I had a few moments spare in the city library yesterday and thought I’d have a peek up at the Auckland Research Centre. This section of the library is great for finding old plans and proposal on anything related to transport or urban planning (by the way, just about every report, plan or meeting minutes from any council in Auckland is held on desk copy in the archives in the library basement. If you ever wanted to know about any council document it is there).
While there I luckily found what I was looking for, a copy showing the 1972 Rapid Transit Plan for Auckland. The history of this plan is eerily similar to our current situation in many ways. It was a revolutionary scheme championed by the charismatic mayor of Auckland Dove Myer Robinson (leading to the nickname ‘Robbie’s Rapid Rail’), despite the mayoralty and council not having the means to actually fund the thing independently. They began working on alternate funding solutions such as a targeted land tax but found them impossible to implement without support from Wellington. In the end by the Labour government reluctantly offered an election pledge to fund the proposal, but failed to deliver on that pledge. A wholly unsupportive National government were voted into power in 1975 and in 1976 the plan was cancelled completely.
The 1972 plan was based on the De Leuw Cather report of 1965, and it actually goes into very fine detailed design, modelling of patronage and economic analysis. It even goes so far as to include scale diagrams of the necessary grade separations on the western line, designs for park and ride stations and timetables for the integrated bus feeder services. One wonders if project DART planners couldn’t have simply checked this document out from the library and got stuck in!
I’ve taken photos of two pages that outline that out line the main components of the scheme so I’ll go through the interesting features of each one. Overall it is such a huge shame we didn’t build this scheme, as it would have provided us with a five line rapid rail transit system with a central city underground loop, fed by integrated bus feeders and park-n-ride and a focus on development around key nodes. Auckland would be a much different (and in my opinion better) place if we’d had such a system shaping the city’s development for the last thirty years.
The city loop (an actual loop)
Unlike the current proposals for a City Rail Tunnel, the 1972 scheme did actually contain a tight loop of tunnels under the core of the CBD. Two main stations were proposed: one downtown in the vicinity of theQueen St/Shortland Street intersection, and a second midtown between Queen Stand Mayoral Drive, about halfway between Aotea Square and Albert park. A third city station was to be built at K Rd, but this would have been a stop on the western line only.
Now I’m generally against rail loops, especially one way loops but this one seems to be small and tight enough to work. With only two stations and about a two kilometres right around it would be very quick to circuit and would have worked well. (Compare this to the modern suggestion of using the City Rail Tunnel and the existing Newmarket to Britomart line as a loop: that would be 9.3km around with seven or eight stops on the way. Just plain loopy!).
We can see that the main link to the existing system comes via a tunnel and viaduct leading to the old Auckland Station. Indeed next to the former railway hotel opposite the station buildings there is still the empty section of cliff where the viaduct was to enter the tunnel. A good benefit of this scheme is that it maintained the old terminus as a proper ‘central station’ for long distance trains and generally kept them clear of the suburban tunnel operations. Also visible is the tunnelled link to theNorthShoreline, which passes underneathWynyardWharf. If only we had that tunnel today we could already have the station for the waterfront development.
As an aside, if you look closely at that page (sorry about the quality, I snapped it on a camera phone) you can see the full central motorway junction plans in all their monstrous glory. Notice how the spaghetti stretches right down Grafton gully to a elevated Eastern Motorway, while the CMJ is insanely complex due to the links to the mercifully never built Dominion Motorway (note how the Dominion Motorway runs beside the huge new North Rd interchange, rather than through it as commonly assumed). Could we image the traffic nightmare the full junction would be today, not to mention the urban destruction? Sounds like Dante’s tenth circle of hell to me, a combination of Limbo and Treachery.
The suburban network
Moving on to the second image we see the real extent of the rapid transit system proposed. One thing I can’t quite figure out is whether the dots indicate the only stations, or if they are simply the major stations. If it is the former then the plan involved a major rationalisation of stations and would have been a really rapid rail system.
