Multimillion-dollar plans to bring commuter rail services back to Christchurch and its satellite towns are being revived after the Government's buyback of the national rail network.
Christchurch Mayor Bob Parker has made the return of commuter rail services to Christchurch one of his "most important and determined" goals. Estimates show the move could cost at least $250 million.
Parker has seized on the Government's $665m deal to buy Toll's rail and ferry network as a chance to kickstart passenger rail in Canterbury, connecting the city centre to Lyttelton, Rangiora and Rolleston on existing tracks.
Traffic congestion in Christchurch is a growing problem. Traffic on key routes north, such as the Marshland Road corridor, averages about 30km/h in the morning rush-hour.
Parker said rail had a big role to play in Christchurch.
"Rail in New Zealand is about to seriously re-examine its role in the delivery of public transport," he said. "Now there is a chance we can achieve some of our goals in a realistic timeframe."
Environment Canterbury (ECan) says the most usable passenger line, to Rangiora, would cost at least $250m. Land and electrification costs of $1m for every 1km of track would boost the final cost further.
ECan is investigating transport options to cater to population growth in Canterbury and Christchurch up to 2041.
The report, due to be presented to ECan councillors in the next two months, will identify commuter demand and decide what transport options are required.
Parker said the next challenge would be to synchronise the bus network with any rail passenger services.
He believed rail services from Lyttelton, Rangiora and Rolleston would cut commuter traffic on main roads into Christchurch, but it was "too early in the process" to say how it would be funded.
Traffic congestion, particularly in the north of the city, is expected to worsen as population increases, particularly with the new Pegasus Town.
A Transit New Zealand study last year showed some roads were more than 10km/h slower in rush hour than in 2006.
The Sockburn roundabout section of Main South Road, Russley Road between Memorial Avenue and Sawyers Arms Road, and Main North Road around the Northlands Shopping Centre all showed 10km/h slowdowns.
Rangiora resident and commuter Ian Hughson said he supported a commuter rail service. His morning commute to Christchurch at 6.15am took about half an hour, but his rush-hour return journey after 5pm could take over 45 minutes.
Hughson said the idea would take significant investment in the commuter services from a rail hub to locations around Christchurch.
Announcing the buyback on Monday, Finance Minister Michael Cullen said urban passenger services would be a key focus for investment.
- © Fairfax NZ News
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