TRANS-ACTION BULLETIN 79 – Q&A post-Civic Trust seminar; Christchurch Tramway makes liars of Wellington councils

25/08/2009 at 11:08 | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Welcome to our 79th fortnightly Bulletin, and welcome particularly to new recipients. Our primary email list is now 150, plus this gets copied to the Sustainable Energy Forum, LRPPro and goodness knows who else. Comments welcome.

1   Forthcoming events

(a) Our next get-together:
this Friday 28 August, 1200, at The Front Page, Boulcott St. The following get-together will be at TRAX, Wellington Railway Station, on 11 September. (Second Friday = TRAX, 4th Friday = TFP.)

(b) Transition Towns Expo
6-19th September, Wellington Cathedral of St Paul, cnr Molesworth and Hill St, Thorndon
Displays and exhibits open daily from 10:00am till 4:00pm, with public debates / discussion throughout the week of the 6th to the 11th

  • Wellington: Sustainable and resilient? – Sunday 6th 6:00 (Free drinks and nibbles – mix and mingle)
  • Will Peak Oil save us from Climate Change? – Monday 7th lunchtime debate (12:10)
  • Global warming will be fantastic for Wellington – Tuesday 8th Lunchtime debate
  • Local economies offer a solution to economic meltdown – Tuesday 8th Evening Panel (7.30 – 9pm)
  • Urban food production – Friday 11th Lunchtime discussion
  • Renewable Energy: transport and housing – Friday 11th Evening Panel (7:30 – 9)

Transition Towns initiatives are part of a vibrant, international grassroots movement that brings people together to explore how we – as communities – can respond to the environmental, economic and social challenges arising from climate change, resource depletion and an economy based on growth. By building local resilience, we will be able to collectively respond to whatever the future may bring in a calm, positive and creative way. And by remembering how to live within our local means, we can rediscover the spirit of community and a feeling of power, belonging and sharing in a world that is vibrant, just and truly sustainable.

[The Expo is the type of event for which we are planning a portable display promoting Super-link, including an explanatory tram-train model – but not until next year.]

2   Myths, questions and quibbles

The 8 August Saturday seminar Around the Basin (see the previous Bulletin) provoked quite a lot of discussion about light rail, including emails since. The discussion included the usual myths, questions and quibbles. Let’s have a look at some of the ones I have recorded:

(a) “Wellington is not ready for light rail”
This was stated ‘authoritatively’ by a senior local politician, as though there was an objective test that Wellington had failed. In fact the evidence is all the other way: we have an electric heavy rail system which carries twice the traffic density required to justify a low-cost rail system – and that system does not even serve the corridor with the greatest density! Wellington was considered ‘ready’ for a southern extension of the (heavy!) rail system 50 years ago, even before much of the current motivation for travel south of the Railway Station had developed. Significantly, former GWRC councillor Terry McDavitt, former chair of the Regional Land Transport Committee, in his presentation admitted that  “Wgtn CBD, south and east routes are at patronage levels that could justify LRT“ but then went on to blot his copybook with …

(b) “But LRT has … higher operating costs”
Er, yes – in the same sense that a bus has higher operating costs than a taxi. So why don’t we use taxis instead of buses? Aside from the congestion, it is obvious: it is the cost per passenger kilometre that is the issue. Where the passenger flow is sufficient (and those are the only routes on which you would consider a new rail line, anyway) light rail operating cost per passenger km (or mile) is about 3/4 that of buses, according to the American Public Transport Association fact book  ( ) – i.e. 60c per passenger mile as against 82c for buses. (An even more striking result applies in Wellington’s own PT system: rail operating contracts cost $18.5M in the y/e 30/4/09 but diesel bus operating contracts cost $26.9M – even though rail carries 70% of the Region’s total passenger km!)

