Airport only pretends to want a rail connection
On Saturday of all days, Auckland Airport (AIA) released their new 30 year vision including a website called Airport of the Future. In many ways this doesn’t appear all that different from their previous long term vision documents, with the key change seeming to be that they eventually want the future Northern runway to be longer than currently planned and consented for. Here’s the video that they have put together to show the long term vision.
There are a couple of key things that AIA are predicting to happen over the next 30 or so years.
- Annual passenger movements will increase from 14 million to 40 million
- The number of flights in and out of the airport will double to 260,000
- The number of jobs in the airport area will increase from roughly 20,000 to around 40k (airport say it will create extra 27k jobs but that’s across entire economy). To put things in perspective, the entire Highbrook/East Tamaki industrial area and the Manukau City Centre and surrounding industrial areas combined contain about 40k jobs.
- Daily trips to and from the airport predicted to increase from 63,000 per day to 140,000 per day.
That’s going to put a lot of pressure on the transport networks and the airport has been stressing that it’s leaving land aside for a future rail connection. However the more I look at what’s proposed the more it seems just like PT wash as they know it’s what the public want to hear. I’m pretty sure they don’t actually want a rail connection ever, and here are five reasons why.
1. Difficult route
If you look closely at the route above plus the staging plans you can see the route goes straight through about 9 different buildings to the south of Tom Pearce Dr. Even though the airport own the land it is going to be extremely difficult to kick out all of the businesses at or around the same time, especially if they have well established operations. My guess is we can expect increased construction costs as a result to compensate for this issue.
This could be reduced by shifting the corridor slightly north to Tom Pearce Dr.
2. Fully underground route and station.
It’s not 100% clear from the documents but from what I understand, the AIA have basically told Auckland Transport that the entire line has to be underground through their property – although that’s partly a practicality thing too. Starting from the north the line will now obviously have to go under the proposed longer northern runway. By the time it surfaced from that it wouldn’t have long to go before having to dive underground again for an underground station that AIA want. I also can’t see them wanting an at grade line through their airport services area as that would hinder necessary movements. That’s potentially up to 3km of underground tunnelling. The outcome of this is to significantly increase the cost of the project making it harder to justify.
Along with shifting the route slightly north to Tom Pearce Dr, once it’s clear of the runway there’s no reason why it couldn’t raise to the ground level and be elevated through to the terminal.
3. Distance from the terminal.
The main reason for building a rail connection to the airport is to make it easier for passengers and staff to access the area. The plan is to combine the international and domestic terminals into a single building with the domestic one in the south end with the international terminal in the northern end. Now I assume there would be underground links under the multiple roads accessing the terminals however even so the location of the station is potentially up to 500m away from the international terminal. Airports are obviously good at moving people long distances through the likes of travellators however that is quite some distance. The station would also be further way from the terminals than the parking buildings proposed. Perhaps there’s a legitimate reason for it, but it seems this is just another way to reduce demand for any rail service.
Surely it wouldn’t be that hard to extend the route a few hundred metres closer to the terminals.
4. Second Airport area station
As mentioned a bit part of the AIA’s plans is to turn the area into not just a better airport but a massive employment hub too. They are already working on developing a CBD type area with hotels, office parks and retail on their land. It may look close on the image below but those offices are about 1km away from the proposed station. This may be part of the reason for the airport station being short of the terminal but if that’s the case, the reality is most people working in the office areas aren’t going to want to cross a the mega roads needed to serve the terminals and carparking buildings to access it on a daily basis. With a station more directly connected to the terminals, another station about 1km east to serve the office and retail precincts might be better. It might add a little bit to the journey time of trains but help the line be far more useful to more people which should more than make up for it.
It’s no secret that AIA makes a lot of money from carparking and that revenue has been growing strongly. In the year to June 2013 the revenue from their parking business was just over $40 million, about 9% of their total income. Currently the airport has about 7,000 carparks and as part of their vision they want to expand that to about 20,000 carparks (although it isn’t clear if this is extra or total – the herald article suggests it’s extra). The intention is to focus the new parking in two mega buildings that are both directly linked to the terminal and they would be built in the first phase of the master plan which means before 2022. They are the two massive buildings in the image below. To give a sense of scale, the recently build Novotel Hotel right next to the international terminal can be seen right next to the curve in the terminal building. In terms of carparking buildings, the AT’s massive downtown carpark holds less than 2,000 cars.
All up there doesn’t seem like that much commitment and definitely not any real push by AIA to get a rail line to the airport built. At a recent IPENZ discussion I understand they basically said they thought the only people who would use a rail line/PT to the airport were the time rich. This is almost hilarious though as a train would be able to get people to the airport from the heart of the CBD in about 35 minutes, even with stopping at stations along the way. That’s a kind of time that simply won’t be possible to achieve on the roads most times of the day. They apparently also said expected buses to be able to cope with demand for the next 30 years yet seemed to think the roads around the airport would be able to handle a doubling of traffic.
Things definitely aren’t looking good for rail to the airport.