, Kaikoura, Blenheim and Picton lost money during the winter months but made money during the Summer months, especially when Interislander change their ferry sailings to match the train’s timetable after the Lynx ferry was withdrawn.

        3. When Michael Beard was hired as MD, he had a more pressing problem: the company as a whole was going bust, and that had everything to do with what had gone wrong in the freight business (I was working in Passenger at the time, so I had some skin in the game).

          More accurately, at the time Passenger, and Passenger Rail, was covering its direct operating costs, but not to the point that further investment, which was needed, was warranted.

        4. The Bay Express was just one of many passenger train services in New Zealand that ultimately met their demise due to disinterest from the travelling public.

          The Southerner, after initially making the short-list for services to be terminated in 2001, received a 6 month government subsidy to keep it going temporarily but still ended up being cancelled in February 2002 after an initial bump in patronage because travellers just didn’t use the train in sustainable numbers. This, despite it being common knowledge that the future of the service was under threat if it couldn’t attract enough business. Yes, private owners happened to be in charge at the time, but you can’t blame them for all passenger trains terminated for similar reasons. And they weren’t all about closing down services either. For example, whilst under private ownership, New Zealand Rail experimented with an express service between Christchurch and Picton, the Lynx Express.

          Suburban passenger services in Dunedin and Christchurch were also terminated when patronage dropped to unsustainable levels. Published sources note of the Lyttelton and Rangiora services in Christchurch that at the time they were cancelled they were averaging about a bus load of passengers per trip, in which case why wouldn’t you have them use a bus since it is so much cheaper to run? The Palmerston North — Masterton trains were stopped in 1988 when they were carrying about half a bus load per trip, a clearly unsustainable level. It could be said that the Silver Star’s demise was due to an accident of timing, but again its inability to generate enough revenue was its downfall. Even when the railways were under government ownership before the 1990s there was still an element of commercial viability expected of lines and services.

          I’m not against the existence of passenger services that have been mentioned on this forum, or the reinstatement of services that have been cancelled, but I don’t see the sense in throwing good money after bad. History has demonstrated that high priorities for local travellers are timeliness and cost in their mode choice. This is not something the railways have traditionally been competitive at when compared with road travel. The significant investment required to remedy this for new long-distance services is such that a “build it and they will come” attitude just won’t do. Proposals like Regional Rapid Rail take a somewhat cautious approach to establishing new services, building up demand through a staged implementation, but necessarily focussing on an area of greatest potential demand. When destinations like Napier and Whanganui are suggested for new passenger rail services, little thought appears to be given to potential demand (and thus viability) when often, in many cases, historical services on those same routes have failed in the face of competition. It would make no sense to deliberately push ahead with a new passenger rail service if the conveyance of passengers between the same destinations could be more cost-effectively achieved by other means. To improve rail’s offerings, then, becomes a question of how much is too much to invest for rail to have a better service than its competition and thus attract a sustainable level of support.

        5. Very well said.

          I well remember when the decision to cancel the bay express was made and it was stated that only an average of something like ~50 people were using each service. Air New Zealand & Ansett NZ’s cheap regional flights along with cheap 2nd-hand Japanese import cars had eroded the appeal of the bay express over the years. Why take a train when you could just drive and get there quicker?

          Having said that: Almost 20 years later with an increase in tourism and the Manawatu gorge road gone; I think perhaps the bay express could be run on a 6 month trial over the holiday season. But just only for a trial

        6. One of the things that has helped kill passenger trains in NZ is the miserable offering of one service per day. This is what stymied the attempted Helensville service and earlier Hamilton-Auckland serives. It is what currently hobbles the Capital Connection. And the converse to this is the Wairarapa service which offers 5 services per day and thrives (albeit with a subsidy).

          The fact that passenger services have failed before does not spell certainty that they will fail again when times, circumstances and preferences have moved on. Passenger trains offer an answer to a number of unmet transport needs in our changing society and the time is right to try again, and do it better this time.

