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Proposed rail link is centre stage


Featherston’s rail line runs through the middle of the town. PHOTO/EMILY IRELAND

Should Featherston’s train station move to the town centre? Two options for Featherston’s growth are out for informal consultation. EMILY IRELAND looks at how transport has influenced the plan.

In the early 1870s, the rail line that services Featherston was built, connecting Wellington to Wairarapa.

The infrastructure helped populate the region by improving access and is still used regularly today by one in six residents to travel to work.

Now, as South Wairarapa District Council works on a plan to accommodate future growth in the town, the train station and rail links are taking centre stage.

The council has identified two options in its Featherston Masterplan, which is out for feedback: increase development density around the main street and around the existing train station, or establish a new town centre train station and intensify development around that and the town’s main street.

The second option has certainly got residents talking and asking questions about feasibility and cost, both of which are unknown.

But, it would allow for an additional 796 urban dwellings to be built over 30 years in the town, compared with 574 in Option 1.

The council’s Featherston Masterplan discussion document states that KiwiRail has identified that moving the train station is “likely to be a costly option and may require land purchase”.

KiwiRail would also need a feasibility study to be done.

The council’s discussion document states there may be technical issues associated with locating the train station in the town centre, which could have knock-on effects impacting on vehicle, pedestrian, and cycle movement in the town centre area; for instance, the duration that barriers are closed across the State Highways.

The council also said moving the train station could result in losing a section of commercial land.

The advantage of moving the train station to the town centre is that it is more aligned to transit-oriented principles where urban centres and public transport operate together and complement one another.

Transit-oriented development is a planning and design strategy that promotes urban development that is compact, mixed-use, pedestrian- and bicycle-friendly, and closely integrated with mass transit by clustering jobs, housing, services, and amenities around public transport stations.

Small housing sections that don’t have garages, for example, work well if they are close to public transport.

The Wellington Regional Growth Framework also identifies transport choice and access as one of its top priorities.

The existing Featherston train station is generally within a walkable 1km catchment across much of Featherston already.

Despite this, the use of private vehicles remains the dominant mode of travel.

Travel trips by train in Featherston also decreased between 2013 and 2018 when the last census was done.

An economic report on the masterplan options by Mike Cullen said moving the train station “appears to be the most transformative” option, “but we are left questioning the feasibility of consolidating sites and developing at density”.

Another transport consideration mentioned in the council’s discussion document is the state highway network.

“The town centre is challenged by the heavy traffic that passes through it.

“Whichever growth option is chosen, there are a range of initiatives that will be needed to address these challenges.”

In 2016, the State Highway 2 Te Marua to Masterton programme business case assessed the option of a Featherston bypass which was not carried forward into the recommended programme.

Therefore, any possibility of bypass has not been included in the Featherton Masterplan.

Feedback on the master plan options closes on August 19, and then council planners will create the draft master plan. Hearings and formal consultation will follow.

The plan is expected to be finalised and implemented next year.

Visit the South Wairarapa Council website, library, or offices for more information on the survey and to provide feedback. – NZLDR

Public Interest Journalism funded through NZ On Air

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