Barnett: Do more of what we’ve done and see if we get a different result

A few days ago the Herald published an op-ed from Michael Barnett, the CEO of the Auckland Chamber of Commerce. I found it an odd article as it was never quite clear about what Barnett’s key point was, seemingly jumping between two of them with liberal amounts of anecdata, logic leaps and outright incorrect data sprinkled in. So I thought I’d take a look at some of these.

After kicking things off with a “some people say their traffic is getting worse” statement, he dived headfirst into his first false fact and what first had me groaning internally at how bad the rest of the article might be.

the 400,000-plus North Shore residents are not getting back a fair share of the rates and taxes they pay towards fixing Auckland’s big transport issues.

Population figures are often able to be easily gerrymandered but even with some creative massaging it’s hard to see how he gets this figure. A look at Statistics NZ latest population estimates suggests that even including the Hibiscus Coast and the eastern half of Rodney all the way up past Wellsford only yields 336k people, well short of the 400k+ claimed.

As for the share of transport spending, we have a system with multiple parties involved. Auckland’s transport challenges are such that some areas need high levels of council spending (e.g. AMETI) while other areas the majority of funding will be from the NZTA due to projects more centred on upgrades to state highways. Even so, Auckland Transport have just completed a $40 million upgrade to the northern end of Albany Highway and looking forward, within the next few years the NZTA will be starting a $500 million-plus upgrade of SH18 and SH1 which also includes the extension of the Northern Busway to Albany.

Northern Corridor - June-16 Design


All this is before even considering that if the Additional Waitemata Harbour Crossing is ever built, it would be the largest single transport project in NZ history by a significant margin. Speaking of harbour crossings, he says:

About 200,000 vehicles cross the Harbour Bridge each day, and the commute for many is up to two hours – well above the city average of 30 minutes.

I’m not sure if Barnett is aware of how averages work but by their very nature mean some results will be higher and others lower than what most people experience. Generally if you live a long way from where you work or study you’ll have a longer commute and if driving, have a greater chance of being a part of congestion.

As for the 200k vehicles across the bridge, I’ll let that one slide. The NZTA’s published information suggests about 168k per day but daily data they once provided us shows that on weekdays that can be around 200k. Of course as users of the bridge will know, despite being one of the busiest stretches of road in the country, it’s not the bridge that’s the bottleneck.

He then finally kicks in with I think may have been his main point, that he wants Penlink built. It is also where he makes the first part of his biggest leap of logic. Traffic he says, is backed up down the peninsula every morning and so Penlink will free up give an easier journey to the motorway freeing up local roads. That is followed by this statement.

The only excuse officials seem to have is that building Penlink would shift the congestion from Silverdale and the Peninsula on to State Highway 1. That’s unacceptable.

Unless he’s claiming that the northern motorway is free flowing at peak times, it’s not going to matter if they use Penlink or go through Silverdale, they’re still going to be sitting in traffic on their trip down the North Shore. There may be some net gain from using Penlink, but not likely a lot.

But it’s the next part of the piece, and the part that’s referenced in the headline, that helps to confuse the article and complete that large leap of logic.

Imagine the uproar then, and implications for the state highway north of the Harbour Bridge, if any serious effort was made to relocate the Ports of Auckland vehicle import trade to NorthPort near Whangarei.

Currently Auckland imports around 21,000 vehicles every month, or 252,000 a year. Eighty percent of the imported vehicles are for customers in South Auckland.

The car-carrying trucks on average take about eight vehicles. The industry advises that over a 24-hour cycle there would be a heavy truck on the road to and from Auckland-Northport every 2-3 minutes.

The pressure on the bridge and state highway between Northland and South Auckland wouldn’t cope. The freight sector is already under notice that trucks will be restricted to centre lanes of the Harbour Bridge from around 2020 due to stress on the clip-on lanes.

Having a state highway clogged with freight trucks would be untenable for Northland tourism, those who live along the State Highway and other traffic through Spaghetti Junction or the Waterview Tunnels.

First let’s just do a little bit of basic maths. There are 252,000 vehicles delivered a year (the ports themselves say 244k but close enough) and 80% of them are going to South Auckland, although I’ll ignore that part for now. That’s 690 vehicles arriving per day and if a car carrying truck can carry an average of 8 vehicles, that’s 86 return trips that are needed. With operations 24 hours a day it equates to 1,440 minutes. Dividing 1,440 minutes by 86 trips tells us there’d be a vehicle carrying truck in each direction every 17 minutes. That’s a lot but nowhere near the truck every 2-3 minutes.

