In the previous post, I wrote about how we could improve the Wellington rail network including how we could possibly make the Melling line fit better for Wellington from a network operations perspective

In this last post for this series, I propose an alternative solution which is making the Melling line more useful.

Instead of as current the Melling line running all the way to Melling station which has very low walk-up catchment and is basically all PnR take the line to Lower Hutt Town Centre. This can be done by crossing Pharazyn St then through some light industrial and across the Hutt River to a new station on one of the many Lower Hutt carparks.

Lower Hutt Realignment (Two dots indicate potential carparks for station to go)

This realignment would bring the rail network right into the heart of Lower Hutt with much of Lower Hutt Town Centre becoming within an easy walking catchment of the new station.

Feeder buses could easily interchange with this new station or the current Western Hutt station. The few houses that are within walking catchment of the current Melling station access could be mitigated with a new pedestrian/cycle bridge connecting the path behind their houses to the new station.

The station could even have some apartments or another building over the top like our Manukau station creating a spatially efficient transit orientated development that could integrate housing and transport as well as improve place.

Current Catchment – New Bridge

So at the moment, Wellington has this branch line that is a bit odd, however, with the right investment this line could be turned into something great bringing rail right into the heart of Lower Hutt Town Centre.

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47 comments

  1. great idea, oddly enough I sometimes think Lower Hutt is Wellingtons Manukau endless swathes of carparking and just off the main line enough to be a nuisance logistically. The Melling branch has got potential and it could help rejuvenate the dead lower hutt cbd.

    1. Re Manukau, I think the same thing. And equally, as the post alludes to, they should look at the intensification that is going on there around the rail station as to the opportunities to rejuvenate Lower Hutt.

      1. The Manukau terminus is convenient to the Polytech campus.

        There is literally no drawcard like that within the lower Hutt CBD and the existing Melling and Western Hutt stations are convenient enough to the Lower Hutt CBD.

  2. Is it worth the cost of a rail bridge and a pedestrian bridge? It’s less than a 500m walk (5 or 6 min) from the station to the town centre. Wouldn’t it be cheaper to put in a travelator, which would also encourage more local walking journeys, or more effective to use the money to electrify the Masterton line?

    1. Current station is going as part of new Melling Bridge & grade separating Melling/W.Hutt Road intersection. GW are compulsory purchasing of all properties adjacent to existing western floodbank between Melling & Ewen bridges for floodway widening, so that bit of station walk up catchment is going anyway.

      One option for replacement shortening the line by 500m with a new station adjacent to a new foot/cycle bridge to Margaret St.

      https://haveyoursay.gw.govt.nz/riverlink

    1. And neither would the Lower Hutt CBD be saved by a station and for the same reason:
      Hardly anybody takes the Johnsonville line to the Johnsonville mall (they mostly go in the other direction fo shopping) and even fewer people would take the Melling line with its fewer stations & suburbs served to go to the Lower Hutt CBD and Queensgate. Both stations en-route to Melling (Petone & Western Hutt) are adjacent to retail anyway!

      As I say below: The problem is NOT Melling station nor the Melling line. The problem is Lower Hutt city itself! Its needs a total change in its urban design & function. If the CBD had many of those vacant offices turned into accomodation and new apartment accomodation built and geared itself more as a residential commuter city for Wellington workers; its CBD commerce would be rejuvenated and the Melling line would see a lot more patronage.

      This idea of having the Melling line into the Lower Hutt CBD is totally ill-considered and I’m annoyed that it’s getting any consideration from people.

      1. “This idea of having the Melling line into the Lower Hutt CBD is totally ill-considered and I’m annoyed that it’s getting any consideration from people.”

        Why so annoyed?

        The line is being shortened and some of its catchment taken away, so why not look at options. It’s certainly not the worst idea.

        1. “The line is being shortened and some of its catchment taken away”

          That’s only under consideration and far from guaranteed.

          I’m annoyed because it’s so ill-considered. It’s based upon mistaken appreciations of how the line functions and its catchment. It would result in a downgrade for the cost of millions.

        2. I think the idea is to improve effective catchment as well by providing better links to the station, crossing the main road etc….this from an Aucklander who’s never visited the area or station.

          1. The problem is that by having the terminus in the Lower Hutt CBD (where nobody lives and nobody is expected to be living) and away from Welling to are moving it away from the existing catchment.

    2. Despite severe earthquake damage, I haven’t read any suggestions that Queensgate needs saving. In fact didn’t it just get an H&M?

