Traffic delays force commuter rail services probe

Commuter rail services between Christchurch and North Canterbury is on the cards after pressure from frustrated drivers.

Environment Canterbury (ECan) commissioners have been asked to approve up to $20,000 for an investigation into short-term passenger rail as a way to help alleviate the congestion into the city along the northern corridor.

The report said ''numerous enquiries'' had been received from the public on the potential to use the existing rail track from the Waimakariri district.

Commissioners will decide tomorrow.

There is a chance also to buy old rail stock from Auckland Transport, which is upgrading to electric trains.

Traffic along the northern corridor has reached crisis point with  buses recording 22 minutes from the old Waimakariri Bridge to the Chaneys off-ramp 1.2 kilometres away.

The growth has been attributed to the effects of the earthquakes.

Waimakariri District Council data now predicts nine years historical growth in just three.

This is not the first time ECan has looked at the feasibility of commuter rail travel.

In 2005, a report from consultants GHD outlined five options for commuter rail travel, including the Main North Line.

It estimated costs of $3.5 million a kilometre for construction of double-tracking the corridor.

Inflexible freight timetables, because of the Picton ferry, meant another track would be required, the report said.

University of Canterbury professor Simon Kingham said although changes to existing infrastructure would be needed, a rail option would help the traffic problems.

''If we kept it relatively simple, like two trains in the morning and at night, that would be the key,'' he said.

''Probably the train station is not in the right place, but short term there are actually quite a few people working in Addington now.''he said.

Bus schedules would need to be tweaked to ensure people could get from the train to work or home and upgrades on existing stations including parking available, Kingham said.

The GHD report estimated that new or refurbished passenger stations would cost $2m each.

Waimakariri District Council mayor David Ayers said he supported the investigation as the long term fix of motorway upgrades were at least five years away.

The council had  researched the likelihood of people using public transport, he said.

''That figure was actually quite low - that was based on the rise in petrol prices though. The traffic we are seeing may produce very different results.''

A priority bus lane from the old Waimakariri Bridge was also being looked into, Ayers said.

New information was also emerging that suggested a small drop in the number of vehicles on the northern motorway would make a significant difference.

Fairfax Media