Photo is credited to oh.yes.melbourne
Most of you are probably back at work today after what I hope was a good break and probably trying to ease back into a usual routine as slowly as possible. If you are a person who normally catches the train to work that routine is almost undoubted still disrupted thanks to the rail network still being closed north of Newmarket on the Onehunga, Southern and Western lines while closed north of Westfield on the Eastern lines. In those places the network is being kept closed so that work can continue on getting the rail network wired up for electrification. The focus this shutdown has been on getting Britomart and parts of the Eastern line wired up.
Probably the main problem with overhead electrification is the visual impact of it – although in a way it kind of acts like an advertisement of a high quality PT service at the same time. Personally I have found that in most places the impact hasn’t been too bad and the installation is certainly far less intrusive than some other overhead systems I’ve seen. However when it comes to the visual impact, Britomart and the Eastern line across Hobson Bay are arguably the two most challenging sections and the ones where people are most likely to complain. I was out yesterday and so made a slight detour to see how work was progressing.
The reason I think this section is difficult is that I suspect there are some local residents between Quay Park and the Purewa tunnel for whom any change to the visual landscape will be unacceptable. Along this part of the route it isn’t just houses primarily next to the rail lines that would notice changes but quite a lot all around the bay and the view in the area often plays a large part in property values.
The wires themselves were only installed as far east as Judges Bay however the masts extended all the way past Orakei station (I decided not to both going further as had other things to do). My feeling is that while the wires weren’t installed yet, the masts showed that the visual impact on the area probably isn’t going to be too significant. For example looking from Ngapipi Rd for example across Hobson Bay they certainly didn’t seem to be an issue.
I didn’t get any photos of this section but Luke C got this one looking across Judges Bay. The visual impact across the causeway is similar to what the masts around the Pt Resolution Bridge look like in this shot.
Britomart is of course a completely different challenge. One of my favourite things about the station is how open and light part of the station is; it’s like a giant cavern. The risk with electrification is that it the infrastructure makes the station appear cluttered and I understand it has been something the project team have been very well aware of. I remember talking to someone involved with the project a few years ago and they said that early on they were putting a lot of effort in to the station to ensure they got it right.
One of the decisions that was made was that instead of running wires into the station – like across the rest of the network – instead a solid bar system would be used that removes the need for catenary wires thus reducing clutter. The system will also be used in the CRL tunnels once those are built meaning a smaller sized tunnel can be used compared to what would be needed to support catenary wires.
Now that the infrastructure is going in we can finally see what the station is going to look like. Here are a couple of photos of the works although they didn’t come out that well.
Next week the trains from everything but the eastern lines will return to Britomart, it will be interesting to see what passengers think of the changes.
The entrance to the underground concourse from Queen Elizabeth Square to Britomart. Personally I much prefer walking out of the front doors of Britomart and crossing the road rather than use this (unless it’s really pouring with rain).
Photos is copyright to Sydney
The Atrium of the Westpac and Ernst & Young buildings. The eastern entrances to Britomart are down the stairs/escalators to the left and right.
Photos is copyright to Sydney
The haze at Britomart from the diesel fumes. I can’t wait for the day when we only have electric trains stopping at the station.
Speaking of electric trains, reader Gianfranco sent me these photo’s showing our second electric train being unloaded yesterday. Have also heard that testing on the first EMU is going well and they have even had it up to just over 122km/h – although the trains won’t run that fast with passengers on board.
A single electric train would be able to carry more people that all of the cars in that last photo (at normal occupancy rates).
As mentioned yesterday, Britomart is now 10 years old and Auckland Transport and the Council decided to celebrate that milestone today. I caught an early (for me) train into Britomart this morning to have a look at the celebrations. Here is Len arriving at the station.
Many people would have received some cake as they arrived this morning. Here is what it looked like before being cut into small pieces. I’m told the cake weighed 60kg and contained lights and the number on the top rotated.
But the most interesting thing about the morning was Len Browns speech. Precinct Properties – the owners of the Downtown Shopping Centre – want to demolish the mall and redevelop the site which is likely to start 2016/17. The council is in the process of negotiating with them to build the CRL tunnels through the site at the same time so that they don’t have to hold the development up or go back and do it later on. This is significant for many reasons, first of which is that it means the CRL is officially being started in 2016 but that isn’t the only thing. It means that Auckland Transport no longer need to purchase the entire site saving around $80 million. This is even more significant as while AT would have been able to resell the empty site once they had finished with it, my understanding is that one of the quirks of our economic assessment criteria prevents the resale of future unneeded land from considered in the Benefit Cost Ratio calculations. The map below shows the designation that Auckland Transport is seeking:
News that the a section of the tunnel will begin earlier than the rest of the project in order for a development to occur is also extremely similar to what happened with Britomart itself. Back in the late 1990′s the tunnel connecting the station to Quay Park was built before the station itself was even agreed upon and when it was far from certain that it would even happen and was done to enable the land above it to be developed.
