Auckland City officials will consider a push by transport campaigners trams to be included in the proposed $2 billion-plus Tank Farm waterfront development.
The Museum of Transport and Technology (Motat) says 4km of high-quality tracks and low-profile powerlines could be laid between Britomart and the Wynyard Quarter for about $16 million.
Campaign for Better Transport spokesman Cameron Pitches told the city's transport committee yesterday that electric "street cars" could be obtained for between about $500,000 and $2 million each, depending on whether they were heritage trams supplied by Motat or sleeker and more modern conveyances.
He said the tracks would be capable of carrying a mix of heritage and modern trams, which would be quieter than buses, emissions-free and "pedestrian friendly".
"It would be a quiet environment, pollution-free and that's something we haven't been able to achieve on our Queen St."
Trams could move 40 per cent more passengers than buses.
Passengers would include tourists and workers commuting from the city centre to jobs at firms in Wynyard Quarter, which the city and regional councils have grand plans to redevelop over 20 to 25 years.
Despite that horizon, Mr Pitches said it would be far easier and cheaper to lay light rail tracks in the early days than to retrofit them after new roads and other infrastructure are installed.
Trams would "calm" other traffic, leaving the area safer for cyclists and pedestrians.
The city council's proposed Te Wero bridge across Viaduct Harbour would be capable of carrying power supply for the trams, and the scheme could eventually be extended along Tamaki Drive or up Queen St.
Consulting engineer Colin Zeff, who manages Motat's 2km of heritage tram lines at Western Springs, confirmed his organisation's willingness to support the proposal from its background of running an operation carrying 130,000 passengers a year.
He said Christchurch had set an important precedent with the trams it re-introduced 13 years ago, and cities such as Toronto, San Francisco and Melbourne offered excellent examples, using them as central components of their networks.
Toronto's trams also feature in a report to yesterday's meeting by committee deputy chairman John Lister on a council-approved stopover he made in that city in July to study its transport structure.
"The above-ground use of trams is regarded as their greatest asset, as I also observed in San Francisco," his report said.
Committee chairman Ken Baguley said he had already encouraged staff to look for an "innovative way" of providing transport for the Wynyard area, just as he was keen on eventually developing a superior solution for Queen St.
"At the end of the day there will be budget considerations - but I am not sure the budget for this would be much more than for electric buses and some sort of innovative solution down there has to be encouraged."
Mr Pitches said that although the Auckland Regional Transport Authority was considering only buses for Wynyard Quarter at this stage, the idea was gaining support from such groups as the Heart of the City business association and Chamber of Commerce. Auckland Regional Council was next on his presentation list.
Mr Baguley and the rest of the committee supported a resolution by Labour councillor Leila Boyle for officers to consider the proposal and for a report in March.
Transport authority planning chief Peter Clark noted an underground station was envisaged beneath the precinct for heavy rail across Waitemata Harbour, but acknowledged the potential for a tram connection at surface level.
Mr Zeff accepted trams had a poor image in some people's minds as "rattly old things from the early 1900s", but said Motat's fleet was well-maintained.