CRL: Over 100 years in the making

By the time the City Rail Link opens in 2022/23, the idea will have been over 100 years in the making, in one form or another. I thought I’d look at how the project and concept have evolved over that century.

The idea originally started in the early 1910’s by people living in the west and north-west who wanted shorten the journey to the city via a spur from around Morningside to the back of the Town Hall, with a terminus station likely taking over Myers Park.

In 1924 the government approved a large package of works for rail all around the country. In Auckland that included building the Eastern line and shifting the train station and freight facilities to Beach Rd. Included as an integral part of the plans was the Morningside Deviation – the first iteration of CRL. It was also expected that electrification of the network would be needed. There are no images from the time but the route, including a tunnel of just over 2.3km, was fairly direct between Beach Rd and Morningside. It was described as:

The route is from the new station site, across Beach Rd then by a tunnel in a straight line to a point beneath the normal school. The tunnel takes a slight curve to Wakefield Street, where the proposed underground station will be situated, with a double line platform. Thence the route is by tunnel to the vicinity of the bottom of Newton Road. An open line continues along the gully to Morningside, where there will be another short tunnel.

There’s a little more detail on the route here too.

Note: it is often quoted that the CRL was first approved in 1923 however the first newspaper reports I can find of the government approving it were in October 1924. There was also a lot of talk at the time for another deviation going from Morningside all the way to Kumeu effectively along what is now SH16.

In early 1930, the government abandoned the project, primarily citing the cost. But it seems they may have deliberately stacked the odds against the project, with more than half of the cost being to electrify the network from Papakura to Helensville. Organisations such as the Auckland Chamber of Commerce were quick to question why it was necessary to electrify to Helensville instead of just Swanson like earlier experts had suggested. It was also pointed out that the only reason people were complacent about the moving of the Auckland station out of the city was because the tunnel had been promised at the same time. One interesting aspect that emerged later was the government also added two extra stations to the plans, one near Karangahape Rd and one in the Arch Hill gully. Interestingly the K Rd station entrance is in exactly the same place at the end of Cross St as AT are building.

1929 - Morningside Deviation - K Rd station

In 1946 the Ministry of Works included the project in their fairly well balanced transport plan for Auckland, using what appears to be the same route as described in the 1920’s. It’s also interesting to note what else they proposed at the time, including not sending motorways through the existing urban area.



In 1950 British consultants Halcrow & Partners produced what became known as the Halcrow-Thomas report for the Railways department. Among other things, they recommended the electrification of the Auckland rail network and the building of the Morningside Deviation, although slightly differently to what had been proposed in the past.


Road planners were also coming up with motorway schemes, and so with arguments developing over future plans, a technical advisory committee was set up to come up with a Master Plan. As the late Paul Mees explains the committee was stacked with 23 traffic engineers and only one railway engineer, so it was no surprise when the 1955 the Master Transportation Plan really set Auckland on its motorway focused ways. It proposed a motorway network which even today politicians and road lobbyists call for the completion of. It argued that the Morningside Deviation couldn’t be justified compared to the cheap motorways (they turned out to be anything but cheap). However even in this road orgy of a plan it was suggested that rail needed to be closer to the centre of town, and they proposed a spur from the Beach Rd station to Victoria St – interestingly to the site of what is now the Victoria St carpark.


Victoria St rail spur plan


In the early 1960’s, American Consultants De Leuw Cather were hired to come up with a plan for Auckland. The report they produced expanded on the motorway and expressway excesses of the 1955 plan, but they also produced a rapid transit plan which they said needed to be built first to prevent the motorways from becoming congested. Their plans released in 1965 included a potential future regional transit network.

De Leuw Cather Report 1965: Rapid Transit plan for Auckland

To start with it, seems they suggested a route along Beach Rd with a station near the Queen St/Custom St intersection and another one at Aotea, with the potential to be extended further.

de leuw cather transit map

Included was this design for the Queen/Customs Station. There were also plans for suburban stations with integrated bus facilities.


Despite the recommendation that the transit parts of the plan needed to be pursued at the very least at the same time as the motorway plan, it seems that part of the report was simply ignored by the powers of the day.


In 1972 the most famous scheme of all was promoted by mayor Sir Dove-Myer Robinson. Based on the 1965 De Leuw Cather report the network proposed looks the same – and I suspect before the image above which appears a more scaled back version.

1972 Auckland rail network proposal

What was interesting is the design in the city centre which included a tight loop with two stations. Quite whether the close junctions could handle all of the train movements isn’t clear, but this is probably where the Loop name originated.

The City Loop proposal from 1972. Click to view full detail.

The City Loop proposal from 1972. Click to view full detail.

By 1974 this had morphed into the Auckland Rapid Transit System, which was focused on just the city centre and Southern/Eastern lines. Extensions of it to the West and North could come later. Again it was suggested to be built in phases, effectively duplicating the rail network we already had, and also dramatically reducing stations which would have sped up services.


There is more of the article here.

Archives NZ says this plan was from c.1970 and appears to be more of the plan above showing the potential future regional network rather than directly related to the 1965 and 1972 versions.