But this announcement won’t be without its own challenges. Auckland Transport had initially intended to use the site as a works yard – something Precinct weren’t happy about in their submission on the designation (pages 34-38).
Not having the site available could mean that AT will have to reassess how the build the project or alternatively buy another site to use. This perhaps represents one of the key reasons that Precinct are keen to get an agreement, and their development under way as soon as possible.
However while it might present some challenges for AT, it also presents some interesting opportunities. At this stage the plan only seems to be to build the tunnels under the actual mall site however there is potentially a lot of value in extending the tunnel a little bit on either side.
An extension under Customs St could mean the intersection is sorted out before Quay St is hopefully narrowed down and made more pedestrian friendly. It would mean that when it comes time to dig the rest of the tunnel that Customs St can be unaffected which I’m sure would help greatly with traffic flows. It also means that permanent changes – like hopefully a busway – could be made to Customs St before the CRL is built.
At the other end, extending the tunnel under QE2 Square, the bus only section of Queen St and connecting the tunnel into Britomart itself could bring even bigger benefits. It would allow the tunnels to be used to store trains which could increase the capacity of the station enough to enable another couple of trains per hour to use it. That could potentially allow for upgrades and higher frequencies on the Onehunga line to be brought forward separate of the CRL or alternatively a new rail spur to Mt Roskill. It would add capacity by having one train enter the station, dropping off passengers at the platform then carrying on into the tunnel stub to end its journey. Because the points don’t need to change another train could follow through right behind and terminate at the platform like what happens now. The first train could be parked up in the tunnel until it is needed again in the afternoon peak where the reverse happens. In the off peak there wouldn’t be the capacity limitations like there are at peak so services into Britomart wouldn’t be as constrained.
With these two small extensions it also means that the entire northern end of the CRL project is completed and can then be largely immune from the disruption that will occur when Albert St is dug up. It also means we can put in place some permanent infrastructure for buses through the area .
Here is a press release from Precinct Properties on the issue:
As well as the CRL we will be closely following what develops on this important site.
On the 7th of July 2003 – 10 years ago today – the very first train pulled into Britomart. It was a historic moment that brought the rail network back to the edge of the city for the first time in over 70 years, and helped spark the revival of not only the rail network, but public transport in general – as well as urban regeneration. In this post I’m going to look at some of the history behind Britomart, as well as the impact it has had on transport in Auckland. We will look at the impacts the project has had on the urban environment of the city in a separate post.
The area around Britomart was originally in the middle of the water in what was then known as Commercial Bay, and on the eastern edge of the bay was a large headland known as Point Britomart. In the 1870′s and 1880′s the headland was levelled to, among other things, allow for the rail network to reach into the burgeoning settlement.
In the 1920s, it was decided to move the station east to Beach Road, to provide more space for the increasing amount of train movements as well having a station which could provide a grand entrance to Auckland. It was recognised at the time that this location wasn’t ideal for passengers, and that an extension through the centre of town would be needed. It was known as the Morningside Deviation, and it was initially supported and even given funding by the government of the day. However, in 1930, just before the new Auckland Railway station opened, the scheme was cancelled by the government – leaving the rail stranded away from where most people were wanting to be.
Similar schemes to bring rail back to CBD came up in the 1950′s and 60′s through the Master Transportation Plan, which called for integrated road and PT developments. However, only the roading aspects were ever progressed. The idea was pushed once again in the 1970′s by Mayor Sir Dove Myer Robinson, in what became known Robbie’s Rapid Rail, which was eventually accepted by the Labour government of the day but cancelled by Robert Muldoon’s incoming government.
But perhaps the one thing that undid all of these previous plans was their pure size. They all involved not just extending the rail network through the city, but electrification and other network upgrades and extensions. In each case the price tag for everything simply became too scary and the schemes were abandoned. Britomart was then left to languish, as an area home to plenty of run down buildings, a car park and the city’s bus station.
In the mid 1995 Mayor Les Mills proposed to bring rail back to the city once again through a massive scheme. This time though it wasn’t the massive rail works that put people off but other aspects of the proposal. There was a five-storey underground transport interchange containing a train station with four rail lines and the provision for light rail, an underground bus terminal, and 2,900 car parking spaces. On top of that, many of the heritage buildings in the area were to make way for high-rise development. Also proposed was putting Quay Street underground and new public spaces. It was to be paid for in a partnership with an overseas developer. The underground works including the station were to occur in the first stage and would have cost up to $376 million, of which the council would pay $164 million. The developer was to pay the rest, and would then be able to redevelop many of the sites around the area.
The local body elections of 1998 saw a lot of people voted in on the campaign promise of “Rethink Britomart”, and this included Mayor Christine Fletcher. With the private developer also unable to raise the funding he needed for his share of the project, the Les Mills plan was scrapped and the council went back to the drawing board. They eventually came up with a smaller scheme, which revolved around an underground train station and restoration of the heritage buildings in the precinct. But it wasn’t without its challenges: the biggest issue was around funding, and while the overall scheme was smaller than that proposed in 1995, the council would have to pay for all of it, so the cost to the public actually increased. That naturally saw a lot more questions raised about the project. One example is this op-ed piece from then councillor Victoria Carter.
