Greetings to the Wellington light rail email list.
(Seeing this heads-up for the first time? Probably because you have announced that you are a local body election candidate, or because we met at the 'Wellington: Creating Tomorrow’ forum, or other contact we have made re light rail, urbanism, Lets Get Wellington Moving, the sham tram promotion, etc – but email me back if you don’t want to get any more.)
These newsletters appear personally from me, Brent Efford, in my role as the NZ Agent for the Light Rail Transit Association (LRTA), just as BCC emails and attachments sent from my computer. No hate-spreading Facebook or other so-called ’social’ media involved! The amount of content depends on the time I have for research and writing, which is why this one is the first for several weeks.
Black and red type is my composition, green is copied.
What is the LRTA?: SEE 6 BELOW!
1 TRAX lunch this Friday
Our regular lunch get-togethers, on the 2nd and 4th Friday of the month, at TRAX, Wellington Railway Station, 12.00. Our next TRAX lunch is this Friday, 12 July.
2 Expert input ignored by Lets Get Wellington Moving
Particularly for the information of the many new subscribers to this newsletter – Rotary Wellington Forum attendees, council election candidates and so on – I attach two documents from nearly three and six years ago:
The 3 November 2016 slideshow ‘Rail penetration of the Wellington CBD – engineering a solution’ with notes, as presented to the Lets Get Wellington Moving director during the consultation phase of the study. Unlike the anti-tram-train group FIT, we had no other opportunity to lobby LGWM, and there is no indication that any of the key points were ever taken on board.
A 3 December 2013 report ‘Johnsonville Line LRT Concept’ from Tom Matoff, Director, Transportation Planning, LTK Engineering Services, California. This desktop study, using data, video and drawings that I supplied, describes how the first stage of light rail mass transit could be implemented. Note Tom’s expertise and experience spelt out in his resume at the back. It would be safe to say that this level of light rail expertise has not been provided to LGWM in any other way (the report was given to the study.) The comment on page 6: "
The termination of “commuter” rail lines on the edge of the CBD, with a transfer required just to complete a basic journey to the center of town, and a service orientation to peak hours, is an antiquated concept based on historic precedents that are no longer valid. Public transport must compete for the public’s business, and to do so must be arranged to make the kinds of trips characteristic of the modern city, with dispersed trip patterns and non-traditional travel times, easy to make by bus and train.” goes to the heart of why LGWM’s ignoring of our current mass transit system is so inappropriate.
3 Sham tram or magic bus?
As per the special email invitation I sent out on 19 June, the ITS forum on ‘trackless trams’ was held on 25 June and I was pleased to see a large number of members from this email list there. (The ITS – https://www.itsnz.org/ https://www.itsnz.org/ – ‘Driving the future transport conversation” is, on the evidence of its styling, sponsors and programme clearly no friend of rail, light or heavy, so its involvement in this forum was to be expected!)
The speakers were Barry Mein, director of Lets Get Wellington Moving, Professor Peter Newman, Perth-based urban sustainability guru and former light rail promoter now converted to a salesman for rail-free alternatives – in this case a Chinese guided bus experiment masquerading as a ’trackless tram’ – and guided bus expert Marie Verschuer, researcher and social planner.
The message being pedalled was that – far from a fixed asset conferring multiple advantages of energy efficiency, smoothness, comfort, capacity, predictability, precision, permanence and sheer charisma ('it’s real on steel' is the way I put it) – steel rails are a liability which a ‘trackless’ transit system will avoid and be more popular as a result.
Photos and brief video clips showed a specially prepared guideway being used for the experiment (cost not known). Lets Get Wellington Moving’s graphics show the sham tram being used on special guideways in a largely traffic-free Customhouse Quay and Taranaki St – currently major traffic arteries. Where current traffic will go if the existing rail mass transit system is not extended is not explained – see (k) below. A computer simulation of the CRRC system running in traffic: https://youtu.be/RnGyaPgrGKQ?t=0 https://youtu.be/RnGyaPgrGKQ?t=0
Questions were held until the end and I only got to ask one, but the answers to the “tricky questions” (as chair Celia Wade-Brown invited) that I proposed in the 19 June email, (a) to (j) below, can be surmised from the presentations and answers to other questioners:
(a) Can the CRRC experimental vehicles run on Wellington’s existing rail network?