Next, the trucks are heading to South Auckland so if they’re coming from the north they’d be bypassing the city centre. Isn’t that kind of trip exactly the reason we’ve been spending billions on building the Western Ring Route? And if the motorway can’t cope with this traffic, how is dealing with the traffic from Penlink?

Let’s not forget, one of the core reasons the government has pushed their RoNS projects like Puhoi to Wellsford is that they call them ‘lead infrastructure’, because they think building a bigger road will magically create economic growth. In short, the government want more trucks on the road to Northland.


From the NZTA

Other options for moving vehicles, such as by rail, which based on his figures would only require 11 return trips per day, are claimed not to work because first a gold plated, $1.5 billion solution would be needed. I don’t disagree that upgrades are probably needed but whether they’re needed to that extent and before any changes is debatable. I also imagine the amount of land freed up from not needing so much space for parking would probably exceed that figure.

Of course all of that assumes imported cars would go to Northland, although according to Barnett, apparently the same issues apply to Tauranga. Yet the rail line to Tauranga is already the busiest rail freight route in New Zealand. Its capacity was recently doubled to four trains an hour (two each direction) by spending only around $15 million on additional passing loops. The cost of more of more of them to further increase capacity and the completion of the third main in Auckland would cost less than the average motorway interchange and have other benefits, especially in Auckland.

The Chamber’s suggestion to all of this is to build a large multi-storey carpark on the waterfront to store the cars but knowing such a building wouldn’t be possible, suggest putting a ‘green space’ on the roof will somehow hide it.

And with one last jarring lurch the piece ends on this:

Meanwhile, let’s get real. Fixing the acute “here and now” roading issues on the North Shore should be our shared priority. The Penlink Project is “ready to go”. There are no excuses or credible reasons for the new Council not giving the project the green light immediately.

With the project expected to exceed $350 million, I can think of quite a few reasons why it shouldn’t get an immediate green light. For many years, business groups like the Chamber and local politicians have claimed there are private investors lined up and ready to go with funding this project. If the Chamber wants it to happen now, perhaps it’s time they convinced these investors to start opening their wallets and get building.

Until that happens, it’s probably best we focus our limited transport investment in the areas that will have the most overall impact, which was the exact purpose of the Auckland Transport Alignment Project that suggested Penlink wasn’t needed any time soon.


Future Port Location Shortlist

What to do about Auckland’s Port has been the discussion of much debate over the last year. The port is obviously a fairly major part of the city and of Auckland’s history but at the same time many people don’t want to see the port continue to expand un-relentlessly further out into the Waitemata Harbour.

Last year after the consents for another round of reclamation were overturned, the council started forward the Port Future Study

To ensure Auckland’s wider community is involved in decisions about our port’s future development, an independent and collaborative study has been commissioned to look at long term options for meeting Auckland’s port needs.

The Port Future Study is made up of business, industry and community groups, marine recreation and heritage associations, environmental organisations, special interest groups and mana whenua.

Back in February the study released a long list of potential future port sites including some that raised a few eyebrows.

Port Study - Areas under consideration

Now they have narrowed that down to a shortlist

Study group releases shortlist of potential port options

The Port Future Study’s Consensus Working Group today released a shortlist of options being considered to accommodate Auckland’s long term (50 years+) future freight trade and cruise ship activities.

The Independent Chair of the study’s Consensus Working Group (CWG) and Reference Group, Dr Rick Boven, says the study’s consultants, a consortium led by EY, have projected Auckland’s long-term future freight and cruise needs and assessed what could be required in 50 years to accommodate it.

“Auckland is on a steep growth trajectory. With an expected population of at least 2.6 million and potentially quadrupling of freight trade in the next 50 years, Auckland will need a strategy to ensure freight can flow for continued trade and prosperity”, says Dr Boven.

“The study’s consultants have identified three options that could meet Auckland’s future long-term freight and cruise needs, subject to further assessment.

“All of the shortlist options have complex challenges and implications. Each option continues to be assessed and is now progressing to a detailed cost benefit analysis. There is still analytic work to be done”, says Dr Boven.

