What if Subway Stores were actually Subway stations?

A few weeks ago, The Atlantic Cities posted about a Baltimore resident who had wondered about what kind of PT system would exist if every Subway Sandwich store was an actual subway station.

There are upwards of 140 Subway sandwich shops in the Baltimore metropolitan region, which is a whole lot more than there are actual subway transit stops (which, as you may recall from that early Subway wallpaper, provided the original inspiration for the franchise). Baltimore today has just one partially underground subway line running from Owings Mills to the Johns Hopkins Hospital. Otherwise, the city primarily gets around by car, bus and light rail.

You can image, though, how the ubiquitous sandwich shop might get a transit enthusiast thinking. And so we bring you, thanks to Baltimore resident Chris Nelson, this dream map of a subway system for the region if all its Subway restaurants were actual transit stops:

This is what he came up with for Baltimore:

A reader sent me his own version of this for Auckland but unfortunately I can’t find it any more so I decided to create my own version. First step was to map out every Subway Store in the region. It was easy enough as they are all listed on their website but it was a little time consuming due to there being 92 of them in Auckland. This gave me a map that looked like this: (there are a few out of this picture)

Auckland Subway Stores

It was then time for the tricky parts of to try adding some routes. I tried to focus on not having every route go through the CBD to create a bit of a deformed grid across the city. There were definitely a few stores that seemed hard to serve.

Auckland Subway Stores - routes

Of course this is only really just for a bit of fun and not exactly realistic. Even so I’m interested to see what you guys can come up with, as such here is the Google Earth file with all of the Subway stores. Upload an image and link to it in the comments or send it to me and we will see which are the best ones.

Long term regional rail in NZ

Occasionally it’s quite fun to look 50 years into the future and ask questions around “what will it be like?” Even the longest term planning documents around tend to just look at a 30 year vision, so going to 50 years is certainly another jump into the future beyond that point – but it’s quite fun and potentially quite useful to make sure what we’re doing in the next 10-20 years doesn’t limit our ability to do potentially very long-term projects.

Sub-national population estimates from Statistics NZ only go out as far into the future as 2031 – showing significant population growth for Auckland when compared to the rest of NZ (as we already know). National population estimates extend to our 50 year amount –  to 2061 when the population of the country might be around 6 million. Here are some of the 2061 median projections:

Because of our ageing population, population growth tails off quite significantly mid-century. I suspect that questions around whether NZ’s population will ever be significantly more than 6 million come down to migration scenarios. Stats NZ did looks at what it would take for NZ to have a significantly higher population in the future, compared to the median projection – noting the following:

I have long thought that the real unknown here is what happens in climate change scenarios which are more severe than predicted. New Zealand generally seems to suffer less than many other countries (especially in comparison to Australia and the Pacific Islands) in ‘severe climate change’ scenarios – meaning that we could end up becoming a pretty attractive place to live for vast numbers of our near neighbours. Scenarios such as reaching 10 million due to an average net migration gains of 68,000 people per year (combined with a fairly conservative fertility rate) do seem unlikely, but not implausible.

Now let’s translate that into thinking about what might happen in this part of New Zealand – in particular the area known as the “Upper North Island”.  The table below shows the population of this Upper North Island area up to 2031 – and how it represents an increasing proportion of New Zealand’s population (particularly in the high-growth scenarios):

Under a “high immigration” scenario one would expect the proportion of NZers living in the Upper North Island area by 2061 to have continued to grow significantly. Let’s say in our 2061 scenarios you might have around 65% of New Zealanders living in the Upper North Island area. This would mean 3.9 million people if the population is 6 million, 4.55 million  out of a 7 million population and 6.5 million from a total of 10 million. In reality I think the proportion of the population in the Upper North Island would be higher in the higher growth scenarios (as shown in the 2031 projections) but we’re just using this as a broad guide.

I suppose the point of all this lead in is to highlight that the real bulk of the country’s population growth in the next 50 years is likely to be in the area often referred to as the “Golden Triangle”, between Auckland, Hamilton and Tauranga.

Significantly improving transport accessibility between these three areas, effectively joining them together into operating as something of a ‘super-region’ may result in significant benefits for New Zealand as a whole, particularly if higher population growth scenarios mean that Auckland in 2061 has a population pushing 3 million and is really struggling to find a way to house all those people.

Although some people currently commuter between Hamilton and Auckland on a daily basis, I feel sorry for them as they must end up spending a huge chunk of their lives in the car going back and forth on State Highway 1 – the 126 km trip which takes 1 hour 40 without congestion and probably more than 2 hours each way at peak times. What they really need, and what we need generally if we decide that it’s advantageous to ease the pressure on Auckland, is a faster way to connect up these cities – including Tauranga as our likely key trade centre over time as Auckland discovers it wants to claim back its waterfront more and more.