1970 - Proposed Rapid Transit Network

After the Muldoon government killed the project in 1976, plans went quiet for some time until Britomart was built. Prior to that Auckland had been discussing surface-based light rail. Then in 2001 everything changed with the council agreeing to build Britomart. That effectively changed the conversation of extending rail through a tunnel from “if” to “when”.

In 2004 a study for the Auckland City Council looked at a number of options for extending the rail network through Britomart, and came up with close to what we have today after analysing a number of routes settling on one that only varies from what is now going to be built south of the motorway.

2004 study urs1

It also included a junction for a North Shore line. If a North Shore line ever happens, it is expected to travel under Wellesley St with a station linked into the to-be-built Aotea Station.


By 2010 the project seemed to be getting closer, and the current project again looked at options. Some are similar to the previous report and some are quite different.


In the end the route selected combined a few aspects of the ones above at the Southern End. Also since this time the Newton station has been dropped.

CRL Route


There could be a lot of debate about what version would have been best, and obviously building it earlier would have had a profound effect on transport in Auckland, but the great thing about this version is that it’s actually being built.

Government CRL announcement imminent?

Auckland could be about to get a late Christmas present. It’s appearing more and more likely that the government will agree to start to the City Rail Link in 2018, two years earlier than the 2020 date they set back in 2013 when they first agreed to the project. To go with the what, we also know the where and when, Stuff reports:

Prime Minister John Key is expected to announce the Government will help fund Auckland’s $2.5 billion inner city rail link two years earlier than originally promised.

It’s understood the PM will make the commitment in a speech to the Auckland Chamber of Commerce on January 27.


Auckland Chamber of Commerce chief executive Michael Barnett confirmed Key would address its membership on the issue of infrastructure funding for the city.

It would be similar to his announcement in 2013 in that he would outline the government’s future commitment to the city “and I think give some clarity and certainty to some of the investment in infrastructure that needs to be made”.

Asked if that would include a statement on the timing of the CRL funding, Barnett replied: “If they put a stake in the ground and then there’s clarity, then everyone can work around that.”

The Chamber of Commerce supported a 2018 start for the rail project, he said.

CRL - Early Works Jan-16 2

Early works are underway but are we about to get a Go for the rest of the project?

As I pointed out in my year ahead post last week we’ve been hearing noises that an agreement between the council and government is close for a while so it hasn’t come as a surprise that something may be about to happen. In fact I think the main thing stopping it from having been made earlier has been the Christmas/New Year holidays and lead up to them putting a dampener on the level of political credit the government will want to bask in.

Pressure has been mounting on the government to do something for months and one reason has been the stellar patronage growth that we’ve been witnessing. It has risen an impressive 23% over the last year Auckland is on track to reach the 20 million target by 2o20 around three years early.

2015-11 - Rail vs Govt Target

As I also mentioned in my year ahead post, the announcement be the council funding their share from 2018 with the government still not committing any cash till 2020. If this occurs perhaps they’ll off some sort of deal.

Making the announcement to the Chamber of Commerce is significant for a few reasons.

As I understand it, Auckland’s various business lobbies have been quite active behind the scene, pushing the government to commit to an earlier start date. They see the value in the project and also the value in minimising disruption. Waiting till 2020 leaves roughly a two year gap during which many businesses in the city – but particularly those along the route – will be in a state of limbo. Delaying the project also affects more than just the rail network as it also delays other projects to improve Auckland that are dependent on the CRL being completed, one example is the proposed Victoria St linear park but there are a heap of others.

It was to the Chamber of Commerce back in 2013 that the government first announced it would support the CRL after years of bitter opposition to it. Again back then the business lobbies were also a key factor in getting the government to change their position on the project. Of course as part of the same announcement the government also launched their accelerated Motorways package that fast tracked projects such as the Kirkbride Rd grade separation, southern motorway widening and the big package of works planned for the area around where SH18 joins SH1.

It raises the question of whether John Key will announce support for the CRL alongside any other projects. As we know the Reserve Bank of NZ has already said the government should consider accelerating infrastructure projects in Auckland. As such it’s entirely possible any announcement could also contain funding for other projects too (including non-transport projects). The concern would be if the announcement also included a number of projects designed to encourage significant growth on the urban fringe at the expense of enabling greater housing supply closer to the city.

Lastly an announcement would be a significant win for Mayor Len Brown. When he first became mayor the project was in its infancy and he has pushed it as the number one project for the city since that time with the backing of the council. To Len, if the government support the project starting sooner, then thank you.

CRL - Early Works Jan-16

I’ve already been counting the days till January 27 to see just what is announced.


No White Elephants to be found here

There was a quite angry editorial in the Sunday Star Times (SST) yesterday about Len Brown’s mayoralty which included this stunningly bad comment on transport.

He did manage to slip through one win, the city rail link, just before details of his sex antics became public. Unfortunately, this $2.5 billion project will do nothing to address Auckland’s transport problems; 99 per cent of Aucklanders will never use it.