The shortlisted options, representing the next step in the consultant’s ongoing technical analysis, are:

  • Option one: constraining Auckland’s port to its current footprint
  • Option two: enabling growth of Auckland’s port at its current location
  • Option three: continue with the current site in the short-to-mid-term but in the mid-to-long term move the port to a new location. There are three primary location areas for further investigation emerging:
    • Manukau Harbour area
    • Firth of Thames area (within the Auckland region)
    • Muriwai area

“Our important next steps are to get feedback from the Study’s larger Reference Group, complete the cost benefit analysis of remaining options and test the assumptions of that analysis by peer review.

“Once we complete further analysis on the shortlist of options we will have a clearer picture of how each option stacks up on costs and wider economic effects. Some options are likely to be cost prohibitive”, says Dr Boven .

The purpose of the Port Future Study is to provide recommendations to Auckland Council on a strategy to accommodate Auckland’s long term future trade and cruise activities across the next 50 or more years. The CWG is not a decision making body.

The CWG will consider the consultants’ findings as they continue to formulate their recommendations for a long term strategy to accommodate future freight and cruise demand.

The port themselves will obviously be fighting as hard as possible to stay just where they are with additional reclamation and on twitter were quick to slam the Muriawi suggestion – something I imagine is only on the list as it’s relatively close to Auckland with fairly deep water and one I can’t see standing up to a detailed assessment.

At quick glance all sites seem to have a number of positives and negatives associated with them and so it will be interesting to see just what comes out next. The transport aspect will be interesting to see and in particular how or even if that impacts on projects like ATAP which is due out just a month after this this study is due to be completed (July).

The East-West Link and Metroport

Late last year there was a flurry of activity surrounding the East-West Link with fears that Auckland Transport were going to be pushing for a new motorway right though Mangere at the cost of hundreds of houses. Then in December AT and the NZTA backed down saying that they would be working with communities to get the best result for all. This was good, even though it seemed to take them far too long time to realise the community’s considerable level of upset at the plan. Even if AT end up choosing a different option to pursue there is an aspect that has been bugging me a bit about one specific part of the project – Metroport.


Just in case you don’t know what Metroport is, it’s an inland port for the Port of Tauranga. Companies can drop off or pick up freight from there as if they were doing it to the seaport directly and the inland port contains all of the usual customs facilities needed to process freight. To get containers between Auckland and Tauranga containers are loaded on to trains and sent between the two sites. Truck congestion on Neilson St has been identified as an issue that can be improved through the construction of the East-West Link.

Booking System

I understand that truck congestion on Neilson St is a problem at certain points of the day as a heap of trucks try to enter or leave the Metroport site at the same time. Part of the problems stems from the fact that PoT don’t operate a vehicle booking system.

MetroPort is not planning to introduce a VBS, instead importers can enjoy the freedom of calling any time of the day or night to uplift their cargo to meet their supply chain requirements

They not only do they not run a VBS but use the fact they don’t as a marketing technique. Just like we have with congestion on the roads during the morning and afternoon peaks caused by a lot of people all going to/from work at the same time, truck congestion at Neilson St is caused by businesses wanting to pick up/drop off containers at the same time. Implementing a VBS which would tell customers when they could pick up their containers thus allowing the demand to be spread out more evenly across the day could solve many of the problems being caused and that could remove a decent chunk of the issue that the East-West Link is trying to solve.

The question is if we should really be looking at building infrastructure that could cost hundreds of millions of dollars just because one company doesn’t want to schedule its customers. In my opinion it is simply not right for a business to be able to impose those sorts of costs on the city just because they choose not to change their operations.

Note: I understand that the Port of Auckland do run a VBS thus helping spread movements out which is why we don’t tend to see the same issues outside of the port during the day.

Third Rail Line

Part of the problem with Metroport will undoubtedly be future growth that is predicted from the site and for that to happen it also means that there will be more trains between Auckland and Tauranga. That becomes an issue because those freight trains need to share the tracks with passenger trains in Auckland and there is only so many that can be run at any one time.

