Light Rail proposal in draft Central City Plan

Posted on August 11, 2011 by

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Well the draft Central City Plan is out, and the good news is that Light Rail has well and truly been put on the table for Christchurch. Some details have been announced and it seems as though the Christchurch City Council are keen to work with relevant partners to get this off the ground and up and running. In this post I will focus only on a general overview of the transport section, and will look at it in more detail in future posts.

The biggest and most exciting aspect of the Plan is the proposed Light Rail network. Finally, after all this time the Christchurch City Council has laid its rail cards (partially) on the table. The proposed Light Rail network would utilise street running as well as the rail corridors and would be the nucleus of Christchurch’s new public transport network. Five routes are outlined, with a Central City to University route being the first stage and other routes extending throughout the city.

The Plan addresses concerns that Christchurch is too small to develop a light rail network, making a point that light rail has been introduced in a number of cities similar in size to Christchurch, and that Christchurch is now the largest city in Australasia without a rail network. It also points out the economic growth potential that makes light rail in Christchurch a sensible choice.

The main points of the proposed light rail network are:

  • Phased delivery of a comprehensive network of passenger light rail routes across the Greater Christchurch sub-region
  • First stage from the Central City to University via Riccarton with subsequent extension to the Airport
  • Future routes to Papanui, Hornby, New Brighton and Lyttelton
  • Light rail vehicles would be hybrid, capable of operating off electric overhead as well as  having an onboard diesel engines in order to operate across the network
  • Links via railway corridors to Lyttleton, Rolleston, Rangiora also possible
  • Cost = $400 million for first stage and $1.5 – $1.8 billion for proposed network

Portland's Max Light Rail system has been a model for the proposed Christchurch Light Rail network

I always felt a light rail route from the Central City through Riccarton to the University, then onward to the Airport made the most sense and would be a an ideal launch route. There are no further details as yet, and I imagine that it won’t be until next year that there are, but I would imagine this route would involve a mixture of on-street running and segregated corridors in the middle of the road where possible, and would be fully electrified. Future proposed lines to Papanui and New Brighton would probably be similar while those to Hornby and Lyttleton would probably largely make use of the railway lines and onboard diesel engine with street running to access the Central City off electric overhead. There is little mention of services to Rolleston or Rangiora,  but I imagine that will certainly be on the cards as the railway extends to those places (and Prebbleton too). I am actually slightly concerned this is not a priority, as it would be easy to develop these type of services and possibly cheaper if they are to be diesel.
Other proposed ideas include:
  • Buses circling the Central City and linking a series of ‘street stations’ (with cycle parking) and ‘super stops’
  • Possibility of replacing free shuttle with free public transport within the avenues
  • Historic tram to be reassessed for opportunities to link it better with Central City’s public transport needs
  • Slow streets in the core of the city limited to 30km/h for vehicles in shared spaces
  • Iconic ‘main streets’ linking the various proposed precincts of the Central City, designed to handle multiple modes of transport
  • Separate cycle lanes and dedicated cycle paths
  • Enhanced avenues forming an orbital route around the Central City designed to give priority to through traffic, allowing conversion of previous one-way streets to two way and allowing the proposed changes to Central City streets to take place
  • Off-street parking to make up for reductions in on-street parking
  • New signage and wayfinding systems
  • Free car parking for up to 120 minutes in Council owned off-street parks, possibly extended into future
The separate bus stations idea over a single interchange seems slightly at odds with the way we were going, but so long as buses pass through all or most stations as they circle the city then I guess it is something I could look at supporting. The new system must have maximum connectivity between services and modes and that is why I have always opposed separate bus stations linked by ‘mini-buses’. I will wait until more detail on this is released before I make up my mind, but it does sound interesting.
Free travel on public transport within the avenues is something I think should have been done years ago so I am happy to see that in there. Bringing the tram into the public transport fold is also a good idea, particularly in the interim to link developing entertainment and retail precincts. It is good to see cycling is being taken seriously and enhanced lanes and dedicated paths are going to be a great asset.
I am a big fan of the proposed street layouts and support them fully. Getting through traffic onto the avenues and out of the city is another good move and something we have advocated on this blog. This will allow the one-way sstem to be scrapped and will make the Central City a safer place. Taking parks off-street will make it easier to rethink street space, although the free parking idea seems to contradict a lot of the aims of the Plan and while an okay interim move probably won’t serve the Central City well into the future. The Central City is not competing with the malls!
All in all this is an incredibly exciting Plan, and will result in Christchurch becoming New Zealand’s leading world-class city, of that I have no doubt. The challenge now is to make it a reality. This is going to cost a lot and the money will need to come from somewhere. How likely is it that the Government will support light rail? Just like the Auckland Council, the Christchurch City Council will have to convince a reluctant government that this rail project is worth it and ultimately inevitable. Over the next few days I will look into the details of the draft Plan in more detail, including the Light Rail proposals.
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