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Light metro for the North Shore: a superior alternative to a harbour motorway tunnel?

I’ve recently been involved in casual discussions with Shoreite friends over the merits of a new harbour crossing, hearing many words in favour of motorways and railways and the like. I thought I’d use this post to outline the issues and opportunities of a new crossing to the North Shore as I see them, and outline one possible alternative for rail that might be just what the doctor ordered. Admin has touched on something very similar in the past however it could be worthwhile to take another look.

Requiem for a motorway tunnel

At first glance the NZTA proposals for a new harbour crossing are quite encouraging… that is if we assume the people of Auckland would not settle for a hideous motorway bridge destroying their new waterfront precinct and demand a tunnel instead.

A harbour tunnel certainly has it’s appeal: it would take all that state highway traffic out of St Mary’s Bay and Victoria Park and send it underground on a long invisible bypass of the city centre. We could separate peaky city commuter traffic from traffic going nowhere near downtown. It would allow us to wind back the harbour bridge to something more like a local arterial, probably with walking and cycling lanes too. We could pull down the much despised Victoria Park viaduct and remove half the lanes from St Mary’s Bay, perhaps even renovating it to act something like a western version of Tamaki Drive.

Those would be some great outcomes, but on closer inspection there are several huge issues with the harbour tunnel plan:

The approach motorway to Sydney's harbour bridge and tunnel. Do we want this in Freemans Bay and Northcote?

  •  First and foremost, it would cost around five billion dollars. That is an absolutely huge cost, how can we fund that? What else would we forgo if we did fund it, or rather what better use could we find for several billion bucks? How many intersection improvements, bus lanes and cycleways would that fund? On five billion dollars the cost of capital alone comes in at $750,000 a day!
  •  Secondly, do we actually ‘need’ a second motorway crossing in that same corridor? Do we need six more lanes of motorway when traffic on the existing bridge has been trending in reverse for the last half decade? After all, it only goes from the area around Onewa Rd to the Central Motorway Junction. Beyond that, do we actually ‘want’ a brand new route with plenty of capacity feeding into Spaghetti junction, something that might simply encourage more people to drive more often and create even more traffic and car dependence.
  •  Thirdly, this five billion dollar proposal is for a motorway tunnel only, there is no public transport component. Certainly if a motorway tunnel was built this would allow a pair of lanes on the bridge to be marked for the busway, but if you think about it that wouldn’t be much improvement over the way the busway works already. Same route, same vehicles and capacity, same constraints through downtown, just a little less impact from congestion on the bridge.
  • Finally, would there actually be much improvement to the capacity of the transport system? A six lane tunnel would provide three lanes each way, so in the peak it could move an extra 6,000 vehicles per hour. At our occupancy levels equates to less than 8,000 people per hour. That’s less capacity than the busway, at about twelve times the price!

If we look at it again we really need to go back to the drawing board. Five billion dollars to tidy up the waterfront and duplicate a few kilometres of motorway to move only 8,000 people an hour, I don’t think so. The BCR on a motorway tunnel must be abysmally small given such a huge cost and minimal benefits.

If not a motorway, then what? Are trains an affordable option either?

What we need is something more affordable, something that will reduce traffic rather than generate more, something that has wider reaching benefits and will actually reduce travel times in the long run. Given that we already have an eight lane motorway across our harbour (plus second motorway bridge across the upper harbour), surely the next crossing should be a high quality rapid transit link. One that is cheap, compact and relatively simple to build, but can shuttle tens of thousands of people to where they need to be each day completely independent of traffic congestion.

What we really need is a crossing that can move several times as many people for half the cost. This should be possible with rapid transit: a two lane public transport tunnel would be far cheaper to build than a six lane motorway tunnel (not to mention all the associated interchanges and linkages), yet two lanes of rapid transit could carry at least twice as many people per hour than six lanes of motorway.

If we want a good cost-benefit return then it has to be public transport, the question is which form gives us the most benefit for an affordable cost.

We can probably discount a busway tunnel from the start. A bus tunnel would be relatively expensive due to the demands of ventilation and fire safety (although still miles cheaper than a motorway tunnel), yet the capacity, speed and level of service offered by a busway extension isn’t game changing. The same can be said for ‘light rail’ tramway. A electrified tram tunnel would be cheaper to build than a bus one and the capacity and service level would be better, but it’s probably still not going to give enough bang for buck. To be honest when dealing with public transport in Auckland we’re going to need a huge bang from a small buck to get one over the motorway lobby.

If we want a quantum leap in capacity, speed and service then it seems our harbour crossing needs to be based around a proper ‘heavy’ railway. However the issue once again returns to one of cost. The logical route for a North Shore rail line is to convert and extend the busway, however the grades and curves of the busway aren’t suitable for heavy rail design characteristics. So much of the busway would need to be completely rebuilt if it were to carry suburban trains, possibly with long sections in expensive tunnels. NZTA suggests the entire busway would need to be widened by three metres. The alternative of not using the busway corridor would probably mean building a new line entirely in tunnel. So constructing the train tunnel under the harbour would be relatively cheap (around $1.5 billion according to NZTA estimates), but once we add in the city side connections and North Shore extensions we can start ticking off the billions.

Admin has proposed one solution to this conundrum, suggesting that we could build the harbour rail tunnel and a heavy rail extension to Akoranga and Takapuna while leaving the busway as is. The idea is that bus passengers would continue to use the busway proper but transfer to a fast train at Akoranga for the remainder of the trip into the city, presumably until such time as we can afford to rebuild the busway as a rail line. This idea certainly has it’s merits but I doubt it could ever really work politically or garner much public support. In terms of a radio sound-bite, it is a plan to spend two billion dollars to add one new station at Takapuna. I can hear the words ‘boondoggle trainset’ already.

Driverless light-metro, ticking all the boxes at an affordable price?

What we really need is a rapid transit rail system that can run though a harbour tunnel, but also be cheaply retrofitted to the busway without any major reconstruction. It needs to provide top notch capacity and service with low operating costs, and ideally we should be able to build a whole North Shore network for less than the cost of a motorway crossing if we are really going to win over the public.

Readers of my previous post will know where I am going with this: Driverless light metro could be just the right combination for the North Shore. It’s cheap to build, cheap to run, yet fast, frequent and high quality. I’ve gone into the merits of this form of railway in a previous post, but I’ll quickly recap on what we’re talking about:

  1.  It’s driverless: Computerised operation removes the need for human drivers. This means the trains can run reliably at very fast headways without worrying about drivers missing signals. More importantly the lack of staff massively reduces marginal operating costs, and therefore allows high frequency service to be maintained all day and all night, seven days a week. I cannot stress enough this benefit, in Vancouver for example their Skytrain actually turns a small operational profit despite running every couple of minutes twenty hours a day.
  2.  It’s ‘light’: These systems are specifically designed for urban rapid transit only, so the tracks aren’t limited to what heavy rail can handle. The system used in Vancouver and Kuala Lumpur can handle curves as tight as 35m radius and hills as steep as 1 in 10, or in other words tracks about four times as tight or steep as our regular railways. The vehicles themselves are relatively compact and use third rail power supply rather than overhead line, so tunnels and underpasses can be quite a bit smaller. This all makes it ‘light’ on infrastructure and ‘light’ on cost, but not light on performance. This is a huge plus in the North Shore context, tracks could be laid straight onto the busway without modification and new branches and extensions could be built easily in and around the existing urban fabric.
  3.  It’s metro: Again these systems are custom designed just to move people, providing high frequencies, high speed and comfortable capacious trains without delays or interference from freight or anything else. With a train arriving every few minutes at every station on the line it would provide as good a service as the metros of London, Paris or New York.

In summary, a light metro system on the North Shore could be as cheap to construct as a tramway, cheaper to operate each day than buses, yet provide greater capacity and service than even a full blown suburban railway. For well less than the cost of a motorway tunnel under the harbour we could have a whole metro network for the North Shore. Indeed it could also be the perfect mode for other areas of Auckland that have no rapid transit and similar constraints to building it, in particular the northwestern corridor, the upper harbour and southeast through Howick, Botany and Flatbush.

What would a North Shore light-metro cost?