No need to ask this question – Lets Get Wellington Moving has ignored the mass transit system we already have, and has determined that it is quite OK for Wellington to become (after the Auckland City Rail Link is complete) the only city with its core mass transit system not penetrating the CBD. So an incompatible system running south of the Railway Station is officially quite OK.
(b) How will the CRRC guided bus on a short route attract more car commuters to public transport than a continuous rail spine with ‘direct through service’?
The speakers didn’t attempt to claim that a guided bus would attract ‘more’ passengers, only that it would be ‘like light rail but cheaper’ (the old 'bus rapid transit' refrain). The massive patronage increases arising from introducing direct through service on previously-truncated rail transit services around the world is an inconvenient truth or elephant in the room best ignored!
(c) Where in the world (presumably just in China) has the CRRC guided bus technology proven itself in intensive revenue service? Anywhere similar to Wellington?
There were plenty of examples quoted of cities which were “considering” the CRRC system, including many in Australia, and no doubt Wellington will be added to the list for their next presentation. However actual running (Peter Newman showed some video clips) is confined to the experimental line in Zhuzhou, China. The enthusiasm for such an unproven system, compared with the worldwide experience of real trams in hundreds of systems, seems more faith-based than provoked by rigorous analysis.
(d) How can it be claimed that the CRRC guided bus system does not require extensive guideway foundation work when Wellington’s bus lane experience (in Manners Mall etc) suggests the opposite?
No one asked this directly, and references to guideway requirements were ambiguous. On the one hand the impression was created that only a painted dotted line on an existing road – “done in a weekend” Prof Newman has been quoted as saying on another occasion – is needed, but the speakers also made it clear that an exclusive right of way is required.
The transport professionals present would have been well aware that heavy rubber-tired vehicles like buses (whatever they are called) without high-tensile steel rails to spread the rolling load, are particularly hard on pavement. If precisely guided on the same track each time (rather than the slight variations inevitable with manual steering) doubly so. The reinforced concrete put into Manners St, exceeding the earthquake-proven tram track in Christchurch in depth (and probably per-metre cost – $5,000 in Chch’s case) proves the point.
(e) What sort of ride quality will the sham tram provide over ordinary streets without a strengthened foundation similar to a proper tramway?
Not asked directly, but it is claimed by CRRC that their sham tram has a special hydraulic suspension system which smooths out all the bumps which can be expected from a roadway not reinforced to Manners Mall standards. A magic bus indeed – if true, this would be a feat which has eluded all other bus manufacturers!
(f) What evidence is there that a bus lane with two dashed lines painted on it will provide more property value uplift and transit-oriented development than a proper tramway with steel rails?
Since the sham tram is only an experimental prototype in Zhuzhou and there is no diverse or historical application in Wellington-relevant cities from which statistically-valid real-world experience can be drawn, we only have Professor Newman’s wishful thinking to go on. It is the charisma of the steel rails, with their visibility, permanence, precise location and implied commitment that generates so much of the attention from developers and passengers alike. It is hard to see just another bus lane, with or without the paint, capturing that.
(g) Is the CRRC system proprietary, or can it be used by any competing vehicle manufacturer?
China may be notorious for stealing intellectual property but they don’t give it away! We can be sure that it will be proprietary, like all other guided bus systems, and a commitment to the CRRC system infrastructure will mean Wellington will be a captive customer, having to buy that company’s vehicles for replacements or expansions, as well. That is assuming that CRRC remains in the market, which other guided bus pioneers have not.
Being captive to one system from one supplier will, of course, mean that there will be no competitive tendering, with all the financial and strategic risks that entails.
Light rail, in contrast, is completely open-source, with hundreds of systems (many of which have been evolving for over 100 years), many competing manufacturers and an almost infinite variety of guideway designs in evidence.
(h) What financial guarantees are there against the CRRC system, once installed, proving unreliable and having to be replaced, as has happened with the guided bus systems in Nancy and Caen? (Not to mention the similar Civis optical system which failed immediately in Las Vegas!)
It is unlikely that such guarantees, which would be in the order of hundreds of millions of dollars, would be given once infrastructure is involved.
We have some experience of CRRC as the cheapest bidder for KiwiRail: the DL locomotives which had severe mechanical faults and were found to be full of asbestos, contrary to the contract, and the fleet of container wagons with defective brakes. The faults were remediated, at great disruption, by CRRC staff working in temporary workshops in NZ – but no infrastructure rework was required, of course.
(i) What experience is there of the CRRC guided bus sharing pedestrian malls? Grass and similar soft landscaping? Viaducts and tunnels?
