Hybrid rail/bus system for Christchurch?

11:20, Jul 21 2009

A hybrid rail/bus system using the railway lines leading to Christchurch could ease commuter congestion in Canterbury's rapidly growing satellite towns, a Selwyn councillor believes.

Statistics New Zealand says Christchurch's rapidly growing commuter belt places strain on arterial roads and is difficult to serve with bus routes.

New figures show nearly half the working populations of the Waimakariri and Selwyn districts travel to the city.

Selwyn district councillor Annette Foster believes a hybrid rail/bus system, similar to those operated in Australia and Germany, should be considered. Standard buses are fitted with small wheels and piloted by guide rails. They can join or leave the busway at pre-determined points.

The system was developed in the 1980s to enable buses in the German city of Essen to share tram tunnels.

Foster plans to explore Adelaide's O-Bahn guided-bus service on a personal trip to the city in September.

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"I'm personally interested in [the concept] and intend to make it a point of the trip," she said.

A 2006 Wellington public transport study considered the system, but the predicted cost was more than $5.5 million a kilometre.

Foster said commuter rail between Rolleston and the city was still the best long-term option, but the population numbers would need to be "exceptional".

The town's predicted growth to about 50,000 people would make it viable, she said.

"People are warm to the idea of rail, but every time you raise it past community level, it gets knocked down."

Cost was not the only consideration, Foster said.

"I think it's whether we decide that the carbon footprint from using our vehicles is so great that we're prepared to pay for an alternative means of transport."

KiwiRail spokesman Kevin Ramshaw said dual use of the rail corridor was a safety issue.

"The idea sounds fine in principle, but you end up with the whole problem of how to co-ordinate and provide a safe environment."

Commuter rail services were usually provided by private enterprise.

"We're happy to entertain any proposal put to us."

However, the cost could be prohibitive, Ramshaw said.

"These services, certainly in Auckland and Wellington, where there are larger populations, struggle to be commercially viable without a subsidy."

The Press