Level Crossing Removal Feasibility

A few times every year we’re unfortunately reminded of the lack of action there has been on removing rail level crossings across Auckland. Removing these crossings have numerous benefits such as increased safety, reduced delays for drivers and allowing for signalling improvements which will trains to run faster. Removing them from the western line in particular will become even more important after the completion of the City Rail Link when frequencies will be able to be further increased and trains could be running in each direction every few minutes. In that situation, crossings will probably be closed more than they’re open.

Across the electrified network there are currently 45 level crossings, 31 are road/pedestrian crossings while a further 14 a pedestrian only crossings. The majority of level crossings are on the Western line with the rest are primarily along the short Onehunga Line with another cluster around Takanini.

Yet despite the need to remove level crossings, the last ones to be removed were about seven years ago as part of the New Lynn trench construction, but there has been nothing since then. Looking to the future, Auckland Transport are hoping to remove the Sarawia St crossing and their latest board report suggests they’ve come to an agreement with those who appealed the consent so hopefully work will start on that soon. We also know that the Normanby Rd and Porters Ave crossings will be removed as part of the City Rail Link works with the latter replaced by only a pedestrian and cycling bridge. Other than those crossings, AT have previously told us some crossings will need to be dealt with as part of packages and the packages with the highest priority are: (not in any particular order)

  • Southern NIMT – Walters Road, Manuroa Road, Taka Street, Spartan Road
  • Western Line – Morningside Drive
  • Western Line – Woodward Road
  • Western Line – St Jude Street, Chalmers Street, St Georges Road
  • Western Line – Glenview Road
  • Western Line – Bruce McLaren

One of the challenges with the level crossings across Auckland is just how they might be done. Some crossings, such as St Jude St, appear to present significant technical challenges to grade separation.

Harriet has been doing a great job requesting up a storm of information recently and one of the items she received from AT was a feasibility study of grade separating the level crossings that involve roads. The report says of the 31 crossings, AT first identified the crossings that, from primarily a road operations perspective, it might be feasible to just close the crossing. They found ten could potentially be closed and a further five which could possibly be closed leaving 16 crossings to look at, although more work would likely be needed to confirm if crossings could be closed. The report doesn’t separate out what the feasible and possible closures are but includes crossings such as Fruitvale Rd, both Rossgrove Tce and Asquith Ave, and George St – which would likely be removed when the New North Rd interchange is torn down.

For the remaining 16 crossings, the study looked at three options for each one:

  1. Road bridge over rail on existing road alignment with the railway retained at its current level (Road Over)
  2. Rail trench under road with the road retained at its current level (Rail Under)
  3. Hybrid of 1 and 2 consisting of partial raising of road and lowering of rail to achieve required train clearance beneath road bridge

The study is only really a high level look at the options so doesn’t state which of the three options is preferred or even rule any options out, although based on the results, options at some locations would almost certainly be ruled out. The potential costs for each option a have been blacked out so we can’t see those. I’ve only looked at the Western and Southern Line crossings so if you want to see the ones on the Onehunga Line, or more detail about all of them, take a look at the report.

Morningside Dr – This is one of the most common level crossings that gets discussed as it’s also the one that probably appears the most frequently in the news. Option 2 of rail in a trench really seems like a no starter as they say it would require significant regrading of the rail line including having to lower Kingsland Station as well as the New North Rd bridge and the road underneath it.

Woodward Rd – Option 3 seems the most likely here as Option 1 would require raising the New North Rd intersection by 2m and Jersey Rd by 6.5m although they say it could be closed too. Option 2 here is also effectively ruled out here as it would be restricted by the Mt Albert station

St Jude St – St Jude St is one of the busiest crossings for road traffic in the country with almost 20,000 vehicles per day passing over it. On top of that, the crossing is effectively on the side of a steep hill. They say that for a road bridge to get back to ground level by Gt North Rd, it would need to have a gradient of a very steep 12.5%. It’s also worth noting that during double tracking the rail line (Project DART) was already lowered once, a missed opportunity to do things properly as part of that project?

St Georges Rd – As rail is already at the maximum gradient for freight an changes to the rail line would require option 2 or 3 for St Jude St.

