As I have mentioned in a couple of recent posts, I am extremely worried that a lot of the work going on at the moment in planning important transport projects (like AMETI) and large-scale land-use planning projects (like Flat Bush) is ignoring one of the most important pieces in the puzzle of sorting out land-use and transport planning in a huge swathe of Auckland: its southeast.

By southeast Auckland I am referring to the area east of the Tamaki River, and right down to where Te Irirangi Drive links in with Manukau City. This includes the suburbs of Howick, Pakuranga, Highland Park, Botany, Dannemora, Flat Bush and others. This area has experienced huge growth and development over the past 20-30 years, but has almost no public transport infrastructure (and pretty poor general roading linkages with the rest of Auckland). In response to the utterly unacceptable current situation, most of Auckland’s long term transport plans and strategies propose a “Rapid Transit Network” (RTN) corridor between Manukau City in the south and Panmure in the north – linking together with Flat Bush, Botany and Pakuranga. This is shown in ARTA’s Auckland Transport Plan:

As you can see it’s all spelled out pretty clearly in the Auckland Transport Plan, and basically the same route gets mention in the ARC’s 2010-2040 Regional Land Transport Strategy, although the RLTS does go one step further in its consideration of this RTN by stating this: I must say as soon as I hear the words “future proofed for light-rail” a huge red flag, flashing lights and a siren starts wailing inside my head that it’s complete and utter rubbish. Most of the things that have been future-proofed for light rail in Auckland have been done so to a vastly sub-standard level, and furthermore why the heck would we want light-rail out there? What would it link into? Would it be faster and of a higher capacity than buses? If not, why would we bother? If so, how much extra would it cost to go to heavy rail and actually link in with the existing rail system at Panmure and Manukau? I really do wonder whether any thought has gone into answering these questions.

In my mind, the huge problem with this RTN being ‘bus-based’ is the issue of “what the heck do we do at Panmure?” If we build a busway (which is what a bus-based RTN is, simple bus lanes do not constitute an RTN), then that’s going to be a pretty difficult and expensive project. There is no protected corridor anywhere near where that dotted line runs, so we’re going to have to get rid of quite a large number of houses to build this busway – so given its length we’re definitely looking at a $500 million+ project I think, if not double that (the final cost would depend largely on how we deal with Te Irirangi Drive). So we spend a huge amount of money to ship a lot of people to Panmure (and Manukau City, which is a bit more useful), but then what? We are effectively left with three options:

  1. We build a busway between Panmure and the CBD, right next to the existing railway line. This option is expensive and seems really stupid, given the railway line is right there, but would probably be the fastest bus option.
  2. We have bus lanes along Ellserlie-Panmure Highway and Great South Road and send all our buses that way into Newmarket and eventually into the CBD. This option is clearly cheaper than option one, but whereas it takes a train around 16 minutes to travel between Panmure and Britomart, at peak time it takes the 680/681 bus around 35 minutes to make that journey. So this option is around 20 minutes slower.
  3. We get everyone to transfer onto a train at Panmure. In the shorter term this seems like the most viable option, although it obviously depends on integrated ticketing being up and running, and the trains coming frequently enough for the transfer to be relatively painless. However, in the longer term – if this southeast RTN really comes off and is popular, we are going to end up with an awful lot of people transfering from the bus onto trains at Panmure. And there may well very much not be the available capacity on those trains (which would have already come all the way up from Manukau City) to cater for full bus-loads of passengers arriving every 2-3 minutes.

Option three clearly makes the most sense in the short-to-medium term, but in the longer term I really do think that you’re going to get problems capacity wise. One of the main reasons for this is that between Manukau and Westfield, the Southern Line and the Eastern Line share the same tracks (or will do so once Manukau is open). If we run trains on both lines at 10 minute frequencies, then that’s manageable as you have a train every 5 minutes on the combined stretch. However, if you need a lot more trains on the Eastern line to cater for passengers getting on the line at Panmure, then either you need to start “short running” quite a few trains between Panmure and Britomart (and all the scheduling havoc that would create) or you start to get trains at 2-3 minute frequencies on that Westfield to Manukau stretch of the line, which could be quite a problem.