I think the obvious solution to this is getting a transport technology to link the cities up that is really fast. And the obvious option there is through vastly improving our inter-city rail network. We current do have a rail link between Auckland, Hamilton and Tauranga – it’s the busiest part of the country’s freight network and shifts a pretty huge amount of “stuff” between these cities. But the line is slow – horrifically slow in terms of its potential suitability for inter-city trains. The failed attempts to introduce rail services between Hamilton and Auckland were most probably doomed because of this very issue – despite not getting stuck in traffic the train service just couldn’t be time competitive when compared to driving or even catching the bus.

However, it doesn’t have to be this way. And I’m not saying we need to completely rebuild the rail connections from scratch to 300 kph high-speed rail standards either. If we could get the tracks up to a standard which allows trains to average 120-160 kph on their trips between Auckland, Hamilton and Tauranga you could really revolutionise the time it takes to get between these three cities and really bring them into the one “super region” in terms of inter-city accessibility. This is shown in the table below:

I suspect to really achieve something revolutionary in the connections between these three cities you’re probably going to need an average speed of at least 140 kph, which means some sections needing to operate at much higher speeds than that. Just at a glance then we’re likely to need the following works done:

  • A full express track bypass of the Auckland suburban rail network
  • Full electrification (presumably)
  • Significant track geometry improvements, especially just south of Pukekohe and also whether the Hamilton to Tauranga section really needs to divert up to Morrinsville
  • Doubling tracking of at least most of the Hamilton-Tauranga section of track

Obviously we’re talking a multi-billion dollar project here. But then again we are thinking 50 years into the future. Perhaps the best way to think about this is to compare its potential value with that of some of the less sensible RoNS projects (Puhoi-Wellsford and much of the Wellington Northern Corridor), or against the possible next generation of RoNS projects (Cambridge-Tirau, Hawkes Bay, Hamilton-Tauranga motorway). Against the zany motorway plans the government has for the very long term, this rail proposal start to look really sensible (though I’m not sure whether whether it’s better than a RoNS is really the best way to measure a project’s worth.)

The future role for driverless light-metro

Perhaps more than any other post on this blog, the one which really got me fascinated by Auckland’s transport future and convinced me I “wanted in” was a post by Nick R about how driverless trains – the kind used by Vancouver’s Skytrain system that I’m so fond of – could have a role in making rail to the North Shore far more affordable and feasible than perhaps we have ever thought before. There are some key elements to what Nick calls “driverless light-metro”, which make it such an incredibly appealing transit technology:

  • The driverless operation means that the connection between frequent and operating cost is broken (you don’t need to add a driver for every train you add). This allow off-peak service frequencies to remain high, shorter but more frequent trains to be run and operating costs of the system to be kept pretty low. Vancouver’s Skytrain system, I have heard, makes an operating profit.
  • The linear induction motors, the lighter vehicle weights and the technical details of these trains allow for sharper bends and steeper gradients than would ever be possible with conventional heavy rail. Nick’s posts on the technology suggest that 1 in 10 gradients are OK (the CRL is really pushing the envelope at around 1 in 28), while 35 metre radius bends are also possible – yet again much sharper than for conventional heavy rail. A more forgiving geometric requirement means much much cheaper construction cost.

Essentially, a driverless Metro is far cheaper to build and far cheaper to operate than conventional heavy rail. It almost sounds too good to be true – so what’s the catch?

Well effectively there are two main catches. Firstly, because the trains are driverless they need to be operating on a system which is completely grade separated and completely protected from pedestrian intrusion on the tracks. Secondly, the highly specialised traction technology and the less forgiving gradients mean that light-metro tracks are pretty much passenger service only (no freight) and also limited to the particular type of train you run on them – so no inter-city passenger trains or future EMUs running on these tracks. Just the driverless light-metro trains.

These restrictions create an interesting conundrum. While there’s a highly compelling case for all new rail infrastructure to be in the form of a driverless metro, for the far cheaper construction and operating costs, because we have an existing heavy rail network, which we run freight trains along and which we are also investing heavily in maintaining/upgrading as conventional heavy rail, we’re left in a tricky situation of wondering whether, and how, this fantastic technology could be used in Auckland.

