The Avondale-Southdown rail corridor is a rather strange aspect of Auckland’s transport system (or possible transport system) in that it has been designated for rail purposes for over 60 years, but has never really got anywhere close to being constructed. It first shows up in the 1946 transport plan for Auckland:

In more recent times the line has been proposed as part of the wider upgrade to Auckland’s rail system that is the preferred option for getting rail to the airport.  Last year when the ARC was putting together the background analysis of what major projects should be included in the Regional Land Transport Strategy, the Avondale-Southdown rail line scored quite well in terms of its anticipated patronage. This is shown below: In the final version of the Regional Land Transport Strategy, the railway line is anticipated to be constructed in the 2031-2040 stage of the strategy, although the dates on these later projects are incredibly variable. So while it’s not going to happen any time particularly soon, there will most probably be a day when we eventually construct this line. But, as it doesn’t really go from the CBD to the suburbs like normal railway lines – instead cutting directly across the Auckland isthmus – how could it be made into a line that is useful for passenger rail services? Well I have a couple of service patterns that I could having this line could enable, both of which would be pretty damn useful for Auckland.

The first is shown in the map below, and is effectively a Henderson to Manukau City service, via Auckland Airport. This service pattern is most interesting in that it doesn’t go anywhere near Auckland’s CBD, but as it does pass through Henderson, New Lynn, Onehunga, the Airport and Manukau City Centre I reckon it could be pretty popular: There would be a pretty complicated junction at Onehunga to enable a variety of service patterns, including of course an Airport to CBD train operating via Onehunga and the Southern Line. In terms of this particular line, I think that it’s likely there would be three stations along it (in addition to Onehunga) – most probably near Stoddard Road/Richardson Road intersection, near Dominion Road (a Mt Roskill Station) and near Hillsborough Road (a Hillsborough station).

The second service pattern that you could run along the Avondale-Southdown Line would be a huge isthmus loop, which would incorporate the inner parts of the western and eastern lines. In an ideal world both the western and eastern lines would be four-tracked so that this loop service would stop at all stations while other trains (from further west and east) running along the inner parts of their lines would only have to stop at major stations – saving them significant amounts of time. Having a full isthmus loop would be a great way to tie together the rail system, creating a true network where it was easy to get from anywhere to anywhere along the loop. I think it would help support pretty large-scale intensification at major interchange points along it – helping to reduce our auto-dependency. Here’s a map of where it would go (obviously it assumes the CBD rail tunnel will be built already):

The line would obviously also be useful for freight trains trying to avoid the Newmarket pinch-point.

While it seems we’re 20-30 years away from this line being a reality, it’s useful to start thinking about how it might work and what its advantages for passengers might be. In the past I have been a little half-hearted in my support for constructing the line as a priority, and I still do think higher priorities exist elsewhere, but when we do get around to constructing it we will have the opportunity to use the link to help create a true rail network in Auckland. It could be very useful indeed.

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  1. I personally think that at the same time as building the Waterview tunnel we should build the part from Avondale to Hillsborough. All of the bridges (with the exception of Dominion Rd) have already been designed and build to allow the rail line underneath it so there wouldn’t be any massive bridge works needed which helps to keep the cost down. In the interim it could just run as a branch line similar to Onehunga until we work out how to build and fund the gap part which is always going to be the expensive part. It would also help to get the line finished quicker as it would become obvious that there was a “missing link”. Looking at the length involved a trip from the suggested stations would take about the same time, if not less as a bus from the same locations even though it is not as direct so there could be some benefit (that is with the existing timetable stopping at Newmarket and without the CBD tunnel which would bring it down further)

  2. The problem with that plan is that because of Britomart’s capacity issues every train that went onto the branch-line would be one less train that can go west of Avondale.

  3. Not if trains ran from Newmarket out to Hillsborough and from Out West into Hillsborough etc. I think this link is actually pretty important because of the fact that PT is currently a no go if you work in South Auckland and live in West Auckland and vice versa. Basically all the buses run via the CBD and so do the trains (not to mention there’re no buses connecting with the trains). Such a connection would allow someone to hop on in Avondale get off in Manukau and catch a connecting bus to their destination. This would also make the airport line pretty popular in terms of patronage (solving the issue that Sydney and Brisbane have with their airport trains). I honestly think waiting until 2030 for these lines to be built is a bit of a joke, what’s Auckland supposed to do for the next 20 years? With Auckland predicted to be getting close to 2 million by 2030/2040, without a decent PT system the city will just become more polluted, poorer, and more congested. I hope that in 2014 when we should at the latest get a change in government some serious money is put into solving Auckland’s PT system.

  4. Keeping the western line at 15 min frequencies with the extra trains to make up it 10 min frequencies on the inner part of the line would be a good compromise. Even if we did wait for the CBD tunnel, the reality is that the Waterview part is going to be 5-6 years away anyway so if we can get the ball rolling on the CBD tunnel we could time it to open at the same time.

