The transport committee meets next Tuesday and there is quite a bit on the agenda. I will look at aspects at a later date but one that caught my eye is something that has been discussed a bit here recently, the Manukau Southern Rail Link Connection (page 213 – 6.9MB). We have talked about a bit in the past here and here. This report doesn’t really add anything new but does summarise many of the issues. The link is shown in red below and the intention is that it would allow for trains from south of Manukau to directly access the Manukau station.
The report confirms that there are some potentially big barriers to building the link. The first of which pretty much confirms that some really poor planning went into this entire area, but I guess that is fits with how Manukau has always been. About the only thing that was done right was done by the NZTA who designed the motorway bridge piers to enable it. Since that time, Kiwirail have built an Inland Port on the Eastern side of the tracks, partially covering the path of the southern link. That will only serve to add costs to the project.
As we also know, a key rail project will be a third main line that will help to separate freight trains from passenger lines however that is going in on the western side of the tracks. It means any freight trains accessing the inland port HAVE to use the same tracks as our passenger trains, increasing the chances of delays occurring. Auckland Transport is also building the EMU depot on the opposite side which will see a lot of train movements in the area, especially when combined with the Manukau junction itself. In my view the EMU depot and the Inland Port should have been on opposite sides.
Even if it can be built cheaply enough, there are also potential operational issues from doing so, in particular could the two track Manukau terminus station handle all of the trains from both North and South not to mention the inevitable conflicts between freight trains and passenger trains in this area?
As always with these things, the biggest issue will end up being if the benefits outweigh the costs. There is no information given as to just how much the physical works however the report does say that just to run a 15 minute service between Papakura and Manukau would require an additional 3 EMU. Those cost around $7.5 million each to buy and at least $400,000 each per year to run.
It is worth remembering that there is still a lot of development and services to add to the existing network. By the time electrification is finished and all of the electric trains rolled out we are expected to see a train every 10 minutes to/from both Papakura and Manukau. With those higher frequency services and a quick transfer at Puhinui, the benefit of a direct service from the south to Manukau reduces significantly. That means it may only really become a viable after significant growth in Manukau as well as particularly the greenfields expansion that is proposed south of Papakura.
Overall the most interesting thing about the report is that it suggests Auckland Transport are currently working on updating their rail development plan which will set out what they intend to do to improve the rail network out to 2041. I’m definitely looking forward to seeing what comes out of it and I wonder if they will still be using the same models which underestimate rail trips?
p.s. Nice of the council to use an image from the blog, the map has obviously come from this post.