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CBT open letter to Gerry Brownlee about the CRL

In December last year the council released the City Centre Future Access Study (CCFAS) which looked at various options for moving more people in and around the city centre. Crucially this project also involved staff from various government agencies including the Ministry of Transport and it came to the conclusion that the City Rail Link was the best option. When it was initially released Gerry Brownlee was quick to dismiss the study however some of that may just be bluster for the media. The reality is that the government is yet to formally respond to the CCFAS. Perhaps they are spending their time trying to come up with some more road based options like the Eastern Highway.

But as while we sit and wait for the official response, the CRL in particular continues to be talked about on all sides including by Brownlee himself on Campbell Live. The answers he has provided in public have prompted the Campaign for Better Transport to write a letter to Brownlee about some of his assertions.

Hon Gerry Brownlee
Minister of Transport
Parliament Buildings

Cc: Hon Nikki Kaye, MP for Central Auckland; Hon Paula Bennett, MP for Waitakere; Rt Hon John Key


Dear Minister

Re City Rail Link

I am writing to you on behalf of the Campaign for Better Transport in regard to recent public comments you have made on Auckland’s City Rail Link (CRL). Your comments indicate that you have been poorly advised of the main benefits of the project, and that you also misunderstand the costs associated with the CRL.

Specifically, on 30th April on Campbell Live, you stated:

  • That the CRL is “a short little loop”
  • That the CRL will cost $3 billion dollars
  • That “we” (implying the central Government) are currently funding $1.6 billion dollars to expand the rail network in Auckland.
  • That “we” are spending $790m in the next three years on public transport in Auckland.

I would like to take the opportunity to correct and clarify each of these points. As the Minister of Transport it is vital you have an accurate understanding of Auckland transport issues.

The CRL is a not a short little loop

The CRL is a 3.5km rail tunnel forming a direct link between the Western Line near Mt Eden and Britomart, bypassing the current dog-leg via Newmarket as shown on the map below.


While the CRL is relatively short at 3.5km, in practice it will never function as a loop. Instead the most likely operating pattern will be for Western Line trains to proceed directly to Britomart via the tunnel, continuing on either the Southern or Eastern Lines. Similarly trains from the South and East will continue through Britomart station to the west. Western line commuters will enjoy considerable travel time savings on journeys to Britomart and beyond due to the CRL. For instance the trip from Henderson to Britomart currently takes about 45 minutes because of the dog-leg via Newmarket; via the CRL this trip is expected to take around 35 minutes – a saving of 10 minutes. Travel time savings of this magnitude will no doubt attract even more rail passengers from the west than there are currently. (From Auckland Transport’s most recent survey, some 5,000 people a day board the train at stations within Paula Bennett’s Waitakere electorate.) In addition, three new stations will be built on the new CRL: Newton, K’ Rd and Aotea. These stations will greatly increase the accessibility of the CBD region to all commuters on the rail network. For instance a trip from New Lynn to Aotea Station (near the Sky Tower) will take just 23 minutes at peak time – faster than a car journey and much faster than the current journey via public transport, which takes 45 minutes.

However, the key reason to construct the CRL is to increase the capacity of the entire Auckland rail network. The rail network is the backbone of the public transport network, since it offers the highest peak time capacity for people of any transport mode. Currently Britomart is a dead-end terminal station, with all trains having to exit via the same two tracks they arrived on. Consequently there is a relatively low limit (approximately 21 trains per hour inbound) to the number of trains the station can handle. As Britomart station is by far the most popular station on the network, a bottleneck is created which limits the number of trains that can operate on the entire network. The CRL opens up the capacity of the entire network by turning the Britomart cul-de-sac into a ‘through route’, ensuring we get value for money from the rail network and significantly enhancing the capacity of Auckland’s public transport network. The City Rail Link creates a second rail entrance to the city centre (from Mt Eden), doubling the number of trains that can enter the city centre at any one time. Capacity is further increased through the reduction of conflicting movements on the rail network as trains do not have to ‘turn around’ and return the way they came – they can simply keep on going. The CRL is a necessary prerequisite to any future expansion of the rail network in Auckland.

The CRL will not cost $3 billion

The 2011 business case review confirmed a cost estimate of $2.4 billion; however note that this also includes other network upgrades such as double tracking the Onehunga Line and the cost of additional trains. More recent estimates expect the cost of land purchases, constructing the tunnel itself, the three new stations and track works to be under $2 billion.

Central Government is not funding $1.6 billion to expand the rail network in Auckland

We assume that the $1.6 billion figure quoted is comprised of:

  • $600 million for Project DART
  • $500 million for the electrification infrastructure
  • $500 million for the new electric trains

Project Dart has been completed now and included double tracking of the Western Line, station upgrades including Newmarket Station and New Lynn Station, reinstating the Onehunga line and the new Manukau spur line. This was funded from the 2006 budget which precedes National forming a Government.

