A number of commenters on my post yesterday noted with great concern the potential effects of the latest Waterview Connection alignment on the viability of the Avondale-Southdown Railway Corridor. I figure that it’s probably worth exploring that matter in a little bit more detail, as I can impart a little bit of my knowledge of planning matters to help us analyse the situation.

The Avondale-Southdown railway corridor is a bit infamous in many respects, as it has been designated since around 1947 I think, yet today we find ourselves not really being any closer to constructing in than we were back in 1947. As the name indicates, it’s a railway line that runs from near Avondale to Southdown, which is an industrial area near Penrose. It appears in the 1946 transport plan for Auckland, which is included below:Primarily this line is likely to be justified in terms of how it would improve shifting freight between Northland – via the North Auckland Line (the Western Line) – and the industrial hub of Auckland around Southdown/Penrose/Westfield. At the moment all freight trains heading north need to pass through Newmarket and the inner part of the Western Line – which obvious means plenty of potential conflicts with passenger services. As passenger service levels increase in the future it is likely to become more and more difficult for freight to find an appropriate ‘window’ to operate in, particularly through busy junctions like Newmarket. This is where the Avondale-Southdown line would come in handy.

Furthermore, if there are other future network expansions, like rail to the airport or the CBD Rail Tunnel, then the Avondale-Southdown line might be a useful part of this network. We could run trains from New Lynn to Manukau City via the Airport, or potentially trains doing a big circuit of the CBD via the inner-Western line, the Eastern Line and the Avondale-Southdown Line. In other words, while construction of this line may not be one of the top priorities for Auckland at the moment, it’s certainly conceivable that it might be useful and necessary in the future.

Now, turning to the contentious area around the western end of the proposed line, we can see from the Auckland City Council planning map below, just to the south of Hendon Ave there is a shaded area which is noted as G08-05. This is the area designated as the Avondale-Southdown railway line. If we compare this designation with the most recent alignment of the Waterview Connection, shown below, it’s clear that there’s significant potential for some conflict. In fact, I think it’s fair to assume that under both the May 2009 alignment at the December 2009 alignment there would have been conflicts with parts of the Avondale-Southdown rail designation. Under this most recent alignment the “Proposed Rail Line” seems to shift northwards, to sit relatively closely to the southern side of Hendon Ave. Now of course the map above is just a diagram, and perhaps with a more detailed map we could learn more, but certainly the ‘proposed rail line’ appears to generally be in a different location to where the current rail designation is. Put simply, the motorway has taken its designation, so it has had to move northwards.

There are a few worrying factors relating to this. The first factor is that it seems as though KiwiRail/Ontrack will have to redesignate their corridor. This involves a fairly complicated process under the Resource Management Act, something similar to the process by which one applies for a resource consent. This means that the new designation’s environmental effects would have to be analysed, its benefits weighed up against those effects, and so forth. Furthermore, it could be challenged in the environment court and potentially declined by that court. So basically KiwiRail has to go through a complicated process to resolve a problem that has not in any way been caused by them.

The second factor to consider is that because Kiwirail/Ontrack “got there first” with their designation, in order for NZTA to “take” their designation, or slap another designation on top of theirs (yes, there are designations on top of designations, and it an get complicated), KiwiRail/Ontrack would have to give their approval. This is outlined in section 177 of the RMA, which I have included below:

To simplify the legalistic language used above, sub-section 1 says that the latter authority wanting to designate (NZTA in this situation) needs the permission of the earlier designating authority (KiwiRail) for this to proceed. Sub-section 2 limits the reasons for which KiwiRail could decline such permission, but the fact that building a motorway in the rail designation would clearly “prevent or hinder” constructing a railway line there means that I think KiwiRail absolutely would have the jurisdiction to tell NZTA to bugger off, for want of a better term.

I can’t see that happening though, as I doubt KiwiRail would have the guts to stand up for their own designation. Which means a heck of a lot of work for them in sorting out a new designation to the north, through a whole bunch of houses.

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    1. Certainly anyone can make a submission on the Notice of Requirement (like a resource consent application). This is likely to be publicly notified towards the end of this year. I suggest mentioning the matter in your submission 🙂

  1. I’m not sure what the problem should be, i assume the motorway will be underground at the rail intersection and should be able to run alongside the new motorway to Onehunga. If full co=operation between Kiwirail and NZTA? actually happens then the only problem i can see will be at the Onehunga end where it runs by that inland pond and reserve.

  2. John it is around the portals that there would be a problem as enough space is needed to accommodate the road dropping down and the rail line along side it until it is deep enough to allow the rail line to swing back over top of the tunnel. This raises another point, will the tunnel be built strong enough to cope with heavy freight trains going over it on a regular basis?

  3. @Matt. If the new plans for this tunnel start closer to New North Rd, than the previous plans from Labour, i would agree this could be an issue. I assume this could be sorted by the same or similar methods they are going to use under the Birdcage Tavern. As is said, co-operation is needed to make sure the Avondale – South line eventuates in the next few years.

  4. If you contact me I can put you in touch with someone who has access to the rail network plans for 1870! or thereabouts. Would be an interesting gander.