This is a vain egotistic folly that will serve only to shuttle the ladies-who-lunch between the leafy suburbs of Mt Eden and the trendy restaurant precincts of Federal St and Britomart, and to deliver more sad-eyed gamblers right to the doors of SkyCity casino – the same powerful constituent that donated generously to Brown’s election campaign and greased his palm with free hotel rooms.

One of Auckland most ineffectual leaders, Brown would be quickly forgotten – but for this white elephant in the room. The city’s ratepayers and, indeed, the nation’s taxpayers will still be picking up the bill for his rail project decades into the future.

It’s been a while since we’ve seen comments like these about the City Rail Link from a mainstream media outlet, with the anti-CRL vitriol now normally the domain of the rabid anti-PT types.

Work is now happening to shift services on Albert St and in May the diggers will get started on the project itself. Due to that it’s been a while since we last did a bit of a recap of why the CRL is needed, so I thought perhaps it was time for a new one.

Firstly, where things are at so far.

Rail is becoming an increasingly important mode in Auckland, and while it may only be a small percentage of all trips in the region, the impact it has is far wider. To the end of September rail patronage for the prior 12 months was 14.6 million and growing rapidly: up almost 23% (2.7 million) in just a year, and up 65% (5.8 million) over the last 5 years. Further, that growth hasn’t come at the expense of other modes with bus patronage up 6% over the last year and 24% over the last five years. Based on the growth we’ve been seeing I expect we’re likely to reach 15 million trips sometime this week, and patronage is on track to reach 20 million trips some time in 2017.

2015-09 - Rail Patronage

At 14.6 million that equates to 40,000 trips per day across the year. However, most trips take place on a weekday, with people commuting to work or school. Auckland Transport include the average weekday patronage in their monthly stats reports and the most recent showed the weekday average had increased to over 51,000 trips per day – but that also includes times when not many people use trains, such as in January. As you can see from the chart below, since about February/March it has averaged about 55,000 trips per day.

2015-09 - Weekday Rail Use

Auckland Transport say that every day, around 35,000 people pass through Britomart on their way to or from a train. That is considerably more than the 21,000 in 2021 forecast when the business case was written and is only set to grow – this is shown below. Patronage is also on track to exceed the predictions of modelling done to support projects such as electrification despite implementation of it occurring two years later than expected (prediction was 15.6 million trips by 2016 – we’re on track for about 16.1 million trips by then).

Daily Britomart Passengers - Actual vs Projected 2

During the two-hour morning peak (7am-9am), around 8,500 train passengers  arrive at Britomart (probably more now as that figure is some months old). This highlights a couple of key points.

  1. Imagine the impact on the roads and the overall economy if 8,500+ people had to shift how or when they travel because the rail network wasn’t invested in on the basis of “not a high percentage use it”. Imagine the impact if we took the same approach to roads.
  2. This is only a small amount of total 55k daily trips across the network.
  3. It also represents only about half of all patronage arriving at Britomart every day with the other half arriving off peak or counter peak in the afternoon. Add in the trips leaving Britomart, and the morning peak accounts for only about 25% of all trips to or from the city.
  4. The busiest single road entry to the city is Nelson St which is fed by two motorways, but during the morning peak it only carries around 6,000 people.

There are of course many other roads that lead to the city for cars (and buses, walking and cycling). The screenline surveys that produced some of these numbers are no longer conducted due to the cost and because much of the data is now available from systems like HOP. The last one was in 2014, and at that time just 47% of people entering the city during the peak did so in a car. Interestingly the car figures have remained static or declined slightly for more than a decade, so all growth in travel has happened on PT.

But why is the CRL needed? The simple answer is growth. Auckland, and especially the city centre, is growing rapidly. It is predicted that by 2041:

  • Auckland is expected to have another 700,000 people
  • The number of people living in the city centre and the city fringe will double to 140,000
  • Employment in the city centre and the city fringe is expected to increase to more than 200,000
  • Tertiary Student numbers in the city centre are expected to grow by 30% to 72,000

Catering for that growth isn’t easy. The roads are already busy, which is starting to limit the ability to increase bus capacity, and Britomart is also approaching its capacity – at a rapid rate, as pointed out above. The figures from the past seem to suggest that without the CRL, patronage on the current network will top out at somewhere between 20 and 25 million trips in the early 2020’s.

The CRL may only be a short 3.4km piece of track, but by busting through the cul-de-sac that is Britomart it enables significantly more trains to run, so it is an upgrade to the entire rail network – turning it into a higher frequency, 100km metro-like system. By through routing many services, AT’s suggested future operating pattern would see up to 36 trains per hour passing through the city during peak times, each carrying up to 750 people. That’s almost double what is possible without the CRL, although some of those will be counter peak so won’t be as full.

Post CRL running pattern

The last figures we saw were in the City Centre Future Access Study a few years ago – it looked at over 30 different options to address the expected growth in the city centre. It was modelled then (integrated CRL + Surface Bus) that around 30,000 per day would come in to the city on the rail network in the morning peak.

