You would think that when a survey of voters in the Auckland region highlights that transport is the most important issue in their minds, and then also highlight various rail projects as those considered most necessary by voters to “fixing” the transport problem, our main newspaper might actually do a bit of investigation into the projects being talked about? Well, up until now you’d be absolutely wrong.
As I noted in the blog post I wrote on the results of a survey undertaken by the NZ Herald into what local government voters thought were the most pressing issues, it was pretty amazing to see rail projects score so highly – as one of the options was simply “improve Auckland’s roading system”. Furthermore, I noted that the higher score of rail to the airport compared to the CBD rail tunnel was probably the result of not many people knowing that the CBD tunnel is probably necessary to enable airport rail to happen – because of Britomart’s capacity constraints. You would think that Auckland’s leading newspaper might be interested in exploring these big transport projects that people are saying they really want. After all there are plenty of interesting points of debate – the kind of thing that newspapers generally love:
- What are the costs of the various big rail projects (CBD rail tunnel, rail to the airport, North Shore rail and so on), how might they be paid for and what other projects might need to be delayed in order to build these ones (such as the holiday highway)?
- What progress has previously occurred on the big projects – where are they at and how realistic are the timeframes that are being bandied about for completing the projects?
- What do each of the projects actually entail – what stations would we have on an airport line, how fast would a trip from the airport to Britomart actually be?
- What are the likely benefits of each of the projects – the capacity improvements of the CBD tunnel, the speed improvements of a North Shore railway line, the wider economic benefits of an airport line?
- What other cities around the world have recently done similar projects – Brisbane airport rail, Vancouver’s Canada Line and so forth, and how are these projects working out?
It seems as though the Herald generally measures the success of its stories by the level of feedback and discussion it gets. If there are heaps of letters to the editor on an issue, then they’ll generally follow it up with other articles. One would think that an analysis of the pros and cons of the various big transport projects would generate significant debate – especially if a few opinion pieces and perhaps an editorial, even if it’s written by John Roughan and rubbishes rail as per usual, would stir up huge debate. Kind of odd that they haven’t done such a thing over the past few weeks.
Well, perhaps the Herald has finally come to the realisation that people are interested about improving our rail system and want to know a bit more about these big rail projects that everyone is talking about – as there’s quite a detailed article in today’s paper about the Airport Line: its likely cost, its possible benefits and where things are at.
There are a number of useful extracts, which seem uncannily similar to a blog post I did a couple of days ago.
Six organisations including the Transport Agency, KiwiRail, the Auckland Regional Transport Authority and Auckland International Airport Ltd are preparing to sign a memorandum of understanding to begin detailed planning investigations for airport rail services through both Onehunga and Puhinui.
Auckland Regional Council and Manukau City Council have also agreed to sign the document, even though they are about to be supplanted by the Super City.
This agreement has been in the works for quite a while, and I have blogged about it previously. A bit of last-minute fixing was required as the MoU was not specific enough about the airport connection being a railway line (even though previous studies suggest that a busway or light-rail would be stupid) but now that is fixed up, one hopes that we will see a similar study and phasing of the project as what is happening with the CBD rail tunnel (which reminds me, when is the Business Case for the CBD rail tunnel being released – I thought a preliminary study was due out in September??)
The article continues with some useful information on the details of the Airport Line – sourced from the same Beca report that I referred to a couple of days back:
In 2008, consultants recommended to the transport authority an airport loop costing about $1.5 billion and a $729 million heavy rail link between Onehunga and the western line at Avondale as offering greater connectivity than light rail or busways.
They estimated that a double-tracked railway from Penrose to Onehunga with bridges or tunnels replacing the sector’s eight road level-crossings would cost $271 million, and that running a line to the airport – across Manukau Harbour and then parallel to State Highway 20 and George Bolt Drive – would cost $707 million.
A 6.5km link west to the airport from Puhinui Station would cost about $471 million, providing greater initial cost-effectiveness but longer trips from Britomart.
Getting some further detail on the costs and benefits of this project is critical so we know where it should rank in terms of transport priorities for Auckland. Furthermore, getting the route protected as soon as possible is utterly essential – both to ensure there aren’t buildings erected in the way and also to ensure any future NZTA upgrades to SH20A are future-proofed to make it easier for rail (such as longer bridge spans if they ever get around to grade-separating Kirkbride Road).
The article also talks a lot about the difference between John Banks and Len Brown in terms of where they see the Airport Line in a list of transport priorities. I won’t dwell particularly much on that, as we’ve heard it all before. I’m just happy to finally see a NZ Herald article offering a bit of detail on these big rail projects everyone keeps talking about. Hopefully they’ll get around to doing an article on the necessity of the CBD rail tunnel some time soon.