As a benchmark for costs I will use the recent Canada line light-metro that was recently built in Vancouver (which despite the name is actually two lines, a main one and a branch to the airport). The total cost of this project was $2.054 billion in 2009 Canadian dollars, which equates to about NZ$2.95 billion today. This line is actually totally independent of the rest of the Vancouver Skytrain system as it was built using Korean technology that is slightly different to the rest of the network. As such it is a good representation of a complete ‘turnkey’ network like Auckland would have to build.

This three billion dollar sum bought a total of 18.4km of double-track line (comprising 9,080m in tunnel, 7,349m on elevated viaduct, 1,386m at grade and a bridge 614m long), one major junction, 16 stations (8 underground, 6 elevated, two at grade), a operations and maintenance facility, and twenty two-car automatic trains to run on it.

So this represents a cost of NZ$160 million per kilometre for all the track, trains, stations, tunnels, bridges and viaducts needed to build and run the line. As you can see most of the Canada Line was built in tunnel or elevated, so it really represents the top end of what we would pay in Auckland given that we already have most of the corridor available at-grade. Using this rough guide we can get a ball park figure of what light metro might cost on the North Shore.

Lets start with the harbour tunnel itself, a 3.2km link from Wynyard wharf to the vicinity of Onewa Rd interchange. NZTA have estimated this would cost about $1.5 billion to construct to heavy rail standards. For the purposes of this exercise I’m going to drop this back to $1 billion to account for the fact that light-metro can handle steeper grades, tighter curves and would have a much smaller cross section so would require substantially smaller diameter tunnel tubes.

Proposed light metro lines on the North Shore (black). Stars indicate station locations and purple lines are major bus corridors.

Next up is the brand new parts of the line. For the city side connection we’ll assume a 1.4km cut and cover tunnel from the corner of Wellesley and Albert St to the start of our harbour tunnel at Wynyard wharf. This includes two stations, one at Aotea and one at Wynyard. As an aside, the site we dig out for the Wynyard station would be the perfect spot to launch the machine that bores the harbour tunnel. From the northern portal of the harbour tunnel we have a line from Onewa up to Akoranga, then from Akoranga let’s continue across Barry’s Point and the adjacent inlet to terminate our branch at an underground station under Huron St in Takapuna. So that’s an extra 3.4km of track (mostly just widening the existing motorway causeway, but with some viaduct and underground) and two new stations at Onewa and Takapuna. Altogether our brand new track requires 4.8km of track with four new stations, applying the Canadian costing gives us a rough figure of $768 million for this section. Once again I will point out this is the average cost of Vancouver’s mostly tunnelled and elevated line, so probably well above the maximum we could expect running it along the motorway in Auckland.

After this we need to look at the busway. From Akoranga to Constellation is bang on 6km long, with four existing stations that would need some level of modification. To account for the fact that most of our infrastructure already exists I’m going to (somewhat arbitrarily) halve the cost of this section. $80 million per km should be sufficient to install track, power delivery and control systems and modify the station platforms. So my guestimate is that it would cost $480 million to refit the busway proper as a light metro line.

Next would have to be an extension of the line to Albany. For this I’m going to assume a 4km route through Albany to the existing park-n-ride station, mostly elevated with short sections at grade and perhaps a tunnelled section in Albany itself. I’m also assuming two new stations: one at Rosedale Rd, the other central to the Mega Centre/University/Mall. Furthermore we will probably locate our stabling facility in the industrial area somewhere near the new Rosedale station. Once more applying our costing figure gives us a price of $640 million for this extension.

Where next? Well the obvious route would be a branch from the vicinity of Constellation station along the SH18 corridor. For the moment we’ll stop at Greenhithe Rd, but eventually this branch could reach right across the upper harbour to Henderson and the Western Line. So here we’re looking at 4.5km of line, mostly elevated, with three new stations at Unsworth/Albany Industrial estate, Albany Highway and Greenhithe respectively. Using our reference figure this comes in at $720 million. A touch pricey for those few stations but I guess the real value would come with the subsequent extension over to west Auckland.

Right, to wrap that all up we are looking at a system of a three metro lines on the North Shore running through a harbour tunnel from the CBD to Takapuna, Albany and Greenhithe respectively. This is a total of 22.5km of double track metro rail (comprised of a 3.2km harbour tunnel, 13.3km of new route and 6km of refitted busway), with five upgraded interchange stations and ten brand new ones. That’s quite a system really, it should work fantastically with a combination of decent bus feeders, the odd park-n-ride and a little intensification around stations.

But the bottom line, how much would this cost? Well to add up these simple estimates we arrive at a maximum figure of $3.6 billion to cover everything, track, stations, tunnels, trains the lot. I realise this is a very basic analysis, but using these figures that’s only 70% of what is proposed for just a motorway tunnel from the lower North Shore to Spaghetti junction. So instead of a motorway tunnel we might be able to build this whole metro system and still have $1.4 billion left in the budget to upgrade the harbour bridge or extend our metro elsewhere! Of course three-point-six-billion is still a huge amount of money, so we could obviously start with the basics first. If we exclude the Takapuna and Greenhithe branches we get a figure of roughly $2.7 billion for the metro line from central Auckland to Albany, and just over two billion if we stopped at Constellation.

So how would it operate, what would it be like to use?

The figures for Bombardier’s ART light-metro trains show that under normal conditions they operate at a top speed of 80km/h and accelerate and brake at a rate of 1.0ms-1 (the can actually brake much quicker in an emergency, and if they are running behind they can boost speed to 90km/h in catch up mode). If we plug these figures and the spacing of the stations along our proposed lines into a little model we can work out what sort of travel times we could expect.

The main line from Albany to Aotea in the central city would take just 21 minutes from end to end. That’s a full 12 minutes faster than the current timetable of the Northern Express bus to Britomart, which doesn’t even take into account the effects of major traffic congestion in the city. It would be about the same time as driving off-peak, and much faster than driving during rush hour.

What a North Shore light metro network map might look like.

The line from Greenhithe to Aotea would take only 23 minutes all up. Right now the best option is the 956 bus using Upper Harbour Drive and the busway, that takes 49 minutes. So we’ve saved an amazing 26 minutes on this route, and again this is much faster than driving if there is any sort of congestion.

The last line between Takapuna and Aotea would take only 11 minutes from end to end. This is a massive improvement over existing bus links like the 839 and 875 that actually take 30 to 35 minutes to make the short trip! Slashing travel times between Takapuna and the CBD like this would have one very good outcome: it would allow the two centres to effectively operate as a single business district. Getting from Queen St to Takapuna by light metro would take you no longer than walking up to the university or catching the bus up to K Rd.

Fast travel times are all well and good, but not if you have to wait for ages to get a train in the first place. So what are the frequencies we could expect? Well if we again assume an equivalent number of trains as used in the costings we got from Vancouver’s Canada line we arrive at a figure of 24 two-carriage sets included in the price of our network.

Based on the travel times for the three lines above we can work out that a single set can make 1.4 return trips an hour to Albany, 1.3 per hour to Greenhithe and 2.7 to Takapuna. So our 24 sets are enough to provide a train every six minutes on each line, plus have a couple of sets in reserve for operations and maintenance.

A train every six minutes on those three lines is itself is a fantastic level of service, however it gets better. Because the lines overlap there would actually be a train every three minutes between Constellation and the city, and a train every two minutes through Akoranga, Onewa and Wynyard stations! That sort of frequency makes transfers a complete breeze. With computer control maintaining regular spacing you would never wait more than three minutes to transfer between any of the three lines. And if we recall the driverless operation allows us to affordably run the system at these headways all the time, these are the same frequencies and quick transfers you’d get at any time on any day of the week. Transferring to get from Albany to Takapuna would be just as painless at 2am on a Sunday morning as it would be on a weekday at peak hour.

But what about capacity? Could a light-metro system really move more people than a huge motorway?

In a nutshell, hell yes. A motorway lane hits the wall at approximately 2,000 vehicles per hour, so our motorway tunnel would have the capacity to carry only 6,000 vehicles per hour in the peak direction. At the usual levels of vehicle occupancy that’s a maximum of just 8,000 people per hour each way through the motorway tunnel.

So what of the metro? As we worked out above our light-metro system could easily operate under the harbour at one train every two minutes each way. With a comfortable capacity of 342 passengers per two-carriage train that works out to be 10,260 people per hour each way (and quite a bit more if we are happy to crush load people in like sardines).

