Hundreds daily could use trail with tunnels

The former Caversham railway tunnel. PHOTO: GERARD O’BRIEN
The former Caversham railway tunnel. PHOTO: GERARD O’BRIEN
A cycling and walking trail that takes in two old railway tunnels could make quite a difference for people travelling into Dunedin from the South. It is also part of a bigger picture, Grant Miller reports.

Hundreds of people a day would use a planned cycleway and walkway between Dunedin and Mosgiel — and that could be just the start, trail advocates say.

It could open up transport and recreation opportunities for schoolchildren, commuters and tourists, while providing flat access into Dunedin from the South.

Longer term, the city is poised to link up with the renowned Central Otago and Clutha off-road trails.

One selling point for the planned Dunedin-Mosgiel trail would be re-use of two railway tunnels built in the 1870s.

Another would be a chance to fill a gap in cycleway connections, allowing better access to the city for Mosgiel’s population of about 14,700, as well as from Green Island, Abbotsford and Fairfield, Dunedin city councillor Rachel Elder said.

That could make a difference for families in choices ranging from weekend recreation to schooling, Dunedin Tunnels Trail trustee Kate Wilson said.

Dunedin City councillor Steve Walker said it would be an important part of the city’s cycling network and facilitate connection with the regional network.

"This type of infrastructure is now considered core or standard in the modern world and not in any way expensive once you factor in the accrued benefits of health, safety, increased travel choice and carbon footprint reductions," Cr Walker said.

It is not yet a certainty, however.

The council included just $21.9million in its 2021-31 long-term plan for a series of cycleway projects.

It turns out the full cost of the tunnels trail project alone, if links to central Dunedin and central Mosgiel are added in, is $29.8million.

Waka Kotahi NZ Transport Agency would provide a subsidy for just over half that total.

Councillors plan to put a series of other cycleway projects on ice, accelerate development of the tunnels trail and continue on with linking the Peninsula Connection shared path with the path alongside State Highway 88 to Port Chalmers.

A planned tunnels trail from Mosgiel to Dunedin could eventually link up with an extensive...
A planned tunnels trail from Mosgiel to Dunedin could eventually link up with an extensive regional network of off-road trails. An extension to the Clutha Gold trail, through to Waihola, is to be completed in 2023 and a route linking Queenstown and Cromwell is expected to be next.
All of that requires an $11.4million tweak to draft capital budgets and would leave the urban cycleways cupboard bare from 2026 to 2031, although lack of resources for the next decade would almost certainly be revisited in 2024.

If Dunedin residents have an alternative plan, such as that the tunnels trail should run from Dunedin only as far as Abbotsford initially, they will need to make the case in annual plan hearings in May.

Dunedin Tunnels Trail Trust chairman Gerard Hyland wants the full project to go ahead as soon as possible and he is buoyed by the success of the Lake Dunstan Trail, which opened in May last year.

By the end of January 2022, more than 62,000 pedestrians and cyclists had passed a trail counter there, far exceeding the projections of a 2018 feasibility study.

Tourism Central Otago general manager Dylan Rushbrook has said other trails in the region — the Otago Central Rail Trail, the Roxburgh Gorge Trail and the Clutha Gold Trail — had benefited from the attention Lake Dunstan has received.

Mr Hyland expected hundreds of people a day to use the tunnels trail to start with and he believed it would be viewed as a valid commuting option, "as well as just a bit of fun".

ELECTRIC bikes could make the transit as easy as driving and there was increasing emphasis on active transport.

"Dunedin needs it as much as anywhere else," Mr Hyland said.

The trail would follow the old railway alignment between Wingatui and Caversham, including the Chain Hills and Caversham tunnels that had not been used by trains since 1910.

Mr Hyland said that was the starting point for the line that went between Middlemarch and Clyde, built between 1891 and 1907 from prosperity arising from the gold rush. It closed in 1990 when the Clyde Dam was completed.

The tracks were ripped up soon afterwards and in 2000, the 150km Otago Central Rail Trail started, offering a new experience for cyclists, walkers and horse riders.

The Roxburgh and Clutha trails opened in 2013 and an extension to the Clutha trail to Waihola would be due for completion in 2023, Central Otago district councillor and trail trusts chairman Stephen Jeffery said.

