Guest Post: Rail and the City

*This is a guest post by regular reader and occasional contributor, Warren Sanderson.

rail in the city

Book Review

RAIL AND THE CITY – Shrinking Our Carbon Footprint While Reimagining Urban Space

Roxanne Warren

Unlike Paul Mees‘ book ‘Transport for Suburbia’ which deals in depth, among other things, with what went so terribly wrong with Auckland’s transport planning in the second half of last century, Roxanne Warren does not mention New Zealand once. Her book is almost totally focused on the transport problems of the United States but she does refer frequently to Europe and Japan where transport policy has been handled so much better.

But don’t let the concentration on US problems put you off. This is a great read for anyone who is unhappy with what auto dependency does to the liveability of our cities and especially here in Auckland.

I like the organisation of this book. It has a preface in a tight precis form plan which sets out exactly what it is going to say and then chapter by chapter gets on with it, in a fluid and engaging style. And there are extensive references at the back of the book.

I enjoyed particularly her comment on the basic reasons for rail’s practicality and popularity, including the operational, aesthetic and permanence advantages for the city. This includes standard surface rail or light rail. Furthermore a public preference for rail has been revealed in surveys and generally attributed to a smoother and faster ride and to rail’s permanent presence – a preference that has been reflected in increased property values around stations.

The last chapter deals with the question of climate change and the desirability of shrinking the very large footprint that we are placing on the earth. While always keen to reduce a personal footprint, I find it hard to get worked up about the science of climate change. What astounded me however, was the idiocy of the US tax cum subsidy set–up as outlined. Fossil fuel have benefited from a full century of subsidies and the oil industry in particular receives generous tax breaks at every stage of the processes of exploration and extraction. Ditto for corn ethanol i.e. food for our cars rather than for people. These subsidies create market distortions that encourage wasteful consumption and undercut the position of clean energy, while effectively exacerbating climate change.

The author points out that regardless of general resistance to change, population increases and migratory trends toward cities, thus increasing congestion in cities, is making ever more obvious the need for a more rational use of urban space and for more compact and sustainable forms of mobility, namely, walking, cycling and transit. She reports that the common wisdom that has it, that only ‘progressives’ (read lefties) favour the support of public transport which denies the movement of prominent conservatives in support of passenger rail transport for the reasons she cites in Chapter 3.

I believe that MOT/NZTA/AT should not employ anybody who has not read this book by a deadline date of 30 April this year. Why? Books like this were not around when many of the older hands commenced work. We need big changes in our transport policies and the government and these three institutions are charged with operating in our best interest. Yes, change is needed……………and fast. This is an excellent read.

Finally, about the author. Roxanne Warren is an architect and principal partner in Roxanne Warren Architects in New York. Her prior experience included a period with I M Pei and Partners but since 1999 she has dedicated her time increasingly to advocacy of Vision 42 which is a proposal for ‘River to River’ low floor light rail in a landscaped auto-free 42nd Street, New York.

Rail chart

42nd St LRT route

Warren Sanderson 2015

New details on ATs Light Rail plans

A presentation from Auckland Transport to the council provides us with a lot more detail about what they’re proposing with Light Rail and how it complements the CRL rather than competes with it.

We’ve covered some of these aspects in other posts before but it’s worth highlighting some of them again. Public transport has been increasing rapidly in the last decade as improvements have been made. This is most evident in the City Centre where since 2001 use of PT has accounted for all the growth in trips to the area – car use actually declined slightly.

CBD Transport Change

There is also a lot more growth that is expected to occur in the area that will drive more travel demand. The City Centre Future Access Study found a combination of the City Rail Link and on street buses was the best way to improve access however more work was needed on the bus aspects. In the presentation AT say:

  • Access crisis into the city centre by 2021 with medium population growth and despite completion of all (pre-CRL) planned transport improvements.
  • Auckland’s growth will outstrip its road capacity and maximising rail is an essential part of an integrated access solution
  • Bus-only investment will meet demand for only a few years and require significant land take for priority lanes and depots

The pre CRL planned improvements includes projects like Rail Electrification, The New Network and bus lane improvements.

As mentioned above a serious issue that AT are finding is that there’s simply not enough room on city streets or in key terminus locations to handle the number of buses that will be needed. AT say more of the same means bumper to bumper cars will be replaced by wall to wall buses. They started the CCFAS 2 project to look at how to address this and the objectives were:

  • Significantly contribute to lifting and shaping Auckland’s economic growth
  • Improve the efficiency and resilience of the transport network of inner Auckland and the city centre
  • Improve transport access into and around the city centre to address current problems and for a rapidly growing Auckland
  • Provide a sustainable transport solution that minimises environmental impacts
  • Contribute positively to a liveable, vibrant and safe city
  • Optimise the potential to implement a feasible solution

CCFAS 2 looked at and included a range of improvements that could be made including double deckers/bendy buses. They say the focus was on was on corridors with significant patronage and/or connections to significant land use. They also say that there was no solution to city centre road congestion identified that doesn’t involve light rail.

