As the Council undertakes the challenging task of putting together its budget for the next 10 years there is renewed focus on the City Rail Link project and the extent to which Council can afford to fund its share of the project over the upcoming years. With stage one of the project pushing ahead in the relatively near future and lots of questions remaining around the timing of government’s contribution to the project as a whole, the timing and phasing of the CRL will clearly – and rightfully given its cost and its fundamental importance to transforming Auckland – be a key point of discussion over the next few months.
A good conversation about CRL needs to be well informed though – and in this regard it seems that both the Council and Auckland Transport have dropped the ball on the project again and again over the past few years, to the extent that it remains fundamentally misunderstood over and over again, including by local politicians in areas that would benefit from the project tremendously.
A couple of days ago I wrote about how the CRL helps address capacity issues, particularly in the CBD however it’s not only the CBD that benefits from the project. Last year I put together a post outlining how the CRL benefits various parts of Auckland as well as the region as a whole. It’s worth revisiting those key points:
Benefits for all of Auckland (and New Zealand):
We generally don’t invest in transport just for a transport outcome, but because we want an improved transport situation to lead to other, wider, benefits – in particular economic growth and productivity. The CRL will enable the Auckland City Centre to grow much larger than would be feasibly possible without it – the City Centre Future Access Study highlighted the massive transport issues that we’ll face in the not too distant future unless we build the link.
Enabling a larger and more vibrant city centre (amenity of the place isn’t going to be great with thousands upon thousands of buses trawling through it) is shown internationally to significantly boost economic productivity – as city centre workers are generally more productive than those elsewhere. This chart is from the 2010 business case:
There are two distinct elements which make up this difference:
- Some particularly productive jobs tend to exclusively or near exclusively locate in the CBD
- The same job done in the CBD is generally able to be performed more productively than elsewhere
Ultimately a more productive and successful economy should benefit everyone, through an increased standard of living, an increased tax take that can be spend on social services etc. Compared to cities like Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane, Auckland has a relatively small city centre as a proportion of total employment – which the economic research above tends to indicate could well be a reason behind Auckland’s relatively poor economic performance.
The other main ‘region wide’ benefit is how having a vastly improved rail system will take pressure off Auckland’s already stressed roading network as the population grows. The price of planned motorway upgrades (e.g. $5 billion Harbour Crossing) highlights that expanding the motorway network to match population growth is just impossible – whereas the rail system has huge unused capacity that the CRL will enable. It also tends to be the car trips which can easily be replaced by rail (longer peak time trips to the city centre) which create the most significant congestion for everyone else – so getting those people off the road could well help your commute, no matter where you live and where you’re heading to.
Benefits for the North:
Although the rail system in Auckland does not (yet) extend to the North Shore there are ways in which the CRL still benefits those on the North Shore. Let’s just run through a few:
- The CRL means that fewer buses need to be run into the city centre from the south, west and east – which frees up space in the city centre for buses from the North Shore.
- A future North Shore railway line would link up to the existing rail network at Aotea Station, therefore the CRL is essential to enable that future line to connect up to the rest of the rail network. A North Shore connection at the existing Britomart Station would place too much pressure on the Quay Park junction and basically negate the ability to ever build CRL.
- A large number of buses from the North Shore in the future will travel along Wellesley Street, meaning that Aotea Station will be really handy if passengers from the North Shore wish to transfer onto a train to travel elsewhere in Auckland.
Benefits for the West:
For people outside the realistic catchment of the Western Railway Line, the benefits are quite similar to people living on the North Shore. The northwest’s future busway along State Highway 16 will inevitably feed a lot of buses into a city from a corridor that’s not likely to be replaced with rail – and those buses will need to go somewhere and will operate much better if they’re not competing with buses from rail served areas for streetspace.