CCFAS 2041 results 3

If we use the assumption that the morning peak only accounts for around one quarter of all patronage to the city and extrapolate that out to the numbers above, it suggests that by 2041 the CRL enables about 120,000 trips per day. That’s over three times what we have now and doesn’t include any trip destinations outside of the city centre. Train trips to other destinations would also become more attractive, since for most of them frequencies will increase as a result of the CRL. For example, if you want to get from Henderson to New Lynn, currently there is only a service every 15 minutes at peak (eventually to be every 10), but the CRL enables a train between those destinations every four minutes. Total annual patronage on the rail network is likely to rise to close to 50 million trips per year.

As for who will use the CRL, yes there may be some ladies from leafy suburbs using it, just as there may be gamblers, but many others will too – and the vast majority of people who will use trains in the future will do so because it offers the most rational choice for them.


Lastly along with the editorial and accompanying article the SST ran a survey asking a few questions. Among them was one on what the next mayor should focus on. It may only be an internet poll and it doesn’t say how many voted, but at the time of writing this post there was a pretty clear winner. Results like these are in line with many other surveys we’ve seen over the years from a range of organisations using a number of different methodologies. Interestingly in the same survey is a question about who people would like to see in the running for mayor and Phil Goff is the clear favourite with 41% ahead of John Banks on 12%.

Stuff Survey - 2015-11-14 - Auckland Priorities

I’m not sure about you but I would personally put the CRL in the improving public transport category.

If the editor of the SST is looking for White Elephants to slay then he’s looking in the wrong place with the CRL.

CRL now consented & Aotea images

The CRL took another step forward yesterday following the good news the Environment court has dismissed the final appeal against the designation for the City Rail Link. That means for the first time since the 1920’s when the first variations of the project were proposed it has an actual designation.

The City Rail Link (CRL) has reached a major milestone with all appeals to its land designation now resolved by agreement or dismissed.

Auckland Transport’s chief executive David Warburton says five of the six appeals were settled and the only appeal that went to the Environment Court has been dismissed.

The designation is now confirmed subject to finalisation of conditions by the Court.

“It’s a big step forward for Auckland. A proposal to extend rail through the city centre has been around for almost a hundred years but has never got much beyond an idea. Now we have a designated route,” says Dr Warburton.

“Early works start in November this year. While there are still some other planning processes to work through in relation to regional consents and Britomart, we anticipate a start on the cut and cover in Albert Street in May next year.”

The CRL is critical to Auckland, being a major economic development catalyst as well as a significant transport investment that will help shape and grow our city” said Dr Warburton.

“Already there is something like 170,000 m2 of proposed or consented development on or adjacent to the CRL route on Albert Street.”

The Court’s decision ends a two and a half year planning process to get the designation for the project.

The now confirmed designation identifies land in the district plan for rail purposes and protects the route for the future.

Well done Auckland Transport for this achievement.

Unfortunately it appears that this news probably dragged on much longer than it should have though. In their article about the result the Herald have also included the decision from the court over the appeal and even for a non-expert like me it makes for brutal reading against the appellants. There are quite a few comments about the conduct and lack of professionalism from the lawyers and expert witnesses. It appears the judge was very much of the view that his time was being wasted by them. Seeing as the same company through its subsidiaries also owns a lot of land in the Wynyard Quarter it could be interesting to see if they take the same approach to designation for an additional harbour crossing.

In related news, yesterday Auckland Transport also released some new images of what the Aotea station will look like giving us our best view of it yet.

The first image is of the Northern end at Victoria St. A couple of things I notice is there’s a ramp from partway down Victoria St directly into the station which is good as means that walking up from Queen St you don’t have to get all the way up to Albert St then back down into the station. Combined with the escalators on the western (uphill) side I could see that becoming quite a popular shortcut to avoid waiting at the Albert St lights. There is also planned to be an entrance directly into the mall and tower development going up on the empty site.

Aotea Station Design North

Moving to the southern end and you may recall this image of the station building which will go on the south-eastern corner of the Albert/Wellesley St intersection. It’s also designed to have a building go above it.

Aotea Station Wellesley St entrance concept drawing

Here’s what it would looks like underground. I’m

Aotea Station Design South

And another view of it, this time from Wellesley St looking at the entrance.

Aotea Station Design Wellesley St

The view from the platform.

Aotea Station Design Platform

Lastly a view of all these pieces together. I like that there’s multiple escalators down to the platform level, something I’m sure will be needed to handle the massive numbers of passengers who will use it daily – remember this will become the busiest station on the network, busier than Britomart is today.

Aotea Station Design Exploded View

You may notice those small objects at the top of the image above, here’s a closer look at them.  They’re skylights built in to Albert St to let natural light in to the station.  This also means there will be some form of median along this section of the road. Given this section is already fairly constrained due to the lowered service lane that isn’t being removed I wonder what this means there won’t be space for dedicated bus lanes along here?

