Well after a lot of bad news relating to public transport recently, it’s very nice to see some good news emerging for once. ARTA and KiwiRail have announced a jointly funded study into Auckland’s CBD Rail Tunnel project, to determine the best route, the best station locations and an economic justification for the project. These are critical steps in shifting this project forwards, so it is excellent to see it happening. When the announcement was first made, I have to say I was a little bit disappointed – in that I thought such work had been underway for the past year – but I guess things move pretty slowly in the world of public transport projects. So what had actually been happening in the past year was preparation for the announcement of this study. Some further details:

Investigations are underway to identify a preferred route for Auckland’s proposed CBD loop underground rail link from Britomart to Mt Eden rail stations.

The study, jointly funded by KiwiRail and ARTA, will also consider the likely costs and economic justification for the proposed tunnel and possible stations along the way, and begin the process of protecting the route for future construction.

KiwiRail and ARTA have commissioned the APB&B group of consultants, comprising AECOM, Parsons Brinckerhoff, Beca and Hassell, to undertake the study, which is expected to be completed in December 2010.

It will be interesting to see whether the study sticks to the previously prefered alignment, or whether that changes. It seems to be the case that most work so far has gone into determining the exact alignment between Britomart and a Midtown station, while what remains is the rest of the loop – between the Midtown station and Mt Eden. A map is included, which seems to indicate an unlikeliness that things will change much from previous plans:

What will also be an interesting outcome of the study is the work that goes into forming the economic justification of the project. ARTA’s Auckland Transport Plan seemed to indicate that these benefits could be very significant, by stating the following:

Overall, this project will increase the accessibility of the CBD, New Zealand’s largest concentration of economic activity, to more than half a million people within 30 minutes travel time by rail, which is completely free of road congestion. This will release the economic potential of Auckland’s CBD and growth centres, and lead to economic benefits estimated at $2.4 billion.

Not bad for a $1.5 billion project, especially once we add in other benefits like reduced CO2 emissions, safety benefits and so forth.

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  1. That looks like a pretty tight corner out of Britomart. From my experience overseas, it looks like it will limit speeds and slow all timetables, in the same way the S bend into Britomart does.

    It would be good to get the S bend removed with a tunnel under the old station – they’re eventually going to have to widen that entrance to make it 4 tracks anyway. The cheap solution, always costing Auckland more in the long run.

  2. Yeah the curve at the bottom of Albert Street is really really sharp. The trains will probably have to crawl around it, which is a bit frustrating.

  3. Lets look at this.

    $1.5bn cost, 2.5bn benefits, plus $0.5bn maybe for reduced congestion on roads due to fewer cars (improving the travel times central to BCR), reduced CO2 emissions e.t.c gives a BCR of 2:1. This should beat Steven Joyces motorway to Wellsford. Lets hope we get the money to build it.

  4. You should have a look at the area under the Dominion Rd flyover opposite the southern end of Ace Place. The rail goes under the road and there a a rather dodgy pedestrian tunnel. I always reckoned it would make a good rail station and if the rail loop came up under Ian McKinnon Drive it could join the Dominion Rd light rail of the future. All the way to the Avondale-Onehunga line.

    There was a plan to shift the Mt Eden station to the other side of Mt Eden Road. This would make a station between Kingsland and Mt Eden viable.

    You would change there for the Western line, rather than joining in at Mt Eden.

  5. Jarbury, how much does that have to be a tight corner there? They could make it a little longer, just from the looks of things here. Again, probably slightly more expensive, but you only get one chance to do this, so it needs to be done right, or we get a bad corner for the next 100 years.

  6. Lindsey, the previous plans for the CBD Rail Tunnel shifted the Mt Eden station to being “on the loop”, basically underneath Exmouth Street I think. That could leave some scope for a station near the Dominion Road overbridge – however I’m of the opinion there are probably too many stations on that part of the network rather than too few, as the trains are slow enough already.

    George, unless it was to go under Hobson Street I think the curve probably does have to be that sharp. I don’t think putting the line under Hobson Street would be a good idea at all – because it’s too far from Queen Street. If the Midtown station is effectively behind Atrium on Elliott people have a level walk from there to Queen Street, rather than having to hike up a hill.

  7. I’m also going to make sure they put a value on tripling the capacity of the existing track… The way I figure it the 3 existing lines would cost about $5 billion to lay from scratch so that gives you:

    $2.4 billion economic “potential” unleashed
    $0.6 billion carbon/environmental
    $15 billion capacity unleashed..!

    Only kidding but it is worth thinking about…

  8. Steady on, the cost is not just construction. It is ongoing maintenance and operations, which are not on a cost recovery basis. So the cost needs to indicate whether demanding more highly subsidised services not offset by fares is a necessary pre-requisite to having the tunnel in the first place. It will include more rolling stock too.

    You need the same cold hard look at this as roads need.

    How much modeshift is from bus? Will bus services be reduced as a result? Does that save more than benefits lost to bus users disadvantaged? (don’t know).

    How much modeshift from car driver (not car passenger), compared to induced demand to live further away and commute to the CBD. Bear in mind the status quo has encouraged people to live closer to work in apartments, this will counter this and that is a net loss, as the taxpayer is subsidising it, and it is an environmental negative.