Portage Rd – Any options for lowering the rail line have already been ruled out due to the close proximity of the New Lynn trench and Whau river crossing, both of which would otherwise have to be lowered. Again this appears to be something that could have, and should have been tied in with DART.

Glenview Rd – AT seem to be stuck with this crossing as no option is considered feasible. Option 1 would require raising the West Coast/Glenview Rd intersection by a whopping 8.5m, above the height of most of the buildings in Glen Eden. Meanwhile Option 2 would require regrading 1.2km of track and Option 3 would need 1km of track regraded. AT will have to look for other options here but once again, I can’t help but think this could have been done as part of DART when the whole line was being dug up.

Bruce McLaren Rd – The close proximity of the intersection to Railside Ave to the east of the crossing and access to industrial properties to the west makes Option 1 difficult while Options 2 or 3 would interfere with plans to add additional rail access to the stabling yard also next to the crossing.

Metcalfe Rd – Given all the other road connections to Metcalfe Rd on either side of the crossing, it makes Option 1 difficult while options 2 or 3 would require redevelopment of the Ranui station and have potential impacts on the ponds to the east.

Walters Rd – This appears to be one of the least difficult of all the crossings.

Taka St – Option 1 would likely require closing access to Takanini Rd. Option 2 would require Takanini Station to be rebuilt but given it’s never been upgraded, that’s probably not a bad thing. It would also require lowering the tracks at Manuroa Rd

Manuroa Rd – This is similar to Taka St

As mentioned earlier, other than a few crossings, most have no time frame for removal. ATAP identified level crossing removals as an important item and in their costs suggested spending $203m in the first decade and $385.3m in the second decade on addressing them. I’d certainly much rather we focused on these kinds of projects rather than mega projects like the East-West Link.

Still waiting on level crossing action

Last night train services were once again disrupted following a serious incident at one of Auckland’s most notorious level crossings.

Emergency services are at Morningside train station in Auckland where a car has been hit by a train shortly before 4.30pm.

A Herald reporter at the scene said it appeared the car had been sitting on the tracks in an area marked by yellow lines when the train hit it “dead centre” on Morningside Drive.

The blue hatchback then spun off the tracks and its airbags deployed, she said.

A woman was freed from the car by fire crews shortly after 4.45pm and taken to Auckland Hospital in a serious condition.

From the images in the media the driver appears to be extremely lucky. Quite why anyone would drive around barrier arms is beyond me.

Over the last few years I think Morningside has probably featured in the news more than any other level crossing in Auckland and probably all of New Zealand but it’s far from the only crossing with a bad record. Regardless of who’s at fault these incidents, and I don’t think it’s ever the train, they can seriously impact on the lives of a lot of people and it’s well past time that our transport agencies put more focus on removing level crossings.

Sure, not every incident involving trains will disappear but they will likely be severely reduced and I see level crossings as one of those all too rare transport investments that ticks every major box.

  • Safety for all modes can be considerably improved
  • Public transport users benefit – as I understand it signalling the network becomes easier so public transport users can benefit from improved speed – especially around stations
  • Drivers benefit from less time waiting at crossings

The map shows the 45 level crossings within the electrified network of Auckland. Of them 31 are road/pedestrian crossings while a further 14 a pedestrian only crossings. As you can see the majority are on the Western line with the rest are primarily along the short Onehunga Line with another cluster around Takanini. Auckland Transport are currently in the process of getting approval to replace the Sarawia St crossing but it is currently being dragged through the environment court. In addition to that the only two crossings that I’m aware of being actively looked at are Porters Rd and Normanby Rd and they’re only being addressed as part of the City Rail Link works.

Auckland Rail Crossings

The last we heard on this topic I said this:

Auckland Transport have developed an evaluation criteria based on the approach Melbourne is using and with input from the NZTA, Kiwirail, Transdev and the Council. The have used this to assess all level crossings within the electrified area to determine the priority for removal or grade separation. This criteria includes looking at aspects such as how long the barriers will be down and safety risks. The highest priority crossing is Sarawia St which is the crossing that has the highest number of train movements through it in the country – more on that below. AT say that a number of crossings close together will need to be dealt with as packages. As such the crossings with high priority are:

  • Southern NIMT – Walters Road, Manuroa Road, Taka Street, Spartan Road
  • Western Line – Normanby Road, Porters Ave (within CRL footprint)
  • Western Line – Morningside Drive
  • Western Line – Woodward Road
  • Western Line – St Jude Street, Chalmers Street, St Georges Road
  • Western Line – Glenview Road
  • Western Line – Bruce McLaren

As far as I’m aware this isn’t in any particular order and AT say more work is needed on each of them such as traffic modelling, design and costing as well as business cases. They also won’t say just what option – removal or grade separation – they’ve selected for each crossing as some will require property purchases – the extent of which won’t be known until more design work is done.