In the image below the top graph suggests terminal capacity starts to be exceeded around 2023 and the corridor capacities around 2035. The busiest corridors are the ones from areas not served by the CRL which means the North Shore and the Central Isthmus. I assume the lower graph shows what it would look like with light rail implemented. If I’m reading it right, it suggests AT are looking to have light rail rolled out to Dominion Rd by around 2021, Sandringham Rd around 2023, Manukau Rd in 2032 and Mt Eden Rd 2037.

City Centre Bus Capacity

One of the big advantages of light rail is that it can be much easier and more space efficient to turn a vehicle around.

With the CRL sorting out the constraints on the rail network the map below shows how Light Rail would integrate with other parts of the PT network. I assume the dotted lines are future potential high quality routes and major feeders to the RTN and LRT networks.


The map below indicates how light rail might work in the city centre along with the other buses that will still be there. This also highlights how they would access the Wynyard Quarter meaning that rather than a bridge across the Viaduct it would go via Fanshawe St, presumably sharing a corridor with buses. It also shows that the routes would operate as two pairs, Dominion Rd and Sandringham Rd would join together and travel down Queen St while Mt Eden Rd and Manukau Rd would use Symonds St.

Future City Centre Network

Lastly they list some of the features and benefits of light rail over other options.

LRT Features - Benefits

At this stage there has still not been any further information on just how AT plan to pay for the project.

Thinking through ATs Light Rail plans

It seems that Auckland Transport’s plans to reinstall trams in Auckland down some of the major isthmus roads has already captured a lot of imagination with the public, hell even the Herald have been fairly positive about the suggestion.

One aspect of the idea that seems to have been missed in some of the discussion so far is that Auckland Transport have been working on this for at least six months. It’s clear now that the project started appearing on the agenda for closed session for Auckland Transport’s board meetings back in September last year under the name CCFAS2. That means that almost certainly a lot of work has already gone into studying the idea before it’s reached this point however we are yet to see any real details other than the key routes that Auckland Transport are investigating.

Getting the details – including how Auckland Transport plan to pay for it all – to ensure it makes sense is essential but as I’ve mentioned before, at this stage I’m cautiously supportive of the project. However the proposal has raised a heap of questions from both myself and others. Those questions fall broadly into two categories, wider social questions about whether we should do this and more specific technical questions about the proposal itself. Today I’m going to look at the social aspect and in a separate post I’ll look at the technical questions.

When there’s so much else that needs building, can we afford to do this?

Undoubtedly this is going to be an expensive project. Going by other projects overseas it could easily cost $1 billion dollars, possibly more to lay the tracks and buy vehicles to run on them. Yet Auckland doesn’t exactly have $1 billion just sitting around burning a hole in its pockets, quite the opposite. The same day this project was announced the Mayor launched the Long Term Plan which among other things will ask Aucklanders about tolling motorways or increasing rates to cover $12 billion shortfall – and that’s before this project is considered.

To build light rail under the traditional funding approach means one of two things would need to happen

  • Some other projects have their funding cut or delayed.
  • Even more money would need to be raised to cover the short fall

Neither situation is ideal, add in the only lukewarm support from the Mayor and it would normally be enough to kill this light rail project dead. Where this is different is that AT have said that they’re also investigating funding options that include private sector investment. Further AT Chairman Lester Levy has been quick to say that this private sector investment isn’t a traditional PPP. Just what else is being considered is unknown but I’m guessing part of it will include the running of the system for some time.

One of the potential advantages to light rail is that it can be cheaper to run for the same (or more) capacity. Those savings can go at least part of the way towards paying for the PPP. In addition, there are also likely to be some savings that will emerge once AT finally roll out the PTOM contracts, savings that can’t be calculated yet.

The recent installation of Light Rail on the Gold Coast also provides a good example. The 13km first stage cost A$950m (not $1.6b I said in an earlier post) however that cost also included 16 stations, the vehicles plus operations and maintenance costs for 15 years.

There are a lot of areas in Auckland that have very poor PT, wouldn’t it be better to use the money to improve other areas first

Auckland isn’t exactly sitting on world class PT system – yet – and has a lot of key projects that need completion just to get us to an acceptable level. Some such as Integrated Fares and the New Network are under way but a lot of infrastructure is needed, both to support the new network and deliver better PT in general. Some of the major projects needed include:

  • New PT interchanges to support the new Network including at Otahuhu, Manukau, Te Atatu, Lincoln Rd, in the City and many other locations
  • The AMETI Busway
  • Airport Rail
  • The Northern Busway extension (which should be paid for by the NZTA)
  • A Northwest Busway
  • Electrification to Pukekohe

Some will say that Light Rail should go to the back of the queue until many or all of these other key projects have been completed. To me its priority should surely be determined by how much benefit it provides compared to other projects. We’d be stupid to put it straight to the back of the queue just because it’s only just been announced if it delivered greater benefits than other projects on the list.

There is perhaps one silver lining that may come about if AT do manage to sort out a private funding option. Currently the Long Term Plan contains just over $50 million to upgrade the bus lanes Dominion Rd and improve the town centres. If AT proceed with the Light Rail project the costs of doing so would likely fall under that private finance option freeing up that $50 million for use on other projects.