Nick’s suggestion was that the North Shore Line be constructed as a Light Metro, operating pretty much independently of the existing network, with possible future extensions along SH16 and SH18 to form some sort of northwest rail loop. The case for rail on the North Shore being constructed in the form of a light-metro is, I think, compelling. Firstly the harbour crossing itself is going to be far far cheaper than for conventional heavy rail (Nick has pointed out that it could sit underneath a road tunnel or potentially even under the existing harbour bridge as unlike conventional heavy rail it would be able to handle the gradient). Secondly, one would imagine that it would be much easier to turn the Northern Busway into a light-metro line than into a conventional heavy rail line – once again because of the more forgiving geometry of the light-metro technology. With a study recently estimating that a whole heavy rail line from town to Albany up the busway being approximately $2.5 billion in cost, a light-metro line may well be significantly less than this (very significantly less if you can sling it under the existing bridge).

What has thrown a few “spanners in the works” of this plan over the past couple of months has been the general thinking of us bloggers around future operating patterns for trains once the City Rail Link is completed. In particular, the general agreement that linking up the western line and the eastern line via the CRL and the North Shore with the southern line via another tunnel, would create the most logical and best long-term operating pattern for trains passing through downtown Auckland. That creates an outcome something like this, as nicely illustrated by Patrick’s post on the matter:  This operating pattern has some hugely attractive attributes:

  • By effectively creating four independent lines into the city centre (both directions on both lines) you have a simply huge amount of passenger capacity. If you ran 24 trains per hour each way along both lines, for example, you’d have nearly 100 trains per hour bringing people into central Auckland – around 75,000 people per hour with 750 passengers on each train.
  • You create a really logical route structure for Auckland’s whole network (setting aside the question of how we deal with Grafton station). There’s a basic north-south line (the blue one) and a basic east-west line (the red one). They cross over in the very heart of Auckland’s city centre.
  • We do away with the incredibly slow bend around Vector arena (though I’m sure you’d keep the tracks there, at least you wouldn’t need to use them for regular service).

Of course, by linking up the Southern Line with the North Shore Line, we’ve just created ourselves one heck of a headache when it comes to our idea of that North Shore line being a driverless light-metro. Or have we actually opened up an opportunity here?

What if we tried to make that “blue line” above fully driverless Light Metro? Let’s explore that idea.

If we remember back to the start of this post, the two big restrictions for driverless Light Metro is that it can’t share track with freight trains and it can’t share track with any other kind of passenger train. Effectively, it has to be its own independent network. That does create use a few headaches. But potentially they’re not impossible to solve. Let’s just say we built the line in blue below as a light-metro line: Yes, yes I know there are issues, but first let’s look at the positives. We probably have a cheaper construction cost for the Airport Line due to the easier geometry of Light Metro. We also have much lower operating costs. There’s a direct line between the North Shore and the airport, which would probably generate quite a lot of patronage and would certainly ease traffic on what’s a pretty big “through movement” at the moment (Waterview Connection eases this pressure on arterial roads but not on spaghetti junction except for people up around Albany who may use SH18/SH16).

The main issue, obviously, is that we have existing sections of track along this alignment – from Parnell right through to Onehunga and Otahuhu. However, if you add in the conventional rail network which would provide the main “south/east-west” connections, there actually isn’t much overlap between the lines at all – just between Westfield and Otahuhu by my calculations: The other key consideration is, obviously, rail freight. But from what I know the Newmarket-Westfield section of the southern line isn’t really used much by freight trains (they prefer the easier gradients of the eastern line), so the only section which would require side by side conventional and light-metro tracks would be between Parnell and Newmarket, unless some other solution can be found to send freight out west via the Avondale-Southdown line (including the Onehunga to Southdown link which isn’t shown above).

I actually kind of think all of this could work, with Auckland ending up with two completely independent rail networks. While that has some disadvantages in terms of route flexibility and the need for transfers for trips from south of Otahuhu to Newmarket (for example), I think the cost savings (both capital and operating) which would arise from being able to build both the North Shore Line and the Airport Line (at least the northern link, the eastern one is something that probably required a bit more thought) as Light Metro lines would probably run into the many billions of dollars.

Which means it’s something worth looking into. Driverless light-metro indeed could play a very important role in Auckland’s rail future.

Developing the Rail and Busway Network

Over the last week or so some of my fellow bloggers have put up their suggestions for how to develop the rail network in the future, I have taken some of their ideas and thrown in a few of my own. One thing that is common across these suggestions is that largely we aren’t trying to add a whole heap of lines to places that haven’t been discussed before but are just trying to optimise the network once the projects are built, the projects largely consist of the CRL, rail to the Airport and rail to the Shore.