So just using little two-carriage train sets we can carry more people than the motorway crossing, but as patronage increases we could very simply couple more pairs of carriages together to make longer trains. With four-carriage sets the peak hourly capacity would go up to 20,520 people, and with six-carriage sets we could move 30,720 people per hour. That’s almost four times as many people as the proposed motorway tunnel.

In other words a cheap twin track light-metro tunnel could move as many people as a motorway tunnel twenty-three lanes wide!

But there’s an even bigger gulf to consider. With a motorway crossing all those 6,000 vehicles per hour have to use the same old motorways and streets either side of the tunnel. All that extra traffic will still need to funnel down either the northern motorway, Esmonde Rd and Onewa Rds at one end, and through the to the southern and north-western motorways at the other. On the other hand our light-metro system includes the cost of new tracks right up to Albany, Takapuna and Greenhithe, so we could move tens of thousands more people per hour right across the Shore and the harbour without a single extra car on the motorway. In reality we’d probably see less considerably less cars on the motorway if it were so easy to get around without driving, plus all the buses would be redeployed to feed the local stations so there would be far fewer of them in congestion on the motorway (and some arterial routes) too.

In conclusion: huge benefits at more affordable price

So there we have it, a broad indication that a truly world class metro rail system could indeed be possible right across the North Shore for the sorts of costs that have been proposed for a harbour crossing.

NZTA really should look at realistic alternatives to a hugely expensive motorway tunnel under the harbour, given that a motorway that would only further entrench Auckland into a spiral of traffic congestion and parking issues. If we do want to spend billions of dollars on transport under the harbour then why not spend it on a light-metro system that will have far greater benefits and a lower cost?

86 comments to Light metro for the North Shore: a superior alternative to a harbour motorway tunnel?

  • You have me sold on that. I would suggest Takapuna to Aotea as a stage 1, then busway conversion as stage 2. Then the rest as stage 3.

  • Harvey Specter

    I like it.

    A couple of questions:comments:

    - part of the need for a tunnel/new bridge is that the current one is ending the end of it service life (I think). This changes the numbers a bit, but probably not significantly.

    - why are you linking at Aotea and not britomart. Why not go to both. Every second train goes Aotea, the next goes to Britomart. This could be stage 4 but should be future proofed just in case it is needed.

    - in Future, Aotea line could extend via Grafton to Newmarket making for a more directly link. No benefit in going beyond there. Stage 6?

    - Downside is I like the idea of opening up Northcote Point and St Mary’s Bay but reality is they will never completely get rid of the Harbour Bridge so this will never happen anyway.

    • Peter

      Harvey, what what I’ve read on this blog in the past, the centrespan of the bridge is perfectly fine indefinitely – the problems arise in terms of the clip-ons.

      If we keep allowing trucks on the clip-ons then they have a lifespan of something like 20-30 more years.
      If we ban trucks from the clip-ons then they have a much longer lifespan.

      Furthermore, replacing/removing the clip-ons could provide a long-term solution as engineering has come a long way since the late 1960s when they were originally built. New clip-ons could be stronger and lighter than the current ones, meaning that it could be centuries before another replacement was required.

      In terms of linking to Aotea, rather than both it and Britomart – think of cost of the additional tunnel. Plus the advantage of Aotea is that this line can run underneath at right-angles to the CRL. At Britomart you can’t make a direct link to the rail network (different technologies), your tunnelling would be really complicated (under Quay Street) and the gains are really minimal (people can just transfer at Aotea onto the CRL if they’re going to Britomart).

      Future extensions to Newmarket could be possible, but this would be really expensive and once again for a fairly small benefit as the CRL would go to Newmarket fairly quickly in both directions. Just a quick transfer at Aotea is required.

    • The current bridge itself is fine but the clip-ons may need to be replaced eventually. With traffic management and maintenance the will last several decades yet, perhaps indefinitely. A light-metro system with this much capacity would give us plenty of breathing room to manage removing and replacing the clip-ons one at a time. This would mean taking the bridge back to six lanes for the best part of a year, however buy using the movable lane barrier we can run it with four peak lanes and two counterpeak lanes which is only one peak lane less than we have today.

      This technology runs on different track and power systems to our existing trains, so they couldn’t use any other line like the City Rail Link. To run to both Aotea and Britomart would require two new tunnels under the city, and expensive exercise for minimal gain. Having said that new tunnels built by cut-and-cover just below street level should be relatively cheap with the design characteristics of light-metro.

      My thoughts were to have the Aotea platforms run in the east-west direction under Wellesley St, from there an extension over to the university would be logical. After than a route under the Domain to Newmarket would be good if there were a new line to the south-east, but it’s probably not worth it without one. You could very easily transfer to Newmarket at Aotea station. My long term thinking was actually to link the north shore line with one running along the northwestern motorway, via new platforms at Aotea, University and K Rd.

      I agree that rehabilitating St Mary’s and Northcote Point would be fantastic, but not if it requires an otherwise useless but expensive motorway tunnel to do so.

  • Small detail – with a driverless train at a stop like Smales Farm the local buses couldn’t do their loop around the front of the station buildings if the rail tracks were there, not because of the tracks, but because of the trains. All the station layouts would have to be rejigged, and the costs for that added in.

    • A good point Matt but there is quite a lot of fat included in those rough costings to cover station changes. I’d assume that most of the half billion I’ve allowed for the busway upgrade would go on the stations.

      In the case of Smales Farm my thinking was that the main station (i.e. east of the fence separating the main busway platforms) would remain as a large island platform for bus services with a waiting room in between them. Buses could still loop around both sides as they do today. The main northbound platform (i.e. west of the fence) would be reconfigured or replaced with an island platform for north and southbound light-metro with tracks either side. So we’d have an island platform for the metro closest to the motorway, then an overbridge accessing the existing main part of the station which would be for buses. Because you’d quickly move on and off the metro any time of day you’d need only a relatively small and featureless platform on that side. Over on the existing side you’d keep the waiting room and facilities for people waiting for their bus connection.

      Akoranga would need exactly the same treatment and Sunnynook would probably stay as a pair of simple side platforms (or rebuilt as a single island). Constellation would be similar to Smales and Akoranga, except that the existing station would be the bus side and you’d need to build the metro platform and overbridge from scratch.

  • Pubilus

    You’re right on the ball. light rail is the only way to go, and as you say driverless offers major advantages.
    To my mind what makes light rail the only option is somehow you have to go in a week or less from bus way to rail way. To migrate the bus way to heavy rail would take many months of unacceptable downtime, whereas light rail is just a matter of adding some rails without changing the gradient.

    • Just a clarification naming, what I’m talking about is ‘light-metro’. light-rail is a term most commonly used to describe tram type vehicles running off street, where-as light metro is basically a regular metro railway.

      On that note can anyone think of a better term that light-metro to describe this mode? The ‘light’ bit is too easily confused with light rail, and the ‘metro’ bit will have people assuming it is an expensive underground system like in Paris or New York. Other terms used are ‘Intermediate Capacity System’ and ‘Advanced Rapid Transit’, both of those are a bit clunky and the latter is a trademark of Bombardier anyway.

      I don’t think managing the upgrade of the busway with rail would need to be the major issue that some people suggest. It can easily be done in short stages between each successive pair of stations, with only relatively minor bus diversions around the construction zone required. These could use the motorway or it’s shoulders, or nearby arterial roads.

      • Icebird

        “Automated Rapid Transit”? The key feature distinguishing the technology from other rail-based transit systems is that its driverless. You could then slot ART into the continuum of driverless transit systems from “personal rapid transit” (small vehicles, carrying 3-6 people), to “group rapid transit” (larger vehicles, carrying 10-20 such as the Morgantown system and airport people-movers) to ART (covering systems like the Docklands Light Rail, Vancouver Skytrain, and the systems in Bangkok, KL and New York). “Light metro” doesn’t seem quite precise enough to stand on its own without additional explanation.

      • Peter

        Or keep calling it something such as “Vancouver Skytrain-like”. Automated Rapid Transit could be another term, although I agree it should include the word “metro” to highlight that we’re talking about heavy rail-like capacity.

        Maybe Automated Rapid Metro?

  • Nice work Nick, let’s do it…..Councillor Wood waddayareckon?

  • Icebird

    Out of curiousity did you consider a bridge between the north shore and the city instead of a tunnel? I’d be interested whether the increased costs of a tunnel (if that’s the case) are outweighed by the potential trade-offs. The Vancouver Skytrain uses dedicated bridges for its two Fraser River crossings, while the Docklands Light Rail in London tunnels under the Thames at Greenwich.

    • It would certainly be possible to build a light-metro bridge over the harbour given the grade characteristics. The impacts would be less than with a road bridge, as it would need to be only about ten or twelve metres wide (including walking and cycling paths). Plus there wouldn’t need to be any huge interchanges either side of a motorway bridge, only simple link tunnels on the southern end.
      At the end of the day a tunnel is always going to have the least impact and the most desirable route geometry, but still definitely worth looking into.

    • Peter

      What about slinging it under the existing bridge? Cut & cover tunnel underneath Westhaven Drive through St Mary’s Bay? If the technology can handle the grade of the existing bridge, of course.

      • I believe it could just handle the grade of the existing bridge, the problem might be the weight as the bridge is close to being overloaded as it is. It would probably have to go under the main span as those clip-ons might be removed in the nearish future. Definitely worth looking into.

  • James B

    It would be interesting to see what this would do to property prices in North Shore. Suburbs close to the motorway like Forrest Hill and Sunnynook have traditionally had lower values than coastal suburbs. With better PT links to the city. These suburbs could suddenly find themselves being a lot more desirable.

  • Matt L

    I do think that a PT only crossing first is the way to go, see what that does to traffic

    A couple of things to think about
    You estimate it at about $160m per 1km of track and for stations etc. The New Lynn trench is about 1km long including a nice architectural station, four road crossings, is built to grades that allow freight trains to use it and is in difficult soil conditions (soft clay) resulting in it having to use expensive and new techniques all for a cost of about $140m.
    The entire project DART was about $600m all up which included New Lynn but also duplicating another 18km of track, parts which required extensive stabilisation or cutting works (like Grafton), numerous bridges had to be fully replaced. It also included around $150m of works in Newmarket for the new station and junction as well as reopening the Onehunga line and building Manukau which is about 2km of double track ending in a trenched station. All up cost wise the Vancouver example seems quite expensive.

    You suggest that tunneling would be cheaper because of the use of a 3rd rail rather than overhead but my understanding of the CRL is that the pantograph will be almost on the roof so the tunnel dimensions would probably be very similar. Tunnelling costs under the harbour would probably be about the same with both your option or conventional rail as there wouldn’t be much advantage from being able to have steeper tunnels due to the need to stay under sea floor.

    My reading of the NZTA rail suggestion was that they did everything they could to try and discredit it by making it fully under grounded etc. Requiring another 3m in addition to the busway ignores the example of Perth where they fit the Mandurah line corridor in the middle of a freeway in a space that was about 11m across from the inside edge of each side of the road, that is about the width of the busway already so my guess is it was just another attempt to stall the rail option.

    I do agree that there would need to be some work done on the alignment to enable the type of heavy rail we have on the rest of the network but I think the opportunity of having increased flexibility of routes could end up being more important i.e. having a route from Albany to the Airport without transfers. This is especially useful as there are a lot of people from the shore that work in the Newmarket to Ellerslie corridor. Further many of the benefits you describe like automated driverless trains aren’t specific to the light metro technology you describe, yes there are no driverless trains on mixed freight networks at the moment but I think that will develop over the time it takes to implement this and by then we would also have a dedicated freight line from the port all the way through to Papakura.

    • Yep it’s a pretty generous per-km figure based on Vancouver’s mostly tunneled and elevated line. I would hope the actual cost in Auckland would be much lower but at least this gives us a point to start asking for a proper evaluation of options like these.

      I agree the NZTA evaluation was a real hatchet job, the idea that a ten billion dollar tunnel is the best way to get heavy rail on the shore is ludicrous and the need for the busway to be widened to over 12m seems strange. The killer issue for heavy rail is still the grade, not just on the busway itself but also the proposed extensions.

      I disagree on running shore trains through to the airport or whatever though, regardless of the eventual mode. With the CBD tunnel and the airport line we would have a good system on the city side, four lines in two pair sharing a tunnel at the core. Adding more lines into this would be counter-productive, we’d have capacity problems in the CBD and at key nodes like Newmarket. Any future lines to the north, northwest or southeast really should have their own tracks rather than doubling or tripling up with the existing ones. If that is the case then why not a purpose-built passenger metro, rather than a suburban railway trying to operate to metro standards?

      • Paul in Sydney

        I agree with keeping any new lines separate from the existing ones, Sydney is going to great lengths to try and separate it’s lines. Benefit, When a failure happens it will not effect the entire network just the line in case

  • SteveC

    a gap in your concept is that your proposed layout retains the CBD centric focus of Auckland’s current outmoded PT

    if new infrastructure is built, it MUST support the developing land use planning and patterns, putting Takapuna out on a spur does nothing for trips between Takapuna and the rest of the Shore and after all Takapuna is a sub-regional centre in the draft Auckland Plan

    the current PT tunnel plans were, I believe, simply a lazy afterthought to the motorway tunnel plans “oh, a PT tunnel? let’s just put it where the road goes!” totally ignoring what PT has to do

    so, I propose two alternative route proposals:

    1 as shown, but with a two way loop from Smales down Shakespeare, via Milford, Hurstmere, Takapuna and linking back into the main line at Akoranga, keeps the “express” possibilities down the main trunk, but supports development of the sub regional centre, linking it to the Albany sub regional centre, downside $$$

    2 clean sheet it, realign the tunnel to go east of Harbourside Church and directly to Takapuna, then Milford to Smales as above, downside? misses Akoranga, but that can still be served by buses and there’s no real reason why buses can’t co-exist on an adapted busway with some form of LRT, driverless or not, I’ve seen it myself working well in Pittsburgh

    Takapuna is different from Manukau in that Manukau is a retrofit and as such a sub-optimal situation, why build in limitations from day one?

    • Peter

      The thing about a CBD focus is that that’s where most trips currently terminate. Plus, the major justification for such a project would be something like “the busway had hit capacity” or “we need more general capacity from the North Shore into the city, how can we best do that?”

      If these trains can reverse quickly, there may be no harm in having them turn around in Takapuna before heading further north (or south, if coming from the north). At peak times have some express trains that skip Takapuna.

      Cost-wise, we have to use the busway alignment, otherwise it becomes prohibitively expensive. End of story.

    • A couple of things there SteveC.
      It may be a trunk-and-branch type layout, but that doesn’t actually make it CBD centric. With the sorts of frequencies and travel times suggested it will be just as quick and easy to get to Takapuna or Albany from anywhere on the Shore as it would be to get to the CBD.

      Having said that excellent connectivity to the CBD is essential. The CBD is the largest centre of employment, study, shopping and entertainment/culture in the region, and is going to stay that way. But more importantly the CBD is geographically at the centre of the region and it is also the centre of our transport system, this makes it the best place for the major transport interchange. Anyone going from the North Shore to Auckland city, Manukau or the eastern suburbs will have to go through there anyway.

      You’ll also note that I’ve suggested extensions right across the upper harbour to Henderson via Westgate, and extensions from the CBD to Westgate also. That would form a ring of lines in the north and west of Auckland taking in all the major centres in that half of the region, plus the CBD. Once that was a case it might make more sense to bring the upper harbour line in to terminate at Takapuna rather than the CBD, with those super quick headways transfers would be a breeze. With the flexibility of light-metro we could easily have a line from Takapuna to Albany, and/or Albany to Greenhithe.

      I’m not sure of the value of your first route proposal, it adds five kilometres of tunnel just to access Milford on the way to Takapuna, when Milford is only a few minutes bus trip from Smales Farm or Takapuna. That tunnel is also all entirely within the volcanic tuff ring of Lake Pupuke, making it a difficult tunnel to dig. A better alternative might be to simply extend the Takapuna branch 2km to Milford as a latter stage. That’s less than half the tunnel for the same gain.

      The second proposal is similar to something I considered. Skipping out Akoranga isn’t such an issue if we have Takapuna and Smales nearby, but the serious problem is that is doesn’t allow a station at Onewa. A good quarter of the North Shore is up along that Onewa Rd corridor and it would be a huge mistake not to have an metro station there.

      As peter says these light-metro trains take no longer to change directions at a terminus than they do to stop at a regular station, so branch lines are really quite useful. I don’t see it as limitation but rather an opportunity, we can easily get stations and routes in where they need to be without spending a fortune on long tunnels. In this case the ‘branch’ to Takapuna is no different than the ‘branch’ from Constellation to Albany.

