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.

 

Thoughts on CBD Bus Changes

Last week Auckland Transport made the latest round of changes to streets in advance of the construction works for the City Rail Link. As mentioned in my post the other day, these changes impact me quite a bit as my commute normally involves transferring between buses and trains at Britomart. Below are just a few personal observations I’ve made over the last few days and I’m keen to hear your experiences of the changes.

Train to Bus

For my trip to work I catch a train to Britomart and then transfer to the Northern Express. In the mornings, the NEX runs every 7-8 minutes and so every second bus is effectively on the same timetable pattern as the western line. Due to the timetabling of services, previously I usually arrived in town just a few minutes before the next NEX departure so a quick dash from the train platform to the bus and I was on my way again with minimal delay.

CRL Bus changes map departure

Now, instead of walking across the road outside of Britomart I now have to walk to Albert St and the timing difference means I just bus I would have previously caught is just pulling away from the stop. That’s a little frustrating but given the frequency it’s not a massive deal. This should also all change when the Western line gets a frequency bump in about two weeks so I suspect could see pretty much back to as they were – with a slightly minor and not terrible walk.

Given lower Albert St is where many buses will leave from post CRL, I don’t think the short walk is terrible – or at least it won’t be once the permanent lane through the Commercial Bay development is completed. It’s certainly not the disaster some like George Wood would have us believe

Downtown Lane

Bus to Train

My trip back to the city is generally a little varied. I’ll either catch a bus direct from Takapuna and then transfer to either a City Link or a NEX on Fanshawe St or I’ll go to Akoranga and catch a NEX from there. For the purposes of this I’m only referring to these services from about the Nelson St intersection towards Britomart.

CRL Bus changes map arrival

City Link – Previously this used to travel down lower Hobson St then along Quay St before heading up Queen St. This part of the trip used to infuriate me as lower Hobson St and Quay St were often jammed up and it could sometimes take over 10 minutes to travel about 500m and the reason I’d transfer to a NEX if possible. The change to using Customs St West with a right turn into Queen St has been a fantastic change and it feels like it’s significantly sped up the service. The stop is just up from the Customs St intersection and even with a short walk from there to Britomart instead of being right outside, it is a much more pleasant journey.

Of course on Queen St also now has bus lanes and it was good to see AT out monitoring them the other day. Given how AT have acted in the past, I suspect they will start with an educational approach first.

Queen St Bus Lane enforcement

NEX – I’ve had mixed results with the NEX so far. In the afternoon peak the downtown carpark can disgorge a lot of cars onto Customs St West who then want to loop around the block to get to Hobson St – presumably that’s faster/easier than using the dedicated ramp to Fanshawe St. In one experience the bus was held up from being able to turn left at Albert St for a set of lights or two as a line of cars in front of my full bus took their turn to do so. That plus the short walk to Britomart was just enough to see a western line train departing as I walked in the building. However in another experience there were only a few buses and we weren’t held up so I suspect it could be a bit of a hit and miss situation.

Other observations

A few other related observations.

  • Crossing lower Queen St outside Britomart was quite easy, sometimes a bus or two to dodge but fine so long as you were paying attention. Crossing lower Albert St is not the same as for one general traffic is allowed on it which they weren’t on Queen St. And because it’s open to cars and quite a wide road there are inevitably some idiots out behind the wheel trying to see how fast they can get to the next set of traffic lights.
  • Of course crossing at the lights is always an option too and given the numbers of people who will now be getting off NEX services and probably heading southeast of the bus stop I wonder if AT should consider converting the Albert/Customs St intersection into a Barnes Dance like the intersections to the east of Albert St.
  • By contrast to Albert St, the new/currently temporary space outside of Britomart has been a welcome improvement. Walking to/from the station and having more space without having to dodge buses is fantastic. I also like that AT are thinking about temporary activation of the area – such as this which was being painted the other day.

Temporary Activation outside Britomart

Overall the changes seem to have gone fairly smoothly and I haven’t seen any real issues with the changes either personally or on social media (not saying there haven’t been). I’ve also noticed that AT have had a lot of ambassadors around directing people who might need it to the new bus stops which is useful. So all up sounds like AT have been fairly successful here. Were you affected by the changes and if so what are your thoughts on them?

