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Thoughts on the CRL ground breaking event

So yesterday was the symbolic ground-breaking, or perhaps more accurately the ground-exploding for the City Rail Link. If you weren’t there and didn’t watch the live stream the video is below and the actual ceremony starts from about 48 minutes. I thought I would give some of my views of it.

Over the years now I’ve been to a number of ground-breaking ceremonies and this was by far the most interesting. Auckland Transport and the Council certainly put a bit of effort in here but I guess when you’re celebrating the start of largest single transport project that is kind of justified.

AT held the event right out in front of Britomart which was a good choice. While they had a marquee (and some tasty CRL cupcakes) for those who had been invited, it also allowed members of the public to join in too and there appeared to be quite a few people doing so. The people in shot below were outside of that invited area. For those outside of Auckland, as you can see the weather also turned it on which was a nice change after the last 3 weeks or so.

Some of the CRL cupcakes

CRL cupcakes

Right off the bat one aspect that was quite different and I thought a nice touch, was to have quite a strong focus on youth. This was optimised by having a 17-year-old from Waitakere College as the emcee for the event. She brought a lot of energy to her role which was refreshing to see.

John Key was the first speaker and I thought his comments were very good, in particular this part.

Second thing I think is that ultimately what we’re seeing in cities around the world that are doing well and progressing is that they’re places where people want to work, obviously, but they’re also places where people want to live and people want to be entertained. And what we’re seeing as Auckland grows up and indeed grows out, is a lot more apartments being built and I think over time you’re going to see more and more people live in the CBD, they’re not going to own cars, they’re going to get on the City Rail Link, they’re going to get on the train for transportation, they’ll get on the bus, and frankly they’ll probably take a taxi or Uber. And they’ll have their living, working and entertainment happen here in the CBD and that’s really what this is about, it’s an investment in the future, it’s an investment in Auckland, it will make a great difference in transforming the city, it’s a very futuristic project.

It’s not the first time I’ve heard Key speak positively about transport or urban issues and I guess some of that comes from his time spent overseas in the likes of New York so it’s all the more surprising that these attitudes haven’t flowed through to some of his ministers or transport priorities.

Key was followed by Simon Bridges who also talked very positively about the project and the impact it will have even referencing the council’s “World’s Most Liveable City” goal. Both Bridges and Key also paid respect to Len Brown for his ongoing advocacy for the project which has been instrumental in getting it to this point.

Next up it was Lester Levy who talked about what it takes to make a project like this happen including highlighting that they’ve got experts from around the world working on the CRL

Then it was time the speech that most were keen to see, Lens speech. As expected Len was ebullient and so he should be given the history of the project and the attitude of the government up until recently. Len covered off a lot of topics in his speech but one I thought was quite important was that today probably would never have been possible without the government having amalgamated the councils of Auckland in 2010. On a personal level it was nice that he acknowledged the role of transport advocates in helping to get to this stage. As John Key said, Len should rightly be proud at what he’s achieved with the CRL.

One interesting fact that came out in Len’s press release after was this showing just how much patronage to the city is expected to increase in just the first year.

“Auckland Transport is forecasting in the first year of operation an 88% increase in rail passengers travelling to the city centre and a 40% increase in rail patronage across the network in the morning peak.

Following the speeches there was a flash mob before the grand finale of Bridges, Brown and Key pushing an oversized detonator to set off some pyrotechnics and balloons to start the project – although as Bill Bennett pointed out, that detonator is reminiscent of something else.

Although as Luke discovered later, that sod has been unturned and filled back in again

Did AT go over the top with the dancing and pyrotechnics? It was certainly a unique ceremony for a unique project.

With the ceremony out of the way we can now look forward to the project really getting under way, despite the disruption that will bring.

Did you attend the ceremony or did you/have watched the live stream? What did you think of it?

35 comments to Thoughts on the CRL ground breaking event

  • Lol they resealed the sod, bit silly… Hope to see some more designs and information soon considering the amount of man hours being boasted.

  • Taylor

    What is an emcee?

  • Dan C

    Must say i find John Keys comments a bit confusing. CRL is about getting people from the suburbs acorss the city and into it’s centre. I guess you might get some CDB dwellers who take it one stop to get around town, but the vast majority of patronage will be from the burbs. Is this the government showing it’s roads bias for the rest of the city?

  • Stuart Donovan

    John Key’s comments about Auckland are really good. It seems that he (or at least his advisers) are aware of the opportunities and challenges that Auckland faces as a growing city competing with the likes of Sydney and Melbourne to attract people and investment.

    Here’s hoping Key can spread some of this insight to other members of his cabinet, most notably Joyce.

