With a $400 million price tag, the cost of Christchurch’s proposed light rail link between the Ilam university campus and CBD is bound to be a major issue that must be debated before the project can be given the green light. However, Mayor Bob Parker, on Newstalk ZB, has said he believes the light rail project might come in under the $400 million budget, using recent extensions of the heritage tram as an example of how cheap tram tracks can be built.
At about $7 million maximum a kilometre for the tram tracks to be laid in the recent tram extensions, he believes the light rail link can be built at less than currently proposed in the draft Central City Plan. There will obviously be added costs that won’t be associated with the heritage tram; higher quality stops/stations; possible segregation of the corridor from traffic, either partially or entirely; signalling systems, and; higher rolling stock costs. While I do get his point, and am always supportive of keeping costs of projects such as this down, I also worry that there is some ambiguity over what we might get out of this ‘light rail link’.
“The university is about 7.5 kilometres, so if we said $7 million a kilometre and we had some passing loops in there, I think the actual infrastructure cost could actually be significantly lower,” – Bob Parker
Parker seemed to insinuate on Newstalk ZB that the line might be single tracked with passing loops as appropriate. This seems to me that the Council might be willing to put forward a ‘budget’ proposal to get it off the ground. Such a proposal would have some benefits such as keeping costs down and making segregation of the corridor much easier, but would also have a negative effect on service frequency and timekeeping. It also begs the question of what type of system are we seeing proposed here? ‘Light rail’ is really a catch all term and can mean a number of things, from traditional trams in the street, to systems that operate a mixture of street running and within their own corridors, to systems that are almost entirely self contained. What we don’t need right now is ambiguity and mixed messages, so I think it will be crucial to undertake a business case study and produce some detailed options and associated costs for the public as soon as possible.
This light rail proposal does seem really well thought out in terms of why they proposed this particular link (for example, the places it links, the length, its logical extensions, and possibility of being used as a CBD link for tram-trains) but now I am starting to wonder if they overestimated the cost in order to gain further support further down the line. It wouldn’t surprise me if they come up with options that miraculously reduce the overall cost of this link, providing a lever for more public support and government funding. In principle, there is nothing wrong with that but, as I say, my worry is that we might end up with something we didn’t expect and is sub-standard. It is all moot at this point so until we see more detail it is very hard to criticise about what might or might not eventuate. All in all, it is simply a good thing we have this proposal on the table and are able to have this debate.