So in the longer term I don’t think that’s going to work. Furthermore, while I am a big fan of designing a a public transport system around transfers rather than one which avoids transfer at all costs, there is certainly a limit to this being acceptable to PT users – and that limit is probably somewhere around the one transfer only level. This also becomes problematic if we stick with our “everyone change at Panmure” policy, because chances are many people would have already transferred onto the southeast busway (or whatever it’s called) at Pakuranga station, Botany station or Flat Bush station. Taking Flat Bush as an example, my recent post showed that the Flat Bush town centre is going to be at least a kilometre away from a future rapid transit station site, while most of the extra 40,000 people anticipated to live in Flat Bush will be further away again. That’s not walking distance, so it’s likely that feeder buses will be necessary to make the system work. The same for Botany Town Centre (which is surrounded by carparks more than anything else) and Pakuranga too. Even given the speed advantages of a busway between Panmure and Manukau, and utilising the very quick Eastern Line, I think that forcing potential passengers to transfer twice is probably one step too far.

Given this situation, my opinion is that there really is only one long-term solution to the “southeast Auckland RTN problem”, and that is a full heavy rail line. This is my preferred alignment for that line: A few things probably jump to mind immediately when looking at that alignment. I’ll work through them:

  1. But it goes to Glen Innes, not Panmure. This is my solution to the very vexed problem of how a railway corridor could be squeeze amongst the existing bridges that cross over the Tamaki River in the vicinity of Panmure, and also how it could fit in with the Eastern railway line at Panmure without wreaking havoc. This alignment also makes the line much more useful for people living in Howick, Bucklands Beach, Highland Park and other areas. Pakuranga misses out on a station, but I think the advantages outweigh the disadvantages. Highland Park could become a useful transit-oriented development.
  2. How would you cross the Tamaki River? Well either by bridge or tunnel I think. A bridge would obviously be cheaper, although effects on the estuary’s visual amenity might make that a challenge (unless it was a very pretty bridge). The estuary is fairly shallow around there, so a tunnel might not be that problematic.
  3. Don’t you take out a lot of houses? Well interestingly enough, the answer is “no”. The line, with a couple of tunnels, manages to miss a lot of housing – although it would impact on green spaces to a greater extent. For a more detailed look at the route’s alignment, have a look here.
  4. Wouldn’t it be hugely expensive? Well of course, but at a guess I would say around 150,000 people live out in this part of Auckland, and another 40,000-50,000 are likely to live out here in the future. They need to get to other parts of Auckland, their current public transport options are extremely poor – whereas this proposal would provide a trip between Britomart and Botany Town centre of under half an hour. This compares with a peak hour car trip of perhaps around an hour – so I think it would be popular. Furthermore, any RTN route out here is going to be expensive because past planners were incredibly stupid and never protected a route, so even if this does cost twice what a busway would cost, if it attracts three times as many users – it’s probably worthwhile.

So that is my suggested solution to “the southeast RTN problem”. I know that the “powers to be” in ARTA and other organisations seem to  have different ideas about how to implement this RTN, (or are just sticking their heads in the sand, dumping it in the “too hard basket” and ignoring the issue) but I really think this idea has merit, and is the only one that doesn’t potentially run into “fatal flaw” problems that I believe many of the alternatives suffer from.

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  1. I agree with putting a rail line out here it certainly makes more sense than the other options you mention. One thing that could be done to save money in the short term would be to build the line as far as the Flatbush station initially and have trains running from there an back. Later when it has proved popular (which I think it would) the missing link to Manukau could be built.

    The biggest battle would be against the loss of green space. Especially on the Point England side as that would be green space lost to no benefit of the local community. I would love for an idea like this to be presented by someone like the Herald or one of the Mayoral candidates to see what reaction there was from the general public.

  2. If you were tunnelling under the Tamaki River then potentially the effects on Point England wouldn’t be that significant, as the tunnel wouldn’t surface until fairly near where it joined with the eastern line.

    In terms of staging the project, I would perhaps build to Botany first and have a tonne of feeder buses heading into there. A bus-based QTN between Botany and Manukau is fairly simple, and that isn’t the most congested area (that honour goes to Pakuranga).

  3. My suggestion of going to Flatbush was because it is fairly straight and easy from there to Botany but would allow for the area to be redesigned to be more transit friendly before it is built.

    I would love to see some proper costings for this line. Also have you heard from any politicians that support this line over a busway?

    1. Matt, working on the politicians. Once you note that it can do Britomart to Botany in 26 minutes everyone’s pretty interested.

  4. Hi Jarbury – did you go to the AMETI info day at Panmure? I did, and you will be disappointed to hear that they keep tossing out the RTN word all the time, talking about bus lanes which aren’t even really continous. Called them on it, and they sheepishly backtracked a bit – but really, they are using that word very cheaply.

    Then there was the two local guys who kept moaning that it was idiotic to include pedestrian signals at the signalised intersection that is to replace the Panmure Roundabout. “Nobody walks around there” was their standard speech, ignoring the fact that a) nobody walks there because it is horribly hostile right now b) that there is substantial residential around two-thirds of the roundabout and c) Council is planning mixed use in the other third.

