Perhaps this post is aimed at laying down a challenge to our future transport planners. It’s clear that rail needs to play a significant part in Auckland’s transportation future, with peak oil either just around the corner or having already happened, ongoing population growth that will lead to further traffic congestiong and (hopefully) growing concern about the effects of an automobile dependent city on climate change. Last year saw an 8% increase in the number of people using public transport – with more than a million additional rail trips being made in 2008 compared with 2007.

Some good steps have been made to bring Auckland’s rail system into the 20th century in the last few years, and in the next few years we should see some further steps that might at least partially bring it into the 21st century – with electrification being a critical step in the future of our rail network. However, it’s crucial that we do not rest on what improvements have been made, but rather strive to do better. Auckland’s rail system remains incredibly poor by international standards, the city in general remains incredibly car dependent while those who do catch trains (or buses for that matter) generally have to put up with poor conditions, frequently cancelled services and (believe it or not) over-crowding due to poor frequencies.

I have put together a map of what the rail network should look like in about 2030. That gives us 20 years to do these projects. Beyond 2030 there are probably further lines that could be built (such as an Albany to Henderson line or an extension of the North Shore Line to Wellsford). However, if we can have this system by 2030 (with enough tracks and trains to operate it effectively, I do think Auckland will be well on the way to having at least a half-decent rail system – if not something truly world class.

For a start, let’s look at a diagram of the current system:


OK, pretty pathetic. Right moving on here’s what I suggest for our system in 2030:


There are still three lines, although effectively there are actually six different lines, I’ve just coupled them all together to make it possible for routes to travel across the city rather than just into Britomart and out of it again. Obviously, a number of projects are necessary to make this a reality – beyond ones already underway such as the Onehunga Branch and the Manukau Link. By my reckoning there are four really big rail projects that would be necessary to undertake in order for this to be a reality.

  1. The CBD loop. Clearly nothing can happen in terms of adding new lines until we fix up the capacity issues faced by Britomart. As I have three lines approaching Britomart from the east it would probably be necessary to duplicate the existing access tunnel as well as building the CBD loop. Midtown and K Road are two new underground stations that would be built.
  2. Airport link. I would do this project second as it’s pretty embarrassing Auckland doesn’t have a rail link to the airport. The air bus is pretty popular, but can get stuck in traffic and in any case is not the same as having a proper rail link. New stations at Mangere and Mangere Bridge would significantly improve the access to the city from these two suburbs.
  3. North Shore Line. This would require a rail tunnel under the harbour, and conversion of the existing busway into a railway line. Initially I would have the rail line terminate at Albany, but there is potential for it to eventually continue to Orewa. This would provide a much better public transport link to those in Silverdale, Orewa and on the Whangaparaoa Peninsula.
  4. East Tamaki Line. This would potentially be the most difficult, as it’s a very long line that has never really been planned for. Supposedly Te Irirangi Drive was built so that future light-rail could go down the middle of it, but I think heavy rail is the ultimate answer. Perhaps some serious tunnelling would be required, but I think in the long run this line is worth it. The communities it would serve are among Auckland’s most car dependent and have to put up with probably the worst public transport provision in the city.

Now I just have to find $10 billion to fund this all.

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  1. Hey great plan,
    What about an upper harbour loop that links the western line to albany, and maybe a hillsborough line that goes from maybe new lynn around hillsboroughand down to onehunga. Then most of auckland would be covered.


  2. The Hillsborough line is a possibility, given the rail reserve between Onehunga and Avondale.
    Upper Harbour would be great one day but it’s certainly not a priority for 2030!

  3. that map is exactly how i thought about the auckland trains future growth. de ja vu. but i agree about the hillsborough line. mt roskill and three kings could really benifit with a line between onehunga and new lynn perhaps..

  4. Yeah? Fantastic.
    My 11 year old son could create this with a piece of paper and a packet of crayons.
    It’s about the money stupid. That small thing plus the fact that the Northern busway cannot be re-configured to use for rail thereby necessitating the use of underground tunneling.(Or resuming vast tracts of residential housing above ground @North Shore prices) So that’s about $10 bill for the Shore alone, then of course there’s the whole through Britomart thing- perhaps $2-3 bill if we’re lucky.It’s never going to fly. Back to the drawing board old son…..

  5. Err Mike: There is no reason that the busway cannot be adapted for rail, it is way over the 12m width needed and while it will require some work on gradients and some clever phasing to do this with minimum disruption it is all doable. And this very kind of repurposing has happened already overseas. Existing bus stations become transfer stations, like in Perth, affordable, efficient, fast, and running on electricity. What’s not to like?

