The Eye of the Fish

Maximus
August 31, 2009

Tram Stop

There’s a certain charm about Trams that big brother Train just doesn’t have, even though they’re all related really. A couple of pictures, courtesy of one of our regular readers (and occasional commenters), shows us something that we’re missing: not only do Trams run happily in Barcelona, but they also run on a tufty green grass verge, and what’s more – they even have a station called Wellington. Surely, somehow, this has to be a sign from the Gods that we should oblige ourselves of a set of sparkly new trams.

36c-trams-de-barcelona

While you could easily visualise the Tram above running happily down the middle of Manners Mall, I find it harder to believe that this next image is not photoshopped – does a baking hot city like Barcelona really have a strip of grass between the tracks? Of all the places for grass to grow, why would it want to live its life between the tracks? Is there an army of council employees busy on ride on Masports following close behind?

36-trams-de-barcelona

While it may seem a simple thing for us to do in the capital: go out and buy ourselves a train set, we’re actually in a very awkward situation: we have an almost ridiculously narrow gauge of track in NZ, and so will always have to get the bogeys for our trains and trams specially made. Hence the problem with the new trains (or lack of) for GWRC – there were virtually none sitting in a second hand yard that we could grab, which is why they had to ‘borrow’ one unit from a museum.

It is, allegedly, a problem created by the Australians – when they were putting in railways they had 2 different widths of tracks installed in 2 separate states, and eventually realised the folly of their ways. So they sold us the shonky skinny stuff: perfect (so it seemed at the time) for our narrow windy tracks and it let us build small skinny tunnels. While most of the world gets by with “standard gauge” width of 1,435mm between tracks (4 foot 8.5 inches in ‘old school’ terms), NZ has the dubious pleasure of squeezing into a “narrow gauge” track width of 1,067mm (a mere 3 foot 6 inches). We have more in common with the Tasmanians than we think: they’re apparently also stuck with a narrow gauge.

While many of the older European cities actually get by with tram sets with wheels set a nice round metric 1000mm apart, most of the more modern European tram systems ride on the “standard” (ie wider) gauge track. Of course, while it may mean that a narrow gauge tram can safely squeak around tighter corners than its bigger brother, it also means that it will never be possible to go as fast, or in such a stable manner. Like a fat person in tiny heels, we wobble with alarming alacrity at anything over a fast walking speed.

We could always just order some standard gauge trams, as are being installed in vast numbers across Europe, but of course we want our trams to have the chance to use the existing Transmetro tracks as well, and so are obliged to stick with the same silly skinny gauge. The light rail or tram system that we will undoubtably want to install one day (but probably not while Mayor Kerry holds the reins) will have a fight against the buses that snake their way through the city streets – although with one advantage against Poneke’s much loved trolley buses (mine too, actually): that they will only need a single overhead wire, or possibly none at all. I’m sure, that in time they will come. And when they do, we can have a nice weatherproof station waiting at each stop. Probably not like this one, but it’s nice to know that in a city far away on the coast of Spain, they’re already thinking of us, with a premonition of what might be, when we eventually get a light rail system:

35-trams-de-barcelona

Jason
31 - 08 - 09

How much will it cost? Because I know a few people with a bit of spare cash and I can borrow a shovel.

Maximus
31 - 08 - 09

Well, allegedly, about $140 million for a Light Rail system from the Central Railway Station to the Airport. Which, arguably, is cheaper than all the road works planned.

Lewis Holden
31 - 08 - 09

“It is, allegedly, a problem created by the Australians – when they were putting in railways they had 2 different widths of tracks installed in 2 separate states, and eventually realised the folly of their ways.”

Don’t know who told you this, but it’s waaay off the mark. Every Australian state built their own railways to their own specifications until the Australian federation in 1901. You had Tasmania, Western Australia and Queensland on Narrow Gauge (3″ 6′), Victoria and South Australia on Broad Gauge (5″) and New South Wales on Standard Gauge (4ft 8˝in). Since federation the Commonwealth government has put all of its eggs into the standard gauge basket, with most funding going to standard gauge railways (e.g. the trans-Australia line, most of the lines to SA, lines to Melbourne and Brisbane, etc). This has mainly been because it’s easier to source standard gauge stock, because, as its name suggests, it’s the international standard gauge.

