Response to Transport Blog: Why trams are an irresponsible suggestion for the North Shore

Yesterday, TransportBlog posted a rather surprising article titled Light Rail to the Sea. The post describes a light rail (modern trams) spur to Takapuna. It caught me off guard  is  because while Transport Blog’s articles are normally either good ideas, or well thought out critiques of bad ideas, this was a bad idea and rather incoherent with Transport Blog’s other posts regarding transport to the North Shore.

So, I thought, I’ll write a critique here and my own suggestion for Takapuna. I recommend you read the Transport Blog article as it begins with a good review of why Takapuna is a worthy target of a high end rapid transit system.

[…] good chance some form of light rail will be seen as the preferred option to eventually be used on the busway […]

The article’s suggestion hinges entirely on the idea of a light rail, presumably running from somewhere in the city to somewhere further north. The only problem is that this line does not exist at all. 

In fact it was introduced so quietly in this post that after my first read of the article I thought the author was suggesting a light rail line running just between Akoranga busway station and Takapuna central (not something I was alone in thinking, if you read the comments).

An image showing TB’s proposed spur. TransportBlog

Apart from lacking a lot of detail, this idea also seems to lack coherency with Transport Blog’s rather good proposal for the northshore. Of the four major campaigns located in their navigation bar, the North Shore light metro line is by far the most ambitious, expensive and game changing.

It’s also completely incompatible with the article’s suggestions. The campaign calls for an automated light metro line running between Albany and Dowtown. Complete with a spur to Takapuna. It’s a really cool idea, and definitely a better investment than anything the NZTA has planned for the corridor. However, driverless light metro would require a fully grade separated corridor, while the “Light Rail to the Sea” proposal suggests a on-street tram, which would require manual operation.

For comparison, I drew up a proposal that could work with the driverless light metro as originally proposed by TransportBlog. A station would be located in an appropriate empty space in Takapuna. A ~600m cut and cover would run under the transport reserve (currently sports fields) before becoming a ~900m bored tunnel  into the station.

I would propose that the tunnel hosts a single track to cut costs. Assuming trains run at up to 80km/h, and accelerate/break at 1m/s² it should take about 1.5 minutes to run between Akoranga and Takapuna. So, as long as the trains are ~5 minutes apart there shouldn’t be any need for double tracks. In theory the tunnel shouldn’t be so expensive, as (in addition to being single track) it runs under suburbs/light urban area (few underground obstacles).

pvsi8
Background map imagery courtesy of Google Maps

Advantages include:

  • Faster than the existing buses, faster than TB’s tram suggestion (as it runs quickly underground, while a tram would have to negotiate above ground traffic).
  • Lower running cost – we spend about $30 million on staffing Auckland’s train fleet. That’s $2 a trip in labour alone (probably around what we spend on all subsidies per bus trip!).
  • Freedom and connectivity! Automation means we can run high frequency services all day (excluding maintenance periods). My biggest critique of our current train network is while they arrive every 10-15 minutes on-peak (which, interestingly, is the off-peak frequency of the current Takapuna-City bus) they’re much more scarce off peak. A automated system would ensure easy trips at any time of the day.
  • Future proofed capacity. Vancouver uses automated trains that carry 580 people, 12 of those per hour equates to almost 7,000 people per hour per direction. Or three motorway lanes of traffic!

In short, this system makes Takapuna an extension of the CBD. The ability to move between the two conveniently, at any time of the day, would give Takapuna huge potential and be a significant aid to the housing market.

Regardless, this is definitely a long term option. Not only does it require the construction of a pricey bored tunnel but also the conversion of the Northern Busway into light metro (and thus the construction of a new twin bore tunnel across the Waitemata).

In the meantime, the situation can be drastically improved through the addition and improvement of bus lanes. Bus trips between Takapuna and Downtown are scheduled to take ~14 minutes off-peak and 28 on-peak (arriving for a 9am start).

Adding bus lanes and priority out of Takapuna would be an easy fix. More controversial (but definitely worthwhile) would be bus lanes running across the bridge (the busway carries 40%+ of the traffic across the 6 lane bridge, but lacks any dedicated lanes for this stretch).

It’s not so bad for those that can start or end their journey in the middle of town but for those like me need to get to/from Britomart,

The need for this link is slightly overstated in the article. While it’s true the buses may currently be inconvenient, that’s in part due to City Rail  Link works. There’s no reason light rail would solve this inconvenience any more than simply running the buses where you would run your light rail tracks.

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2 thoughts on “Response to Transport Blog: Why trams are an irresponsible suggestion for the North Shore

  1. You can’t cut and cover or bore through the section that you have as cut and cover because it was formerly a landfill. Why would you not have DLM from Aotea to Akoranga with a driver taking over to get to Takapuna?

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    1. Drats, that is annoying.

      I don’t know of any such dual operation systems, and given the timings involved the driver would probably have to ride from Akoranga to Aotea anyway. Rolling stock is also a problem, metros tend to run high floor rolling stock designed for smooth and efficient running at speed with purpose designed platforms. Street LRT vehicles have very different design considerations.

      Question about landfill. Obviously it makes things more difficult, but if you could build surface LRT over it (or roads for that matter) surely you could run a trenched light rail line through with pedestrian crossings? Might even be cheaper than a cut and cover (even accounting for the additional engineering difficulties associated with landfill).

      Of course landfill is hardly an ideal surface, but does it really eliminate any construction other than on street LRT?

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