      • James B

        Also with a 15 metre turning radius having a full T junction at Akoranga would enable a Takapuna to Albany direct service. I’m not sure of the value of this but the possibility is there.

        • I’ve assumed all junctions would be built to allow any movement and it is shown on the diagram above if you look carefully. The benefit would be the possibility of running services like Greenhithe/Upper Harbour to Albany, Albany to Takapuna (or via Takapuna), Takapuna to Greehithe and on to Westgate. I didn’t want to complicate things in the route map above but that flexibility is definitely on my mind.
          A good example of this is the DLR in east London. Track-wise the network consists of only two mainlines, a branch and a loop. But route-wise there are six different ‘lines’ on the network, with two lines terminating at each terminus.

  • SteveC

    come on, Peter, the reason that most trips terminate in the CBD is because that’s where the current PT services go, it’s a circular argument, most PT services go to the CBD so most PT trips go to the CBD so most PT services go to the CBD, don’t think what is, think what could (should) be

    • Peter

      You’re right that’s part of the reason. However, I think that parking costs plays an important role too. The CBD is the only place where you’re pretty much guaranteed to have to pay for parking, which tips the economic balance in favour of catching public transport.

      Elsewhere you typically get free parking, so it makes more economic sense to drive.

  • Bryan

    Don’t terminate at Greenhithe – Hobsonville Point is the next large residential growth area, so would be the logical initial terminus (requiring only a bridge and 1-2km more track). Extend to Westgate as it develops as a regional hub (approx 4-5km). A final connection to Henderson would be much further down the track (easiest gradients via SH16 and Lincoln Rd?).

    • I totally agree Bryan, Greenhithe is just a logical place to terminate the first stage of that line that should eventually go right across to Henderson via SH16 and Lincoln Rd.
      However getting to Hobsonville from Greenhithe Rd is actually more like 5km (doubling the distance from Constellation to Greenhithe) and it would require quite a substantial bridge, so it’s probably better left for the full line across the upper harbour rather than the first stage branch.

    • Bryce

      The development of that route is backwards. Surely you would start at the CBD and run out along the North Western and along Hobsonville Rd and then a bridge to the Shore?

      • That depends on what you’re trying to achieve. If it’s just to get a rapid transit link from Hobsonville to the CBD then going via a line in the northern motorway corridor would actually make a lot of sense, as it is basically the same distance as going via the Northwestern.

        If the goal is to connect West Auckland and the North Shore together then a link between the light metro at Constellation and the rail line Henderson would be the focus.

        But yes I agree that a line along the Northwestern would be very effective and would probably take priority over an Upper Harbour line. That will be my next post I the topic I think.

        • Bryce

          I’m not against an upper harbour line and think it would be great but I also think the NW / Hobsonville route would result in a much bigger increase in PT use. I know that not everything should focus on the CBD but the reality is that the NW motorway is choked twice a day and the upper harbour link is not even close to capacity.

          • Yes a NW route would be great and it would no doubt carry a lot more people than the upper harbour.
            There seems to be the view at the council that there is no need for rapid transit in the northwestern corridor because the west already has it’s rapid transit in the western rail line. I think that’s a shame because the NW would obviously serve quite a different area (i.e. Te Atatu, Massey, West Harbour) than the western line. It would also provide a much more direct route to the centre of the region.

            My comments above were more around how to extend any northern light-metro line that we might build. In that case it would be much easier to extend the line from Constellation across to Hobsonville and beyond than build a NW line from scratch. However the best strategy would be plan both the main routes and arrange their expansion in coordinated stages. Under that strategy one could see the link between Westgate and Greenhithe probably being the final state.

            One of the good things about this light-metro concept is that it can be easily retrofitted to the busway, any busway. This means that we could start in the NW corridor by building a fairly cheap analogue to the northern busway, say from Lincoln Rd to Waterview. Then once patronage has grown and our light-metro network has progressed on the Shore side we could refit the NW busway with the same technology, and extend it either end to link in with the rest of the system.

          • Bryce

            I think the light-metro is a great concept and, from what I have read about the ‘sky train’ it would suit Auckland perfectly and be very cost effective in both the build and operation.
            It is a pity that the council see West Auckland as ‘sorted’ for PT as the 3/4 hour bus trip from Te Atatu to town and hourly schedules do nothing to inspire me to catch a bus so I use my car instead. I don’t travel at peak times but there are countless times when I would use PT, like going to the zoo or into town for a movie, concert etc, but it is just so wasteful of time to spend the best part of 2 hours (there and back) when it takes 15 minutes each way by car. Hell, even an express bus running along the motorway with feeders would be better than what we have now. Add an interchange near the motorway with some cycle storage and I would be there in a flash.

  • obi

    I like all of that. But I have a few questions:

    1. Fleet management. Are there extra operational costs from using two different types of trains?

    2. Presumably the light metro trains aren’t able to be run on the heavy rail lines. Does that create issues around potential topologies that have north shore trains routed via the CBD tunnel?

    3. Is there a case to convert the other lines to light metro in the future, in order to reap the advantages (driverless operation etc) that you describe? Is there a safety issue around mixing heavy rail freight trains and light metro trains?

  • Good questions, my responses would be:

    1) Beyond being two different types of trains it would actually be two separate networks (closely integrated at transfer points and with the rest of the public transport system of course). There would probably be some operational economies to having a single fleet and network, but losing these would be more than offset by the massive opex and capex savings that come with driverless light metro. If we consider a future with a large rapid transit system in Auckland we are going to have multiple lines with multiple stabling yards and maintenance facilities anyway. My view is that if we are going to build brand new tracks and facilities on the North Shore and the Upper Harbour we might as well use the most efficient and cost effective system we can. No point keeping with the same less-efficient and more expensive system just so every line in Auckland can be less efficient and more expensive.

    2) No they are not interoperable, not least because all current driverless light metro designs runs on standard gauge with third rail power and totally lack conventional signalling. Naturally they can share the same corridor with tracks side by side though. As I noted above I don’t think this is a problem as we wouldn’t want to run any North Shore line through the CBD tunnel anyway, it will have it’s hands full coping with the existing network of the four lines south of the harbour (that being Southern, Eastern, Western and an extended Onehunga branch to the airport). Once we have the CRL and airport extension I would consider that to be a nice complete network. Any new lines from there should use their own new tracks and alignments, even if the run exactly the same train specifications.

    3) There is potential to convert lines totally to light-metro standard (they are currently doing this on the Paris metro and other parts of Europe), but as far as I can tell driverless cannot mix with freight or other trains that rely on drivers and physical signalling. Perhaps in the future but not with the Bombardier system I have researched. You wouldn’t want to mix them anyway, blocking out a line for a lumbering freight largely defeats the purpose of having driverless metros to provide very frequent operation. So that makes converting the existing network unlikely as almost all of it carries freight and/or intercity trains.

    One possibility however would be to duplicate the eastern line with light-metro. The current plan is to build a third (and potentially fourth) track in the corridor for freight and intercity trains, so that we can run frequent suburban trains on the existing tracks. But a better idea might be to use the existing heavy rail tracks for freight and intercity and build two new light-metro tracks to take care of suburban passengers more efficiently. This would be especially useful as we could then extend the light-metro out to Botany and Flatbush much cheaper than trying to do so with conventional suburban rail.

    • obi

      “Beyond being two different types of trains it would actually be two separate networks”

      That’s similar to London with the subsurface and surface lines using different size trains. I know Waterloo and City uses Central Line trains, which are lifted in to place using a crane as I recall since there is no interchange between the lines and W&C is entirely in a deep tunnel. Also the East London Line uses Metropolitan Line trains, but there is an interchange between the lines to allow that.

      • Precisely, plus in London you also have the Overground/National Rail, DLR, and the TramLink trams. That’s at least five non-interoperable rail networks as part of London’s metropolitan “Oyster” network. From the users perspective the design standards of each line is irrelevant because you transfer between them anyway, even on the lines that use the same technology.

        • James B

          At the end of the day will a transfer in the CBD be that difficult to manage? It might suck if you had bags and were going to the airport. This could be easily solved with check in desks at Aotea and Britomart and a service to transport your bag to the airport so you can stay in town. For everyone else a transfer would be no longer than 10 minutes.

