Trams-Action is an advocacy group for better public transport (formerly known as Transport 2000+) based in Wellington, New Zealand.                                                                                                                                                  last updated 03/07/2016


Artist's impression:  Modern tram-trains in Wellington.  Left: In Lambton Quay / Hunter Street, one on its way to the airport, the other on its way to Queensgate in Lower Hutt.   Right: The same tram-train in Ngauranga, using the suburban network tracks, shared with the units.  Courtesy of:  W.W. Trickett.

Wellington: A great place to live in but not so nice to get around in, particularly during peak hours.


Public transport in the city centre is reliant solely on buses and trolley buses.  At peak times, they struggle to get through the narrow Central Business District (CBD) in a timely manner, often banking up to 6 or more vehicles waiting at bus stops (we have spotted as many as 11 buses waiting to enter a bus stop!) and making their slow progress through the streets.

There is also a suburban heavy rail system which starts at the northern end of the CBD and extends further North to the Kapiti Coast, Lower and Upper Hutt, and Johnsonville.  It operates basically three types of Electric Multiple Units (EMUs), one type from English Electric dating back to the 1950s, [STOP PRESS:  These have now been retired, but with the flange squeal experienced on the Johnsonville line by the Matangis, this writer won't be surprised to see their redeployment from the various museums!] another from Ganz Mavag (Hungary) dating back to the 1980s and now we have the Matangi units from Rotem Mitsui (Korea), which have now been fully introduced into the system and more are being ordered.  The infrastructure has recently undergone an upgrade to cope with the new units.  Unfortunately, the new Matangi units will do nothing to solve the transport problems within Wellington city itself.

The problem is really twofold.  Firstly, the buses cannot satisfy the demand placed on them.  Capacity is limited (about 50 passengers per vehicle) while operating buses with trailers is not really an option for the narrow streets of Wellington, with frequent sharp curves.  Secondly, the vast majority of those people coming in to Wellington by train want to continue their journey on to the CBD and points further south such as the regional hospital, or even as far as the airport.  At present they are forced to get off the trains at the railway station and either continue on foot or head for the buses en masse like a flock of sheep (you only have to see them in the morning to know that this is not an exaggeration) and then continue their slow laborious journey through the streets of Wellington.  So slow in fact, that it is often faster to walk than catch the buses. We refer to this as the broken transport spine and the worst result of this broken spine is that it discourages people from using public transport and encourages them to drive instead.  The state highway is, after all, a continuous unbroken spine, so why not rail?


The solution is really simple.  It's not rocket science, but involves a type of light rail vehicle already in use in many cities in the developed world.  It's called tram-train, a type of modern tram which, as its name suggests, is both a tram and a train, in other words it is equally at home in city streets as on the heavy rail system.

A typical tram-train vehicle can carry over 200 people (you need at least 4 buses for that many people!) through city streets, pedestrian malls, even through buildings such as airport terminals, and seamlessly move on to the heavy rail system at 100 kph, sharing the lines with electric multiple units, long distance trains, and freight trains.  It can provide level entry from low platforms, allowing easy access for prams, wheelchairs, mobility vehicles and even wheeled suitcases - just like getting into a lift!

With tram-train, both problems can be easily overcome, namely the lack of capacity afforded by buses and the forced interchange at the railway station.

It was perfected in the German city of Karlsruhe in the 1990s.  Have a look at:

Good on them!  They solved all the problems you can and cannot think of 20 years ago, including voltage changes betweeen systems, and compatibility of signalling.

Photos: Tram-train in and around Karlsruhe:


Far left and middle left: Sharing the main lines with units and trains. Middle: In a pedestrian mall. Middle right: In the street. Far right: In segregated right-of-way.


Over a year ago, the GWRC, in partnership with the WCC and NZTA, commissioned AECOM to undertake a public transport spine study (PTSS).  The study report is out now and unfortunately it makes for sorry reading.  From this page you can access the summary report, the full options evaluation report and all relevant appendices and technical reports.  Not worth reading the whole thing as there's nothing realistic about it.  A real expert, Prof. Peter Newman, Professor of Sustainability at Curtin University, Perth, has stated: "There is little science behind this study and a lot of politics as it appears to clear the way for motorway spending. I don't think I have seen a study quite so crudely apparent in its anti-rail politics. It should be dismissed."

Trams-Action has made a scathing submission discrediting this study and it is indeed our hope that it be scrapped in its entirety.

LATEST.....  REQUIRED READING FOR ALL:  See Brent Efford's brilliant presentation "Rail Penetration of the Wellington CBD - The Search for Solutions."  Now see part 2 - "Engineering a Solution."


Your most powerful weapon is your vote. The Green Party are strong advocates for rail transport generally, and light rail in particular, whereas the National Party are strongly in favour of road-building.  Their outdated policies will only encourage more burning of fossil fuels and greenhouse gas emissions.  In the case of local body elections, we recommend  you engage with the candidates and find out if they are genuinely knowledgeable on transport issues and supporters of tram-train.


See the Green's full policy statement "Fast Tracking Wellington" on their website and the article in the Dominion Post.  They intend to revive light rail which was effectively scrapped by the highly flawed PTSS (mentioned above) and introduce new electric buses as well as retain the fleet of trolley buses.  Indeed a much-needed innovative public transport solution for Wellington.

Exactly what we need to take us into the 21st century (long overdue!) rather than take us back to the 1960s.  National has already received a resounding slap in the face over the cancelled Basin Reserve flyover.  But they never learn.  The NZTA has appealed the decision..... and lost again!  What a waste of $12M!  Now the GWRC, WCC and NZTA are consulting with the public through "Let's Get Wellington Moving."  Will anything useful come of this?  ..... watch this space.

For more information see our main website:  and the links below.  They make for interesting reading and viewing.  Note especially the ones regarding freeways and flyovers which have been demolished - a sobering thought for anyone still contemplating the possibility of a Basin Reserve flyover.

We always welcome your comments.  To contact us and request our regular newsletter by email:

See an animation of light rail in Lambton Quay.  


Tram-train in Karlsruhe, this is the definitive video (10 minutes):

Another interesting video of tram-train in action:

Tram-train in Saarbrucken:

Tram-train in England:  Second generation tram-train:

Light rail in the USA:

Wikipedia on tram-train:

Removing freeways, restoring cities:

Freeways without futures:

Transit oriented development: