Making tracks for the city - 23/11/93 Evening Post editorial

In 1993 one of the many studies about extending the rail system was adopted by the Wellington Regional Council. Newspaper reports indicated that something was about to happen and the Evening Post commented on the light rail plan in an editorial.

The plan was forgotten, as all the others have been, but the editorial hailing the plan is as relevant in 2012 as it was in 1993 ...

 

"Light rail plans for extending the Johnsonville Line into the central city create exciting possibilities for recharging retailing and ending commuter agonies. The Wellington Regional Council transport committee today received a report from planning expert Dave Watson, which recommended retention of the northern suburbs line and its extension through the central business district.

Mr Watson’s views make sense not only because the report confirms the importance of the Johnsonville line, but because it envisages use of modern electric units which are comfortable, clean efficient and swift. It is implicit in his report that the line is an asset which can be made viable and reliable if the correct solutions for upgrading the service are applied. Better still, his extension suggestion creates the possibility of a single seat trip from Johnsonville to Courtenay Place.

A visionary expansion of the untidy existing system could see light rail run on from the northern line at the station along Stout St, the Lambton Quay bus lanes to Willis St, and through Manners Mall, with a terminus in Courtenay Place. A long-term expansion to the airport would make real sense.

There would be a very real possibility that city retailers, bruised by retail centre expansions in Lower Hutt and the northern suburbs,  would see the return of the shoppers’ dollar.

There will be opponents of the extension option, namely bus companies and some motoring lobbies, but with the city council now penalizing long-term parkers with the coupon scheme, a light rail option is doubly attractive

The Watson proposal is not new, but it is a sign that light rail thinking is not hot air or has been consigned to the too-hard basket. The Travers Morgan report commissioned by the Regional Council and presented in August found the light rail option to be popular and that it would raise northern suburbs public transport use by 25 percent to 2000 trips a day. The $50 million price tag exceeded cheaper options, said Travers Morgan, a finding which the Transport 2000 lobby group claimed was overpriced.

Replacement of NZ Rail’s 40-year-old Johnsonville units is on the horizon and Mr Watson’s light rail report has found favour with the company. The ordering of modern equipment which can operate anywhere on the Wellington system and through the city should be a major consideration.

The light rail option will not mark the return of trams, though the irony of rail-borne passengers returning to city streets will escape neither them nor retailers, some of whom recall the days when trams delivered thousands of shoppers to their door.

The light rail proposal is a sensible option and needs now to be propelled to the front of the transport agenda."