Light Rail no Panacea for Wellington transport

Written By: - Date published: 8:46 am, August 23rd, 2017 - 21 comments
Categories: climate change, public transport - Tags: ,

In just a couple of month’s time the Greater Wellington Regional will start an $11m project to dismantle the trolley bus system. In his earlier post Council Tramways Union Vice President Chris Morley wrote about why this is a huge mistake. In his follow-up he covers off why light rail for Wellington is unlikely to ever happen, and why it doesn’t need to. Show your support at www.together.org.nz/thankyou-driver

Somewhere within the conundrum of Greater Wellington deciding to scrap the trolley bus network, things have become blurred with the light rail aspect being tossed into the mix. Politicians at all levels of government have waded into the debate as light rail seems to be seen as a panacea to future proofing Wellington’s public transport system. Should Wellington’s population increase to Auckland’s level then this may become reality. Transport Minister Simon Bridges has stated he would like to see light rail to Auckland International Airport within 25 years. With this in mind Wellingtonian’s aren’t going to see light rail in Wellington anytime soon. Perhaps the phenomenal cost could have something to do with a timely decision not to go ahead with light rail in Wellington.

In a recent presentation at the Lets Get Wellington moving forum I attended, an expert responsible for light rail implementation in Sydney, Gold Coast and Canberra in Australia spoke. The cost of these projects $300 million, $500 million and $100 million Australian dollars per kilometre respectively. This figure includes lost time through road closures, redirection and deployment of underground services.

In Wellington much debate centers around which route light rails should follow. The CBD to Airport via Newtown being the most favored. The Average speeds for tram cars in Melbourne is 17km per hour. The notion that light rail will speed transport up in the city is a fatuous argument.

The much maligned trolley bus system eclipses the arguments in virtually every aspect in terms of cost, network and flexibility. Indeed for the cost of a few kilometres at light rail at the cheapest rate ($100 Million Australian) Wellington could future proof its system for the next 25 years. Present power supply issues would be corrected and a brand new fleet of 80 to 100 trolley buses could be purchased.

By retaining the existing network as the base system any future technology being trialed by NZ Bus would have the ability to feed into it and supplement with new routes as required. In a world of uncertainty around fossil fuel and climate change, a trolley bus system can surely be seen as unequalled.

~ Chris Morley

21 comments on “Light Rail no Panacea for Wellington transport”

  1. dukeofurl 1

    The risk from Earthquakes on the poles and wires that are essential for the trolley buses to operate is quite high. Non- wired electric buses can easily accomodate detours due to slips or road closures due to demolition. They can even be put on routes at short notice to replace trains that might be out of service. ie Johnsonville

    Much better is the electric bus that doesnt use wires at all. Wellington has chosen the technology available from Wrightspeed who have worked in this area for a while.

    If the basic hardware proposed to be used in Wellington for its buses, there is the chance the other versions which run on larger trucks on heavy duty hilly city cycles could happen.
    https://www.wrightspeed.com/the-route-powertrain
    This is the basic outline of what is changed on the bus

    The Route™ 500 powers city buses, beverage trucks, or other heavy delivery trucks making frequent stops. Excellent hill-climbing ability distinguishes the Route™ 500, providing fuel efficiency without compromising on the job requirements.

    Maximum GVWR: 33,000 lbs
    Class 5, Class 6 & Class 7
    GTD™ Units: 2
    Fulcrum™ generators: 1
    Horsepower: 250 hp
    Braking: 500 hp
    Top Speed: 50 – 72 MPH (configurable)
    Maximum Grade: 40% at max GVWR
    Range: Unlimited (with refueling)
    27 miles (pure EV)
    Estimated MPGe:[1] 11.1
    Fuel Consumption Reduced:[2] 74%

    Notice the batteries can be charged from plugin or the on board turbine generator. The turbine is compact , light weight and quieter than diesel and uses heat recuperation to improve efficency. Unlike existing trolley buses which use direct drive electric motors for the rear wheels Wrightspeed technology included a geared drive ( GTD), 2 speed which shifts gear electronically, no need for clutches.

    https://www.wrightspeed.com/releases/wrightspeed-to-launch-gtd-a-breakthrough-in-electric-drive-technology

  2. Ad 2

    OMG Chris you’ll get miserable with all this hope about rail.
    Pop over to Sydney – the new one they are developing there through the middle of town is killing businesses, blowing out its costs, and will take multiple years to do.

    I’m not saying don’t try to do light rail, but dedicated buses to and from the Wellington and Auckland airports do a pretty good job. Just a wee bit of OPEX, and almost no taxpayer CAPEX, for an efficient result.

    • dukeofurl 2.1

      The Sydney capital cost – which includes the vehicles to run it is given here as $2.1 bill for 12 km.
      So thats $175 m per km , a misleading figure as it includes the tram costs and I presume a depot
      http://www.smh.com.au/nsw/cost-of-running-sydneys-new-lightrail-line-blows-out-by-70-to-938-million-20161208-gt7gjl.html

      The vehicles Sydney will use are extremely long , 67 m which is two vehciles coupled together and they wont release to cost of the fleet only

      Melbournes latest contract for Australian assembled Trams is 20 E2 units for $274 mill or so. There were upgrades of earlier models so could be $12 mill per 33m tram
      https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/E-class_Melbourne_tram

      Maybe Sydney could get 40 33m trams from overseas at $10 mill each. A depot could be $50 mill, that could make the route costs some thing like $120-$140 mill per km

      About half the A$500 mill ‘per km’ cost mentioned for route costs. Still very expensive

      • Ad 2.1.1

        Aye.
        Auckland’s City Rail Link: 3.5kms for $3.5 billion. And it’s only just started in reality.