You will see that there are a lot of similarities between all of the designs presented with the main one being the ‘cross’ at Aotea station which links the North/South services and the East/West services. I think that there are a few advantages to this, the key ones being that from one central station you can get almost everywhere on the rail network with a ‘one seat journey’. Of course it would mean that the station would be extremely busy but part of the reason for discussing it now is so that we can hopefully influence the design to avoid issues. The station would have some great potential access options and I suspect that many of the neighbouring business would be keen to have direct access to the station, something which could help to spread out the people using the station rather than funnelling them through a couple of entrances. These neighbouring businesses would also likely see huge financial benefit to having a direct connection to the busiest station in the city so would quite likely be prepared to pay for access, this could help to pay for the station and/or its operating costs.

So here is my plan including operating patterns that would run.

Here are the key differences.

  • Unlike Patrick I don’t envisage a University station, I think that it is simply too close to the Aotea Station to work well operationally.
  • There is no rail connection from Manukau to the Airport. There are a couple of reasons for this:
    1. There is also no catchment between these two locations that would warrant having a station so any trains between these two locations would travelling an extra 9km each way for not a lot of gain.
    2. Without embarking on building a rail line through to Botany it doesn’t seem to make much sense to have the planned busway terminate at Manukau, extending the busway services to the Airport provides a direct connection for those that live in the east. The line at station at the airport could be designed in a way to allow extension later on.
  • There is no direct connection between the West and Newmarket. The reason for this is there are not any simple operating patterns that easily allow for this connection to work without impacting frequencies on the lines. To counter this slightly a station at Dominion Rd (to replace Mt Eden) with an extra platform or two would allow for a shuttle to run between the two stations providing a connection to Grafton and a faster journey to Newmarket vs going through Aotea. At Newmarket it would use the current platform 1 so wouldn’t impact on the services using the other two lines. It would also help to take some of the pressure off Aotea.

There are a few other issues worth pointing out:

  • Ideally the yellow line would continue on to Onehunga, getting there from Mt Roskill is difficult due to the terrain and the currently designated route which was designed with freight trains winds its way through the area but bypasses the town centre. I imagine it will be extremely expensive to build that section due to this so I feel the focus should be on other areas first.
  • At the moment there is still plenty of capacity left in the busway however that won’t always be the case. The blue line north of Akoranga would be the last piece of this design to be built and the rest is likely to take up a few decades worth of work anyway.
  • My preference isn’t for a spur at Takapuna however the town centre is a bit like St Lukes or Manukau in that it is not easy to reach directly with the existing infrastructure patterns and doing so would add a few Km’s to every journey of anyone travelling to/from north of there.
  • The network is still very CBD centric, a lot of effort will need to be made to make it easy to transfer at key locations to high frequency cross town bus services.
  • There are still a lot of services that use the section between Westfield and Wiri. As frequencies increase this would become a key bottleneck which would likely require additional tracks beyond the 3rd main already proposed.
  • The Green and Yellow services are quite long at close to 50km, this means that we would need a lot of trains to run the network at high frequencies. The red and blue lines are shorter at around 37km (by comparison it is 31km from Papakura to Britomart).

Future Rail Network: conceptual service patterns

Following on from yesterday’s post about possible future projects that would make up Auckland’s rail network, in this post I’m going to put them all together to give us an idea about what infrastructure there would/could be. I’m then going to start looking, only conceptually for now, at the kind of service patterns we could run on this future network. As always, I don’t know the answer, I don’t have a perfect future network laid out in my mind – I’m just trying to stimulate discussion, debate and perhaps at the end of it all have some kind of future network that is generally agreed upon as the way forward. Of course that’s probably quite unrealistic to expect agreement, but one can always hope!

In the comments thread of yesterday’s post there seemed to be general agreement that the series of projects I had come up with was a pretty comprehensive list. There was a fair discussion about whether some would be built as busways or rail – both making up rapid transit, and this is a fair point as we have not yet even built either the AMETI Busway or the Northwest Busway, so it seems vastly premature to be thinking of the day when those busways may need upgrading to rail! Putting together projects listed in the Auckland Plan and you end up with rail infrastructure shown in black and busway infrastructure shown in blue (I’ve taken a few minor liberties): 

The above map, of course, creates more questions than answers – how to connect the southeast leg of the Airport Line with the Southern Line? How to get North Shore trains through the city centre? What to do to service Takapuna? How do you get the Avondale-Southdown Line to link up with the Southern Line? How many connecting options do you provide at Onehunga? So, a whole pile of questions around those connection points – something that I may need to work through one by one in future posts: A particularly interesting question is if you ever did upgrade the Northwest Busway to rail, would you want to somehow join it with the Western Line by way of a (probably tunnelled) connection around St Lukes Road? Or do you run a fairly close parallel route to the north of the Western Line?