    1. There is a corridor that potentially could accommodate a line between Ellerslie and Panmure. It’s just used for electricity transmission lines at the moment, although those could be undergrounded in the future.

  5. I have tried to find any further reference to it without luck. Perhaps it was just an earlier version of what became the eastern line. It appears to pass right through the Mt Wellington quarry, so perhaps once they started mining there the line was redirected futher east?

    One thing I love on these old maps is how the call the motorways ‘outlets’, the southern outlet, western outlet etc. Like somehow these roads were going to drain all the traffic out of the city, rather than pump it right into the middle!

  6. Matt L>This raises another point, will the tunnel be built strong enough to cope with heavy freight trains going over it on a regular basis?

    Surely any rail scheme would need to be underground too? It doesn’t make any sense to me to bury a motorway, then cut the suburb in half with a new rail line. It doesn’t matter if the route has been designated for 60 years… People these days aren’t going to be happy with noisy freight trains rumbling through a residential area at all hours of the day and night.

  7. @John Dalley, the SAL designation doesn’t run beside the motorway till Hillsborough, if you have a look at an aerial picture of Onehunga you can actually see the missing houses heading up the hill about 500 m or so further inland on a gentler gradient…

    From memory the designation crosses 14 roads till it gets to the motorway..!

  8. Obi, a rail line is a lot easier to live next to than a motorway, but I do understand your point. Perhaps a trench wouldn’t be so bad.

    Jezza, the Onehunga section of the old ASL reserve was apparently designed to have the rail line in a ditch with most of the roads passing over head.

  9. “People these days aren’t going to be happy with noisy freight trains rumbling through a residential area at all hours of the day and night.”

    I assume that it will be much easier to noise-wall a rail line, because you could basically put noise fences right up to the edge of the envelope, then another into the middle between the two tracks. One of the main problems with noise-walling motorways (to my understanding) is that the width of the multiple lanes next to each other allow a much bigger amount of noise to escape at an angle – if you put the walls close, the noise is funnelled mostly upwards. Much simplified of course.

    Tunnelling it will be extremely unlikely though, unless tunnelling costs come down strongly. The costs are higher by a factor of 5-20. So what they should do is bury the rail line halfway in a slight cutting, put noise walls next to it, and provide a good, noise-reducing track bed. That should change the rumbling to at worst, a slight murmur.

    But it is a fair point anyway, Jeremy.

  10. Max>I assume that it will be much easier to noise-wall a rail line

    But there isn’t any need to noise wall most of the motorway because it is underground. Tunneling (or trenching) a rail line will be much cheaper than for a motorway and must be a requirement in 2010, IMHO.

    However, I’m wondering why we’d want to send rail freight through Auckland anyway. Sea freight is far cheaper, far more friendly to the environment, doesn’t require a billion dollar bailout every twenty years, and connects every NZ city except Hamilton and Palmy. Sea freight isn’t great for time sensitive delivery, but then neither is rail freight. I don’t see where rail freight fits in to NZ’s infrastructure matrix, which might explain why it’s never been financially viable since it was built in the 1800s.

    If you were to get freight off rail and on to ships, then it’d be much easier to develop first class commuter rail services in Auckland and other centers. That is what rail is best for and what the country should be trying to develop.

  11. The problem with sinking the rail line as well is it has to be brought back up to about street level just after New North rd. The cost of doing it would stop it from ever happening. As for noise then some walls would be good but won’t solve the problem, at nights I can hear the low rumble of a train approaching from a few Km away. In saying this the noise is much better than having a busy road next to you as in that case you constantly hear cars, trucks and buses speeding up and slowing down.

  12. New Lynn is a very constrained site in the middle of a town centre, with lots of roads passing overhead, pipes and services to be diverted etc.

    A trench through Hendon Park would be, well, a walk in the park. No existing buildings or roads, no services, nothing to pass overhead except some foot access.

  13. Matt… I’m a little biased about the noise. I used to live near to both an all-but-motorway dual carriageway and a rail line in the UK. I couldn’t ever hear the dual carriageway, but the Intercity 125s sounded as if they were coming through the house. A lumbering freight train isn’t going the same speed, but neither are Melbourne trams and they still rumble and squeak and vibrate nearby buildings and I wouldn’t want to live on a tram line.

    Besides the noise problem, at-grade rail lines split a town in two in a way that a road doesn’t. Level crossings aren’t acceptable in Auckland, which means under or overpasses are required. These are expensive, which means there won’t be many of them and you’ll end up with a walled-off rail corridor slicing suburbs in two like a transport Berlin Wall. I’d rather spend the money to trench and do it properly.

  14. Obi – one thing that Alan Wood Reserve has in its favor are there are aren’t any roads crossing it so one could say it already divides the comunity. As part of the motorway works I suspect there will be a few pedestiran bridges like the rest of the work that has been done. The only overbridge that would be needed would be New North Rd as the rest are sorted by the motorway.

  15. I remember seeing some huge pipes running through New Lynn where the trench now is, they can always be moved (for an additional cost)

  16. “rumble and squeak and vibrate nearby buildings and I wouldn’t want to live on a tram line.”

