ChCh rail 'important option'

Last updated 05:00 14/11/2013
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When I wrote my article about commuter rail for Christchurch, I did not expect it to be so popular and I am glad that it gave many people a greater understanding of the issues involved. I am also thankful to Fairfax Media for publishing something so long.

I still edited out a lot however.

I never included why it is important to look at rail as an option.

It is not about what form of transport people like, but it is about using the right tool for the right job.

When it comes to moving commuters from satellite towns and outer suburbs in the North and the West, then commuter rail is the right tool for the job.

But when it comes to moving suburban commuters inside the city itself, buses are the right tool for the job.

This means that a Metro rail service and the Metro Bus service would complement each other; the rail would only replace the 88 bus and the Northern part of the B bus line.

The other bus lines that act as feeder services to these bus routes would remain as feeder services with the Metro rail instead.

To demonstrate why commuter rail is the best tool to service the satellite towns, then we should look at public transport commute times.

If you look at the MetroInfo website, you can see that the B line from Rangiora takes 60 minutes at non-peak times, 66 minutes at inter-peak times (around noon) and 70-74 minutes with an express bus at peak times.

With a commuter train it should take around 45 minutes, although that is speculative and depends on how many stations the line will have. But we know that an express train should only take around 28 minutes, because that is the time it takes the Coastal Pacific to get to Rangiora.

The alternative times for 88 bus to Rolleston is 45 minutes for non-peak times, 50 minutes at inter-peak times and 55 minutes at peak times. A normal train should take around 30 minutes, but an express would take 20 minutes, the same time as the TranzAlpine takes to get to Rolleston.

Some people have stated that Christchurch is too small or not dense enough, but the reality is that Wellington can afford a commuter rail system, and is smaller than Christchurch.

It is also more important how many people live in and around satellite towns and outer suburbs than the density Christchurch's inner city suburbs.

Some people questioned the lack of inclusion of Ashburton and Amberley.

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This was because Amberley is, at present, too small and Ashburton would be a 70 minute commute.

There were a lot of people last year calling for an Ashburton service and it could be an extension of a Rolleston express train, but only the people of Mid-Canterbury know if they would use the service or not.

One other thing of importance that I left out is the issue of who would run the commuter rail service.

In Auckland, this service is run by the international rail operator Transdev, while in Wellington the service is run by Kiwirail subsidiary, Tranz Metro.

We could create our own local rail operator here in Canterbury, or use Otago's local rail operator TGR (Taieri Gorge Railway), but it would create too many overheads and therefore it would make more sense to get Kiwirail or a international rail operator to run it as they already have a CEO, a financial department, a communication department and so forth.

Costs such as ticketing agents, a central ticketing hub and marketing would be part of the already existing Metro organisation.

It should also be known that rail operators do not maintain the track themselves, they and other users pay a small user fee to the track owner to allow them to use it. This is a lot like the road user charge that diesel vehicles pay.

It is important to reiterate that Christchurch ratepayers would not pay for this themselves, but would split the cost among the four government parties, as much of the build cost would be in double tracking in Selwyn and build passing loops in Waimakariri.

Therefore Christchurch would not have to pay for the infrastructure alone as stated by some individuals.

In Wellington and Auckland, the cost of hiring the rail operators is funded by a mix of passenger fares, funding for public transport by the New Zealand Transport Agency and funding by regional councils (prior to Auckland's super city merger).

Therefore the Christchurch City Council will not be paying for the running costs of the rail service, just a quarter of the infrastructure price.

The city council is paying for many other projects that cost far more than $50 million and are of less benefit to the whole region, yet those that say they are speaking in the name of fiscal responsibility do not seem to have the same vigour against these other projects.

These same people also do not have a solution to the fact that these satellite towns are growing rapidly, that there will be more people commuting and that the 70-minute bus commutes will be taking even longer.

Commuter rail can be a solution to that problem and will allow these satellite towns to grow, giving the people of the greater Christchurch area more housing options

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- Stuff


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