Now if we shift onto looking at how we might use this infrastructure to provide a really top quality rail network, I think a good place to start is by looking overseas. There are plenty of possibilities: run a whole pile of circular routes, run many different point to point routes, run a pile of branches that come together in the central area then branch out on the other side of the city, and so on. The Outer Link discussion makes me think that loop routes are perhaps to be avoided for operational purposes, so let’s leave aside the whole pile of circular options for now. The next step is to look at how this is done internationally with the kind of commuter/metro hybrid system that Auckland’s rail network is.

There’s CrossRail, being built in London: 

RER A & B in Paris: 
The BART System in San Francisco: 
One thing common to all these maps, all these lines and all these systems, is the way in which you have effectively one main line which splits out at each end, running through the centre city. Even many lines in Metro systems do this – the Piccadilly and District Lines in London, many of the routing groups on the New York subway, even the often discussed Canada Line in the Vancouver Skytrain system splits at its southern end. The reason behind this approach seems fairly obvious – demand is always likely to be highest in the inner parts of the system so you want to have high frequencies there, which you can achieve by effectively bringing together a pile of branches to offer that frequency. In the more outer areas you typically want your service to reach a lot of places, but those places are less likely to provide sufficient demand to justify the kind of frequencies available on the inner part of the network.

We already see this approach a bit in Auckland, although more in terms of where the trains begin/end their run rather than through branching. Western Line trains begin/end their run at Henderson, Swanson or Waitakere – because there’s less need further out to offer such a high frequency of service.

In the longer term, I can’t see Auckland being able to cope with the BART-like system, which is basically just a single line with a splits at each end. It seems like we’re likely to need/want a general ‘north-south’ line and a general ‘east-west’ one. Previously a lot of options proposed on this blog have looked at west-south and east-Onehunga/Airport routings, but those typically seem to work best only without the North Shore being thrown into the mix. Here’s a possible north-south route grouping: Within this grouping there’s obviously a couple of service patterns. To ensure that neither are too long, I’d say the obvious two services are Papakura/Pukekohe to Takapuna and Albany to the Airport, with both services overlapping between Penrose and Akoranga on the core part of the north-south network. How this gets through the city centre is, of course, a very interesting question – something to come back to in a future post I would think.

East-West route groupings are a little more complicated, especially if we want to include a SH16 Northwest route linking into the Western Line. Heading east we obviously have the existing eastern line and then a southeast line (if it doesn’t stay as a busway in the longer term). This creates the following ‘east-west’ network: To ensure the system is not too “CBD focused” there are a couple of obvious “cross-town” routes that join together key metropolitan centres – with the northwest one probably being a busway: In my next post I’ll look at putting all of this together into some kind of future service plan – as well as a progression plan towards the final plan.

Our long-term rail future

Quite a few posts recently have highlighted the need for Auckland to have a coherent long-term rail plan. Patrick’s post on Aotea station noted how this station is likely to become the real heart of Auckland’s rail network over time, as well as generating a lot of discussion by posting this long-term rail plan:
A post just a couple of days earlier than that by Matt discussed some comments made by Auckland Transport at an Orakei Local Board meeting about the City Rail Link. Specifically, options of delaying construction of K Road and Newton Stations, as well as a question over whether the link between the City Rail Link tunnel and Grafton station should be provided. What impact such changes might have on long-term rail plans for Auckland was also an issue raised by many commenters.

Digging back into the archives of this blog has highlighted a pretty extraordinary number of “dream rail networks” that could be built for Auckland – with the image above being but one possible option. Nick came up with this option for the northern part of the rail network in a previous post looking into how rail should be provided on the North Shore:
Back in October the former admin put together a ‘step by step’ post to a long-term rail network that’s yet again slightly different to both the above systems:


There are various components that make up all these maps – key ‘projects’ shall we call them. Obviously as a whole package the systems are mind-blowingly expensive to ever consider doing together, but because each transport project we do end up choosing to build tends to have an impact on our future projects, we need to have the very long term in mind right now. My hope, and I think it’s probably an unrealistic hope, is to try to get some general agreement on what this future network may look like. So let’s start with the components, in a very general chronological order of their construction:

