Light Rail Christchurch Priority


Great to see the proposal for a light rail system in the Christchurch CBD be a prominent feature of the city’s re-building plan, in conjunction with the city’s bus service and a strong emphasis on cycling, for which Christchurch has always been ideal.

The Council is stupidly not releasing its draft city plan until August 16 but the Christchurch Press has already got hold of it and published it online.

That plan highlights the light plan idea which Christchurch Mayor Bob Parker started pushing before the first earthquake after a visit overseas.

Bob Parker, and the top council officials, the CEO and the strategy and planning manager spent a fortnight visiting to San Francisco, Vancouver, Seattle and Portland.

As a result, they passed a motion when they got back that the CEO be allowed to start a full investigation into the scope, opportunity, scale and costs of “developing a rail based (including streetcar, light rail and heavy rail) to facilitate and support urban regeneration, in concert with existing and future public transport tools and mechanisms.”

The post-quake draft  Christchurch development plan also pushes for pedestrian-friendly streets in the CBD and a strong emphasis on cycling with more on-street cycle lanes on busy streets separated from traffic, as well as quiet routes linking green spaces across the city.
“These facilities will be among the best in the world, providing perhaps the catalyst for the largest single change in how people might travel around the Central City itself.”

Along with the plans for light rail, this places Christchurch as potentially being one of the most liveable cities in the world (more quakes aside) - a tag Auckland’s Mayor Len Brown is preaching for Auckland. I wonder if there are some tips for Auckland here?

On the light rail plans the plan reads:

“The potential for a rail system to be reintroduced, using modern light rail technology, as part of the Central City’s revitalisation and reconstruction, has captured the imagination of many people, while others have suggested that Christchurch is just too small for such a system.
“However, international comparisons of long standing and recently introduced light rail systems in cities of all sizes, has shown that such a system would make sense for economic growth, when viewed as part of a comprehensive network of public transport routes and services for Greater Christchurch. A modern, viable system could be economically constructed and efficiently, cost effectively operated.
The potential synergies with the reconstruction and economic revitalisation of Christchurch adds to other more obvious transportation benefits: reduced delays on congested roads and increased public transport patronage as part of a fully integrated multi-modal transport system.
The 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, is the transformational transportation project for the redeveloped city.”

This Plan proposes that a stage one system be introduced between the University of Canterbury and the Central City. The Council is  proposing to move forward with the phased delivery of light rail passenger routes and services linking the Central City with the suburbs, using both new lines along the road corridor and upgraded the existing rail infrastructure.

The Canterbury University Students Association issued a statement this afternoon strongly supporting the light rail idea saying: “”The proposed light rail link is a key step in the process of connecting an energetic and educated student body with our city. Students will only utilise the link if there is an exciting vibrant city at the other end of the track.”

Portland's light rail branded Max

The Council says in the plan that to operate seamlessly across the network, the proposal is to commission new light rail vehicle rolling stock capable of using combined diesel and overhead electric drive units.

This would be “part of the redevelopment and as a prelude to high priority Greater Christchurch Urban Development Strategy partnership investigations of a phased delivery of a comprehensive network of passenger light rail routes across the Greater Christchurch sub-region. Recognising that such a project has significant financial implications and needs to be assessed in the context of a potential system for Greater Christchurch, this Plan proposes that such a project be the subject of further detailed studies and an outline business case to government.”

Good luck Bob Parker getting a Steven Joyce buy-in. Should be an interesting test case.





  1. Matt L says:

    I had a brief skim through the plan earlier today and in general it looks quite good. The thing I am worried about is that the government will try to force them to drop the more PT friendly aspects, especially the light rail plans. It wouldn’t surprise me if they made dropping it a condition of getting government funding for other things.

  2. Roger says:

    With the CBD is shut down there is a heaven-sent opportunity to lay street tracks with no traffic to plan around. If there is a silver lining in the earthquake cloud this is it.

    I say look ahead 50 years and lay the central city tracks now. If sections are not needed immediately at least the future-proofing is done.

