Nick’s post a few days back on looking at a Vancouver Skytrain type solution for providing the North Shore with a long-term rapid transit system (as well as other areas, but I think North Shore is the one which makes the most sense initially) inspired a lot of discussion. It also made me take a second look at the issue – especially if the “light metro” can run over the Harbour Bridge (or just beneath the traffic deck?) and could run up the busway without requiring serious earthworks.
First things first, I think it’s necessary to point out that the North Shore has a very high quality, pretty brand-spanking new, Rapid Transit option at the moment – in the form of the Northern Busway. So any rail projects to the North Shore are likely to be a fairly low priority – definitely after the City Rail Link and the Southwest/Airport Line. There’s also a good argument over whether the proposed AMETI busway is really a long-term solution for that part of Auckland (or whether we need to look at rail options) but that’s a debate for another day.
While the Northern Busway certainly has plenty of life left in it, and plenty of spare capacity along part of its route, it has its own weaknesses. It has to share lanes with general traffic over the harbour bridge, Fanshawe Street is getting close to the maximum number of buses it can handle and – more generally – the city centre is increasingly being flooded with buses at peak times. While the City Rail Link will do a lot to help the issue of the CBD being flooded with buses, it obviously won’t do anything about the number of buses coming in from the North Shore – as is shown in the diagram below, which looks at projected bus numbers in 2041 with the City Rail Link: The Albert Street bus numbers can be fixed by running more North Shore services via Wellesley Street, and perhaps the Fanshawe numbers could be decreased a little bit by running some via Cook/Wellington St (although they would have no priority measures between Fanshawe & Cook/Wellington). But generally we’re going to have more than 200 buses an hour from the North Shore coming into the city centre by 2041. That leads to poor operation, significant delays and a pretty horrific City Centre. Oxford Street in London is a good example of the problem created by so many buses passing through a particular street where you don’t have the width to create a Curitiba/Bogota style of BRT system (and I would argue we don’t have that width in Auckland’s city centre): NZTA’s study into North Shore Rail (which is where the above images all come from) only considered two options for future rapid transit: the current busway or an eye-wateringly expensive full-scale completely underground Metro from Newmarket to Albany. The report says this:
In this section of the report, a comparison is made between busway and rail systems with respect to service attributes, corridor capacity, system attractiveness and transit mode share response. Consideration is also given to differences between the two types of systems with respect to CBD impacts and their role in shaping cities.
Comments in this section regarding rail are made on assumptions of a suburban or metro rail system (otherwise referred to as commuter or heavy rail systems). A comprehensive review of different rail types is not provided here, but it is assumed that rail in the North Shore would be either an electric suburban system, similar to that to be operating on the electrified lines in Auckland, or a metro rail system.
Constructing a light rail system along the Northern Busway corridor would not deliver any benefits over the existing busway system and is not considered here.
I completely agree it would be nonsensical to construct a light-rail line to the North Shore – as it would be an enormous cost for little, if any, capacity benefit as compared to a busway. Furthermore, you would force transfers from feeder buses without providing the speed advantage that comes from a fully grade-separated Metro solution (whether that be traditional Metro or Light Metro).
The NZTA report also chooses a rather strange preferred alignment for Rapid Transit on the North Shore – not quite on the busway route but sort of zig-zagging across it – requiring such an alignment to be fully underground:No real justification for this particular alignment is provided in the NZTA report, although I’m presuming it’s preferred over the busway route in order to connect up existing town centres.
On the city side, the report uses the super-deluxe tunnel idea running beneath the University and Hospital to link further south – something completely unnecessary in my opinion. So really, we can ignore the massive cost that the NZTA report concludes would occur if we tried to create a rail link to the North Shore – especially if the Light Metro option is viable. Somehow getting the line over the existing harbour bridge is surely likely to be around a billion dollars cheaper than a rail tunnel (and if we could sling it under the existing bridge deck we can even keep the existing number of lanes). Secondly, if we can easily upgrade the existing busway to carry Light Metro trains we have a pretty cheap way of getting those trains to Constellation Station. A full Rapid Transit right-of-way between Constellation and Albany doesn’t yet exist, but is in the process of being planned, so could be constructed in a way that’s easy to upgrade to Light Metro when necessary.