A Summary of AT’s Internal CRL Business Case

The City Rail Link is probably the most intensely scrutinised transport project New Zealand has ever seen thanks to the government’s earlier outright opposition to it. Over the last six years we’ve seen a number of studies, reports and business cases examining the project and often one sided and deeply flawed reviews of all of these. In 2013 when the government finally came to the party and agreed with the project although they wanted to delay it till 2020. In January they agreed the project could start earlier (although their funding may still only start in 2020) which would allow Auckland Transport to get on with the project including negotiating contracts.

AT already had approval and was/is well underway with the first stage of the CRL up to Wyndham St. Late last year they started the process of sounding out the market on the rest of the project. As part of that they’ve produced an internal business case looking at the project taking into account the all of the changes to the project and improvements in their understanding of it.

AT have now released a glossy summary of this business case – one issue with the document is that many of the graphics are of quite low quality and in some cases impossible to read. They are quick to point out right on the front cover:

This document is AT’s internal business case to facilitate the Gateway Review process prior to letting contracts for enabling works construction.

It is not a joint business case with government.

As I understand it, the Gateway Review process is related to the market sounding and working out the best way of sequencing and contracting out the project. As AT Chairman Lester Levy says at the end of his opening message.

The business case summarised here will continue to evolve. This version is suitable for the AT Board’s decision on letting Enabling Works contracts. As the project is further developed the costs (and benefits) will be refined and the business case advanced.

On to the interesting stuff.

AT say their detailed economic assessment shows the project will return benefits of $2.96 – $3.2 billion in Net Present Value using the NZTA standard 40-year assessment with a 6% discount ratio. When assessed against the costs including operational ones (also in NPV terms) it has a BCR of 1.6-1.7. That’s much better than the 0.4 in the hatchet job that was the Ministry’s initial review or the 0.9 in the City Centre Future Access Study which wasn’t a full detailed assessment. It’s also better that most of the government’s big RoNS projects

A breakdown of the benefits is shown in the graphic below.

CRL Benefits graphic

Travel time savings are obviously the biggest single benefit and the document gives some information on the project’s impact on transport use. The results were modelled by the joint modelling group that is made up of the council, AT and the NZTA. They say that in 2046 during the two-hour morning peak there will be 50,000 people using rail if the CRL is built compared with 32,000 using rail if the CRL wasn’t built and 12,000 in the AM peak in 2014. Aotea Station will surpass Britomart and see 13,000 people pass through in the morning while Britomart will still be busier than it is today and have 12,000 during that time.

The modelling also looks at difference in mode share for the city centre across the entire day between 2010 and 2041. As you can see private vehicle usage remains unchanged at 34,000 – about the same as it also was 2001. Bus use and ferry use both increases slightly but the big changes come from rail, light rail and active modes which grow significantly. Based on those figures, by 2041 only 26% of people will enter the city centre in a car. It also must be remembered that so far we’ve had a history of underestimating public transport usage.

CRL City Centre Mode Share

Interestingly in the section that briefly talks about capital and operating costs it says AT may not need new trains initially.

As the CRL allows a major productivity benefit from shortening the route from the west to Britomart, additional EMUs may not be required for the immediate post-CRL opening services. The shorter route means that the overall operating cost for the rail services will reduce.

This seems hard to believe given how fast patronage is growing. Yes the CRL will speed services up and combined with improvements that need to be made before then, it will help get more out of the fleet we have but in my view, the CRL will be so popular that not having additional services sounds like a recipe for very busy trains.

Aotea Station Design Platform Mar - 16

Aotea Station will be the busiest in the city

One of the big things our economic assessments aren’t able to grasp – especially with projects like the CRL – is just how transformational they can be, especially when it comes to land use. For the West in particular it will be like the whole area has been lifted and moved 10 minutes+ closer to the city. Even within the project area it opens up some significant development potential.

They say that just the CRL footprint includes 4.9ha of developable land with a potential floor space of 210,000m² to 250,000m². That could be enough space for thousands of jobs and thousands of new resident. The estimated value of this potential new development is $1.2-$1.4 billion and of course that won’t have been included in the business case. Some of the options for redevelopment are shown below.

CRL TOD options

The project, while disruptive to build, will be fantastic for Auckland and it’s good that over the last few years AT have been able to get on with it despite the initial government opposition. We’ve already seen the disruption start with bus and traffic changes and as underground services get shifted. Within weeks diggers will be on the ground to actually start working on the tunnels themselves.