          Having grown up in Britain during the “Beeching era” when rail services were decimated with all the same arguments that we are hearing here, and having since observed success after success as lines are re-opened, I have come to the realisation that it is wrong to assume finality in this process.

          Much about rail remains pertinent and valuable for society, and a resurgence may be just waiting to be unlocked. I applaud the government’s recognition of this and willingness to give it a go. The alternative of ever-increasing car-dependency with a few motley bus-services thrown in does little to inspire.

        7. Dave I simply must disagree with you on this one.

          Services do not decline because fewer of them are offered, it’s the other way around. Services are reduced/removed or expanded with demand. The Wairarapa connection is a success (despite the endless moanings of people from there) because there’s demand and because it’s much more convenient & affordable for most people than the alternatives of driving or taking a coach.
          There’s clearly not the same demand for commuter services from Palmerston North and the intermediates locations to Wellington given that the Capital connection runs at a loss and cannot fill a train anymore, although this may ironically change with likely developments of the Horowhenua and Kapiti regions as a result of upgrades to SH1.

          Railways in NZ must be rebuilt from the bottom up. Passenger services can be profitable for Kiwirail but they must both meet a demand and offer a service attractive enough to alternatives of driving, taking a coach or short haul flights.
          Unfortunately outside of the most busiest corridors; this is not going to be possible in the short term as the condition of tracks & sleepers on these lines is poor, signalling is archaic, alignments are tricky etc.
          Most of the lines in NZ do however offer rail freight services that are attractive to many customers over road freight and where some customers are willing to have the extra hour or so on rail freight movements for the efficiencies rail offers when moving heavy bulk of freight. So this is clearly where the rebuilding of rail in NZ must start. If Kiwirail can get enough freight movements on lines; they can justify investing in improving the tracks, modernising signals and perhaps even improving alignments on those said lines. It is once these lines can be improved that competitive passenger services can be offered. A good example of this is the prospect of a new Bay express between Wellington and Hawkes Bay that instead goes via the Wairarapa.

          The Beeching axe in the 1960’s UK is not a good comparison as the UK and NZ are different countries with different situations. But in case you weren’t told; British railways were haemorrhaging money before they hired Dr. Beeching. Whatever you may think of the resulting closures; the fact is the he was not to blame for what caused it.

      3. J90 – The Bay Express was profitable service both from a tourist and local passenger point of view. The only draw back with the Bay Express, was the slow speed through the Manawatu Gorge, resulting in a 5 hour travel time each way. It made a good day excursion for tourists.

        1. … and yet at the time it was cancelled, the Bay Express was averaging about a bus load of passengers per trip. The Overlander, TranzCoastal, and TranzAlpine were retained; the Bay Express was not. The difference being, the former were (and are) commercially viable, whereas an internal Tranz Rail review determined that the Bay Express was not. The Bay Express presumably was a profitable service for quite some time to have stuck around for 12 years, but its fortunes appear to have followed a familiar path, dwindling in the face of competition to the point of obsolescence.

          When patronage of a passenger train falls to the level that you could fit everyone on a bus then the obvious response is to do just that, assuming those travellers haven’t deserted by then for some other transport mode. It just isn’t sustainable for a traditional passenger rail service. To be fair, one of the ways the old government railways tried to address this problem was to introduce railcars to lower operational costs, but this option wasn’t on the cards for the long-distance services axed in the early ’00s that weren’t already using railcars.

    2. The rail journey is slower than a bus for New Plymouth and Napier, there is no way a train would be successful with the current track alignments.

      1. It’s not so much the alignments in Hawkes bay & the Wairarapa (although they are less than ideal) as it is the condition of the track.

        If there were more regular freight movements between Napier & Wellington and thus an incentive to make more use of the line between Woodville & Masterton; there would also be an incentive to improve the track condition between Masterton and Napier. A passenger service between Wellington & Napier could then be competitive at least with coaches.

