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The East-West Link and Metroport

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.

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.

Booking System

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. 

34 comments to The East-West Link and Metroport

  • Possibly a dumb question, but is this Metroport expecting any shipments by sea? Or is it just there because it is near the airport? Just seems odd to be by the harbors edge if you are not expecting to use the harbour – but I can’t really think it would be a useful location for any ships to get to…

    • No its an inland port. Ships arrive at Tauranga and the containers get loaded straight on to a train which then gets sent up to Auckland where they are processed. That it is near water is more of a coincidence than anything else. The primary reason for it being where it is is where the rail lines are.

  • Christopher T

    Let me get this right. The privately-owned Port of Tauranga Ltd decides it wants to expand its business by building Metroport, a facility in direct competition with the Auckland Council owned Ports of Auckland. In order for this facility to function at an optimum level it needs a third rail line and an east-west link; in the interests of competitive advantage, PoT is not prepared to introduce a VBS which might remediate the need for massive infrastructure development. It expects that this infrastructure will be paid for by taxpayers and Auckland ratepayers and Auckland Transport and NZTA agree that this is a ‘good thing’ and can be done with minimal community consultation. So, in the interests of private profit, AT, NZTA and KiwiRail (belatedly) are quite happy to not only fork out the funding but also devastate an entire community, further significantly compromise the environment and encourage even more motor vehicle movements in what is evidently becoming a congested urban space. I’m all for encouraging rail freight and I’m far from averse to taxpayer funds being used for projects that benefit the community as a whole, but there’s something fundamentally wrong about this proposal: it appears to be nothing more than another example of socialising the losses and privatising the profits.

    • Starnius

      Well, the East-West Link is being sold to be for more than just metroport (and in some options would benefit it only indirectly), but some of the things you say certainly are true. Corporations are quite happy to take taxpayer help after all, and why wouldn’t they?

      It’s up to government to not fall into the trap of favouring one particular company, or favouring companies over society as a whole. The current track record isn’t good on that (though at least in NZ, it very rarely is due to outright corruption…)

    • nonsense

      and takes business away from the Auckland Ratepayer’s owned POAL with those ratepayer’s money. Sounds like a lose-lose for us and a win-win for them

    • You forget – capitalism and the free market only applies to individuals and small businesses. Large businesses and corporations operate under a socialist system as that suits them better.

  • George D

    Auckland Transport has been set up in such a way that its natural behaviour is to ignore the interests of Auckland Council, and to ignore the interests of the Auckland public. They’re good at fulfilling their objectives: more roads, a little more public transport, greenwashing.

    (This is of course because Rodney Hide designed the CCOs as a vehicle for the privatisation and subsequent commercial management of public assets, irrespective of the desires or interests of the public. A design feature, not a bug.)

    • I was thinking the same as I read this – that with AT being unelected and largely independent of the council, they could be the ones to advance unpopular projects such as the Eastern Motorway that cost John Banks his mayoralty.

  • Well if the nation actually had a national ports strategy, and had decided to make PoT the primary North Island Port, then all of this [including the necessary rail line upgrade] would make sense, instead it looks like a random act of ‘picking winners’ which of course this government doesn’t believe in and would never ever do….. oh wait.

    It would seem that PoAL have a good case to argue for the third rail line between their harbour port and the Main Trunk, including their inland port at Wiri, to be included in this out of equity. If the state is to subsidise one port by building infrastructure that makes it more competitive then isn’t it only just that it keeps the playing field level by including transport assistance to their competitor too? Isn’t competition their religion here? They don’t have a strategy, because the invisible hand of the market is always perfect, so if they’re going to meddle don’t they have to do it evenly?

    And clearly increasing the efficiency of moving more containers from both ports by rail will also help with road congestion and reduce road damage and crashes caused by trucks. Furthermore a dedicated freight line all the way to the Auckland port will mean KR can run more daytime freight trains on the Eastern and Southern lines and reduce night time movements, added to the quiet and clean new passenger trains then the environmental effects of using these expanded corridors will be hugely improved.

