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Light rail is still on the cards for Christchurch but not in the near future, according to a new report.
More people would need to live and work near transport routes to make the system work and the cost would be in the billions of dollars, it says.
The report, commissioned by local councils and Waka Kotahi/NZ Transport Agency, looks at how mass rapid transit – using either heavy rail on tracks, light rail or buses on busways – could work to link satellite towns to the central city.
It concludes there will be enough growth in the satellite towns by 2048 to make it worthwhile to look further into rapid transit.
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The report assesses three scenarios running in and out of the city towards the north and the southwest for the next 30 years. One scenario uses existing rail lines, and two uses existing streets.
All three would need higher population density near the transport routes to succeed, the report concludes. Estimated costs range from $1.8 billion to $4.4b.
The Labour Party promised commuter rail “within a few years” to Rolleston during the 2017 election campaign, and before the 2020 election Christchurch MP Megan Woods said she wanted shovels in the ground this term.
Christchurch mayor Lianne Dalziel said the report showed further investigation into mass rapid transport “is warranted”.
The three scenarios examined by the report were:
- Heavy rail with limited stops and faster trips along electrified track to Rolleston and Rangiora.
- Light rail or buses on dedicated motorway lanes, making limited stops for faster trips.
- Light rail or buses on dedicated lanes along Papanui and Riccarton roads, with more stops but slower trips.
The report was written by engineering consultancy WSP New Zealand Ltd, which has Kiwi directors and is owned by a consultancy firm in Quebec, Canada.
Dalziel said the report was not intended to choose a type of transport or route, but to look at what was feasible.
It also showed how plans for mass rapid transit could shape the city’s growth and must be integrated into the spatial plan being written for the greater city area, she said.
The report says public transport is key to Christchurch becoming a low-carbon city with transport choices, good amenity, and a strong economy particularly in the central city.
A $2 million business case is already being written on whether rapid transport is worth the investment.
It will look at how to boost populations along key routes, how to boost the speed and reliability of public transport, and how to reduce carbon emissions, all by the year 2048.
The latest report says a rapid transit system could increase the labour pool available to the central city by between 63 per cent and 81 per cent, depending on the option chosen.
Rapid transit could carry up to 39 million trips a year, which would be up to a third of all public transport trips, the report forecasts.
“Investment will, however, be sizeable.”
Cost forecasts would range from $1.8b to $2.3b for double-decker buses running every three minutes at peak hour on bus lanes and busways, to $3.8b to $4.4b for single-car light rain vehicles running along roads every five minutes at peak time.
In between is the electrified railway line option, which would cost $2b to $2.4b. The option would include rail vehicles every 7.5 minutes at peak hour with “a direct connection into the central city [via open trench] with cross roads re-instated via bridge decks over the trench”.
A cheaper alternative would have rail passengers transfer at Riccarton to a connector service to the central city.
Costs for any of the options would be partly offset by properties within 800 metres of the route becoming more valuable, the report says.
Within the city, there would be demand for stops at the convention centre, hospital, and university, it says.
Numbers from the 2018 census show 83 per cent of trips in Christchurch are by private car, and about three-quarters of people drive to work.