Almost certainly, none. Certainly the brief video clips and photographs didn’t show any sharing of the sham tram guideway. While theoretically possible, buses guided or otherwise are not considered appropriate sharers of pedestrian space. Compare this with trams – go no further than Christchurch, where much of the tramway, using 100+ year old vehicles much less pedestrian-friendly than modern trams, nevertheless share pedestrian space for much of the tramway’s length. Even running through an indoor shopping centre.
This pedestrian sharing in places is common in Europe, and even in Melbourne.
Because any form of bus requires a hard paved right of way, either asphalt or concrete, with a very solid foundation, obviously grass or other green landscaping is out of the question. Trams need only two steel railheads about 70mm wide, enabling many different treatments for the remainder of the right of way surface. Grass is common, particularly in Europe, and other groundcover planting can also be used. In Houston the light rail in Main Street even runs through an ornamental pool. Also see item 4(c) below.
Tunnels no problem, of course. Viaducts would need heavy balustrades in case of failure of the electronic guidance – making them more costly than the railed equivalent. Extra cost which the Manners Mall experience suggests might even apply to a surface guideway!
(j) How would the CRRC system achieve direct through service between the Wellington and Hutt CBDs, as proposed in 1999?
Obviously, it couldn’t, leaving the Wellington rail transit system pretty much the only one in the world with no direct through service between most of the economy and most of the population. Even worse, it would rob future generations of the opportunity to remediate the situation and develop a continuous, automated, electric rail spine from the Airport/eastern suburbs, through the region’s CBD and the other regional centres and eventually connecting to Palmerston North and Masterton. It won’t 'happen overnight', but it is our ethical duty to make it easier for future generations to make it happen in their time.
(k) What is there in the Lets Get Wellington Moving ‘mass transit’ proposal (which does not involve integration with our existing rail mass transit) that will attract car commuters from north of Wellington Railway Station onto the rail system?
This was the only question I actually got to ask, of Barry Mein the LGWM project director. Despite the contribution that regional car commuting makes to inner Wellington congestion there was no real answer! He expressed the expectation that the physical characteristics of the big interchange at WRS would be improved and this would influence the modal split.
Actual world experience suggests that this would be only in the order of a few percent at best – but providing direct through service can be expected to at least double rail use. That, after all, is why the Auckland City Rail Link is being constructed!
4 Light rail continues to spread
One of the absurdities surrounding the limited Lets Get Wellington Moving view of “mass transit” is the meme that the CRRC sham tram (or guided bus) is innovative and revolutionary and so superior that it will take over the transit industry completely and stop light rail dead in its tracks.
Wellington Mayor Justin Lester, now a sham tram evangelist, has even gone as far as to say that “Wellington does not want to be the last city to open light rail” (though he is quite happy for us to be the only city with its main existing mass transit not serving the CBD!). In other words, a proprietary and experimental guided bus system from just one Chinese manufacturer (albeit a big one) will sweep rail away and halt the supply of open-source light rail systems from dozens of manufacturers around the world.
A smattering of recent announcements shows what a unicorn-level fantasy that is:
(a) Light rail at the heart of £1bn Cardiff transport vision https://www.railjournal.com/passenger/light-rail/1bn-cardiff-transport-vision-revealed/
LIGHT rail is at the centre of a £1bn vision for the future of transport in the Welsh capital, which was unveiled by Cardiff Council leader Mr Huw Edwards at a Welsh government conference on active travel on July 4. … The light rail plans build on the South Wales Metro project, which will revitalise the Valley Lines network by 2023 with infrastructure upgrades and a new fleet of tram-trains. ...
(With a population around 400,000, Cardiff is about the same as greater Wellington, and Karlsruhe, where the tram-train system contributes substantially to a PT ridership 12 times that of Wellington’s!)
(b) Light rail could return to Perth under new plans by McGowan Government https://thewest.com.au/news/wa/light-rail-could-return-to-perth-under-new-plans-by-mcgowan-government-ng-b881245455z
30 June 2019
[Prof Newman strove to give the impression that light rail was no longer being considered in Perth – his home town – with the possible advent of the sham tram. Maybe not …]
Trams could return to Perth after more than 60 years under a new plan being devised by the McGowan Government.
Transport Minister Rita Saffioti confirmed yesterday a business case — to be sent to Infrastructure Australia — was now being developed for an “inner suburbs transit system”, with Perth MLA John Carey “overseeing consideration of routes”.
