Trams are expected to run on Auckland's waterfront by August in an $8 million project which saw the first modest section of tracks laid this week.
As well as securing a lease of two heritage trams from a museum in Bendigo, Victoria, the Auckland Waterfront Development Agency also hopes to borrow an electric light-railcar for demonstration purposes during the Rugby World Cup.
The trams will run clockwise on a 1.5km circuit of Wynyard Quarter - between Jellicoe, Halsey, Gaunt and Daldy Sts - to draw visitors to the developing precinct and to provide them with on-board information about its attractions.
But development agency chief executive John Dalzell said yesterday that the council-controlled organisation also wanted to use the circuit as a demonstration pilot for a possible light-rail extension across Viaduct Harbour to the Downtown ferry terminal, Queens Wharf, or even further along the waterfront.
"We want to gauge the public's appetite for this form of transport."
He said a $3.5 million pedestrian and cycling drawbridge reaching across the mouth of the harbour to Te Wero Island would have strong enough foundations to carry light-railcars.
Off-site prefabrication work had already begun and pile-driving was likely to start by the end of this month.
That would leave only the superstructure and drawbridge lifting mechanism to be upgraded as a possible alternative to a second bridge to be built for between $20 million and $50 million from 2016.
The former Auckland City Council held a design competition for an "iconic" structure before delaying the project in the face of ballooning costs.
But Mr Dalzell said his agency was developing three options with a range of costings for its board and the Auckland Council to choose from.
A 27m section of tram tracks, the first in central Auckland for more than 50 years, was laid over the New Year statutory holidays across the intersection of Halsey and Gaunt Sts.
Mr Dalzell said the agency was keen to get that done at a time of minimal disruption for traffic, but it is waiting for equipment to arrive in the next few days to realign a manhole before laying more tracks up Halsey St.
The tracks are close to the NZ Bus company's city depot, which Auckland Tramways Union president Gary Froggatt noted was on the site of one of the city's main tram depots.
When he started driving buses in 1965 for the former Auckland Transport Board, the tram barns were still on the site "and we parked the buses over the old tram pits."
"I think it is absolutely fantastic and believe the trams should never have been taken away in 1956," he said. "It was a backward move."
Mr Dalzell said the conversion of Jellicoe St into a pedestrian-oriented boulevard would be completed in time for the trams to start running along it in August, as would various restaurants, plazas, a park and a $32 million marine events centre.
An initial proposal to the former Auckland Regional Council, which decided to allocate up to $7.4 million of regional funding to the project, was for the circuit to include Beaumont St and for the trams to be battery-powered to avoid having to put up overhead power lines.
But Mr Dalzell said his team, which is being advised by tram experts from the Museum of Transport and Technology and from Christchurch, could not find a satisfactory technical solution using batteries so had reverted to 6m-high overhead wiring.