      I don’t think the point of this post is more ways to get to the mall. Hutt City Council have been talking about turning the city back towards the river, a more central station with apartments above would contribute greatly to that.

      1. In my opinion: The Johnsonville mall should be demolished and replaced with a 5-6 story apartment complex with strip mall retail on the bottom floor.

  3. You should hunt through old Rails Magazine editions Harriet. A line extension into Lower Hutt was investigated extensively back in the 90s by the council, and there’s an issue somewhere with plans and a rundown of what they assessed. Another plan looked at a light rail loop through Lower Hutt and ending at the Hutt Valley line, so people could get to/from Lower Hutt from either railway. As was usually the case in those days, no money was forthcoming and nothing happened.

  4. *GROANS*

    I’ve seen this scheme of extending the Melling Line into Lower Hutt proposed for the last two decades (often put forward by tram-train advocates) and I’ve said all along that it just DOESN’T stack-up.

    There simply isn’t any demand for a railway service between the CBD of Lower Hutt and the CBD of Wellington. Unfortunately; almost nobody lives in the Lower Hutt CBD. There’s little to no demand for anyone to go from Wellington’s CBD to Lower Hutt’s CDB let alone by train. Most of the people wanting to go to the Lower Hutt CBD live in places where this line just will not be convenient to.

    The Melling line as it is serves commuters from suburbs in the Western Hills, and moving it to Lower Hutt would remove its catchment.
    If they were ever going to do anything with the Melling line; it would be to extend it northwards to terminate at Belmont.

    I do actually agree that another footbridge from the Lower Hutt CBD wouldn’t hurt both the Melling Line and the entire area.
    The big irony is that Melling station is actually already in convenient proximity to the Lower Hutt CBD! You can walk to high street in Lower Hutt from Melling station in a couple of minutes. The problem isn’t Melling station, the problem is Lower Hutt city itself! It’s just so badly laid-out with most of the active retail in the South-Western corner thanks to completely clueless council leadership (which is continuing today under Ray Wallace). Lower Hutt should the looking at getting residential apartments/flats amongst the offices in its CBD, but instead they’re going after a white elephant hotel and giving Queensgate exactly what it wants.

  5. Harriet – you’re definitely on the right track! From what I understand, there are already plans to make the line not end at Melling, but to curve across the river as you have shown there.
    I. for one, get lost almost every time I try to drive to the Hutt – I could swear that, like Hogwarts, places change positions when you are not looking – and so a trains station, fixed in one position in the centre of Lower Hutt, would be a great step forward.

  6. I think the line is useful as a quick turnback for inner services, and somewhere to send trains out to counter-peak. But it could do more…

    Either it gets extended to reach the mainline north of Waterloo somehow, gets pushed back northwards towards Manor Park as used to be (difficult but a lot of operational benefits) – or it is absorbed into a light rail network which could then run on street across to Lower Hutt centre.

    My vote is the latter – I think both Melling and Johnsonville are prime lines to be taken on for a Light Rail network. If a third ‘northern’ destination was needed, I’d push through Petone and either get around the bay to Eastbourne, or through the hills to Wainuiomata – or both – perhaps one day!

    1. Convert the Melling line to light rail?

      Okay you can then run light rail (assumable in a street-running tram operation) into Lower Hutt, even though it’s not especially densely populated and even though it’s bus services aren’t especially heavily patronised.
      But what happens when the Melling line gets to Petone station? The light rail cannot be integrated into the rest of the network and there’s no space in the corridor between Petone and Kaiwharawhara for a light rail corridor, so people have to interchange.
      Is that an attractive service? The main benefit of the Melling line as its stands is getting people from the Western hills suburbs into the Wellington CBD, now you’re forcing an unattractive interchange for them and any of these new commuters from Lower Hutt. So what you end up with is something that gets people only to Petone station (on the edge of Petone) in its own corridor offering a slight improvement over taking the bus to Petone station and I cannot see how this isn’t a downgrade.

      Converting the Johnsonville line to light rail?
      The Johnsonville line is already at capacity at peak times and there’s no room on the corridor for more passing loops. A light rail system would at very best only equal that existing capacity (and more likely decrease it). And there’s really no locations suitable for new stations. Sure; there would be lower running costs with a light rail, but how many years would it take for those savings to meet the costs of the conversion such as changing the line’s loading gauge, signals, station platforms etc? Considerable money was invested in increasing the loading gauge of the tunnels about a decade ago, so it would be throwing bad money after good.

