Commuter trains proposed for Christchurch at fraction of previous cost estimates
A Christchurch man believes his proposal for commuter trains would have them up and running at a fraction of previous cost estimates.
Tane Apanui, a Christchurch personal trainer and former Hornby ward candidate, is confident he can have :the service operating from Selwyn and Waimakariri districts into the city for about $1.8 million – a fraction of the $8.2m cost suggested in a 2014 report commissioned by Environment Canterbury (ECan).
The ECan report cited the cost of purchasing Auckland Transport's (AT) retired SX carriages would be up to $1.5m each, but it is understood the carriages are now valued at a considerably lower price.
Apanui last week presented the Greater Christchurch Public Transport Joint Committee with a much cheaper alternative, where similarly valued 1960s-built ADK units could be bought from AT for about $200,000 each.
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With the proposed cost of the trains and spares subtracted, Apanui's plan left about $700,000 for other set up costs, compared to the $2.5m set aside for similar costs in ECan's report.
Apanui's presentation came as the committee was presented a strategic case for the future of Christchurch's public transport.
The document stated there would be 80,000 more cars on Christchurch roads by 2041 and more congestion "if business-as-usual travel patterns continue".
Apanui's plan was met with apathy by the committee, with member and Selwyn District councillor Mark Alexander saying he was not convinced more than half the respondents of a survey – who said they would use the trains daily – actually would.
"It may be that you can get a train within 10 minutes walking of your workplace, you can get a bus on the very same routes within 10 minutes of their workplace and they will still drive," Alexander said.
"I'm a little bit concerned about your viability model and you might understand councils are reluctant to underwrite something they think is not viable and they're going to be left carrying the very expensive can."
Apanui said people were hesitant to use bus services as they were "by and large" slower than cars.
"[A train] gets you to where you want to go within a couple of minutes walk for the most part . . . that's why people around the world in major cities use trains."
If ECan held bus services to the same standards expected from commuter rail, "they'd never run a bus", he said.
"Public transport is for the good of the people but for some reason rail needs to prove it can make money, which our business model does, and buses can make massive losses without batting an eyelid."
Apanui's plan would include trains travelling to the city from Waipara in North Canterbury and Rolleston in Selwyn. They would operate from 6.30am to 9am and from 4.15pm to 7pm on weekdays.
City stops would include Addington, Hornby, Moorhouse Ave, Papanui, Riccarton and Woolston.
In his plan, four ADK units and spare parts would be purchased from AT for about $1.1m.
An AT spokesman confirmed its retired diesel units were on the open market with interest from Christchurch and overseas. He would not disclose the price "because it is commercially sensitive information".
Apanui's plan used station refurbishment costs from the ECan report, along with an estimated $600 per cubic metre to build platforms, and would use existing rail infrastructure.
He said having only a single rail line was "irrelevant" when considering both the low frequency of north-bound freight and the minimal passenger services being proposed.
"Our city is built on the railway lines, so to say the trains don't take you to where you want to go is a bit of a farce."
He claimed KiwiRail had been supportive of his plan but A KiwiRail spokesman said it had "not given any view on his proposal, or progressed it in any way".
Christopher Kissling, emeritus professor of transport studies at Lincoln University and a member of commuter rail advocacy group RailCan, said he believed Apanui's proposal was achievable.
The best option would be to lease the trains – costing less up front – and to run the service on a trial basis for "at least a year".
"If it was then agreed that it was getting the patronage, it was a good idea, you'd be needing to spend some more money after that, on some upgrades of the station facilities.
"When you compare what we're spending on building new lanes on highways, [$1.8m] is a drop in the bucket and it's worth it."
At the joint committee meeting, ECan commissioner and committee member David Bedford suggested Apanui sit down with ECan staff to establish whether "anything's changed enough to perhaps make the business case [ECan staff] came up with more viable".
When later contacted for comment, Bedford said he did not know if enough had changed to accommodate for commuter rail since the ECan report was conducted.
"There were four or five issues there and each one had to be taken into account, so how much difference the drop in price would make to the other [issues] I guess is what now needs to be looked at."
Those included rebuilding stations and platforms, timetable clashes with KiwiRail freight services, other additional infrastructure requirements and operational costs.