Following on from years of investigation and initial design, Auckland Transport are currently going through the process to get the City Rail Link designated. Over the last few years the project has been discussed not only on this blog but also in other forms of media. I tend to find that attitudes to the project generally fall into one of three general categories – those that oppose it, those that support it and those that support it with changes. It is the last of those groups that I want to look at with this post, in particular the suggestions that the route the CRL takes is wrong, or at least not ideal. While he is by no means the only person doing so, one of the common people to push this idea is Michael Barnett with his most recent mention of it coming just before Christmas.
It is very clear that the principle of turning the end-of-the-line Britomart rail station into a through stop on a loop line, so doubling the number trains that can travel on the rail network, has been sold to the Auckland public and has strong support as part of the city’s transport solution.
Whether the extended rail line should go closer to Auckland University or Auckland City Hospital to maximise the number of passengers the rail service will attract is important detail for transport experts to sort out.
Other common destinations frequently mentioned include Wynyard Quarter and the North Shore. It’s pretty easy to understand why each of these locations are on the list:
- The Hospital area has thousands of staff who are coming and going at different hours and on top of that there are huge numbers of people visiting family members. Across the road there is also the med school which would house quite a number of students.
- The two Universities have tens of thousands of students between them and as we know, students are large users of PT
- Wynyard Quarter is a large area where the is expected to be a lot of development, both residential and commercial in coming years
- The North Shore is the largest area in Auckland that doesn’t currently have access to a rail service.
I’ll come back to look at the stations again shortly but first I want to see if there is actually a route that could take all of these locations into effect. I think there is a potential route that takes these all into account and it is shown in red below with some potential station locations in yellow. For comparison purposes I have shown the existing rail network in black and the CRL in blue.
As you can see it takes in all of the major destinations listed above and would allow for a future connection to the North Shore, all of which is great, but what are the downsides?
First of all from where the Grafton stations is, down to where Wellesley St crosses the motorway is a change in elevation of around 50m, way too steep for a rail line which means any tunnel would have to start back towards Mt Eden and Newmarket respectively. That would make such a tunnel, even just to Wynyard quite a bit longer than the CRL and therefore more expensive. It would have to provide a lot more advantages above that delivered by the CRL to justify changing the route.
The next bit is perhaps the key problem with such a route, how do you run services. One of the beauties of the currently planned CRL route is that it allows us to join together the routes on our existing network creating a handful of more efficient through routes, like shown below.
When we look at the red route however, things aren’t as easy. At Wynyard we don’t want to be building a terminus station Terminus station like we have with Britomart and even when such a line is extended across the harbour, there is unlikely to be enough demand to extend all services across there. The most logical solution in my head would be to send Western line and Onehunga line trains down the red route. With capacity at Britomart freed up, additional services from the Southern and Eastern lines could be sent there. This of course raises questions about how people would use the overall network. Would someone from the Eastern line have to travel into Britomart transfer to a service going out to Britomart, then onto a third service to get across the harbour. Alternatively would they have to walk or bus up Queen St to transfer? Neither of these options sounds appealing, even to someone like me who supports PT, and the transfer concept strongly. Trains from the Western line would also not get the same level of time saving benefits they will get with the CRL.
The third key area where such a proposal falls over is with the station catchments. The hospital is already less than 500m away from the Grafton station and it is fairly easy to walk between the two. The same applies for the universities with the Aotea St station. With integrated ticketing and fares it will be even easier for those that don’t want to walk to jump on one of the many that will travel along either Wellesley St, Symonds St or Park Rd. In fact both the Hospital and Universties are easy to access from two directions, as shown below.
Also as Patrick pointed out in this post, depending on where the final entrances and exits to the Aotea station end up being, the walk could be reduced further. One thing the CRL station would do is likely provide a bit better access to the western side of the CBD. We also miss out on having stations that will help revitalise both the Karangahape Rd and Newton areas.
All of this doesn’t mean I think there aren’t some good parts to this alternate route. The proposed Aotea station is said to already include provision for platforms under Wellesley St for a future connection to the North Shore. As part of that the Wynyard station would be built and would have a lot more development around it to be used. From Aotea the line could extend along the route shown in red or go somewhere else entirely different, perhaps something like the future network I suggested a while ago.
Instead of arguing about the route, something that has been looked at a number of times, lets focus on getting the proposed CRL under way first. Even so it wouldn’t half surprise me if the government use a route like suggested as a way to support the idea of a CRL without having to agree with completely with the council.