A novel idea to reintroduce the concept of commuter rail travel to the Christchurch public?

Posted on August 29, 2011 by

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There is so much news going on these days it is easy to miss something. Tonight I was being my sometimes nerdy self (well I do write a transport blog!) and came across this article from the Timaru Herald in March:

A Timaru-Christchurch passenger train service has been mooted in the wake of the February 22 earthquake.

Christchurch’s earthquake has left many people uncertain about their future and Aoraki Development Business and Tourism has received reports that up to 30 businesses have decided to relocate to Timaru, for periods ranging from three months to the long term.

ADBT chief executive Wendy Smith said the organisation was discussing how to accommodate a possible increase in Timaru’s population as a result of the earthquakes. She said one proposal was a commuter train which could run from Timaru to Christchurch.

“It was raised at a recent think-tank, and we haven’t really progressed beyond the idea, but it’s certainly something in the mix,” Mrs Smith said.

“Nothing’s been fleshed out, but we’re developing a `five-point’ plan in the wake of the Christchurch earthquakes, and one aspect we’re exploring is communication and infrastructure.”

It has been nearly a decade since Timaru last had a passenger train service. In 2002, the Government canned the 32-year-old Southerner passenger express train service, which ran from Christchurch to Invercargill, after a Ministry of Economic Development feasibility study found it wanting.

KiwiRail Tranz Scenic manager Tom Evers-Swindell said before the organisation could even consider a project such as a Timaru to Christchurch service, there were a number of factors which had to be taken into account.

Once the situation in Christchurch is more certain and our existing Tranz Scenic South Island operations more settled we would be happy to discuss new passenger transport initiatives. We would need to carry out a feasibility study for any proposed service,” he said.

Mr Evers-Swindell said it would also have to consider the distance from Timaru to Christchurch, and whether there was appropriate rolling stock available.

“At 160km, the train would have to share the largely single track line with freight. Travel time is likely to be around three hours each way,” he said.

I wonder what happened to this proposal? A few thoughts: I think any reintroduction of rail in Christchurch is going to be incremental (both light and/or heavy rail) so such proposals could be good first steps; Kiwirail will soon introduce new carriages on the Tranz Alpine and Coastal Pacific passenger services meaning a number of serviceable carriages will soon become available; such a service could easily serve Ashburton, Rolleston, Templeton, Islington, Hornby etc on the way in and even run through to Lyttleton; services could terminate in the southern CBD when it reopens, and; it would almost certainly not take three hours each way! Integration of ticketing and bus services would also be possible given that ECan has jurisdiction that far south.

The reason I think such an idea might have gas is that it would make sense and be justifiable to start off with a single service, so it would be cheap to set up (as opposed to trying to reintroduce more local services around Christchurch from the get-go, which would need to be more intense to attract patronage and hence cost more). It would be a good way to reintroduce the concept of rail travel to the public and the success of such a service could help justify the cost of expanding services to other parts of the greater Christchurch rail network (for example, Rangiora) .

At the end of the day it’s just an interesting proposal and a few interesting thoughts but like I said before, we need to start to think outside the box and we need to be willing to take and use what we can to get to where we want to be. I think such ideas have a lot of merit.

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Posted in: Christchurch, Trains