  9. Harriet – there is a large Elephant in the room on your post. Ways to improve Wellington’s Rail Network part 3? Does Part 4 involve extending it into Wellington?

    Because, that is the main issue at present – currently, the Wellington Rail Network does not really serve anyone living in Wellington (except for Johnsonville / Tawa etc). I know, I generalise – but the Wellington Rail Network serves people living in 3 other cities more than it actually helps people in this city. It goes to Porirua (a completely different city), it goes to the Hutt – both Lower Hutt and Upper Hutt – both separate cities – and it goes all the way up to the Wairarapa – and the only common thing about the Wairarapa is that they refuse to have be thought of as part of Wellington. Its like saying the Coromandel is Auckland. Its just not.

    So, we end up with Wellington, which has a great bus service and has no train service. What Wellington REALLY needs, is for the existing train lines to continue through the city, into the suburbs on the other side to the south and the east. This is so mind-bogglingly obvious, and important, that we keep proposing it, and it keeps not happening. If you can solve that conundrum, we’ll love you forever.

    1. I’m not sure what arbitrary lines on a map and what local authority you pay rates collect rubbish to really has to do with anything. The reality is the Wellington urban area and it’s immediate surrounds has some pretty decent rail coverage but also has a number of areas that are not covered at all.

    2. “Its like saying the Coromandel is Auckland. Its just not.”

      I didn’t realise that 1,000s of people from the Coromandel commuted to central Auckland every day?

      1. So you’re saying that the Wairarapa with an entire mountain range between it and the Wellington region is part of Wellington because 100’s of people who live in the Wairarapa commute to Wellington to work?

    3. It may be mind bogglingly obvious if you completely ignore any kind of cost and practicality.

      Auckland’s heavy rail extension through the city centre is coming it at around a billion dollars a kilometre.

      To extend Wellington’s network to the south and the east would require about 12km of new tracks. So about 12 billion dollars.

      1. And why would extending rail into Wellington’s CBD be as expensive as Auckland’s CRL again when It wouldn’t need the deep level stations nor the inclined bored tunnels?

    4. Thanks, Average human, you can just ignore the cynics above. They can be counted on to nay-say something like this.

      I am convinced that a proper rail extension is do-able, but it needs some lateral thinking, some kiwi-ingenuity and a can-do attitude – attributes for which New Zealanders used to be renowned but which the current crop seem largely to have lost.

      The costings for Auckland’s City Rail Link actually include far more that just the link itself. Its alleged “$1 Billion per km” cost is very misleading and there is no validity in scaling this for Wellington.

      What is needed is a proper feasibility- and design-concept study, done by someone with competence and without a covert agenda to recommend against it, as has happened recently (the Public Transport Spine Study).

      The last time proper studies were done was 1960-1970 and they not only showed it was feasible, but vitally necessary for the development of the region. What intervened to stop it was motorway-based politics, and we all know the mess that has led to.

      So. . . time to dust off those old plans and start drawing up some new ones.
      This is something we can no longer afford NOT to do.

      1. So the cost to extend a heavy rail tunnel underneath central Auckland and build two new stations is a “very misleading and invalid” estimate for the cost to extend a heavy rail tunnel underneath central Wellington and build two new stations?

        1. Because most of any extension of rail into Wellington would be done with a far less expensive cut-and-cover tunnelling technique and the stations would not need to be safari underground nor would the tunnels need much if any inclines is why.

    5. average human – Wellington City, Hutt City, Upper City, Porirua City, Masterton City, Kapiti Coast District Council and the South Wairarapa District Council are cover by the GWRC (Greater Wellington Regional Council) and ratepayers of these respective councils pay a portion of their rates to GRWC. As you know, GWRC is responsible for Wellington region’s public transport network. There has been several attempts over the years to merge these councils to form a Wellington Regional Council similar to Auckland Council but the ratepayers in the Wairarapa wanted their independence.