      I frankly see NO benefit to converting any line to LRV’s.

      Before anyone else chips in: Light rail vehicles CANNOT run on the mainline. It doesn’t meet the crash & safety standards. If there was ever a collision between a freight train and an LRV; there would be carnage.

      And I know a certain someone will probably also talk about tram-trains as used in some European cities. This is all pipe dream stuff.
      NZ’s mainlines run to cape gauge (which is a narrow gauge). LRV & tram-trains systems offered on the market are all the wider standard gauge. Sure, tram-trains’s could be ordered to a cape gauge system but that would both be a boutique order of greater cost and would result in tram-trains with narrower bodies and thus lower passenger capacity.
      So any new light rail or tram-train system in NZ would in all likelihood be standard gauge. So right there is something highly problematic with any imagined tram-train integration. How do tram-train proponents propose this be remedied?
      Gauntlet tracks? Yes they exist across the world, but generally only on very small sections of line where the two lines soon diverge again. Because laying and maintaining a gauntlet track third rail is VERY expensive, you’ve got yet another track to worry about the condition and effects of operation of. A gantlet track all the way between Kaiwharawhara and Petone simply makes no fiscal sense.
      Variable gauge axles? That’s more cost added to both the purchase and maintenance of units. And if this light rail is going to have street-running tram operation into Lower Hutt it will need certain steel type profiles that require turning on its flanges, which sounds like an invitation for repeated mechanical failures on the wheel that’s moving.
      So I guess all they’ve got to realistically propose is having already expensive tram-trains built to Cape gauge and thus having their price pushed up even more. Assuming these tram-trains are going to be low-floor; this would require them having their own dedicated platform at Petone & the Wellington Terminus (I’ll assume that Kaiwharawhara will be skipped altogether). And given the extra weight and strength tram-trains need; they will need to have their mixing with automobile traffic minimised (or probably eliminated altogether) so that’s dedicated light rail corridors required and thus even more horrendous cost.
      And for what? Something that offers little to no improvement over what’s already existing…

    2. I agree with you on making Johnsonville and Melling both light rail lines. You potentially could have a problem trying to do light rail along the Harbour between Petone and Wellington, as you wouldn’t have the space for light rail tracks. I suppose you could use narrow gauge light rail vehicles so that they could travel on existing tracks. This might also integrate well with a new light rail line through Wellington, Hospital, Netown, Kilbirne, Airport etc. I would also suggest extending light rail to Porirua as well. That way you would have a good inner network, running from Porirua/Tawa, Johnsonville, Lower Hutt, through to Wellington Cbd, and Airport, and an outer network, from Wellington Station to Upper Hutt, Masterton and Waikanae, which could potentially run express past the inner network and have interchanges at major stations. You could also potentially expand the outer network to places like Otaki and Levin.

      1. You can’t just run light rail units along the same tracks & corridors being used by heavy rail. Light rail units don’t meet mainline crash & safety standards.

    3. Turning the Johnsonville line into light rail has been discuss so many times since 1937 with early plans to extend the tram line from Thorndon to Johnsonville. The last time this was discuss in earnest was when the Ganz and the remaining English Electric EMU’s where going to replaced. There where suggestions to use tram/trains as replacements, for the Wellington regional network but heavy rail was the only option and the Matangis were ordered.

  7. It seems all of the Auckland arm chair public transport experts are commenting on what is best for Wellington regional rail transport.

    There has been alot of talk over the last 60 odd years about modifying the Melling line to terminate in Lower Hutt city. But as usual, cost and lack of political will has been the factor for concept to be shelved so many times.

    GWRC has looked at making Melling Station as train/bus hub for Metlink buses to the western suburbs of Belmont, Normandale and Maungaraki from Queensgate.

    Currently, the Queensgate to Belmont bus service stops at Melling Station connecting with train services to/from Wellington. This is a Monday to Friday service.

    NZTA is currently looking at proposals for the SH2 Melling to Haywards Upgrade to establish interchanges at the Melling and Kennedy Good intersections to improve traffic flows. The Melling interchange will also improve access to Melling Railway Station. to-date, there is not starting date for this upgrade.

    What is needed know, is to have a local free 2 way (clockwise/anti clockwise) shuttle bus service from Queensgate through Hutt City CBD to Melling Station to Waterloo Interchange and back to Queensgate, that is jointly funded by the Hutt City Council and GWRC and make the Wellington to Melling trains services 7 days as oppose to the current 5 days a week operation. This would be the cheapest option instead of the cost of modifying the Melling Line over the Hutt river and building a new station.