In New Zealand we were lucky that the provincial system was abolished in 1876. Prior to that Southland and Auckland had built standard gauge lines (connecting their ports – i.e. Bluff and Onehunga) while Otago had built to narrow gauge (to Port Chamers); Canterbury had built the largest network to Broad gauge, largely with imported locomotives from Melbourne. The central government decided to build the entire network to narrow gauge largely because they were advised it would be best for narrow curves and steep gradients required for New Zealand’s mountainous terrain (Japan and Norway have large narrow-gauge systems as well because of this).

Interestingly though, most of the tram networks in NZ were standard gauge. The current Christchurch system is standard gauge as well.

greenwelly
31 - 08 - 09

The gauge of the existing rail network is really not an issue when considering light rail ( modern trams) for Wellington, as mixing light and heavy rail infrastructure is considered unsafe, in terms of possible vehicle collisions, Wellington’s EMU’s would easily shred any light rail cars.

Any light rail would be from the station to the Airport, this is totally self contained and can be run at regular gauge tram gauge.

Maximus
31 - 08 - 09

yeah, but no: there would be synergies involved in having the same track width so that in future Light Rail could take over, not share. Smaller, faster, quicker, lighter. Especially up to Melling and to J’Ville, so I am lead to believe

Maximus
31 - 08 - 09

Lewis Holden – i stand corrected. I read that somewhere – was it in Michael King’s history of NZ or some such? But yes, you’re right it seems – Aussie has a mixture of tracks still. But we do seem to have standardised on a bit of a lemon, which will always limit the safe width of our train services.

greenwelly
31 - 08 - 09

Running light rail from Wellington to Melling is crazy, as it would need to share the existing rail lines to and from the Hutt ( there is not a single devoted track), this is unacceptable on a safety basis.

The Johnsonville line is seperated, but the option has passed, there has been significant infra spend to allow the new heavy rail matangi units. Until they reach End of Life, there is no benefit is running light rail there.

The Johnsonville line is only a small portion of the total inward and outward passenger numbers and unless there was some strange demographics at play which saw most of them working across town ( cf the rest of the other lines), there is no advantage to running the tram to the johnsonville terminus vs the wellington station.

Also it is a moot arguement as Kiwirail have said they have no intention of running light rail on its rail corridor. (This came up in the debate about the line’s future pre the matangi unit project sign up)

Peter
31 - 08 - 09

Seems the start point is to get light rail up and running in the city, starting with a station to airport route.

Not sure about Greenwelly’s concerns about mixing light and heavy rail as the EMU’s, which must be past their used by date, would disappear and the Matangi units could be redeployed in Auckland . This of course leaves freight rail. Not sure what impact this would have but a single dedicated line for freight and two way standard gauge tracks for light rail to the Hutt Valley should be feasible in the longer term.

Re inner city tracks (http://www.lr55-rail-road-system.co.uk/index.htm)

greenwelly
31 - 08 - 09

@Peter the Hungarian EMUs are only around 20yrs old, so are basically due a major overhaul but are considered middle aged at worst.

The Matangi Units are not able to be used in Auckland for a number of reasons
a) They are 1500V DC, Auckland is 25KV AC,
b) They are low platform (68cm ARL), Aucklands new network has been built at a platform height of 1.1m

Train fan
31 - 08 - 09

Trams and trains share tracks in Europe. I don’t think those Germanstake huge risks with their trains.
See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tram-train for examples – even a narrow gauge one.
Bring it all on I say.

Peter
31 - 08 - 09

Thanks for the technical stuff Greenwelly.

10+ years lead-in on the Lower Hutt line and longer for Johnsonville is probably realistic for the development of a comprehensive light rail system. No doubt there would be a long lead-in time for a city segment of a light rail system anyway.

Rail Fan
31 - 08 - 09

“Our highways are clogged with traffic. Our airports are choked with increased loads. We are at the mercy of fluctuating oil prices. We pump too many greenhouse gases into the air. What we need is a smart transportation system equal to the needs of the 21st century. A system that reduces travel times and increases mobility. A system that reduces destructive emissions and creates jobs. What we’re talking about is a vision for high-speed rail.”

A quote for you. Guess who from? The answer at link below…
http://www.modern-railways.com/latestnews/?p=29

Jason
31 - 08 - 09

Forget integrating it with the rest of the rail system. Why would you want to get involved in that basketcase? 140million isn’t a lot of money. In fact, it sounds ridiculously low. What does that cover? When I think light rail as a feasible Wellington transport option, I’m guessing there can only be 2 routes: Newtown/Hospital 1, Miramar/Airport 2. Then you densify the fuck out of Newtown and Kilbirnie.