Future Mt Roskill


This part of Auckland already has some good PT options

Compared to much of Auckland the Isthmus that corridors that are proposed to be served by Light Rail already have some of the best PT services and infrastructure in the city. There are (not continuous) bus lanes that already exist and frequent services that use them. Consequently the area has some of the highest patronage in Auckland. Dominion Rd services alone carry almost 2 million trips per year (the Northern Busway carries around 2.5 million). Already in the morning peaks the roads move more people in buses than are moved in cars and patronage is only expected to grow.

The issue I have with the idea that I have with the suggestion that what exists is good enough (for now) is that just because it’s good it doesn’t mean it can’t be better. Of all areas in Auckland the central isthmus was the one specifically designed to support PT use with its long linear and developed corridors supported decent surrounding street grid. It’s these factors combined that car use for trips to work (not always the best measure) is amongst the lowest in Auckland.

2013 - Auckland Journey to Work - Car

Percentage of trips to work by Car


It’s also because of the other factors that delivering an even higher quality PT service is likely to deliver substantially more patronage than many, if not all, of other high CAPEX schemes listed above.

At the end of the day it comes down to a key issue in PT planning that Jarrett Walker – who’s currently back in NZ – discusses in his book Human Transit. How much do you focus do you put into your PT system on maximising patronage and how much on providing coverage. Focusing more on trying to provide equitable coverage to everyone will impact how many resources you can use in areas that have the potential for high patronage.

There’s no intensification planned

Of all the issues I’ve thought about or heard raised this is perhaps the one that most concerns me. As part of the Unitary Plan the central Isthmus – one of the area perhaps the most ripe for intensification due to its location has the lest intensification allowed. Why should an area receive a significant capital investment which is bound to increase property prices even more when no change to the area is allowed to really capitalise on that investment.

The map below shows the zoning in the Unitary Plan.

  • Light cream – only allows for a single house on each site. That means not even terraced houses are allowed as they are considered too dense.
  • Cream – Mixed Housing – Suburban (MHS) which allows smaller sections and say two storey terraced houses but is still effectively not allowing change.
  • Light Brown – Mixed Housing – Urban (MHU) allows for three storeys and is basically ideal for typical terraced house developments.
  • Orange – Terraced House and Apartment (THAB) THAB allows low rise apartment buildings and is located around the town centres.

Notified UP - Isthmus-West-North

In my view the zoning of the central Isthmus should look far more like West Auckland. Apart from a number of vocal NIMBY types in the area, there are a few key infrastructure constraints holding intensification in the area back. One was the water supply which I believe is being addressed as part of Watercare’s Central Interceptor project and the other was transport capacity. Light Rail on these corridors would definitely sort out the transport capacity constraints and I would hope could lead the council towards re-discussing the amount of intensification allowed. Effectively a trade for the residents, allow more intensification and you’ll get this this fantastic new PT system.

There are probably a few other issues to cover but this post is already long enough.

Is light rail an Auckland transport priority?

This is a guest post from Donna Wynd. I have another post which will go up later today which I had been working on separately which will also address some of these issues.

In a wonderful example of great moments in bad timing, Auckland Transport announced it was considering light rail on the Auckland isthmus the same day Mayor Len Brown launched Auckland’s draft Long Term Plan (LTP). A clearly blindsided Mayor pointed out there was no plan and no funding for light rail and, at an estimated cost of $1 billion for the first stage, the benefits would need to be weighed up against those of competing projects.

In an effort to save face the Mayor told media light rail had been signalled in the 2012 City Centre Master Plan. This is only partly correct: there are some vague references to “possible light rail” but this is mostly in the context of public transport services around the inner city and to Wynyard Quarter. There are lots of pictures of light rail, but little in the accompanying text (in much the same way the draft LTP has pictures of cycle lanes). In reality, the concept appears to have come out of the blue. The surprise announcement, and hints the project might be fast-tracked, suggest public scrutiny is to be kept to a minimum.

Despite the lack of detail, a range of transport activists and lobbyists agreed light rail was a great idea. Indeed, Transport Blog noted there was “merit in the proposal” and restated Brian Rudman’s call for the Mayor to “jump on board”. As is often the case in transport debates, the voices of low-income and ethnic communities were absent.

So why do I, a public transport user, find myself viewing light rail with trepidation? Before I explain, let me make clear that I, too, like the idea of light rail on the isthmus’ main corridors and even beyond.

It is the ‘beyond’ that is of concern. The people who have welcomed AT’s proposal are, as far as I can see, people who would derive the most benefit in terms of (possibly) improved service and an improved urban environment. However, in view of suburban Auckland’s commuter misery, it strikes me there is a far greater need for viable public transport in the newly developed suburbs in South and West Auckland, and the upper reaches of the North Shore.

The draft LTP includes a basic transport network, with severely reduced transport funding for key public transport initiatives such as the Otahuhu and Manukau interchanges and other much needed infrastructure. Unless alternative funding streams are found, valuable public transport projects and the cycle network will be deferred. One southern Local Board member observes that these “deferrals” would make a big improvement to the quality and availability of public transport services in the South.

Also needing public transport infrastructure and services are the Special Housing Areas in Paerata and Orewa. Closer to town, there is the upcoming transport mess arising from the development of land at Ihumatao. These developing areas need to have public transport services in place in advance, not years after, to avoid further entrenching Auckland’s car dependency and increasing the social isolation of people who do not drive.

