The New Old World Order

The demolition of the Downtown Centre for the start of the CRL and the replacement of this 1960s structure by Precinct Properties’ Commercial Bay office and retail development is an important moment for Auckland on many levels.

Along with the obvious boon of the actual beginning of the CRL there is also something deeply symbolic here. The entire conception of the previous building was anti-urban, it was a suburban mall stuck right in the heart of the city. I have always been struck by the semiotics of this backwards invasion; instead of the usual order of things, where a smaller centre tries to present its developments as a new sophistication by reference to a bigger more glamorous centre, this whole building seemed to represent an inversion of this idea; determinedly aiming to be nothing more than a little bit of Lynn Mall in the city.

DOWNTOWN DEMO_3187

But then it comes from that peculiar age in the history of city making; the second half of the 20thC, when, uniquely, dispersal and edge took over from concentration and centre as the formula for commercial success. See here for a fascinatingly detailed history of this development by architect Malcolm Smith, it is clear from this that it was extremely hard in those times to make such a location work, the city centre had just lost its mojo. To see how this came to be so in what now is so obviously such a valuable location, it is important to understand the historical context in which this development took place. This is well summarised on Auckland’s Wikipedia page (source).

The relocation of industries to outlying suburbs became especially pronounced in the 1950s, partly due to incentives made by council planners to create industrial areas in Penrose and Rosebank Road (amongst others) and thus rid the inner city area of noise, pollution and heavy traffic. This was mirrored by the development of suburban shopping malls (the first being LynnMall in 1963)[4]which enticed retailers to vacate the inner city as well. Attempts by the council to halt this pattern by constructing numerous public car parking buildings met with varying success. The rise of suburban supermarket and mall shopping that was created in places such as Pakuranga from 1965 onwards has been added to by the appearance of Big Box retailers in places such as Botany and the North Shore.[5]

It really is a perfect example of this zeitgeist, from its introverted retail pattern [blank walls to the street; its formation it actually consumed a city street], car parking orientation [Downtown parking building and airbridge], clunky sub-modernist massing, right down to the hideous 70s baby-kaka colour scheme.

DOWNTOWN DEMO_3228

And now, it is my contention, its demise is also a perfect expression of the new zeitgeist; the return of the city. The inversion of the pattern in play at the time of its creation.

Which, as the name suggests, is simply a return to the timeless urban pattern of the preeminence of proximity and concentration: Where the centre is by definition the busiest and most valuable retail and commercial precinct. A pattern that would be recognisable to city inhabitants throughout all ages and nations, and is only worth emphasising here because everybody adult today has grown up under the opposite, and anomalous, pattern. So what is in fact abnormal and inverted in the long history of urban settlement is strangely conventional and may even seem natural.

DOWNTOWN DEMO_3200

This explains the confused incomprehension of people like Herald writer John Roughan, a deeply committed 20th Century dweller who just can’t get to grips with this return to the natural urban order of things this century in Auckland, with the city reshaping itself again on urban terms, building proper city kit like underground rail and the volume of pedestrians pushing out the car from city streets. As opposed to the suburban auto-privileging order he is comfortable with. This is the pattern of the mid-late 20th century in Auckland; the good old days of auto-dominated yet unpeopled city streets, a commuter city completely unlived in, and dead at nights and on weekends; everyone having fled to the haven of the suburbs. So he confuses the vibrancy of crowded city pavements and new construction with some sort of disorder:

Meanwhile, the heart of Auckland looks like a body in the first phase of drastic surgery. It lies stunned, wan, with opened wounds and heavy bandaging.

Whereas to city lovers the scale and ubiquity of construction currently underway in the city is exhilarating and full of promise*. Auckland now has something of the energy of early 20th century North American cities; alive with commerce, construction, and crowds. Rather than the plodding predictability of the old provincial town that Roughan seems to be yearning for.

This kind of confusion and conflict is to be expected in times of significant change that it is clear that Auckland and many other cities are experiencing now. The bewilderment and anger of some older people at the [largely misunderstood] Unitary Plan is another sign of this: people tend to react fearfully when much of what they always assumed would be permanent and unchallenged starts to melt away. Views formed decades ago can calcify and to see their concrete expression demolished can provoke emotional reaction.

DOWNTOWN DEMO_3234

So we can expect more lashing out and confused editorials by those unable or unwilling to move with the times, because I am pretty certain this is a powerful and irresistible trend, as shown by the scale of work, over $10 billion of new construction underway or about to be in Auckland City along the CRL route. As powerful in fact as the last time our city conformed to international trends and profoundly altered its form and movement systems: yup that’s right, when we went all in for motorways, suburban living, and dispersed shopping malls.

