Light Rail for Waimakariri?

Christchurch’s mayor, Bob Parker, is again promoting light rail as part of Greater Christchurch’s transport mix.  I welcome his keeping it in the public eye.

People in Waimakariri often say to me that we should be using rail more than we are and certainly we should be continuously considering it.  My view is that some sort of commuter rail link is likely in the future – but not yet.  As this District continues to grow, particularly around Kaiapoi, Woodend-Pegasus and Rangiora, public transport, both to Christchurch and within the District (linking the three nodes) will become increasingly important.

At present, the effort has been going into improving the bus services, as with the dramatically improved Northern Star service and the creation of bus lanes in Papanui and Main North Roads.  Buses have the advantage of flexibility: it is easy to change their routes to meet changing needs and they can use existing infrastructure (i.e. roads).  One obvious disadvantage is that they tend to get caught up in the very traffic congestion that we are trying to alleviate – although that is a disadvantage for on-road light rail too.

In Waimakariri, it would be possible to run commuter heavy rail into Christchurch (although the Christchurch stations may not be conveniently located).  It would also be possible to run light rail on the heavy rail tracks – although we could have a problem with stability on NZ’s narrow 3ft 6in railway gauge (our trams run on a wider gauge).  I think light rail has a better future for Waimakariri than heavy rail because it would link in better with any future Christchurch network (already started with the historic tram routes in the centre of the city).

Light rail would be very expensive now – in fact, too expensive – but the last thing that Greater Christchurch wants is to put itself in the position of Auckland, where a lack of foresight is now costing them and the country heaps.

So what should we do in Waimakariri?

  • preserve the rail corridor and, where possible, preserve current opportunities for double tracking (probably needed for successful communter services).
  • keep the Rangiora railway station from deteriorating.
  • identify and preserve a site for a new Kaiapoi railway station.
  • identify and preserve other commuter light-rail routes to, particularly, Woodend-Pegasus, and within Kaiapoi and Rangiora.
  • include light rail in our park-and-ride thinking.

There may be more!  – but, whatever we do, let’s think long-term.

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