(c) (Referring to the Super-link video) “You show different routes for north and south-bound light rail in Willis and Victoria Streets. For the sake of legibility we must have a single route for the Golden Mile.”
Please note the split route in the centre of the CBD is not my (Brent Efford’s) idea but assumed as necessary in the 1995 Works/MVA report. It even had a picture of a tram outside the Public Library in Victoria St on the cover. IF it was possible to exclude motor traffic, including service vehicles, from Willis St then two-way transit in that street would be feasible. BUT, to avoid a sharp curve from Hunter into Customhouse (tight even for buses now), the line should be two-way beside the Old Bank at the south end of Lambton Quay, too. I would like to be reassured that this is physically feasible for mainline-width (2.65m) trams. Although the Golden Mile was 2-way throughout its length in the original tramway days, those vehicles were very narrow compared to what is expected, or would be useable for tram-train, nowadays. The sunken footpath beside the Old Bank would definitely have to go, for a start.

The 1995 report proposed a split route for a reason, and those consultants had access to accurate data on the width of streets etc which I have not. I agree that 2-way trams in Willis St would be the ideal but it depends on both physical and political (WCC willingness to exclude traffic from Willis St) factors.

(d) “According to my notes yesterday you gave the capital cost of light rail as $40 million from Johnsonville to Courtenay Place. This sounds light: I saw a recent rule-of-thumb figure that translated to about $50M/km. The original (1992) estimates for Superlink were: Johnsonville to WRS $44-56M; City route $39. Something wrong here?”
No, nothing wrong. I prefer to use real-world Australasian experience, now that there is enough of it available (there wasn’t in 1992), rather than ‘rule of thumb’ figures probably gleaned from averaging Northern Hemisphere systems with all their right of way acquisition, subways, viaducts, gold-plated stations, etc (and may include pro-rata vehicle costs, too – something I don’t do unless bus proponents are willing to do the same for their schemes. Over the lifetime of a modern articulated tram, the vehicle cost of 3 generations of multiple diesel buses to do the same job is essentially the same.)

$20M per km is a rounding up of experience with Adelaide (CBD extension = AUD 33M for the same length as the Golden Mile), Melbourne – Vermont South, Box Hill and recent Docklands extensions (exact prices not at my fingertips right now, but from memory all around the AUD 15 M/km mark) and Christchurch – original tramway about 1.6 single track km, car shed, power etc for $5.45 M in 1995 and the 2-stage extension now under way of about the same length for $11.5M. [See item 3 below!]

The Adelaide and Christchurch experience is also CBD-based, so will include dealing with underground services, business disruption etc. However, I concede those factors may be more intense in Wellington (they need not have been if the WCC had included a light rail corridor in Golden Mile street works post-1995) and hence the ‘rounding up’ rather than ‘averaging’ approach.

Other than the question of platform heights if low-floor cars are used, I am not assuming any significant further investment in the existing renewed J’ville infrastructure after a tram-train conversion. It should be pointed out, though, that if extra track etc is contemplated to achieve further increases in capacity, it is more cheaply done using light rail rather than heavy rail standards (e.g. a line could be taken down Thorndon Quay rather than the upheaval of squeezing a 4th main track into the rail yards.)

(e) “No, not convinced. Taking the city route, the only possibly gold-plated figure in Superlink is for underground services. If you halve that, the city route will still cost $35 million or so, plus escalation. Remember that cutting costs too far is a risk.”

Refer to item 3 below. There is no cost-cutting in Christchurch – new tram rail and a thick concrete foundation is part of the job. The doubling of the Christchurch costs to arrive at a $40M cost for the Golden Mile tramway is in fact very ‘generous’ and conservative. Unless some huge unexpected engineering issues arise (unlikely on a route that carried 1st-generation trams for 60 years!) the finished cost is likely to be somewhat less.

(f) “On the Johnsonville Line, you will need to fight your way out of the station yard somehow: either a steep ramp from the overbridge down to Thorndon Quay, or along the western boundary of the rail yards and out at Davis Street, or just possibly through the station frontage. None of these will be cost-free.”
No – in the video the optimum route was identified as from the Platform 1 & 2 area, over Featherston St, through the bus standing area and so on down Lambton Quay. Exiting from the side of the station would be like Victoria Station in Manchester. Only the demolition of an unimportant single-story service wing of the station building would be involved, and it would make a great commercial development site. It is desirable to have light rail use the same platform array as the heavy rail services – a design used to advantage in many places like Dallas, Sacramento, Croydon, Manchester etc … but “through the station frontage”??? Obviously not acceptable – and not the best route even if it was.