    1. I never heard any talk of terminating the Melling line into Lower Hutt until about 10 years ago.

      The proponents of it (back then) were the tram-train advocates.

      1. Some of us Wellington armchair experts have lived for longer in Auckland than in Wellington, so happen to know quite well what we are talking about…. But besides – its always good to have an outsider’s views on something. More distance = different perspective?

        1. Agreed – I have lived in both Auckland and Wellington, and comment accordingly (I was the Tranz Metro/Tranz Scenic business analyst for some years), but now having lived in the UK for over ten years, it has given me much more perspective on things.

      2. Jezza – Because Wellington has a mature electrified passenger rail network, that has worked successfully over the years, despite minimal on going infrastructural funding and has already gone through the learning curve 😉

        Average human – Have lived in Wellington for most of my life, so like you, I have good knowledge on Wellington’s public transport issues.

  8. Sounds like a good idea. Though I see they are possibly wanting to move the station about 200m south instead giving better station position etc

  9. No need to be so parochial about WLG v AKL – it’s a tiny country and most enthusiasts (as we likely are here) are capable of having good insight into systems and challenges of more than one place… next we’ll be bleating about rates or the waterfront. Less tribal and divisive please.

    I do agree that the Melling line is under-used, badly marketed and could do a lot more even in its current guise.

    On the light rail to Pororua suggestion, perhaps this could be a continuation of the Johnsonville line, as the railway once was. Porirua to City passengers would take direct trains, as today, so this would be for local connectivity between two centres, and also useful network/decentralised encouragement for anybody heading north on the network, connecting at Porirua.

    1. The Melling line is fine there’s nothing wrong with its location. The reason why it doesn’t get so much patronage is the poor planning, urban design and function of Lower Hutt itself. Lower Hutt needs to change, not the Melling line.

        1. Well here’s an idea: How about having people living in the Lower Hutt CBD & Melling on the other side, in low-rise (3-6 story) apartment blocks?
          It would give the struggling retail there a boost and more likely patronage for the Melling line.

          1. Even just a wider covered pleasant footpath from melling across the bridge and into the high st area would be nice. 500m is not a big distance to walk if you were transferring in a metro situation.

          2. Agree on densification (TODs etc) especially where there is both space, and also transport capacity. Both Western Hutt and Melling would be great commutes (including cycle-able) and higher buildings (6-8 storeys) might even have great city views. I’d think it quite a desirable spot to develop, obviously along with Petone…

          3. I don’t want any apartment housing to be more than 6 stories high to be honest. There’s not much more unattractive than seeing block tower buildings sticking out amongst suburbia. Plus you don’t want to dump TOO many people in an area too quickly without the local services catching up to provide services for it. In my opinion 3-6 stories would be the best to start with.

            There’s all this talk of chronic accomodation and housing shortages in Wellington, it seems obvious to me that Lower Hutt is missing an opportunity here.

  10. Horses for courses, surely.

    3-6 stories for the suburbs, OK. But surely we are a bit more aspirational for our town centers like Lower Hutt. 10 storeys would not look out of place, would add people, density, vibrancy.

    Best way to speed up delivery of services is to create demand. TODs a great way to do this quickly. I think the Lower Hutt town center would be ideal for that sort of intensification.

  11. im all for intensification of Lower Hutt CBD and using the Melling Line to serve it. Much better than endless car dependant burbs around Newlands Grenada where transit is more difficult to provide.

    1. Yeah Newlands is not my cup of tea either, at all. Isolated, too windy and too many of those hills. Neither is most of Johnsonville and Karori. I’d actually rather live in Tawa, Porirua, Plimmerton or the Hutt valley.

      But there’s plenty who’d feel differently. With decent quality apartments in Lower Hutt ‘s CBD we’d have more options instead of only suburbs of detached housing beyond the expensive Wellington apartments.

  12. the upgraded Wakely Gully Track might actually help Newlands with a non road based option for cyclists although I imagine ebikes will prove popular.

  13. NZTA have just started consultanting on the RiverLink project to build a grade-separated interchange on SH2 at Melling. The plans all seem to involve building a new road bridge over the river, moving the railway station, and building a new pedestrian/cycle bridge connecting the station to the Hutt CBD. Maybe there is an opportunity here to convince NZTA to include rail on one of the two new bridges.

    https://haveyoursay.gw.govt.nz/riverlink

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