For those within the Western Line catchment, you are some of the biggest beneficiaries of the CRL as you trips will be significantly quicker if you’re travelling to the CBD, but also you’ll be able to enjoy significantly more trains as a result of CRL unlocking the capacity of the whole rail system – creating a huge benefit even if you’re not travelling into the city centre. Here’s a useful before and after in terms of travel time from key stations to the city centre – note the vastly quicker times from the West:Benefits for the Isthmus Area:
As detailed earlier, areas in the isthmus along the Western Line will benefit hugely from the CRL in terms of travel time and also increased frequency. The city centre will benefit enormously from improved access – meaning that most places will be within a short walk of the rail network – rather than just a few areas around Britomart.In other parts of the isthmus, areas near the inner southern line and the eastern line will benefit from faster trips to a greater proportion of the city centre and also increased train frequencies (meaning shorter waits at stations). Areas outside the existing rail network will enjoy similar benefits to the North Shore in terms of their buses not getting stuck in as much bus congestion in the city centre. But also the CRL enables other extensions to the rail system, such as the Mt Roskill branch line – which would be pretty cheap to build and extends the rail network into a part of Auckland with heaps of development potential, along with taking some pressure off Dominion and Sandringham Road buses.
Benefits for the South:
The new bus network in the south revolves around better bus routes for cross-town journeys and feeding a lot more buses into the rail network at key locations like Panmure and Manukau. The City Rail Link will enable higher frequencies along the rail network, meaning less overcrowding on services and shorter waits for trains. It also means faster trips from the south to parts of the city centre beyond the immediate surrounds of Britomart.
The CRL is also a prerequisite for rail to the airport, as without CRL it’s not possible to run trains on the Airport Line at a frequency of greater than half-hourly (and you wouldn’t spend $700m or more on a line that can only run half-hourly). The Airport Line potentially has massive benefits for the south – improving access to the airport itself for employees, acting as a catalyst for the redevelopment of areas around new stations at Mangere Bridge, Mangere Town Centre (and perhaps elsewhere?) and providing a rapid transit quality link between Manukau and the Airport. But none of that can happen until CRL happens.
Benefits for the Southeast:
As part of the AMETI project, a busway will be built between Botany and Panmure. This will provide a really high quality public transport option for a part of Auckland that has historically been incredibly neglected when it comes to public transport. However for trips between Panmure and the city centre, the rail network will still be the rapid transit option and the CRL provides both the additional capacity of extra trains along what will become a very busy section of the rail network, as well as direct trains from Panmure to not only Britomart but also onto Aotea, K Road and Newton stations – providing far better access from the southeast to the wider city centre and its surrounds.
As you can see the CRL benefits all different parts of Auckland – whether they’re on the rail network or not. I think the two areas that will benefit the most are the city centre itself and the west: due to the improvements in coverage of the rail network and the “cutting the corner” between Mt Eden and the city centre respectively. However parts of Auckland which aren’t even on the rail network will benefit: either through the CRL making possible future expansion of the network (i.e. Airport Rail, North Shore rail and the Mt Roskill Branch) or CRL removing many buses from the network and therefore allowing the bus system to operate more effectively – such as for the North Shore and the Northwest.
In addition to these specific benefits the economic growth and the significant capacity expansion of Auckland’s transport network that the CRL will provide have the potential to benefit the whole city, and in fact the entire country.
Some additional key additional points
- In relation to the south is that without CRL we will never be able to increase train frequencies beyond what they are once electrification has been completed. Papakura has roughly a peak time train every 10 minutes at the moment – without CRL that’s not going to change – ever. How does that work with a city the size of Hamilton planned between Papakura and Pukekohe over the next 30 years, plus huge growth within the existing urban area over that time too.
- It increases connectivity and reduces travel times via PT for trips that involve the rail network thanks to the higher frequencies and in some cases the more direct services e.g. from the North Shore to the Inner West.
I can’t think of any other project that manages to have such a significant impact across the entire region. It is one of those projects that is so transformational most people simply won’t realise the full extent it will have on how we get around.