    So third main to the port and to the two inland ports, and improved road connection between Metroport and Nielson St and the Motorways. Worth evaluating and consulting on, give it the full test like they have to the CRL, of course they always do that for big investments… oh wait.

    But of course that would also require a national infrastructure policy that didn’t start by picking one mode only but looked at needs and opportunities across all modes and all solutions, and not just heavy engineering ones….

  • northshoreguynz

    I vaguely remember the last Labour govt had a national transport strategy being looked at that involved coastal shipping. Or did I imagine that?

  • George D

    It may be worth digging up the resource consent for Metroport. There will be conditions relating to traffic, and I’d be interested to see what was imposed.

  • Adam W

    Just when I was beginning to think there would be no more major surprises from the Auckland Transport Blog for long time readers, Matt you have found biggie; Wow.
    How on earth can AT transport get away with this ? Where are our local councillers – have they been informed, do they know?
    Crazy stuff.

  • Anthony

    I have been told one of the key drivers for East West link is freight to and from the airport to East Tamaki and areas between. I am a bit skeptical of this for a few reasons. Planes don’t seem to be getting much bigger unlike cargo ship. Ships can carry a lot more then planes can, planes often carry urgent and high value freight but not masses of containers. Planes also cost a lot to run as far as fuel goes. For these reasons I can’t see a huge volume of freight being generated by the airport, there do seem to be a lot of logistics centres at the airport however.

    Some of the draft east west link options seemed to totally avoid the metroport area. There was that one to the south of the harbour.

    I would prefer to see Neilson St, Church St and SEART upgraded. I would look at grade separation at a few key intersections. I south facing motorway link, due to the current motorway layout, I think it would need to tie into the Mt Wellington on / off ramps with a fly over to SEART. As I believe capacity limitations and safety would not allow for another on/off ramp. I believe most of this was suggest by Matt L previously.

    There may also be a need for another link to East Tamaki, a quick look at google maps does not suggest anything easy.

    • Don’t think airport as much as future business hub; East Tamaki and the airport are Auckland’s premier non-CBD business growth areas. In the eyes of many business the link between the two is about letting these two areas grow together with tight surface transport integration, rather than just transhipment from the airport.

      As for air transport; it’s not all about freight. Aerotropolis is a good book to read as a primer on this whole line of thinking. Form follows the most transformative transport mode of the day. During my lifetime, 1970s on, it’s been air travel. I’m looking forward to the day we get back to other modes being transformative in New Zealand, as it is beginning to be in other major western countries.

  • Greedy Capitalist

    I’m an importer who uses Ports of Auckland to get my products into the country.

    However, after being stung by the strike caused by greedy port workers last year, which caused massive disruption to my business and significant costs, I would gladly wash my hands of them.

    Metroport helps competition by keeping POAL honest – POAL can’t charge monopoly pricing if there is a competitively priced product.

    If POAL was the only provider of port services to Auckland, you would all be paying more for my products because I would have to pass the increased cost on to you. And you would all whinge about it too.

    Further, if the government went into business in competition with you, and then refused to invest in needed infrastructure for the reason of furthering its own business interests, you might be a bit annoyed.

    Finally, should Metroport implement a VBS? Of course it should. Its relatively low cost and has the potential to delay the necessity of expensive taxpayer dollars being spent.

    Should the East West link not be built because the Auckland Council owns POAL? GTFO. Seriously. The reason the performance of POAL is poor is the unionised workforce, not the existence of competition from Tauranga. You guys are usually pretty good with your arguments. This one is extremely weak.

    Also – increased container freight traffic on trains is a problem? Oh dear. I suppose we should load them all onto trucks on SH2 instead?