  • Warren S

    Certainly John Key said the words but I thought his demeanour was less than whole-heartedly enthusiastic. Regretfully this project is outside Nationals preferred transport patterns but they have been forced to accept it is unstoppable, for all the reasons we know.
    I suspect they calculate that it is best to take the ‘bad medicine’ now and to let Len Brown have his day so that they put it well behind them so that the CRL is not anymore an issue in the important Auckland electorates, at election time.

    Maybe we have news for them. This is only the beginning. Auckland will want rail to the Airport and rail only to the North Shore as well and the stats are looking good!

  • EricD

    “Auckland Transport is forecasting in the first year of operation an 88% increase in rail passengers travelling to the city centre and a 40% increase in rail patronage across the network in the morning peak.”

    But we saved money by not ordering any more trains. How is that supposed to work?

  • James B

    It’s really funny how many cities are investing in these ‘outdated, 19th Century’ modes. I was recently in Europe and noticed metro construction in Rome, Copenhagen, Berlin, London. I also know of many other cities around the world engaged in building metros. I’m sure they don’t encounter the same irrational opposition as in NZ. Maybe once the CRL is built and everyone sees how successful it is that metro rail will be seen as less controversial in NZ.

    • Warsaw only opened its first metro line in 1995 and didn’t finish until 2008, so it is not just cities building on existing networks. Looks like Warsaw has been waiting almost as long as Auckland for its Metro as well: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Warsaw_Metro

      Instead of saying rail is an outdated concept, I would rather say it is a transport concept that has stood the test of time. As cars have, especially considering they were invented around the same time.

      • James B

        Note that I don’t actually believe it’s outdated but check out the comments section of the NBR for that and other spurious reasonings.

  • Ben

    AT needs to show that the Auckland Metro is the best public options out there. If you sway the public, it be easier to build things. Less pressure from oppositions. Keep improving reliability and frequency and your on a winner.

    But what I notice recently with the train is that it is not very resilience. One fault, One Incident and the whole network goes into custard. Take for example Tuesday. We were kicked off the train in Otahuhu and were told to take public buses. Many like me have no clue on taking the bus in Otahuhu. Instead of providing alternative BusRail, they told us to take other bus in an unknown location. So what many ended up doing is calling up people and taxi to pick >100 people up from Otahuhu. AT needs a better response to incidents and have immediate action to cater their passengers.

    • Ari

      Hence why I don’t use public transport. There is a shortage of buses already. There isn’t going to be any extra buses to pick up stranded train passengers all over the place.

    • Dave B (Wellington)

      Agreed, this needs to be sorted out. I think the problem is part-and-parcel of the jaundiced attitude to public transport that many New Zealanders have historically held. “Nobody wants to use public transport any more”, “Don’t give it any priority, it’s not worth it”, “It’s just for losers”, etc, etc.

      I think slowly this is changing – at least in Auckland, but I suspect the bulk of the NZ population still holds this ignorant view. Hopefully the predicted success of the CRL will wake people up to the importance of taking public transport seriously. In particular, not treating users with the sort of disdain they were treated with in your example.

      • Yeah it’s kind of funny how people have some perception that PT is for less fortunate people. But it’s often more expensive, quicker in some instances and best of all you get to relax and not perform the dreadful chore of driving.

        But even as a PT enthusiast who lives right next to a train station. I always find myself going back to my car, less battles with the elements, HOP card issues, staff and security staring at you for no reason, annoying fare evading youth blasting their rap music and behaving like scum, cancellations, earlyness, lateness, doing local opens only so you have to run down the platform to board, no services late enough to get home, poor communications etc etc.

        These issues affect me frequently but it seems nobody is ever doing anything to work towards a better experience for customers.

    • I don’t think it is realistic to have a fleet of buses waiting just for breakdown or issues on the rail network. However, there needs to be improvement in the following areas:

      Network reslilience – these sorts of things happen too often
      Easier to follow bus network – this would make transfer to existing buses much easier (this will be partially achieved with the new network rollout later this year)
      Better communication – the communication when things go pear shaped on the rail network is still dreadful

  • Greg N

    While the “enabling” works as they are called are underway, and the politicians of all sides are happy to stand together and push the plunger down, its all symbolic.
    you need to remember this is just the first act of a play of several parts.

    True cynics would suggest that National are only agreeing to the CRL start being made at Britomart to keep their property investor mates [like those building the replacement for the Downtown centre] happy.
    So on that basis I’d expect the cut and cover to [and possibly including] Aotea station to be completed as quickly as possible – simply to ensure those property investor mates are not unduly disrupted.

    But for the long suffering, and PT using public:

    There is a second [and third] act to follow – and the next part is ordering the TBM and actually starting the tunnelling for the rest of the CRL – and based on the opening ceremony speeches.
    I think many in this government will find every reason NOT to support that part for as long as possible.

