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North Shore Rail and the Harbour Crossing

Someone at the Herald must have let John Roughan back at the typewriter because today’s editorial on another harbour crossing appears to have his fingerprints all over it.

No one seems to doubt Auckland will need another harbour crossing to the North Shore within a generation. The chances of it being another bridge are dwindling but plans for a tunnel under the Waitemata are cautiously being progressed. Too cautiously, in the view of former North Shore mayor and current Auckland Council member George Wood. He has half a point.

Mr Wood believes transport planners ought to be engaging now with community groups as they move to protect a likely route for a tunnel or tunnels east of the harbour bridge. The Auckland Council 30-year plan favours the tunnel option with provision for a rail line to future-proof its capacity. Since that plan’s publication, the Transport Agency has said it would base any application to the council next year for route protection on that premise, despite its judgment that no crossing would be required until 2030.

So it starts out innocently enough and was obviously driven by the article last week where the NZTA confirmed there was no immediate need for another crossing. I’ll start by saying that I think a new crossing will be needed at some point, just not one for cars but I will talk more about that shortly. It then goes on to talk for a bit about how Georges fears of the project being left to drift are probably not needed as the NZTA has proven that they are able to get big projects pushed through both consenting and construction phases. But it is after this that things go down hill pretty quickly suggesting that the biggest threat to the project is the talk of future proofing it for a rail line.

The bigger threat to timing or funding for a tunnel might be any requirement that it include rail, even if it is only on paper to “future-proof” the project. The rail option would work only if the tunnel project was preceded by Auckland mayor Len Brown’s push for a CBD rail link, the multi-billion-dollar tunnel pushing through Britomart station and up-town to Mt Eden. In current conditions it is unlikely both can be funded in the next decade or two even if Auckland ratepayers and motorists accept high tolling and regional charges to carry much of the burden themselves.

Aucklanders and their elected leaders need to prioritise these projects and de-couple them so that at least one is digestible. Development and liveability of the North Shore could well be harmed if the second crossing is tied to the more politically controversial CBD rail link and delayed. The National-led Government believes no such rail link is justified for 30 years: the Auckland Council sees it as a cornerstone for the city’s transport, housing and economic progress.

Which is the more efficient and vital recipient of the nation’s economic resources? The case is clear for a harbour crossing, only timing is in dispute. The case for the CBD rail link is persuasive but unconvincing, a costly, nice-to-have project which in theory would relieve traffic congestion and alter residential development.

Does the North Shore want or need rail in any case? The Northern Busway has been a successful public transport option and would presumably be more effective if the harbour bridge is decongested by a parallel road tunnel.

About the only think I agree with is that it is unlikely both can realistically be funded in the next two decades and that we need to prioritise both our funds and focus on the one that will have the most impact. To even suggest that the most important project is another harbour crossing is the most important is laughable. For starters it is a duplication of a route that already exists and who’s only purpose is to increase capacity to allow more people to drive to the city centre, flooding it with cars when we are trying to make it a more pedestrian friendly place. The CCFAS also confirms that it is expected to absolutely destroy patronage on the busway undermining the investment made in it so far. The CRL by comparison provides a new route that speeds up trips to the city centre without putting any extra cars on the road and that helps to maximise the otherwise underutilised rail corridors. At $2.2 billion all up including things like new trains, it is also considerably cheaper than $5.3 billion harbour tunnel which is the one that more and more looks like “a costly, nice to have project”.

Lets also not forget that due to the sheer cost of another crossing both the new and existing routes would need to be tolled with estimations from a few years ago suggesting that $8 per crossing would be needed.

North Shore Tunnel Connection to CRL

On the topic of rail to the North Shore, there was a bit of a discussion last night on how the CRL designation docs don’t make any mention of how a North Shore line integrate with the CRL. A couple of years ago the plan was to also put the trains through Britomart with a junction under the downtown mall however thankfully that has now changed. My understanding is that the more detailed designs for the Aotea station include the provision for a connection to platforms that would be under Wellesley St. As that would be under a road anyway, it would probably only serve to complicate things with the designation so as long as the station is designed and built in a way that enables it to happen in the future, there is likely no point addressing it now (although it would be nice if AT were to officially confirm this).

29 comments to North Shore Rail and the Harbour Crossing

  • Mr Anderson

    The only analysis done of AWHC suggests a BCR of about 0.3 using wildly optimistic and in fact plain incorrect traffic predictions.

    I still can’t see how there’s any merit in spending $5b to make it easier to drive from the North Shore to the CBD.

  • Matthew

    It does not seem to start off innocently enough with “No one seems to doubt Auckland will need another harbour crossing to the North Shore within a generation.”. I doubt it.

    Also would a rail only tunnel be cheaper? Then there’d be a fall in demand for cars and the road tunnel wouldn’t be needed.

    • Mr Anderson

      Rail tunnel would probably be close to $3b cheaper than a road tunnel.