CMJ AK STAR APRIL 1973_01_800px

Auckland Star April 1973

We are just changing horses again, and this time back to a normal urban pattern based on a hierarchy of concentration, but as with all evolutions or even revolutions, they still take place in the context of what went before. So Roughan’s sacred suburbia, with its rituals of weekend car washing, lawn mowing, and BBQs, will still exist, and in fact can still be the enveloping context for many people’s entire Auckland experience if they so desire. The wheel turns, but also rolls forward, building on the old, as well as replacing it. Just as buildings of earlier phases of Auckland’s history, particularly from its most urban period in the first half of the 20th Century, can (thankfully) still be seen in these photographs, so will the monuments of the second half of last century persist, the motorways, the malls, the parking buildings, the stubby towers, but the new emphasis is increasingly now elsewhere.

Only I would contend that this time we are being much less destructive than before; we are not dismantling the motorway system, or even running it down, although we will stop adding to it; importantly this is unlike what happened to the tram network and passenger rail during the motorway/sprawl era.

This change may be a shock to people like Roughan, but it really is more evolutionary than revolutionary, additional not substitutive.

All palaces are temporary.

Lower Queen St demolishion 60:70s

*= which isn’t to say that every change is ideal, see here for a critique of the public space issues at Commercial Bay: Are we getting the Public Space…

 

Britomart’s new entrance now underway

If you’ve been though Britomart in recent days, you’ll have noticed the rear entrance has been closed off. This is related to the works on the CRL kicking up a gear as AT build a new entrance to the station while the CPO is closed for strengthening so tunnels can be built under it, something we talked about a few weeks ago.

Britomart Temporary Entrance

Here’s AT’s recent press release about it.

Commuters using Britomart Transport Centre will notice a few changes from this Sunday (24 July) as the City Rail Link takes another step forward.

After years of planning, the first phase of work will begin at Britomart next week with the closure of the Commerce Street entrance for six months. The station will stay open and will be accessible from Tyler, Galway and Lower Queen Street, as well as the eastern entrance at Takutai Square.

A new entrance facility will be built in Commerce Street to replicate the facilities in the historic Chief Post Office (CPO) building which will be closed early next year to allow the CRL tunnels to be built beneath.

CRL project director Chris Meale says it’s an exciting next step for the project with construction on two fronts; Britomart and Albert Street, making the project very real for Aucklanders. “We’re beginning construction on the busiest public transport centre in New Zealand which will continue to function throughout the work.”

Hoardings will be in place throughout construction with wayfinding and signage to guide commuters to the nearest entrance/exit. During this phase, bus shelters and the drop off/pickup area will be removed with alternative drop off and mobility parking on Galway Street. Two delivery and service vehicle spaces will also be available on Tyler Street.

Dale Burtenshaw, Project Director for the constructors leading the Britomart construction says: “It is fantastic that Downer Soletanche Bachy JV can now start the works with Auckland Transport for the first construction package to the City Rail Link. Given our history with the Chief Post Office and construction of the Britomart Transport Centre, we are excited to work together to on this very important project.”

The temporary station entrance will be completed in early 2017 and will house the ticketing office, retail units and will function as the main entrance to the station. Phase two will begin once the temporary station entrance is complete and is expected to finish in 2020.

And here’s a shot of the inside

Britomart Temporary Entrance inside

While on the topic of the CRL, if you’ve been past Britomart recently it’s hard to miss that heavy construction work is well underway in QE2 Square with piling work going on. I had a meeting in the HSBC building yesterday evening so took the opportunity for a quick photo before showing the work.

2016-07-26 - QE2 Square CRL Construction

While James replied to a tweet about it with this image showing work going on and a sizeable hole at Victoria St to deal with services before the actual tunnel can be constructed.

 

CRL Station Features

When going through the City Rail Link business case for yesterday’s post, I left out one aspect I thought readers might be quite interested in, details about the stations being added or upgraded as part of the project. They say

Station entrances have been designed to address the needs of each station in terms of function, performance and personality, as well as the needs of the particular urban context into which they are to be inserted. Effort has been made in placing and configuring the above-ground components of the station entries and other station components to maximise local benefits. This included consideration of:

  • potential for architectural treatments and materiality
  • scale, massing and form
  • activation of street frontages
  • preserving important heritage structures
  • transit oriented developments
  • potential to explore inclusion of Iwi cultural landscape and design themes.
Aotea Station Design Platform Mar - 16

Aotea Station platform

On to the details about the stations themselves, this is laid out in the the table below

 

CRL Business Case - Station information

Britomart will get three additional escalators but also lose one entrance. With a reduction to four platforms post-CRL I’m guessing some of the new escalators could relate to improving access at the eastern end of the station. As for losing an entrance, AT have said the gateline will be moved from the platform level up to the CPO so this might suggest the entrance out the back of the CPO could close.

