Light rail heads up 11/7/18 – new timetables, new buses – but not enough electrics!
  Brent Efford

Greetings to the Wellington light rail email list.

(Seeing this heads-up for the first time? Probably because of recent contact we made re light rail, trolleybuses, Lets Get Wellington Moving, Congestion Free Wellington, etc – but email me back if you don’t want to get any more.)

These more-or-less fortnightly newsletters appear personally from me, Brent Efford, in my role as the NZ Agent for the Light Rail Transit Association (LRTA). No one else is to blame. The amount of content depends on the time I have for research and writing. These limitations mean a return to a more graphic PDF newsletter format remains 'on hold'.

Black and red type is my composition, green is copied.

What is the LRTA?: SEE 7 BELOW!

1 Reminder: TRAX lunch: this Friday, 13 July

Our regular lunch get-togethers are on the 2nd and 4th Friday of the month, at TRAX, Wellington Railway Station, 12.00. Our next TRAX lunch is this Friday, 13 July.

Due to increasing numbers, we now use a reserved table in the western (Featherston St) side of the cafe/bar area – thanks to Noel Maginnity for arranging. All welcome!

2 New timetables, new buses

This coming weekend sees the biggest change to public transport services since, well, forever: the old route pattern grew with the electric tram system and was retained with few changes when converted to trolleybuses. A personal example: my own Aro St to Railway Station route dates from 1904 – but as from Sunday will be just part of a service from Highbury to Khandallah. The changes will benefit many – I may not want to go to Khandallah by bus all that often but the evening and weekend buses through the CBD will definitely be a plus.

Others will not be so well placed after the changes: bus to bus transfers at suburban hubs are inherently problematic, where a feeder route in uncongested suburban streets transfers to a trunk service bogged down in traffic. The key to acceptable transfers is ensuring a minimum of discomfort and quicker door-to-door travel overall, compared with all the bus services squeezed into the same trunk, which has been the paradigm up to now.

There is also disquiet over the slow start to constructing the suburban hubs, most of which will clearly not be ready by Sunday!

The quick cross-platform transfer system, which has worked well on the Metlink rail system since the 1950s, is inherently difficult to arrange in all-bus systems. Time will tell, but expect plenty of complaints – and only a small increase in PT use (if any), compared with the order-of-magnitude increase which a complete rail trunk through the CBD and Newtown to the eastern suburbs would ensure.

See .

3 Electric bus pressure mounts ...

With the trolleybuses, until recently Wellington’s claim to public transport distinction, now a fading memory and the overhead wire infrastructure nearly all gone, concerned Wellingtonians are agitating for the regional council to make good on its ‘100% electric bus fleet’ (using battery buses, of course) promise a good deal quicker than it will take at the current tokenistic rate of progress. The 10 electric double-deckers launched at Parliament on 5 July have received most of the media attention and GWRC greenwash, despite being only 2.3% of an otherwise-diesel bus fleet of 420, largely brand-new, which may last in service for at least 15 years.

Fortunately the GWRC, smarting from the backlash over the premature ditching of the trolleys, now sees the need to get beyond this tokenism. Cr Daran Ponter has persuaded most of his fellow councillors to try to speed up the re-electrification process – let’s hope that he can achieve at least as many electrics in service in five years time as there were five years ago!
Diesel bus days are numbered

Damian George
Dominion Post 21/6/18
Up to 40 fully-electric buses a year could be added to the Wellington region’s public transport fleet as the region looks to make good on its promise of phasing out diesels.

Greater Wellington Regional Council will assess the merits of a proposal to replace up to 10 per cent of its diesel bus fleet with fully-electric vehicles each year from 2019, and ensure no new diesel buses enter the fleet.There are about 420 buses in the fleet at the moment, with new operator Tranzit to provide the only non-diesel vehicles when it introduces its 10 electric doubledeckers from July 15. It will introduce another 22 by 2021.

The council has also proposed to make the Karori-Seatoun route in Wellington city fully electric by June 2021, and the Johnsonville-Island Bay service electric by 2023. Tranzit’s first batch of double-deckers will operate on the latter route.