    • Innocently enough for the Herald ;-)

      Rail to Albany was estimated at $2.5b in a report last year but not sure if that included the connection from Wynyard to Aotea.

      • Mr Anderson

        A letter to the editor might be needed Matt.

        • Matthew

          The Herald probably wouldn’t print it. They don’t publish comments that disagree with some of the opinion writers, and they do seem (to me at least) to have a political agenda including on transport that is more in line with the National Party’s policies. i.e. don’t expect objectivity or even a basic level of fairness out of the Herald.

          • S

            Dear Sir,

            Perhaps Cr George Wood’s opinion of the proposed second harbour road crossing would change if he knew that, if it were built, both the new and the existing harbour crossings would need to be tolled at a rate of $6 – 8 per trip; this figure comes from NZTA and was reported in your newspaper on July 5, 2011.

            Regards,

            etc.

          • I have asked George about this, his opinion is, why should people from the Shore have to pay a toll for a new crossing when routes like Waterview won’t be tolled

          • S

            Yes, but he doesn’t have too much say over whether or not it is tolled, right? But what I was trying to do was address the editorial’s use of Wood’s position to back up their view, rather than trying to change Wood’s mind.

          • Andrew

            Odd how no online comments to that editorial have been published.

          • They have finally released the comments, looks like a few readers put some comments on as most are saying how the editorial is flat out wrong.

          • George Wood gets confused between ‘tolling’ and ‘trolling’.

  • Greg N

    I don’t like cross posting, by my comments I posted earlier today before Matts post belong here as well:

    The last two paragraphs sum the position the Herald sees quite nicely:

    “Which is the more efficient and vital recipient of the nation’s economic resources? The case is clear for a harbour crossing, only timing is in dispute. The case for the CBD rail link is persuasive but unconvincing, a costly, nice-to-have project which in theory would relieve traffic congestion and alter residential development.

    Does the North Shore want or need rail in any case? The Northern Busway has been a successful public transport option and would presumably be more effective if the harbour bridge is decongested by a parallel road tunnel.”

    This is in a sense the governments take on the situation – “second harbour crossing (for cars) = doubleplusgood , anything with rails on it = doubleplusbad”.
    Or to misquote another George Orwellism “4 or more rubber wheels = good, steel wheels = bad”.

    The editorial ignores the fact that without a CRL in place, the second harbour crossing will become a major chokepoint for everyone and the effects of that will ripple out to impact everyone – PT, NEX or otherwise.

    And gotta love the meaning in that last sentence – that the Northern busway would be so much better if all those pesky cars were got out of its way (by way of a second crossing).

    Well hello, what do you think a railway is? A way to get pesky cars out of the way of the PT users!

    And Herald editor – where do you think all those “displaced from the harbour bridge” cars are going to go?
    Well actually, by the time the crossing is built, nowhere much, or very fast even if they can, all that traffic induced will see to that – CCFAS shows us that.
    And by extension, the successful Northern Busway will be stuck in traffic too, going nowhere fast.

    By then we will have squandered another 20 years of (in)action and be required to spend who knows how many tens of billions in 2030 dollars on yet another stop gap solution.

  • Greg N

    That Herald Business article on Tolling the bridge (from July 2011) is interesting in light of todays opinion piece:

    “…traffic forecasts showed harbour crossings were likely to halve by 2041 with a $6 toll and drop to 40 per cent with an $8 toll.
    An Automobile Association poll published last month showed 47.5 per cent of its Auckland members would be prepared to pay a $4 toll to use a new harbour crossing, but only 8.2 per cent would pay $6.

    The Government and the Transport Agency say they are a long way from making decisions about funding options.
    A spokesman for Transport Minister Steven Joyce said the new crossing would be an expensive project, demanding a combination of funding sources, “but it’s too early to say what those will be”.
    In its infrastructure investment plan, issued yesterday, the Government says it is likely to look at user charges such as road tolls to help pay for projects.”

    So, what we have here is that:

    (a) the Government via then Transport Minister Joyce, says tolls will likely be a fact of life for big projects such as any new crossing
    (b) there is a major disconnect between what AA members say they’ll pay to use the crossings and what planners say is required to pay for a new one
    (c) Any toll will reduce traffic on the crossings – depending on how high the toll is, with the $8 toll having the biggest impact by 2040.

    So given that any crossing will be tolled in some way, the tolling may become self-defeating in that it deters traffic to such an extent that it can’t pay its way.
    Hmm, that sounds like a few PPP’s around Australia of late doesn’t it?

    By the way that junction where the road tunnels leave/join the existing CMJ will be a real mess with ducking and diving traffic lanes and merging left right and centre to make it all work in such a small space. Does anyone think that this is even do-able as per the above diagram in the CMJ corridor – or do we need to purchase half the surrounding properties to make room for the inevitable flyovers??

    • On the last point, my understanding is that the the tunnel crossing would emerge just south of Cook St to link into the CMJ while the existing bridge and motorway would become a dedicated set of offramps to the central city so Fanshawe and Cook.