 

Aotea will have a lot of escalators including about four sets to/from the platform. It’s also good to see them stating that the station is future proofed for a future North Shore line – which would be under Wellesley St. The only concern is that the platform is quite narrow at only 9.6m for what will be the busiest station on the network but I guess the various escalators will help somewhat in moving people.

Aotea Station Design Exploded View

The Karangahape Rd station platforms are a little narrower but the station isn’t expected to be quite as busy. In the post yesterday I highlighted how they expect up to 34,000 during the AM peak. The report suggests about 20% of that will go to K Rd while Aotea and Britomart get around 40% each. As a rough guess that seems about the same width as some of stations in other parts of the network. It’s worth pointing out that side platform aren’t really on the outside like other stations but more like two halves to an island platform with cross passages  directly between them.

Of course it’s a shame that they’re not building the Beresford St entrance as that would make the station more useful.

Karangahape Station Platform View

Karangahape Station Platform

If you’re interested in how the stations will be built, the info below gives some idea.

Aotea Station

Construction for Aotea Station will be staged so that only one of Victoria Street, Wellesley Street and Custom Street West is closed at any one time. As Aotea Station is on the critical path, early enabling works to divert the stormwater culvert in Albert Street are planned to reduce the overall construction programme.

Components of the Station construction include:

  • southern construction yard and shaft
  • Wellesley Street West intersection structural works covering relocation of the street furniture and utilities, constructing the roof slab and reinstating the Albert Street/Wellesley Street intersection for public use, constructing the station box to platform level, the structures for the station entrance, ventilation, and mechanical and electrical equipment. The base slab at platform level will be designed to span the tunnel works for the future North Shore Line. This section of the station is on the critical path as it must be completed to receive the TBM from the first tunnel bore.
  • Victoria Street intersection structural works covering the street furniture, utilities relocation, constructing the roof slab and reinstating the Albert Street/Victoria Street intersection for public use, construction of the station box to platform level from the adjacent section and the structures for thestation escape passage and entrance
  • Durham Street intersection structural works including carefully removing the heritage bluestone wall (for reinstatement on completion), construction of the roof slab and reinstatement of the Albert Street/ Durham Street intersection for public use, and construction of the station box to platform level. This section of Aotea Station is on the critical path, as it must be completed before the rail track installation works can proceed to Britomart Station.

After completion of the tunnelling and structural works, the station will be accessible for fit-out.

Karangahape Station

The construction sequence for Karangahape station needs site preparation, service protection/diversion, and demolition of existing buildings followed by construction of the main entrance shafts, excavation of the sloped entrance escalator shafts, and construction of the permanent works after the mined tunnels have been completed. The Mercury Lane shaft must be completed before the down main TBM reaches this location. After completion of the tunnelling and structural works, the stations will be accessible for fit-out.

The Full CRL Business Case

Back in April Auckland Transport released a summary of a business case they’d produced for internal use to help with their planning and procurement for the project. The new business case took into account all of the changes to the project that have been made over the years as well as AT’s improved understanding of the project and other changes within Auckland. The business case found the project has a Benefit Cost Ratio of 1.6-1.7 thanks to $2.96 – $3.2 billion in benefits coming from the project.

CRL Benefits graphic

Last week the herald triumphantly announced that the cost of the CRL had blown out by a cool $500 million up to $3 billion but as I wrote following that article, the actual cost was $2.5 billion +/-20%. So it could be that when tendered the project comes in lower than currently expected. The cost blowout was overblown. While looking at some details for that article, I found that Auckland Transport had actually published the full business case online (8MB), not just the summary like they had earlier.

While the summary was useful, the full business case contains a lot of information and so with this post I thought I’d have a look at some of it.

The first thing that I noticed is the report pulls a lot of history and previous reports together as part of explaining why the project so important. Perhaps one day I’ll do a post in more detail about this info but if not, I’m sure it will be a useful resource for students and studies in the future.

Construction

The diagram below can take a bit to understand but shows roughly where, when and how construction will take place across the entire project.

CRL Business Case - Construction Time Diagram

Related to construction, this comment caught my eye as part of talk of altering some designations (page 50).