    • No one is saying that there shouldn’t be competition, far from it but at the same time there is probably a balance that needs to be achieved between how much we invest that benefits some companies over others. What that exact balance is I don’t know.

      Further I’ve said numerous times that there is definitely pieces of work that need to be done to improve east-west flow, not just for Metroport but for other businesses too.

      As for your last point about increased container freight on trains. Perhaps you missed the part in the post where I said that if we are building the East-West link that we should probably be building the third main at the same time to handle that increase in rail traffic.

    • Yeah; in my view the gov should fund the rail link to both ports’ Auckland bases. More competition. Level playing field. More efficiency in the supply chain. In the meantime PoT should pull finger and set up a VBS. And Neilson St needs work.

    • Waspman

      Yes those greedy unionsied workers whom are paid half a million plus bonuses/expenses etc annually. Oh hang on that’s the management isn’t it…

      And ” The reason the performance of POAL is poor is the unionised workforce” really??? Big call to blame the people on the ground rather than the blind ineptness running the show now isn’t it? God its astounding that this kind of unsubstantiated crap still exists out there in Nationalland even now with all the cheap minimum wage unproductive non union labour that this country has to offer.

  • The trucks that pick up freight from Metroport, then drive to industrial areas such as Wiri, Penrose, Tamaki, and Henderson. Places that are on the rail network, and until the 1980′s had freight depots. A solution therefore may be to spread out the transshipping locations (road to rail and rail to road) by reopening some of these freight depots, so that the truck journeys are not all concentrated on one location.

    It also shows the stupidity of establishing freight generating (industrial and light industrial) areas away from the railway, such as all the development around West Tamaki, and more recently Highbrook. There is still so much land around the railway that could be used for industrial purposes, even at Wiri. Instead, AC and AT are promoting the establishment of new freight generators at silly locations like Westgate, forcing more truck transhipment around Auckland’s roads and into/out of Metroport.

    The council has a freight strategy, but it is actually designed to propmote what they are doing now. It needs to be scrapped and a new one started from scratch, that puts industry and rail transhipment points in the same places.

    • Steve D

      Exactly. District plans should only permit new heavy industrial subdivisions next to rail, and should have land reserved so rail sidings can be added for customers who want them. I’d like to see this taken into account if land around Puhinui Rd is opened up for industrial use: it should tie in with a designation for Wiri-Airport rail, which could do double duty as an effective branch for freight.

  • Jnr IMEX

    There’s something missing here – PoT is the country’s largest export port, whereas PoAL is the largest import port. The primary activity of each port is quite different. Ref: http://www.transport.govt.nz/assets/Import/Documents/Freight-Information-Gathering-System-Quarter-4-Container-Data-Report-Oct-Decl-2011.pdf See page eight for a nice chart.

    Obviously both ports do both imports and exports, but Metroport isn’t the direct competition that this article would suggest.

    Yeah, they do need to have a booking system and the council (or relevant CCO) or central government needs to step in and make this a regulatory requirement. As many commenters have said (paraphrased), why the heck should tax payers foot the bill for a business electing not to employ “accepted practice” tools?

    • Luke Christensen

      We are talking just about containers here, where there is a high level of competition between Tauranga and Auckland.
      This Auckland about 800,000 containers per annum, and Tauranga 500,000. Also Auckland gets most of the imports, but few export containers so this needs to balance out somewhat.
      Tauranga also shows up very high if volume or weight of exports is used, but this is mostly low value logs.
      Auckland is much higher than Tauranga on the value comparator because it focusses on containers and cars.

      Interesting news today about Port of Tauranga, who have bought land on outskirts of Christchurch (Rolleston) to start a Metroport style operation there. This is designed to feed containers to Timaru (which they now own half of) and onward to Tauranga to up the volume there.

  • Anthony McBride

    Would replacing the freight traffic diesel locomotives with electric ones help speed them along more? At least until they are well out of Auckland where they won’t run into so much train traffic?