      How about build the rail line portion only and then toll the existing bridge to pay for it. That would cut demand for the road crossing and therefore ease pressure on the bridge while at the same time giving a much faster and more high capacity PT route.

    • starnius

      “or do we need to purchase half the surrounding properties to make room for the inevitable flyovers??”

      Why not? Don’t you like to live in a Los Angeles-style flyover land?

      Oh, wait, there will be no one living under there except maybe a few homeless, because we will have to bulldoze more residential areas / put on hold parts of Wynyard Quarter to even make it fit, I guess.

  • Brendan

    When forecasting need for a second harbour crossing, I wonder if antibiotic-resistant diseases are taken into account when doing the modelling.

    http://www.dailymail.co.uk/health/article-2267567/Antibiotic-resistance-terrorism-trigger-apocalyptic-scenario-warns-UKs-doctor.html

    • Matthew

      They probably haven’t even factored into the demand planning how many people are going to skive work and play the Pandemic boardgame each day.

    • starnius

      That’s only a reason against the CRL in their mind. Sharing space with the great unwashed in the trains and buses.

      You don’t get infected in air-conditioned single-person occupancy SUVs. Survival of the richest, eh?

  • AC

    Surely rail across the harbour is a no brainer (after CRL).

    This is off topic, but I just wanted to throw this quote out there.

    The prime minister, David Cameron, said: “Linking communities and businesses across the country and shrinking the distances between our greatest cities, high-speed rail is an engine for growth that will help to drive regional regeneration and invigorate our regional economies.

    “It is vital that we get on board the high-speed revolution. High-speed rail is a catalyst that will help to secure economic prosperity across Britain, rebalance our economy and support tens of thousands of jobs.”

    Can you ever imagine a right wing govt in this country saying anything like that? ;)

    • Gian

      Oh they would if their friends owned trains instead of trucks!

      • Brendan

        Why don’t their friends own trains? Can private companies run their trains on the public tracks in NZ?

        • Nick R

          Barring a handful of heritage tourist operators, no they can’t.

          • Matthew

            Kiwirail said that they don’t want to reintroduce passenger service south of Ch’ch, but are willing to have other operators do it. The Invercargill and Dunedin polytechs and universities are apparently thinking about it. Source wikipedia.

          • Nick R

            In theory, but Kiwirail charge such usurious track access fees that it is all but impossible for a commercial operator to set up. Really Kiwirail should be the track and infrastructure company leasing track access at the same rate to anyone (and not running trains themselves), while operations should be open to anyone who cares to run a train, within basic regulation.

      • Greg N

        Gian – slight correction – “oh they would if their friends ***still*** owned trains instead of trucks”!

        The “friends” got out of the train business a decade ago once they’d sold all the scrap steel, the spare land and anything else not nailed down that they could get away with.
        Then they sold the rotten carcass back to the Govt.

        And it still grates in the mouths of the current Govt that they have to live with trains. But be buggered if they’re going to ***invest*** in them.
        How else do you explain the last two Transport Ministers pathological hatreds of anything on rails!

  • Here’s the rest of that UK quote, from Conservative minister Patrick McLoughlin:
    http://www.guardian.co.uk/uk/2013/jan/28/hs2-high-speed-rail-links-unveiled

    “While doing nothing would be the easiest thing, it would also be the irresponsible thing”

    • Greg N

      Patrick,
      Its a bit bloody rich coming from him when it was his ilk (and his Thatcherite mates) who flogged the hell out of BR, then dismembered it into a thousand pieces and sold them all off as licenses for the new owners to take money off the poor old train user. And 20 years on, the train fares keep hiking up and up – way ahead of inflation – service is crap, and now they want to modernise it at the Gov’t cost. And the Pt user has no option but to pay pay pay, whether in fares, taxes or inconvenience why they rebuild a crap system into a hi-speed crap system so some crony mates can make a packet.

      Sounds all a bit like electricity generators here really doesn’t it?

      BTW: Thatcher tried to sell their power generators off too – like the railways and got no takers – no one wants to own a radioactive former nuclear power station let alone know how to dismantle one or make any profit from doing either.

      So tell me again, why we’re now selling the power generators off to the overseas investors – thats right since we don’t have any railways of any consequence to sell anymore.
      But wait! – Lucky us – we don’t have those nuclear skeletons in our power station closet and so electricity companies here are just about to become the NZ equivalent of what the British Railways are over there now.

      • AC

        It’s true the fare rises are mental, above inflation for the last 10 years or something.
        On the tube the fares have gone up hugely since I’ve lived in London. Arguably the service is worse than it was when I arrived :)
        ….and don’t get me started on buses. This is a result of Tories wanting to push costs onto the users and reduce tax payer subsidies. All while under performing companies and their CEOS get big bonuses. (sounds familiar)

        Hence why I started cycling :)

        You can still find really cheap train fares sometimes, you gotta get in quick though.

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