Changes to provide for the relocation of ventilation equipment at Aotea Station to Kingston Street and the associated relocation of the Bluestone Wall (approximately 3m to east)

I’m guessing in part this is about providing better footpaths along this part of Albert St.

This diagram shows the cross section for the bored tunnels. They say it needs an indicative internal tunnel diameter of 6.24m.

CRL Business Case - Tunnel Diameter

CRL Capacity

The report gives an indication as to the capacity the rail network will have once the CRL is built.

Once the principal constraint has been addressed, with the CRL turning Britomart into a through station, it will be possible to run up to 24 services per hour, each way, through the Link, with initial plans for 18 services per hour in the peaks. Ultimately, advanced systems and further investment might see that figure rise to 30 services per hour.

Currently Britomart is limited to 20 trains arriving per hour so we go from that to 36 an hour with the CRL initially and up to 24 in the future while we might eventually get up to 30 an hour. They say that whilst the actual operating plan will be confirmed closer to the opening date, the running pattern below is what they used for planning and modelling purposes.

Post CRL running pattern at start

They’ve say the planning is based modelled demand and capacity needed for each line. The western line is used as an example:

Figure 13 below shows as an example how train capacity was matched against predicted demand by decade by line, in this case the Western Line for 2023. The capacity line represents 6 tph x 3 car service starting from Swanson, 3 tph x 3 car service starting from Henderson and a 3 tph x 3 car peak overlay starting from Henderson. Similar analysis was carried out for other lines and decades.

and

Over time, as demand increases, as the fleet size is increased, an increasing number of trains can be lengthened to 6 car operation, and the span of operation of the peak overlay can increase from 1 hour to 3.

CRL Business Case - Western Line Demand and Capacity

This suggests the plans are to only run 3-car trains at the opening of the CRL. As covered later, I think they’re underestimating just how popular the CRL will be and given we already have 6tph, some of which are 6-cars in length, and on some services they’re getting full I think AT will need to revisit this. I’m also personally unhappy that despite the CRL there is no service improvement past Henderson (or at Manukau).

One last interesting comment on this, they say “until sufficient level crossings are addressed on the western line, a Henderson – Otahuhu service has no capacity to operate”.

Patronage Modelling

There has been a lot of modelling on patronage – although like most previous predictions we’ve seen I think they’re on the low side. The CRL will be transformational and change like that is hard to correctly predict when using models that are based on current habits.

The table below shows the current and predicted AM peak trips to the city (CRL includes the three CBD stations).

CRL Business Case - AM Peak Rail Arrivals in City

It is expected that about 40% of that growth (green) comes from people otherwise using buses (but they may still use a bus to get to a station), the remainder is from new trips or those who would otherwise have driven. I’m a bit sceptical about just how much impact the CRL will have for buses as from memory Britomart was meant to decimate bus usage but it has grown too. Also the table below shows where patronage is expected to change. It seems unlikely that some of those routes will see any impact at all, for example on Richmond Rd.

CRL Business Case - Patronage Change

As part of the modelling, the future patronage projections were updated to reflect the surge in usage we’ve been seeing in the last few years – but only for the short term and so they decided to leave the long term predictions unchanged. They say that “it is clear that this is highly conservative” and my gut feeling is that after opening we’ll quickly see usage rise to hit 45 million rail trips a decade or more sooner than they suggest. The biggest limiting factor is likely to be that we won’t have enough trains due to the wrong modelling saying they aren’t needed yet.

CRL Business Case - Overall Rail Patronage

Development

The summary document talked about how just within the CRL footprint there was 4.9ha of developable land with a potential floor space of 210,000m² to 250,000m² and which has an estimated value of $1.2-$1.4 billion. The business case also looks wider development across the city enabled by the CRL. They say modelling suggests the CRL will increase the feasibility for new dwellings within rail station catchments by 41% from about 40,000 to around 57,000. It’s also worth noting that the Mt Eden figure excludes the land counted earlier as part of the CRL footprint.

CRL Business Case - Resi development feasibility by rail station

Economics

As mentioned the CRL has a BCR of 1.6-1.7 depending on the growth scenario and using the standard NZTA evaluation manual. That BCR stacks up even under higher discount rates and cost sensitivity testing.

CRL Business Case - BCRs

CRL Business Case - BCR range

For those economist types, the report breaks down all of the various components of the benefits that have been calculated.

Costs

The table below shows the capital costs of the CRL inflated to the expected dollars of the day.