  • City Rail Link: Obviously a pretty well known project and utterly critical for many of the future rail projects that feed off the capacity enhancements that the City Rail Link provides to the whole rail network. Whether, post CRL, we link our west services with the south, or with the east, or with Onehunga. Whether we have an eastern connection between the CRL and Grafton, or just a western connection, are of course as yet unresolved issues.
  • Airport Line: The next obvious project after the CRL, this line serves a number of functions – not just getting travellers to and from the airport. It gets workers to a growing employment area, it serves a transport deprived residential area and it provides a strategic alternative to the busiest section of the southern line. To realise all these benefits both the link to Onehunga and Manukau area necessary.
  • North Shore Line: As the Northern Busway reaches capacity (especially south of Akoranga where the bus priority is not as good, and difficult to significantly improve) there will be a need to up the capacity of public transport provision – with rail (of some form) being the natural outcome. It seems likely that north of Akoranga the line would follow the existing busway as all other options are so expensive.
  • Avondale-Southdown Line: This link across the southern part of the isthmus enables a full “loop line” around the isthmus to be operated, if so desired. The line could also be built in stages, particularly the western section which will be mostly formed by building the Mt Roskill extension motorway and the Waterview Connection.
  • Southeast Line: Branching off from Glen Innes/Panmure, this line serves the southeast area before linking up with the rest of the rail network at Manukau (presuming the design of the station makes this possible).
  • Northwest Line: The currently proposed Northwest Busway along SH16 could theoretically be turned into a railway line in the longer term.

It’s hard to think of any other even possibly viable rail lines – even in the very very long term. Perhaps something underneath Dominion Road – but even in the long term Dominion Road’s linearity seems to lend itself to light-rail rather than underground heavy rail.

So if those are the possible projects, we are still left with quite a lot of important questions:

  1. Do we build all of these using the existing combined passenger/freight approach – or should some lines in the future be completely independent of the existing network and be constructed for passenger only service using technology such as linear induction motors (allowing for steeper gradients and driverless operation).
  2. How do these lines connect with each other to form a network and what infrastructure does this require to be provided potentially ahead of time at interchange points?
  3. How does the system operate through the city centre where most of the lines would come together?
  4. What are logical service patterns and what infrastructure is necessary to support those patterns (i.e. do we need an eastern connection between Newton and Grafton)?

I’m not going to provide answers in this post, because I’m keen for the discussion to happen and for that discussion to inform my next post, which will look at those questions in a bit more detail and perhaps explore some more detailed options.

The Gotham City subway?

A post on Second Avenue Sagas alerted me to a fascinating little detail in the filming of the upcoming Batman movie – a highly detailed subway map that has been put together for the fictional Gotham City:The level of detail the map goes into is quite fantastic, especially if you compare it with the New York Subway map.

If one is to nitpick (and there’s a fair bit of nit-picking in the comments of the Second Avenue Sagas post, line 2 seems like it would be extremely expensive for very little benefit while line J is strange in that it skirts around what seems to be the city centre without making connections to any lines that would take you there.

A couple of years back I created a dream metro system for a city I had created (larger map here):Here’s the central part of that city and a zoomed out version of the whole city (though I did update it further from that version) – quite a lot of drawing I must say!

While it’s arguable that fantasy maps for make believe cities don’t necessarily have particularly much point (except for being quite a lot of fun), I have found some of the thinking behind which lines should intersect with which other lines, how to create a system that’s efficient, not unnecessarily duplicative and is at least somewhat realistic. The system above is for a city that I estimate would have 5-6 million people, so that’s why its network is so extensive. And, after all, it was drawing maps of make believe cities as a child which made me know I wanted to spend my life being an urban planner.

Thinking long-term for our rail system

The Auckland Plan (submissions close October 31st) takes a fairly long-term viewpoint of Auckland’s future, looking to 2041 when the population may well be as high as 2.5 million. Here are the projected population numbers for Auckland over the next 30 years, and how they compare with cities throughout the rest of New Zealand: A population of 2-2.5 million in 2041, if the medium or high projections are what turns out to happen, would put us in a situation similar to that of Greater Vancouver (current population 2.2 million). Add in our limited capacity to expand the roading network, hopefully a greater focus on aligning land-use plans to encourage intensification around public transport corridors and the inevitability of much higher petrol prices and you have the recipe for significantly higher public transport patronage in 2041 than what we have now.  As impressive as our increase in train patronage has been over the past 10 years (especially since 2003 when Britomart opened), if you compare Auckland with Perth and Vancouver, you can see that we’re really just scratching the surface: Realising this level of rail patronage in Auckland will obviously require massive changes in the structure of our public transport system. Vancouver’s Skytrain is so incredibly popular because it’s used for all kinds of trips – particularly trips to suburban centres and reverse-commuting trips for those living downtown but working elsewhere. More than half of Skytrain users arrive at their station on the bus, while continuously high frequencies (enabled by its driverless operation) make the system useful for far more than just peak-time commuting: The low proportion of Auckland’s public transport trips taken on the train is fairly unusual, as Ottawa and Honolulu aside (both cities are now expanding light-rail systems), we have one of the lowest proportions of our PT trips on the rail network – clearly a legacy of the rail network being so bad for so long. Comparing Auckland to Vancouver (which is also dominated by bus patronage, even considering the fact that the Skytrain carries around 120 million trips a year) highlights that a more long term ‘balanced’ network might have around three bus trips per rail trip, rather than Auckland’s six bus trips per rail trip.Melbourne, Sydney, Perth and Brisbane all have much higher proportions of their PT patronage carried by rail. While in Melbourne and Sydney this is because they have huge historic rail networks, Perth had lower rail patronage in the early 1990s than Auckland does now but now has nearly as many rail trips per capita as Auckland has bus trips.

