They say that history never repeats but that doesn’t quite seem true when it comes to transport in Auckland. Our transport history is littered with examples of poor planning, bad decisions, underestimated demand, a lack of vision and corner cutting in order to save a few dollars. A couple of prime examples are:
- The harbour bridge – we have all heard the stories about how the design was cut back to save a little but of money at the time only for traffic volumes to require the capacity to be expanded a decade later. Also cut were things like walking and dedicated PT connections, things that are still missing to this day.
- Britomart – built at a time when rail patronage was low, its five platforms fed by only two tracks was considered to be sufficient capacity for 50 years yet less than 10 years later we have all but run out of space for more trains at peak times. Electrification will give us longer trains but history shows that will only work for so long.
We can now add the Manukau rail link to that list. There are three major issues I, and others, have with the station:
- It stops short short of Manukau – Officials will praise how MIT is building a campus on top of the station but that doesn’t make the location good, even extending it just another 150m would have made a huge difference and the campus could still have had a direct exit for students, like how the Westpac building is now at Britomart.
- That there is no Southern link – This means that the only way to access the station from the south by train, which would likely be it’s largest catchment, would be to get a train to Puhinui and transfer to a train heading back to Manukau. The NZTA even designed the motorway for it which can clearly be seen in aerial photos, they even built the formation for it so it would be easy to build in the future.
- That the station appears not to have been designed in a way that would allow for future extension.
I remember reading some information on this a few years ago on the first point and so went looking for it and what I found surprised me. This story was in the Herald on 1st April 2008 but is no April Fools joke
The council decided last week that an estimated extra cost of $10 million to bring the line 60m east of Davies Ave, into a carpark near its headquarters, was too high when it was trying to stop rates from rising more than 4.9 per cent.
That followed advice from Government agency Ontrack that its budget of about $50 million towards the $72 million link from the main trunk line at Puhinui would not extend past a 9m-deep trench on the western side of Davies Ave, except for a basic pedestrian underpass to the carpark.
Although that would still leave passengers 140m short of the civic offices, and even further from the Southmall shopping centre, the station would be on the doorstop of a potential tertiary education development in Hayman Park.
Most people would probably agree that 60m doesn’t sound like much, especially when it would cost $10m but it can make a massive difference to peoples perception and use of the station. There is meant to be an underpass into the carpark from the station except when I visited the other day, there was no sign of it and no one else seems to know what happened to it either. We also learn that the MIT campus wasn’t even agreed to at the time, in fact another report I found indicated they were looking at several different options so there was a chance nothing would have been built on top of the station.
So what about that Southern link and future proofing the station
But Forum for Auckland Sustainable Transport spokesman Bevan Woodward, representing a coalition of several groups such as Walk Auckland and his own Cycle Action Auckland, said similar limited thinking was behind capacity constraints already emerging at the Britomart rail terminal.
“We have to future-proof these things and start getting it right,” he said
Mr Woodward’s coalition wants provisions for a rail link to be extended east in a loop through Botany Downs to Panmure, rather than relying on feeder buses to bring passengers to an interchange at the proposed Manukau rail-head.
Although Manukau transport planners are prepared to envisage replacing buses with a light-rail link through the east once the population grows large enough in new suburbs such as Flat Bush and Dannemora, they believe it would be too difficult to run heavy trains under or over the Southern Motorway.
But Mr Woodward said that should not be insurmountable, and noted that a road flyover of the motorway was already being built with full Government funding as part of the $210 million link between State Highways 1 and 20.
Manukau councillor Bob Wichman said he had always believed the rail link was to extend to Dannemora, and he was disappointed by the limited nature of what was now proposed.
“We are being told we are getting less and less for our buck,” he told fellow councillors, after hearing that the link would initially serve only rail movements to and from central Auckland, and that it might be 10 years before Manukau could be linked to stations further south.
Even back then it appears there was never any real plans to allow the line to be hooked up to the South but next is the part that really pisses me off.
But Manukau Mayor Len Brown said that, while he remained committed to early planning for rapid public transport to and from his eastern suburbs, the priority was to accept the money already on offer from the Government.