          • A transfer is no problem, even for those few folks travelling with their luggage to the airport. It’s totally normal anywhere in Europe for people to use the regular metro or trains on their way to or from the airport. Anyway for every one person taking the line out to the airport for a plane there will be four or five going there for work or other reasons, we need to focus on them.

            We really only want one line linking though to the airport line if we are designing an efficient system, the others would have to connect to it. If we make that the Shore line then we’re simply making one of the other lines need the transfer, so there’s no net gain.

  • Gian

    I think once people will start experiencing 20th century fast(ish) electric trains in Auckland, with the higher comfort, speed and acceleration then the current woodburners steamers, then an idea like this will seem just the most reasonable.
    And it would be 21st century, finally.

  • Malcolm M

    Great post, but it would be a hard sell to win over NZTA with their dedicated funding source that comes from car use.

    In Australia one of the best Benefit:Cost analyses I’ve seen was for the Seaford rail extension in Adelaide.

    http://210.247.132.180/alt-host/assets/pdf_file/0010/33400/Extension_of_the_Noarlunga_rail_line_to_Seaford_final_report_October_2007.pdf

    This shows the greatest benefit to car drivers who remain on the road network ($63m) followed by road crash cost savings ($25m), benefits to car drivers who shift to public transport ($13m), revenue ($10m), journey time saving to existing public transport users ($9m), and emissions ($7m). The case for using some of NZTA’s road user charge to fund a public transport development needs to be clearly argued as reduced congestion for those that remain on the road network (such as the road freight industry, and cross-town commuters).

    Unlike the Benefit:Cost analysis used by MoT, the Seaford line analysis considers multiple benefits, and also a residual value at the end of the 30-year period. It would be worthwhile looking at other BCA’s used around the world to see what is included and excluded. I expect MoT’s analyses would be unique in that its exclusions favour road projects.

    Infrastructure Australia now has a program to check the benefit:cost ratios of previous road projects to see whether the claimed benefits were actually delivered. I suspect that many of the benefits of road improvement projects are not realised because they don’t include the capacity constraints of other parts of the road network.

    • TimR

      “Great post, but it would be a hard sell to win over NZTA with their dedicated funding source that comes from car use.”

      Maybe NZTA want to setup another funding stream to fund a new field of activity….? :-)

      http://www.propbd.co.nz/afa.asp?idWebPage=8338&idBobDeyProperty_Articles=17210&SID=104047235

      • WTF!? I knew that NZTA is struggling under the burdens of the crazy RoN programme and our failure to drive at ever increasing rates as they forever prophesise, but this!?:

        The agency argued: “NZTA considers that, to achieve the long-term sustainability of the state highway network, it is necessary to ensure that growth & development contributes to the cost of any improvements to the network that are necessitated by such development.”

        wow.

        Also good to see they are admitting that what they build shapes the development of the country… not just reflecting needs then NZTA?

        • TimR

          Welcome to the finance paradigm of the twenty first century. If your revenues dry up look for a(nother) public purse to fund your income. In this case, rob Peter to pay Paul. I’m sure this move will just reduce local road funding further, splitting dev contributions.

        • TimR

          A further thought. I wonder what the development contribution for a truck yard would be as opposed to say a retirement home or single dwelling? :-)

      • There’s some logic in the argument that just as development levies help pay for council funded infrastructure, perhaps they should also help pay for NZTA funded infrastructure. That is, if a whole heap of sprawl makes it necessary to build more motorways, shouldn’t the beneficiaries of the sprawl (developers) help pay for the new motorways?

        I don’t really think that’s much of the thought process though. More like NZTA going “crap, people are driving less, we’re going broke, what should we do?”

        • TimR

          Yeah, your last line captures my reaction. There’s plenty of logic in the development > infrastructure funding argument, but only to a point otherwise we would end up funding Auckland Airport through new housing.

          I do see a role for national level investment which leads rather than follows development and is enabled through funding which is bigger and separated from the project scale – but which crucially aligns with rather than disrupts good settlement patterns. We can’t encourage a culture of blaming developers for everything, including things which essentially the country may want to see from a strategic viewpoint.

  • Kevyn

    Before getting too engrossed in the technical details, how about adressing Nick’s very first question – where is the $5bn coming from?

    There isn’t a spare $5bn in the GPS 2012-2022. Is this intended be Auckland’s RoNS project for the 2022-2032 period? If so then the $5bn is conditional on there still being enough traffic to pump this amount of money into the land transport fund and there still being enough traffic growth to justify another harbour crossing.

    Will this project be necessary when/if peak oil and/or communications advances create a demand in Auckland for a higher density co-located housing/business mix or is following in the footsteps of London/New York/Sydney inevitable?

    • Indeed Kevyn, the first part of my argument was that we don’t really have that sort of money and if we do plan to drum it up we need to spend less of it more effectively. I guess the question is where do those planning for a motorway tunnel plan to get their funding from?

      I’ll just note that my (probably highball) estimate is $3.6 billion, with the first function stage possible with only $1.5 billion or so. Unlike the motorway tunnel that would need pretty much the whole $5 billion in one project to get any functionality this light-metro could be phased in in affordable chunks.

  • Willuknight

    The biggest problem we have at the moment is an (anti)transportation minister who refuses to fairly evaluate transport methods against each other and is stuck in a prehistoric oil-is-plentiful mindset. Steven Joyce is a corrupt backwards thinking imbecile who is working toward a hidden agenda paid for by trucking lobbies that is not in New Zealand’s best interests.

  • Steve

    I like the concept though you still have a big area west of the motorway not served by rapid transit and further awy that other parts of the shore – rather than going via Unsworth would some way of getting up to Glenfield from Smales Farm be possible then through to Greenhithe? That way buses from Beachaven could connect at Glenfield and reduce the pressure on Onewa Rd. The other thing that immediately springs to mind is the Takapuna-Aotea route could be extended to take care of the Dominion Rd corridor and link back to the Avondale-Southdown route if that were to ever be built.

  • I would argue the areas west of the motorway would still be served by rapid transit, just via a rapid bus connection a few kilometres long. After all Glenfield is only slightly further away from Smales Farm as Milford, Birkdale is as close as Browns Bay etc. The point of this exercise is to get those rapid transit routes across the middle of the area and to connect to the major centres, but not to serve every centre directly.

    While a line via Glenfield would be good there is the obvious issue of no easy motorway corridor or empty land to follow, it would involve several km of tunnel through hilly terrain. Takapuna is about the only non motorway route that seems worthwhile, as it is only 1.2km long and half of that is across an undeveloped reserve.

    Dominion Rd would be a fantastic extension of one of these lines, especially if it connected to Avondale-Southdown. But again it would have to be tunnelled the whole way at great expense. I think a light rail (tram) line would still be the best option there.

  • Pim van den Top

    It is also possible to make the light rail trains able to run on the heavy rail system we already have, which might give more options in term of the routes.

  • SteveC

    light and heavy rail cannot be mixed, two main reasons, incompatible vehicle/train weights and collision resistance and (usually) they operate on different voltages, high voltage LRT is possible, but you’re into building to a non-standard and therefore expensive specification

  • Mike

    Light and heavy rail happily share the same tracks in France and Germany, so there are no insuperable reasons that the same couldn’t happen in NZ. Differences in voltage, collision resistance etc can all be overcome, and at an affordable price.

    • George D

      Mike, please! This is an opportunity to introduce standard gauge into NZ :)

      • Geoff Houtman

        But we already have standard gauge (again)!

        There’s the MOTAT trams, the Wyntard Trams and, uh, oh.

        About 3km or so of standard gauge…

        Yep.

    • Peter

      Even if it’s possible to mix light-rail (which this proposal isn’t!), heavy-rail, voltages and so forth – the real question is: do we want to? I see the disadvantages of mixing technologies as being greater than the advantages.

      Keep this system separate. It should have really low operating costs, providing fantastic all-day frequencies and a heap load of peak time capacity. Sounds awesome without compromising t.

    • Bryce

      Yes but the system that Nick has suggested cannnot be run on heavy rail but it does give significant benefits by being run by itself – driverless operation for one.

      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/SkyTrain_(Vancouver)

    • There are indeed ways make vehicles that can operate on heavy rail tracks as well as light rail tramway, but the question is why would we want to do this in Auckland?

