Rolleston Rail- What’s taking so long?

On Wednesday Anan Zaki of The Star published an article about trains to Rolleston titled Long Wait Possible for Rolleston Commuter Rail Service (here, page 1, then continued on page 4). It pits Selwyn Member of Parliament the Hon Amy Adams (National party) against the Minister of Housing and Transport the Hon Phil Twyford (Labour party), over what’s happening with trains to Rolleston.

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Transport Minister Phil Twyford told Selwyn Times last week that Environment Canterbury must first propose a commuter rail service before money can be allocated. “ECan needs to have a rail service proposed in their regional land transport plan before it can be evaluated and considered for funding,” Mr Twyford said.

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Selwyn MP Amy Adams called the statement a “cop-out” and said the pledge was a “poorly thought out election bribe.” “For the minister to now say it would be up to ECan to propose such a service before the Government would consider it, is a cop-out,” she said.

“At the time of the election, they [Labour] didn’t say it would be for ECan to assess this as a project and then apply for funding, which [Labour] would assess. They said they would fund it – no ifs or buts. It is yet another broken promise from Labour.”

Mr Twyford said the design and timing of the project would be known once ECan has
completed its business case process on the future of public transport in greater
Christchurch.
.. “It’s disappointing that Amy Adams doesn’t seem to remember how transport projects are funded,” he said.”

In essence, Ms Adams blames Mr Twyford for not giving ECan $100m for trains as was promised at the last election. Mr Twyford says he has $100m sitting there but can’t give it to ECan until they ask him for it, which he claims they haven’t.

So what’s really going on here?

Fortunately, Mr Twyford gave a talk to the CHAT Club 2 weeks ago. The full recording is here. At the end was question time where Mr Twyford was asked this exact question – where’s our $100 million for trains? His response is here, together with a transcript below:

“I’m waiting for a really good proposal from your elected leaders… [silence and then a few oooohs from the audience]…let me finish that sentence. This proposal’s got to be part of a joined up and credible transport and housing and urban growth plan. It’s got to be supported by all of your elected leaders, and it’s got to be prioritised through your regional land transport plan.

But I would like nothing better than to talk to you about what this plan would look like for Canterbury and how central government can work with your local government leadership to achieve it”

So let’s clarify what ECan have given to Mr Twyford to date. A while ago they delivered a strategic business case. This considered the question “Is there a case for change?” The answer was basically – yes there is a case for increased investment in public transport in Christchurch.

They have quite recently delivered the next step, which is a programme business case. This considered what programme of investment should be considered (i.e. what type of investment is needed). The answer given is Rapid Transit to the north and south-west, and improved bus services to the rest of the city.

These business cases are very high level. They do not look at modes at all, so the mass rapid transit could be buses, trains, trams, trackless trams, or something else. And they didn’t look at routes. Although it is concluded that it needs to service the northern and southern corridors, they don’t look at which streets or rail corridors it should take.

The next step needs to look into that – a detailed business case. Once this is done we’ll hopefully know what mode and what route makes the most sense, and more about how we should stage the construction. But this isn’t something that can be knocked out quickly – there are a bunch of really complex issues, and hundreds of different stakeholders that will need to be involved in the conversation. This mass rapid transit detailed business case is programmed to take 2-3 years, and it’s not programmed to be built for at least the next 10 years.

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So something has been delivered to Mr Twyford, but it does not constitute a proposal for trains to Rolleston.

Also, you’ll note that that is not the only part of what Mr Twyford needs. He talks about a “joined up and credible transport and housing and urban growth plan”. It wouldn’t make any sense to build rail in Canterbury without also planning for land use to change around it – transport and land use are intimately linked and changing one always changes the other. Greater Christchurch needs a plan that enables growth and intensification to occur around our rail corridors. Which we currently don’t have. I understand that Christchurch City Council is working on this, but it is not finished yet.

In conclusion I think there’s some truth to what both politicians are saying. Ms Adams probably has a point that, prior to the election, Labour could’ve made it a bit clearer to the public that implementing rail wouldn’t happen overnight, but would take some time to sort out. But I am mostly happy that Mr Twyford is sticking to the proper processes to ensure the plan for rail is comprehensive and robust – although it would definitely be nice if some parts of the mass rapid transit could be accelerated.

4 thoughts on “Rolleston Rail- What’s taking so long?

  1. I’m conflicted. I’m generally a fan of more robustness in decision-making. But I’d also like to see something happen before I’m an old man and my infant children are all grown up. I think 3 years for a business case and 10+ years before anything opens is probably reasonable if we’re talking about brand-new BRT or light rail that we have to build from scratch. But if we’re talking about just getting a minimal train service running on existing tracks – that’s totally different and most likely wouldn’t need that long. So the timeframe depends on the early stages of the next step (detailed business case), and which solutions start emerging as the best.

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  2. Agree. I suspect the complexity is not in the pubic transport plan as such but more in coming up with a housing strategy that takes advantage of and further increases demand for public transport. It also requires the three councils to work together and come up with a shared vision.This should not be an excuse for sitting and waiting. Work on this needs to start now and the process needs to be transparent so that public is able to see how this is progressing at any point of time.

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  3. The problem is that oodles of transport initiatives around the country are bogged down in NZTA business cases. This includes rail freight development in Northland and the flagship light rail network in Auckland. Recently Auckland Transport has been finding that NZTA is rejecting their business cases for projects that were agreed on between them and the government in the Auckland Transport Alignment Project. When you look at those contexts, then it becomes very clear that the process is being bogged down in unneeded red tape. I think the Minister is not really knowledgeable in these areas and is giving too much credence to his officials – who he mostly inherited from the last government. Add to that the problems elsewhere within NZTA and we have a recipe for stagnation, obfuscation and obstruction.

    And then you add on all these extras:
    “This proposal’s got to be part of a joined up and credible transport and housing and urban growth plan. It’s got to be supported by all of your elected leaders, and it’s got to be prioritised through your regional land transport plan. ”

    The problem is there won’t be full agreement because CCC isn’t supporting rail (they appear to be supporting rapid transit corridors, but not rail ones specifically) and there isn’t a transport and housing and urban growth plan at present. CCC won’t cooperate unless they are allowed to take over the running of the trains themselves, so the whole process will end up being bogged down.

    The key issue is simple: the government is kowtowing too much to local political interests and bureaucrats, and lacks the moral or spinal backbone to create a policy of its own. Here we have really that all we will get nationwide in PT is the Government’s own policies because they are the only policies they are prepared to put the effort into to be pushed forward and prioritised.

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