My understanding is that the review of the CBD rail tunnel project is to be released today by the Ministry of Transport. The key question is whether the Minister will allow KiwiRail to proceed with the designation protecting the tunnel’s route, with Auckland Council paying for that work at this point.
However, there will also be a lot of interest in the results of the business case review itself, and whether any agreement has been reached between the Council and central government on the project’s merit. My understanding here is that views are still very divergent, with the Ministry of Transport’s supposedly neutral review being highly politicised. Little agreement on the transportation and economic benefits of the project seems to have been reached between the parties.
A docment anonymously sent to me a few months ago indicated that much of the Ministry of Transport’s critique of the project’s transport benefits was based on the assumption that the city centre can handle 58,000 cars entering it at peak times. This is obviously nonsense, particularly as the City Centre Masterplan will reduce road capacity. I look forward to seeing if this document has been updated.
I have a pretty busy day so would appreciate it if the comments can add links and further detail once the information is released.
It’s particularly interesting to see how divergent the Council and Government’s views are on major things like the level of transportation benefits and wider economic benefits.
Here’s the Council’s media release:
Auckland Rail Link on track after business case review
The Mayor has announced the next steps in the construction of the Auckland Rail Link after an independent review of the business case for the project by Auckland Council and Auckland Transport concluded it would have transformative benefits to the region.
The review has been carried out in conjunction with a number of independent internationally recognised consultants and finds that the project would deliver overall benefits exceeding overall costs with the benefit cost ratio ranging from 1.1 to 2.3 (including wider economic benefits).
Auckland Council, Auckland Transport and our independent advisors are strongly of the view that the overall evaluation numbers are sufficiently robust to justify the immediate commencement of the designation process for the route.
The process needs to commence as soon as possible to minimise the potential for any cost increases or project delays.
In addition to progressing the designations, the Auckland Council needs to immediately commence the process to secure and protect the route of the Rail Link. This work is being funded in the 2011/2012 Annual Plan.
The Mayor says he will be proposing funding to commence the acquisition of properties necessary to make this project a reality in the draft Long Term Plan.
”The need for the tunnel is now urgent,” says Len Brown “Within two years most of the useable train paths in and out of Britomart will be in use, providing virtually no room to add future services at a time when public transport patronage is going through the roof.”
“The rail tunnel will unlock unused capacity across the whole rail network,” says Len Brown. “It will double the number of trains that can go through Britomart, let Aucklanders and freight more move around the region more easily, and reduce congestion on our roads.
The rail tunnel would include three stations at key locations to ensure most of the inner city is no further than 500 metres from any station and would mean more and faster services out to west and south Auckland..
“The potential urban redevelopment and additional growth derived from investment in this infrastructure would make the project transformational not just for Auckland, but for New Zealand as a whole.”
The review was prepared with the assistance of the following international experts:
• Parsons Brinkerhoff
• John Bolland Consulting
• M.E Market Economics
• UC Berkeley Transportation Centre
The business case review says this about Auckland Transport & Auckland Council’s views on the project’s transport benefits:
Auckland Council and Auckland Transport note that the Review has identified and corrected issues with the way that the transport benefits were estimated in the Business Case. They consider that, combined with a number of other initiatives not included in the Business Case, the benefits would be significantly greater than the Review concludes.
Towards the end of the Review, Auckland Council and Auckland Transport presented a new policy case which estimates transport benefits between $1.2 and $1.4 billion.
The Review‘s purpose was to assess the Business Case and there was insufficient time to consider the policy case as it was presented while the final report was being developed. Central government agencies note that it may make sense to apply some of the changes set out in the policy case, such as more park and rides, and reconfigured bus routes, to the future electrified network as well as the CCRL. This issue would need to be explored and clarified in any future business case.
That’s massively different to the government’s transport benefits (of around $300 odd million). There’s also huge disagreement over the wider economic benefits:
Auckland Council and Auckland Transport officers also consider that the Business Case and subsequent additional work has only partially captured the potential WEBs. This is because it has not assessed the growth in the regional economy through efficiency gains in Auckland‘s spatial economic structure as a result of the project. They estimate that this growth could result in up to $1,300 million in benefits for the project, although they note that only a component of this number is additive to other benefits.
Auckland Council and Auckland Transport have advised that combining the conventional transport benefits from their policy case, and estimating WEBs based on the policy case equates to total benefits of $1,863 million or up to $3,868 million if regional economic benefits are included. This equates to a total benefit to cost ratio of between 1.1 and 2.3.
Central government officials have considered these additional WEBs in light of best practice and conclude that due to a number of evidential and methodological issues they are not appropriate for inclusion in the economic assessment.
The main good news is that the project will proceed at least as far as designation. Hopefully by the time we’re ready to need central government funding, the disagreements over the details of its costs and benefits will have been sorted out. Surely there’s a right answer out there somewhere!