While ratepayers in the new suburbs have yet to get the business case for public transport and safe cycle lane proposals signed off, those who will benefit from isthmus light rail are already well served by public transport. Yes, some dedicated bus lanes would improve things, but some high-use routes (Dominion Road, City Link) have already had improvements that will help meet future demand.

A key selling point for light rail appears to be its ability to carry more people: up to 18,000 per hour compared with 6,000 on a busway. This would be great news if the commuting population was to increase three-fold by the 2020s. But will it? After the nimby-ism expressed during the Unitary Plan process, there is not as much high density development planned for the isthmus as initially envisaged. Will we be building capacity that cannot be justified when others in the region are so poorly served?

But the aspect that bothers me most is the cost. There is no such thing as a free lunch – or free light rail. If light rail project takes priority, then the opportunity cost will be that other projects, possibly of greater merit, will be shoved down the funding queue. These projects include electrification of the rail to Pukekohe (needed to serve Special Housing Area growth areas), the Northern Busway extension to Albany, the South Eastern Busway to Botany, the North West Busway to Westgate, additional EMUs to meet strongly increasing demand for rail, and so forth. For those in the South, double tracking to Onehunga and a genuinely multi-modal link to the airport look particularly vulnerable.

There is a point at which this moves beyond simply being a transport issue to one of equity.

Particularly alarming is Lester Levy’s disclosure that Auckland Transport is considering “a novel form of funding”. Let’s be clear: there is no novel form of funding. Auckland Transport either pays up front or borrows money. Borrowed money has to be paid back. The borrowing might be through a public-private partnership, but the money still has to be repaid, and very probably at a higher interest rate than that available to central and local government. A 5-year repayment holiday has been hinted at but this merely defers payment of interest and leaves the principle balance outstanding for longer, along with unknown accumulated interest costs. This will impose a significant burden on the transport budget in the early 2020s. Before anything is signed, ratepayers need to know the full and final costs of this so-called novel arrangement, compared to a more conventional Council loan arrangement.

The light rail proposal has managed to pull together a diverse range of groups in support. Should it be implemented, however, there will be very real costs for ratepayers, particularly those who will find their own public transport improvements rubbed off the ‘to-do’ list. It will also be expensive, with much of the $1 billion plus cost met by many ratepayers who will receive little or no benefit. The central city might be clogged with buses by the 2020s, but there are projects that need to be done now which are not funded. I like the idea of light rail, but can’t help wondering if it really deserves to be pole-vaulted to the top of the region’s transport priorities.

Rudman on Light Rail

Brian Rudman has an opinion piece in today’s Herald looking at Auckland Transport’s recent light-rail announcement and hoping that the Mayor jumps on board to support the idea a bit more than he has so far.

The mayor is struggling to put together a budget that will accommodate his magnificent obsession, the $2.5 billion underground City Rail Link (CRL), without triggering a ratepayer revolt, so his testiness over Dr Levy’s light rail proposal is understandable.

But if Mr Brown wants to be remembered as the mayor who solved Auckland’s transport congestion problems, he should be embracing the light rail proposal as though it was his idea.

His single-mindedness over the CRL is admirable. Such projects need a 24-hour-a-day champion. But it shouldn’t blind him to the bigger picture – that the heavy rail network, while vital, is only a small part of the city’s overall transport system, and that regardless of how much money is thrown at roads and buses, which the majority of commuters use, increasing congestion will inevitably induce cardiac arrest.

The mayor’s attitude towards the project so far perhaps has more to do with his surprise that Auckland Transport had undertaken such a major piece of work without him knowing the details, as well as the risk that some CRL opponents may jump on light-rail as an alternative to CRL (I explained how they do very different tasks here). However, as there is clearly merit in the proposal, Rudman is right in suggesting that the mayor jump on board – at least in terms of supporting full investigation.

Draft RLTP LRT Routes

The potential Light Rail network?


Rudman also points out that we should not be surprised to see Auckland Transport come up with some big new ideas for how to solve future transport challenges, because the existing/previous plans tend to show things getting worse – regardless of how much extra funding is raised for transport:

This was spelt out in March 2013 when Auckland Transport (AT) revealed its Integrated Transport Programme, with the dire warning that even if the $34 billion allocated to transport in the city’s proposed 30-year plan was spent as planned, the end result would be gridlock.

Worse, AT admitted that even if the city funded the alternative $59 billion gold-plated plan the transport boffins wanted, the outcome would still be dire.

“Even with the fully funded programme,” admitted the report authors, “road congestion levels will deteriorate with volume/capacity ratios exceeding 100 per cent on most of our arterial road network by 2041 and emission levels exceeding current levels”.

It was all self-explanatory. The mayor’s vision of squeezing 700,000 to 1 million people into the compact isthmus city by 2041 was going to put an unsustainable pressure on the roading network. There wouldn’t be room for the extra cars and buses.

The main arterial roads, such as Symonds St and Albert St, would be jammed with buses.

At the time, the mayor refused to see the futility of pursuing this inevitable endgame. He still doesn’t. Instead he appointed a “consensus building group” to select ways of extracting another $12 billion from Aucklanders through fuel taxes or road tolls, to help fund the gold-plated scenario.

The group proposes the inevitable mix of taxes, all of which the Government has indicated it won’t allow. Yet the mayor won’t budge.