  3. Antz says:

    I agree with Rodger, with the CBD shut down there would be no disruptions to the people that work and live there.

    Christchurch is a fantastic city to put light-rail in as the roads are flat, straight and wide, I would start of with a line from the Airport, throught the North-Western suburbs, around Hagley Park, through the CBD, down to Sydenham and east to lyttleton.

    Im wondering wether it would be possible to put light-rail through the road tunnel or wether they should move to the rail tunnel.

  4. KarlHansen says:

    Antz - I don’t know Christchurch well, but Lyttleton is a 3000-soul town. Not exactly a good catchment for a light rail line. Lets stick to the high-volume areas, so this actually happens!

  5. Antz says:

    @Karl 11,000 vehicles everyday goes through that tunnel. So its still quite a lot.

    Another question I have been pondering, would it be standard gauge or narrow gauge?

  6. geoff_184 says:

    If Auckland with 1.5 million people can’t afford the $1.5b CBD tunnels, how will Christchurch with 350,000 people afford a $2-3b light rail network?

    I hope it happens, but the price combined with Christchurch’s historical record of not building rail-based transport solutions leaves me sketical that they’ll ever get further than a university extention of the current tram network.

    Extremely disappointing that the existing rail network which links all the main locations doesn’t even get a mention. They have clearly ruled out any future for commuter trains.

  7. Carl H says:

    The Plan proposes the replacement of one way with two way streets, a ring road, and more parking, and then states in the same breath that it will ‘reduce traffic dominance’.

  8. Matt L says:

    Yep, looks like the government is already pouring cold water on all the plans. We know they will hate the light rail proposals the most and are probably worried that if they are built then their opposition to Auckland and Wellington will be even weaker.

  9. JSH says:

    A couple of things. First, the Plan clearly states the railway infrastructure will be utilised, so it does rate a mention and doesn’t rule out ‘commuter trains’ to places like Rangiora or Rolleston. In fact, if you read the Plan it actually mentions upgrading the existing railway infrastructure to ‘reintroduce commuter rail to Christchurch’ and proposes hybrid LRVs that operate off both electric overhead and have diesel engines to enable operation across the rail network (this indicates any service to Lyttelton would utilise the railway line, which makes sense).

    From looking at the plan it also seems clear this is not an extension of the historic tram but would be a largely separate network. I would speculate it might be narrow gauge given the details released so far, but wouldn’t bet on that. At the end of the day this is a kind of (overdue) flagging exercise and I would expect further details to be released in 2012…

  10. George D says:

    a $2-3b light rail network?

    Why do these things cost so much? Christchurch actually had a light rail system, and I’ll bet you that it cost a fraction that amount to build. How much do rails cost anyway? Madness.

  11. James says:

    My understanding was that the light rail was going to cost $200m and the whole rebuilding the CBD $2-3B

  12. Bryan says:

    The plan says Light Rail Uni to CBD $410m, a 5-route network $1.5b-1.8b

    Hornby to Lyttelton using the current rail corridor.

    Heritage tramway route to be reassessed for PT opportunities.

    imho the exiisting rail netwok should be used for commuter rail from Rangiora, Rolleston, Lyttelton (piggyback off Auckland’s EMUs?), and the Heritage Tramway extended for light rail New Brighton to Airport.

  13. Kris says:

    Its a good idea to plan for it now and make sure the light rail right of way is developed during the rebuild.

    Gerry Brownlee is not happy about light rail but John Key has given the nod for the concept -

    Who is going to pay for, I see a Government/Private sector investment in the rebuild and and light rail development.

    Here is a chance to have a central bus/rail interchange in the CBD with providing local suburban and light rail serving outer suburbs and regions, especially if the western side of the city is going to expand.

    Light rail units can be used on heavy rail except for Christchurch, the gauge will be 3ft 6′ as oppose to 4ft 8 1/2” for normal light rail operation.

    I think the draft plan for Christchurch rebuild is good plan. Lets hope the politicians don’t water it down.