Porirua and Hutt Valley commuters would also see a change, with a core route in each of those areas to become allelectric as more electric buses enter the fleet.

The recommendations were made at the council’s sustainable transport committee meeting on Wednesday by the committee’s deputy chairman Daran Ponter.

The council voted 11-1 for staff to look into the proposals and report back to the committee by the end of the year. ...

… Ponter said the new targets would signify a stronger commitment from the council in working towards an all-electric fleet.

‘‘All we have is this aspirational statement that says in the future, sometime, we want to be the first region in New Zealand to have all-electric public transport,’’ he said.

‘‘So I’m attempting to put a bit of substance behind that because people are getting a little bit sceptical that the council actually has a plan behind this thing, and I think that scepticism is not unfounded.’’ ...

Meanwhile, in sending out his latest Under the Wires trolleybus enthusiasts’ e-mag*, Alan Wickens notes:

A large spread appeared in The Dominion Post on 30 June amongst which was this reported comment from the Chairman of the Greater Wellington Regional Council, Chris Laidlaw:
"I'm excited by this. I'm excited by electric buses being deployed for the first time in New Zealand. I'm excited by our ability to be able to finally deal with some of the climate change and emission challenges that are in front of us."
The article went on to say:
Tranzit will introduce 10 fully electric double-decker buses on the north-south route, and will welcome a further 22 by 2021. The rest of the 420-strong fleet will be diesel buses. The capital's retired trolley buses, owned by NZ Bus, could yet return as fully-electric battery buses, adding up to another 60 non-diesel vehicles. But it is possible NZ Bus could opt to take those buses elsewhere.

Need to read that again? Yes, Mr Laidlaw is "excited" by electric buses being deployed for the first time in New Zealand. How can be inspire confidence when he doesn't even recognize the historical contribution of electric buses that were deployed in the Capital for sixty-eight years, let alone the eight years the "trackless" ran from 1924-32, and even omitting the sixty years' contribution made by the trams? Even recently, N.Z. Bus has been running a fully electric bus for some weeks in the shape of former trolleybus 361. And as for dealing with "climate change and emission challenges" his council has arranged for ten electric buses and fleet of 420 diesels. Whoppee-doo! (Incidentally, it is impossible to return 60 trolleybuses to fully-electric battery buses - three have already been disposed of to preservation, and 362 is the Wrightspeed enigma project that has gone deadly quiet. The figure of 60 trolleybuses is always trotted out by journalists in these bus stories.)

Sadly, we cannot turn back the clock. The fully electric trolleybuses have gone. Most of the wires have been pulled down and within a few weeks it will all just be a memory, as with the trams that ran before them.

*Remember – you can get UTW on request from Alan atwickens@...

(Actually, to be truly pedantic, NZ’s first electric bus was a crude Walker battery vehicle, known as the beetle, which connected Templeton with the Riccarton tram route in Christchurch for a few unsuccessful years from 1917.)

Alan reports in the July Under the Wires that:

The Dominion Post of 14 June reported that Seatoun man, Herwin Bongers, is spending over $30,000 to try and soundproof his Hector Street home from the sound of diesel buses. Bongers, an airline pilot, lives across the road from the Seatoun terminus. He said he wanted something better than the fleet of diesels that wake him and his neighbours at night. Another neighbour said her children were frequently woken at 6am with the sound of the first diesel bus, but her main concern was the effects of diesel pollutants on her family. “When the trolleybuses were decommissioned we were promised something better,” said Bongers. He has formed a group called ReVolt Wellington and has organised a public meeting. Currently buses depart Seatoun every 20 minutes (off-peak) but from July 15 when the new routes and timetables begin Route 11 will change to Route 2 and would become a “high frequency” route with buses every 10-15 minutes. An item on this story appeared on television news magazine Seven Sharp on 18 June and can be accessed at:
A website, ("Campaigning for a faster transition to electric buses and rid Wellington of noisy polluting diesels”) has also been launched.

Welcome, Herwin … we know from experience that electric PT needs all the public support and political pressure it can get! See the attached logo.

