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.

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  1. Surely Campbell Live could have done a much more useful segment on this tonight, rather than another dreamy Personal Rapid Transit Project. We really need some good media coverage to get this project out into the public eye a bit more. This will help put pressure on the politicians to ensure it stays high up on the radar.

  2. I agree Luke. Just watching that piece now and it’s pretty silly. If PRT hasn’t worked anywhere else in the world why would it work here?

  3. Good to hear the guy talking about how the system needs to be part of a network though. Amazing how natural that thinking comes to Europeans, even engineers!

  4. I can’t help but feel the reason the holiday highway will always get preference ahead of a sensible, solid piece of infrastructure like this is the personal experience of Stephen Joyce. I’m sure he has plenty of mates who holiday up the coast who tell him about the terrible traffic issues up there on long weekend and holiday periods, while I doubt he knows a single person (as a friend as opposed to professionally) who catches a train to work each day. So it becomes a ‘us’ versus ‘them’ conversation. I’m pretty sure this tunnel would stack up better than the highway. Unless the same creative accounting used to make the western motorway extension suddenly double and then halve in price is used.

    As you’ve pointed out in previous blogs, surely the road skirting past Warkworth is worth a try first. Even it doesn’t work that road is likely to form a basis for any highway past Warkworth in any case. The remaining money could then be used for the tunnel.

    Ah dreams are free!

  5. “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.”

    Auckland’s central city Councillor’s ward also includes this area of Newton, which makes one hope that the somewhat too harsh separation of CBD and “hinterland” that is created by the “motorway moat” is being weakened.

  6. I used to live in an apartment right by where the station would go, I would always wonder about how to revitalise the area. It has so much unrealised potential and is more or less part of the CBD as it is, the problem currently is the moat-orway and the fact that the traffic arteries of upper Symonds and Khyber pass really kill the street level activity.

    An underground station would really change things, particularly if it promoted a general precint/streetscapes upgrade like is alluded to in the report. I guess you would see quite a skyline go up to complement the two faded towers that already exist there.

  7. The CBD stations are about 600m apart, according to the scale at the bottom. That might be fine for a once-every-90-seconds service like the Tube, but to me it feels too close together for a heavy rail system. Would combining the two new stations in to one (located half way between the two proposed stations) shave a couple of hundred million off the project cost and make it more likely to happen?

  8. I think all three stations are necessary. A station halfway between Newton and K Road would be under the motorway, while a statio between K Road and Midtown would not be near much.

    Eventually there will be services every 2 minutes I think.

  9. Will Mt Eden station stay? Doesnt seem too much of a point of it with the Newton station serving the catchment much better. Also looks as though Newton will have far better bus connections as well.

  10. I don’t think it’s worth keeping Mt Eden. If you did keep it west of the link to the tunnel then you’re effectively adding another station to the line, which means that you’re losing much of the time-savings for western line users.

  11. I was actually thinking the K Rd station was badly located. It isn’t more than 100-200m from the motorway, and I don’t think people will cross the motorway to use it because there are better placed alternatives. So most of the station catchment area is wasted. If you moved it a couple of hundred meters closer to the harbour then that wouldn’t be a problem. But that brings it way too close to Queen St station. Since Queen St station isn’t really too far from Britomart, then why not combine it with K Rd?

    At the moment, there will be people with two stations within 300m of them. People are quite prepared to walk further than that to get to a station. Having fewer stations would drastically reduce the cost and increase the probability of building the tunnel. And the sooner that happens, the better.

  12. I dunno Obi, I tend to think there’s quite a distance from the northern part of the K Road station (which might be a little way down Pitt Street) and the corner of Albert & Wellesley Street. I walked from the ARC building down to my office on Queen Street (just down from Whitcoulls) today and it took a good 10-15 minutes. Going uphill takes even longer.

    The K Road area certainly feels quite distinct from the Midtown area, probably because Myers Park creates a separation. I’m not sure where your proposed “middle ground” station would be, near Mayoral Drive/Cook Street intersection? Apart from the city council building that’s much less of a hub than the proposed midtown station area.

  13. “Apart from the city council building that’s much less of a hub than the proposed midtown station area.”