    The only hope to ensure CRL opens anywhere near like the 5 year time table calls for, is to ensure they’re not controlling either Auckland or central governments beyond the end of this year and next year respectively.

    Otherwise, they will find any old excuse to not bore the tunnels.
    Leaving CRL, in limbo – a literal hole in the ground, that soaks up Auckland Council money, while not impacting the Government finances [such as the ability to offer tax cuts if they so choose].

    And as has been pointed out, with an 88% increase in projected patronage in year 1 of the CRL opening, without those extra EMUs being ordered, and being on stream the whole CRL could come to a screeching halt.

    A failure to order more EMUs for the opening, is just as bad as failing to order the TBM, failure to do either will delay the practical completion.

    So we need acts 2 and 3 of this play to follow act 1, and in quick succession.

    Auckland has more enough examples of big multi-part transport projects that ended up as as a series of drawn out, one act plays, that cost a lot more than envisaged, and deliver few benefits or satisfy anyone.

    We don’t need yet another example of this.

    • Dave B (Wellington)

      A realistic possibility I fear. And it is important not to fall for the naïve idea that this government has suddenly become friendly towards public transport. It hasn’t! It’s true colours continue to show in the massive priority it is still giving to roading.

      The safest bet for success of the CRL and the advancement of further major PT projects is to shut this government out of office for a long time, come next election.

      • Harriet

        Not really the CRL will happen the marginal Auckland electorates which you win and loose elections in want it and developers/business groups want it, as soon as the second came aboard it was green light.

        What you will see if the Government not pay for the enabling works so it will end a 60-40 spilt.

        The next battle will be NS rail as part of AWHC they are National voters plus the rest of Auckland supports it so we will win that one with light rail most likely.

        Queen St/Dom Rd LRT I think National will be behind its sexy enough and will be in ATAP

        Southwest-Airport Line is Labour stronghold electorates that will be the hard one to win.

    • Jeff T

      Agree. It will take a change of government next election to ensure completion of this project is not delayed.

    • Simon C

      I usually agree with you Greg but not this time. public and private pressure was brought to bear on this govt to bring them to the table. They’ve twice now given their word. If they were to suddenly turn around I am very confident they would feel the ire of both the public and their biz buddies who have their own projects. Some of those projects are still going to require Part 2 to be done (eg Aotea Station will be as far as I’m aware dug out by the TBM not the cut and cover so the Elliott St building will probably need to have that work done before it’s built for instance). So I don’t think they’re going to risk that ire by doing a backflip on part two of the CRL. As Harriett said they may play hard ball and Auckland may end up paying 60% instead of getting a 50% deal with govt. And defintely they haven’t changed their spots hence the whole AWHC shennagians going on so yeah I would prefer a change of govt.

      Fair point about Part 3 i.e. the additional sets. I’ll concede I’m worrying about AT not having their act together to start acting on this sooner rather than later and then furnishing us with excuses when the CRL opens that it can’t be operated to it’s maximum benefit. AT definitely have history when nit comes to doing projects and having that kind of outcome.

      One thing I will say is that if we do get a change of govt bloody Labour who will be the key driver of any coalition better be ready to roll on infrastructure asap. The last Labour govt stuffed around for about six years focusing on fringe social stuff instead of rolling up their sleeves and getting down to business. We can rightly moan about National but if Labour had had their priorities right we might be five years ahead of where we are in terms of electrification and the CRL (yeah yesterday could’ve been the opening!). Cullen was almost as bad as Joyce and Brownlee!

      • Greg N

        Simon – time will tell who is right. Hopefully I will be wrong, but I won’t be surprised one bit if I’m right.
        And just remember we require 3 ducks in a row on this one, not just the one we have.

        Also remember that “their word” is only as good as the latest round of polling results, and also whether or not Bill English says its ok to release the funds.

        Any “shocks” to the NZ economy, and you can bet the back tracking will start big time – regardless of whatever Key and co “promised” their mates. And there are a lot of shocks that could provide such excuses.

        I’m now just waiting for the argument that “low dairy prices” are impacting our current account deficit so all big “government” purchases like TBMs and loans to buy additional EMUs are now on hold until the “dairy crisis” [or housing crisis, or Donald Trump getting elected crisis, or “name your excuse here”] is “over”.

        Note that unlike say a War with Germany or Japan, when you know when the hostilities have ceased because a piece of paper is signed that says so. A “crisis” of this sort is only over when the Government says it is.

        And if National see electoral benefit in “sticking it to Auckland” and not paying their fair share and/or delaying paying it as long as possible – because the rest of the country support them doing that, they will.

        They also know that once the Auckland Council has put money into the enabling works, that Auckland Council is now hooked – it will be judged by the public on whether it delivered by whether or not CRL opens on time.
        But ensuring it does open on time – will then be totally outside their control to ensure it does if National stays around.