Incidentally, the July Under the Wires also covers NZ Bus’ experimental battery conversion of former trolleybus 361, which appears to be operating successfully. Unfortunately, there is no indication whether NZ Bus will convert any more of its fleet of dormant trolleybuses and, even if they do, whether they will be used in Wellington. NZ Bus itself is known to be up for sale, having lost so much business with the new contracts, and may not be interested in any further electric initiatives until its future is known.

4 … while overseas they boom

Battery buses have come a long way since 1917 and, while still having limitations which mean that current trolleybus operators overseas are not ditching the wires just yet, are shaping up as the default rubber-tyred PT mode in the post-carbon future – at least until autonomous shuttles take over all non-rail services. This is a sample of links that have passed through my inbox in the past few weeks, just from the US Metro transit industry website:

5 DomPost letters – win some, lose some ...

Submitted 4/7/18, not published:

Jenny Clark (4 July) is quite right: a “really attractive public transport system" – meaning rail in the context of the state highway spine – is the key. A prerequisite for an effective rail transit system is ‘penetration of the CBD' and Wellington’s network is one of the very few worldwide which lacks this essential feature.

In its 1999 transport strategy, the regional council proposed to extend light rail through both the Wellington and Lower Hutt CBDs during the 2004 - 19 period. The council’s Transport Manager of the day stated "We looked at operating standard units and light rail on the same tracks and then allowing the light rail to extend into the City. We saw no problem with this.”

Since then, the GWRC has turned its back on the idea of a complete rail system in the hysterical dash to build the Transmission Gully Motorway, at a long-term cost of $3.104 billion. It is now struggling with the foreseeable downstream – and downtown – consequences.

Brent Efford
NZ Agent, Light Rail Transit Assn

Lead letter, Dominion Post, 9/7/18:

So, the Lower Hutt City Council is promoting a “Bold move to boost Hutt’s population” (6 July) and “The council is hoping that brownfield alternatives, including in the inner-city, will boost population growth”. All well and good, but this densification is unlikely to happen as long as the Lower Hutt CBD remains the current pedestrian-unfriendly and difficult-to-access wasteland of car parking and traffic roundabouts.

The 1999 Regional Land Transport Strategy proposed regional light rail including a cross-valley line via High St and Queensgate, giving a direct 20 minute link to Lambton Quay, for implementation during 2004 - 19. In 2000 the LHCC obtained a detailed report from SKM engineering consultants showing how this could be done. The LHCC would do its development dreams a favour by dusting off that report – and urging the regional council to drop its current indifference to the concept of rail penetration of the region’s two largest CBDs.

Brent Efford
NZ Agent, Light Rail Transit Assn

6 Batteries for trams, too

Alstom inaugurates first new-generation Citadis with innovative charging technology in Nice

More new trams the same length as Wellington's Matangi trains. Note that these luxury trams use wire-free battery power and Alstom’s ground-level SRS charging technology – a good option for Wellington tram-trains coming off the heavy rail network and proceeding down the Golden Mile. Alstom says SRS is open-source technology and can be used for buses too, like the Aptis –

7 What is the LRTA?

The Light Rail Transit Association was formed in the UK in 1937 and … “ is the world’s leading organisation concerned with the achievement of better public transport through light rail, tramway and metro systems in towns and cities world–wide.” (
The Association is a partnership between civil society advocates (such as myself) and professionals within the public transport industry.

The main activities of the LRTA are:

· Information provision and advocacy

· Publication of the monthly light rail industry journal Tramways and Urban Transport; T&UT is available online, by subscription online (via the above website), and also retail in some magazine outlets like Magnetix in Wellington.

· Sponsorship of major UK light rail industry events such as the annual Light Rail Awards and a separate annual industry conference.

Although remaining UK-based, the LRTA has a world-wide reach, including agents in a number of countries. One of its most notable achievements was the provision of information about modern tramways which informed and led to the establishment of light rail in San Diego, opening in 1981 – the first new-generation LRT system in the United States and the progenitor of several dozen new systems now operating there.

(The LRTA, by the way, is considering changing its name – to TramForward! Ill-advisedly in my view – but the decision will be made in London.)

Brent Efford
NZ Agent, Light Rail Transit Assn

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