      With regards to your comment – “What Wellington REALLY needs, is for the existing train lines to continue through the city, into the suburbs on the other side to the south and the east. This is so mind-bogglingly obvious, and important, that we keep proposing it, and it keeps not happening. If you can solve that conundrum, we’ll love you forever” – was never planned and if it did happen, it will be hugely expensive due to the topography of the city and its suburbs and the massive disruption it would cause.

      The only heavy rail line to the early Wellington city, was the Te Aro branch line to Courtenay Place and that was closed by the government of the day in 1916 due to operating loses.

      When Wellington introduced trams in 1904, bulk of Wellington city population was concentrated in Thorndon, Tinakori Road, Oriental Bay, Te Aro flat, Aro Valley and Newtown. Miramar, Seatoun, Kilbirnie, Lyall Bay and Island Bay where small settlements surround by farmland east of the Mt Victoria range, Brooklyn, Wadestown and Karori where also small settlements located in the mountains.

      To build the tram routes to out laying suburbs, for a city of approximately 60,000, involved alot of money in construction costs, like the building of the Hataitai tram tunnel to serve Hataitai, Miramar, Seatoun, Kilbirnie and Lyall Bay, rebuilding the Karori Tunnel to suit tram operation to Karori, building the Northland tram tunnel, building tram right of ways up Brooklyn Hill for Brooklyn, up the Tinakori Hiil for Wadestown and a special tram right way up to Karori and later Northland – another hill top suburb.

  10. Harriet, are you suggesting that the Wairarapa line and Capital Connection should terminate at Upper Hut and Waikanae respectively?

    It seems less than ideal to force entire trains of people heading to Wellington to change to transfer to metro trains halfway. Would it not be feasible to express these regional trains all the way to Wellington, while running the Metro trains on a 10 minute clock face timetable?

    1. Exactly Sam. Interchanging has its place, but forcing such a transfer as this is not it.

      Outside of the busy peaks there would be no difficultly pathing expresses through to Wellington, but to do this in the peaks would require some facility on each line for expresses to overtake stoppers.

      The reality is that for a city and region of its small size, Wellington is an unusually busy little place, railway-wise, during the peak periods. The need for major investment in capacity is likely to be on-going.

      1. Thanks for the reply.
        Even is it is not possible for the regional trains to over take metro trains during peak hours, I still think it would be worth them continuing to Wellington, but only stopping at major interchange stations.

        If these trains terminate at Upper Hut and Waikanae, the first metro service to depart following the arrival of a regional train will probably be full before it reaches it’s second stop.

      2. I agree that truncating the services in this manner would give passengers on this line all the disadvantages of a transfer with few if any of the advantages. The Wairarapa line is currently the best example of a regional rail service in this country, rather than hobbling it, it would be better to build on the solid foundation it provides.

    2. Generally the peak Upper Hutt (express to Waterloo then all from Taita) services catch up to an all stopping Melling around the waterfront then get held up by the Taita (all stops from petone) about Naenae. They inturn bowl the following Wairarapa service from about Silverstream onwards. Not saying the expresses should go but mixed stopping patterns are a pathway killer.

  11. In my submission to Horizons Regional Council’s 10 Year Plan consultation I also suggested making the Capital Connection a Feilding – Waikanae service so glad to see some similar thinking here! If anyone wants to back me up on it, it doesn’t take long to fill out the form on their website.

    Some context: Feilding is a town of about 16,000 and growing quickly (it probably builds about as many greenfields homes as Palmy does). There are supposedly more vehicles between Feilding and Palmy every day than there are between Napier and Hastings (spread across three routes), because although Feilding poses as a rural service town it is really a dormitory suburb. The town has a decent boutique shopping vibe so would be a good day out for people coming from Kapiti and Horowhenua and vice versa.

      1. Once the new EDMUs are acquired, I think it would be feasible to operate 1 return service per day to both Napier and Whanganui (or possible New Plymouth) utilising available EDMUs off peak. This would be similar to the Stage One Bay of Plenty line in the Regional Rapid Rail proposal.

