20 October 2010

Christchurch commuter rail

With the recent success of rail-friendly mayoral candidates in Auckland and Wellington, CTB reports that re-elected Christchurch mayor Bob Parker is keen to advance plans for some sort of light rail or commuter tram network in the city.  (The present tram service is a short heritage route largely of use to tourists rather than commuters, although it is being expanded in time for the World Cup).

While a light rail or tram network would be a great addition to the Christchurch public transport environment and would assist in making the city’s transport networks more sustainable in light of potential oil shocks, the big problem for all such schemes is that they are capital-intensive, and Christchurch doesn’t have a large population to fund such investments.  Auckland and Wellington are also likely to to actively competing for central government assistance in enhancing their rail networks.   

Nevertheless, there are cheaper options that can be investigated, which rely on the existing rail infrastructure that still remains despite years of neglect.  The South Island main trunk line passes through Christchurch, with a spur leading to the port at Lyttelton.  These could easily form the basis of a commuter rail system with the addition of rail infrastructure including a relatively inexpensive platforms, such as just been done on the Onehunga branch extension in Auckland (although ideally you’d prefer it if the contractors built the platforms to the correct length).

In a similar vein to my mapping of a hypothetical Auckland waterfront tram / light rail line, here’s a quick attempt at setting out a low-cost commuter rail network in Christchurch using existing tracks. 

Christchurch commuter rail


I am not a rail expert, nor have I ever lived in Christchurch.


There are plenty of niggles with the network as outlined.  One key problem is the lack of access to the CBD.  Any commuter network that omits the CBD risks losing a substantial transit market.  However, this is intended to be a low-cost solution.  Bus routes would have to be synchronised with train services to ensure that passengers travelling to the CBD would have a straightforward onward journey from the train to the bus service.  (Complementary bus services would need to be developed across the new rail network, to maximise transfer ridership.  Integrated ticketing would help too).  Alternatively, the proposed Colombo Street station is only 1km from Cathedral Square, so walking is hardly out of the question, even in those bracing Canterbury winters.   

There’s also the problem of service orientation.  Focusing on getting commuters to the city centre and Jade Stadium is vital, so I suppose the network above would have at least two lines: one from Rangiora to Lyttelton and another from Lyttelton to Rolleston.  I don’t know if there’d be sufficient ridership on the eastern spur to justify double the service of the western line to Rolleston, or for a third route following the Main Trunk from Rolleston to Rangiora via Addington – you tell me!

Station spacing is determined by aiming for major road intersections approximately 1.5km apart in central areas, increasing as population density decreases at the ends of the lines. 

The prospect of services using the current Addington station, which is the only train station in Christchurch that currently serves passengers (for the Tranz-Alpine), raises the issue of using it as an interchange.  Currently the Main Trunk proceeds through the station and heads westwards, so any train arriving from the north and intending to head to Lyttelton would need to reverse, which has long been a problem in Newmarket in Auckland where the western line joins the Main Trunk towards the CBD.  There’d be a short delay while the driver changes cabs.  Not much room to retrofit a north to east loop, but maybe one could be added at some point.

The plans as outlined omit two key destinations: the University and the airport.  These would be prime targets for the mayor’s light rail or tram services, or a plain old BRT network. 

Plans would need to be developed to construct new station stops at most of the listed locations.  The suggested locations are listed below, including a few that involve relocating several existing but currently disused platforms.

Proposed stations: Rangiora-Lyttelton Line

Station Location
Rangiora Existing station nr Blackett St
Kaiapoi Cnr Williams & Fuller Sts
Belfast Cnr Belfast & Station Rds
Redwood Nr intersection of Main North Rd & Farquhars Rd
Papanui Cnr Harewood Rd & Restell St
Bryndwyr Nr intersection of Wairakei & Jeffreys Rds
Riccarton Cnr Riccarton Rd & Mona Vale Ave
Addington* Existing station
Colombo St (City) Cnr Colombo St & Moorhouse Ave
Jade Stadium Cnr Wilsons Rd North & Mowbray St
Woolston Existing platform nr Curries Rd & Cumnor Tce
Heathcote Valley Cnr Martindales & Station Rds
Lyttelton Existing station, with improved pedestrian access to Norwich Quay.


Proposed stations: Rolleston-Lyttelton Line

Station Location
Rolleston Replace existing station with new station at cnr Main South Rd & Tennyson St
Templeton Cnr Kirk & Waterloo Rds
Islington Cnr Waterloo Rd & Parker St
Hornby Replace existing station with new station at cnr Carmen & Smarts Rds
Sockburn Cnr Main South Rd & Green Lane
Curletts Rd End of Cable St, with improved pedestrian access to Curletts Rd overpass
(Addington, etc.)  


Journey length

Journey Length
Rangiora > Colombo St 32.5km
Rolleston > Colombo St 22.1km
Lyttelton > Colombo St 10.2km


Any comments welcome!

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