Sadly, I’m not aware of a single peep that has come out of AT on the issue since I wrote the information above over a year ago, that’s really disappointing. Funding is obviously a big part and other than some money for early investigation, there is no no serious funding in the current plans until some time after 2018. I hope that a new mayor is able to push and help reprioritise funding to get some of these dangerous level crossings removed. From a traffic point of view, many really need to be done before the CRL is complete as the western line in particular is expected to get a lot busier based on AT’s current plans.


Porters Ave and the CRL

While looking at Auckland Transport’s website recently I came across a now closed consultation relating to the Porters Ave level crossing and how it is affected by the CRL. Some of the information included in the consultation is quite technical and may be of interest to readers.

As originally planned the CRL was to have had a station underneath the southern end of Symonds St before travelling through a flat junction to the connections towards Grafton and Kingsland. Due to the grades involved the tracks from the CRL would have been in a cutting about 4m below the current track level at Porters Ave so it wouldn’t have taken much to bridge over the tracks to provide a grade separated crossing. This is shown below.


AT say this design is no longer possible due to the changes made dropping the Newton Station and creating a grade separated junction in its place. As a result, the tracks will be a lot closer to the surface and as such would need a higher bridge. The problem is the proximity of the crossing to New North Rd and as such the ramps needed to reach the bridge would result in a 2-3m difference in height at the intersection. As such AT needs a different solution.

A traffic assessment found the crossing was used by just over 2,800 vehicles a day with hourly peak volumes as shown below. It also found that the impact of closing the crossing would send traffic to Dominion Rd and Mt Eden Rd which would result in some all increases on nearby roads but that overall travel times won’t be all that different.

Porters Ave Traffic volumes

For the consultation AT provided three alternatives. Each were assessed a range of criteria which can be summarised into four groups

  • Strategic
  • Traffic
  • Environmental and social
  • Economic

1. Close the crossing built build a pedestrian/cycle bridge

Given the title, it should be fairly self-explanatory and AT say that this is their preferred option having come out with the best results from the assessment criteria with a total of 12.07.


2. Close the crossing built build a pedestrian/cycle bridge and a road from Fenton St to Akiraho St

This is an extension of the option 1 above and adds a new road connection between Fenton St to Akiraho St. AT say the main issue with it is that it would require new land to be purchased to build the connection and would increase vehicle numbers. From the analysis it wasn’t too far behind assessment of option 1, scoring 11.41

Porters Ave crossing Option 2

3. Build a new road connection from Ngahura St.

The third option is a departure from the two above and AT also consider it the least favourable option. It would involve building a 120m long bridge from Ngahura St. This option would not only be expensive but also require the removal of the apartment building next to the tracks. In other words, this wouldn’t be cheap (or easy). It had an assessment score of 9.84.


Option 1 does seem like the best of them but it will be interesting to see what feedback AT get. Will they cave and pursue a bridge option like they did just down the road in Newmarket with the Sarawia crossing?

I also wonder when or when we’ll hear about any other level crossing removals. It feels like something not even really on ATs agenda.

Lastly I thought this image (click here for larger version) showing the layout of the area was quite interesting. In the top right you can see a cross section of the rail corridor at a few locations. Also showing is the junction that will be underground and the extension of Ruru St over the new station platform and around alongside the tracks to Mt Eden Rd.

Mt Eden indicative layout


Consent sought for Newmarket Crossing project

Auckland Transport have lodged notice of requirement and resource consent documents for the Newmarket Crossing project which is a bridge from Cowie St to Laxon Tce and is so that the Sarawia St level crossing can be closed. The level crossing is currently the busiest in the country in terms of train movements and its proximity to the Newmarket Station and junction impacts on services across the rail network. For more information on here is a good fact sheet from Kiwirail that explains the rail impacts.