What does all this information actually mean though? I suppose the message I’m trying to get across in all of this is to look at Vancouver and Perth as giving us a view into Auckland’s future. Those cities have shown us that it is possible to have successful rail systems in cities with relatively low densities and without huge legacy rail systems (like you see in Sydney and Melbourne). In short, I think it’s perfectly feasible to expect our rail system to carry 50-100 million or more passengers a year in the medium-term future. But what kind of system might that require?

The obvious point to make is that we need to use our existing rail asset far more effectively. Electrification will enable that to an extent, but we’re still stuck at a train every 10 minutes – meaning a capacity of little more than 4000 passengers per hour per direction, a fraction of a railway line’s potential capacity. The City Rail Link is, of course, necessary to enable our existing railway lines to operate to their capacity. Beyond the City Rail Link, completing an Airport/Southwest Line would enable a pretty useful system based around two lines: 

If the maximum capacity of your railway line is around a train every 2 and a half minutes (24 tph), then theoretically a train could run every 5 minutes each way along both the red line and the green line. Obviously it will be a while before we need to run this level of service, even at peak times, but it effectively doubles the capacity of the line in each direction and quadruples the capacity of trains into the CBD because there are now two entrances (from Britomart and from Mt Eden).

A next line to put through, half of which seems to be progressing in the thinking of the powers to be (North Shore rail), half unfortunately not (a Southeast Line) could be this: Aside from the shared track between Glen Innes and town, this new line could theoretically be developed as a “Light Metro” along the lines of what Nick said recently in this post. The southeast portion of this line would probably be really useful in the next 20 years, although because we’re already building an AMETI busway chances are it’s probably quite a long way away from becoming a reality, if it ever happens.

Another possible future line, one which already has its route protected actually, is between Avondale and Southdown. This line would probably be of most use for freight – enabling freight trains to bypass Newmarket and the really high frequency passenger trains we’re likely to run on the inner part of the network in the future. Building that line enables an isthmus loop line though – which is quite an interesting idea for future service routings: Supplemented by a Northwest Busway (or a northwest rail line?) (perhaps linking through to Albany via SH18?), excellent quality feeder buses in the outer parts of the city, a high-frequency grid of bus routes on the Auckland isthmus, perhaps a few tram routes where they make sense and I think we might have found ourselves the public transport system to really support a city of 2.5 million people in a future where driving as much as we do now simply isn’t feasible.

Auckland’s 2050 Rail System?

I like to play around with ideas for dream future rail systems for Auckland, and oddly enough sometimes my rail visions are embraced by those with some opportunity to make them into a reality. But aside from making for interesting discussion points, having a bit of a think about what we might want our public transport system to look like 20, 30 or even 40 years into the future is important for one simple reason.

Future proofing.

At the moment, or over the next few months, a lot of thought will be put into the detailed design of Auckland’s CBD rail tunnel. We might also have analysis undertaken for rail options to Auckland Airport and rail to the North Shore. The consenting process for the Waterview Connection may also raise questions over whether we should have a long-term vision for rapid transit to northwest Auckland, while questions are also likely to be asked over whether AMETI really provides for the southeast rapid transit line that is so desperately needed. As each of these projects are designed, planned or even studied in a highly preliminary way I think it’s important that we think about how future improvements to the system might tie into what we’re focusing on in the here and now.

For example, when the detailed design of the Midtown railway station is being undertaken, I sincerely hope that thought goes into how a future North Shore line might link in with the system. Would it bypass the tunnel completely – instead running as an east-west tunnel across the city (much like this option), or would it somehow link into the CBD tunnel?  If it links in with the tunnel, should that link be at Britomart or up near Midtown? These are decisions that will need to be made incredibly soon (if not made already) and they will have a huge impact on how that future North Shore Line functions – when it eventually is constructed (which is likely to be decades away).