CRL Business Case - CAPEX

This shows the costs by year

CRL Business Case - CAPEX by year

Operating costs are estimated at around $50m per annum when the project opens rising to nearly $80 million by 2046. As a comparison, last I saw we spend around $100 million on running trains in Auckland and the report suggests that due to the CRL providing shorter routes there will be savings on the running costs outside of the tunnel. The estimate that in the first year there will be around $20 million in additional fares from the CRL but that will also be related to the anaemic growth they expect.

CRL Business Case - OPEX

 

Overall I thought there was some fascinating additional information within the business case.

CRL Cost Blowout Overblown

On Saturday the Herald proclaimed that the cost of the City Rail Link had blown out by $500 million which came on the heels of Prime Minister John Key saying that the project will “almost certainly cost more than they thought

The cost of Auckland’s most expensive project – the $2.5 billion City Rail Link (CRL) – has jumped to more than $3b.

Auckland Transport chief executive David Warburton says the project needs more money in the rail network that could easily take the “combined project cost” above $3b.

He understood that Prime Minister John Key was referring to additional investment in the rail network when he claimed last month the CRL will “almost certainly cost more than they thought”.

The article also quotes some unnamed sources, presumably from the government, claims extra work is needed for the CRL

A second source said that a “bit more rigour and discipline” since the Government had agreed to bring forward a business plan had identified work that should have been costed in the first place.

Aotea Station Design Platform Mar - 16

Of course it didn’t take long for the three councillors who have consistently opposed improvements to the city to jump on board and claim they predicted doom and gloom all along.

Confirmation by Auckland Transport that the cost of the City Rail Link will undoubtedly rise to over $3 billion does not surprise three Auckland councillors who recently wrote to the Auditor-General outlining their concerns about the project and urging the Office of the Auditor-General to ensure a close oversight. The trio now wonder what the ‘no go’ point is with the CRL.

It equally didn’t take long for Auckland Transport to (unusually) get in touch and tell me that the article was wrong and that they’d be making a formal complaint about it. They later provided me with the information David Warburton sent Orsman who seems to have confused and conflated a couple of issues.

Firstly, AT say the estimated price of the project remains $2.5 billion but the crucial aspect is that they say it has always been the centre of a range that could be +/- 20% – in other words they say it will cost between $2 billion and $3 billion depending on how tendering goes. It seems that Orsman and the herald have only taken the upper limit of this range to fit their narrative. They also say that “recent tenders for large civil works contracts in NZ have come in at 10% to 15% under the initial QS estimate“. They won’t actually give any examples of these projects though, saying their “pricing analysis is to assist in competitive indexing“. They also claim that the only people to benefit from claiming the prices have gone up are the those tendering for the work “creating an environment of high price expectation“. The CRL business case estimated the impact of the cost increasing by 20% and shows that even if that happens, the BCR drops from around 1.6 to 1.3, conversely if costs dropped by 20% the BCR rises to 1.9. This is shown below with the figures in 2015 $.

CRL Business Case - BCR range

Secondly, the CRL will unlock a lot of potential capacity across the entire rail network, that is after all the purpose of it. That doesn’t mean it’s the only thing that’s needed and it was already known that over time other improvements are needed. This includes things such as signalling upgrades, removal of level crossings, additional cross overs, the third main south of Westfield and many other improvements. Many of these were detailed in this presentation Kiwirail gave to the council’s infrastructure committee last year. Not all of these other improvements are likely to be needed on day one of the CRL and many will be things that can progressively be done over the years following the completion of the CRL to increase capacity of the rail network to its full potential. It seems that deciding which of these projects should or shouldn’t as part of the costs of the CRL is still being decided. On this, Warburton said

My understanding is the PM was referring CRL as part of the wider rail investment and there will be additional investment in the network to optimize the CRL work. One can easily discuss this as a combined project cost over the life of the project being above $3b. It simply depends on scope, pricing and how projects are related to CRL. That’s not equivalent to what I understood you/your informant were implying.

KR - Infrastructure Committee - Spending Needed

Of course splitting up projects into smaller chunks, some of which are completed later is nothing new and it happens all the time in other areas. One such example is the Waterview Connection and the Western Ring Route. The Waterview Connection project only covers the extension of SH20 from Maioro Rd, the tunnels and the Waterview interchange and is costed at $1.4 billion. Not included in that is the cost widening (and raising) of the SH16 causeway to handle the traffic or any of the other projects along SH16 to cope with the expected traffic demand. Those projects bring the total to over $2.4 billion and if you include the other projects from recent years needed to complete the Western Ring Route, that raises the cost to $4 billion. The image below is something I put together a few years ago so some figures will be out of date.

