In another critical step forwards for what I consider to be Auckland’s most important transport projects, today ARTA have announced the preferred alignment for the CBD Rail Tunnel. Here’s the media release:
Prefered Route Chosen for Transformational CBD Rail Loop Project
11 Mar 2010
A preferred route has now been identified for Auckland’s proposed CBD Rail Loop tunnel. The route was chosen out of three shortlisted options identified by consultants acting on behalf of ARTA and KiwiRail.
The tunnel would run between Mt Eden and Britomart, taking in Khyber Pass Road, Symonds Street and Karangahape Road, with the opportunity for three train station locations at Symonds Street/Khyber Pass Road; Karangahape Road/Pitt Street and on Albert Street between Victoria and Wellesley Streets (Refer to diagram attached).
The chairman of ARTA, Mr Rabin Rabindran says the project is regionally based and the preferred option has been discussed with the Auckland Regional Council and Auckland City Council. It has also been discussed with the New Zealand Transport Agency (NZTA).
Mr Rabindran said, “The next step in the study will be to investigate potential costs and economic benefits that the tunnel would deliver to the region.
“Naturally we need to ensure there is a sound business case to support the project and have a clear understanding of the level of investment required to bring it into reality before we proceed to the next step.
“The project takes into consideration management of Auckland’s projected population growth to well over two million over the next four decades, which is over 70 per cent of New Zealand’s total projected growth”.
Mr Rabindran said, “This project for Auckland, made possible by the Government’s decision to electrify Auckland’s rail network is a transformational project for the region with the ability to provide significant economic, social and environmental benefits. These benefits would accrue to the whole of the region”.
KiwiRail chairman Jim Bolger says the study currently underway is a first step in the process of identifying and protecting the route for future construction.
“If we are to ensure rail is able to play its part in Auckland’s transport mix, both now and into the future we need to ensure the network has reasonable reach and flexibility.
“There is still a long way to go with this project, but it is vital that we take the necessary steps to protect the route for the future.
“The option chosen has the three station locations under public roads with the locations optimising redevelopment and growth opportunities for economic productivity and patronage; the least number of curves which means lower costs for the tunnel boring machine and better operational speed for trains thus reducing operational costs”.
The Chairman of the Auckland Regional Council, Mike Lee said. “The CBD loop tunnel will not only radically boost the efficiency of Auckland’s commuter rail network and nearly double the throughput of trains through Britomart, but a metro rail really will be the making of Auckland, revitalising the CBD and giving Auckland a truly international feel. The suggestion of running the line under upper Symonds Street is a stroke of brilliance –and will certainly revitalise this wonderful old part of the city”.
Mayor of Auckland, John Banks said, “Excellent urban regeneration and economic development opportunities are available around the proposed three station locations. This is particularly important given Auckland’s projected population growth. Opportunities include redevelopment work around K’Road with the station centrally located on a ridge between Grafton Hospital and Ponsonby Road.
“Current population levels within 500 metres of the K’Road station are in the region of 7,000 employees and 2,500 residents. With future amendments to the existing zoning there is capacity to provide for approximately 20,000 employees and 7,000 residents. Similar opportunities exist around Newton while around the proposed Aotea Station there is the capacity to more than double the employment opportunities from 40,000 to over 80,000”.
“While further analysis is required, at this stage train patronage projections out to 2016 and 2041 for these three train stations indicate strong potential growth which is driven by the station locations in the heart of the CBD. This will provide easy walking distance to all the CBD’s commercial, tourist, residential and educational opportunities as well as allowing more trains to use the network by unlocking the constraint of Britomart being a dead end station and doubling its capacity”, said Mr Banks.
Mr Rabindran says: “The next step in the project will progress concept design work to identify a required footprint and a business case which we regard as a key piece of work to identify the value to the public and private investment required to bring this project into reality. Projects like this have the potential to lift land values and dramatically boost economic productivity through focussed regional and government sector investment in infrastructure and services. Earlier investigations have shown the potential benefits of this project are likely to significantly outweigh its costs. This work will be undertaken from March to September this year with Phase Three, preparation of the notice of requirement documentation, completed by December this year”.
Mr Rabindran said the total cost of the project had not yet been finalised. Funding for the project would need to be negotiated between the region and the government, however in light of Auckland’s burgeoning population growth of almost an additional million people by 2050; forward planning for the region was not only prudent but essential.
Before I get on to discuss the details of the actual alignment itself, it’s worth commenting on the press release above. I have underlined various parts of it which I think are particularly noteworthy, in that they refer to the significant benefits that will arise from this project, in particular the significant economic benefits that it will bring to the whole Auckland region.
I agree with Rabin Rabindran that the project is transformational for Auckland. There is so much benefit to be had from Auckland having a stronger core, as it will reduce the requirement for people to drive significant distances from one side of the city to the other, it will improve the viability of public transport in general if more than 12% of the region’s jobs are located in the CBD and it will also have other longer term benefits such as helping to create a more vibrant city centre and giving the CBD a critical mass that could eventually lead to significant economic benefits as more and more employment opportunities are available within close proximity of each other. The most successful cities at regenerating over recent years internationally, such as Melbourne and Vancouver, have a very strong urban core with lots of people and jobs creating a vibrancy that leads to massive long-term economic benefits.
The opportunity for significant urban regeneration in areas around the stations, particularly around K Road and Newton station, would also have massive economic benefits. As I explained in a blog post a few weeks back, putting a station in Newton means that whole area could effectively become an extension of the CBD. This kind of urban development in Auckland is exactly what our current growth strategies envisage – significant intensification in the CBD and in fringe-CBD areas where appropriate, as well as significant intensification in various other nodes along the rail corridor. But this kind of urban outcome is not going to happen by itself, we need the infrastructure investment to work with the development strategies to make it happen. Which is exactly what the CBD rail tunnel does.
Turning to the alignment chosen, this is shown in the map below:
This is pretty much what was expected, and the only real difference between the three options preferred by the previous stage of the study was whether the K Road station would be next to the corner with Pitt Street or the corner with Queen Street. While a Queen St location may have been better from some perspectives (linking with our main street after all) I think that technical factors made that option difficult. In any case I don’t think it matters too much, as the corner of K Road and Pitt Street does very much come across as the heart of that part of the city.
I await with great interest to see the results of the business case study into this. I would be extremely surprised if this project doesn’t come up with a far better business case than the Puhoi-Wellsford “holiday highway”. In which case, there should be some serious questions asked why we’re spending $1.4 billion there instead of here.