      In Europe the main reason for these tram-trains is to connect the existing suburban railways to existing city centre tram networks, to integrate them into a single system that both covers the whole region yet also gives excellent penetration into the city core. There is no need nor any opportunity to do this in Auckland. In Auckland we have no such tram network, we are going to use underground tunnels to provide access to our compact CBD, and network connectivity can be more readily supplied with well placed transfer stations.

      Anyway, this is all a bit moot. This proposal is about light-metro which is significantly different from light rail or heavy rail. As far as I know there is nowhere in the world that has light-metro interoperable with light rail or heavy rail, plus I don’t think it is possible to mix computer driven trains with driver driven ones.

      Of course we can (and probably should) have a mix of light-metro, light rail and heavy rail in Auckland’s public transport network, just not physically sharing the same tracks.

      • obi

        “There are indeed ways make vehicles that can operate on heavy rail tracks as well as light rail tramway, but the question is why would we want to do this in Auckland?”

        One of the issues with the heavy rail network is that it was designed to move freight around the country. Trying to use these routes for suburban commuters is always going to be a far less than ideal compromise because there is no reason for freight lines to match where people live, and indeed people probably don’t want to live near to freight railway infrastructure. A dedicated light rail line gives you the chance to design it to only meet the needs of commuters.

        • Things like light metro and light rail would indeed make it easier to get rail right in where people live, work and play, but I wouldn’t want to discount our existing heavy rail lines either. Let’s not forget that those rails have always been passenger routes as well as freight lines, and the city has grown up around them. Places like Henderson, Avondale, Glenn Innes and Papakura exist because they are on the rail line.

  • PBY

    I like the article and the thoughts. This is heading ina good direction.

    A couple of thoughts.

    1. How wuold you handle the turnaround at Aotea? With 2 min frequncies a double tracked deadend station will prove a bit tricky.

    2. The costings for some parts of this proposal feela bit high. This article has the real costs of recent Australian light rail and heavy rail projects and may help with your costings. http://www.atrf11.unisa.edu.au/Assets/Papers/ATRF11_0183_final.pdf

    • Hi PBY, the turnaround at Aotea should be perfectly fine with two tracks, which after all does give two sides of the platform to terminate at. That’s only one train every four minutes per side, plus recall that we don’t have any drivers to change cabs so terminating actually takes only as long as any regular stop (i.e. decelerate to stop, open doors, dwell for 30sec or so, close doors and immediately accelerate back out again).

      Waterfront station in Vancouver is the terminus of expo/millenium pair of lines and sees a train turnaround every two minutes at the peak of service. This part of the station has only two tracks and a single island platform (The Canada line has it’s own tracks and separate island platform at this station).

      As for the costings yes I do believe they are high and I’d hope a proper evaluation would prove this concept to be even more affordable. My goal was mostly just to show it was a very feasible option that warrants further evaluation in the harbour crossing debate.

      As you can see I simply took the total cost of the Canada Line project (mostly in tunnel or elevated) and divided it by the number of kilometres. Therefore one thing to note is that my per-km figure isn’t just the capex on building the rails, but it also includes the cost of stations, rolling stock, stabling and everything else the Canada Line needed to operate.

      Thanks for the link though, that will come in very handy for the next post!

      EDIT: Just double checked that and Waterfront station operates slightly differently from a simple terminus. The trains from the expo/millenium lines enter the station and deboard passengers on one side of the platform, they then continue past the platform empty into a switchback, then change direction coming back to the other side of the platform where they board passengers and carry on back down the line again. That is something that could easily be done at Aotea too.

  • Anthony

    The Vancouver Skytrain technology & construction appears very similar to one of the Taipei lines.
    My opinion of that was it was slow compared to the rest of the heavy rail network, and a rough ride compared to the rest of the heavy rail network.

    • From what I can see Taipei does have a line operated by Bombardier automated metro vehicles, although these are quite different from either train used on the Vancouver Skytrain (built by Bombardier and Hyundai Rotem) as they are much smaller and use rubber tyre traction among other things.

      This fact sheet here: http://www2.bombardier.com/neihu/pdf/Taipei_10191_TTS_06_2008_en.pdf does indeed indicate that they are slower, it suggests Taipei’s automated metro operates at an average line speed of only 30km/h, while the Skytrain in Vancouver averages 47km/h which is over 50% faster.

      Of course Bombardier isn’t the only manufacturer of automated light metro transit, the French company VAL is another big player, as is Korean Hyundai Rotem above and the Italian company AnsaldoBreva. I do keep using the Bombardier Skytrain system as an example, but it is no mean the only supplier of such technology.

    • I can’t say I’m a fan of aliments via the Devonport peninsula for a bunch of reasons. Firstly it’s pretty well served by ferries, especially the lower half, so there isn’t a heap of current need. Secondly there isn’t much potential for development or intensification either, so there won’t be much future demand either. Thirdly to go via Devonport means not going via the Northcote/Birkenhead side, which cuts out access to a larger area of the Shore than you gain. Finally while the actual harbour tunnel might be a bit shorter, you then require about 8km of cut and cover tunnel to get up to Takapuna. On the other side you can simply run it along the motorway almost all the way to Takapuna, that would save a huge amount of the cost.

    • CJ

      As Nick said, you would miss out on the Birkenhead/Glenfeild catchment that currently comes down Onewa, yet double up on the bayview and devonport ferry catchment which as density grows can easily expand in capacity.

  • san luca

    HTML n0000b!!!!

  • Bryce

    Hi Nick. I have been thinking about this a bit and, having driven to Warkworth and back to Auckland a few times over the past week, now think that main line rail with EMU’s would be a good option for a ‘main’ North Shore link.

    Given that the Silverdale / Orewa area seems destined to become quite a major centre and the traffic flows to/from there are already quite high, I think that in the future there will need to be a rail link there. With Warkworth also being suggested as a growth are, we may also one day need a RTN from Auckland City to there as well.
    With the distance from Auckland to these locations I feel that light rail, with 80km/h kind of top speeds is going to be too slow and affect travel times quite significantly. The EMU’s we are getting are capable of 110 km/h and the new units Perth has are capable of 130 km/h. Going with main line rail to the North Shore would enable some future proofing of this RT network.

    As an aside, I would like to see Auckland take a more European approach to it’s growth. ie leave a grean belt between Albany and Silverdale (also Henderson and Kumeu), and link these with a RT network. These towns would become mini-cities with their own infrastructure. It would also help solve some of our (perceived or not) land availability / pricing issues.

    I still think the Light Rail idea has merit for a link aruond SH16 and down the Northwestern.

    Your thoughts?

    • Hi Bryce, I don’t really see why light metro wouldn’t work well up to Silverdale and Orewa. The 80km/h top speed is from Vancouver which runs an entirely urban system, but that doesn’t mean we’d have to stick with the same limit. 100km/h + might be perfectly adequate.

      Another thing to consider is that top speed is only one factor in trip times, and trip times are only one factor in the effectiveness of a transit link. If we did spend a lot more to get EMUs on the North Shore, how much longer would it take to extend that to Silverdale. If the cost of converting the busway to heavy rail would be prohibitively expensive then an extension to Orewa would be just as bad, with far fewer potential passengers.
      And if we did manage to fund building it, what of the operating costs? How many trains an hour would we expect to see to Silverdale and Orewa if there were drivers? It would be not far off just as long to travel from Albany to Orewa as it would to go from the CBD to Albany, that means an extension from Albany to Orewa would almost double the staffing costs of each run. We’d be lucky if they sent every fourth train beyond Albany if they had drivers. It would be the equivalent of Pukekohe, lucky to see two trains an hour. So perhaps an EMU run would be four or five minutes faster, but you’d have to wait up to an hour to catch one.

      30 km is not especially long, even for a metro line. At 80km/h with one stop at Silverdale, you’re still only looking at about 12 minutes Orewa to Albany, at 120km/h you’ll save about 3 minutes. Is that three minutes worth the much larger construction expense and the much reduced headway?

  • Mr Anderson

    An interesting question for you to ponder Nick:

    If we didn’t have to provide for freight, and didn’t have to consider existing infrastructure, would there be a reason to ever build new urban rail rapid transit as anything but the Vancouver Skytrain Light-Metro technology? Because I just ain’t seeing it.