    • MFD

      No. The real issue is the difference between identical EMUs operating a start-stop pattern with non-stopping (albeit with a slower maximum speed) freight trains that are much longer. Although electric locomotives offer greater power to mass ratios they will be just as adhesion limited as diesel electric locomotives. It comes down to having 6 axles powered out of a total of maybe 126. Added to which the expenses and operational hassles of staging and changing locomotives on the outskirts of the city would add significant cost to rail freight. Maybe enough to transfer some of it to road (and the HPMV programme is doing enough of that already).

    • Jnr IMEX

      There’s a great idea, sadly the Wlg, Akl and Central electrics are mutually incompatible.

      So there’s nothing to be gained on the current setup…

      Only in NZ, eh?

      • MFD

        Why is it a great idea if it won’t solve the primary problem?

        • Jnr IMEX

          @MFD, my comment was directed @Anthony McBride – The idea of running electrics wouldn’t be a bad idea, if the electrics were compatible, as there’d be no need to swap locos, etc… Staging already happens outside of Akl, electrics all the way would reduce how much staging was required.

      • conan

        Auckland and the Central section are the same electrics are they not?

        • Jnr IMEX

          According to a KR friend, no… Not the same.

          Ya have to shake your head and ask the obvious question – Why go to the expense and hassle of installing electrics, without trying to harmonise the system.

          • From what I understand the two 25kv systems are the same except for the current levels. Auckland requires much higher current for large numbers of powerful trains. I believe that Auckland EMUs could run on the NIMT just fine, but running existing electric locos in Auckland would cause them to blow a fuse. Presumably new electric locos will be able to run on both in the future.

            That’s what I was told anyway.

          • Luke Christensen

            The Wellington electric use 1930′s technology, DC current, as that was when system was installed. Auckland and Central both use 25kv, but there is some issue with the EF locomotives which mean they can’t currently run in Auckland. However I think the EMU’s could run in the central section, possible to retrofit EF’s easily, and certainly easy to order new locos that could work on both, or all 3 systems.
            Note Eurostar train sets designed to work on 3 different systems, even third rail.

  • Matt

    Seems a bit silly that Metroport don’t have a booking on system but surely it’s in the interest of most operators to send in trucks at a time of day when they know they’ll be wasting time snarled up in traffic? If they don’t then it would surely be a better idea for them to have a quiet chat with some of their key clients and pre-empt blanket council action?

    As for the third main line (and ideally a fourth so you’ve got a matching pair) out of Auckland – it’s something that you need if you’re ever going to have a resumption of a decent level of InterCity rail services to places like Hamilton and Tauranga, continue to grow railfreight and just to maintain a reliable metro rail service. Someone’s got to pay for it and arguably Auckland benefits as much as anyone else, so we should all be cheerleading for it regardless of who eventually foots the bill.

    As for whether the central AC electrics can run in Auckland, off the top of my head there are four potential problems. Bear in mind that even though they both use 25kV systems, electrification technology has moved on massively since the 1970′s and that as a result Auckland was spec’d to use best practice and use ‘off the shelf’ designs.

    1) Locos draw too much current – can probably be resolved by upgrades to feeder stations, upping limits that breakers cut in, finding a way to restrict loco power consumption within Auckland
    2) Locos produce too much electromagnetic interference for signalling/power supply/urban environment – some kind of suppression equipment or rebuild/replace locos
    3) There are loading gauge issues – either find a way to shave the locos/infrastructure or buy new locos
    4) The catenery of the two systems has different physical characteristics – this is a common issue in mainland Europe – you can usually get around this with two separate pantographs on the loco

    • Matt

      P.S. Yes, it’s arguable that replacements for the EF class should be dual-voltage and capable of running on all three systems. Also, any new EMUs for Wellington should also have at the very least, passive provision for dual voltage. This is fairly inexpensive and very common in the UK (25kV/750v 3rd rail) and France (25kV AC/1.5kV DC)

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