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Wellington light rail: ‘Get on with it’

GO Wellington trolleybuses (DesignLine 357 and 341 three-axle vehicles) on Lambton Quay on 24 November, their final week of operation. Image: Neil Pulling

Light rail plans for the New Zealand capital could be fast-tracked following new Transport Minister Phil Twyford’s comments that proposals to fix the city’s growing congestion ‘lack ambition’.

The Let’s Get Wellington Moving (LGWM) coalition of Wellington City Council, the Greater Wellington Regional Council and the NZ Transport Agency released four proposals in mid-November which all include significant tunnelling and road work to cater for expansion of the capital’s bus services.

LGWM consultation said demand to justify light rail was ten years away and the short-term priority was better bus routes. Three recent proposals include enhanced bus mass transit, but LGWM suggests that up to NZD500m (EUR290m) more would be needed for light rail.

Wellington Mayor Justin Lester and Greater Wellington Regional Council Chair Chris Laidlaw say they support bringing forward the timeline for light rail, but added that the four proposals require necessary freeing up of road space for public transport. Laidlaw said the message he took away from his meeting with Twyford and Lester was to “get on with it”.

The process of dismantling Wellington’s trolleybus system began on 1 November, despite protests from residents and businesses. The recent change of government had raised hopes of a reversal of the council’s 2014 decision to remove the system, but Mr Twyford said millions of dollars had already been committed to remove the wires and recommission bus services.

The city’s 40 trolleybuses are to be refitted with hybrid power units, but the first vehicles won’t enter service until July 2018; in the meantime, replacement diesel buses have been brought in from Auckland.

Daran Ponter, Deputy Chairman of GWRC’s sustainable transport committee, said: “I’m not proud of this, but I am accepting of it as long as we can make some real moves to an electric future and see Wellington become New Zealand’s first electric public transport city.”