The official plans for the next decade include a project to construct a third main line between Papakura and Otahuhu at a cost of about $100 million and some parts have of it have already been built as part of the electrification works (south of Otahuhu and around the Wiri Depot). Kiwirail don’t know when they will be able to build the rest of the project as they say it is subject to funding. However behind the scenes I hear that Kirirail have been pushing hard for Auckland Transport to pay for the third main using the argument that it frees up capacity for AT to run more PT services.

The third main is something most people agree that we need and it would be silly to massively increase freight capacity for trucks to get to and from Metroport while leaving capacity constraints on the rail network. Perhaps the solution to this is to actually get that third main built by tacking it on with the East-West Link. That would really make the project multi-modal.

Competition with Ports of Auckland

The reason Metroport exists is to allow the Port of Tauranga to compete with the council owned Ports of Auckland for business from the Auckland market and owing to its increasing growth it has obviously been successful. The East-West Link will resolve some of those transport issues and that will ultimately make Metroport even more attractive and competitive.

Regardless of what option gets chosen with the East-West Link, Aucklanders are going to be paying for a decent chunk of it through rates. This raises the situation that ratepayers would end up paying for a project that helps to allow the Port of Tauranga to be more competitive against the the councils own investments in the Ports of Auckland. I guess the question for the council is at what point does this project become something more than just a transport project and actually take into account the wider impact on the council group. 

Thinking seriously about the future of Auckland’s port

This is a guest post from reader Aaron Schiff

Ports of Auckland wants to expand the cargo port in the Auckland CBD, and Auckland Council will soon make a decision on this, apparently without having done a detailed study of the relative merits of the expansion plans versus alternative options. Decisions about something as significant as the port deserve in-depth analysis.

The cargo port currently occupies around 77 hectares of waterfront land in the city.

Port Land

Port Land in 1989 vs 2013

A port allows New Zealand to trade with other countries and that’s a good thing, but it doesn’t come for free. Over the timeframe relevant for analysing port development (decades), the resources used by the port (land, labour, etc) could be put to alternative uses. So the right way to think about the port is as a cost. If fewer resources could be used for port activities for the same total amount of international trade, more resources will be available for other things (over time).

One of the big costs associated with the Auckland port is the opportunity cost of the land it occupies. Much of this land was reclaimed for the port, but given it exists, the relevant question is the best use of this land from now on.

Waterfront land in the central city would be more valuable in alternative uses compared to stacking containers and parking imported cars. The value of the port’s land in current use is estimated for rating purposes at around $400 per square metre. Conservatively, this is around one third of its value in alternative uses, based on the value of similar waterfront land in Auckland.

Another significant cost is land transport to and from the port. Freight travels by road or rail through the city to the port, much of it from distribution centres in south Auckland. There are high costs associated with this transport infrastructure, and trucks and freight trains generate noise and pollution in Auckland. No one knows if these costs could be reduced by diverting some freight through other ports.

We do know that Ports of Auckland is inefficient compared to international ports. The following charts derived from the NZ Productivity Commission study of international freight show that international ports use land twice as intensively as Ports of Auckland, and productivity on other measures is also relatively low. This suggests that consolidating freight volumes at other ports could reduce costs.

Intensity of land use at sea ports (2006-2008)

Intensity of Land Use at Ports

Index of sea port productivity measures (2010).

Port Productivity

There are also spill-over costs associated with the port itself: noise and air pollution, and visual effects.

The closest substitute for the Auckland port is Tauranga. Northport could also be a viable alternative with an upgrade of the northern rail line. It’s important to remember that changes in freight activity at Auckland will also mean changes in activity at Tauranga and other ports. Changes in costs elsewhere, including opportunity costs and spill-over costs, therefore need to be compared to changes in costs in Auckland. The intensity of competition between ports is also relevant for the transport prices faced by exporters and importers.

Other alternatives involve building new port facilities outside the Auckland CBD. This would involve a large one-off construction cost, which should be compared to potential savings of other costs, including opportunity costs and spill-overs, over time.

Ports compete in a market, but market forces are unlikely to result in good outcomes in this case because (a) significant costs are spill-overs that affect people outside these markets, and (b) ports involve large fixed costs so there are barriers to free entry and expansion in these markets.

So some degree of government involvement in decision-making is probably needed, although it would also be interesting to consider if a good outcome could be achieved by privatising the Auckland port and allowing it to sell some land if that made commercial sense.