        However the main requirement for such services to be successful is speed. These services would need to be significantly faster than the InterCity bus services, and competitive with car travel.

        1. Using available EDMUs off-peak to service Napier/Whanganui wouldn’t be possible – you couldn’t get there and back between the peaks.

          Agreed that speed relative to road is important, which is why Whanganui would be difficult to justify, given the dogleg via Palmerston North that the railway takes compared with the direct road route.

        1. Whanganui’s station and the line that served it are long gone: the line to the station turned left at the Taupo Quay crossing, running between that road and the river and terminating just short of the city bridge. The building at no 61 is about on the site, and has a railway connection: it was the NZR Road Services terminal, with the arcade along the front sheltering buses and passengers.

          In the late 1980s the line was diverted to turn right at Taupo Quay to connect directly into the freight depot, and the “station” that excursion trains now use there is precisely what you say, a patch of dirt next to the track.

          If regular train services were to be restored to Whanganui the site of Westown station on the main line might make more sense – but that’s some way off the topic of Wellington’s rail network.

    1. Feilding has buses every hour and a half to palmy (which isn’t frequent enough) and they are always pretty full when I catch them. But since palmy’s train station is on the edge of the city a train is not going to suit.

      Although there could be potential for a few more capital connection services with all the growth happening in kapiti/horowhenua.

      1. Yeah it wouldn’t really be suitable for Feilding-Palmy travel due to the station location at the Palmy end. More suitable for Feilding-Levin, Feilding-Otaki, Feilding-Waikanae and onward. Strangely all the small towns have much better located stations than Palmy.

        1. There’s nothing particularly “strange” about how Palmerston North railway station came to be located where it is today. After the Milson Deviation rerouted the line away from the city centre in the 1950s resulting in the closure of the more centrally-located stations that Palmerston North used to have, the new Palmerston North station necessarily followed the line that had been deliberately moved to the outskirts of Palmerston North to avoid the disruption and space constraints of the original line.

        2. Yes, I’m aware of how it got there. It was a great move for freight, not so much for passenger rail. The current station location limits passenger use quite severely as you have to have a plan for how you’re going to get to and from the station. There are bus services not too far away which could be deviated, but no chance of anyone walking anywhere from the station.

  12. “Looking at having a level crossing removal programme like Auckland”
    Where is the programme?
    What are the next crossings?
    When will St Jude St and Woodward Rd be grade separated?
    There have been plenty of studies but it’ll be another 100 years at this pace.

  13. Interesting read all this not knowing much about Wellington rail. It certainly is quite a unique beast. If one was to do a “tourist” weekday half day sort of journey of any combination of the lines, which would people in the know recommend? Context is that I’d be coming down via the Northern Explorer…so probably wouldn’t want to go back up the NIMTL.

    1. The best trips are the Kapiti Line along the NIMT (which you will have done) – the coastal scenery on the single-line multi-tunnel stretch between Paekakariki and Pukerua Bay is spectacular, and it’s always worthwhile looking out for Steam Inc at Paekakariki and Mainline Steam at Plimmerton, and bursting out of tunnel 1 on arrival in Wellington – and the Johnsonville Line: 7 miles, 7 stations, 7 tunnels (and 3 crossing loops) climbing up the original course of the NIMT.

      The Hutt Valley and Melling Lines are more mundane, but the stretch along the harbour is intersting.

  14. There are two separate issues with Wellington rail:

    How to connect the wider region into the CBD
    While some think that the wider heavy rail network could be converted to light rail in order to provide a seamless link between the city and the wider region, I am not of the view that there is enough through-traffic to make such a link economically feasible (most of the city’s jobs are in the CBD proper, rather than being dispersed through the Isthmus, as in Auckland’s example).

    How to connect the city better into its own CBD.
    The latter option is attracting a lot of interest from the POV of light rail, as this lively thread shows:

    OK, views?

    1. And these CBD issues are much more significant than any possible suburban extensions! Let’s see what Let’s Get Wellington Moving comes up with (in June, probably) – Phil Twyford is certainly a supporter of rails through the city.

