Trams make waterfront comeback in time for Cup

By Mathew Dearnaley

Trams are being prepared for a comeback on Auckland's waterfront, in time for next year's Rugby World Cup.

More than 50 years since trams disappeared from city streets, the Auckland Regional Council has approved the first stage of a proposal which could ultimately be part of the region's wider public transport network.

The initial stage will focus on the Tank Farm redevelopment by ARC group subsidiary Sea+City, which will receive $6.3 million to $7.4 million from Auckland Regional Holdings to develop a 1.5km tram circuit by July next year.

Future developments, such as an extension to Britomart across a future Viaduct Harbour bridge, will be left to the new Super City council.

Sea+City expects to initially use two heritage trams from the Museum of Transport and Technology (Motat), although the regional council is also discussing with Victorian state government officials a possible long-term loan of some Melbourne trams as the service grows.

It wants Sea+City to work with Motat on the technical aspects of tramway construction and management, in view of the museum's expertise in running its own 1.9km tram circuit at Western Springs which attracts about 200,000 passengers a year.

The waterfront trams - travelling clockwise between Jellicoe, Halsey, Gaunt and Beaumont Sts - are likely to be converted to battery-powered drives to avoid a need for overhead powerlines which could hamper trucks carrying boats with masts.

A regional council report also pointed to potential opposition to overhead lines from the bulk liquid fuels industry, which will remain at Wynyard Wharf for a few more years and which could be concerned at the possibility of electrical arcing in the event of traffic accidents.

Sea+City chief executive John Dalzell said the trams would be charged overnight at sidings at the western end of Jellicoe St, although they would gain some recharging during daily operations through harnessing some of their own momentum.

Mr Dalzell said Jellicoe St was already being dug up to make it a pedestrian-oriented boulevard, so tram tracks would be laid as part of that project.

He acknowledged the timetable would be tight for introducing the trams by next winter, but said Sea+City was geared up for action as it had already begun $275 million of re-development for Wynyard Quarter.

Regional council chairman Mike Lee said the sidings would be in buildings next to the proposed Silo Park, which was being designed to attract people to the far end of Jellicoe St.

He called the removal of trams from the streets in 1956 a "terrible mistake" which he hoped could be rectified and said he was pleased by Sea+City's enthusiasm for the project.

The focus would be on carrying visitors around Wynyard Quarter in heritage trams but he expected that as the area became more developed with businesses and apartments, demand would grow for modern light rail vehicles to cater for commuters.

- NZ Herald

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