Aotea Station Design Skylights 2

I guess my biggest concern with the station is whether there is enough exits. There are only three for what will be the busiest on the network. Those wanting to go north of Victoria St will have to exit the station then cross the road instead of the possibility of carrying on under the intersection before emerging to the surface. On the southern side there’s only one exit. At the very least it seems like it would have been appropriate to develop an exit into the North Western corner which is owned by the council and has a largish area in front of the building. Given Wellesley St will also be a major bus corridor an exit out to the eastern side of Wellesley might have been useful too as on rainy days could see pour out of the station and straight on a bus for a quick dry trip to Uni. It wouldn’t surprise me if within 5-10 years of opening AT have to go back and add more entrances/exits out to the streets.

A delay to the CRL?

The Herald reported yesterday that an increasing number of councillors are thinking of voting to delay the City Rail Link to 2020.

The $2.4 billion City Rail Link could be deferred until 2020 because of mounting concerns by councillors about its impact on rates, debt and big cuts to community services.

A number of councillors are having second thoughts about an early start on the rail project and support deferring work until the Government comes on board with funding in 2020.

Auckland Mayor Len Brown has locked $2.2 billion into a new 10-year budget to begin work on the 3.5km underground rail link in 2016 and completed by 2021.

On Wednesday, all 20 councillors and the mayor will debate the budget and make decisions on the rail project for public consultation.

The issue stems from the fact local boards and the council have promised a huge number of projects over the years, many of which originated in pre supercity days. Cuts and deferrals to some of these projects combined with efficiency savings as a result of having a single council had already brought projected rate increases down to around 4.9%. To take things further Len Brown’s plan for rates was to limit rates rises at 2.5% to 3.5%. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to work out that if you have a programme of spending that requires a 4.9% rates increase but you limit the increase at 2.5 to 3.5% that you will have to cut some projects somewhere. For transport those cuts mean a very reduced transport spend and the tables below show the extent of a 30 year transport programme (not including state highways) with that limited rates increase.




On top of that there were many cuts to other areas of the council’s budgets including a lot of funding for local board projects, something which angered most, if not all of the local boards.

That has contributed to some councillors now supporting delaying the CRL.

Labour councillor Ross Clow was the first centre-left councillor to break ranks with Mr Brown last Thursday on the flagship rail link and call for it to be deferred until the National Government’s 2020 start date.

He said the budget was gutting suburban areas such as Avondale, which had been waiting 30 years for a new town centre, in favour of “pet projects” like the City Rail Link.

“Mr Mayor you have been up there twice in the last few months telling them they are going to get this and that, yet your proposal has absolutely nothing in the budget,” said Mr Clow.

Albany councillor John Watson is another pro-link councillor having second thoughts.

Circumstances had changed dramatically with huge cuts to community services and projects, he said, citing a $20 million project to widen Whangaparaoa Rd.

“Nothing has been signalled on the horizon and that’s totally unacceptable,” Mr Watson said.

On the side of delaying the CRL there seem to be two general groups, the haters and the opportunists.

The haters are those who primarily for ideological reasons either don’t like Len and/or don’t like the CRL/rail. This group includes the likes of Cameron Brewer, Dick Quax and George Wood. Those in this group are unlikely to ever support the CRL although if they’re still around when it opens I’m sure they will happily take some of the credit for its success.

More of a concern are the opportunists who have arisen primarily due to the funding discussions. Some of them look at the cost if the CRL and mistakenly think that by deferring it, it will suddenly mean a heap of money will be available that they can use to fund projects in their local area. Alternatively some know the importance of the CRL and are trying to use it as leverage to get concessions out of the mayor, again for local projects. In many ways this is one of the big issues with having all councillors elected from wards rather than having some elected at large like the Royal Commission on Auckland Governance suggested. I’m aware some have taken this stance in the hope that it will put pressure on the government to stump up with funding but if anything it will do the opposite. Effectively what these councillors are doing is using the CRL to play a game of chicken with an oncoming train.

The whole situation has shades of Robbies Rail to it. Back in the 1970’s mayor Sir Dove Myer Robinson’s plans for a regional rail system were cancelled by the government after support for it was undermined by similar parochial local body politicians and planners.

I part I think some of the issue with this comes from the poor job Auckland Transport have done in really explaining the region wide benefits the CRL provides. That there are councillors and local board members who have a rail line passing through their area opposing the project because they think there are no benefits to their communities is a testimony to the fact it hasn’t been explained well enough. Perhaps a fresh set of eyes is needed to look at how the project is communicated to both the politicians and the public. The video below is probably the best effort AT have made with their comms but it relies on people actually watching it fully to get any info.

Before people get too concerned there are a couple of important things to note. The Herald note that most of the group that supports deferring the CRL do support work on the first section which will be tied in with the redevelopment of the Downtown Mall. That will see the tunnel dug from Britomart to as far as Wyndham St and is crucial if many of the other Downtown projects are to go ahead. By the time we’re getting towards needing to get started on the remainder of the tunnel – likely around 2016/17 – we will have had another 2-3 years of strong patronage growth on the back of the current tranche of PT projects and as the pressure mounts on transport capacity it is likely to leave little choice for both the council and government but to invest in the CRL.