One route under consideration was an arc connecting Curtin University in Bentley to the Perth CBD to the University of Western Australia.
“The State Government has undertaken a high-level investigation into potential light rail corridors for Perth and parliamentary secretary John Carey is overseeing consideration of route options,” Ms Saffioti said.
“It’s early days, and we are also looking at several missing links in the existing network.
“For example, the argument for a knowledge arc connecting Curtin University Bentley to Perth CBD to University of WA in Nedlands is well known..
“These areas are quite constrained, particularly around the QE11 medical precinct, which would benefit from a more streamlined transport system.”
Bringing trams back to Perth has been on the drawing board since 2013, when then-premier Colin Barnett announced plans to build a CBD light rail system called MAX Light Rail.
The project was progressively delayed because of funding issues and then abandoned before the 2017 State election. During that election campaign, Labor said it would try and revive the light rail plan.
But the cashed-up McGowan Government reveals today, that planning to bring trams back to Perth is well and truly back on the agenda.
Ms Saffioti said planning for light rail would incorporate “all technologies”, meaning “all systems could be on the table”. …
(It remains to be seen, of course, whether the relevant local politicians in Perth are as gullible as their equivalents in Wellington seem to be, and whether Prof Newman of Curtin University can persuade them that his magic bus is “just like light rail but cheaper”!)
(c) Parramatta light rail newsletter June 2019 https://social-garden.s3-ap-southeast-2.amazonaws.com/clients/Sekisui+-+Sanctuary/Parramatta+Light+Rail+Newsletter+-+June+2019.pdf?fbclid=IwAR3pHbj5DHtlUXtTaY1NQkxkDr-F8wHOHarsmSwUBH3JZES7szZStTW3JKk
Parramatta, the second city of greater Sydney, was also mentioned by Prof Peter Newman as likely to go for a railless alternative. Not according to the locals – preliminary work for real light rail is already under way and the second stage is being planned.
We can be confident that the lessons from the delays and cost overruns of the nearby Sydney CBD project have been learnt. Unlike Wellington, where the Sydney problems have spooked the authorities into the sham tram fantasy and a silly proposed route avoiding the Golden Mile.
Note how this community information newsletter leads with a description of one of light rail’s big ‘real on steel’ selling points, lawn track and other soft landscaping: 'Making tracks: a green win for Parramatta'. That is what Kent/Cambridge Terraces, the Basin Reserve and Adelaide Rd could be like if a sensible route and mode were adopted.
(d) Stage two of Canberra's light rail could be coming sooner than you thought https://www.abc.net.au/news/2019-07-05/stage-two-of-canberra-light-rail-coming-in-two-parts/11279680
Commuters could be riding light rail to the edge of Lake Burley Griffin as soon as 2023, but the ACT Government has warned getting trams over Canberra's watery centrepiece may take much longer than that. …
It is the usual story – once the stage 1 starter line of a light rail system opens the pressure for extensions builds. For a host of reasons, building what you easily can while issues in the way of a longer line are being sorted out is often the best strategy.
One of many lessons from the Sydney over-built, over-budget and over-time schemozzle (which will probably fade from memory, as it has in Edinburgh, once the line opens and proves its worth in operation) is not to attempt too much at once and build the system in manageable stages.
We are lucky in Wellington, if the transport planners and politicians come to their senses: our starter line, to Johnsonville, already exists, complete with the necessary, and otherwise very expensive, stabling and maintenance depot!
(e) First tram for Tianshui unveiled
Even in China, the CRRC sham tram has yet to smother the competition and sweep away the genuine rail-based article:
The first of 17 five-section vehicles for the new tramway in Tianshui, the second-largest city in China’s Gansu Province, population 3.5 million, was rolled out by CRSC Changsha on 6 May. The 100% low-floor five-section tram uses onboard energy storage to operate independently of the overhead, charging via pantograph at stops.
The 20.2km (12.6-mile) line 1 in Tianshui will connect the railway station with the western suburb of Jihe Beilu and is expected to open in 2020. The new Pioneer trams were built at the CRSC Changsha Industrial Park in Hunan Province, a CNY5bn (EUR641.6m) facility that opened in March 2018 and has the capacity to build 100-150 trams per year, according to the company. CRSC has also developed monorail vehicles and is involved in tramway projects in Dujiangyan and Yuncheng.
Tramways and Urban Transit, July 2019, p 246. (Sorry, no link. Take my word for it, or buy T&UT – see 6 below).