    • I don’t think there is, that’s what I’ve come to realise. If there is no freight (or regional/intercity) traffic, then there is zero reason to use the heavy rail main-line standard of track and vehicle. Given Auckland already has a main trunk line north and south (and is surrounded by water east and west) then any new line is going to be for urban passengers only, and we’d always be able to build and operate such a line cheaper using a light passenger metro system. The only real freight extension I can think of would be the Avondale-Southdown line, so running heavy rail EMUs there would make sense.

      The only exception to that is where we we can more cheaply build an extension from an existing line, provided that there is sufficient capacity on the existing line and the network can handle the extra traffic. In that case it’s likely to be better to continue with heavy rail, but apart from extending the onehunga branch via the airport I can’t see many candidates.

      • James B

        I think an East Auckland falls somewhat in the middle. As it will have to go through a relatively built up yet low denisty area with no existing motorway to run alongside it seems to favour light metro. However you still get stuck at either end with connections to exisiting heavy rail. I tend to think that a light metro might make more sense, even if you can’t one seat to town or the airport or town without duplicating existing heavy rail track, as the cost savings would more than make up for the slight inconvenience of transferring at Panmure or Manukau.

        • There are certainly some opportunities in the south east for light metro rapid transit. Obviously the 10m reserve in the centre of the Te Iririangi Drive corridor is better suited to buses, trams or light metro than heavy rail, which typically needs greater than 12m width. At either end the connections through Parkauranga and Manukau respectively would be far easier with the lesser design constraints of light metro.

          A transfer connection to the heavy rail network at Manukau is obvious, but at the other end a transfer at Panmure or Glen Innes does seem a little problematic. While there is no motorway corridor to run along into town, there is both the existing rail corridor and the eastern motorway reservation that could be used. Initially it seems to be wasteful duplication to run light metro alongside heavy rail, but if you consider that is the main route to the port and could be the main interurban route to Britomart then it starts to make sense to build new tracks to take care of local metro operations and leave the existing tracks for heavy freight and intercity rail.

          The other alternative would be a primarily tunnelled route probably under Remuera Rd, that would be very effective, yet expensive and probably a little overkill for that part of the route.

    • Mr Anderson

      I was coming to that realisation myself. Both the reduced capital costs, and the extremely reduced operating costs, mean that driverless light-metro seems to be a pretty killer app.

      Obviously in many cases you do need to provide for freight and/or you do want to leverage off existing infrastructure (like the Airport Line leverages off Onehunga-Britomart). But where those situations don’t exist (like the North Shore and possible a line out to the southeast) light-metro certainly seems to be the way to go.

      Many cities are still building traditional metro systems though, rather than light-metro systems. I wonder why.

      • There are plenty of places building driverless light metro systems. I would say that most new ‘full’ metro lines are either in cities that have expansive metro systems already, or where very high ridership is projected (making high capital expenditure justified and the marginal cost of staffing per passenger low). Athens is the only place outside Asia I can think of that has recently started an old school metro system from scratch, and that was basically an Olympics white elephant. In the likes of East and South Asia you’ve got huge demand coupled with low labour costs, which is perfect for traditional metro… but likewise we are seeing many lines in European capitals converted to automated operation presumably to remove that marginal cost and allow more frequent and longer operation.

        Vancouver is a good model for Auckland and other Australasian and North American cities because it has neither massive population or urban density to justify full underground lines nor huge financial reserves to fund their construction, it has high labour costs and employment standards which makes staffing expensive, but also it also has huge vehicle ownership rates that both causes a transport problem but also sets the bar very high for public transport alternatives in terms of speed, frequency and convenience. Driverless light metro was the right solution for Vancouver’s situation in the 80s going forward and I believe Auckland is in much the same situation right now.

        I guess the question is whether any cities are building new suburban rail systems, I can’t think of any except those like Auckland and Perth that are expanding off historic networks. Once the City Rail Link integrates Auckland’s core network and the airport and/or southdown lines are built I would consider the suburban rail network finished. At that point we should start of the light metro network instead.

        • The Eastern corridor from the City to GI does have the space to add additional capacity and that could be a different technology as Nick suggests. This could be worth considering especially if it then continued across the Tamaki Estuary to Pakuranga and then Botany and Te Irirangi Drive and Manukau City, ie would be a whole new line anyway. Furthermore at the city end it could go directly to Aotea from the Strand bypassing Britomart to link up with the North Shore Line described above. In a short tunnel with, I suggest, a new cut and cover Strand station with an entrance next to the Station Hotel [!], lifts up to Anzac Ave for lazy students, as well as an exit on the old station side of the road to serve Vector arena etc. Going underground where the the new and unused Strand Station is and under the line from Parnell.

          The universities would have no dedicated station but three; Aotea, Parnell, and The Strand, encircling them, served by all four lines., Southern, Eastern, Western, and Shore.

          The advantages as Nick outlines are in both the capital and operating costs. The only disadvantage that I can see is that it would require a change at Manukau City, or more likely at Aotea, to get to the Airport from the Shore. In other words not a one seat ride from Albany to the Airport. And while that would be ideal, especially when selling the idea, I think it would not be a deal breaker and probably fail any cost benefit analysis to insist on it.

          Connecting the two suburbs that constantly produce councillors and MPs that are actively obstructive to building a real solution to connecting Auckland has an appealing irony. Propose it and build it in stages, Shore Line first, and using Light Metro keeps the numbers from being the permanent stumbling block.

          As this combines your idea above with your earlier idea of how to best serve the south east, whaddayareckon, Nick?

          • James B

            If you really wanted to you could add a short section from Manukau across Puhunui and then the airport to provide one seat travel from Albany to Manukau. It wouldn’t cost much more if you future proofed the southwest/airport line (particularly the bridge across the river) for four rails.

          • That’s pretty much what I had in mind Patrick, a new line from Manukau via Te Irirangi, Botany and Highland Park, crossing the Tamaki to somewhere between Panmure and Glen Innes (there is a nice grassy reserve we could pilfer just near the old Tamaki station), then along the eastern line to the CBD to access Aotea and continue on as the North Shore line via Wynyard.

            A station somewhere near Quay Park is obvious, plus there are various options for a station underneath the universities too. Perhaps combining the two in one station near Beach Rd or Anzac Ave would be appropriate, or you could have your Quay Park station back by the Strand overbridge and another under the actual campus somewhere. My only stumbling point is trying to have an interchange point with the heavy rail network on the eastern side of the CBD somewhere, perhaps at Parnell station (needing quite a detour for the light metro line) or at the Strand/Quay Park (requiring us to shoehorn in some platforms near the Britomart curve somehow). Without such a transfer point you have every single transfer between the North Shore-Southeeast metro line and the existing rail network/CRL occurring at Aotea, which will also be the single most busy destination station in it’s own right. That’s a recipe for disaster IMHO, too much pressure on a single node.

            I think the one seat ride to the airport thing is a red herring. For a start you can’t have a one seat ride from everywhere to the airport. Under an efficient network design you’d only have one line through routed to the airport line, anything else would lead to wasteful duplication or poor headways. If you go link the North Shore line to the airport then you’re unlinking it from one of the other lines.
            Secondly, we need to keep in perspective the small volume of air travellers versus the much greater volume of workers and shoppers at the airport and the surrounding precinct. The clear majority of passengers on that line are going to be residents from south Auckland and the isthsmus working or shopping, those are the ones we should give the one seat ride. In the wider scheme the amount of workers or air travellers from the north shore to the airport precinct will be minor. No need to jump through hoops to give them a one seat ride, after all we’re looking at a network were transfers will be both simple and normal.

            Having said that there is the potential to make the airport the terminus of two corridors, giving one seat rides in two corridors. One option would be to have the ‘airport line’ heavy rail from the north (the Onehunga-Mangere corridor), plus a light metro line from the east (the Puhinui corridor) terminating at the airport. So extending out southeast line through Manukau station to the airport, which would involve converting the Manukau branch and Manukau station plus building an interchange station in the vicinity of Puhinui.

  • That lack of an in-station interchange is the weakness of my otherwise elegant suggested connection between the Northern [Shore] Line and South Eastern skipping Britomart. And I do think that Aotea is very quickly going to become a very busy station and must be designed with that likelihood in mind. But any new lines really should penetrate across town in order to shorten the length of the required tunneling and to maximise utility. That’s why I’m lukewarm on adding even more capacity down at Britomart post CRL.

    However I think these solutions Light Metro ideas need working on and presenting. Shore first, then the South East.

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