Integrating Christchurch Rapid Transit

This is a guest post from reader Tim Frank. Publishing this does not necessarily correspond to agreement – just that I think it’s contributing positively to the discussion.

The Greater Christchurch Partnership has just finished engaging on a proposed rapid transit scheme, which they call a “turn up and go service”. This would run between Belfast and Hornby via Papanui, the City Centre and Riccarton and would run on its own dedicated lane. No decision has been made on the technology (light rail or buses).

This is at least something and if it could happen soon, it would be one of the more positive transport developments in Christchurch in recent decades.

Let me just push back on some of the pros and cons mentioned in the consultation documentation for light rail and bus. The project lists the following negative aspect of light rail: Light rail tracks can’t travel over heavy rail tracks so one service would need to go over or under the other where they cross— bridges or underpasses would be needed.

That simply isn’t true. Light rail tracks can travel over heavy rail tracks.

Here’s a video of this happening in Germany, with electric light rail crossing an electrified heavy rail corridor every 10 minutes (though the railcar in this scene is a diesel railcar).

In Christchurch we have our own experience of trams crossing railway lines. Just west of the Christchurch Railway Station was the Colombo Street crossing. This was used for decades by trams to cross the railway tracks.

It may not be best practice to have light and heavy rail level crossings, but it is doable. In addition, one would presume that there would only be one place where this would be an issue, namely at the Riccarton Road crossing.

An additional advantage of light rail is that it requires less space in the road corridor, because its tracks are fixed and it doesn’t go outside its profile. Just look at the trams in New Regent Street and see how little space they occupy and how close umbrellas can be put to the tracks. Because of this predictability light rail also mixes better with other users in the proposed transit malls.

More could be said about the metro bus / light rail comparison.

What the proposed project would not do is linking Christchurch to Canterbury as a whole, both the satellite towns (such as Rangiora and Rolleston) and the communities farther afield (Amberley, Rakaia, Darfield, Rakaia, Ashburton). Public transport across Canterbury could best be served by regional rail services that integrate with the proposed rapid transit. This would give great connectivity across the region. It would allow easy commuting from further afield to many locations in Greater Christchurch. It may be comparable to the S-Bahn services present in many European regions that integrate with the denser urban services delivered by metro, U-Bahn, light rail or similar metropolitan transport. With the rail network taking on a more regional public transport function, trains would not need to run to a turn-up-and-go frequency. Rather, 30-minute frequencies would be sufficient. With more double-tracking, some passing loops in single-track sectors and an improved signalling system this would also provide sufficient capacity for freight on the rail network.

The Greater Christchurch Partnership states in its Huihui Mai consultation that passenger rail for Canterbury is an option for the future. But for that to be effective integration has to be planned now.

Many suggestions for such rail services have been proposed. Here is one proposal.

The main Christchurch station would be north of Riccarton Avenue, south of the former Riccarton Station site. Over time an additional major station at Moorhouse Avenue could be built and proposals for bringing the railway from Moorhouse Avenue to the City Centre explored.

I’ve indicated two routes:

  1. from Ashburton to Waipara with higher frequency in the Rolleston to Rangiora sector;
  2. from Darfield to Lyttelton. Key interchanges between regional rail and Christchurch rapid transit would be at Hornby, Riccarton, Papanui and Chaneys. This or similar networks could provide good regional passenger rail for Canterbury.

The following steps need to be taken to make an integration between regional rail (in whatever shape) and rapid transit successful:

  1. Build the proposed rapid transit Hagley Park Station close to the Riccarton Road / Mona Vale Avenue intersection with easy future passenger connection to a station along Mona Vale Avenue. An elevated station might be best practice, but expensive.
  2. Continue the rapid transit route in Hornby to the railway line and build the station as close to the railway line as possible (possibly at current location of Briscoes or The Warehouse).
  3. Continue the rapid transit route to north of Belfast to a park and rail facility at Chaneys where a new interchange with a future rail service could be built.
  4. Purchase the block between Harewood Road, Restell Street, Winston Avenue, and Main North Road in Papanui (currently largely bare land) to develop a transit-oriented centre with passenger connection between Papanui Railway Station and the proposed rapid transit corridor.
  5. Safeguard a site for a railway station parallel to Moorhouse Avenue.
  6. Re-establish the link track between the northern railway line (Main North Line) and the Lyttelton Line in Addington (across what is currently Turners Cars).
  7. Protect the rail corridors throughout Canterbury from encroachment.
  8. Consecutively double-track as much of the line between Rolleston and Islington as easily possible.
  9. Prepare sections on the Main North Line for double tracking.
  10. Build a three-platform (or four-platform) station at Riccarton along Mona Vale Avenue.
  11. Improve the signalling system in Canterbury.

These are some of the preparatory measures that could be taken for the possible future implementation of regional rail in Canterbury (with options for links to Marlborough, the West Coast and Otago). It keeps the options open and allows small steps to be taken towards a greater use of rail in Canterbury.  

4 thoughts on “Integrating Christchurch Rapid Transit

  1. It is nice to read a set aotearoa practical suggestions and sequences that could lead to a truly useful integrated public transport system. Too many of the report to date are all inspirational with little to suggest how they could be implemented or used in practice.


  2. I struggle with the LRT/BRT proposal.
    a) The corridors arent wide enough to get decent and safe PT speed beyond what full kerbside buslanes can provide.
    b) Much of the land development is new (not 80 to 100 years old) so would be prohibitively expensive to buy if a widening option is followed.
    c) There simply aren’t the parallel road corridors if parts are shut to traffic.

    I’d prefer rail. Its probably more complicated but I think a better solution.
    a) Higher speeds
    b) Already in a separate corridor
    c) Can rezone industrial areas to high density residential and move the industrial to an inland port / industrial area at Rolleston & elsewhere if needed (e.g. inside the airport noise zone). Kiwirail is government so can have its arm twisted to move the marshalling yards at Middleton.
    d) Rail better integrates with congestion tolls as the PnR will work much better to rail
    e) Better integration with Rolleston, Kaiapoi & Rangiora which otherwise remain car dependent.
    f) Rail can be supported by a full kerbside bus lane network (semi BRT) that supports the rest of Chch. Central running BRT could be added where justified.


  3. if you could see what there doing in perth there building rail lines everywhere the problem chch the rail lines don’t go any where they need to go into the city double tracking is needed because more frequency putting up electric cables for electric trains build a system that compares to wellington or auckland to think years ago we had rail lines to little river leston southbridge goverments have dictated what rail inverstructer we have


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