Well it seems as though the mainstream media has finally caught on to something that we’ve been discussing on this blog for quite a while now – whether some stations on the City Rail Link might be built at a later date. The NZ Herald reported on this yesterday:
Auckland Transport is considering building central city rail tunnels with just one underground station to start with – to the fury of council transport leader Mike Lee.
The Auckland Council transport organisation says a staged approach to developing stations along a 3.5km route for the twin tunnels from Britomart to Mt Eden is among options it is considering for “optimising” project management and finances.
One scenario would be to open the tunnel with just a station near Aotea Square in the first instance, to be followed by others below Pitt St and Symonds St as finances and patronage dictate for a project which threatens to balloon to almost $3 billion.
Effectively, the possible plan is shown below with crosses or ticks next to the stations depending on whether they’d be initially built or not: The “whether or not to build an eastern connection between the CRL and Grafton” question also hit the Herald:
It is even unclear whether the tunnels would form a true central city loop, as land constraints mean it may initially have only a western connection with the existing network where it will emerge at Mt Eden, rather than an east-facing link as well.
Council’s transport chairman Mike Lee certainly isn’t keen on the idea of delaying two of the stations:
But Mr Lee, chairman of the council’s transport committee and an Auckland Transport board member, said opening the tunnels with just one station would be similar to building the harbour bridge with just four traffic lanes…
…”I find their reasoning impossible to understand,” he said of Auckland Transport officials considering the staged railway approach.
“A City Rail Link with one station is like a harbour bridge with four lanes or Britomart with two lines – we should learn from the false economies of the past.”
Mayor Len Brown is also not keen on the idea:
The Mayor says Auckland Transport is rightly looking at ways to optimise the CRL project in terms of transport, efficiency and cost.
“I have seen some sound work around the project for traffic and cost efficiency and I fully support that. I have also heard talk of doing one station at a time and I do not believe this is an option.”
“Seeking the most efficient options does not and will not mean accepting suboptimal, piecemeal solutions. Auckland deserves better than that. A cheap compromise for the Harbour Bridge ended up costing us much more than would otherwise have been the case and causing as many problems as it solved.
Personally, I think that we shouldn’t necessarily rush to exclude options such as delaying a couple of the stations (obviously K Road and Newton Station, not Aotea Station). Matt did a good post recently which looked in more detail into what the CRL actually costs, and K Road and Newton make up a pretty big chunk of that cost, with his calculations showing that K Road station would be likely to cost around $319.6 million and Newton station a further $315.2 million.
While both those stations are certainly important pieces of infrastructure to build in the future, and the cost of ‘future proofing’ for their eventual construction certainly won’t be nothing, we must remember that this is a project that is struggling to get support from Central Government (though it’s debatable whether the government would support if even if the cost benefit ratio was 20 and the cost was under $1 billion) and which Auckland Council itself seems to be struggling to fund – being dependent on either silly network tolling ideas or inherently unpopular congestion charging schemes to even come up with its share.
If we look at the most recent costing of the CRL project, we can see that its core cost is $1.867 billion in 2012 dollars.
Knock another $600 million off that number and the core cost of the CRL project gets down to around $1.2-$1.3 billion. I suspect that’s a whole different ballgame in the eyes of the public, and potentially/hopefully of the government, than discussion around a $3 billion project.
That said, I would be incredibly saddened if K Road and Newton stations never happened – so whatever happens it needs to be made clear it’s a “staging” of the project, not a downgrading of cutting back of it.