Funding for electrification infrastructure was initiated in the 2007 budget, with an appropriation for both Wellington and Auckland track upgrades. When National came to power, the regional fuel tax funding mechanism was stopped and the electrification project was put on hold. Eventually this went ahead and was paid for, as I understand it, from nationwide fuel taxes.

Auckland’s new electric trains are being funded by way of a loan which is repayable by Auckland at commercial rates of interest. It is noted that National contributed a crown grant of $90m to procure more electric trains than originally specified. NZTA are also contributing to the loan repayments in the same way they provide money for PT operating costs.

At the same time, Auckland Transport track access fees to KiwiRail were increased to in excess of $20 million annually.

In summary, the claim that the Government is funding $1.6 billion to expand the rail network is patently an exaggerated and misleading claim. The current budget includes little in the way of future funding for Auckland’s rail network.

Central Government is not spending $790m in the next three years on public transport in Auckland

Prompted by an earlier claim in the media from your office that $890m has been budgeted for public transport in Auckland over three years, I wrote to your office seeking clarification on where this figure came from. As you will be aware, you directed my enquiry to the NZTA, who responded with the following:

For clarification, the $890 million is the combined committed expenditure from the National Land Transport Fund (administered by the NZTA) and funding from Auckland Council for Auckland public transport services and infrastructure, between 1 July 2012 and 30 June 2015. The NZTA’s share of the $890 million is $488 million. This is made up of $449 million for public transport services and $39 million for public transport infrastructure.

Almost half of the quoted figure comes from Auckland Council ratepayers, not from central Government. Without diminishing the fact that $488m over three years is a substantial commitment from the NLTF, it is misleading to be implying $790 or $890 million is being spent by central Government, when clearly it is not.

In summary, I hope you have found this information helpful in understanding more about the City Rail Link, and that we now have a common understanding of the project objectives and costs.

You will be aware that we have previously sought to meet with you, and again we would welcome a meeting with you to discuss Auckland transport issues in more detail in the near future. Please advise if this is possible.

As a side note, my understanding is that Gerry Brownlee is the first transport minister who has refused to meet with the CBT as even Steven Joyce did.

37 comments to CBT open letter to Gerry Brownlee about the CRL

  • MFD

    That’s not fair! You’re using facts! Gerry’s not going to like this…

  • I meant to mention that we also know that the government has recently been doing polling of Aucklanders including asking about the CRL.

    • Sacha

      That seemed to be National Party campaign polling for Williamson, not govt as such.

      • By Govt I meant National Party but my understanding is it wasn’t for Williamson but for them in general. Have heard it suggested that CRL came out strongly.

        • Which explains the feverish activity of the NatPat pollster, David Farrar, denouncing all thing Ak Council; he knows they are loosing the people in Auckland, and, I believe, Christchurch. Regardless of generalised polls I would be surprised if a party with no natural coalition partners [all maimed by association] can win an election without a strong showing in the two biggest metropolitan centres….?

    • MFD

      Given that this is an open letter, will it appear anywhere other than this blog?

    • Greg N

      I got asked yesterday to fill in an online survey (SayIt) about how the Auckland Council and Len Brown are going and of course the CRL, so assume this is the survey you refer to?
      Or is this another one?

      Needless to say I make sure that to let them know that the Council is got to be way more than rates and rubbish and that Central Govt needs to get out of Aucklands way.
      And of course, CRL is needed ASAP.

      • No the National Party pollster David Farrar has been doing polls about it.

        • To be fair to David, his company, Curia, does polling for anyone who will pay it. They’re not part of National. David’s well-known association with National doesn’t make his polling company part of National. And I’m saying this as someone who disagrees with most of David’s positions on most things and especially with his positions on Auckland’s future course.

  • tuktuk

    Nice letter. I think the sound-bite from this is that the CRL is to the rail network, what Spaghetti Junction is to the motorway network. In both cases they are enablers that allow the larger network (be that motorway or rail) to function effectively.

    The CRL is is rail’s Spaghetti Junction…….a motorway network without Spaghetti Junction would be unthinkable, although many years ago this was the case.

    A should also add that we now have a rescue mission to do on the Unitary Plan on the marketing side, and possibly the sequencing side of things. Right now, it has just become another issue to play party politics with.

  • Greg N

    A side question related to the first point- is there a similar running pattern that the post-CRL trains will have, somewhere else already in another metropolitan area elsewhere that people will be familiar with?