    I think we’re discussing whether a station has to be in the middle of a hub of activity, or if it is acceptable to locate it in the vicinity of activity and expect people to walk for a few hundred meters. I’ve been thinking about this and I think it depends on what the particular activity is and what is located between the station and the activity. Take a few examples:

    1. If the activity is an area of evening dining and drinking, then it is preferable that a station is very close by or located within the area of activity. I think you might have a block or two scope for walking if the area walked through comprises shops or something else that attracts “buzz”. But if people have to walk through an area of light industry or warehousing then I think people will avoid using the station. I suspect much of this is determined by the evening hours that the passengers will be traveling.

    2. If the activity is a sports stadium, then I think people would be quite happy to walk a few hundred meters and having them walk through an area of light industry isn’t a problem. It might actually make sense to locate the station away from the stadium… instead of trains depositing 1000 passengers at the stadium gates all at once, varying walking speeds for smooth out the arrivals at the stadium.

    3. If the activity is offices, then they’ll likely be spread evenly around an area and the main users of the train will be commuters. Wellington’s experience is that they’ll happily walk several hundred meters from the station. They’re mostly on autopilot. I think the best way to make the experience better isn’t to make a station marginally closer, but to make sure buildings have verandas so that they don’t get soaked every time it rains. Would you rather walk 500m under a veranda or 300m without? Commuters will also be happier with faster services, suggesting they’d prefer less stops/stations.

  14. I think your point about the distance of a walk being “perceived” rather than “actual” is an important one obi. There are many perceived distances in Auckland that appear shorter than they are: such as the walk from Britomart up to say Aotea Square. That’s actually a distance of about a kilometre, but because it’s a fairly gentle hill, because you’re relatively well protected from the weather and because there’s points of interest along it, it doesn’t seem that far.

    By contrast, Aotea Square up to K Road is only 600m, but for me at least “seems” at least as far as the walk to Britomart. The hill is steeper, the protection from the weather is not as good and the points of interest are fewer and further between. In my opinion this somewhat ‘isolates’ the K Road area into something of a precinct of its own, which in my opinion means that if we want that area to be served by a rail station it really needs to be within that specific part of the city. Much of the wider economic benefits of the tunnel would be in encouraging redevelopment and intensification of more neglected parts of the CBD, such as the area around K Road (particularly between K Road and the motorways). I think that unless that area specifically has a train station, these benefits won’t happen.

    So we need a station up there I reckon. I also reckon we obviously need a midtown station as otherwise there would be giant hole in the middle of town that doesn’t have good access to rail.

    While I understand that saving say $150-200 million by building one less station might seem like a good way to boost the project’s BCR, because so many of the benefits come from the boost rail will bring to areas around the stations, I actually think having fewer stations could do more harm than good.

  15. K Rd is very much a separate ‘precinct’, no doubt due to the separation caused by the hill and Myers Park. The proposed station location suits it perfectly in my opinion, it is right in the centre of the developed area.
    The catchment of this station will be long and narrow as walking connectivity follows the ridge line and street network (and the moat-orway of course), so you’ll probably see it servicing the areas right over by Great North Rd and the top end of Ponsonby Rd which are only five minutes flat walk away.

  16. All really like all three of the proposed stations locations and think they are well spaced, a super job, funding is the only problem, why oh why couldn’t Labour have stated this in 2000…

  17. looks like the politicans have their easy out now on this project with the earthquake requiring more $$ that might have gone on the rail tunnel. Oh well, just another “if only” chapter in the history of auckland… at least my work is safe for a bit longer (its directly in the path of the railway line in shaddock st eden terrace)

    1. Sadly unless we can find the money ourselves I think you’re right. I don’t think the government was ever going to fund it. This will provide them with enough political clout to paint Brown as selfish if he applies pressure to the government over the tunnel. The worse thing is that the earthquake will only increase the need for the tunnel as Christchurch population growth will stagnate and Auckland (and Wellington) will pick up the slack. Auckland please report to the back of the line for another 30 years.

  18. Not so sure James, it does give them an opportunity to review everything, and in fact back down on some of the RoNs over commitment…. I expect a cleverer play by Key et al, he always wants to be all things to all people… But yes easy to demonise Brown and AK as selfish… it will happen whatever.

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