        So as a result it may become politically convenient if a less pro-National Auckland Council/Mayor is elected this year, for them to be left dangling by a 4th term National Government by not ordering TBMs or EMUs if it suits them to do so.

        I don’t think there is any chance of Labour or Greens delaying CRL if in Government. However any third party Labour/Greens coalition member required to form a Government may want to re-litigate that in return for their coalition support.
        As most parties support CRL you’d have to believe it won’t happen – but its not guaranteed to stay that way. A sniff of power does funny things to some people.

        Yes Michael Cullen was the hold out with EMUs and double tracking – but facts and logic talked him around as he himself admitted.

        Joyce and Brownlee [and Bridges it now seems too], won’t let the facts or any logic dictate their behaviour one bit – as far as any and all transport projects, RoNS and Convention Centre deals go, they *know* they are right.
        They don’t need inconvenient evidence.

        And thats the difference between then and now.

  • JBM

    Just watched it. I thought that was fabulous. Usually these openings are staid boring affairs but the suits could’ve been forgiven for getting up out of their seats and dancing on stage. I actually saw Len dancing lol Dear boy, no wonder the right-wing councillors hate you! lol Well done Len and also the government for finally getting on board.

    • Simon C

      Yeah nice to see the accent on the youth at the opening and the praise given to various people. Len Brown isn’t perfect and the way he speaks isn’t everyone’s cup of tea but I for one like his enthusiasm and passion. How often have we seen that passion from Auckland mayors? Again he has been naughty and he copped a lot of crap which he deserves but no one can say he hasn’t done anything for Auckland and that stands out compared to many of the recent mayors we’ve had. Obviously the Super city has helped as it’s taken out the competing, small-minded crap of multiple councils that was Auckland’s reality (And Urban Legend, the book about Sir Robbie should be required reading for every Auckland who would easily see it was a miracle anything got done in his day!) but to get two projects across the line in his term of office that had multiple attempts to get done in the preceding 100 years is a huge achievement.

      My worry is that none of the people putting themselves up for mayor have anything like the vision, passion and enthusiasm that Len Brown has. Even Phil Goff appears as steady as she goes and don’t rock the ship rather than passionately believing the city has to get this and that done and he’s gonna see it gets done even if it puts some noses out of joint.

  • Apparently the NBR dusted off lobbyist for the US suburbanisation industries, Wendell Cox, who claims ‘he knows’ the CRL will actually cost $8billion. Wow the haters are desperate.

    • Simon C

      Been sad to see the haters come out and try and rain on the party. Miserable, done nothing positive while on the council Cameron Brewer had a press release out three minutes after Len Brown’s yesterday. I heard Brewer is not running again so good riddance but apparently his heir apparent Desley Simpson from the Orakei Local board is set to take his place and is a right piece of work along with being a much more cunning operator than Brewer so could be highly dangerous in the next council.

      Then the NBR wasted its paper with Cox, RNZ’s panel included some ignorant know-nothing lady who was putting the knife saying it’s obsolete technology (was funny to hear Michael Barnett being the one defending the project!) and George Wood displayed his usual ignorance tweeting about the letter to the NZH editor. Funny, I thought I saw him on the livestream. If so what the hell was he doing there if he has that opinion of the project?

      It was interesting to see former mayor John Banks there. Did any of you guys from the blog talk to him? Wonder if he still thinks Britomart is a white elephant and if he admitted to making the wrong decision in calling for the Britomart project to be canned as part of his mayoralty. Wonder if he’s ever apologised to Christine Fletcher?!

  • I suspect that there is one major development that is absolutely hoping for a speedy conclusion of the CRL. It is hard to imagine that a vast number of delegates attending a single day conference at the new conference centre could arrive smoothly without it.

    • Greg N

      There won’t be any of those, its not to SkyCity’s benefit to have delegates attending 1 day conferences – as they won’t be staying in their adjacent hotels.

      Despite what they say, they don’t want people to be able to easily get to or from the Convention Centre by CRL because that means those folks won’t spend as much money at the Casino or only stay in their hotels.

      This is straight from the playbook ’Adventures in Aggressive Marketing’, from the Dolmansaxlil Galactic Shoe Corporation.

  • JeffB

    I’m currently visiting Tokyo and have been using high speed, subway and surface level trains to get around (high speed from Kyoto). The network is vast and almost always at capacity. Interestingly there is still traffic congestion. My point being we need to invest in a variety of transport options, we’ve invested enough in roads, now we need to invest in both urban and regional passenger rail. My solution to the Auckland housing crisis is a 40 minute commute by train from Hamilton to Britomart with stops at Huntly Mercer, and Ngarawhahia etc along the way.

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