    And it will ‘fly’. Lots of doomers said no one would use Britomart, or the Northern Busway, or catch a train to Eden Park… I could go on…

    Oh and there is money, it’s just that it is currently earmarked for failing motorways.

    Perhaps we would be better off talking to your 11 year old? Sounds like the future is in good hands.

  6. Am I correct in assuming that all trains using the Waitakere Line and those from the south travelling via New Market all use a single track tunnel near the Auckland Museum in order to get to the Britomart terminus. If this is the case then the so called Eden Park failure of the trains for the opening of the RWC was an outstanding performance from an antique network starved for so long of sensible transport planning and public money.

  7. Instead of having colours and be as complex as London and Sydney, how about looking at the Melbourne train maps that is devided into two zones. Zone 1 which is the CBD city loop/circle tunnel and city surroundings and Zone 2 which is outside the city.

    In Melbourne, Metcards (transport tickets) and Myki cards (Touch on and touch off) can be used on both busses and trains. IE – you can purchase a Metcard at a train station, take a morning train and take an afternoon bus.

    If only Auckland is like Melbourne but the problem is, where is the money to build it?

  8. So, the plan is to extend the network – except you haven’t. Pukekohe is now relegated to a Hamilton connection. I believe that the idea behind the Super City was integration, there is no point in Franklin residents paying Auckland city rates if we have no public transport. In fact, there is a rail line all the way to Waiuku, why not go all the way out there?

  9. Very good Only a few tweets
    1.Line from Onehunga to Blockhouse Bay to New Lynn
    2.Line from either Henderson via Westgate, Massey to Albany
    or take Western Line to Helensville then from there to Albany/Orewa via Coatesville

  10. Sorry the 3rd Tweet should be
    from Sylvia Park to Pakaranga to Botany ( its takes ages to travel – three stages from SP to Botany, which is ridiculous as its only a motorway bridge away to Pakaranga via the SE Highway, the line could go via the motorway bridge and Panmure could still connect to Pakaranga and Botany via Sylvia Park in about the same time, you also save a bit on climbing down to cross Tamaki River to Pakaranga by using the SE Bridge)

  11. Fantastic plan great map let it happen. How about line from Ranui to Westgate via Massey college with an extn to Whenuapai airfield for budget tours.Make a massive park and ride at westgate.

  12. Very ambitious plan, how about taking it one step at a time then some of it may be done.

    Lets look at the current Southern and Eastern lines. Trains are more efficient if run in circles instead of end to end services.

    The above two lines join at a point just North of Otahuhu so why not join the two so that there is a two-way loop with Britomart as the terminal. On this loop trains would run at 15minute intervals in both directions. There would be no need for timetables etc. During non peak periods the train could be a single two-car set with additional car sets added at peak times. The trains would still start and stop at Britomart.

    End to end trains would operate from Penrose to Manukau and perhaps Sylvia Park to Pukekohe, better still a new station on the join to Pukekohe. Any new station should have multi storey car parking facilities to allow park and ride.

    At the join the Main Auckland Wellington line would still be accessible.

    On each of the current lines, at a suitable station approximately half way between Britomart and the join, there would be a bypass line so that a non-stop train such as the Northern Explorer or express trains could pass the circle train while it was at the station. This would allow peak time express trains to the Penrose and Pukekohe lines which would only stop at stations not on the circle line.

    I would suggest that a continuous loop from Britomart to Britomart would also attract tourism as this loop would provide some excellent scenery around Auckland.

  13. I prepared the 2.86bn budget for the Auckland City Rail link in 2012. I agree that we should extend the existing (heavy?) narrow gauge railway from Puhinui to the Airport – This is 5 to 6km and will cost 1 to 2bn. 10% of all traffic in a city is related to the airport, so this will significantly reduce Auckland traffic. I also agree with extending the line from Onehunga but this will cost more as it needs to cross the Manukau harbour.

  14. this is the kind of thinking we need, well done. i actually cant see why this cant be done.. the curve ball being covid of course. the major thing here is that we must surely stop stop stop building out (beyond this network) and start making some tough calls about building up and filling in more and more. otherwise, we will never have the population density to support this system. our problem is wanting it all. we have to choose. i would choose this plan at the expense of any new roads. the key thing is travel time… the new puhinui upgrade .. this will mean a 10 min ride to puhinui from airport, then 45 mins to cbd. not exactly rapid is it. not against it because it services sth and east, but onehunga needs to be the focus

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