Small towns and communities had been revitalised through the trails, he said.

A proposed trail linking Cromwell and Queenstown was awaiting consent.

Mrs Wilson said the cycling network would run from Queenstown to Waihola within five years.

A Heartland on-road route connects Waihola to Dunedin, but it is hoped an off-road route will be pursued in time.

THE grand plan would be completed by adding in Wanaka to Cromwell and with a route from Middlemarch to Dunedin, although planning for that is not understood to be well advanced.

Mr Hyland said access into Dunedin was a crucial piece of the puzzle.

"Without the tunnels, there is no easy way to get into Dunedin."

City residents often drove into the Taieri countryside before going for a recreational ride, he said.

If the project is approved, they may have a gentle warm-up and warm-down zone on the flat.

Mosgiel firefighter Blair Harcus said he had often biked an existing route into Dunedin when he was stationed in the city.

It did not sound straightforward when he recounted it to the Otago Daily Times.

Mr Harcus said it took him about 40 minutes and he estimated the new trail would save him 10 minutes.

Cr Elder put it this way: "With two very steep and intimidating hills and very little cycle infrastructure, the route from Mosgiel to Dunedin is both too hard and too unsafe for most people."

Cr Walker said many people had initially rejected the idea of a shared path to Port Chalmers.

"Stroll down to our still incomplete path on any weekend and you will be confronted with hundreds and hundreds of kids, teens, mums, dads, grandparents and visitors variously jogging, walking, scootering, roller-blading, pushing prams, walking dogs and ... cycling.

"You’ll experience the same on the Peninsula path."

The tunnels trail would also integrate with a package of transport projects designed to ease traffic congestion associated with construction of the city’s new hospital, including a planned park-and-ride facility at Burnside, Cr Walker said.

Council transport group manager Jeanine Benson told councillors 6km was considered the optimum cycling commute to work.

The tunnels trail is 15km, or a bit longer to get into the centre of Dunedin.

However, Ms Benson said the growing popularity of e-bikes, which made cycling easier, was another factor to consider.



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A lot of money to satisfy a few. Will they be switching on better weather in Dunedin when the trail opens too?
Put the money to reintroducing a tram system.

For the cost of the cycle trail you'd be luck to get a tram network that covered the length of George St, not to mention massive disruption during construction. Trust me, I've lived in a city that put in a tram network while I lived there, and that was in a city with much more room (and completely flat terrain) than Dunedin.
If you think this is too much money to spend on a transport link you might want to do some research on how much tram networks cost.
It's ok, no one's going to make you ride a bike if you don't want to.

DCC and NZTA have wasted more than enough on poorly used cycleways. If cyclists want more they should pay for them along with higher payments to ACC for all the injuries they create. How about a bike tax?

Totally right, blame those cyclists for running into those defenceless cars. The two times I've had to claim ACC (broken wrist and elbow) from bike accidents is when I have been knocked off my bike by motorists.

Hundreds of people a day could be using the Pt Chalmers to Dunedin track. Are they? And that track has "only" cost about $50 million so far.
Thousands were supposedly just waiting to use the Portsmouth Drive to the city tracks. Where have those users gone?

The idea that there are hundreds of people about to cycle from Mosgeil to Dunedin each day is a feeble, ill founded excuse to continue wasting scarce ratepayer funds on a greens dream backed up by a very noisy handful of hobby cyclists.

Stop the farce, stop the waste building rubbish the people of Dunedin simply don't want.

Well, drivers who don't know the meaning of 'recreation' don't want.

Trouble is, these people want recreation at someone else’s expense? There are much better things that DCC could do with our money!

Because DCC and greens councilors are pouring tens of millions into unused bike paths, there is no money left for any recreation.
What do you think local soccer or rugby clubs could do with $40 million?
I'll bet there are more kids in team sports other than road cycling in Dunedin. Even the BMX track kids are desperate for funds.
But they are all are missing out because this myopic council and self centered cyclists think life is all about them.

Jigsaw puzzles are my favorite recreation. They relieve stress, relax me and cost no one else a cent. They are also environmentally friendly. Perhaps DCC in its largesses spending other peoples money would consider funding me in the further development of puzzles in Dunedin? I think there are more puzzlers than cyclists and $1M would be a good start promoting this form of recreation. We could even increase rates if necessary, it would be worth it!