The bridge and approaches will be fairly narrow and designed to keep vehicle speeds down which makes sense giving this is a local road connect to a handful of households. Below is the concept designs for the road. There is a footpath on the northern/eastern side of the crossing and it appears the intention is for cyclists to share the traffic calmed road with vehicles.

There will also be connections to Newmarket Park and what appears to be a link down towards the train tunnels. I imagine that’s initially just for access for Kiwirail maintenance crews however longer term the local board want to open up the disused tunnel to use for a walking and cycling route.

Newmarket Crossing May 2015 Newmarket Crossing Cross Section

And here is the an image from the Notice of Requirement of the proposal showing the design footprint

Newmarket Crossing October 2015

Some of the residents of Cowie St have been particularly unhappy that the connection will be via their street. You may recall they even went as far as proposing their own connection of an underpass from Sarawia St. Below is an excerpt from the application assessing their proposal.

Sarawia St Underpass option - Cowie St residents proposal

In June 2013 representatives from the PCC and CSRA approached AT with a proposal for an alternative underpass alignment. The underpass was proposed as an alternative option to allow closure of the Sarawia Street crossing while retaining vehicle access to Laxon Terrace and Youngs Lane. It was suggested by the PCC and CSRA that this would be more acceptable to residents.

Following a decision made by the AT Board to select the Cowie Street Over Bridge option as the preferred option for the Sarawia Street level crossing closure in December 2013, there was a request from the CSRA to present an alternate underpass proposal. The underpass proposal presented by the CSRA (Figure 14) followed a different road alignment to that investigated by AT but most closely resembles the AT option shown in Figure 13 above. The CSRA proposal was subject to both an internal AT review as well as an external expert review (Opus), neither of which substantiated the underpass proposal as a superior option to the Cowie Street Over Bridge option.

AT’s assessment of both the April 2014 and August 2014 CSRA reports concluded that they did not convincingly make the case for overcoming the principal issues associated with an underpass at Sarawia Street that were:

  • High risk and disruptive construction phase when compared to alternative options.
  • Most challenging CPTED concerns compared to alternative options.
  • Significant traffic safety challenges when compared to alternative options.
  • A low benefit-cost ratio when compared to alternative options.

AT concluded that overall the underpass option, although a technically feasible option, still retains significant construction risks, rail disruption, CPTED concerns and traffic safety challenges. AT did not agree with the CSRA underpass design assumptions that resulted in the substantially lower cost estimate prepared for the CSRA report.

Recommended remediation for the identified CPTED issues included footpath widening, underpass widening, chamfering of approach, allowance for sightline issues relating to steep vertical grades, and the installation of a convex mirror. Similarly, remediation for traffic safety issues in the concept design would require widening of the underpass and chamfering of the approaches to improve vehicular sightlines and turning circles.

Several deficiencies were identified in the underpass concept design presented by the CSRA relating to structural and geotechnical design. Remediation for these deficiencies was considered to result in increased section sizes for the over-road bridge structure relative to those shown in the design presented by the CSRA, the use of piling at the abutments, and more sophisticated abutment articulation to provide seismic resilience, among other design modifications.

Identified constructability issues related to Block of Line requirements, KiwiRail access, lifting of precast elements, and sheet pile construction. These issues were considered by AT to be further compounded by all the changes to the current underpass concept design required to arrive at a viable solution. The resulting final underpass design would therefore be markedly different from the proposed concept design, with considerably increased construction time and disruption to the rail network

AT considered that the Cowie Street Bridge Option remained a superior option to the underpass option prepared for the CSRA.


Rail Safety and Level Crossings

This week is rail safety week – the week people are once again reminded not to do stupid stuff like cross the tracks when a train is coming. Sadly the need for it was highlighted once again last week after a man died after being hit by train at Walters Rd in Takanini. I believe it is the fifth death on the rail network in Auckland this year alone with other incidents occurring at Morningside, Orakei, Papatoetoe and Puhinui.

Rail Safety will be in the spotlight in August during Rail Safety Week in the Australasian-wide initiative to raise awareness about rail safety and encourage safe behaviour around trains and tracks. KiwiRail and TrackSAFE NZ are proud to support the week which runs from 10-16 August.

