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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).