WRR Costs

So it seems this news by the Herald is the result of a number of factors but the actual situation hasn’t actually changed. The cost remains $2.5 billion as it has been for some time and as there were before, there are a number of other rail upgrades that will be needed over time.

But I also think that AT really haven’t helped themselves in how they’ve handled this issue. Given just the political posturing they should have known this would have come up but especially so since the Prime Ministers comments. Instead they seem to have deemed it all a non-story and so have let it run with not much done to challenge it. The responses to the Herald suggest a lack of cohesive and clear messaging which only adds to the confusion. It is also very difficult to find much, if any useful information about the project on the on the AT website, most of what is there is useless fluff or out of date. AT would help themselves if they were more open about the project and if the website was more useful.

A new entrance for Britomart on the way

If you’re anywhere near Britomart or Albert St it’s getting pretty hard to miss the works associated with the City Rail Link. The area has become a hive of activity and orange barriers as works ramp up towards actually digging the tunnel – the works on Albert St are associated with moving services before the tunnel can be built and will be for the next year or so.

One change that will be starting later this month is the construction of new entrance to Britomart on top of little carpark out the back. This is needed while work goes on to underpin the old Chief Post Office and dig the tunnels through it. AT say it will take about six months to build and will open for use in early 2017. Here’s an image of what the temporary entrance expected to look like.

Britomart Temporary Entrance

For people heading west of Britomart, like those transferring between trains and the Northern Express, this is going to be a little bit of added frustration for a few years but is obviously one of those necessary evils while we build such an important project. Here’s an older image that AT provided us some time ago.

3D view of temporary Briotmart station CRL2

One concern I do have with it is just how that footpath looks. The front of the building appears to line with the ventilation stacks either side and they don’t leave enough space for the thousands of people per hour that enter and exit the building during the peaks. It does appear that there might be some entrances on the sides to help spread the passenger volumes which will be crucial.

Once this part of the CRL is finished the main entrance will return old Chief Post Office and out to a redeveloped and QE2 Square.

Britomart Station QE2 Square

 

While on the CRL it’s also worth mentioning this article the other day in the herald with the three councillors who have consistently opposed and tried to stop the project giving it another go following comments from John Key that he thinks the costs will go up.

Auckland councillors want the Auditor-General to investigate the -City Rail Link’s billion-dollar costs with the Government and Auckland Transport admitting the original $2.5 billion estimate is almost certain to change.

A letter co-signed by councillors Cameron Brewer, Dick Quax and George Wood has been filed with Auditor-General Lyn Provost, requesting independent scrutiny of the country’s most expensive infrastructure project and what they say are “a number of red flags” for Auckland ratepayers.

Concerned that work on the huge underground project has begun before the final cost and agreement on how the bill will be split between ratepayers and Government have been finalised, the council trio have also cited Prime Minister John Key’s claim that the CRL will “almost certainly cost more than they thought”.

I asked AT if there was anything indications of the impacts. They provided me with the responses they also provided the herald and while they don’t give any particular detail away, they do hint at a few things.

From the answers they confirm the project is still currently expected to cost $2.53 billion and that hasn’t increased but the do say “it is almost certain to change because the design detail has yet to be completed”. That reads to me that any number of changes could happen, perhaps and in some situations the prices could also come down. While they won’t give any more details on the cost out yet, they do say it isn’t going to double like some of its opponents have been claiming, saying they were “surprised by this assumption”.

As for the Auditor General (AG), the only reason she’s been involved in the past is that the council wanted to include in their long term plan an earlier start date along with and assumption around the government’s share would eventually be approved. At the moment the government and council are meant to be deciding who pays for which parts but my guess is it will end up close to 50/50.

As I’ve said in the past, it would be nice if some other projects were subject to the same scrutiny as the CRL has by officials *looking at you East-West Link*

 

Are CRL predictions undercooked

Following the CRL ground breaking event last week one quote from the press releases caught my eye – and it’s something I highlighted in my post on Friday.

“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.

I fully expect the CRL is going to see huge numbers of people start using the train to get to town but an 88% increase in a single year is pretty impressive. I was interested in just what the predictions were so asked AT for some details.

They said the modelling was based on the year 2026 which is actually 2-3 years after the expect the CRL to be open (2023-24). Without the CRL they estimated there would be 13,200 trips to the city centre by rail during the two hour AM peak. With the CRL the number of people arriving at the Britomart, Aotea, K Rd stations in the AM peak is expected to be 24,100. That’s an increase of 10,900 or 83%, so not quite the 88% in the quote but fairly close (perhaps someone read the details wrong)

In addition, they said across the entire network without the CRL in 2026 there will be 24,600 trips in the AM peak but with the CRL that number will rise to 34,500 with the CRL.