Are you sure it’s not 140million for a STUDY? Didn’t the T Gully study cost something like 250million?

Maximus
31 - 08 - 09

Apparently $80 million to do tests for Transmission Gully the last I head, but that will never happen.

You’re right though – $140 million isn’t a lot of money. Shows that its actually a really easy thing to do. But it’s up to us to keep lobbying for the Council to do it.

erentz
31 - 08 - 09

$140 million was to Newtown wasn’t it? I think that was in the N2A reports somewhere. My estimates from a couple of years ago put it at more like $400-$450 to the airport. But that does include a tunnel from the zoo to Rongotai Rd. It all depends on the quality of the system, and how dedicated it is. It’s dirt cheap to throw down some tracks and have a portland style streetcar, but if you want to create a dedicate ROW it costs more for the street alterations. And if you’re doing that anyway, you generally do a lot of street upgrades (beautification) that also gets rightly or wrongly lumped into the costs of LRT projects.

I do think there would be merit to converting the Johnsonville line to LRT: 1. By that time we’ll have more demand on the system and so redeploying the new EMUs on the other lines wont go to waste. 2. It would be very cheap to do and adds to the overall viability of the line, even if the J’villians are mostly only taking it as far as Courtenay Plc.

Greenwelly, you said “b) They are low platform (68cm ARL), Aucklands new network has been built at a platform height of 1.1m”… Do you know how they were able to do that and we weren’t? That would be awesome, level boarding on all doors. When I asked, I was told we couldn’t do that in Wellington due to the NZ rail loading guage.

Maximus, “But it’s up to us to keep lobbying for the Council to do it.” Do people think there would be much response to, or value in a longer term sign-on style campaign for LRT in Wellington? Obviously not with all the glitzy celebrities, but a serious website, perhaps with some good (professional) artist impressions, maybe some videos, etc. if there were people who could contribute that kind of thing. Or would the response be limited to 20 people who regularly turn out for these things?

Jason
1 - 09 - 09

I have lots of questions now, but I need to be at work in 6 hours. Hope I’ll still have them tomorrow night.

Geography of Zoo to Rongotai Road doesn’t make sense in my mind – there’d be a huge backtrack, but I may have misunderstood.

Alan
1 - 09 - 09

There are 3 possible routes to the Airport. One is Round the Bays, which, while scenic, is not fast and so thereby fairly pointless as a speedy transit route.

The second is via a tunnel through Mt Vic, ie the existing bus tunnel (originally a tram tunnel of course, hence its shape), but to avoid hold ups, presumably a second tunnel would also be needed. I mean, for heaven’s sake, if a bunch of Victorians with shovels can build one, surely we can do another.

The third, and final option, is to go into the traffic mired hell that is Newtown, and run a light rail / tram route up (what is it – Constable St?) and over the brow of the hill and down into Kilbirnie. Again, it isn’t impossible, because that is a route they used to take. The only change is that horrible little roundabout, which I’d imagine the trams would not be taking.

erentz
1 - 09 - 09

Jason, “Geography of Zoo to Rongotai Road doesn’t”

You’re probably missing the tunnel. For e.g. http://simwgtn.blogspot.com/2007/11/abc-competition-part-1.html

There are other variations on the same theme, e.g. using Coutts St. and similar.

Jason
1 - 09 - 09

No, I imagined the tunnel going through right there, actually, and emerging fom underneath St. Catherine’s. It just doesn’t seem like that would outrun any buses going up Constable Street. The hospital, to me, seems to be the best spot to branch off to Kilbirnie or Newtown or Island Bay. I was also thinking light rail and not trams, which I imagine have a much tighter turning radius than light rail?

Greg
2 - 09 - 09

@greenwelly,
Forgive my ignorance, but I would assume that mixing heavy and light rail would be a scheduling/signally problem, not “my train is bigger than yours”. The safety issue strikes me as a red herring and the question should be based on the possibility of putting Light Rail on the current guage of track and to the current electrical standards.

Peter
2 - 09 - 09

Greg – since a new light rail system would be with us for many generations, wouldn’t it make more sense develop the city sections on standard gauge then extend this out on the northern lines when heavy rail units need replacing. Presumably this would start with the Hutt lines then Johnsonville. It is a pity that light rail wasn’t put in on the Johnsonville line instead of the current heavy rail upgrade. Another typical example of the Council making lofty statements (e.g. N2A) and then not following through with the required strategic planning and implimentation?