The second thing to note is that by delaying the CRL it won’t actually free up money to build the local projects these councillors are hoping for. While debt will be needed to fund construction the council capitalise the interest until the project is complete and the region starts benefiting from the investment (those interest costs are already built into the overall project cost). What that means is there is no impact on council finances until the projects opens which isn’t likely to be till 2021/22.


While the project will definitely go ahead at some point in time a speed bump imposed by local politicians is far from ideal. I would suggest that it would be a good idea to email all councillors expressing your support for the project to go ahead and be open by 2021/22 along with the regional benefits it provides. It doesn’t have to be a big email and rather than provide a template it’s best if it comes from you in your own words.

Rail vs Driverless Cars

A few days ago there were two major transport stories, the first was about a new record for rail patronage and the other topic was about the government looking to make it easier for driverless cars to be on New Zealands roads.

The prospect of cars travelling New Zealand highways with no one behind the wheel is moving closer says new Transport Minister Simon Bridges. Officials are reviewing legislation allowing for the testing of umanned autonomous vehicles on public roads.

Mr Bridges has pledged to work with environmental interests while also pursuing the Government’s road building programme.

Mr Bridges said he was committed to “a balanced approach” and ongoing investment roads were important even from a green perspective, “over time as we move to electric vehicles and autonomous vehicles”.

Mr Bridges said the Government was not doing a great deal to accommodate autonomous vehicle technology, “but I don’t think there’s any doubt that if you look at what’s going on internationally, maybe not in the next couple of years, but over time we will see driverless vehicles and that will have implications, like for example less congestion because vehicles can travel closer together”.

We’ve discussed driverless cars a bit in the past so I’m going to try and not rehash those arguments too much. What I do want to touch on is the odd relationship between them and rail. By that I mean opponents of rail investment often like to claim that rail is an old technology – despite the fact that modern rail systems involve some very sophisticated tech – and that we should instead look to the future which they see as being driverless cars. Of course some rail systems have been driverless for decades.

One of those opponents of rail investment is Phil McDermott who runs the ironically named Cities Matter blog which argues for low density and auto centric cities. He was a guest on Radio NZs The Panel talking about both rail and driverless cars however his contradictions were huge and probably about 0.8 on the David Seymour scale. The section on The Panel starts from ~11:15 and McDermott comes in from ~14:10

or listen here

He starts off by dragging up the old cliché that trains run on fixed routes but that roads allow for flexibility and then says that if the city develops as expected that people will be travelling across the city between centres. Of course everyone traipsing across town to dispersed centres is something we’ve been doing for decades and has only led to more and more congestion. The intention of the Auckland Plan is to focus growth in and around the central city, a handful of major metropolitan centres and a wider range of local town centres which are all linked by high quality public transport. It’s that public transport network, of which rail is an integrated part, that will be key to moving a huge volume of people around and doing so free of congestion.

Auckland Plan - Development Strategy

Here are some of the other points and contradictions he made.

  • Trains in Auckland are full by the time they get to the CBD but that we shouldn’t build the CRL as he thinks the trains won’t carry a lot of people. You really have to wonder what’s going on in his brain as it works through that logic.
  • That the CRL doesn’t do enough for the transport system despite the fact it doubles the capacity of it.
  • That we shouldn’t have intensification near rail lines as somehow it creates a high marginal cost for each extra trip however later he says if we want rail to work in NZ he says we need lots of cars on the road with people driving to stations with big park n ride facilities.
  • That road building is ok because in his view the marginal costs are low which of course conveniently ignores that we’ve exhausted all the easy road building options and are now faced with massive costs for projects, often for not much gain in capacity or mobility.
  • That driverless cars will increase car use and that it will make congestion worse, but it’s all ok because they might not be as polluting as our current fleet.

Many of the views he expressed are downright odd and I get the impression that what people like McDermott are really after is to preserve the status quo which they likely currently benefit from. Some might wonder why bother to even discuss the interview but unfortunately we still see the likes of Phil trotted out on a regular basis.

CRL design being progressed

Auckland Transport have said that they are focusing efforts to design the northern end of the CRL from Wyndham St to Britomart.

Design of the Britomart end of the City Rail Link is being progressed with Auckland Transport asking the construction industry to register its interest in the work.

The focus of the design work will be on the downtown section of the City Rail Link, from Britomart through Queen, Customs and Albert Streets to Wyndham Street.

It is the area that most affects other planned and proposed inner city development by Auckland Council and private developers.

“It’s a sensible next step to get design certainty for the part of the CRL that will most affect everyone else’s plans in the city. It is also important to have the design advanced so any consents can be identified and applied for,” says AT Chief Executive David Warburton.

Auckland Council Chief Executive Stephen Town says “this next step is important as it will ensure the sequencing of city centre improvements is well planned over the next 3 years.

Auckland Transport wants to be in a position to progress work in the downtown area so other city development can proceed without unnecessary delay, once CRL construction funding is approved.

Dr Warburton says engaging early with the construction industry in this way is routine on major projects to ensure a cost effective design that minimises adverse effects.