Another is this from the Herald’s John Roughan on the cost of the project.
Thankfully Christine Fletcher stood strong on the plan that was developed, signing the construction contract in her last days in office, before losing the mayoralty to John Banks who had called the project a “temple at the bottom of Queen St”, and vowed to stop it.
But construction went ahead, and the first train rolled into the station a few years later on this day in 2003.
The final touches were put on the station in the following few weeks, and it formally opened 25 July 2003 which included a parade down Queen St.
The impact of Britomart opening has been enormous. Rail patronage rose dramatically from around 2.5 million per year in 2003 to 10 million per year now.
It is often mentioned that the growth came about through cannibalising patronage on buses, and while that might have happened initially, bus use has actually increased from around 46 million to 54 million in the last decade. Ferries have also increased from 3.7 million to 5.4 million.
Not only has patronage increased, usage of Britomart has also beaten expectations. The business case in 2001 predicted that by 2011, 18,000 people would be using the station, and that 2021, just under 22,000 would be doing so. In 2011 the actual number of passengers recorded as using Britomart was over 25,000, well ahead of even the 2021 projections.
In other words, the station has been a resounding success. Without it, we probably wouldn’t have seen a revival in public transport to the same extent that we’ve seen. Without it, we probably wouldn’t have seen projects like double-tracking the western line, or electrification, and we certainly wouldn’t be talking about the City Rail Link. Without it we probably wouldn’t have seen the city start to regenerate itself in the way that it has. I would argue that Britomart is the single most important positive thing that has happened to urban Auckland in at least the last 60 years, maybe longer.
So thank you to Christine Fletcher and all of those who had the vision of making Auckland a better place. Those who saw that Auckland didn’t have to be consigned to a future of car-only development, and that we could do better, and made the project happen. The city has clearly become a much better place as a result of the work you did.
I suspect the next 10 years in the life of Britomart will be just as eventful as the first decade. Within the next year, the station will be wired up as part of electrification, and in April next year the first passenger-carrying electric trains will start arriving in the station. A few years later, we are likely to start seeing construction start for the City Rail Link. This will finally see the rail network extended through the centre of the CBD, similar to what was envisioned 90 years ago, and my guess is it will open in 2023, 20 years after rail was returned to the Auckland city centre.
If you have some good photos of Britomart that you want to share, put links to them in the comments and I will add some of them to the post.
Having recently returned from exile in Brisbane, I’ve been enjoying spending some more time loitering around Auckland’s rapidly rejuvenating city centre. One of the areas I’ve particularly enjoyed reconnecting with is Customs Street.
I’ve always liked Customs Street. It feels like Auckland’s forgotten “centroid”. I love walking around and imagining the amalgam of wharfs, railway sidings, factories, and shops that previously populated that part of town. As a result, Customs Street is now home to a number of splendid heritage buidings, and – as is the norm for Auckland – cars. Lots of cars (source).
There’s certainly lots of sexcellent things happening around Customs Street. Britomart continues to go from strength to strength; with a delightful mix of cafes, bars, restaurants, and shopping. Despite it’s prominent location many of these still seem to offer relatively affordable treats and eats.
On the southern side, Auckland Council’s upgrade of Fort Street is nearing completion and looking ab fab. Meanwhile O’Connell Street is next in line for the shared space treatment. It doesn’t seem like it will be long before we have a lovely little web of intimate pedestrian-oriented streets funneling down to Customs Street, and ultimately onto Quay Street.
Notwithstanding these wider improvements, I just can’t shake the nagging feeling that Customs Street deserves a greater focus in the city’s future regeneration. Indeed, Auckland Council’s City Centre Master Plan seemed strangely silent on what would/should become of Customs Street in the future.
From where I’m sitting all the changes that are planned in the wider city centre, especially Quay Street, suggest Customs Street will increasingly need to function as the “backbone” of the downtown transport network. Not just for cars, but also buses and – increasingly – pedestrians looking to access Britomart and the Waterfront. Indeed, more so than other streets in the city centre, which look set to specialise for one transport mode or the other, Customs Street looks like it will always be a multi-modal transport corridor.
And that means that some uncomfortable compromises will need to be made. Personally, I’d love to see a more European style boulevard on Customs Street, as discussed in more detail in this post. The key complication factors on Customs Street, however, as 1) the narrower street width and 2) the important role it plays (and will continue to play) in the bus network. This means we have less space to play with, but more demands on the space that is available.
Something has to give – we simply don’t have enough space to create a nice street for pedestrians, cater for bus access and mobility, and maintain current traffic capacity. But I’m keen to know what others think – what would you like to see on Customs Street? How would you reconcile the tensions between various modes? How might we get there from here?
Here’s an extra pic for the post, Stu -PR:
P.s. When not wandering around Customs Street I’ve spent my time protecting her royal highness – Princess Kuku – from the cold snap. So snuggly …
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