The latest version of the “Listener” magazine (the November 20-26 edition) has a lengthy and very interesting article on Len Brown, based on an extensive interview. In addition to the main interview article there’s a shorter piece that focuses particularly on Len Brown’s rail plans – and how they are an interesting ‘flash-point’ of debate between Auckland and Wellington. Here are a few interesting sections of the smaller article:
“However, no one is pretending their won’t be testing times [between central government and the new council]. The development of what is now becoming known as “Len’s Loop” – a 3.8 km rail tunnel under downtown Auckland to create a circle line connecting Mt Eden, Newmarket and the central city – is a subject on which the Government has remained stonily agnostic.”
I get a bit annoyed with the misunderstanding of how the CBD rail tunnel would operate. There’s absolutely no chance we will run trains around and around in circles as some sort of Auckland version of London’s Circle Line. It’s most likely that we will run trains in from the west, through the tunnel and then out to the south. Similarly, it seems likely we’ll have eastern line trains run through the tunnel then via Grafton and Newmarket before heading to Onehunga and, eventually, the Airport. Something like this:This set up will enable the system to handle a train every 5 minutes in both directions on both the blue and green lines, which effectively means in the morning peak you could have 48 trains per hour entering the CBD: 12 from the West, 12 from the Airport, 12 from the Southern Line and 12 from the Eastern Line. Until we build the CBD tunnel it is impossible to run more than a train every 10 minutes on the three lines we have and impossible to run more than two trains per hour from Onehunga.
The article goes on to talk about Steven Joyce’s transport priorities and how they seem to differ to Auckland’s:
This week Brown was told by Transport Minister Steven Joyce that the Government will not, in the foreseeable future, fund Auckland rail beyond existing pledges. Joyce also said KiwiRail’s track access charge of $5 million a year is likely to triple and that Auckland’s suburban rail’s annual deficit of $32 million will need to be covered by increased patronage.
Though still functional and cordial, Auckland-Wellington relations have gone into a tunnel, with the Government effectively imperilling the most beneficial rail expansion project, the central city loop, over the KiwiRail subsidy.
The weird thing about this bizarre $32 million deficit is that nobody’s quite sure where it’s come from. As I mentioned a few days back, the most likely source seems to be that the government is flicking on the cost of Auckland’s electric trains back to the Auckland region – even though it took away the Regional Petrol Tax that was meant to fund those trains. What’s also somewhat infuriating is that NZTA should be covering 60% of this deficit anyway (as that’s their typical contribution to rail operating costs) but because the government is requiring NZTA to spend all its money on motorways, they don’t have the funds to do their bit to close the gap.
What is promising though is how influential media commentators (this article was written by Jane Clifton) seem to understand the point of rail projects like the CBD tunnel:
Auckland has shown strong support for trains, with patronage up from 2.5 million in 2003 to nine million now. By 2016 it is expected to be at 17 million.
As the tunnel would make rail available to nearly 400,000 more Aucklanders its priority is a no-brainer for Brown. Auckland with a few hundred thousand fewer cars on the road would be a fine thing indeed.
Of course the rail tunnel itself doesn’t extend the reach of the rail system, but the increased frequencies and shorter journey times (especially from the west) will, according to ARTA’s research, bring around 400,000 more people within a 30 minute rail trip of Auckland’s CBD – which I think is what Ms Clifton was trying to say. Secondly, while of course not every person brought within an easy rail trip of the CBD will use the train, even getting 10,000 more vehicles off the roads at peak times (and remember rail trips are generally CBD focused, long and at peak times – a combination that causes most havoc on the roads) would make an enormous difference to congestion.
Overall, it’s exciting to finally see public transport projects being discussed in a variety of media. It’s also exciting to see increasingly widespread support for the CBD rail tunnel in particular.