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Bus, Light Rail, Heavy Rail…What Will It Be?

28 November 2000


Buses, light rail and conventional heavy rail are on Auckland City Council’s short list of technologies to be considered for the rapid transit network planned for the region.

Buses and light rail have been short-listed for a new rapid transit corridor proposed between downtown Auckland and Boston Road in Mt Eden, via Queen Street, Wellesley Street and the Grafton hospital site. Light rail and conventional heavy rail are on Council’s short-list for the existing rail corridors.

The short listed options include a number of variations, for example:

Buses could include conventional buses, or newly developed “hybrid” buses that look similar to light rail.

Conventional heavy rail could include commuter rail (carriages hauled by a locomotive, Diesel or Electric Multiple Units (self-powered vehicles as operate now in Auckland), or lightweight railcars.

Light rail refers to steel wheeled vehicles able to operate in a rail corridor and on tracks on the streets.

Not on the short list are systems such as monorail, metro rail (underground), automated guideway transit and personal rapid transit. These have been ruled out as unrealistic for Auckland because they are either unproven, would cost too much, would not carry sufficient people or would take a very long time to implement.

The technologies short-listed will go forward for detailed study as part of a regional process to select what will run on the rapid transit network. Other Auckland councils will also put forward their preferences over the next week or so.

The aim is for the region’s Councils to make a final decision by April next year.

Chairwoman of the Auckland City’s Transport and Roading Committee, Councillor Catherine Harland, says that next to gaining access to the rail corridors, decisions on what transport systems will operate on the rapid transit system are the most important the region will make.



“Mode – more than any other aspect of rapid transit – will influence people’s decisions about how they will travel and where they will live, work, shop and go for entertainment in the next 70 years. We must make a decision and on get with it.”

Council considered whether buses should be further investigated as an option for using the western rail line and rejected this.

“Buses are not legally permitted on the corridor by the existing designation or the lease that Tranz Rail holds with New Zealand Railways Corporation,” says Cr Harland. “Changing the designation would involve at least two to three years of a public process under the Resource Management Act. It would affect many people with homes or businesses along the route and there would be no guarantee that at the end of the process that buses would be permitted to run in the corridor.”

In the 1980s there were three separate occasions when the Auckland Regional Authority proposed replacing rail services with buses. One proposal was to replace rail on the North Island Main Trunk Line with buses operating on-street, another was to replace rail with buses west of Henderson and a third was the Comprehensive Transport Study published in August 1988 where the Western and Southern rail corridors were to be converted to a busway.

“On all occasions the hostile community reaction resulted in these initiatives being dropped so learning from our past, I would conclude that it is extremely likely that changing the rail designation would encounter considerable opposition.” says Cr Harland. “Rodney residents have already presented Councils with concerned petitions about preserving rail services to Helensville and beyond, so years would be wasted with no improvements on the ground.”

“Further buses are not compatible with conventional rail or freight trains and converting the rail corridors to allow both operations would be complex and have significant impacts on adjacent land uses. I am not aware of any city in the world that has replaced an operating passenger rail service with a busway along the same corridor and no cities exist where a busway and freight rail share the same space.”

Cr Harland says, “Strategically it makes no sense to move away from rail. It is the technology that ultimately has the highest people carrying capacity so once major public investment occurred in converting to a busway it would be extremely difficult to convert back to rail in the future.”


For more information contact

Cr Catherine Harland
Ph 636 8464

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