It's the end of an era, but the wheels keep turning

Goodbye, faithful friend. It’s been over sixty years of amazing service, and they’ve well and truly earned their retirement, but the city will keep moving.

During October the trolley buses will be replaced, with the last trolley bus being removed from service at the end of the month.  Bus services will run as usual and current bus timetables will be unaffected.


trolley bus 2

All on board for quiet, energy-efficient bus journeys

It’s important to Metlink to provide reliable and enjoyable public transport for all  Wellingtonians and also lower our region’s emissions.

Where possible, replacement buses will be relatively new – between four and eight years old – and most meet the Euro 5 emission standard. The world’s most stringent standard is Euro 6.

Over time we hope to reach our goal of being the first region in New Zealand to have an all-electric fleet, including New Zealand’s first fully electric double-decker buses.

82km overhead cables are coming down

During this time a specialist company will be removing overhead wires, starting work in the city centre, then moving out to the suburbs. For safety’s sake all wires should be regarded as live.

It will take a year to successfully remove 82 kilometres of the old wire. This work will take place at night. Wellington City Council will give residents and businesses plenty of notice when work to remove the wires will take place in their area. For more information go to (external link)

Pioneer of sustainable transport

New technology aside, we are truly grateful to the trolley buses for carrying us into the 21st century and will remember them as a pioneer of sustainable urban transport.

So, here’s to the legendary trolley buses and their wonderful drivers. You’ve captured the hearts of Wellingtonians and taken us on thousands of joyful journeys.

Trolley bus 3

Why are the trolleys ending?

There are three main reasons. One is the high cost of upgrading the infrastructure that powers the trolleys – that is, the substations, underground power supply and overhead wires. The second is advances in electric and diesel bus technology. Today’s electric buses don’t need complicated, high-maintenance overhead wires: they have their own on-board battery chargers or top up their batteries at charging stations. This is where the future lies. A new fleet of buses for the whole region is arriving next year. It will include low-emission diesels, plus some electric buses, which will be steadily added to until the fleet is entirely electric. The third reason is that the overhead wires necessarily force the trolleys to run on a small and rigid set of routes. That makes it hard to change – or expand – where the trolleys can go. And next year, the city’s bus routes are to undergo significant changes – which would have been very difficult, if not impossible, while the trolleys were still in service. 

Who owns, runs and pays for the network?

Wellington City Council subsidiary Wellington Cable Car Ltd owns and maintains the overhead wire electrical distribution network.

Wellington Electricity Ltd owns the substations and supplies power to the network.

NZ Bus owns and operates the trolleys and pays Wellington Electricity Ltd for the power to run the trolleys.

Greater Wellington Regional Council pays NZ Bus to operate the trolleys, and pays Wellington Cable Car Ltd to operate and maintain the overhead wire network.

Why are the wires coming down?

They are coming down because they are no longer needed and have no other use; they would otherwise require maintenance; they can be a hazard to overheight vehicles; and they sometimes complicate construction in the city centre.

Can you give a brief history of the network?

It came into being in 1949 after the phasing out the tram network. At its height, 110 trolleys were in service, compared with about half that number today. Wadestown, Northland, Roseneath and Oriental Bay were once part of the network. In its current layout, the network covers the central city and terminates in the suburbs of Island Bay, Seatoun, Mirimar, Kingston, Aro Valley, Lyall Bay and Karori.

Who is paying for removal of the overhead network?

Greater Wellington Regional Council and the New Zealand Transport Agency are sharing the cost.

Who is doing the work?

Broadspectrum, formerly known as Transfield Services, won the contract to do the work. It is owned by Spanish company Ferrovial. Broadspectrum will employ about 24 staff and contractors at the height of the project.

Will all the supporting poles come down?

No, only about 300 of the 3,500 poles will be removed. The rest will stay because they support street lights, traffic signs, electrical power supplies and telecommunications systems belonging to Chorus, Vodafone, and Citylink.

How long will the work take?

About 12 months. It started in early October with the removal of a disused emergency section running along Featherston St, Hunter St, Victoria St, Jervois Quay, Wakefield St, lower Taranaki St and Whitmore Street. In November, crews will deal with wires in Victoria Street, in the CBD, and Cobham Drive (State Highway 1), near the airport. Work on the rest of the CBD will begin in January before extending outwards to suburban terminals.

What disruption can the public expect?

Most work will happen during the evening, although some will take place during off-peak daytime hours. As much as possible, roads will be reduced to one lane, rather than closed. Some closures or diversions may be unavoidable, depending on road layout and complexity of the work. Some intersections may have to close overnight. Examples include Manners St and Willis St; Taranaki Street and Courtenay Place; and Adelaide Road, John Street and Riddiford Street in Newtown. Residents may be asked to move their cars or park elsewhere so crews can get to wires and poles. 

There will be some machinery and vehicle noise (which Wellington City Council will monitor). Most residents should have to put up with it for only a single night, because Broadspectrum’s specialised cutting equipment will enable it to remove up to 200 metres of wire each night – meaning the work site will quickly move on. Steps will be taken to keep noise to a minimum, such as muting vehicle-reversing bleepers and using quiet radio communications. 

What if I need to carry out physical works near the overhead wires?

You must get permission beforehand from Wellington Cable Car Limited. Minimum approach distances (NZ Electricity Code of Practice 34:2001) still apply despite the fact the overhead wires are no longer live.