Thankfully, AT now acknowledges the flaw in its earlier 30-year plan, and is suggesting a solution employed by liveable cities all around the world. Modern trams.

While we are yet to see all the details of the light-rail project, especially in terms of its cost and the extent to which it resolves future transport challenges, at first blush there is some compelling logic to the scheme in providing high quality PT to a part of Auckland that has huge existing patronage and will never be served by rapid transit.

Is Modern Light Rail coming to Auckland

Is Modern Light Rail coming to Auckland

Perhaps the issue here is more about the ideal timing and priority of light-rail, compared to all the other projects Auckland is planning in the coming years. For example, there is a lot of investment required to enable the new bus network to be successfully implemented, there are huge areas of northwest and southeast Auckland with extremely poor public transport and there is an under-utilised rail network because of the Britomart bottleneck (which CRL resolves).

However, timing and priority issues aside, the mayor should be congratulating Auckland Transport for coming up with new ideas and finally accepting that their previous plans just weren’t adequate to meet Auckland’s transport needs for the next 30 years. Rudman is right in pointing this out.

With Mr Brown hanging his legacy – and his re-election hopes – on fast-tracking the central city rail tunnel, he obviously sees light rail as an unneeded distraction. That ignores the fact that the existing 30-year transport grand plan is designed to fail for the majority of commuters forced to travel by car or bus – even if we could afford to build it.

The light rail proposal is the chance to go back to the drawing board. No one’s suggesting trams should displace the CRL. They’re just a possible missing link in the earlier flawed integrated transport plan.

And while they’re fitting trams into the new model would be a good time to shave the unaffordable $12 billion blowout off the overall budget.

Wouldn’t it be great if we could compare the merits of this light-rail scheme (or the many other important projects on AT’s list) against the marginal state highway projects the government is throwing billions at over the next few years?

How Light Rail could transform Queen St

I’ll be looking more into Auckland Transport’s announcement that it’s considering installing Light Rail down some of the central isthmus streets during the week. In the meantime the suggestion that trams could be back on Queen St reminded me of these images. They come from Cornelius Blank who created them in 2011 in the lead up to the City Centre Masterplan.

For me one of the most exciting possibilities from the idea is that Light Rail could finally be the catalyst to transform Queen St into a transit mall. One of the aspects of Queen St that people often forget is that between Mayoral Dr and the water there isn’t a single need for a car to be in Queen St. There’s not one entrance to a carpark or service lane or road that can’t be accessed by some other method. The only need for vehicle access is for emergency services and perhaps deliveries.

So instead of four lanes of traffic we could have two lanes for tracks – which could also used by emergency services and delivery vehicles in the early hours of the morning and the rest of the space taken up to expand the existing footpaths. One of the best things about this is that generally the centre of Queen St is filled with sun so I for one would love to be able to stroll up Queen St without being in constant shade.

Light Rail in Queen St 1 - Nilut

If you took out the Customs St sign most people probably wouldn’t realise they were looking at Auckland and would think this looks like quite a nice place to visit. Another idea could see some of the space used for decent cycle lanes

Further up Queen St this is how it could look outside the Civic where again the extra pedestrian space would be most welcome.

Light Rail in Queen St 3 - Nilut

And going further up Queen St north of Mayoral Dr how about this with a grassed corridor like seen in many other cities with trams.

Light Rail in Queen St 2 - Nilut

Some of these ideas seemed to flow through to the City Centre Masterplan (CCMP) where some similar images cropped up.

Queen St


Fanshawe St



Quay Stnorthsouth-stitch

In fact the CCMP even includes this suggestion for a tram network.


The fact that council documents suggest light rail in the city centre makes Len Brown’s seeming unhappiness over AT looking at it all the more odd. On Friday while launching the LTP he was clearly not very warm to the idea – perhaps thinking it stole from some of his LTP limelight. He was quick to point out that people shouldn’t get their hopes up as it’s the politicians who will make the decisions and that this isn’t something on the council’s agenda. Perhaps he should be reminded of his own council’s plans.

Light rail to fill the void

Trams – well modern light rail – could be making a comeback to Auckland after an absence of 60 years if Auckland Transport get their way. That’s the major surprise hidden in the draft Regional Land Transport Plan that has been released today. The RLTP is the document that outlines at a high level the what AT and other transport agencies such as the NZTA and Kiwirail plan to do over the next decade and with specific detail about the next three years.

Is Modern Light Rail coming to Auckland

Is Modern Light Rail coming to Auckland? Photo by Oh.Yes.Melbourne

Immediately there are a number of important questions many will be asking such as why Light Rail, why now and what about the City Rail Link. AT say everything stems back to the City Centre Future Access Study (CCFAS). The CCFAS was a response to the government questioning whether the CRL was the best way of solving access problems to the city centre. It found that the CRL plus a combination of street improvements to cope with buses would be needed.

In the outer parts of the region buses will feed into one of the planned Rapid Transit lines (Rail or busways) – and the CRL was key to making the RTN work – however crucially there is what AT call a large void in the central isthmus not covered by the RTN network. In that void are some of the busiest and most heavily used bus routes in the city – which is unsurprising as the suburbs were initially designed and built to support PT.