For example the southern line would have only six stop between Newmarket and Papakura allowing for some lightning transit times! I guess we can assume that every station would have been a major bus interchange and almost all passengers would have used a feeder bus to get to their local station. An interesting omission here is a Manukau link, perhaps we would have seen Papatoetoe or Manurewa be the ‘centre’ of south Auckland instead, or perhaps they would have simply built the branch at the time Manukau was first developed rather than thirty years later. Looking at the lines in turn now, perhaps the most obvious addition is the North Shore rail line. Not surprisingly the station locations are almost exactly the same as the busway interchanges. The first is one at the bottom of Onewa Rd in Northcote, originally planned for the busway but never built. Next we have stations as Barry’s Point (aka Akoranga), Wairau valley (aka Sunnynook), Sunset Rd (aka Constellation) andAlbany. From there the line takes quite an interesting route north, via a station at Redvale (presumably a big park n ride?) it curves around the waterfront at Stillwater to a station half way along the Whangaparoa peninsula like a sort of rail based Penlink. Again with only six stations between Whangaparoa and the CBD transit times would have been around 30 minutes or less.
The western line appears much the same, except for the fact there are only four stations remaining between Henderson and town. The main difference is that the route leaves the existing line at Ranui and curves north along a ridge beside Don Buck Drive to terminate at as station called ‘Hobsonville’, which if we look closely is actually right where Westgate exists today. A quick glance at Google Maps shows that this ridge line is still largely undeveloped, perhaps we could still use this route to extend the rail line up to Westgate and the upper harbour?
Over on the Eastern Line close inspection shows something interesting. Unlike the Western and Southern which use the existing tracks, it looks like the eastern rapid rail would have run alongside the existing tracks in the same corridor. In particular we can see a station at St Johns Rd and an alignment that appears to cross over the existing tunnel, both of which suggests the new line was intended to climb up the hill rather than use the low level tunnel. I guess this is in order to keep the old ones for port freight. Perhaps this is something we could still look too in the future (that is keeping the existing eastern line tracks for freight and building a new set in the corridor to specifically to take rapid transit), especially if we were considering some from of light rail or light metro for a line out to Botany and beyond. At Panmure the rapid rail line has definitely deviated from the main line and it passes east of the Panmure lagoon before passing further east to new stations at Pakauranga and Harris Rd (just before contemporary Botany Town Centre) to terminate at Howick. Apart from the last station, this route is pretty much the same today on the Auckland Plan and the AMETI busway plans. This is an interesting concept, modern designs have rapid transit to Botany then heading along Te Iririangi Drive, but a spur out toward Howick would certainly get right deep into the neighbourhoods on the Howick peninsula.
The last line is quite a curious one. The outer section of this is extremely similar to current proposals for an Airport/southwest suburbs line, more or less following the motorway corridor from Onehunga to the Airport via Mangere Town Centre. The interesting bit is on the inner section: rather than travelling along the Onehunga branch and the Southern line into the city, it actually swings up part of the old Avondale-Southdown corridor through to Mt Roskill then along Dominion Rd straight into town. Certainly this would be quite a good way to get a direct trip to the airport plus take care of the central ithsmus transport needs at the same time. A close look at the map suggest the line runs parallel just east of Dominion Rd, presumably in the same corridor as the proposed motorway. Luckily for us we never carved that horrific scar across the central suburbs, however unfortunately that likewise make such a rail line quite infeasible today. I suppose a long Dominion rail tunnel or some sort of light rail or metro system could work (if we had the funds), but generally I think a rail line via Onehunga paired with trams on Dominion Rdwill take care of those transport needs.
From a modern viewpoint this system is extremely radial and CBD focussed, like the system in Melbourne. However if we had had these lines in place by the late 80s we can assume that other lines would have been built since, for example the Te Irirangi – Flatbush corridor probably would have included a rail link between the eastern and southern lines in addition to an expressway, and probably over to the airport too. Likewise completing the gaps in the route between Avondale, Onehunga,Westfieldand Panmure would have been a logical choice for an ithsmus line linking all the main radials.
A real shame this network ended up being cancelled shortly before it got started, but perhaps there is a thing or two we could learn from this proposal for the future of rapid transit in Auckland.