While a lot of the effects of expanding or shrinking Auckland’s port occur in Auckland, some effects occur outside of the Auckland region, and some involve transfers of costs between regions. Auckland Council doesn’t have a mandate to consider these effects, but better decisions might get made if analysis and decision-making is done at the national level.

The right question for such analysis is: what is the appropriate location of port activity in order to minimise the total cost of it? There are lots of trade-offs and the only way to consider these properly is a detailed cost-benefit analysis before making long-term decisions about the Auckland port’s future.

Do we need a port in downtown Auckland?

The Port of Auckland is back with another expansion plan after the last scheme to reclaim land proved to be very unpopular with locals.

The latest proposal is something of a Hobson’s choice. Option 1 involves a fairly modest extension Bledisloe Wharf and retaining Captain Cook Wharf for offloading imported cars. Option 2 is a slightly larger extension of Bledisloe which allows Captain Cook to be handed over to public uses.

I personally prefer Option 2, this consolidates all port functions at the east end and opens up all the downtown waterfront for civic uses. WhiIe both are actually pretty low impact I can’t see either of those being particularly satisfactory to the public, simply because they involve more port and less water. There is a real spatial tension here, the port can only expand at the expense of one thing Aucklanders universally love: the harbour.

Options for expanding the Bledisloe Container Terminal, courtesy of The Herald.

Options for expanding the Bledisloe Container Terminal, courtesy of The Herald.

So is there any alternative to expanding the port, assuming we have expanding demands for imports and exports?

Well I think there are two alternatives, the first is simply to not have a port at all. This seems like an aberration, Auckland is a port city, founded on a port and dependent on a port, right? Having a well functioning port is essential to our economic well being and productivity. Or is it?

I would argue that having a port in Auckland isn’t so critical, rather it is good access to a port that we really need.  Maybe we don’t need a port actually located in Auckland for Auckland to benefit from a port, as long as we can efficiently get our goods and materials to or from a port somewhere else. This is the case already to an extent. The port of Tauranga operates an inland port in South Auckland, and tranships an appreciable amount of cargo between Bay of Plenty and Auckland by rail.

Could we not just extend this pattern entirely, say get rid of our port on the Waitemata, and leave the freight task to Tauranga and Marsden Point instead? That would probably require the Marsden rail link and an upgrade of the North Auckland Line, but those are both relatively cheap projects. Likewise Marsden and Tauranga would need to be expanded, but that is presumably much cheaper and easier than expanding a port in downtown Auckland. So would that be so bad? Assuming we can just as cheaply ship our goods in and out of Northland and the Bay of Plenty the only real loss to the local economy would be the 419 full time jobs at Ports of Auckland. One assumes most of those could relocate to the other ports in sunnier climes anyway.

But on the flipside Auckland is New Zealands largest import market, and it’s only going to get busier as the city grows. There is a simple logic of having you main port in your main city next to your main market. So the second alternative: move the port to somewhere else in Auckland.

It’s a hard task, a port needs a good supply of waterside land, good deepwater access under all weather conditions, and excellent transport links. There isn’t anywhere in Auckland that immediately jumps out as the ideal location. Personally I would like to see the port shifted to the Manukau harbour, at Puhinui Reserve immediately east of the airport. This site has land available on the waters edge and is very close to the main trunk railway and both SH20 and SH1 motorways. It’s also close to the centre of industry and manufacturing in south Auckland, next to an existing logistics hub at the airport, and perhaps most importantly it is located in the airport flight path so it’s unlikely to upset anyone as nobody currently lives or works there. There isn’t much else you can do with that piece of land except industrial uses like a port. The major downside I can see is the fact it’s on the shallow tidal Manukau harbour. That would require major dredging to maintain an all-weather deep water shipping channel, although to be fair the Waitemata harbour does require as similar channel so it might not be much different in the long run.

There are many other possible locations I’m sure, I leave that up to you to propose better alternatives in the comments section.

So what would a move cost? In the article cited above the port CEO suggests it would cost four billion dollars to move the port, a huge chunk of change, although many cities have done the same. Sydney is perhaps the best local example. They shifted their downtown port to Botany Bay and have had a series of waterfront redevelopments ever since, culminating in the ambitious Barangaroo scheme.