RTN Void

The central isthmus void in the RTN


It turns out that even with the CRL the sheer number of buses that will need to come from this area will overwhelm city streets. The image below from the last Additional Waitemata Harbour Crossing study shows projected bus volumes in 2041 even with the CRL.



And this is the outcome of too many buses on city streets, a veritable solid wall dividing the street.

Bus Congestion

So far from being in competition with the CRL AT are looking at light rail to complement it as a way of addressing bus congestion from areas the CRL can’t touch. It also allows AT to put a higher quality service to areas the rail network is close to but doesn’t pass through such as the Universities and Wynyard Quarter.

The future solution must provide additional capacity, without degrading the quality of the City centre or surrounding neighbourhoods. AT is evaluating a number of options to address this including double-deckers, bus lane expansion and bus interchanges. While many of these bus improvements still need to happen, they will not provide sufficient capacity to move the increase in Aucklanders wishing to travel into the city centre.

Following assessment of options, a light rail network serving the central isthmus has been identified, as the best option to overcome these issues. Similar issues and constraints in successful cities such as Sydney, Canberra and the Gold Coast have reached the same conclusion; that light rail has the ability to provide the necessary public transport capacity and support the city’s intended development. Recent projects in Australasia mean significant recent experience can be drawn on for analysis.

Modern light rail solutions avoid the visual pollution of overhead lines and generate significantly less carbon emissions than the equivalent movement of passengers by bus. Figure 19 below illustrates how different modes have different capacities and travel speeds.

Mode Capacity

The bus numbers are a bit lower than I suspected however this might be due to AT comparing bus priority on the isthmus streets they’re talking about. In effect one modern Light Rail vehicle every 1-2 minutes will hold more people than a double decker bus every 30 seconds.

So which streets are they considering installing light rail, they say that after investigation the most appropriate are

  • Queen Street
  • Symonds Street
  • Dominion Road
  • Sandringham Road
  • Manukau Road
  • Mount Eden Road

There is no maps to show just what routes they would take so I’ve taken a guess based on the streets and key locations near them (hence the extension of Sandringham Rd Along Stoddard Rd).

Draft RLTP LRT Routes

AT say the development of such a network would also open up the opportunity for light rail to the airport, on the North Shore or to other locations which I suspect could mean to the North West or out East.

Of course the biggest question of all is the cost which AT haven’t given any details on but say is potentially significant. They say they are currently evaluating funding options including looking at private sector investment i.e. PPPs. They also note that while the capital cost is high that the operational costs are lower than the equivalent bus fleet and the benefits of the initial investment extend over generations.

Completely coincidentally I wrote a post just a few days ago looking at what it might cost to restore the old tram network. This obviously isn’t the entire old tram network but at ~29km it is a decent chunk of it. There seems to be a wide range in costs from around $6 million per km of single track in Wynyard Quarter up to over $100 million per km (double track) in some Australian cities and averaging around $30 million per km in US cities. As we would be putting any light down existing roads that used to have trams I would expect costs to on the lower end of the scale so including vehicles to run on it we may be talking around $1 billion. That’s a hell of a lot of money that could be spent on a lot of transport projects however the benefits to the city centre, the central isthmus and the city as a whole are also likely to be significant making it an exciting prospect.

We’ve only seen some basic details and much much more information is needed but until then I’m cautiously supportive.

Light Rail in Melbourne 2

Could this be gliding down Dominion Rd in the near future? Photo by Oh.Yes.Melbourne

The cost of restoring the tram network

In Peter’s weekly wrap up post on Sunday he included a piece from Alan Davies who looked at what it would take financially to build a tram network the size of Melbourne’s.

The US has over 45 operating streetcar and light rail systems but none of them are anywhere near as large as Melbourne’s tram system. Melbourne has the largest extant urban streetcar network in the world with 249 kilometres of double track and 487 trams.


If Melbourne’s tram network had been removed in the 1950s and 60s like similar systems in Sydney, Brisbane, Adelaide, Perth and many regional centres were, it would be astronomically expensive to build something like it today from scratch. The cost of rolling stock alone would be in the region of $3 Billion (1).

Based on the actual $1.6 Billion it cost to build the newly opened 13 km Gold Coast G:link line, a network the size of Melbourne’s could have an all-up cost in the region of $30 Billion.

Or if we extrapolate from the estimated $2.2 Billion it’s taking to build Sydney’s new 12 km CBD and South Eastern Light Rail system, the all-up cost could be in the region of $45 Billion.

That got me thinking about how much it might cost if we ever decided to completely rebuild Auckland’s old tram network. The old network is shown below which was built primarily in the first few decades of the 20th century – horse drawn trams existed before that – and ripped out in the 1950’s.

Auckland Isthmus tramlines

In total the old network is about 70km in length so quite a bit shorter than Melbourne’s network. Even today the bus routes that largely replicate the tram network are some of the busiest in the city, in large part because the suburbs built on the back of the trams were designed to make it fairly easy to use them.

So what would it cost. The only local example we have of laying tram tracks is in Wynyard Quarter where the horizontal Ferris Wheel Auckland Dockline Tram exists. It consists of 1.3km of single track and cost about $8 million which included a special noise and vibration dampening section along Jellicoe St. By figures seen overseas this price seems remarkably cheap and if we could built out an entire network at that figure it would cost around $900 million although that doesn’t include the cost of trams or places to store and maintain them. I would be incredibly surprised if we could do it for that cheap.