    One thing I have noticed is that with the RLTS and other plans is they are good at drawing lines on a map but they haven’t actually gone as far working out how the services would operate which I think is quite an important part. You have come up with some good plans but AT or Veolia could run things very differently so a loop might not happen.

  5. I think that the potential to run a loop would be quite attractive. The Link Bus is very popular.

    RTC, I guess we hope that next time there’s a centre-left government the Green Party gets the transport portfolio and we go nuts building railway lines?

  6. @Admin – I really hope this National=roads doesn’t continue for much longer, because if everytime we get a change in government we end up with 6 years of policies running PT into the ground then Auckland and NZ are doomed to become basket cases.

  7. I think for this line to work well a full Paul Mees style network system would need to be in place.
    Although a decent number people from the West commute to the Manukau area, many will not be going to Manukau City itself., and will be going to a very diverse range of destinations. Therefore high quality bus services serving the many employment nodes in Manukau area are needed.
    To test the demand for this type of service some express bus services should be set up which utilise the motorway along this corridor. Maybe a New Lynn – Onehunga – Mangere – Manukau service, and a Henderson – New Lynn – Airport service.

  8. I agree Luke, but fortunately that is what’s being planned. The Manukau rail station will be a transportation hub for the whole of south Auckland it would seem.

    I think it can be hard to gauge the level of patronage there would be for a train service from what exists if you run a motorway bus service. The problem with motorway bus services is that they either don’t have any connectivity with the areas being passed through, or the buses keep on having to make detours off the motorway and back on it. It would only really be a true busway that could give us some hints about patronage.

  9. QUOTE: “RTC, I guess we hope that next time there’s a centre-left government the Green Party gets the transport portfolio and we go nuts building railway lines?”

    You could hope, or you could actively work to make that a reality. But anyway, I know I’m not going to get anywhere with that line of reasoning. So moving on 🙂 Personally I think that there is a fair chance CBD rail tunnel will be finished by 2020. Of course, after that point I think it’s so hard to predict what will happen in terms of climate change, water shortages, population growth etc etc that there’s not much point really worrying about what we might do in 2030… Better to focus on making the near future slightly less bad than it might otherwise be.

  10. Working on ensuring the Green Party gets the transport portfolio is a pretty tough ask Lucy, I don’t quite have that level of political influence within Labour yet 😉

    I can’t quite see how Joyce is going to fund the CBD rail tunnel without dramatically restructuring the way rail is funded so it has access to NLTF funds. There just isn’t the $1.5 billion rolling around in the general government coffers to put into a project like that any time soon. There would have to be a massive amount of pressure put on to make it a reality. Here’s hoping though.

    Beyond the CBD tunnel I agree there will be issues like peak oil and climate change that drive transport policy to a far greater extent than we see at the moment, so I’m hopeful many of these longer-term projects will be brought forwards.

  11. I actually think National will build it but it won’t be till next year that they approve it and they won’t pay the full cost. It will be done either as an election promise to try and keep the Auckland seats they won at the last election or it will be around now where it is far enough out that the full election cycle hasn’t started but enough that they can claim it as their idea and that they are committed to improving transport etc. They will probably pay for the tunnel and will require Auckland to fund the stations, a large part of it which could probably be done by a mix of a special targeted rate for the entire region and another one for the properties in the direct vicinity of the stations as are more directly benefited by it.

    Of course all of this will depend on the business case stacking up.

  12. The business case will stack up unless someone twists its arm. It could have a whole chapter in it too, explaining why it is better than a holiday highway – but lets not wave the red matador’s flag like that.

    Sadly, I think the only way this current government can be weaned away from its roads policies is by a major, extended fuel price rise, or by a change at the polls. In a way, they have backed themselves in a corner there too – because it would be pretty hard for Joyce to keep face if he suddenly changed his whole policy set (the fact that we would applaud him for coming to his senses wouldn’t matter – people like that think different: “Stay the course”).

  13. Well apparently some pretty onto it people are working on the business case, so we can feel a tad optimistic in that respect.

  14. @Matt L, I don’t think National will build the CBD rail tunnel till energy descent sets in… Hopefully it will be the first thing Labour approves next time around…

  15. The Isthmus loop was explicitly part of the 1946 plans, including a summary publication called The Shape of Things to Come which referred to “circular rail routes” that would carry commuters in both directions. It reappeared in the “Green City” plan for Auckland, which Canberra-based planner Roger Johnson produced for the ARA in 1980. The Green City plan was written up in the prestigious British journal Town Planning Review in 1984. However, it seems to have been a casualty of Rogernomics and falling 1980s oil prices. It seems that every 30-35 years the idea is reinvented, though not of course actually built.

  16. Don’t you mean *still* a casualty of Rogernomics Chris? Going on the rhetoric coming out of the government it sounds like they havent changed their policies much in the last 20 years.

  17. i would like to see rail go from onehunga station down beside state h/w20 to new park and rail line rapped around the manukau to green bay going thou to avondale catching a larger slice of auckland

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