Late last year there was a flurry of activity surrounding the East-West Link with fears that Auckland Transport were going to be pushing for a new motorway right though Mangere at the cost of hundreds of houses. Then in December AT and the NZTA backed down saying that they would be working with communities to get the best result for all. This was good, even though it seemed to take them far too long time to realise the community’s considerable level of upset at the plan. Even if AT end up choosing a different option to pursue there is an aspect that has been bugging me a bit about one specific part of the project – Metroport.
Just in case you don’t know what Metroport is, it’s an inland port for the Port of Tauranga. Companies can drop off or pick up freight from there as if they were doing it to the seaport directly and the inland port contains all of the usual customs facilities needed to process freight. To get containers between Auckland and Tauranga containers are loaded on to trains and sent between the two sites. Truck congestion on Neilson St has been identified as an issue that can be improved through the construction of the East-West Link.
I understand that truck congestion on Neilson St is a problem at certain points of the day as a heap of trucks try to enter or leave the Metroport site at the same time. Part of the problems stems from the fact that PoT don’t operate a vehicle booking system.
MetroPort is not planning to introduce a VBS, instead importers can enjoy the freedom of calling any time of the day or night to uplift their cargo to meet their supply chain requirements
They not only do they not run a VBS but use the fact they don’t as a marketing technique. Just like we have with congestion on the roads during the morning and afternoon peaks caused by a lot of people all going to/from work at the same time, truck congestion at Neilson St is caused by businesses wanting to pick up/drop off containers at the same time. Implementing a VBS which would tell customers when they could pick up their containers thus allowing the demand to be spread out more evenly across the day could solve many of the problems being caused and that could remove a decent chunk of the issue that the East-West Link is trying to solve.
The question is if we should really be looking at building infrastructure that could cost hundreds of millions of dollars just because one company doesn’t want to schedule its customers. In my opinion it is simply not right for a business to be able to impose those sorts of costs on the city just because they choose not to change their operations.
Note: I understand that the Port of Auckland do run a VBS thus helping spread movements out which is why we don’t tend to see the same issues outside of the port during the day.
Third Rail Line
Part of the problem with Metroport will undoubtedly be future growth that is predicted from the site and for that to happen it also means that there will be more trains between Auckland and Tauranga. That becomes an issue because those freight trains need to share the tracks with passenger trains in Auckland and there is only so many that can be run at any one time.
The official plans for the next decade include a project to construct a third main line between Papakura and Otahuhu at a cost of about $100 million and some parts have of it have already been built as part of the electrification works (south of Otahuhu and around the Wiri Depot). Kiwirail don’t know when they will be able to build the rest of the project as they say it is subject to funding. However behind the scenes I hear that Kirirail have been pushing hard for Auckland Transport to pay for the third main using the argument that it frees up capacity for AT to run more PT services.
The third main is something most people agree that we need and it would be silly to massively increase freight capacity for trucks to get to and from Metroport while leaving capacity constraints on the rail network. Perhaps the solution to this is to actually get that third main built by tacking it on with the East-West Link. That would really make the project multi-modal.
Competition with Ports of Auckland
The reason Metroport exists is to allow the Port of Tauranga to compete with the council owned Ports of Auckland for business from the Auckland market and owing to its increasing growth it has obviously been successful. The East-West Link will resolve some of those transport issues and that will ultimately make Metroport even more attractive and competitive.
Regardless of what option gets chosen with the East-West Link, Aucklanders are going to be paying for a decent chunk of it through rates. This raises the situation that ratepayers would end up paying for a project that helps to allow the Port of Tauranga to be more competitive against the the councils own investments in the Ports of Auckland. I guess the question for the council is at what point does this project become something more than just a transport project and actually take into account the wider impact on the council group.