Adapting rail for Christchurch

Posted on June 15, 2011 by

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Well Monday saw two big aftershocks for Christchurch which thankfully passed without a replay of the tragedy of February. Apart from some further damage to buildings and areas already pretty banged up (the timeball station made a sad site), plus hitting some raw nerves, it hasn’t really done anything to be a game-changer so we still seem to be on the same road that we were before this week. The people I feel worst for are those in the eastern suburbs; that liquefaction must be so demoralising! I just hope everyone and their families are still getting through okay.

Anyway, recently I came across some videos from last year focusing on the key issues before the 2010 local body elections (before the earthquake of course). The show the clips are from is called ‘Newsmakers’ and was hosted by local media personality Mike Yardley on CTV. In this first one, Mike talks to Mayor Bob Parker about public transport and more specifically light-rail. This gives an interesting insight into the Mayor and Council’s thinking, particularly when the Mayor outlines the tram-train concept which gives a bit more of a solid illustration of what the vision is in regard to rail.

A further interview with Councillor’s Barry Corbett, Ngaire Button, and Yani Johanson also focuses on the public transport and light-rail question. Of particular interest for me is Barry’s mention of an idea to trial a rail service on existing lines during the Rugby World Cup, something I had previously advocated.

Certainly, the idea of a hastily put together trial rail service for the Rugby World Cup is out the window given recent events. However, I have previously outlined an idea for an adapted rail service that could be used to service the needs of key areas in and around Christchurch in this immediate post-quake period. Given the questions raised about the status of some houses after the latest series of aftershocks, there is a strong demand from some people to quickly sort out which pieces of land are capable of being rebuilt upon and which aren’t, so that those affected can move on to new areas. The word on the street is that satellite residential developments in areas such as Pegasus, Wigram, Rolleston and maybe even Prestons could be fast-tracked to house those people who require new housing. Furthermore, these are going to undoubtedly be prime areas for other people to choose to move, including the likely influx of workers and their families once the rebuild gets underway in earnest. Throw in the increasing price of petrol (Christchurch has been exempt so far in the latest increase, but that won’t last forever) and the existing congestion, and the idea of utilising the rail lines suddenly becomes an attractive and affordable proposition (affordable as in its there, and can be adapted relatively quickly).

It would have to be budget, and it would have to be achieved quickly but if done right it could be the type of service that leads to that world-class tram-train and/or light-rail system. Below is a very crude diagram I put together (only as a rough guide, I haven’t included every possible feature) showing three routes and some of the key growth areas which could utilise it.

A rough schematic showing how we can adapt the present rail corridors to serve a post-quake Christchurch in the interim period between now and the later rebuilding phase. Note this isn't meant as an all inclusive map.

Black circles indicate some key areas for trip generation while the red circles represent key destinations and/or interchanges. The thin black lines roughly represent required bus connections. Clearly, the make-shift bus system we have now isn’t entirely cutting it, so this rail plan would require a rejigging of the bus routes to create some good interchanges at key spots, which would be a positive spin-off, not a detriment. All services would terminate at Addington, although a Moorhouse Ave termination point could be opened as more of the CBD reopens. The current circumstances mean that this will likely be the only time you could terminate such services at Addington and get away with it!

Essentially, it would be an interim solution only. The idea would be to use it as a stepping stone for whatever is come up with in the plan to rebuild the city (for example to extend it into the city as a tram-train). Challenges would be to build cheap infrastructure (such as platforms, park and ride and other facilities), obtain suitable rollingstock (raiding heritage fleets could be a start) and motive power, and to timetable effective services so as to require as little additional track, and other expensive infrastructure, as possible. As the future directions of Christchurch are developed parts of the system could be upgraded, replaced, or added to as required (the Prebbleton line could even be adapted for use,and perhaps Addington Junction fixed).

Such a plan would be a massive challenge, but it wouldn’t be impossible and the rewards would be enormous, both short-term and long-term, and is an entirely justifiable transport solution along a crucial corridor that is rapidly increasing in importance and use.  Again, check out my previous post (here) to see some more details I outlined at that time. This is an opportunity I really think needs to be seriously looked at, and who knows perhaps this is the kind of thinking that is going on toward the roll out of a ‘new public transport system‘ (but we are probably reading waaaay too much into that so perhaps not!). It certainly suits the future directions of the city (in terms of being a step in the right direction), and fits in with interim transportation needs.

The CTV clips are certainly well worth checking out, and there are more of them there to have a look at (including one I found in which Mike Yardley clearly shows he holds public transport in very low regard!) so do have a look around. Of course things have changed a lot since then, but the indications are that the rebuild will largely encompass much of the thinking the City Council had prior to the earthquakes anyway (now with more of a mandate to get on with it, and fast) including public transport and rail, so it is a very interesting window to look through.

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