(g) “I am not sure what you mean about pro-rata vehicle costs. Any credible estimate must include the capital cost of vehicles and a depot. What would be your estimate be with vehicles and connections at the railway station included?”
When you account for the greater number of buses required for the same load (ignoring that not as many people will ride buses!), and the much shorter life of buses, the long term capital cost of a bus fleet and that of a smaller fleet of much more expensive light rail vehicles is about the same – i.e. cost-neutral. The trouble is the cost of the vehicles is hidden when bus systems are proposed, so I believe that to be realistic the same methodology should apply to rail systems. Because the obvious strategy is to replace the current Ganz fleet with trams when the former life-expire in about 7 years, and the whole principle behind tram-trains is integrating light and heavy rail operations, extra depot facilities will not be required.

(h) “Why convert Johnsonville at all? Timetable and capacity limitations will restrict what can be done in the city and light rail will be struggling to carry the existing traffic, let alone match the capacity of six Matangi cars, run every 15 (12?) minutes. Four hundred passengers every twelve minutes, including standees, won’t cut it.”
The Railways Corporation in the 1980s concluded that trams to Johnsonville would actually increase the capacity of the line. The short length of the Johnsonville line when many customers want to go much further, and the need to replace many of the buses going down the Golden Mile – including the ones from J’ville – make its conversion a no-brainer. Worldwide experience, the 1995 report and commonsense observation all suggest that tram-train on a properly designed route would have adequate capacity. It is hardly sensible to argue on the one hand that Wellington is too small for light rail but on the other that it would have inadequate capacity! Note also the last paragraph of (d) above.

3   Christchurch tram progress makes liars of Wgtn councils

A Canterbury correspondent, Bryan Blanchard, has forwarded to me this photo report (below) of current work on the first stage of the extension of the Christchurch Tramway. Thank you, Bryan, and ‘K’ (whoever you are)!

The first section of the tramway opened in 1995 and is primarily a ‘tourist trundle’ using heritage cars. It is a one-way loop of about 1.6 track km and cost all up $5.45 M in 1995. The extension now being constructed in 2 stages will link to the Christchurch Polytech Institute of Technology campus and give the tramway more of a ‘streetcar’ circulator character, as is now becoming widespread in the US (like the SLUS – see the last para in this Bulletin). The cost of the extension is $11.5 M.

Constructed with new Ri60 rail, essentially the track design is what would be used for the Super-link tram-train line along Wellington’s Golden Mile – a project similar in size to the completed Christchurch Tramway. Except, of course, that our tram-train line would be 1067 mm gauge – slightly cheaper to build than Christchurch’s standard, or 1435 mm, gauge. Adding and rounding up this suggests about $20M in 2009 dollars – about what the Wellington City Council has spent since 1995 on Lambton Quay and other Golden Mile streetworks that have so far done nothing for public transport (fortunately, the next Manners Mall rebuild will be different in that respect).

(In giving ballpark estimates for the Golden Mile tramway I actually quote $40M, to be ultra-conservative and allow for extra cost factors – more complex underground services, for example – which may intrude in downtown Wellington. See 2(e) above. It ensures I cannot be accused of deliberately under-stating the probable cost. Incidentally, the Adelaide CBD extension of the same length cost AUD 33M!)

Christchurch, of course, does not have nearly the inner-city density of Wellington, nor the geography that provides natural dense corridors for rail, nor an electric rail commuter system already carrying 40,000 passengers a day, most of whom want to go further than the current terminus. Christchurch does have a Mayor and councillors with imagination and a sustainability orientation, who have the example of the existing tramway, now the icon of the city, already before them. See .

Even though they are without the advantage of an existing rail transit system like Wellington’s, they are nevertheless considering the possibility that the CBD tramway could one day grow into a regional light rail system, essentially following the pattern of a starter line followed by extensions as seen in several US cities.

So for all those Wellington city and regional councillors and planners who say “it is all too difficult” and “Wellington isn’t ready for light rail” or “it is just too expensive” … look … and learn!

Our Christchurch readers and more than a few others, have been following with interest, the tracklaying in the inner city, for the tramway extension. I had occasion to be in that precinct, complete with camera, with the following results,…………………………

Cashel St. end nearest Oxford Terrace. From here, it will continue down what is locally known as ‘The Strip’, towards Worcester St. You will note that the rail material is genuine tramway section, brand new and rolled to radius. We did some calculations, which suggested the finished concrete pad would be about one metre thick.