    At least there were other locals who seemed as pro walking & cycling as I was…

  5. Max, unfortunately I didn’t make it. I am not surprised to hear that sort of rubbish from the people planning AMETI, who very much seem in denial that ARTA and the ARC have an RTN planned through there.

    Somewhat fortunately, nothing will really happen on this project until the local government reorganisation. I hope that Auckland Transport is a bit more enlightened about the necessity for an RTN through there (or not, as my suggestion shows!)

  6. What is MCC charging for development contributions for development in the Howick/Botany/Flat Bush area? I believe that in order to help fund such a project like this, a percentage of this contribution charged on all new developments could go toward developing the future RTN network in the area.

    Maybe when new trains arrive and the CBD loop is built, these residents will see such an idea in a new light.

  7. Brent, I certainly agree that there needs to be a linkage made between development out there and the project they really need most. A project like this certainly wouldn’t be cheap – I’d say we’re looking at $2 billion minimum. That’s going to be pretty tough to fund out of regular sources.

  8. I understand that ARTA have now confirmed that Panmure Bridge/Ti Rakau Drive/Ti Irirangi Drive is the route for the RTN. not anywhere else, and that the current AMETI project has to take this into account whilst designing the “improvements” for this sector. However, rather worryingly I have not heard them confirm that this has to be something more than bus lanes. I cannot understand how this route can be a proper RTN. Very concerned as this is being planned right now.
    Whilst this places Pakuranga centre on the “RTN” network, there has been no planning around the future of the centre to take advantage of this, so in the absence of that work, the transport planners get to decide the future. Aaagghh!

  9. Al, my reading of the reports on the AMETI website is that they have decided the any real RTN can be put off until some point after 2016. They are intending to proceed with buying and demolishing houses and building new expressways in the corridor (including a handful of bus lanes), and once that is done the might this about doing an RTN after that.
    They could at least decide on the route and mode of the RTN and ensure the road works are designed with that in mind, but something tells me they won’t.

  10. Well argued Joshua- blind Freddie and his dog can tell that we need more transport linkages accross the Tamaki RIver and you don’t have to be a genius to see that heavy rail is both the most efficient and the most socially advantageous way of getting large numbers of people along this corridor. Not only that the new spur line to Manakau allows you connect the entire corridor and the Eastern suburbs to the South Auckland industrial areas- which would have huge advantages to workers, businesses and anybody who has to use the roads.

    Lets face it, the roads in this part of Auckland are a mess and adding a bus lane here or a traffic lane there will be next to useless as it will merely shift the bottlenecks around a bit. Turning Panmure into a truck/bus/car canyon would be a disaster and you have to wonder whether the transport planners are thinking of reviving John Banks’ motorway accross the Orakei lagoon plan (might be worth asking them straight out)- because I can’t see the Southern Motorway through Ellerslie being able to handle any extra traffic.

    Keep asking the right questions- transport planners seem to have fantastic capacity to ignore the obvious before moving into defend, deny, ignore mode.

  11. “Turning Panmure into a truck/bus/car canyon”

    To their credit, they are intentionally NOT increasing the carrying capacity through Panmure west-east (no added lanes on Panmure Bridge for example). But they are adding a new north-south link so traffic can detour Panmure town centre to the west. Sure, in a way it is just shifting traffic around, but at least Panmure should profit in teh coming years.

  12. At this stage I’m for buses transferring to trains somewhere between GI and Sylvia Park. Let’s be real, a line is not going to be built out east anytime soon. The transfer station would have to be specially built to handle large volumes of passengers. It simply wouldn’t do to try and use any existing station as it exists now. Of course, we all know that Aucklands planning geniuses would try to use a station as is. Integrated ticketing would be a must. Also worth considering would be a short additional line to create a triangle at Westfield junction allowing a southbound train to turn directly north either way. This used to be swamp but I’m not sure if it has since been “developed”.

  13. Ian, I agree that bus transfering to train is the best idea in the short-to-medium term. Changes to Panmure station would probably suffice in terms of a transfer point.

    However, going against that idea is that significant money is going to need to be invested to get any level of real improvement to bus travelling times through that area. Bus lanes along Lagoon Drive, through Ti Rakau Drive past Pakuranga and so forth. If you have to spent a few hundred million on a pretty lame solution, then maybe it does make more sense to just go the whole hog and actually get a really good solution.