Brent Efford
2 - 09 - 09

Hi folks. This is a bit weird coming across this blog for the first time and finding that there is a community of interest in trams, light rail and tram-train that we haven’t previously made contact with. I am the co-ordinator of Trans-Action, previously Transport 2000+. We have been in the business of advocating light rail for Wellington for over 20 years. We produced the Superlink report for light rail to Wellington Airport in 1992 (which, incidentally, envisaged a tunnel from the Zoo entrance to Coutts St to solve the eastern suburbs access issue). That led to the Regional Council and Railways Corporation having ‘meaningful discussions’ in 1993 about tram-train to Courtenay Place and the commissioning of the Works/MVA report published in 1995. Probably because the railways were by then privatised nothing more happened and the current Regional Council now acts as though the 1990s investigations never existed.
We keep plugging on in a low-key way and are preparing to lift our game with a decent website, publications, DVD and a public display and model diorama targeted at next year’s local body elections all in preparation. I did a Winston Churchill Fellowship to the US to study light rail in 2003 and followed it up with another visit to the US West Coast this year. Plus I have studied other systems overseas, gone to 3 major overseas conferences on light rail etc and other members have also obtained information, video etc of overseas developments – all in the cause of being Wellington’s ‘centre of expertise’ about light rail.
It costs nothing to join Trans-Action; we meet for lunch twice a month and I send out a fortnightly email bulletin to the email list which is now around 150. Anyone who would like to take part just email me on brent.efford@techmedia.co.nz .
And, incidentally, no – there is no intrinsic problem preventing the operation of tram-train (light and heavy rail on the same lines) on our gauge and with dual-voltage cars. That is what was proposed in 1995. It happens in various places overseas and the safety issue in Europe is dealt with by automatic train protection signalling systems. One such as is now being installed in Auckland.

Tony
2 - 09 - 09

Just a quick reminder that the North Wellington Public Transport Study examined Ligth Rail to Johnsonville and found it the most expensive and risky option with beneifts only marginally better than replacing it with a guided busway.

Also, the amount being tossed around here to build a single LRT line is more than for times the total capital investment in bus improvements currently planned for the entire Wellington Region. No one is discussing what would happen if $140M was invested improving the bus service to modern Bus Rapid Transit levels.

Peter
2 - 09 - 09

Yeah Tony – guess they said that about the various overseas undergrounds, metros and light rail systems which seem to keep extending. Other more informed writers will no doubt explain how the figures were skewed.

seaphorm
2 - 09 - 09

I’m a fan of light rail. I’ve travelled extensively in Europe, and have come to rely on light rail many times. From a consumer point of view, it’s reliable, fast, efficient and far more comfortable than buses. Seeing how seamlessly it interacts with metro and bus systems in cities like Lyon and Marseilles in France, or runs as the sole method of public transport seemingly small towns like Mainz or Mulheim in Germany is an eye opener and leaves you feeling slightly embarrassed when you invite visitors over here.

Costing is always going to be an issue, especially when you’re faced with the choice between upgrading existing systems and introducing new systems… but this is something better done before a crisis point is met, rather than in reaction to an over stretched and under resourced transport network in the future.

..and to Brent, what’s the website for the action group?

Kent Duston
2 - 09 - 09

@Tony –

Your numbers are right, but it simply illustrates the relentless underfunding of public transport. As a point of comparison, the Basin Reserve flyover is now budgeted for $47 million, a second Mt Victoria tunnel won’t get change out of $200 million, and the four-laning on the Hataitai side adds more than $50 million. In comparison, $140 million on light rail looks like a bargain. So the funding shouldn’t come out of the public transport allocation, it should replace the bloated capital spending on roads.

Maximus
2 - 09 - 09

Brent – welcome along. I’d been keeping away from discussing Light Rail / Trams / Trolley Buses etc as Poneke seemed to be the area to discuss that, but as he has thrown in his towel and paddled his waka offshore, it seemed only fit that EoTF expand into that discussion as well.

Tony – “Ligth Rail to Johnsonville and found it the most expensive and risky option with beneifts only marginally better than replacing it with a guided busway.” Yes, busways can be good, but that particular study seemed well dodgy and i didn’t believe a word of it. A bus way up that particular route seemed as likely as a series of working Pods flying through the city centre.