The previous picture more or less reversed. Showing the Bridge of Remembrance.

Serious welding. No fishplates in use on this job.

The opposite end of the line in Cashel St. Gives an idea of the finished look. Track curves right into High St. (Yes, a surprise to me too.)

Track comes from left in Cashel St., coming towards us, now in High St. The other side of the cross proceeds down High St. to what was once called the ‘Bottle neck’, where there was the intersection of a number of routes where they all joined Colombo St., to go into the Square. This was an area where a tram photographer could have a field day. Many pictures exist, showing a great number of trams at the one time. This was dynamite in the (then) rush hour. Interestingly, the original tracks are now being lifted in the affected area of High St.

The material section of the cross is rather less than the rest, resulting in this method of soundly joining the offending two ends.

This concludes my efforts in this field. If anyone reading this could help with more detail, I would be more than pleased to add more on the subject. Is there anywhere else in the world doing such work in the CBD of any City? I take my hat off to all involved, from the design, methodology, though to the finished work. It is an exceeding well thought out and produced product. The existing tramway loop which has been running since 1995, has great trackwork, which has laid to rest all the doubters who loudly decried the project, citing the waterlogged potholes and shoddy roadworks of those days. (Among countless other failings) Mainly occasioned by WW ll. The idea of the trams going to the side of the road to allow traffic to pass while loading and unloading, silenced those who still saw this happening in the centre of the carriageway, as formerly.

Any further offerings I will share as they come to hand.  Cheers,  ‘K’.

4   Auckland CBT commuter rail campaign

From our friends in Auckland’s Campaign for Better Transport:

Support United for Commuter Trains to Auckland

Campaign For Better Transport
Press Release: 23 August 2009

Yesterday the Campaign For Better Transport (CBT) visited towns in the Waikato asking residents and businesses to show their support for commuter trains to Auckland and they received an overwhelmingly positive response, with over 1,000 postcards signed in just a few hours.

Members from the independent transport lobby group Campaign For Better Transport spent several hours yesterday in Huntly, Ngaruawahia, The Base shopping centre in Te Rapa and in Hamilton Central, collecting signatures on postcards which are aimed at making local Hamilton MPs Tim Macindoe and David Bennett, as well as the Minister of Transport Steven Joyce and Prime Minister John Key, aware of the train service the region urgently wants.

“People from all walks of life and from many different Waikato towns back the call for commuter trains” says Jon Reeves, a CBT spokesperson. “The Campaign For Better Transport is surprised that local MPs have not got behind this train service”, says Reeves “even businesses are calling for trains to and from Auckland. Then their staff can work while en route using modern technology like laptops as well as mobile phones, which will be banned from motorists in November. All these can be used on board the trains proposed for the service and increase productivity of the region’s businesses”.

Hamilton East MP David Bennett has publicly stated his opposition to increasing transport options in his electorate through commuter rail, but the CBT has done the ground work and knows that Waikato people want commuter rail services to and from Auckland. Jon Reeves says “Perhaps Bennett should talk with his electorate about the transport improvements they actually want?”

Despite what David Bennett says, the proposed train services will not be competing with the Waikato Expressway for funding. However, they will give the region a much needed alternative to driving into Auckland, and an option that completely misses all the traffic congestion. The price of oil is on the way up again, and commuter trains will provide a fuel effective alternative to driving. David Bennett believes the future is electric cars, but his arguments ignore the unproductive time workers spend behind the steering wheel and the fact that electric cars make traffic jams just like petrol powered cars, even if everyone could afford to get themselves an electric car.

The community support for the postcard campaign has proved so spectacular that the Campaign For Better Transport will shortly need to get more printed.

“Unlike any of the so called ‘Seven Roads of National Significance’, the train service has an excellent proven Cost Benefit Ratio that is higher than is the case for many local roading projects”, says Reeves “This is a classic no brainer for the Government to give the green light to rail. Now, let’s see if common sense prevails and they get the trains on the tracks to Auckland. Failing that, we will continue to send them thousands of postcards in support of the trains.”

Postcards can be downloaded from the CBT website and sent FreePost to an MP. The link is: <>  .

