An opportunity for Christchurch passenger rail services?

Posted on March 12, 2011 by

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I hope, like many do, that the Rugby World Cup games Christchurch is earmarked to host later this year will go ahead. There has been plenty of emotion about this played out in the media already. Many people see it as a potential beacon of hope and a signal of a return to some sort of normality. Certainly it would be a fantastic opportunity to signal to the world that Christchurch is back. Some, however, take the view that it isn’t realistic, safety must come first and an alternative location for the city’s games be found.

Thankfully, the Government and City Council seem determined to try as hard as possible to make the Rugby World Cup in Christchurch a reality. Can it be done? It won’t be easy, but nothing ever is and when you consider what this city has done and been through already, and what lies ahead, it seems we will be more than up to the task.

If Christchurch does get the go-ahead for Rugby World Cup 2011, there are potentially a number of scenarios. Right now, no one really knows how it would go, or they aren’t willing to put their cards on the table. We can’t be sure how much of the CBD will be open by then, if at all, and even more uncertain will be the number of hotel rooms. One suggestion that has been made a couple of times already is having cruise ships stationed in Lyttelton for accommodation. This has been done before, for the 1974 Commonwealth games, and is certainly feasible to do now. One aspect of this that I find interesting is the prospect of utilising the Lyttelton railway line as a way to transport people from their accommodation to the games and the city (I believe train services ran in 1974 as well). The building of temporary facilities near AMI Stadium, which is adjacent to the railway line, and perhaps the CBD at the base of Manchester or Colombo Streets surely wouldn’t be that hard to do. Rolling stock would probably be the biggest issue, but seeing as this is a one-off event, getting some of Tranz Scenics charter fleet together to form a couple of trains is probably a suitable option (Silver Fern railcars could be an option too). Travel could be free for the duration of the event (including buses) and it could be a good way to test a potential commuter rail service.

The Lyttleton line tracks passing AMI Stadium. A temporary station could be set up at the end of Lismore St.

That final point is something I want to expand on a little further. With recent events, and with roads congested and going to be congested and in bad shape for some time, I have been thinking about the possibility of introducing rail passenger services as a cheap stop-gap measure, to get people out of cars and off the roads. With the lack of a CBD (for the time being anyway), and with many jobs temporarily relocated to the Addington/Riccarton area, it wouldn’t be such a hindrance to terminate trains at Addington station (from the north anyway) which has often been the deal-breaker in suggesting the implementation of a cheap commuter rail service.

Given recent events, it would be more acceptable to put up temporary facilities (platforms, shelters etc), and utilise less than ideal rolling stock. Furthermore, there would be less pressure to operate a perfect service so the limitations imposed by Addington junctions configuration, signalling and single track sections would not be so crucial. What I’m saying is, at the moment, and likely for a while yet, it would probably be acceptable to operate the best service possible within the current limitations of the rail infrastructure, which would otherwise not be acceptable. Right now, this is probably the best chance Christchurch will ever have of being able to do this.

Rolling stock would be a big issue, but given the nature of the idea I think there is actually plenty out there to choose from. For a start, there is Tranz Scenics aforementioned charter fleet and the Silver Fern railcars. There are other fleets too that we could lease from, such as the Taieri Gorge Railway in Dunedin. Some of this rolling stock is considered ‘ancient’ but given the circumstances is probably acceptable and also plentiful. Wellington and Auckland could even lend a hand with their commuter rail stock, although this is probably a long shot.

Services could be operated on the three main lines; North from Addington to Rangiora; South from the CBD/Addington to Rolleston; East from Addington/CBD to Lyttelton. If a bit more money could be spent it might even be possible to re-open the line to Prebbleton, although given it would need a lot of work that is probably a long shot. Stops would be made at all key points along the way, especially at places that are considered hubs for bus services (Papanui, Hornby etc).

Fares could be the same as the bus. I’m just spit balling here, but I’m sure it wouldn’t be that hard to set it up for metrocard use, although I imagine it would be a significant cost. Ultimately, this proposal would be a stop-gap measure but has potential for further investment should it prove to be well used or if it hints at the prospects of a better service.

It’s probably slightly too early at the moment, but I think in the coming weeks this could be something well worth looking into for all concerned authorities. It’s not perfect, but it could help make access a little bit easier and be the start of something great. I’m very interested to develop this idea a little further over the coming weeks, and just see what it looks like.

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