If his council hesitated in doing that, it risked having the money reallocated “to other squeaky wheels, and there are lots of squeaky wheels in transport”.
He told the Herald that although light rail might become more viable than buses to and from the east, there would always have to be some form of interchange at central Manukau, as he would not countenance extending heavy rail to his suburban hinterland.
“You can’t do it in local residential areas and I’m not going to.”
So Len Brown seemed to care more about getting some money from the government and saying he signed the project off than getting the best solution for his constituents and the region. What’s more he also ruled out the possibility of ever extending the line in the future which is just plain lunacy. It even appears from this document in September 2007 that both Ontrack and ARTA strongly preferred the station to have a central platform which at least would have made it a bit easier to extend but that appears to have been ignored somewhere along the way. Of course all of this wasn’t helped by other councillors like Dick Quax who hates rail and who pushed for the whole thing to be delayed like this article from 2007 indicates (without a doubt he would have tried to push out the decision again and again).
Now of course this is old news and with the exception of the southern link there isn’t a great deal we can do about these issues right now but just the other day we heard something even more concerning. That Auckland Transport and the Council are looking at how they can cut costs from the CRL. In particular they are looking at cutting out stations which would negatively impact potential patronage. Even more concerning is that they are looking to drop the Eastern connection which would mean it was not possible for trains to get to the CRL tunnel from Newmarket. Here is a comment from that post that describes exactly why that Eastern link is needed
As a network modeller who did some investigatory work on this project a year or two ago, I cannot understand the statement that “current modelling shows its more “efficient” with only 1 direction of link”. The modelling I did envisaged a triangular junction at Mt Eden and crucial to the scheme was the creation of a “CBD Loop” which the east-facing spur would achieve. The pattern of service that I modelled was that all trains entering the CBD would travel around the loop and exit by the same or by another route, with the loop linking the inbound and outbound journeys together into one. Thus nothing “terminated” in the CBD. This is exactly how both Sydney and Melbourne structure their services with a high degree of success. And combined with additional CBD stations, this gets right away from the flawed notion that focussing the entire service on a single CBD access-point will suffice, and that it is somehow OK to “inject” thousands of travellers into the CBD at this one point and expect them happily to disperse under their own steam.
My objective with the Auckland model was to demonstrate the feasibility of a 10-minute peak frequency on all lines, combining to give a 5-minute frequency in each direction around the loop. Under this model, the east-facing spur carried significantly more traffic than the western one, and without it the concept of a CBD Loop would be effectvely lost.
I am concerned that there are decision-makers out there who are not fully aware of what this scheme is all about and what it is capable of delivering. The danger in allowing politicians to pare it back to fit under some arbitrary bar of cost-acceptability, is that a lot of money could still end up being spent on something that proves ineffective. I also wonder whether there may be areas of overdesign in the scheme from which costs could more effectively be cut. I am mindful that at the reinstated Parnell Station, someone considered it necessary to spend a lot of money altering the gradient profiles to make the track through the station less steep (was 1 in 40, now 1 in 80), and the track approaching the station even steeper (was 1 in 45, now 1 in 37.5). I question the need for this, given that stations on Wellington’s Johnsonville Line have managed quite acceptably at 1 in 40 for many years. Maybe in Parnell’s case there are reasons that I am unaware of, but the tendency to insist on “rolls-royce standards” can kill the viability of otherwise worthwhile projects. If cost-savings are are to be made on the CRL scheme, they need to be made competently in a way that will not leave a gold-plated white elephant.
The CRL got overwhelming support as part of the Auckland plan with 80% of people agreeing with the need for it now and this is without the council doing anything to even promote the project (because their current attempts have been pathetic), if they did a proper job of informing the public about what the project actually was and why it is needed then that would put the pressure on the government to support it and cough up some money for it. Sadly in light of what has happened previously at Manukau when Len was in charge it seems we could be seeing exactly the same tactics, get the price low enough to secure the government funding even if that means critically damaging the whole project. When it comes to transport in Auckland it seems that history definitely does repeat and is doomed to keep doing so.