That partially answers the next question: what benefit is there of moving or closing the port? The short answer is land and access. Lots of very valuable premium downtown waterfront land would be freed up for other uses, other uses that don’t require ongoing expansion and don’t seal off half the waterfront from public access.

Waterfront land, and lots of it!

Let’s put some numbers on that. The container port and its two main wharves occupy some 70 hectares (700,000m2) of flat downtown waterfront land. That’s five times the size of the viaduct harbour and almost twice the size of the Wynyard Quarter.

So if we assume 20% of the land for streets and public open spaces, that leaves 560,000m2 of land for development.  What is that worth? Well using council rates valuations we can make some comparisons. At the lower end the land the new ASB building is on in Wynyard is worth about $2,500 per square metre, as are the new developments around Quay Park. These prices probably reflect their locations in new and partially undeveloped parts of the city centre. On the upper end the new BNZ building on lower Queen is worth about $10,400 per m2.

Using this as a guide, the port land is probably worth somewhere between $1.4 and $5.8 billion dollars. A wide spread I know, but I’m tempted to think that it would be towards the upper limit because of the sheer amount of harbour frontage afforded by the projections of the various wharves, about 5km of water edge in all, and because the site runs east to west most of the land has a north facing aspect for lots of sun along with the water views. Also given the position of the port relative to the city and far from residential and view shafts, a large portion along Quay St could support skyscrapers without blocking any views or shading any properties (Wynyard is limited to low and mid rise development for urban design reasons). Quay St could end up an amazing boulevard, perhaps something like Melbourne’s St Kilda Rd which is a row of high rises nestled between a lakefront park and their Domain.

Transport is another consideration. The port places a large freight demand by truck and train squarely in the centre of Auckland, exactly the same place that sees the greatest demand for commuter and general transport in the region.  Trucks have to battle it out with commuter gridlock for hours every day, while the demand for suburban train services is squeezing the ability to run freight on the same tracks. Moving the port moves that transport demand and the conflict with other transport users. I could also mean there is no need for the rail yards along Tamaki Drive, allowing them to be put to better uses also. In fact it might even make sense to divert the eastern line into the port land to provide a station there on the way to Britomart, and naturally bus links, ferry stops and waterfront trams could all be put into place.

So… even if it does cost four billion to move the port, it might still be a very profitable venture for the city in financial terms. Once you factor in the transport and land use change, agglomeration benefits and centralisation it could be very worthwhile. Part of the site, say the Fergusson Terminal to the far east, could be a primarily residential location. You might get fifty thousand people living there alone in a mix of luxury waterfront and affordable streetfront properties. What would that mean for housing affordability, the CBD economy, the average journey  to work?

A massive undertaking for sure, I guess the question is when would or could we need such land. We have the Wynyard Quarter to develop and fill up, plus the likes of Aotea, K Rd and Newton around the CRL stations once those are build. There is plenty of scope for our city centre just yet, but maybe a second or third decade plan to relocate the port should be on the agenda?

Rail shuttle alternative to port expansion?

There’s been a bit of talk in the papers recently about Port of Auckland’s long term plan to reclaim more land in the harbour, in order to handle an expected four-fold increase in container traffic “in the long term”. I don’t really want to get into the debate over the pros and cons of expanding the port and filling in the harbour, but yesterday Patrick pointed out an interesting piece in the Herald about using rail and inland ports instead which warrants a further look:

 Mainfreight boss Don Braid says better rail and use of an inland port should restrict the need to reclaim more of the Waitemata Harbour.

Mr Braid, the Herald Business Leader of the Year for 2011, is unconvinced by the case from the board and management of Ports of Auckland on the need to fill in more of the harbour.

Ports of Auckland wants Auckland councillors to “lock in place” a coastal zone allowing it to expand its waterfront operations from 77ha to 95ha by 2055. It has forecast container traffic will increase from about 900,000 to 3.6 million in the long term.

Mr Braid said he was frustrated at how reliant the port was on moving containers by truck and the lack of rail.

“If you are running an efficient port with an efficient transport network feeding it in and out, then you have a very good chance of being able to use the inland port to help with the overflow and restrict the additional land the port might well need.”

