Light rail can’t gain traction
May 7, 2019
Plans for light rail through Wellington’s eastern suburbs are struggling to gain the support of residents and climate change groups as deadlines approach.
Councillor Chris Calvi-Freeman said the pressure was on for Greater Wellington Regional Council and Wellington City Council to secure a plan for rapid public transport to Wellington Airport before the next general election in November 2020. The current Labour-led government had promised to focus on easing congestion in Wellington and said it would consider light rail.
Lobby group Fair and Intelligent Transport Wellington (FIT) had put forward the most established proposal of a light rail route. It would take passengers from the railway station, along the waterfront, through Mount Cook, Newtown, Kilbirnie and Miramar to the airport, every 10 minutes.
While FIT’s website stated that its plan was “future proof,” the suggested route travelled down Cobham Drive and Rongotai Road along the Kilbirnie and Miramar coastline. These areas were particularly susceptible to a predicted sea level rise of 1.5m by 2100.
FIT founding member John Rankin said while overhead ramps could resolve the issue, they would need to be carefully positioned to avoid aircraft. The plan’s viability also relied on the presumption that a section of Cobham Drive would already have a sea wall installed to protect Miramar.
Councillor Iona Pannett said sea-level issues in eastern low-lying areas had not been considered seriously.
Climate change organisation Generation Zero noted the Greater Wellington Regional Council’s 2013 study on preferred transport routes through Wellington had not considered climate change. FIT’s route was similar to this.
Generation Zero also felt proposed public transport solutions such as FIT’s light rail were reactive rather than proactive. Accounting for future environmental impact was imperative.
Resident Stephen Moore “strongly opposed” a light rail system, feeling FIT’s proposals lacked the metrics to test the feasibility of their claims. His main concern was that passenger capacity and frequency of trips would be worse than the current bus system.
Moore conducted a personal study on his own commute from Kilbirnie. His data showed light rail would not reduce travel time, because most commuters would have to transfer between light rail and buses.
“I was very heavily challenged by light rail supporters such as [retired engineer] Kerry Wood and [ex-transport industry employee] Mike Mellor, but none of them could disprove my findings as they do not have detailed measurements, only advice.”
Council nominee and Miramar coffee truck owner Sam Somers thought light rail would be positive, but planning the route would be difficult.
“Not every solution suits every person. It’s difficult to get things done when there are so many opinions to consider.”