How Far in Half an Hour – with Heavy Rail?

In my previous post I showed maps demonstrating how we could get an additional 50,000  people to be within a half hour bus ride of the CBD, if only bus frequencies and speeds were improved.

This map summarises my previous post, showing the areas that could be brought within a half hour commute of the CBD just by increasing frequencies and speeds of buses (red).


In this post I look at how introduction of passenger rail would affect this.

I used the same methodology, and just added 3 routes using the existing railway lines:

  1. West to Rolleston
  2. North to Rangiora
  3. East to Lyttelton

I did add one new line – a stub going from the Moorhouse Ave station into the CBD. If rail were ever done it would need some form of connection to the CBD, whether that was extended heavy railway lines, light rail, buses or shuttles. As long as it’s quick and doesn’t have too much transfer time, then the mode doesn’t actually matter for this assessment.

I assumed a 40km/h average speed (in line with Auckland’s southern line), and just placed stations where I thought looked sensible at first glance (some probably aren’t sensible but let’s not get hung up on that now…).

This map shows in purple what areas could be brought within a half hour commute by introducing passenger rail.


It shows increases along the three routes, bringing another 7,000 residents within a half hour commute of the CBD to a total of 170,000 (49% of Christchurch).

One thing to note is that my simplistic methodology isn’t great at handling transfers between buses and trains, especially smaller feeder routes– if these were modelled better there may be some extra purple areas open up on the bus routes that connect to train stations.

Although the new areas that trains would open up are quite large, a lot of them don’t currently have many residents living in them– many are in the middle of Christchurch’s big southern industrial belt. In time, passenger rail might change this as these areas became more attractive as residential space.

My half hour threshold means none of the satellite towns like Rolleston and Rangiora make it into this analysis. In reality, servicing those satellite towns is one of the main reasons you would do heavy rail. Maybe in future I could repeat the exercise using a longer cut-off (Auckland uses a cut-off of 45 minutes for their planning).

I think this shows that rail is worthy of further investigation. It brings several new areas of the city into a half hour commute of the CBD, as well as providing a whole lot of other non-travel-time-related benefits that I haven’t gone into here (like comfort, reliability, general attractiveness). Exploring the potential for land use changes around stations (densification, converting industrial areas to residential etc.) would have to be an important part of it.

Next Post – What about light rail?

Do you think passenger heavy rail is a good idea for Christchurch?



6 thoughts on “How Far in Half an Hour – with Heavy Rail?

    1. Thanks Wayne. I have seen that report before and I think there are a couple of things to note. Firstly it was just looking at a short-term standalone service. I think a service that’s part of a long-term, city-wide plan is quite a different thing. Secondly the political and financial climate has changed a lot since 2014 when the report was done, and will change more in the next few years as the economic evaluation manual is updated, and the activity classes of the NLTF get a bit of a shake up. The fact short-term rail didn’t fit with the 2014 funding environment doesn’t necessarily mean it still won’t fit in a year or two.

      Liked by 1 person

  1. Having just moved to Rolleston (“Town of the Future!!”) I’m stunned by how many cars there are. There are NO corner shops – if you want something you have to go into the supermarkets. There are some cycle lanes in the business area, but they don’t go very far.

    Riding to Chch CBD is a hellatious hour – with no *good* riding roads between Rolleston and Christchurch. Jones is too narrow and a rat-run. SH1 is full of roadworks, Shands road is narrow and has horrid CSM2 roadworks, and those last two would put you into Hornby Hell. West Melton and SH73 is narrow and busty and quite out of the way. I’m yet to try Springs road.

    Even getting from the Rolleston residential area to the rail platform area is challenging.

    I can see a lot of advantage for a rail service from Rolleston to Addington Station or to Moorhouse Ave, then a shuttle bus or folding bikes or a stroll through Hagley park/gardens.

    On the positive side, the new Manions Road helps a lot, and there are a heap of schoolkids on scooters getting to school in the mornings. Gives some hope for normalising the concept of “not a car”.


  2. HR will not be established without funding from central government because of the large costs involved, this is why it has not been developed or prioritised despite decades of discussion. People forget that we used to have HR passenger services that ceased in the 1970s.

    Lincoln University has done the best level of planning and costing with a range of costs from $50-200 million, IIRC. PTUA people (Tane Apanui) also had Ecan consider a very low ball option which was only a few million dollars, but it did not have credible service options with the very low costings that they pitched and could not have been taken seriously.

    As you have correctly stated the lack of residential areas near the corridors will be a problem particularly the easter corridor to Lyttelton as this has not been identified as financially viable in any of the studies as I understand it.


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