        Not saying don’t do it, just saying OMG watch yourself.

        • dukeofurl 2.1.1.1

          And expensive tunnels and underground stations have to do with laying tracks on roads how ?

          • Ad 2.1.1.1.1

            It’s less, granted, in CAPEX per km.

            But land take and consents is worse due to impact, utilities is worse, new train fleet worse, traffic management is worse, new signal system, it will rack up.

            Also a real question if a local council can stand the heat.

            Generally, whatever the initial estimate, start multiplying.

            • dukeofurl 2.1.1.1.1.1

              Major routes are ‘dug up’ all the time. I lived near one that was a nightmare for around 18 months. They didnt even put down any tracks of any sort. It happens in the big cities, but the overall effect on travel at that time is small.

  3. Cricklewood 3

    Stupidly expensive and disruptive if you ask me… we’ve got moterways and roads lets have more dedicated bus lanes perhaps slightly smaller buses servicing hubs and neighbourhoods.
    I think it would represent a far better use of capital.

    • dukeofurl 3.1

      Well you wouldnt use Billions to build an ‘expressway from Wellsford to Whangarei’ to save 4 min either.

  4. alwyn 4

    I am extremely surprised that this guest post was published on The Standard.
    I read this and then went back and reread a prior post on the site.
    https://thestandard.org.nz/labours-auckland-transport-announcement/
    What this new post is saying is that the Labour Party proposal for Auckland is stupid.

    I happen to think it is but for a different reason. By the time light rail is implemented, in either Wellington or Auckland, it will already be obsolete. Autonomous vehicles will be available. You won’t need a private car, at least for city use. You won’t have to walk in the rain to a bus stop or train station.
    Why on earth should we want 19th century technology in the 21st century?

    • I love the way that saying “Light rail is wrong for Wellington” is assumed to mean it has impact on Auckland. I have some news for you: Auckland is pretty flat compared to Wellington. The terrain here in the capital puts light rail on a big disadvantage, as it performs best on flat stretches. Even the case for light rail to Wellington Airport is hard to make economical given the constraints.

      If we’re in need of rapid transport within Wellington, we should be seriously considering rapid bus options.

      As for autonomous vehicles- I agree, a network of shared autonomous electric vehicles will likely be useful for off-peak travel or low-traffic routes in the future. But it will take us time to get there, and it still doesn’t address peak traffic problems, where essentially all the new technology will gain us is taking the driver out of the equation in a bus network. Given the demands on our electricity network that small electric vehicles will present, we will still need to be relatively efficient with them, so we’ll generally want to try to have them mostly full in operation, too.

      In the meantime, we need to reduce carbon emission from every source we can, and continuous improvement of public transport is a great way to keep doing that.

  5. Sacha 5

    Buses take up far more road space than trams or trains for the same number of passengers.

    In Auckland, there is not enough space on inner city roads for many more buses, let alone cars so where do you expect all the travellers from the airport to get off the bus or from their space-taking autonomous car?

    Transport Minister Simon Bridges has stated he would like to see light rail to Auckland International Airport within 25 years. With this in mind Wellingtonian’s aren’t going to see light rail in Wellington anytime soon.

    The case for light rail in Wellignton is currently about constrained right-of-ways through the cbd from the rail station to the airport. Like Auckland, the pressure on clean energy and pollution reduction will also only favour electrified high-volume public transit. Bridges and his master Joyce are just dolts about the timeframe.

    • dukeofurl 5.1

      Auckland had far higher passenger usage of its trams and later trolley buses than they do today.
      There isnt really a problem with space on the roads for buses at present, its just ‘anxiety’ about future use.
      Once the CRL is complete there would be even less need for buses on middle and long distance routes coming into city.
      eg Eastern Suburbs will transfer at Panmure and Elleslie for a faster trip to City. Similar for Newmarket for central routes and Mt Eden Stations for Mt Eden Rd and Dominion Rd/ New North Rd.

    • miravox 5.2

      “The case for light rail in Wellignton is currently about constrained right-of-ways through the cbd from the rail station to the airport. Like Auckland, the pressure on clean energy and pollution reduction will also only favour electrified high-volume public transit. Bridges and his master Joyce are just dolts about the timeframe.”

      I’d love to see light rail in Wellington through the CBD from the railway station to the airport and also the hospital.

      I’d also love to see public transport discussed in terms that included people who are not just commuters. It’s as if people have an image in their head of able-bodied, employed people and tourists being the only people who will use public transport.

      Modern trams are so much easier to use for people with bodies encumbered by babies and/or disability, for example. And they are the easiest form of transport that I know of when you’re quaxing it.

  6. infused 6

    No one wants those buses in Wellington. Constantly breaking down and a huge risk in an earthquake.

    • McFlock 6.1

      Didn’t see a single breakdown on any of my wellington visits, and was impressed by the quietness and lack of diesel fumes.

      As for earthquakes, the circuit breakers and lack of public transport will be the least of the worries.

      • dukeofurl 6.1.1

        An earthquake in Wellington doesnt mean it goes back to the stone age, having transport back as soon as possible helps on the road to recovery

        • McFlock 6.1.1.1

          You do realise we’re talking about wellington, where even rain causes hillsides to collapse?

          Or are you saying that the trolleybus network should be ripped out in case Wellington is hit by the sort of earthquake that rips apart all the trolley bus infrastructure, but leaves everything else standing?

    • One Anonymous Bloke 6.2

      No-one, apart from the people who disagree with you, and let’s face it, they aren’t really people. Best you make up a label for them so that everyone knows what you are.

  7. Sable 7

    Yet more stupidity and the real insult is Wellingtonians like myself have to pay for it…..

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