    I am thinking say the London Underground.
    If you could say the CRL will enable the Auckland CBD to work the same how the AAA area of London does where the XXX and YYY lines are linked by the ZZZ line and people can transfer around easily and quickly. [and preferably some part of the Tube without the Circle line being involved to dispel the concept of a loop being involved somewhere].

    While Gerry and his ilk might not have been to London (or used the Tube) for many years – many of the news media reports and a lot of the general members of public will have or at least know about the Tube and how you change trains a lot to get where you’re going – and more to the point – they can easily find the London tube map to see for themselves how that works with transfers and the like now without having to envision something on the CBD map which clearly people have a problem doing – hence the ongoing “City Rail Loop” talk from many people (and not just Gerry talking that way as a way of denigrating the whole thing).

    • Patrick B

      It can be compared to the city circle tunnel in Sydney. Many Aucklanders have visited Sydney, and have experienced the density and high activity levels in the Sydney CBD, which is only possible with high capacity transport links, such as the city circle tunnel.

    • Sailor Boy

      I *think* that DC operates a pretty similar system.

  • Melon

    How does Gerry not get dragged over the coals for publicly spouting false information?

  • Kevyn

    You need to realise that this is a Government that has been exagerating its contribution to Canterbury recovery by an order of magnitude for more than two years. The Campbell Live interview showed just how confident they are that the media is too numeraphobic to ever challenge an orchestrated litany of statistics.

    • Melon

      Surely numerophobia is easy to overcome when it’s a simple A/B comparison using statistics provided by the Minister’s own office?

    • Kevyn

      As with all phobias it is an irrational fear. Throwing numbers at the newws media is like throwing a tarantula at an arachnaphobic, it’ll only make things worse. But if CBT were sit down with Campbell prior to any future interviews with Brownlee to brief them on the available stats and precisely what they mean then Campbell would be prepared and would be able to respond with probing questions that would put Brownlee on the back foot. What pollies are being told by their madia coaches is that throwing numbers at journalists in live interviews means they won’t be challenged. The technique for print media is to ensure that only the “approved” numbers are easily obtained (ie provided in press releases) and that the inconvenient numbers are difficult to obtain. For instance until last Decembernthe impact of the Christchurch earthquakes on the GDP was available only as per cent changes to Treasuries forecasts, so you needed to look at three reports and use a spreadsheet to work out the actual dollar amounts. The actual dollar amount was reported in Treasuries briefing on BPS2013 to the Finance and Expenditure Committee just before Christmas but how many journos read those reports?

      • Melon

        Anyone contact Campbell Live to let them know? Like him or loathe him, Cambo’s program is probably the closest thing to investigative journalism New Zealand has, and from my experience his team do follow up their stories.

  • patrick m

    I’m of the opinion that the media in NZ lack the integrety and confidence to actually back themselves. What they need is some back bone and journallistic independence!

    • I would go further and say that the term “NZ journalist” is an oxymoron. Far more investigative, evidence based journalism is done on this blog than I have seen in the entire NZ media in the two years since I returned to NZ.

      I stopped watching the evening news and I now find I am much better informed about almost any issue in NZ. I may not know who Kim Kardashian is sleeping with but I think I can live with that. I would say that Radio NZ is the only media outlet that retains any integrity.

  • Jon Reeves

    Just stop it. You’re trying to ruin the National Parties “lies and deception” campaign.

    However, the next time Gerry and Co. use the false numbers you can inform the media that he was advised of the correct information and has chosen to lie in public.

    • Sailor Boy

      That would be brilliant.

    • Stu Donovan

      I’ve often wondered whether the next time National says “City Rail Loop” in parliament someone in the opposition should use a supplementary questions to ask them what the hell they’re talking about.

      • Similarly the “Auckland City Council” which Bill English repeatedly refers to, which had not existed since November 2010 following amalgamations put in place by his own government. Doesn’t give me much hope of many of them actually knowing the subject matter of the things they regularly make decisions on very well.

      • Sailor Boy

        @Julie Anne Genter?

  • Matt- Are you employed by AC/AT?

    You should be, you make a better simpler case for the CRL than they have.

    If any Polis are reading this- is there any way to do some “horse trading” with Welly to make it happen? It is the single most important project to improve Auckland and save us from a nasty future. Dammit!!

  • Response from Gerry Brownlee’s office:

    Good Morning Mr Pitches

    Thank you for the invitation to Hon Gerry Brownlee to meet to discuss the project objectives and costs of the City Rail Link.

    Unfortunately, due to heavy diary commitments, the Minister regrets he is not able to meet with you.

    Kind regards

    Ministerial Secretary to Hon Gerry Brownlee

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