Furthermore, we must keep in mind that Auckland’s population is projected to keep growing at a pretty quick pace over the next 40 years. One of the most interesting graphs that I plucked from a recent ARTA presentation related to Auckland’s future population growth and how that stacks up against New Zealand’s growth as a whole:

These graphs show what is a quite staggering observation: that between 2006 and 2051 Auckland’s population will grow by three times as much as the rest of New Zealand put together. In numbers terms, around 1 million extra people will live in Auckland, while the whole of the rest of the country will only experience population growth of around 330,000. If there was ever a good argument for Auckland getting a significantly larger slice of the “new infrastructure pie” than we get at the moment, then this data is that argument.

Added to the simple fact that Auckland’s population will grow hugely over the next 40 years are other long-term trends like dramatically higher petrol prices and the need to reduce CO2 emissions (both from transport and generally from our cities by making them more energy efficient). All of this points towards Auckland in 2050 needing a significantly more comprehensive public transport system than it has today.

So what might that system look like? Well I’ve had a bit of a crack at it – with the map below showing the heavy rail (coloured lines) and light-rail/busway (black lines) that could make up the backbone of Auckland’s public transport system in 2050 (obviously along with a lots of buses and ferries):

There are four main railway lines, seven light-rail lines and one busway. The major addition from past maps is the Westgate branch of what I’ve called the “Westgate-Botany Line”, the red one. This line could effectively run down one side of State Highway 16 fairly easily, and offer a very high speed commuting option for those living in parts of west and northwest Auckland that currently aren’t served by the western line. In the shorter term, it could be a busway.

Many of the light-rail lines follow routes that at the moment have high-frequency buses. It’s possible that other light-rail lines could be introduced – such as along Sandringham Road – but I would think these are the main ones to start with. They would often act as feeders to the core heavy rail routes, but could in other areas provide the capacity necessary to shift a big chunk of the 2.3 million Aucklanders that will inhabit the city by then.

Of course a system like this is just a dream for now. But if we do need these lines in the future then we need to start thinking about making sure we don’t stuff up alignments by not future-proofing in projects we complete in the nearer future. Plus, it’s always good to have a system with many parts that need ‘completing’. The motorway network has had billions spent on it in recent years in order to ‘complete it’. Why not think long term about rail too?

Updated: Map updated with some of the suggestions made incorporated. Still far from a finished product.

Auckland’s rail vision

What I find so exciting about the Super City election result is how central making fast improvement to Auckland’s rail system will be to Len Brown’s mayoralty, and the fact that it seems he will have a council to back him up on his vision. There’s a relevant section from an NZ Herald article:

Mr Brown, in a 20-minute address to 300 supporters, said Aucklanders had elected a mayor who would unite all of Auckland, not just the south.

“I’m so proud to stand in front of you and say I am a mayor for all of Auckland. I want to build Auckland into the great, great, great city it can be.”

“After 170 years of disparate growth, we need someone that can reach across geographic and socio-economic boundaries.”

“To our people, thank you, I’m humbled. “

He invoked the legacy of former mayor Dove Myer-Robinson, declaring that he wanted to build a city on rapid transit, which would encourage economic growth.

What’s also interesting is to see the big banner that was standing behind him. I wasn’t at the event where he gave the speech, which is a pity as it would have been good to get a closer look at it: That’s quite a fancy and extensive looking rail diagram being outlined as “Auckland’s rail vision”.

In fact, having a more lengthy look at it, the diagram looks somewhat familiar. Now I have drawn numerous rail dream system diagrams in the past, and having a look through past posts I have done on the issue – found this diagram from a post that I wrote in February last year – titled “Auckland’s rail map in 2030? The alignments seem to match up quite well, although there has been a little bit of editing. Of course I’m perfectly happy for my dream diagrams to end up becoming the official rail vision of Auckland’s new Super City Mayor. I mean isn’t that the whole point of a blog like this after all?

The difficult question of course is how do we make it happen. We’re probably looking at about $10 billion of expenditure to create a system like that. Over the course of 20 years though, that’s “only” $500 million a year – around half the annual amount that the government wants to waste on building new motorways over the next decade. So perhaps it’s not quite so impossible after all – we just need to have a good chat between local and central government about where Auckland’s transport priorities lie. With a united council for the first time, that will now be a very very interesting discussion.

PS – Just for everyone’s information, my latest dream rail system for Auckland is slightly different to what’s outlined above.