Every year there are hundreds of near misses between vehicles and trains – and every one of those is, in reality, a ‘near hit’. If you’d like to get involved you can find out more at http://www.tracksafe.co.nz/media/rail-safety-week

Rail Safety Week is an annual Australasian campaign which aims to increase awareness of the need for people to take care around the rail network. This is the 9th year the campaign has been run in New Zealand. Each year a number of stakeholder organisations come together to promote the key messages to target audiences and ensure the event is a success.

It aims to improve awareness of the need to be safe around the rail network, and what safe behaviour is. While Rail Safety Week is held from 10-16 August 2015, the goal is ongoing safer behaviour around the rail network.

This year’s key message is ‘Expect trains’. It aims to address complacency and distraction which are known factors that contribute to unsafe behaviour around the rail corridor. It will encourage people to stay alert around the rail network, whether at a station or a level crossing.

The chart below shows the number of casualties at level crossings or other places where people are on the tracks across the entire country for the 10 years to the end of 2014.

Level Crossing and Track Casualities

While it will be difficult to prevent every single incident, the one area we can easily target for improvement is at level crossings. Looking just at Auckland, within the electrified area there are around 45 crossings in total, 31 road/pedestrian crossings and 14 pedestrian only crossings – although some of these have multiple legs, for example at Papatoetoe. As you can see on the map below the majority are on the Western line with the rest are primarily along the short Onehunga Line with another cluster around Takanini.

Auckland Rail Crossings

As well as being a safety issue, crossings cause disruption for road users including creating localised congestion and while trains have priority through crossings, the extra signals and procedures needed for safety can impact on train operations. What’s more, the number of trains operated on the network is only going to increase in the future, initially as a result of electrification and later from the City Rail Link. As such removing level crossings has the ability to improve a number of areas in the transport network. So what’s happening with level crossings?

Auckland Transport have developed an evaluation criteria based on the approach Melbourne is using and with input from the NZTA, Kiwirail, Transdev and the Council. The have used this to assess all level crossings within the electrified area to determine the priority for removal or grade separation. This criteria includes looking at aspects such as how long the barriers will be down and safety risks. The highest priority crossing is Sarawia St which is the crossing that has the highest number of train movements through it in the country – more on that below. AT say that a number of crossings close together will need to be dealt with as packages. As such the crossings with high priority are:

  • Southern NIMT – Walters Road, Manuroa Road, Taka Street, Spartan Road
  • Western Line – Normanby Road, Porters Ave (within CRL footprint)
  • Western Line – Morningside Drive
  • Western Line – Woodward Road
  • Western Line – St Jude Street, Chalmers Street, St Georges Road
  • Western Line – Glenview Road
  • Western Line – Bruce McLaren

As far as I’m aware this isn’t in any particular order and AT say more work is needed on each of them such as traffic modelling, design and costing as well as business cases. They also won’t say just what option – removal or grade separation – they’ve selected for each crossing as some will require property purchases – the extent of which won’t be known until more design work is done.

As an example of the work that’s already happened the table below shows the impact on some of the crossings from the proposed train frequencies with electrification. The western line crossings obviously assume having 10 trains an hour however it’s not clear just when that will happen yet – if at all. As you can see many of the crossings will end up being closed for more than 20% of the time with Sarawia St up to 62% of the time. The reason some crossings on the same line have different figures is because this takes into account not just frequency but also the service pattern. That’s because at some crossings the timetable means the trains will pass through in each direction at about the same time which can reduce the amount of time the barriers are down while at other crossings this won’t happen.

Auckland Rail Crossings - impact of frequencies

The one crossing that is being working on right now is Sarawia St – or the Newmarket Level Crossing as AT call it. There AT plan to build a bridge to connect Laxon Terrace with Cowie St. In the last board report, it said staff are looking to get approval from the board this month to lodge a notice of requirement for the project. This is likely to be fiercely opposed by some of the Cowie St residents who don’t like the idea.