    It will be interesting to see if the Greens get 10%+ of the vote, then the government of day would have battle with the Greens over any watering down of the proposed rebuild.

  14. geoff_184 says:

    Where is the mention of the heavy rail network, and trains? The transport section I’m looking at only mentions light rail.

    Kris, LRV’s can’t operate on the heavy rail network, as they don’t meet crash-worthiness standards. Any vehicle operating on the heavy rail network will need to be built to match the standard, which will mean specially-built units running on Christchurch streets that will be much heavier than LRV’s, and require more energy to power them than standard LRV’s.

    Ideally Christchurch will operate two separate networks; proper trains off the current network accessing the CBD down a short branch line, and LRV’s on a separate network for other routes into the suburbs.

  15. Kris says:

    For geoff_184

    Yes they do.

    Systems are appearing in Germany & France where LRV is using light & heavy tracks.

    Have a look at these You Tube videos -

    For further reading concerning light/heavy rail systems -

    A dual system would work in both Wellington & Christchurch and possibility in Auckland.

    With regards to Christchurch, the track current heavy rail lines Christchurch to Lyttleton, Christchurch to Hornby & Rolleston, Christchurch to Rangiora, with local LVR services running Christchurch (CBD) to University & airport, CBD to New Brighton & CBD to Northlands.

    Services to Hornby & Rolleston, Rangiora & Lyttleton would need to be electrified, using the electrification systems that have been & are being used in Wellington & possibility in Auckland, signalling software that is being planned for Auckland & Wellington. Local running to Northlands & New Brighton would used that same power supply & signalling equipment.

    If there was some forward planning & research for both Auckland & Wellington, both cities & know Christchurch, would have been a affordable option, as rolling stock could have been standardised, including power & signalling infrastructure, allowing for local running routes especially in Auckland like a light rail route, say from Manukau City (from Station) to airport from the main track using existing rolling stock.

    For Wellington, to be able to go from Courtney Place or Basin Reserve to Upper Hutt or Waikanae on the same train.

    Did we have to build Wellington’s Maitangi’s and the new EMU for Auckland as heavy rail vehicles which can not have full utilization compared with a LRV.

    Karlsruhe light/heavy rail system in Germany is the poster boy of the light/heavy rail campaign. Karlsruhe system started in 1992 & the city population is similar to Wellington & Christchurch.

    Karlsruhe is planning underground tunnel for the CBD for the network. Doesn’t this sound similar to Auckland’s city rail loop.

    If Auckland had adopted the Karlsruhe model, Auckland would or possibly could have an efficient light rail network and in fact, so could Wellington. Lets hope the politicians don’t stuff up Christchurch opportunity for efficient light rail system that can be linked into local running bus services.

    Regards to funding, that is is easy - joint Government/Private investment.

  16. JSH says:

    geoff, in this instance you need to out on your layman’s hat and think of ‘light rail’ as a catch-all term.

    The Plans transport section mentions the use of the rail corridors and Bob Parker talked about that aspect further in his presentation. The direction they seem to be going is tram-trains (LRVs capable of running on the heavy rail network) as they mention hybrid LRVs that can operate on both street lines with electric overhead and on the existing railway lines with a diesel engine.

    I think for now they want to establish a single simple project that they can focus on promoting to get the ball rolling, and that is light rail to the university.

  17. Antz says:

    I think it is great that they are doing it in stages, just so that the people would get used to having light rail on the roads.

    Also I heard some LR systems give piority to the trains so they don’t stop at traffic lights.

  18. Mike says:

    @kris - light-rail operation on the narrow gauge is quite common - for instance, all except one Swiss system and many in Japan are metre or 1067mm gauge - so operating LRVs on heavy rail in Christchurch is technically quite possible.

  19. Ilya Snowdon says:

    you wouldn’t need to built a a rail connection to Lyttleton, it already has one. Just integrate the light rail with the heavy rail. i.e. a tram train system were the trams can go onto the main line.


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