      1. Put another way: a tram link going to the railway station would still require a transfer at that point for railway passengers (as I am still not convinced that tram-train is a feasible option). The problems with the current ‘break in service’ would still be with us.

        So: extending the current heavy rail link is an issue separate to whatever is done for the city’s access to the CBD as a whole. One size does not fit all, a lesson which I think Auckland does understand.

  15. I have been looking at the corridor widths of the Wgtn suburban network and they are surprisingly wide and look ideal to convert to 4 lane roads. It would improve mobility enormously esp thru the Hutt Valley and I dont think you would even need bus lanes as the traffic would flow so well given its a doubling of dual carriageway capacity. There are bridges for cross traffic so it should flow better than SH2 (which is actually narrower in places than the rail corridor)

    With the trains gone you get four more lanes on the Hutt Motorway and the Wgtn rail yards can be used for a giant carpark (a happy byproduct is the closing of clunky noisy rail freight which loses $300M a year anyway) From the car park I would have congestion charging which pays for free shuttles around town.

    The Johnsonville line can be cars one way in the morning and reversed in the afternoon. The NIMT rail tunnels will need widening or could be bus only (bit scary tho). I wonder if we needed transmission gully after all? The rest of the track north could be for self driving trucks – apparently here by 2030.

    In fact I think all PT will be by cheap point to point self driving cabs by 2030 – so my scheme is very much future proofing. It will be great esp for poorer people who have to put up with the inconveniences of buses and trains or bikes at the mo.

    What do people think?

    1. Why would parking in the rail yards and having to walk to the other side of the carpark and wait for a shuttle bus which would then meander into the CBD be a better arrangement than what Hutt Valley commuters currently have with the railway line?

      1. I remember reading a few years ago now, I think it was an opinion piece on Stuff or something like that, an article from some road transport (truck) foamer in which he suggested that the Wairarapa Line should be ripped up and the corridor turned into some sort of expressway for the exclusive use of trucks because that’d be a better/more efficient use of the land (corridor). I think he was actually serious. They do exist.

      1. A bit more recent than that, methinks. I have a copy of a thesis in which it is mentioned that in the 1980s Treasury seriously mooted the idea that New Zealand’s national rail network should be progressively closed down.

    2. Uhhh yeah, so instead of people parking out in the suburbs and catching the train to the train station, we should rip out the rail line and build a duplicate motorway so people can drive to a parking lot at the train station instead.

      This achieves what exactly, apart from huge expense and more traffic congestion?

  16. For Melling line better access to Lower Hutt centre: a reasonable lower cost alternative might be to build a new station halfway between Western Hutt and Melling, where it’s only about 500 metres from the town centre as the crow flies, with a footbridge across the river.

    Melling station is only about 300 metres from the northern outskirts of the town centre by the present road bridge, but predictably the road engineers have put in the way a bunch of high speed roundabouts with no pedestrians crossings, thus making it pretty well impossible to access the town centre safely on foot from Melling.

    Sorry, I exaggerate. One these high speed roundabouts has a zebra crossing on *one* leg of the intersection, and one of them has zebra crossings on *two* legs of the intersection. All utterly bizarre. If you happen to have a destination that requires crossing on the unfavoured legs, tough.

    1. Funnily enough, one of the options being considered right now is shortening the line by 500m with a new station adjacent to a new foot/cycle bridge (to Margaret Street, Lower Hutt).

      Current station will go as part of new Melling Bridge & grade separating Melling/W.Hutt Road intersection. Hutt River floodway will be widened in this area too as it is one of the few remaining lower capacity sections.

      1. I saw in the project updates on this site a common theme in the feedback they’ve received for this project is a desire to have, or at least allow for, the Melling Branch to be extended north at some point. It will be interesting to see if this will be catered for in the design of the new grade-separation for this intersection.

  17. That’s not a Queensland DMU. That’s a EMU used on suburban and interurban services in South East Queensland.

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