AT’s proposal is for a two lane bridge that is narrowed via chicanes to keep speeds low

Newmarket Crossing May 2015

Newmarket Crossing Cross Section

Outside of Newmarket there is nothing in council or AT plans for at least the next three years. After that the council’s Long Term Plan does list $26 million to improve crossings in the seven years after 2018 – although with most grade separated crossings likely to cost $5-$20 million that budget won’t go very far.


AT Board Report Feb-15

Auckland Transport’s board meet tomorrow and I’ve scoured the board reports for any interesting information. Here’s what caught my attention.


East West Link Connections

A detailed business case for the project is being worked on and will go to the board in April. AT still haven’t officially said which option they’ve chosen from their consultation back in October however this image – from a draft version of the RLTP (page 57) in the December Board meeting and which includes a note saying the map is not to be released to public prior to January 2015 – suggests it’s either option C or D.

East-West Priorities Dec-14

South-Western Multi-Modal Airport Rapid Transit (SMART)

AT say work on the design of the Kirkbride interchange includes future proofing for either light or heavy rail. The RLTP notes that this future proofing is costing AT $30 million which seems extremely high considering the rest of the interchange costs $140 million. One reason it could be so high is I understand the the NZTA team working on the project didn’t originally include rail in their designs despite rail to the airport having been on plans for decades along with other parts of the NZTA working with AT on the route.

Wynyard Quarter – Integrated Road Programme

We should start seeing more roadworks in the Wynyard Quarter in April with AT expecting to issue a contract mid Feb. Works for stage one are Halsey Street South and Gaunt Street between Daldy and Halsey. I’m not quite sure just what changes we’re going to see yet though.

Franklin Road

AT say they will feed back analysis of the submissions in March and I’ve heard rumours the current thinking greatly improved on what we saw earlier. An email update a few weeks ago suggested they were looking at whether parking between the trees could be retained in some situations.


AT say the new mall being built as part of the new town centre is due to open in October this year and that new bus services to the area (new network) are due in October 2016. Those bus services will also need an interchange constructed and AT are trying to work out just how they will do that. They say resource consent will be needed and almost certainly will be publicly notified for which any submission will delay the project. A temporary interchange is being planned


Work is still going on to update and amend the designation for Penlink and consent will be notified in early 2015 however a recent press release states that due to funding constraints, construction of Penlink is not anticipated until 2025. There are two open days about it, one this afternoon.

  • Thursday 19 Feb, 2pm-7pm, The Peninsula Retirement Village (441 Whangaparapoa Road, Whangaparaoa)
  • Saturday 21 Feb, 10am-2pm, Stillwater Boat Club (70 Duck Creek Road, Stillwater)

Otahuhu Interchange

The demolition of the old foot bridge and piling for the new station happened over the Christmas shutdown and AT say the construction for the interchange itself will begin in June. It’s due to be completed in February 2016 at which time the New Network for South Auckland can finally be rolled out.

Manukau Interchange

Consent is currently being sought for the enabling works for the interchange and AT are hoping to have the project completed in the first quarter of next year.


At the time of writing the report AT say there were 42 of the 57 trains in the country and 32 of them had provisional acceptance. They also say that services in December were affected by issues with the signalling system and there had been some door closing issues. The door issues were upgraded over the break but the signalling ones are still being worked on.

Newmarket Crossing (Sarawia St level Crossing)

AT have created three concept designs and have taken feedback from residents and Manu Whenua into them. AT are wanting to lodge resource consent for the project in February and in the past have said that this project is required before they can deliver 10 minute frequencies on the Western Line. Given the stage it’s at and that some of the residents of Cowie St are bound to go to the environment court over it, it could be years before we see any peak frequency improvements out west.


AT are planning to upgrade Puhinui station with most of the works completed in March and April and with a new canopy installed in June

Swanson Station Park and Ride

The extended park & ride is expected to be completed by the end of April.

Onewa Rd

Also to be completed by the end of April are the works to deliver the westbound transit lane and shared path.

Other stuff


One piece of good news is that parking officers are experiencing the lowest recorded volumes of aggression towards them and there have been no serious harm injuries since October

AT also say the removal of earlybird parking has meant lease revenue is ahead of forecast and in addition casual occupancy and revenue in the downtown carpark is increasing. The latter part is particularly good as it means the carpark is being used by more people throughout the day which was exactly one of the aims of removing the earlybird prices.