Looking over at North America it seems that costs are generally around US$35 million per mile (NZ$28m per km) and at that rate it would cost $4 billion to build out the old network.

Finally using the Australian figures from the start of the post and converted to NZ dollars we get a cost of over $9 billion based on the Gold Coast example or around $13.5 billion based on the Sydney example.

That’s quite a bit of variety in prices although of course as Davies he mentions in his post the cost is driven in large part by how much segregation the modes have. Further he points out that any large scale roll out would likely have some cost efficiencies which would bring the sums down a bit.

If we ever decided to properly reintroduce trams or light rail back to Auckland it’s not likely the entire old network would be rebuilt as it was however it’s certain that heavily used routes like Dominion Rd would still be prime candidates. The real question is if an increase in patronage, savings in operational costs (due to fewer drivers, cheaper fuel etc.), reduced emissions and reduced bus congestion in the city centre make such an idea viable?

Regional Land Transport Plan throws up a few surprises

Today the Auckland Transport board are meeting, I’ve already covered the board report and in this post I’ll look at the draft Regional Land Transport Plan (RLTP). As a brief description the RLTP

  • Sets out the strategic direction for transport in Auckland including how AT proposes to give effect to the transport components of the Auckland Plan and AT’s strategic themes within the fiscal constraints of the funding provided in the LTP.
  • Is consistent with the Government Policy Statement on Land Transport.
  • Brings together objectives, policies and performance measures for each mode of transport.
  • Sets out a programme of activities to contribute to this strategic direction. It outlines both the Basic Transport Network and the Auckland Plan Transport Network.
  • Includes transport activities to be delivered by NZTA, KiwiRail, the NZ Police, AC and AT.

The draft RLTP will be open for public submission from 23 January – 16 March 2015 which is the same time as the council’s Long Term Plan (LTP). We already know much of the detail about what the RLTP holds as it has come out as part the discussion of the LTP over the last few weeks. In particular that there are two transport networks proposed, what’s known as the Basic Transport Programme – a severely constrained network that will see many critical projects such as new transport interchanges put on hold – or what’s known as the Auckland Plan Transport Programme which is the everything including the kitchen sink approach. We’ve discussed the plans before including the sticky mess the basic plan produces.

What’s interesting about the draft RTLP is some of the language used and even more so some of the suggestions for Auckland’s future and it’s some of these aspects I’ll cover in this post. Perhaps most importantly is the document suggests that Auckland Transport are starting to realise that yesterday’s thinking will not solve tomorrow’s problems and AT’s Chairman Lester Levy’s says exactly that in his introduction. He also makes a few other bold statements including that Aucklanders deserve better than choosing between poor transport outcomes or paying an extra $300 million a year.

That language carries on through the document and some parts feel like they could have been written by us. While I’m quite cognisant of the fact that these words need to be backed up by actions, the change in the discussion isn’t an isolated case as we’ve started to see similar comments from other agencies such as the Ministry of Transport and the NZTA. That gives me hope that in coming years we’ll see some real improvements in transport planning in Auckland and across the country.

Some of this comes through particularly strongly in the problem definition section of the document – page 30 in the PDF – which lists the four key problems that need to be addressed. The first one identifies that limited transport options are having a negative impact.

1. Limited quality transport options and network inefficiencies undermine resilience, liveability and economic prosperity

Underdeveloped public transport, walking and cycling networks mean that Auckland continues to have high reliance on private vehicle travel and low levels of public transport use, walking and cycling. Private vehicles account for 78% of trips in urban Auckland.

This high dependency on private vehicles means not only that there are long traffic delays but that many people have no choice other than to travel by car. Cars take up space that could otherwise be used to address Auckland’s housing shortage, improve environmental outcomes, improve economic performance, reduce social inequalities, improve health and safety and improve transport affordability. It also increases the risk to the economy from future oil price shocks.


Investments in the rail network and the Northern Busway are already making a difference, and Aucklanders have been taking up these new choices in numbers that exceed all forecasts. Annual surveys of travel to Auckland’s city centre confirm that the growth in public transport travel is already making more capacity available on key links for freight and business trips.

While the fourth problem recognises that we’re basically at the end of the era of being able to build cheap roads to expand the transport network. It also notes that expectations of congestion free driving should be a thing of the past

4. Meeting all transport expectations is increasingly unaffordable and will deliver poor value for money

Providing new or expanded transport infrastructure to respond to growth is becoming increasingly expensive and inefficient. Land corridors designated in the past for transport purposes have now been used, and constructing transport infrastructure on land already used for housing or as open space is expensive and unpopular. The Victoria Park Tunnel and the Waterview Tunnel are two examples of roading projects that have been constructed as tunnels to minimise adverse environmental and community impacts, at significant additional cost.


It is clear that expecting a high level of performance from the transport network for all modes in all locations at all times and for all types of trips is increasingly unaffordable and will not provide value for money. The level of performance can appropriately be expected to vary according to location, time of day, type of trip and mode of travel.