    Seriously, equating a historical tram line with a modern one is like equating a diesel truck from 1940 with a modern electric car.

    What can I bet that the place where you lived next to the tram line had a substandard (for modern day standards), very tight curve as well?

    “Obi – one thing that Alan Wood Reserve has in its favor are there are aren’t any roads crossing it so one could say it already divides the comunity.”

    Okay, now we have people saying that PARKS are dividing our communities? I get your factual point, Matt L, there may not be any existing crossings over the creek (which should re renaturated, by the way, the canalised bed is a disgrace) – but providing some pedestrian paths and bridges here will be rather easier now.

    Instead we will get first a motorway, and then a rail line, and then there will be no more reserve left. Maybe a little corner piece where they can put a memorial saying “This used to be Alan Wood Reserve. Now Steve Joyce Memorial Drive”.

  17. One can only hope 😉

    I live very close to a tram line, about 60m away. I must say the tram is about the quietest thing using the street, it is easily drowned out by cars, trucks, motorcycles etc. Certainly no noticable vibration and the squeals only happen on 90 degree corners (none near my place, its all straight track).

    I get more noise from the railway line, but it is actually pretty quiet considering it carries eight commuter lines and a busy freight route. From experience I’d rate living near the motorway the worst for noise.

  18. I live right on the Western Line (my bedroom is about 10 metres away from it) and I can honestly say it doesn’t bother me too much. The worst thing are the trains accelerating out of Kingsland station and when an overzealous train driver keeps his finger pressed to the whistle at the level crossing.

  19. I think it has been built on. The motorway planners would have had a much bigger demolition job if they were not able to take advantage of the fact that some of the land has been vacant for years. Surely it would have been necessary to demolish houses, regardless, in the areas previously built on (probably they were built on before the designation was imposed) or tunnel underneath (increasing the cost greatly and probably the main reason it has not been built).

    As Scott said, the hilly part would make for steep grades – between 1 in 50 / 1 in 100 at Avondale end by my reckoning, the same or steeper at the other end. These are a big deal by mainline standards – unless a lot of money is spent on earthworks.


  20. Patrick, my understanding is that while the motorway is being built on the Avondale-Southdown designation, the motorway designation will be large enough for the railway line to also be built on it. NZTA will not be leaving Ontrack to designate and bulldoze houses in the future to build their railway line, I don’t think.

    In terms of gradients, you do realise that the CBD rail tunnel is going to be around 1:33 right?

  21. The CBD will be using, presumably, electric haulage, which can work well on such gradients, is this a short or long grade? And how long will those passenger trains be?

    A passenger train doesn’t have to be very big (heavy) to move a lot of passengers, yet the idea of this Avondale-Southdown line is that there must be lots of freight traffic to justify it, and if the density of traffic is that great then, say, 1 in 50 grade would severely limit the size of the trains and/or use a lot of fuel. Consider what is needed to move the West Coast Coal trains on the 1 in 33 between Arthurs Pass and Otira.

  22. I just can’t see the southern section through Onehunga working. The route protection down there is just horrible. Think of the outcry if they have to bowl tons of houses, and grade-separate all those roads (which would mean a deep, deep trench, or even tunnel). I just can’t see any current or near-future government having the fortitude to box this through like they are doing with Waterview.

  23. The existing designation for Avondale-Southdown will NOT be used if the line is ever constructed. I have had that confirmed by many many people.

    What is more likely is that it would follow the SH20 alignment far more closely, and have a tunnel under the Hillsborough Road ridge.

    1. Hi, I am considering buy a house in Onehunga adjacent to the designated route. Is there anyone that I can talk to about the designation? How likely is it that it will change through Onehunga? and how likely is it that it would be undergrounded / trenched? I notice that the desination is only in place until 2015 – Im sure it will be extended though. Thanks

  24. It’s by no means a given that it will be built near the motorway. The designation is for a proposal to run freight trains that way, and if that’s the case it will be built that way, as any motorway route will likely include a steep grade suitable only for EMU’s, and even that will only be achieved with a lot of extra expense that wouldn’t be necessary using the existing designation.

    1. They could always just use the downhill route for freight and the outbound goes the normal way. Not 100% fix but a lot cheaper.

  25. Hi, Wondering if any of you experts have any updates on the proposal to use this originally designated corridor ? I see post 2015 the designation was continued. Anyone got any links to more information on this? i live next door to the corridor they were surveying it recently.

    1. The current Upper North Island port study, and the North Auckland rail network study have both identified the Southdown Avondale Line as crucial. It’s protection will remain, and the proposed use of part of it for light rail without leaving space for double track heavy rail has been canned. No plans to actually build it yet though, to the best of my knowledge.

      1. Geoff, the plan has not been canned nor was there any plan to use it for light rail without leaving space, that’s something you guys invented to gripe amongst yourself.

        The ASL corridor between Dominion Road and Hillsborough Road is a minimum of 26m wide at the tightest point. According to the National Rail System Standard, that is enough width for six tracks across. So running twin track light rail down that section leaves more than enough space for two freight tracks alongside. Kiwirail know this, and have said they are more than happy to sell some of the corridor for light rail tracks.

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