That’s quite a good point to consider. We do have a large freight yard at the seaport, a series of inland ports and other rail yards in south Auckland and a mainline railway linking them. If rail utilisation is as poor as Mr Braid says then why not use it to manage peak capacity at the port? Naturally using industrial land in the Auckland suburbs has to be cheaper than making more land by filling in the downtown waterfront.

Now of course the boss of Mainfreight is going to have a vested interest in such activity, they are the owners of one of the rail-equipped inland ports, but what he is talking about seems to make much sense. The article carries on with some interesting figures on container growth:

 The number of containers passing through the port will increase from 900,000 last year to 3.5 million over the long-term, says Ports of Auckland.

Ports infrastructure general manager Ben Chrystall acknowledges there will be more trucks on the road, but a number of factors will limit the impact.

The company plans to increase the number of containers being moved by rail from 11 per cent to 30 per cent and says the percentage of containers reshipped by sea will grow from 25 per cent to 40 per cent. That will result in the percentage of containers being moved by truck halving from 64 per cent to 30 per cent.

A goal to triple the proportion of containers trans-shipped by rail and almost double the percentage going by sea is promising. However while the proportion being trans-shipped by truck may halve to only 30%, this is over the course of a projected four-fold increase in overall container movements. If you run the numbers (going from 64% of 0.9 million containers now to 30% of 3.5 million containers in the long term), they’re actually projecting double the number of containers leaving the port by truck. The port suggests that this impact wont be as bad as it sounds, due to a strategy of using “more efficient” trucks capable of carrying two containers at a time and by operating more trucks in off peak hours. I’m not sure if having a greater number of larger trucks using our roads and motorways across all hours of the day is exactly a low impact proposal.

To finish off the article the Herald takes a strange turn with a perplexing comment from Joel Cayford:

Former Auckland Regional councillor and planner Dr Joel Cayford has calculated that moving 900,000 containers by rail – through residential Orakei, Panmure and Glen Innes – would require 30 trains a day, each a kilometre long, running for three and a half hours, 300 days a year.

I’m really not sure what Dr Cayford’s angle is here, it appears he’s concerned about the effect that having lots of big freight trains on the main trunk line might have on the eastern suburbs. However I do have to question his calculations as they seem to be a little bit of scaremongering, or inaccurate at the least.

If we calculate through his suggestion of carrying 900,000 containers on 30 trains a day over 300 days, with each train being 1,000m long, we can see he has actually allowed 10m of train length for each twenty foot (6.1m) container. By my reckoning about 40% of his freight trains would be carrying thin air. Another point is the fact that 1km long trains wouldn’t be possible, the port freight yard is only about 600m long so that will be the functional limit to how long these trains could be.

I’m also not sure why he has suggested 300 days a year, or about 5.5 days per week. Surely such an operation would have to run 7 days a week like the port itself?

One further thing puzzles me, the “running for three and a half hours” bit. I think the suggestion is that those 30 port trains would all run in the same 3 ½ hour window each day, or in other words one kilometre long freight train every 7 minutes. It’s pretty ludicrous to assume that the port could process a huge train every seven minutes, or that the eastern line could handle the traffic. Am I missing something here?

Anyway, it seems I’m not the only one who is confused:

Ports chief executive Tony Gibson has disputed the calculation, saying the trains would be 500m long, running every 30 minutes for 16 hours a day.

That makes a lot more sense. If you follow these numbers through then shipping 900,000 containers on thirty-two 500m long trains a day, seven days a week means Mr Gibson has allowed 6.5m of train for each 6.1m long container. Plus a 500m long train could be loaded at the port, and one assumes they could manage to send one out every half hour (there are several sidings to hold trains that length). Furthermore two freight trains an hour could often fit in comfortably with the passenger services on the eastern line, however there would probably be issues during peak hour or at pinch points on the network south of Westfield. But with the proposed third track on the eastern and southern lines it would be a breeze.

As an aside, it always puzzles me why they are planning for only a third track for freight and not a fourth. Rail lines always work best in pairs, and a one extra track would provide far less than half the capacity of two extra tracks. It would be the freight equivalent of the western line before duplication. By all means start with just the third track and add the fourth when it is needed, but four tracks on the main trunk corridor leading to the port and Britomart should be the end goal and they should plan for it before any works are undertaken on amplification.

So what is the moral of the story here? Beats me. But it does seem that railing containers out of the port in bulk should be looked into as an alternative to major reclamation.