Start with fewer roads
So the Hutt City Council has joined in declaring a climate crisis. “We have to do better”, says mayor Ray Wallace.
That in the same week when Mr Wallace said that he is willing to commit millions of ratepayers money to fix the Melling interchange, essentially to get more cars into the city more easily. And only a couple of weeks ago he advocated for adding another lane to SH2.
Perhaps he has a case of logic crisis? Does he not understand the simple fact that all those carsjust keep adding to the climate problem and that worldwide cities have a sustainability crisis with too many cars on its roads?
Mr Wallace and his councillors need to instead urgently follow Wellington’s lead in reducing car parking and spend money on good infrastructure for public and active transport.
He may even find that the Government will be willing to help fund smarter transport options like creating a light rail option that connects Melling with the CBD, and Wainuiomata with the main railway spine.
Ron Beernink, Petone
A new bridge
Jan Wijninckx (Letters, July 5) tries to justify a new Melling bridge based on the high fuel consumption of his car in congested streets.
His car would use no fuel at all if public transport was improved to the extent that he could be persuaded to use it.
Flood protection could be improved without building a whole new interchange, so let’s not use that as justification.
The greatest incentive to build this bridge would be if it included a rail track to take the Melling line across the river and through the Hutt CBD, linking up with the Wairarapa line at Epuni or Waterloo, and operated by tram-trains. These would operate as trams in the streets of Lower Hutt under battery power and as trains on the existing rail infrastructure, charging their batteries from the 1500 Vdc overhead catenary.
Judging by overseas experience, such a direct through service is likely to increase ridership on the Melling line by at least 200% which would take a corresponding number of cars off the road.
In these days of impending climate change, why wouldn’t you do it?
Demetrius Christoforou, Mt Victoria
The real de-railment
“A city derailed” screams your shock-horror front page (4 July) about Wednesday’s “once-in-a-lifetime” railway breakdown. Yet the Dominion Post resolutely fails to acknowledge the extra congestion and slow commuting that results every single day from the lack of rail penetration of the CBD. This is the real long-term “de-railment” which has such negative consequences for Wellington.
Stopping the rail mass transit system which serves three quarters of the regional population at the northern edge of the centre where three quarters of the regional economic activity happens is an absurdity almost unique in the public transport world. Previous studies and proposals aimed to fix this crippling anomaly and your Evening Post predecessor said of one such in 1993 that it “… needs now to be propelled to the front of the transport agenda.”
Contrast that with the drawn-out and inept Let's Get Wellington Moving study which fantasises about sham trams anywhere but the Golden Mile and proposes nothing to attract the motorists clogging SH1 and 2 – certain to increase in number when the Transmission Gully Motorway opens next year – onto "mass transit".
NZ Agent, Light Rail Transit Assn
4/7/19 – never published
Well, if that doesn’t get in, maybe a change of terminology would help ...
The great Wellington un-railment
George Williamson (6 July) is surely going a bit over the top demanding that the “Chairmen must own rail chaos”. The “derailment chaos” last week only stopped trains, inconvenienced passengers and increased traffic congestion for a mere single day.
What about the great un-railment – the lack of rail through service to connect north of the Railway Station (home to three quarters of the region’s population) with south of the Railway Station (home to three quarters of the region’s economy)? Our CBD-shy rail mass transit system is pretty much unique to Wellington, halves public transport use (evidence: the experience of other rail systems which have overcome similar defects using light rail) and is a major brake on sustainable urban development..
The lack of rail penetration of the densest corridor has existed and been recognised as a defect requiring correction since the first railway was opened here in the 1870s. Yet today local politicians, Lets Get Wellington Moving and even our daily newspaper prefer to exist in a bubble of denial, ignoring this crippling chronic break in our rail system which has existed for not just a day but 140 years.
NZ Agent, Light Rail Transit Assn
8/7/19 – never published
Nope – that didn’t help either! It seems as though the bubble of denialism and delayism about a complete rail transit system covers not only the local councils and Lets Get Wellington Moving (advised by anti-tram-train group FIT) but also the city’s remaining journal of record, the daily newspaper. Despite the plethora of other media now available, including comprehensive online media like Scoop, it is still the lead stories in the Dominion Post which ’sets the agenda’ and gets a response from our local politicians.
6 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.” (http://www.lrta.org/ http://www..lrta.org/).
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.
NZ Agent, Light Rail Transit Assn