Taxi’s on Grafton Bridge

A 12 month trial allowing taxi’s on to Grafton Bridge will start in late March and AT will be monitoring bus travel times, cyclist safety and amenity along with how many infringements get issued. If any significant issues arise during the trial it can be stopped. AT say the Taxi Federation and Cycle Action Auckland have been involved in the development of the proposal.

Personally I don’t think AT should have even entertained the idea of allowing Taxi’s on the bridge and should have actually gone the other way and making it bus only 24/7.

Double Decker Bus Mitigation Project

To get double deckers on the streets AT need to complete a whole lot of mitigation works to ensure the buses don’t damage things or get damaged themselves. This includes moving power poles, veranda modifications, kerb build-outs and tree pruning. They plan to have this work done by June to enable double deckers from Howick and Eastern to start running. Mt Eden is the next route planned for mitigation works which is meant to happen in the next financial year however AT are awaiting the outcome of the LRT proposal before making any changes.

On the Howick and Eastern Double Deckers, a press release yesterday announced the company was spending $12 million on buying 15 double deckers – most of which would be built in Tauranga. They will operate between Botany and the City Centre. The most interesting aspect of these buses is that they will also include free WiFi, power points and USB ports. Those are great additions and hopefully something we start to see become standard on all PT vehicles and I certainly think they should be on our new trains. The buses are from Alexander Dennis – the same maker as the small NZ Bus buses.

Decision made on Sarawia St

The Sarawia St level crossing has long been an issue for numerous reasons, these include:

  • It’s the only road connection for Laxon Terrace and Youngs Lane
  • It’s the busiest and most complex crossing in NZ in terms of rail movements thanks to the nearby Newmarket Junction and station
  • The gradient of the line through the area causes additional problems and added complexity
  • AT have said it will prevent higher rail frequencies due to the operational limitations.

To address the operational issues the crossing has to be closed but something needed to be done to provide the residents who rely on it access to and from their houses. Just over a year ago when AT started consulting with the local community and at the time they considered that the best option was resolve the access issue by building a new link through to neighbouring Furneaux Way. They were also considering a possible link through Newmarket Park and a bridge to Cowie St (a bridge to Sarawia St wasn’t possible due to the steep grades).

Sarawia St Options

Auckland Transport announced last week that they have finally decided what they are going to do with the Sarawia St level crossing.

AT has completed its analysis and made a decision on how Laxon Terrace will be accessed once the Sarawia Street level crossing (known as the Newmarket level crossing) is closed.

We have selected a road-over-rail bridge solution from Cowie Street to Laxon Terrace. The Cowie Street Bridge option was chosen due to it:

  • providing the safest access for all road users, compared to other options
  • accommodating all modes of transport, including pedestrians and cyclists
  • providing opportunities for improved connectivity to Newmarket Park and a planned cycling and walking route linking Parnell and Newmarket via the old Parnell rail tunnel
  • having the least disruption due to the main work site being located on railway land, away from the majority of residential properties.

The Cowie Street Bridge option will see no change to Newmarket Park or Furneaux Way. The impact on Sarawia Street will be limited to closure of the current level crossing, effectively making it a no-exit street.

In making its decision, we have endeavoured to balance the concerns of local residents and the wider community (including Newmarket Park users and rail patrons).

Development of the Cowie Street Bridge design is expected to start in March, with project completion scheduled for the first half of 2015. We are committed to working closely with local residents throughout the design and construction processes.

This is an interesting decision as at $6 million it was the most expensive of the three options and performed worse than the other two options in an economic assessment (which all benefited strongly from travel time savings to rail users). I strongly suspect it was the favourite option for those on the street though. The cheapest option was $2.6 million so less than half of the cost. Is this a case of AT just going for the easiest option due to less objections from locals? I couldn’t get an answer out of AT as to whether this was considered a roading or PT project (I’m going to assume the latter).

Also interesting is that AT are actively talking about using the old Parnell rail tunnel for a walking/cycling route.

Here’s where the bridge will go.

Cowie St Bridge

The news of this crossing has also reminded me that AT were working on a plan for what to do with all of the level crossings across the region. That was meant to have come out last year. I wonder what’s happened to it?