In the next few weeks a team from CBT will also be around the Waikato region with more postcards.

“We have the passengers, we have the stations, now all we need is the trains” said Reeves.

Business Case Study undertaken by Environment Waikato in May 2009.

Waikato Commuter Trains NOW! Spokesperson:
Jon Reeves 021 535 295

CBT Convenor:
Cameron Pitches 027 288 9313


About CBT:
The Campaign for Better Transport is a voluntary incorporated society dedicated to promoting sustainable transport and better use of New Zealand’s transport assets and modal options, including roads, rail, ferries, cycling and walking. CBT is independent of all political parties and has as its core objective the aim of ensuring that funding is available to provide sustainable transport choices.

The CBT has had high profile successes with a number of its recent campaigns and its membership is now growing throughout New Zealand. The Waikato region is the second largest membership base of the CBT outside of Auckland.

5   Truck weights – comment from Seattle


I read your latest bulletin [77] with alarm.  New Zealand has arrived
at the top of the “stupid” list if they think that increasing the
permissible load weight and dimensions will be beneficial to anyone other
than a small cadre of truckers.
1. Increased weights will result in the roads being pounded to
pieces.  In California, the so-called ‘slow lanes’ (the ones at the
extreme right side of the freeway) are so rough that most passenger
vehicles stay out of  the lane to avoid having their passenger’s teeth
vibrated out of their sockets.  The slow lanes are frequently nothing but
chunks of concrete that used to be a continuous pavement, but are now
like a loosely assembled jigsaw puzzle.
2.  Increased loading will INCREASE truck traffic, not decrease
it.  The increased loading will permit the trucks to compete more
effectively with railroads, barge lines, and other non-road carriers of
freight, increasing truck traffic and thus increasing the contribution of
truck traffic to road destruction.  Are the NZ taxpayers willing to
contribute more of their hard earned money to subsidize these road
crushers?  I suspect New Zealanders are just as grouchy about increasing
their tax burden as Americans are.  The trucker lobby will effectively
fight off any attempt to raise their contribution to road maintenance.
So John Q. Public gets stuck with the bill…or the roads go to pieces
and JQP gets stuck with higher automobile repair bills as a result of
driving on the rougher than heck roads.  There is no winner in this
3. From an energy point of view, increased truck size is a step
backward, shifting freight from energy efficient railways and water
carriers to a mode of freight transport that consumes 4 times the fuel to
haul the same tonnage the same distance.  This is utterly inexcusable in
a world that now sees the effects of carbon emission into our atmosphere,
our life support system.  Carried to its extreme, this is just another
road use project that sacrifices the longevity of human life for the
personal profit of a select few.  The human race is not immune from the
dangers of extinction!

I wish you all success in fighting off this bone-headed proposal.  New
Zealand should be looking toward restricting long distance truck
movements, requiring them to be placed on rails for movements beyond xxx
miles.  A good start would be imposition of a ton-mile tax on truck
haulage so that the damage they cause to roads and people’s lives can be
compensated at least partially from the ton-mile tax funds.  How do you
compensate an automobile driver for the death of his wife and children at
the hands of one of these overloaded monsters on rubber tires.

Best Regards
Tom Irion
Auburn, Washington

Absolutely, Tom. Fortunately many organisations with infinitely more clout than Trans-Action, including the likes of IPENZ (Engineers NZ) (see ) and the Auckland Regional Council have said similar things.

(Tom was the Project Manager for the recently-completed South Lake Union Streetcar in Seattle – a local circulator adjunct to the new light rail line( – watch the movie – just what Wellington needs!). Tom, and Carl Jackson, the Supervisor of the operation, kindly gave me a detailed tour of SLUS when I visited Seattle in April.)

6   Just received: SEF open letter to the Minister of Transport

Dear All,

The Sustainable Energy Forum has released an Open Letter to the Minister
of Transport calling for a rethink of the Government transport policy. I
have pasted the text below, and you can find the document in PDF format on
the SEF website at

Tim Jones

25 August 2009

An Open Letter to the Minister of Transport

Dear Minister,

Since coming to office, the Government has embarked on a land transport
policy which strongly favours road transport, and in particular private
road transport, for both vehicles and freight. This approach has been
reflected in a reallocation of funding away from less oil-dependent
transport modes, as demonstrated in the Government Policy Statement on
Land Transport Funding 2009/10 – 2018/19.

