Melling is a suburb of Lower Hutt and it’s where an author of this blog spent their early years. The railway line through Melling was opened in 1875 as part of the Wairarapa Line main line corridor from Wellington to Woodville, but in 1954, the branch line through the Hutt Valley via Waterloo and Pomare became the main line route, and the western Hutt railway was cut back to Melling. There have been three railway stations called Melling, which over time have gravitated further and further south. Melling Settlement was opened in 1908 about 3.5 km from Hutt Valley Junction, and then moved in 1915 to about 3.2 km. There the station remained until 1954 when it was shifted to the present location, 2.97 km, because in a typically road-first move taken by transport planners, the Melling road bridge needed to be rebuilt on a new site that put it right through the middle of the station platform.
The new proposal is to build a new station about 2.4 km or 500 metres south of the current station and shorten the line by 450 metres in total. This is part of a NZTA project called Riverlink that prioritises the creation of a new transport interchange (for road traffic, of course) with a new bridge over the Hutt River slightly further south of the 1950s Melling Bridge. Because this bridge and its ramps essentially sit on top of the current railway station the plans propose to move the station yet further south again. However as the 1950s bridge would be removed and closed, it could have been equally possible to move the station north again, and the case for doing this is stronger than for going to the south as shown on the plans.
Although the public transport potential of the project is much harped upon in the documentation, this really is a project that prioritises roads far more strongly than the public transport system including the Melling railway line. Public transport is clearly an afterthought, with the prime infrastructure location being allocated to the main road and the railway accordingly pushed south. All documention does not refer to any potential for future development of rail suburban transport in Lower Hutt and simply talks about the improvements possible at Melling Station itself, such as a colocated bus hub, and greater access for the public. However, it is quite obvious that the station location being proposed is inferior to the current position, and is more driven by expediency and the lowest possible cost option, than being the best solution, either now or in the future.
Resource consents for the project were applied for earlier this year and a public submission process was begin on 24th August 2021. Submissions closed on 22 September. Of the 122 submissions for the whole project, just over half were opposed, 11% were neutral and the remainder in support. In relation to Kiwirail’s Notice of Requirement to relocate the railway station, the majority were in support. It is noted that Kiwirail has required the option be provided for extending the line to Belmont in the future and this is noted in the supporting submissions. Opposing submitted viewpoints particularly referred to our positions (further discussed below), that the project has prioritised road over rail, and that access from areas north or west of Melling to the railway station is reduced. Heritage New Zealand has opposed the demolition of the Melling Railway Station, which is a 1950s building and is considered to have high heritage values. The failure of the proposal to address future public transport needs (specifically rail) at Belmont has also come in for opposition. It has also been suggested (notably by Kainga Ora) that the Kiwirail NOR needs to address the NPS-UD (the current National Policy Statement for Urban Development, which relates particularly to housing intensification along transport corridors). At the time of writing, the resource consent process has been transferred to the Environment Court.
In greater detail some of the rail specific issues covered in submissions were:
- That provision should be made for a central railway station in Lower Hutt;
- That there is too great a focus on cars, contrary to the requirements of the Climate Change Act;
- That the relocated Melling station will be harder to access from the Western Hills;
- That the rail line should be extended to Manor Park [as it was prior to 1954 – ed.] or top Belmont;
- That there is no provision for safe access to Melling Station for cyclists from the north;
- A railway station should be provided for in future at Kelson (Belmont School);
No submissions were sent from any member organisation of FRONZ. Harriet Fraser was engaged by Hutt City Council to make an expert witness submission in respect of transportation assessments. Relevant parts of this submission include:
- Insufficient provision for cycle safety along parts of SH2 and the interchange, including the shared path;
- Lack of improved connectivity for cyclists between eastern part of the city and CBD
- Pedestrian and cycle bridge may be too narrow
- Possible insufficient parking for park and ride rail users is a missed opportunity to increase the use of rail especially by western hills residents.
- increased benefit for public transport by having more bus stops provided at Melling Station
- Relocating the station purports to increase the catchment of residents within walking distance
- Focus on cycle safety overall within the project appears to be justifying the existing level of safety rather than improving it as determined by the Vision to Zero strategy
- Purports that the relocation of the Melling Station is beneficial to the Lower Hutt CBD.
- Access from the western hills to the Melling Station is difficult with no provision for a direct overbridge connection over the highway.
Kiwirail Holdings Ltd has lodged a Notice of Requirement for alteration of the designations relating to the Melling Branch and Melling Station. Relevant information from this NOR includes:
- Provision is required for the future grade separated extension of the Melling Branch northward.
- Options for relocating the station either 250 or 500 metres south of the current station were considered. Both were assessed to have a negative impact on walking access to the station from the Boulcott area (one of our key concerns, see below). However for areas to the south there is a corresponding positive impact. It is purported that there will be additional benefits for relocating the station in conjunction with proposed development in the Hutt CBD and future increases in train services to Melling.
- Parts of 28 properties are required to be included in the area covered by designation, mostly in Pharazyn Street, and of which at the time of submission the majority had already been acquired by GWRC for the project, the remainder subject to negotiation.
- The project shall not produce any additional negative impacts to the operation of the rail network.
- The rail corridor for the new station will take over a part of the existing Pharazyn St road corridor.
- Proposed alignment of track and rail line as shown on the included map [from NZ Rail Maps].
The key question which remains unanswered as far as this project is concerned is whether GWRC as the administrator of the public transport systems of Greater Wellington has evaluated any PT parameters for the changes being proposed for Melling. The only evaluation we have as such that has been presented in submissions is the overall transport expert witness submission mentioned above and also to some extent Kiwirail’s NOR. Some of the parameters that would seem relevant are the local Hutt business community’s claims that relocating the station will be good for the CBD and the evaluations of the purported benefits of placing the station closer to residential areas south of Melling. Passenger surveys would be an example of a technique to gauge the relevance of these matters. At issue is the fact that the Hutt Valley railway doesn’t serve all of Lower Hutt as well as the combination of both routes, areas closer to the river being better served by the Branch. Moving the station further south from its present location increases the distance to it from residential populations in Boulcott and other eastern parts of Lower Hutt.
Another factor which is not really examined is that the new location for the station places it only 1 km from Lower Hutt Station (renamed Western Hutt by GWRC, since Waterloo was renamed Hutt Central). This is touted for its benefits in improving access for passengers in the vicinity of Western Hutt. However, having the stations so close together is not optimum for the efficient operation of the suburban passenger network. This is somewhat mitigated by the fact the Melling Branch services only stop at five stations over a 14 km route length, due to there being a long stretch along the side of Wellington Harbour between Ngauranga and Petone where few people actually live. The real issue to be considered is how many of the passengers who will use Melling Station in the new location were already using Western Hutt Station. In other words the potential capture of more people who are now closer to Melling from the south is going to be compromised by the realisation that some of those people were previously using Western Hutt and will now be lost to that station.
GWRC does not appear to be able to provide any information that suggests it can answer any of these questions to date and therefore cannot be seen as being effective in a role of advocating for development of public transport services in the Hutt Valley.