Final draft Central City Plan – looking at rail

Posted on December 22, 2011 by


“A cost effective and carefully staged reintroduction of a rail network for Christchurch, designed specifically for the city’s short, medium and longer term growth needs, could, if these requirements can be satisfied, provide a transformational transportation project for the redeveloped city.” – final draft Central City Plan

For the last few days I have been pouring my eyes over the final draft Central City Plan. Due to being unwell, I just haven’t had the time to put together the series of posts I really wanted to but, before I go away on holiday, I have decided to take a look at the rail sections and have a look at what has changed, where we are at, and where we are going with it – mainly because I know that is what most people who read this blog are likely to be interested in. In the new year I plan to take a look at other areas such as buses, cycling and walking, and the road system as well as analyse the rail proposal in a lot more detail. In the meantime, make sure you check out the final draft Plan here (it is worth checking out the appendices, they are actually much more interesting than the plan itself).

What has been produced on rail in the final draft is really a vision only, although it is now slightly less vague than the earlier draft. It looks like some things have been set straight (ish), such as the strange lack of reference to Rangiora or Rolleston in the initial proposals, and more about the type and nature of the system. The next steps from here are a $4 million two-part feasibility study/business case which will go ahead from 2012 – a study for the system, and a study for the first stage (which is now no longer necessarily the line to the University). $400 million is still set aside for that first stage, whatever it will eventually be (that is probably to be decided in the first part of the study).

STUDY Stage 1
The initial phase of the study is focussed on the production of a Preliminary Business Case study for presentation to central government. This will be informed by the interpretation of the Treasury’s Better Business Case analysis approach and explore the potential role of a Christchurch rail system to support the regeneration, business and economic growth stimuli for the Christchurch and sub-regional economy. The terms of reference for such an analysis will be a matter for early agreement between Council, CERA, NZ Transport Agency, Ministry of Transport, Ministry of Economic Development, Environment Canterbury and, as appropriate, the UDS partnership and possibly KiwiRail.

A key dimension of this initial study, which later studies will only progress based on positive outcomes, will be an early understanding of potential synergies between land use developments and redevelopment and alignment with rail route and hub (station) opportunities. An additional issue for early exploration will be the potential for innovative funding opportunities, such as private/public sector funding partnership opportunities.

My hope is that the CCC learn from the Auckland inner-city rail link business case debacle. It looks like their approach is playing to the rules of the key players, so there is hope. The message I am getting from this is that the CCC are willing to be flexible to get what they want from the get-go. That can be both a good and bad thing!

STUDY Stage 2
Once the outcomes of the preliminary business case study are confirmed (Stage 1), positive results would lead to a more detailed feasibility study examining the possibilities for system design, construction, operation and maintenance of a light rail/commuter rail system on a notional five Christchurch/Greater Christchurch corridors

Key outputs would likely include but not be confined to:

  • Review of 2011 CCC outline corridor studies
  • Examination of the need for corridor protection
  • Consideration of appropriate mode/rapid transit systems along each corridor
  • Consideration of the route(s) and stop/hub locations
  • Relationships with existing and possible future land uses
  • Consideration of routes to and through the Central City and need for appropriate corridor protection
  • Further analysis of the total potential re-generational impacts of each corridor, along with an overview of the regeneration impacts of the corridors combined on the Central City, and implications for appropriate phasing/staging of system delivery
  • Patronage estimates, with and without future re-generational land use changes
  • Consideration of the rolling stock/vehicle requirements and projected timetable operation
  • Examination of the extent to which changes to planning rules/regulations can assist Transit-oriented development
  • A review of funding and business case considerations identified in Project Stage 1 as a result of aforementioned outputs
  • Associated traffic engineering, management and parking implications – corridor by corridor
  • Links to other modes, especially integration with bus networks existing and future
  • Potential governance models for system development, delivery and operational management once operational
  • Further comparable best practice examples (or otherwise) that can help inform sound decision-making
  • Examination of the extent to which the proposed system will correspond to Council and Government policy, such as Connecting New Zealand, Regional Land Transport Strategy, CERA Land, Building and Recovery Plan

Once the above are determined (and assuming positive outcomes) then it would be possible to move to STUDY
Stage 3 (STAGE A SYSTEM DEVELOPMENT) of the project, which would likely be the Build, Operate, Maintain
phase for a Stage A Christchurch rail system, as set out in the Draft Governance structure

The over-arching deliverables of this project are likely to be:

  • A preliminary business case study for delivery to central government as the key deliverable from Stage 1 of the study project
  • Studies of notionally five Individual corridors, taking account of the issues itemised in the project description
  • Determination of operating model, i.e. rail-based transport versus traditional bus-based public transport
  • Determination of appropriate funding, system procurement and governance models for a successful system
  • An updated business case taking into account the findings of the corridor studies

While it is recognised that large parts of each notional corridor are located outside of the Central City, each
of the above study elements will be expected to reflect the principles of the Central City Plan and the CERA
Building and Infrastructure Recovery Plan

Additionally for the Central City, detailed transportation and related project objectives will include:

  • Transport safety in the Central City is improved, especially for walking and cycling
  • Central City (and Regional Land Transport Strategy) targets and objectives for travel choice, notably increased use of public transport, walking and cycling and for trips to and within the Central City
  • Any rail-based system will achieve maximum synergies with bus-based public transport systems;
  • The Central City has increased access, connectivity and legibility for all users
  • Existing and new open spaces in the Central City are vibrant, popular and used
  • Central City residents and workers can access a wide range of services and connect within local neighbourhoods
This isn’t just about rail but about establishing a network of rapid transit corridors. Along these corridors the future Christchurch will develop (I guess, much like what Auckland is trying to do). While the CCC has created a vision of a rail network that links heavy rail with light rail via what might amount to tram-train type technology, it is by no means a concrete thing. Anything can happen – bus rapid transit and rail mix (as in Auckland and Brisbane) or separate heavy and light rail systems. We will start to get a more detailed picture when these studies are complete.

It is clear, from the get go, that the section on “commuter rail” (or “light rail” – they really do seem to be using the two terms intermittently) is about establishing a need to look at how rail can play a role in the transport system, rather than making a solid proposal. Nevertheless, it is less vague than the initial draft Plan, providing a lot more detail on the type of system that they do vision. There are clearly two types of lines (“existing/heavy rail” and “new/light rail”), and the current view seems to be to fully integrate them, possibly utilising tram-train technology. Below is a new indicative map of a possible rail system for greater Christchurch:

They have clearly differentiated between services on existing lines to Lyttelton, Rangiora, and Rolleston and those that will be new to the Airport, New Brighton, and through the Central City. The key is a little confusing but seems to be a communication error as in the appendices the map’s key is labelled “new lines” and “existing rail”. The nature of the lines is explained in this excerpt from the appendices:

Why Rolleston and Rangiora are in brackets, I do not know (perhaps because they are outside the CCC’s jurisdiction?). It looks like the line from Rangiora would utilise the Main North Line for most of its length, only undertaking street running to access the CBD (hence the reference to Fendalton). I think that is the best option, and have always been against the whole “put light rail/tram-trains down Papanui Rd” view, especially when the rail line can be taken advantage of until Riccarton Rd. The two lines with majority on-street running are the new ones, of course. Some segregation might be possible, perhaps something similar to bus lanes, while some sections, such as along Memorial Ave toward the Airport, and along Ensors/Pages Rd toward New Brighton, might have room for a fully segregated corridor. I think there is going to have to be a major rethink on the form of some key roads though, especially Riccarton Rd. A difficult, but not impossible task, and one that could have plenty of positive implications for the local area.

Something else worth commenting on is that it is becoming increasing clear, to me at least, that the heritage tram line is considered a completely separate entity. I don’t think it is at all proposed that it form part of the light-rail proposal, rather like how Portland’s streetcar line is separate from the MAX light rail system. That would kind of take care of the “gauge issue” as well as any other issues like tight corners or lack of segregation.

Indicative costings for the five line system are given, which comes out in total to $1.72b. When you consider this is likely to be phased, and amount to about 80-90km of route length, it isn’t too bad. In terms of whether it is value for money, I don’t think any conclusions can be made until the business case is finalised. We still don’t really know what kind of system might be put forward as a final proposal, and therefore it is hard to judge its effectiveness.

An interesting part of the appendices is the examples of international and local best practice to follow, or bad examples not to follow. It gives a good insight into the thinking going on and what kind of systems and concepts they are looking to learn from and adapt for local use. Karlsruhe is in there, as the birth place of the tram-train, with the lesson to be learnt that “the use of cutting edge technology (in this case the rolling stock design) can assist in overcoming technical problems.” Portland is in there as an example of the regenerational implications of light rail. Edinburgh is in there as a bad example. Auckland was there too, but confusingly had this to say:

This seems a little odd. First, light rail has not been developed from heavy rail in Auckland (they have always had a heavy rail network with commuter services, which has been developed immensely in recent years – with electrification and new trains to come – and extended underground closer into the CBD). It also means the comment about gauge is redundant. What is being proposed here for Christchurch, even if it is just a vision, has never been done in New Zealand before. Ever. This seems like a silly oversight, but one they can ill afford to make. When the business case comes around, they will have to be well on top of it and can’t afford mistakes like this. Nevertheless, it is a very good point about the risks of over developing a road network without developing an adequate public transport network. Have I not bored you to death using Auckland as an example of that?

To me, the big news out of all of this is that a business case is to be put forward. That is the message being sent here. That study will put something solid on the table, from which a first stage can be cut. While there is a strong indication that the CCC view the idea of tram-trains very favourably, I must stress that this isn’t set in concrete, and the Plan itself seems to go out of its way to communicate this. A lot can change between now and when the business case is finalised. This Plan merely sets the scene that Christchurch is serious about rail being a part of the city’s new transport solutions, while giving an indication of the way they intend to do it if it continues to prove a cost-effective solution. Who knows, perhaps the existing heavy rail lines and the proposed new lines (which more fit the bill of “light rail”) may be segregated should the concept of running the two together as one inter-operable system prove too costly or difficult. As I have already mentioned, other modes may come into the mix, especially with the two new corridors. On the other hand, it may be entirely possible to integrate the existing heavy rail lines into the proposed light-rail system via the application of tram-train technology. I guess that is what the business case is all about, and I await it pretty eagerly (even if I have to wait until 2013!).

Anyway, I hope you all have a great Christmas and a happy new year. I plan on taking some time off from updating this blog, spending time with family and friends and doing a little bit of travel. After my return I will look at the final draft in more detail, initially looking at the other (non-rail) areas. Until then.