And it is carried on into the sections about specific modes/projects. Section 6 (page 41) is all about public transport

Everyone benefits from good public transport, including road freight businesses and car drivers. As more roads are built, more people choose to travel by car and soon traffic congestion is at the same level as before the new road was built. However it is possible to build our way out of traffic congestion by building a public transport system that is good enough to attract people out of cars (16).

Not everyone who uses public transport has a choice. For people who cannot drive, or cannot afford a car, public transport opens up opportunities for education, work and a social life. A public transport system that works well for the young, the old and the mobility impaired, and serves the whole community including low income neighbourhoods, builds a stronger, more inclusive society.

And on the City Rail Link they say:

As more and more people want to live in Auckland, more efficient transport is needed. Cars simply take up too much space, and successful cities around the world have each had to solve the problem of how to get ever more people into and around the city as land and space become more valuable.


More people catching the train and bus to and through the city centre will free up parking and traffic space which can be reallocated to make room for the growing numbers of pedestrians. Projects like the Victoria St Linear Park will replace sterile tarmac with spaces which encourage people to linger and enjoy being in the centre of a world class city. The successful transformations of the Viaduct, Wynyard Quarter and Britomart are a model for how vibrant and lively the heart of our city can become.

Can you imagine the Auckland Transport of a few years ago describing a road as sterile tarmac?

There are numerous other statements that surprised me in my skim though but perhaps the most significant was this about the future of access to the city centre

While the CCFAS was designed to address regional needs it also highlighted residual city centre access issues, particularly from the central and southern isthmus not served by the rail network including:

  • Key arterials with major bus routes are already near capacity will be significantly over capacity in the future even with the CRL and surface bus improvements
  • If not addressed now, there will be area-specific problems, including the impact of a high number of buses on urban amenity, in the medium term and acute issues on key corridors in the longer term

To address these issues, work is currently underway to provide an effective public transport solution for those parts of inner Auckland and the City Centre that cannot be served by the heavy rail network, with CRL; that supports growth requirements in a way that maintains or enhances the quality and capacity of the City Centre streets. A range of options are being explored including light rail.

Re-implementing light rail in Auckland would surely be a mammoth task but there could certainly be some benefits to such an idea. This is especially true on some of the central isthmus routes which already have high frequencies, high patronage and a local road network which supports a good walk up catchment. Of course Auckland Transport would need to show just how they could pay for such a thing when funding is so constrained but if it possible it would certainly be one way for them to highlight that they have been thinking differently about transport than they have in the past. Could this be what the secretive CCFAS2 has been about?

Auckland Isthmus tramlines

The old Tram Network

And let’s not forget we’ve suggested a Dominion Rd tram as part of our Congestion Free Network.

What Is Happening With Airport Rail?

As the Herald reported yesterday, it looks as if Auckland Transport have really dropped the ball in getting a designation in place for rail to Mangere and Auckland Airport – what should be called the “South Western Line”. It is worth emphasizing that the main point of any rapid transit project in the south west is not so much to provide air travellers with a rail link, but to provide the more than 20,000 workers at the airport with a decent alternative, and also benefit the residents of Mangere and South Auckland who probably have the worst public transportation services in the entire region.

Some years back, a cross-stakeholder South-Western Multi-modal Airport Rapid Transit (SMART) study was commissioned to look at the rapid transit options. It was supposed to be making progress towards a designation, and for some time we have been wondering how the study was progressing.

This week, through a LGOIMA request, we finally got our hands on a copy of what has turned out to be an interim, and final report. Unfortunately, Auckland Transport instructed consultants GHD to cut the three phase study short in September of last year.

Phase Three of the study was supposed to “focus on developing documentation to support route protection. This would have entailed developing a draft Notice of Requirement and/or easement documentation for future-proofing of the preferred route. Within the airport designation, it was anticipated that an easement would be agreed and included in the current Auckland Airport Masterplan.”

However, the study was cut short with the following reasons given:

SMART Scheme Assessment Report

There is no explanation as to why the plans listed have a higher priority than designating rail to the airport. Auckland Transport and Auckland Council have to be the party responsible for driving the rapid transit designation process through, but instead they’ve more or less said “Ugh – too hard!” and sat on their hands.

Fast forward a year later, and things have now come to a head as the NZTA are wanting to push through the Kirkbride Road grade separation project, which will turn SH20A and SH20 into a continuous motorway. There is currently no provision for a rail corridor in any of the draft plans, and it is my understanding that the NZTA are waiting on a clear direction from Auckland Transport on where the rapid transit corridor will run.

The interim SMART report supported an earlier study from 2011 which concluded that a rail loop through South Auckland remains the technically preferred strategic option (I’ll have the detail on a later post) yet no progress has been made in designating the rail corridor.

Most worryingly of all, it looks as if Auckland Transport is now re-litigating the decision for heavy rail and is considering light rail instead for the corridor between Onehunga and the Airport. There are currently no public details on any of the following factors:

  • How much would the light rail rolling stock cost, what would the capacity be and where would the rolling stock be housed?
  • How much slower would light rail be, compared to a heavy rail solution?
  • How much cheaper could a light rail route be, bearing in mind that Sydney’s light rail is now likely to cost $2.2bn – about the same per kilometre as heavy rail between Onehunga and the airport?

So many questions. So few answers.