What surprised me the most about these results was the modelling for 2026 without the CRL of just 13,200 trips a decade from now. To put things in perspective, recently AT told me that Britomart currently sees 10,200 people arriving in the AM peak. We know how that’s changed over time thanks to the former Screenline Survey that the ARC used to conduct – it isn’t done any more but the HOP data is able to give the information needed.

No CRL Britomart prediction

As you can see things have really taken off in the last few years thanks in large part to electrification. If current trends continue – and with all of the changes coming I expect them to for a little while yet – we could see Britomart surpassing that 13,200 figure within just a few years. If that happens it would once again highlight once again how much our transport models continue to underestimate the use of rail Auckland and could also suggest that the predictions for the CRL are undercooked too. That in turn could suggest that the benefits of the CRL are potentially much higher too.

While on the topic of trips to the city in the AM peak. It’s also worth pointing out just how significant the current numbers are. As a quick comparison Nelson St is the busiest road for traffic entering the city centre as is fed by two motorways yet despite this only around 6,000 people pass along here in the morning peak.

Nelson St road space vs cycle space

Overall in the city centre AT have said that now more people are arriving via PT in the AM peak than by private vehicles. That’s definitely changed a lot over the last 15 years as vehicle numbers have remained fairly constant while the usage of PT has soared.

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?

CRL Groundbreaking Day

Today is a day that Auckland has been waiting for, for nearly 100 years and that even a few years ago seemed like a distant pipe dream, the City Rail Link officially gets under way. The CRL is easily the project/topic that this blog has talked about more than any other having been tagged in over 400 posts, you could almost call it our raison d’être. Whether it’s been about why the project is needed, it’s history, design and everything in between there can’t be too many angles we haven’t talked about at some point.

CRL Route

The current incarnation of the CRL has had a greater level of scrutiny than probably any transport project in New Zealand’s history. It’s be subject to numerous studies, reviews with the sole intention of tying finding a reason not to build the project and of course a fair amount of political bluster. It’s even had targets applied before it will be approved, something no other transport project has had.

On the political bluster, one of the most famous instances came from then Transport Minister Gerry Brownlee who as you can see below said “I take big issue with the suggestion that the city rail link is useful or popular.” Of course that latter part of the project has even ranked highly with AA members with previous surveys by them showing nearly 80% supported it.

But that’s largely all behind us now. Today is a celebration that the project is actually happening.

The CRL will be nothing short of transformational for Auckland and in a way that the city has rarely seen. In this regard it will be up there with the likes of the Harbour Bridge in terms of impact and especially for the west which essentially gets shifted much closer to town. Like the Harbour Bridge it will not only generate significant transport benefits but will also drive a lot of land use change, especially in the west. This is shown in this image which was later copied by Auckland Transport. Also like the Harbour Bridge I suspect most people probably won’t realise just who big of a transformation the project will have till it’s actually complete and operating.

CRL Times Western Line

Not only will the CRL speed up existing trips through shorter distances and higher frequencies, the new stations at Aotea and K Rd will open up much more of the city centre to the rail network and that will also drive increased usage and help with the regeneration like Britomart has for that part of the city. For the stations, Aotea is also predicted to surpass Britomart and become the busiest station on the network

Aotea Station Design Platform Mar - 16

The platform of the new Aotea Station

With the Britomart cul-de-sac busted open, the CRL will allow for significant extra capacity to be provided added across the network and there will be enough space for more than 30,000 people hour able to be delivered. That’s equivalent to 12-15 motorway lanes. One of the reasons the CRL has passed the tests put before it is that there isn’t any other option that move close to that number of people in the space or without even more massive costs.

Karangahape Station Entrance Mercury Lane 2

The Mercury Lane Entrance to Karangahape Rd Station

To get to this stage has been a massive effort by a lot of people over many years. Len Brown has obviously been front and centre in championing the project and I think Auckland has a lot to thank him for as a result. I suspect history will be kind to Len and we will look back on this time and be grateful for what he has managed to achieve. There have also been a huge number of people at the Council, Auckland Transport and elsewhere who have put a lot of time and effort into investigating and supporting the project. I hope they’re proud to finally see construction getting under way. Of course we also wouldn’t be in this position to celebrate had it not been for the efforts of the likes of Christine Fletcher and Mike Lee who were respectively the keys to getting Britomart and electrification signed off and built. Those efforts have driven patronage to ever increasing highs.