It’s basically the section shown below (although without needing to take all of the Downtown Mall site like originally thought)

CRL Downtown site

Precinct Properties want to develop the Downtown Mall site and they have already agreed to build the tunnel under the site at the same time, this saved AT from having to purchase the whole site. It makes complete sense to then also join in that part of the tunnel to Britomart and to get it at least under the Customs St/Albert St intersection. The reason for that is there are a lot of plans in the area that will hinge on the CRL being completed so that they don’t have to be redone in the future. This includes:

  • The upgrade to Quay St to be a more pedestrian friendly area.
  • Changes to Customs St to accommodate the new bus network and some of the traffic from Quay St.
  • Potential changes to Lower Queen St and QE2 square


AT have also said they are likely to have some new images available in a month or so relating to station designs which will be exciting to see.

The CRL is about capacity

I’ve been noticing in recent times an increasing number of people questioning the need for the City Rail Link. I’m not sure what’s causing it but it might be that Auckland Transport have been remarkably quiet on the project for the last six months or so. With this post I thought I would highlight some of the key reasons why the project is needed and it’s all related to capacity.

It’s commonly mentioned by those that oppose the CRL that the CBD is only 15% of all regional employment. What’s not mentioned is that 15% represents ~100,000 jobs. While the 15% figure is true it ignores a couple of key points.

  1. City Centre employment has grew by about over 20,000 jobs between 2000 and 2013
  2. The numbers are based on a fairly narrow definition of the CBD. Expanding that to include the city fringe areas which are also likely to be directly affected by the CRL means the total number of jobs in the central city is 24% (~153,000).
  3. At ~100,000 jobs the level of employment in the CBD is still significantly larger than any other single area in the region. The second largest number of jobs is the massive commercial area covering Onehunga, Penrose, Ellerslie and Mt Wellington which combined has 60,000 jobs. Areas like the airport (including around Ascot/Montgomerie Rd), Manukau/Wiri, East Tamaki, Albany and Wairau/Smales Farm each only contain between 20,0o0 and 30,000 jobs.
  4. In addition to the CBD, employment areas all along the rail network would benefit from the greater frequencies the CRL would deliver.
  5. Employment isn’t the only thing that happens in the CBD, there are also 40,000-50,000 students at the two universities plus more at other education institutions.

Both employment and tertiary student numbers are expected to grow significantly in the future. AT say that by 2041 employment in the city and fringe areas is expected to increase to over 200,000 and student numbers to around 72,000.

City Centre Employment to 2013

That’s a lot of growth but why do we need it in the CBD, why not encourage it to other parts of the region?

Despite decades of anti CBD policies one of the key reasons the CBD is the size it is, is simply because of its location – it’s central. A large part of that is simply its historical location and how the city has subsequently developed but it means it’s an area that has relatively equal access from the North, South, East and West. That means employers in the CBD have a much larger pool of potential talent to choose from than ones in say Albany or Manukau.

Auckland is home to 60% of the top 200 companies in the country and a many of them based in the CBD due to the reasons just mentioned as well as to gain the benefits of agglomeration. It is why even companies like Fonterra who make their money from the rural sector have their head office functions in the Auckland CBD. The types of roles found in the CBD also means those workers tend to earn on average 27% more than workers in other parts of the region. So yes we could encourage or even require those new jobs to be elsewhere in the region but it’s because of the factors mentioned that growing the CBD is something that can help improve our economy further in the long term.

However if we are to enable that growth to happen we need the capacity so that people are able to get to the city centre and that’s where the problems begin. The roading network is already at capacity at peak times and the costs to increase that capacity from now onwards by any substantial margin are likely to be astronomical. Over the long term there is also likely to be less road space in the CBD to handle traffic thanks to the focus on making the city a more pedestrian friendly area. In short we will have to find a different way of getting more people the city centre and that’s where PT comes in.

Thankfully we’ve already been seeing significant change when it comes to PT use and the city centre. Since 2001 the number of people entering the CBD by car in the morning peak has actually decreased while the number entering via PT has increased substantially and resulted in an increase overall in people arriving in the CBD.


Over the coming years we will see further enhancements that will deliver greater capacity and frequency to the CBD (and other places). This comes from a combination the New Network and electric trains both of which should help to revolutionise travel in Auckland.

But why not just use buses?

The New Network greatly simplifies the regions bus routes and provides more capacity in many locations. However over time an increasing issue is going to be bus congestion and it’s predicted that on Symonds St alone there would need to be over 250 buses per hour in the peaks. In short we would end up with a wall of buses situation and that’s not what anyone wants to see. The map below shows where the most congested parts of the central city are expected to be by ~2041 if we don’t build the CRL .

Bus Network Congestion

The City Centre Future Access Study looked at a huge range of bus solutions to solve the capacity problems but found none were as good as the CRL – although it did say some improvements were needed to surface buses.