In its briefing to the incoming Government of December 2008, the
Sustainable Energy Forum pointed out that, in an era of concern about both
rising oil prices and climate change, transport policy should instead be
focused on increasing the resilience of the transport system and
decreasing its reliance on non-renewable fossil energy sources. This
requires increased investment in rail freight (particularly electrified
rail, where feasible), rail and road public transport, active modes such
as walking and cycling, and a comprehensive and effective sea freight

So far, the Government has chosen not to follow this advice. This month,
however, two developments which should cause a rethink have occurred.

1. The IEA predicts a future oil supply crunch. As a member of the OECD,
New Zealand is also a member of the International Energy Agency (IEA). The
IEA has usually taken an optimistic view of the future of world oil
supplies, but its view has become considerably more pessimistic over the
past two years. As reported in The Independent (UK) on 3 August 2009:

The IEA estimates that the decline in oil production in existing fields is
now running at 6.7 per cent a year compared to the 3.7 per cent decline it
had estimated in 2007, which it now acknowledges to be wrong.

“If we see a tightness of the markets, people in the street will see it in
terms of higher prices, much higher than we see now. It will have an
impact on the economy, definitely, especially if we see this tightness in
the markets in the next few years,” [IEA Chief Economist Dr Fatih] Birol

To illustrate the scale of the problem, Dr Birol said that 64 mb/d of
gross capacity needs to be installed between 2007 & 2030 – six times the
current capacity of Saudi Arabia – to meet demand growth and offset
decline. He went on to say:

“Many governments now are more and more aware that at least the day of
cheap and easy oil is over… [however] I’m not very optimistic about
governments being aware of the difficulties we may face in the oil

Putting so many eggs in the state highway basket suggests that New Zealand
is among the countries which are not aware of these difficulties. The
IEA’s warnings are too urgent to be ignored any longer.

2. The Government sets greenhouse gas emissions reduction targets. The
Government has adopted a 2020 greenhouse gas reduction responsibility
target of between 10% and 20% on 1990 levels to take to the December 2009
Copenhagen climate negotiations. New Zealand will be under heavy pressure
in the negotiations to accept a final target at or above the upper end of
this range. Although some of the needed reductions can be achieved
offshore and through the use of forestry offsets, it will still be
necessary to make substantial reductions in domestic emissions.

Domestic transport greenhouse gas emissions increased 64% between 1990 and
2006, and constitute approximately 20% of New Zealand’s total greenhouse
gas emissions. A transport policy which concentrates on increased
provision for private motor vehicles will see transport emissions continue
to rise over the period to 2020, given that electric vehicles are forecast
to form only a very limited part of the private vehicle fleet by 2020.
Both local and international research shows that building new roads to
relieve congestion simply results in further congestion.

Thus, we are faced with the combination of further steep oil price rises,
and the need to sharply reduce greenhouse gas emissions from transport. In
the light of these, the Government should rethink its current approach to
current and future transport policy. The Sustainable Energy Forum calls on
the Government to:
•    Rethink the shape of New Zealand’s future transport system in the light
of the twin imperatives of reducing greenhouse emissions and reducing the
transport system’s dependence on oil.
•    Focus infrastructure development on areas which will reduce New
Zealand’s exposure to high oil prices, and increase New Zealand’s
resilience in the face of oil depletion and climate change. Such suitable
developments include the wider roll-out of fast broadband; increases in
the range, reliability and quality of public transport systems; a strong,
effective coastal shipping system; and the electrification of the
transport system wherever this is feasible.
•    Avoid infrastructure development which makes us more dependent on fossil
fuels and leads to further increases in New Zealand’s greenhouse gas
emissions. Such unsuitable developments include converting coal to liquid
fuels, and continuing to spend money on new state highway construction.

Yours sincerely
Tim Jones
Convenor, The Sustainable Energy Forum Inc

… And I think that is about enough for now!


Brent Efford
Co-ordinator, Trans-Action


Leave a Comment »

RSS feed for comments on this post. TrackBack URI

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

Create a free website or blog at
Entries and comments feeds.

%d bloggers like this: