Why the railway lines are important

Posted on October 31, 2011 by

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Looking at The Press website recently, I stumbled on a curious tool which locates the various subdivisions either under development or about to come online in the near future. The number of these developments is quite striking, with a significant number of them located along the increasingly critical north-south corridor.

In the latest subnational population estimates from Statistics New Zealand, Christchurch has lost 8700 people on last year, a 2.4 percent decrease. This is Christchurch proper and doesn’t include the urban areas of Selwyn and Waimakariri Districts. It is probably safe to say that this is a temporary set-back and that growth will be experienced as people move back and new people move in for work during the rebuild. In fact, we might actually see some quite substantial growth over the next few years, surprising as that may seem to some (sensationalist articles about “70,000 people abandoning Christchurch” seem a tad silly now). Nevertheless, what is interesting about the estimates though, is the population increases experienced by Selwyn and Waimakariri Districts, to the north and south of Christchurch. Selwyn’s population increased by 1500, or 3.9 percent, to 41,100, while Waimakariri increased its population by 940, or 2.0 percent, to 48,600. I think it is safe to say that most of that growth would have been in the main centres, Rolleston, Lincoln and Prebbleton in Selwyn, and Rangiora, Woodend and Pegasus in Waimakariri. The fact that Waimakariri still recorded strong growth is quite incredible given that a lot of people would likely have left their damaged homes in Kaiapoi.

Screen shot from Stuff showing the subdivisions either online or about to go online. Many are located on the increasingly strategic north-south corridor

Looking toward the immediate future, we see that a significant number of housing developments are underway or going ahead in these areas. A lot of them are close to, or within connecting distance to, the railway lines. Lets look at Waimakariri. We have the following:

– Oxford Estate, Rangiora
– Maple Grove Estate, Rangiora
– Ravenswood, Waikuku
– Pegasus
– Sovereign Palms, Kaiapoi
– Millfield, Mendeville
– Mandeville Park, Mandeville

Arguably, even the Mandeville, Pegasus, and Waikuku developments are within the railways catchment if park and ride and improved bus services are developed, while the Rangiora and Kaiapoi regional centres (the later of which is to get its own rebuild plan) are directly served. We know that further developments are in the pipeline too, these are just the ones that are selling now or approved for go ahead. In addition, a number of new subdivisions in the north of Christchurch are close to the railway corridor, including Marble Court and Riverside Reserve in Northwood, and even Highfield near Redwood. Again, further developments are planned along this corridor, including the possibility of some sort of (hopefully exciting) development on the Firestone site in Papanui.

In Selwyn we have the following:

– Preston Downs, West Melton
– Gainsborough Park, West Melton
– Parkview Estate, Rolleston
– Millgate, Rolleston
– Mayfair, Rolleston
– Prebbleton Central, Prebbleton
– The Grange, Lincoln
– Live in Lincoln, Lincoln
– Liffey Springs, Lincoln

The West Melton developments are completely out of range – although my imagination is running wild with a future extension of the proposed University-CBD light rail line to West Melton! – but this shows that Rolleston is continuing its almost unstoppable expansion. I remember reading once that it was thought it would have a population of around 15,000 by 2015, and they can’t be too far off that now. With growth of Prebbleton Central and the new developments in Lincoln, surely it is time to start debating the merits of including the Prebbleton line in any commuter rail/tram-train/light rail project. In addition to the Selwyn areas we also have the Wigram Skies development on the old Wigram airbase, adjacent to the railway line at Sockburn.

The railway line to Lyttelton is an interesting case. It features in the light rail proposal in the draft Central City Plan, but there are certainly a few people who question that – previous rail services having ended less than a decade after the road tunnel opened and port rationalisation having sapped it of its previous sizable work force. It is worth remembering though, that the line also passes through Opawa, Woolston, Ferrymead, and Heathcote and any service would have an almost captive market with a connection with the Diamond Harbour ferry. In fact, there are three subdivisions currently under development in Diamond Harbour, and the area has certainly grown over the last few decades. Then there is the planned developments for Lyttelton, the blueprint for which will likely be established from the suburban centres programme, and the possibility of redeveloping the inner harbour area. A renewed rail service to the port would certainly tie in with this well.

The blue line illustrates how the railway serves the north-south corridor from Rangiora in the north to Rolleston in the south west. Rail to Lyttelton and Prebbleton also shown. The red line represents a possible tram-train link through the CBD.

This quick analysis of residential growth along the railway corridors suggests to me that the role of the railway lines in the future transportation system of Christchurch can not be ignored. Whether we look to develop commuter rail services along the lines of what Auckland or Wellington have, or go in another direction like tram-trains, the fact that the rails, and more importantly the corridors themselves, are there, gives us the opportunity to establish high quality rapid transit corridors to serve these key growth areas. Primarily this is a corridor forming a spine from north-south with branch lines to Lyttelton and Prebbleton, with buses and possibly trams/light rail feeding into the spine, along with cycle ways, park and ride etc, which would form the initial stage of an eventual rapid transit network for Greater Christchurch.

It is increasingly obvious from some of the comments and feedback on the draft City Plan that people are really beginning to see the north-south corridor as highly important and that improving public transport along it should be given high priority. It will be interesting to see whether this has much of an impact on the final Plan and, given that the CCC has recently stated that the proposed University-CBD light rail line may not be the first stage of the proposed light rail network, it might well do. I believe the railway corridors represent an opportunity to develop the begginings of a world-class public transport system for Christchurch., and I think we should start that process now.

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