  14. I would say the short term answer is option two, a QTN style series of buslanes from Botany to Newmarket and on to the Central Connector, in conjunction with option three, a quality bus to rail interchange at Panmure (eastern line) and again at Ellerslie (southern line).

    That would give the southeasties three routes across the ithsmus to the central city, plus some reasonable links to the rest of the region.

  15. I dunno Nick, wouldn’t it be far more efficient to terminate a lot of those East Auckland buses at Panmure? Otherwise you’re effectively duplicating a lot of services between Panmure and the CBD. I suppose you might want to extend the bus services through to Ellerslie for people trying to get to Newmarket.

  16. I don’t know what you mean by duplicating exactly, the rail line? That kinda goes the other way and there might not be a heap of room for bus passengers. There are plenty of buses on the E-P route already, it would just be a case of sorting out a proper bus lanes system.
    I’m assuming that people want to go to places like Gt South Rd, Newmarket, Grafton etc as well as just downtown.

  17. With regard to light rail, maybe they could get a system that would run on the heavy rail tracks as well. It would need the same overhead line electrification specification though, but should not be a big issue.

    Not sure what the benefit would be though.

  18. Nick, yes I imagine there would be quite a lot of people wanting to get to that Great South Road corridor, but is it efficient to run so many buses along Great South Road parallel to a railway line?

  19. It seems clear to me here that you’d want to make Highland Park into a feeder, with PT into and out of it. There are an awful lot of people out there who seem poorly served by transport options.

  20. I wonder about the river crossing. perhaps its better to go further north towards point England. For a couple of reasons. One is that the useable part of the river is actually narrower there as opposed to lower down and so I wonder if they could simply dredge up a lot of the sand in the tamaki river to make a causeway or little island that the train could run on. the part of the river you would have to bridge or tunnel is only a small portion of what it looks like on the map. The rest is a no go area for boats. as you can see the river around this area is largely a sand bar. That might make it cheaper. here is a little map to explain what im getting at. just tunnel or bridge between the two blue lines.

    [admin – oops sorry I killed your link to the picture while trying to make it a real image. feel free to repost it and i’ll try to turn it into an image again!]

  21. Good to see you again Saljen, this is your original alignment!

    I think realistically the Tamaki River crossing will end up being a tunnel (it has to be a tunnel fairly quickly on the Highland Park side anyway), so its exact alignment will be more dependent on geology and engineering standards than anything else I suspect.

  22. Hi Jarbury, Yes, its my original alignment but Im a shocker for changing my mind lol.
    If its a tunnel then thats fine, I suppose it doesnt matter much but the little map I made was just to show that whether it be a tunnel or a bridge, only a small part of the river is useable at that point so it might be cheaper than expected.. Between the two blue lines is the navigable part so its only 150m or so wide. Perhaps another cheaper solution could be found for the other part. The more southern alignment goes over or under a much wider navigable part of the river and so any bridge or tunnel might have to rise or fall more steeply.


  23. Good work and ideas all. This route is similar to a heavy electrified rail line loop from Orakei to Papatoetoe via Bucklands Beach proposed in the 1940s (until the 1949 election), although this is a more southerly route, which makes more sense (and probably would have been what would have come out of more detailed studies post-1949 if the election had gone differently). I came to the same conclusion some years ago, before I even knew about the 1940s proposal, and I only came across this thread today. I think tunnels are the way to go through sensitive areas, in which case the alignment can be much ‘straighter’, with much gentler horizontal and vertical curves for better operation. Most of the ‘tunnel’ sections can be relatively shallow, cut-and-cover and/or thrust box through the residential areas and even just mounded-over trenches through the green open space areas, so it won’t impact on recreational amenity – and don’t have to cost so much – only the section under the navigable part of the river would need to be quite deep, probably immersed box/tube sections. My route corresponds with Saljen’s suggestion of ‘landing’ on the west bank in the vicinity of Point England, and joining the existing rail line in the vicinity of Glen Innes station (which may have to be shifted slightly northward if it were to serve as a junction station). I think the present AMETI proposal is very short-sighted and won’t do much, and a route like this will have to be built sooner or later.

  24. I don’t know why my phone appeared with this post but it is very interesting. And some people come up with some good options. I personally think this is a better option than.light rail in the long term for this area. Staging this line so goes Glen Innes to Botany First is a very good idea. I don’t see why dedicated bus lanes don’t go on Ti Rakau drive right now if put in with entire bus network like your 2030 plan. Agreed 50% car capacity but it is rooted anyway and the mode shift needs to be bigger sooner in this area. Forget the slow phasing in of AMETI to Botany what is that 2021 t needs bus lanes right now.

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