Rolleston Level Crossing Upgrade Proposed [1]

In the previous post on this blog the issue of safety at level crossings was raised using the particular example of the George Holmes Road level crossing at Rolleston and its replacement with the present crossing at Hoskyns Road. Shortly after writing the post, TSBNZ learned that NZTA Waka Kotahi is now proposing a flyover to cross the railway tracks to replace the Hoskyns Road crossing, which according to their blurb has had 40 near misses in the last decade. In order to understand this further, a OIA request has been made to NZTA for the information they have received on the causes of these near miss situations.

Whilst it is good that NZTA recognises that the road design at Hoskyns Road crossing and the volume of traffic it receives requires some sort of improvements to reduce the risks of the railway crossing (which is now recognised to have insufficient stacking distance for the longer road transport consists of the present day), and that issues in some of the other level crossings near Rolleston have been addressed with the Southern Motorway construction project of recent years, questions exist over the nearby railway crossings which are also likely to have issues and whether these are being satisfactorily addressed by this particular project. North of Rolleston, Jones Road / Railway Terrace / Waterloo Road have been significantly upgraded and widened to deal with a higher volume of traffic and as they run on the opposite side of the railway from SH1, they are a desirable route for heavy freight travelling between Rolleston and Islington. Crossings of concern in this area include:

  • Robinsons Road (27 km) – short stacking, complex double intersection including Manion Road, and high risk to right turning traffic off Jones Road.
  • Dawsons Road / Waterholes Road (26 km) – short stacking plus high risk to right turning traffic off Jones Road.
  • Kirk Road (24.5 km) – short stacking plus high risk to right turning traffic off SH1. In addition the complex intersection formed by Railway Terrace, Waterloo Road and Kirk Road is likely an existing road hazard.
  • There are other crossings further north within Christchurch City that are dangerous but will not be addressed because they are not strictly in scope for this article. However, they are still relevant overall but less to this particular project.

A positive improvement in the area has been the closure of the Barters Road level crossing (23.5 km) which appears to have taken place mid-2017. This let NZTA off the hook as this crossing would have suffered from short stacking issues and high risk to right turning traffic off Waterloo Road or straight ahead traffic off the main part of Barters Road north of Waterloo. A new level crossing was opened at Pound Road (23 km) around the same time, possibly as a replacement for Barters Road. In order to make this crossing as safe as possible Waterloo Road was diverted away from the railway line at this point, avoiding having a dangerous T intersection too close to the new crossing. Pound Road crossing thus meets a high standard of safe design for railway crossings. Closer to Rolleston, it appears short stacking distance and related issues at Weedons Ross Road are being addressed by constructing a new roundabout where it crosses Jones Road, moving the latter further away from the railway crossing, improving clearances and reducing right turn hazards.

All crossings presently between Rolleston and Burnham appear to be reasonably safe and as Kiwirail does not make the information about the safety of these crossings publicly available at this time, TSBNZ cannot comment on whether any should be improved.

The original proposal for the Rolleston flyover was to put this from the township to cross both the railway and SH1, eliminating the option for any traffic to cross from SH1 to the opposite side of the railway. During the consultation process this encountered significant opposition from businesses in the Izone business park on the north side of the railway line. As it stands, heavy traffic presents the main safety challenges at Hoskyns Road as the stacking distance issue is mostly relevant to long truck and trailer combinations. Such traffic would be able to use one of the existing safer crossings either north or south of Rolleston but then the numerous roundabouts on Jones Road would slow traffic somewhat. So that part of the project has been sent back to the drawing board. TSBNZ thinks that NZTA should have stuck with the original form of the flyover as the reasons for closing Hoskyns level crossing are very sound and there is only a very small penalty for vehicles to travel via one of the other crossings in the areas. In fact Jones Road / Waterloo Road are well suited for local freight transfer as there are no residential subdivisions in the area, with most of Rolleston housing to date having been put on the south side. This issue is one illustration of why it is so hard for Kiwirail to get level crossings closed in urban areas. However if traffic was to be diverted in this way, it could be necessary to look at the road design at the Jones Road crossing of the Midland Line at Rolleston as there is the potential for problems with traffic diverting via Walkers Road and Two Chain Road from SH1 increasing the traffic via the tricky Two Chain Road / Jones Road and Jones Road / Railway Road intersections either side of the Midland Line’s first level crossing.

In the same vein although different was the opposition to closing off some of the intersections off SH1 into Rolleston township, which are mostly uncontrolled and suffer serious accidents, some causing deaths. The intersection of Rolleston Drive North onto SH1 would have been closed as originally proposed. On the north side, the Jones Road / Hoskyns Road intersection would have been closed, and traffic would have had to divert via Izone Drive and Link Drive, which have both been upgraded with roundabouts at the intersections to handle high traffic volumes. It is clear that a great deal of work has gone into the roads in the areas already in the past five years to deal with Rolleston’s status as a developing freight hub (apart from the Izone park it also houses inland ports for both the Port of Lyttelton and the Port of Timaru) and balance this against the growth in residential development in the past decade also. Some kind of change was also flagged for the Rolleston Drive South intersection off SH1, and the Tennyson Street intersection of SH1 would also have been restricted. Again it is simply a fact that many motorists are selfish and don’t want to drive a short extra distance and these constant demands are what drive most councils to sideline safety factors when designing roads.

One factor about which not much is known is the proposal for a dual lane roundabout at the SH1 / Dunns Crossing Road / Walkers Road intersection. The current intersection just happens to be 30 metres from the railway line and the proposal is for a two lane roundabout there. Given the size of the roundabout TSBNZ speculates the possibility it would be another tricky roundabout with the railway going through the middle of it (one of these at Blenheim is the header image on the blog Facebook page). It just so happens there might be a second hand roundabout available from Blenheim fairly soon as the locals up north are very keen to get rid of what they regard as a very dodgy design. If this is what NZTA ends up having in mind here it will be fairly questionable just as they are elsewhere in NZ. The blog will have a post fairly soon about these roundabouts and why they are such a bad idea.

The interactive map showing the initial design of the SH1 Rolleston Flyover and safety improvements project can be seen online here and the comments made can be viewed readily. Of further interest is that the project includes what is described as “improved connectivity for trains travelling between the Midland and Main South lines”. It’s not clearly stated what this is (TSBNZ will try to request the information from Kiwirail via OIA and report back if this is successful) but as this refers to Timaru specifically and there is a POT Inland Port site at Rolleston accessed off the Midland Line, it is possible in the view of this blog that the intention is to focus specifically on a triangle at Rolleston to enable these trains to run directly without having to to/from the south. But it is also possible this just refers to adding extra sidings at Rolleston to allow trains to be made up in the yard there as there are currently only the two main lines and one single ended siding to deal with the volume of rail freight that is being moved around Rolleston – apart from the inland ports there is also a siding for Westland Milk’s depot there. Closing Hoskyns Road would allow sidings to be taken across the former crossing and increase the size of the Rolleston yard.

So there it is – and TSBNZ will take the opportunity to engage with this project as soon as more information is available depending on what the relevance of that is – what has been proposed to date didn’t appear to have many fishhooks, but the dangerous crossings north of Rolleston are out of scope for this project, and whilst it seems likely some sort of improvement would be needed at Jones Road where it crosses the Midland Line because of the proposed diversion of traffic to/from the south that would have made use of Hoskyns Road, this was not specifically addressed in the first iteration but has received comments.