Amazingly despite construction just about to start some of the councillors who have consistently opposed the project are still calling for it to be stopped. Last night on NewsHub – which put together an good piece on the project – Councillor Cameron Brewer was calling for a halt to the project until the government are on board while elsewhere Councillor George Wood also wanted the project put on hold and attention focused elsewhere. Thankfully for the city, these two councillors and others like them who have always voted against the project have not managed to slow it down.

It’s all pretty exciting and AT are saying the ground-breaking will be both significant and spectacular. As such they’ll be live streaming it and the details for that will be on their website. The ceremony starts at 10:30.

CRL already impacting land use on city fringe

The City Rail Link will be one of the most transformational projects Auckland has ever seen. Perhaps nowhere else will see experience that transformation more than the inner west of the isthmus which effectively gets picked up and moved much closer to the city. As an example, a trip from Kingsland to the middle of town will reliably be less than 10 minutes at any time of the day.

So it’s no surprise then that even just the prospect of the CRL in the future is driving up demand for land in and around the rail network close to the city.

Commercial property on Auckland’s city fringe is already popular with mid-range investors but the planned City Rail Link (CRL) will really open up areas like Newmarket, Grafton, Mt Eden and Kingsland, predicts Nick Hargreaves, Managing Director of JLL.

Hargreaves says there are several forces at play that are making the city fringe suburbs so popular.

“The Proposed Auckland Unitary Plan allows for mixed use zones around urban centres and along high frequency public transport routes – making it easier for a variety of commercial and residential developments in the city fringe.

“In this regard, Auckland Council’s investment in transport will pay dividends for city fringe property owners in future,” Hargreaves says.

“The major improvement to the urban area around Britomart Station, following its opening in 2003, shows how investment in transport can lead redevelopment nearby. It brought new life to what was previously an under-utilised part of the Auckland city centre and attracted large employers like EY and Westpac.

….

Hargreaves says it’s notable that city fringe properties have been keenly sought by commercial property investors with an eye to the future during the past year.

Much of the land near the rail line in the inner west near the rail line and New North Rd is low-rise light industrial and the notified version of the Unitary Plan earmarks that for mixed use which would allow for significant redevelopment of the area. Importantly this land use change isn’t even counted Auckland Transport’s business case which suggested the economic benefits of the CRL will be $2.96 – $3.2 billion (BCR of 1.6-1.7). They did however note that just the redevelopment potential within the CRL designation footprint to be worth an estimated $1.2-1.4 billion.

 

While on the topic of the CRL, if you’ve been near Britomart recently you would’ve seen that works are well under-way on getting ready for the demolition of the Downtown Shopping Centre and the construction of the CRL tunnels and Commercial Bay development. The various elements from Queen Elizabeth square and Lower Queen St have been progressively removed – the removal of the glass canopy along Queen St has opened up a much better view of the Britomart – and from Sunday the shopping centre will be closed so demolition can get started. The shopping centre website even has a countdown timer to it closing.

AT have also uploaded several new images of what things will look like once the project is completed.

Britomart showing a redeveloped lower Queen St outside Britomart

Britomart Station QE2 Square

On Friday, one of the fences surrounding the works site sprouted some large banners from AT showing some images of what things will look like after the CRL. One that intrigued me and sent me looking for new images on the AT website was this one showing a plan view of the image above (although it seems to be missing the Quay St cycleway).

Britomart Works Banner - QE2 square plan

 

This one shows what Pitt St will look like after the CRL is finished. It appears that Pitt St will be narrowed down to two lanes with those structures you can see likely to be ventilation for the station. The narrowing of the road by so much is potentially a concern as the New Network for Central Auckland retains the road as the route for many of the buses accessing the city from the west of the CBD. In other words, this could become quite a significant congestion point for these buses. I also still think it’s a huge same and hugely short-sighted that AT are no longer building the entrance at Beresford Square as part of the project.

K Rd Station - Pitt St small

As mentioned at the start, the Mt Eden station is going to see significant development around it, especially as much of the land right next to the station will be used in the project’s construction and able to be developed on after the tunnels are completed.

Mt Eden Station Outside

An idea of the scale of redevelopment possible in the is shown in this image below with the orange buildings the ones within the CRL designation footprint.

Mt Eden TOD

We’ll be seeing a lot of disruption over the next few years as the CRL is built but these are definitely exiting times for the city and even the Herald on Sunday got in behind it all with a fairly positive editorial.