While the road networks are at capacity the one network we have that has plenty of capacity just waiting to be unlocked is the rail network. The problem is that despite an estimated 40% increase in train capacity from the new electric trains it simply won’t be enough long term. It’s expected that the strong patronage growth we’re seeing will continue and will be aided further by the new network which sees more buses interchanging with the rail network. While the services we have might be run to capacity the rail network itself is far from capacity and is being held back its own constraints. The tunnel leading into Britomart acts like a funnel limiting how many services we can run. It has long been said the maximum number of services we could run is 20 per hour made up of 6 per hour per direction from the west, south and east and two per hour to Onehunga. We’re already very close to that mark and have been for some time. Other options for expanding Britomart or the approach tunnel have been investigated but are also quite costly and don’t give the advantages of delivering people further into the city centre.

So a large part of the CRL project is not so much about making the rail network better but simply about providing the capacity to allow the CBD to grow. The other options for increasing capacity are more costly or aren’t able to deliver enough extra people to the CBD to allow the growth to happen..

Appeals against the CRL

At the beginning of March the commissioners hearing the notice of requirement (NOR) to enable the route to be designated recommended the NOR be approved. A few weeks later Auckland Transport accepted all of the associated recommendations meaning that for the first time a rail route through the CBD had been designated despite such an idea having been talked about at numerous times over the previous 90 or so years.

Grimshaw Aotea Station - changed version

While the route is now designated it was never going to be the end of the matter as there was still the option for people/companies unhappy with the outcome to appeal to the Environment Court. Any appeals had to be received by the 19 May and five have been received. The one I most expected to appeal was Mediaworks as they seemed to make the most noise during the NOR process on the basis of concern from both the construction and operation of the tunnels which will be in very close proximity to their studios. In addition to Mediaworks appeals have also been lodged from:

  • Samson Corporation Ltd and Sterling Nominees Ltd
  • Tram Lease Ltd and CJM Investments Ltd
  • Precinct Properties Ltd
  • Stamford Plaza

Each one is slightly different but from my quick reading here’s an overview of the issues raised in each appeal.


Mediaworks are extremely concerned about the issue of noise and vibration that might result from the construction and operation of the CRL which they say could impact on their business. To address these problems they want lower sound and vibration limits imposed along with constant monitoring rather than 6 monthly as currently consented for. In terms of operation noise/vibration they effectively want to be able to shut down the CRL if the limit is breached.

In addition to the noise and vibration issues Mediaworks also appear to be concerned about the traffic on nearby New North Rd and that the NOR allows Auckland Transport to temporarily narrow access to their carpark to a single lane.

I suspect that of all the appeals that this is the one that will have the most time spent on it.

Samson Corporation Ltd and Sterling Nominees Ltd

These two companies – which are both owned by the same person – have two main concerns. The first is with the designation lapse period which has been set at 15 years whereas the statutory default period is only 5 years. They argue that a 10 year lapse period would be better, especially as AT say they want to build the project within that time frame. They suggest that leaving it at the longer period “invites unnecessary uncertainty and planning blight”. Their second issue is that they want compensation to their businesses for the disruption for any lost custom.

Tram Lease Ltd and CJM Investments Ltd

Like the companies above, Tram Lease Ltd are also concerned about the “Planing Blight” that might occur from having such a long time frame. Their main concern however appears to regarding parking and access to their land at 32 Normanby Rd both during and post construction. This is because Normanby Rd will be grade separated as part of the CRL project which is likely to impact how they can access their site and how much parking it has. They want the requirements amended so AT have to reinstate all the parking that currently exists along with full access to the site. CMJ Investments Ltd is one of the tenants on the site and are supporting the appeal.

CRL - Tram Lease site

Precinct Properties Ltd

Precinct say that AT included a number of the conditions they originally sought in the final decision but not all of them and that is why they are appealing. They don’t want the Downtown Shopping Centre site, lower Queen St, QEII Square and/or Lower Albert St used as building site. They say they generally support AT’s construction noise criteria but are concerned about excessive noise and vibration from construction. They also say they support AT’s rail criteria but want tighter vibration limits and a requirement that AT investigate and remedy any exceedance of this.

Stamford Plaza

Stamford Plaza were one of the submitters who fought the designation the most. They say they are they are concerned about the impact from construction of noise, vibration, hours of operation as well as pedestrian and vehicle access to their site. They say their guests “require standard of overall amenity and quiet enjoyment during both daytime and night-time hours. They want stricter noise/vibration limits and more monitoring to occur, reduced hours of construction but also a limit on how long construction can take place outside their site. I’m not sure how you could reduce noise/vibration, reduce the hours of operation yet still get the project completed faster.

In addition they also want 18 months advanced notice of construction starting as they say they have to give advanced notice to their some of their guests and they want compensation for lost business.

I’m no expert but all up it seems like that with the exception of Mediaworks most of this is simply posturing for a better deal. I’m not sure when the case will be heard in the environment court but hopefully it would be this year some time so as not to hold up the project should funding be found.


Photo of the day: Aotea Station?

Is this what the Aotea station could look like? The image is from Grimshaw Architects who are one of the companies working on the reference design for the CRL.


Grimshaw Aotea Station - changed version

Also appropriate was yesterdays cartoon in the herald

Brownlee CRL Cartoon