Rail underpass key feature of new suburb

JANINE RANKIN
Last updated 12:00 02/05/2014

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A $1.6 million underpass for cars, bicycles and pedestrians to cross the Palmerston North to Gisborne railway line is expected to be a key feature of the city's next planned suburb.

City planners see the railway underpass halfway between James Line and Stoney Creek Rd as a critical part of creating a well-connected new urban area.

But KiwiRail, which would have to approve any underpass plans, would rather it was located at Stoney Creek Rd, where it would improve safety for pedestrians at Whakarongo School.

On the second day of a resource management hearing in the city yesterday much of the debate was about how to design a suburb with a railway line running through the middle of it.

Proposed Plan Change 6 to the District Plan, if approved, would lead to the creation of the city's next urban growth area.

Covering 62 hectares, policy planner Daniel Batley said the area along Napier Rd was expected to yield 50 hectares for housing development.

Between 700 and 900 new building sections could be created.

The plan change comes with a structure plan laying out where the key connector roads should go, with a couple of green spaces, and a neighbourhood centre.

The neighbourhood would also include a 1.1 kilometre path that would follow the edge of an escarpment for much of its length, offering views across the Manawatu River to the Tararua Ranges.

KiwiRail's senior planning adviser Deborah Hewett outlined several concerns about managing residential development along the rail corridor.

The issues included possible complaints about noise and vibration, trespass on the railway reserve, and safety.

The line carries about 18 trains each day, and there was potential for electrification and greater use in future.

Hewett said KiwiRail would not support any additional level crossings.

Level crossings manager Brett Williams said the crossings at James Line and Stoney Creek Rd already ranked at 136 and 144 out of 1244 level crossings around New Zealand on a risk assessment.

Although they rated "quite highly", they were not on an upgrade priority list yet.

Submitter Phil Pirie, a consultant surveyor speaking for several clients, said he was perplexed there were no plans to improve those rail crossings given the increased demands urban development would place on them.

Batley said regardless of possible improvements to the James Line and Stoney Creek Rd railway crossings, the underpass in the centre of the new suburb would be an important asset.

"They may require underpasses, but that is a separate traffic management problem." Without the central underpass, there would be no link between the suburb's upper and lower terraces.

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"This is about connectivity, for people to go either from the lower terrace to other parts of Kelvin Grove where the supermarket and sports fields are located, or from the upper terrace to the school."

The hearings panel, chaired by commissioner Chris Mitchell, has closed the hearing and will consider its decision in private.

- Manawatu Standard

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