    Beyond that who should pay? Motorists should only pay for benefits motorists accrue. Beyond that, presumably CBD property owners within catchment areas should pay, and those living adjacent to the stations with the improved CBD access – so not general rates. Will they want to? Of course even better is for fare payers to pay, but funnily enough despite getting their day to day commute improved dramatically (apparently), fare payers rarely are willing to pay for this Rolls Royce public transport system – yet they’ll pay to drive, park and upgrade the road network.

    Remember, the people to benefit most from CBD focused rail schemes are some of the wealthiest businesses and the better off commuters in a city – the average blue collar worker never rides a new new world urban rail system. Vast majority of Wellington rail users are middle class public servants, vast majority of car commuters are blue collar workers in Porirua and the Hutt and others commuting to the periphery. I don’t ever understand the equity argument that says that the better off commuters deserve a rail option that can never work for the vast majority.

    and still nobody argues why so much money should go into a public transport system that does next to nothing for 88% of Auckland workers.

  9. Liberty, as I’ve said many times before Auckland’s future growth plans show most additional growth happening in the CBD and in various regional centres. This project is a critical part of ensuring that can happen, ensuring that in the future a far higher percentage of people are brought within the catchment of the rail system. Furthermore, once integrated ticketing happens a big chunk of people will be able to catch a feeder bus to a train station, and then transfer onto the train. That’s what happens in Perth on their two new lines all the time.

    Who should pay? Of course, those who benefit should. That will be CBD property owners, motorists (through modeshift) and the general population in terms of them having better transport options and better access to the CBD. So the funding should come from a variety of sources.

  10. I’m no engineer, so I can’t comment on it properly. But I do want to say that the corner out of Britomart should be no tighter than it absolutely needs to be. Longer and smoother, for less delays.

  11. I don’t think there are many ways in which to reduce the sharpness of that curve. The tracks need to get from Britomart to Albert Street and there’s not much room to do it in.

  12. Jarbury: If you look at PAST plans for growth in Auckland, it hasn’t tended to happened how planners thought it – because they simply don’t know what industries and locations are going to be attractive. What planners in the 1970s would predict an IT/communications based sector bomb? What planners in the 1980s predicted the impact of the internet? They simply are incapable of knowing what is coming next, and so choices are made whether or not planners agree with them or even direct them.

    Like I said before still only 12% of Auckland jobs are in the CBD, this project just increases the proportion of THOSE accessible by rail. People who go by bus then rail are unlikely to have been car commuters before, people will prefer a direct bus or train or will drive.

    In Perth 35% of commute trips to the CBD are by public transport, that is roughly the same as Auckland today WITHOUT a flash electric train network http://www.aph.gov.au/senate/committee/rrat_ctte/public_transport/report/c02.htm#anc1 so I might suggest that it would be far better, after the inevitable rail electrification, to focus on securing the usefulness of the bus corridors, as buses will always carry more into downtown Auckland than trains.

    Aren’t those riding the trains benefiting the most? Aren’t the property owners benefiting from the people riding the trains (employees or customers), so it IS about them? The motorist contribution should be commensurate to the reduction in congestion whilst there is no road pricing, but it IS very much second best. The general population do not benefit anymore than they benefit from Air NZ flying more often to Wellington. How about a formula that recovers all private benefit from users from fares, and the reduced congestion benefits from motorists? Somehow I doubt that will work, but arguing against people who believe in it almost quasi-religious like is hard (not saying you are).

    There IS a solid piece of debate to be had about who pays. An economist would say private benefits from fares, external benefits from those most likely to gain the benefits. I’d say, you don’t know if it worthwhile until the roads are priced properly too. I may even argue that this only go ahead if congestion charging is introduced. So the debate becomes – does Auckland’s CBD benefit more from a rail tunnel than it loses from congestion charging?

    Remember, this could be the Puhoi-Wellsford project in the rail world in Auckland. Like the Waikato Expressway, which has two segments not worth building in the foreseeable future (Huntly Bypass and Hamilton East Bypass), and not in the NLTP except for route designation and property purchases as they become available. Until the investigation and business case is done, we are all just guessing different sides of the BCR line.

  13. There is a lot of guess work in what the benefits of this project are, I agree. However, what is not guesswork are the current capacity constraints on Britomart of not having this link in place. How does one measure the value of tripling Britomart’s capacity? How does one measure the value of this project enabling a whole pile of other projects to be possible – like the Airport Line etc.?

    I guess this all just goes to show how difficult it is to estimate the benefits of transport projects.

  14. I would actually make a giant curve out of britomart towards fanshawe st and bring it round
    almost 140 degrees and all this a “skytrain” like the airtrains at darling harbour sysdney
    about 10meters above ground (u c this from viaduct harbour). around that area is low rise (Nzpost?)then approach albertst station about wellesley stand THEN go underground and continue thru to krd. the advantage here is less tunnel to built. trains about 7-10 metres
    about ground are common here in pusan korea and of course we know they are in chicago.
    BTW the link with the western line should be at kingsland I think. and triple track the
    kingsland to newmarket stretch so when game at edenpark…certain trains can go west from newmarket that came from the south.

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