Now if we look at that issue of cost, a fairly good guide would be the Canada Line in Vancouver – which was opened in late 2009 and is constructed to the “Light Metro” standard we’re talking about here (even if it is a slightly different technology to the rest of the Vancouver system). The Canada Line’s route is shown in the image to the left, effectively being a key north-south link across Vancouver, connecting the downtown with the Airport and with the major sub-regional centre of Richmond.
Around 110,000 trips a day are taken along the line, which wasn’t expected to reach 100,000 daily riders until 2013. During the February 2010 Winter Olympics there were well over 200,000 daily trips (who says the Rugby World Cup is the world’s third biggest sporting event?)
The line includes just over 19 km of track, including the 4km spur to the Airport. As you can see from the map to the left, a large chunk of the route is in a tunnel – either cut and cover (between Marine Drive and Olympic Village) or as a bored tunnel (the central city section). The bored tunnel section is around 2.7km long and the cut and cover tunnel seems (from looking at Google Earth) to be around 6 km long.
In total, the project has the following lengths of different types of tracks:
Tunnel 9080 m
Elevated 7349 m
Bridge 614 m
At-Grade 1385 m
In contrast, by my rough calculations a North Shore Line would have around 1.5km of bored tunnel (Westhaven to Aotea Station), around 2km of elevated tracks (if we price the harbour bridge section as being roughly similar to that of elevated tracks, as some strengthening and other work may be required) with pretty much most of the rest able to be at grade – aside from probably a new bridge over Constellation Drive (and a stronger Tristram Ave bridge potentially). On a per kilometre basis, you would certainly think that a North Shore Line could be much cheaper than the Canada Line.
All up it seems that construction of the Canada Line cost around $2 billion Canadian, with the cost being split across a variety of agencies and there being a PPP structure put in place:
The Canada Line was built as a public-private partnership. Funding was provided by both government agencies and a private partner, the proponent. As of March 2009, the entire project was expected to cost $2.054 billion. The premier of BC has furthermore stated that the project is on budget and ahead of schedule. When approved in December 2004 the cost was given as $1.76 billion.
The public contributions to the budget comes from the following sources:
Government of Canada: $450 million
Government of British Columbia: $435 million
Vancouver Airport Authority: $300 million
TransLink: $334 million
City of Vancouver: $29 million
These sums are all in 2006 dollars, except for the Government of Canada’s contribution which will be paid out when constructed, and is estimated to be equivalent of $419 million 2003 dollars.
The private partner was expected to contribute $200 million, as well as being responsible for any construction cost overruns. As of November 7, 2009, InTransitBC has invested $750 million. InTransitBC is a joint venture company owned by SNC-Lavalin, the Investment Management Corporation of BC (bcIMC) and the Caisse de Depot et Placements de Quebec.
The British Columbia government initially committed $370 million but when the bid came in over budget, they contributed an extra $65 million. TransLink also put in extra money by committing money from the sale of the Sexsmith Park and Ride in Richmond and from the introduction of a special fare in the Airport Zone.
I wonder whether some sort of similar funding arrangement might be looked at for the City Rail Link project.
A North Shore Line via the existing busway and the harbour bridge is around 16 kilometres in length, so a bit shorter than the Canada Line – while the route also involves less tunnelling and elevated structures (and a lot fewer underground stations), so would be much cheaper that way. So it’s feasible the cost of a North Shore Line could actually come in at a price far less than the crazy $11 billion or whatever NZTA suggested the line would cost. That may well make the project viable in 15 or so years time when the city can’t handle any more buses.