You’re clearly a cyclist…

I cycle from the peninsula to town and back about twice a week for shopping/leisure. It takes me about two hours for a return trip and on average I would pass about 10 bikes on each leg. So if 10 bikes per hour are using the track from say between 9.00 and 19.00 that would be roughly 100 car journeys saved resulting in approx a ton of CO2 saved every day or 365 tonnes per year. If you are not interested in the pollution side of things (and with the number of utes and trucks around these days many people obviously aren't) then think of the benefits of all the parking spaces that are freed up as a result. It's a win for everybody!

I have a company car so it costs me nothing to travel to Dunedin from Mosgiel and back each day. Yet I am still considering riding to work and back once a week. If I could avoid the hills it would be a no brainer. I'm approaching 50 and don't have an e-bike but I want to be able to incorporate maintaining my health with my transit requirements.

The cycle ways we already have are hardly used other than by a very small group of hobbyists. This sounds like a poorly thought out project for which DCC is famous. Who will save our long suffering ratepayers from these misguided Councillors and their green staff zealots?

In an earlier article about these "tunnel tracks", I made the point that it should be on a user pays basis ... hundreds of people MAY use it ... THOUSANDS are going to be paying for it !!

I also had a thought about some of the data provided in the earlier article regarding the numbers of cyclists using the tracks, mainly in Central Otago, and think someone should actually take a closer look at the figures given. The "data recorders" used can't yet distinguish the difference between a cyclist and the yearly muster of high country Merino sheep ... I have a feeling a few "Cyclists" had 4 legs and very warm woolly coats as they went through the "recorder" ...

No proof ... just sayin' ...

Millions of us pay for the roads. If you want user pays, then you'd be paying an extra few grand a year to the DCC for driving your car, ( $100million spent on local roads, assume half of the residents drive - it's almost certainly less, but just for arguments sake- , that's ~$2000/yr ) and more to the National government for highway use.

The data recorders I'm aware of have time stamps. A mob of sheep would be pretty clear. No proof.. just sayin'...

Those complaining about another cycleway just for a few need to re-read the article. This is much-needed infrastructure that a wide section of the community will be able to use, as well as connecting Dunedin with the rest of the region. Looking forward to it!

Interesting that so many commenters want cyclists to pay for their own path, as if they don't pay for roads. Typical attitude that makes cycling on roads so dangerous in the first place. Roads belong to cyclists, as much as they do cars. Want them off roads? Then this is your project too.

Dunedin has been locked up to the rest of the world by surrounding hills ever since its establishment. Making the city attractive to "outsiders" may bring in much needed money to local businesses. All those ostriches pull your head out of the sand and support new initiatives. There have already been a lot of volunteers working on the Chain Hill Tunnel already. Maybe some of you could give a hand and keep the cost down.

"The council included just $21.9million in its 2021-31 long-term plan for a series of cycleway projects." For comparison the roading and foot path budget for the same period is $1007million.
The DCC spent roughly $100 million on roads last year alone. Motorists are subsidized by the local rate payer and national taxes. For the last century, the money spent on transport has almost exclusively been funneled towards car users, as it has been in many cities globally; to the detriment of the city's livability. Its past time the imbalance was redressed. Just a shame the implementation is a little haphazard. But the tunnel project is a good one. I just hope the connections to exiting and future trails are well thought out.

I love how we want to spend 30mil on a cycle way and yet the council wants to raise refuse collection fees for a new system. Grow up! Start focusing on what we need not what we want! Recreational needs come second. Why dont we get rid of the bus system and just have cycleways for the few that WANT them.

The people complaining about this "waste of money" seem to have a narrow view of what is worth spending money on, i.e. it doesn't benefit them personally therefore there's no point.
It may surprise you to learn that a lot of your taxes/rates are spent on things that don't benefit you personally. That's how taxes work. And not all benefits can be measured in money, but that doesn't mean they're not worthwhile.
Yes it's not a small amount of money in the short term but once it's completed maintenance will be minimal, and it will be there for people to enjoy for decades to come.

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