Fixing Level Crossings

A hot topic over the last few days has been the tragic accident that occurred at Morningside. A lady was struck by a train after one of the wheels of her wheelchair became wedged between the footpath and the rail. As you can see in this piece from Campbell Live, the state of the crossing was quite appalling. Its poor state had obviously been noticed by someone as there were even spray painted arrows indicating that a fix was required yet nothing had been done.

Morningside Crossing - Campbell Live

Click to watch the story

Works have now occurred to improve the crossing with some of the gaps filled in with asphalt. Such a simple solution that probably didn’t cost all that much and most likely would have prevented this accident begs the question of why it wasn’t done earlier.

Morningside Crossing - After

Photo thanks to Alex Burgess

While the crossing is now safer, it does once again raise the issue of level crossings in general. The ultimate solution is that we either grade separate the crossings or close the them all together. The former can cost a lot of money while the later can cut connectivity. After years of no changes, we finally saw some crossings removed as part of the New Lynn trench project, which was actually more a roading project than a PT project. AT are also talking about closing the Sarawia St level crossing, although I understand that some groups are pushing for pedestrian and cycle access to be retained, something I think is stupid.

The problem I have is that at this point in time, with the exception of Sarawia St, there appears to be no solid plans to actually do anything to resolve these level crossing issues. Level crossing removal sits the organisations statement of intent for 2011-2014 under major projects for study, investigation or design. Despite this the Regional Land Transport Programme for 2012-2015, which lists around $4.4 billion of spending over the three year time frame only includes $524,000 towards design, and even then it only occurs in the last year of the programme. The only level crossings that I know are planned to be grade separated in the future are Normanby Rd and Porters Ave, but they will only happen as part of the CRL.

If we want to get serious about fixing these danger spots, it is time that AT started acting on it. I would like to see AT re-jig some of their plans and commit a some real money, say $10m per year towards the progressive removal of crossings. Spending money to remove the level crossings in at least the urban area would likely be a far better use of taxpayers and ratepayers money than some of the dubious projects that were highlighted in my post yesterday.

Closing Sarawia St Level Crossing

Auckland Transport is looking to close the Sarawia St level crossing in Newmarket. It is perhaps the most pesky crossing on the network, not due to how many cars use the street but how many trains pass through it and combined with its proximity to the Newmarket junction, makes things really tricky from a train operational perspective. I’ve lost count of how many times I have had to wait on a train before that crossing and my understanding is that it is largely due to the timings on the crossing itself rather than the junction. Things will only get worse in the future as more services are put on as a result of electrification and that means more people are potentially impacted.

Part of the problem is that there is no other way to access Laxon Tce and Youngs Lane (where the Sarawia St Level crossing leads to) meaning it isn’t just a matter of simply closing the crossing. Auckland Transport say that a number of options have been looked at for how to deal with the problem including the following ones which were dismissed for various reasons:

  • Vehicle underpass – an underpass from Sarawia Street was considered previously by KiwiRail but dismissed due to construction and cost challenges compared to a bridge.
  • Over rail bridges – options for bridges from either Sarawia Street or Cowie Street were previously explored by KiwiRail in 2011, with the Sarawia Street bridge option dismissed due to gradient issues and the Cowie Street bridge being expensive and visually imposing on the environment.
  • Newmarket Park Roads -options for a road through and a road around the park have been explored by Auckland Transport. Both roads carry with them extremely high construction risks due to ground stability and involve loss of public amenity in Newmarket Park.

The option that is considered the best option is to create a road link though to Furneaux Way between two buildings at the southern end of Laxon Tce. There is already a pedestrian access way so this would involve widening it.

AT have looked a couple of different options for the connection with their preferred one being a 5.5m wide shared space.

This solution however will obviously put a few more cars onto Furneaux Way and the only problem with that is that the road is currently a private one with it being owned and maintained by the developments body corporate. As a result Auckland Transport is looking to take over the future maintenance of the road. All up it seems to be a reasonable solution but will obviously have big impacts for those local residents. More information about it is here including info on an open day next week.

It will be good to get one more level crossing off the network and I really wish we could get a few more done while we are at it. Even if AT could perhaps target to remove a couple each year it would at least be a way to start progress (I believe the next crossings to be removed aren’t scheduled for another few years).