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.

The City Loop proposal from 1972. Click to view full detail.

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 rapid rail network proposal from 1972. Click to view full detail.

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.

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17 comments

    1. Shame he couldn’t ‘Think Big’ on rapid transit. It would have fit quite well with his concept of local infrastructure expenditure to reduce reliance on imported fuel, and it probably would have actually paid off.

      1. Five Years later I finally comment: Tony Friedlander (of the Friedlander trucking family) was Muldoon’s Minister of Transport. He’s the same Minister who took the 150km limit off trucking and put the big rigs on roads everywhere. We are seeing the same behaviour from National today: anti-public rail / pro-private trucks on subsidized taxpayer-funded roads.

        One can rely on them not changing much over time. It’s the same group of vested interests and the same crony networks.

  1. Extremely visionary then – 40yrs later we are largely agreeing with the route and location, and have even replicated one with the Busway.

    Extremely depressing now – considering what could have been…..

    1. Well the loop itself is very small, and it would be a shorter distance to Newmarket via the Parnell Branch. The lack of an east facing link probably has most to do with the K Rd tunnel starting Kingsland for a reasonably grade, a la the old Morningside Deviation, although it is a very “get em to the city” focus.

      Having said that I’m still trying to work out exactly what the intended routing was. Presumably the Western and Dominion lines head straight to the City Loop and back via K Rd. But we can see the line from Mt Eden to Newmarket is marked in red so it was intended to carry some rapid tranis route, unlike the bit of the eastern line through Panmure which isn’t marked which I guess means it was left from freight only. So what goes through where we have Grafton Station today?

      Another thing I’ve just noticed was the loop and it’s approaches have two levels, and the tunnel through K Rd and the viaduct over to Auckland Station were three or maybe four tracks each (it’s hard to see if the lower level has one or two tracks). Also K Rd station had entrances on both sides of the motorway, getting one quite close to where Newton station will go.

  2. So sad… to think of the benefits Robbie’s scheme would have reaped over the last 40 years or so. To catch a train from Howick direct to the CBD – instead of taking a slow, smelly, expensive 1-hour bus ride through the suburbs – would have been awesome.

  3. Ahh, what could have been. Just looked up MAXX with a view to getting a bus from Te Atatu to Vector tonight and had a laugh. They won’t be getting rid of car park buildings in the CBD any time soon!

  4. Most likely the plan was similar to other cities who built loops at that time and the plan was to send trains in on one line and out again on the same line. I think I remember reading somewhere that part of the plan was actually to build the whole thing in standard gauge which is one of the things that ended up helping to sink the proposal as it would have meant much of the existing tracks would have had to have been replaced which only served to push up the costs. Also I’m pretty sure the plan was massive rationalisation of the stations so the system could run at a fairly high average speed with buses feeding into those stations. I’m also pretty sure that the plan was to build the loop and link from the old Strand station initially along with new tracks on the southern and eastern lines, the western line was considered something possible for the future as I’m sure the rest of the lines were.

    If a system like this had of been built the city would be a very different place today, out of interest what where the patronage forecasts? I suspect that if it was built even by 1990 then by today we would be seeing 80m+ journeys per year, possibly a lot more.

    In the end I think the biggest complaint about the whole scheme that I have is that nothing was done to keep it alive. I can understand funding to build it not being available but they surely could have at least got all of the land designated. Basically they should have kept pushing on with it so that it was ready to go in the future.

    The other interesting thing you can see on that second map is all of the planned motorways, as you mention there is the Dominion Rd one but there is also Te Irirangi Dr as well as one from Avondale to Henderson.

  5. The major political parties attitudes to Auckland in the 70’s was pretty much the same as today. Labour, lukewarm but prepared to do something with an eye to the future and National, looking forever backward. There was a real sense of Auckland shedding its dowdy semi rural image when Labour announced the loop and electrification of the Papakura line. Muldoon also arbitrarily killed off the super scheme immediately he became PM. Few people look back on his nine years of stewardship with any fondness. Thanks for this insight. I had never seen this detail before.

  6. Muldoon was promising pensioners something like 80% of the average wage. It was an outrageous bribe he knew could never be delivered on. But regarding the present rail situation, it is a case of deja vu.

  7. Yes it was definitely about going in, round the loop dowtown, then back out on the same line. My confusion was over what would run on the line between Mt Eden and Newmarket, as the track diagram shows the western and dominion lines use the tunnel via K Rd). Indeed the first stage was to build the loop from the old Auckland Station only, so perhaps the line from Mt Eden to Newmarket simply indicates that the western line would continue to use that route until the K Rd tunnel was built at a latter date.

    This scheme was definitely not standard gauge, the report states that it would use ‘existing NZR gauge’.

    I can’t recall the patronage forecasts, I should really go back and photograph every page properly and upload it as a PDF to the web for posterity.

    All the motorways shown are simply held over from the 1955 Master Transportation Plan (the one we still seem to be following today!). One thing to notice is that the fruiter routes like Henderson and Te Iririangi motorways were in a light dotted line, unlike the motorways that were existing or confirmed at the time. That suggests even then they were a little suspect on whether those ones would be build.

    As for designating land, apart from the city tunnelled sections and couple of extensions it all followed either existing rail designations or the route of the proposed motorways. I guess they were counting on the motorway designations to secure the corridor.
    The plot of land where the tunnel portal was to go opposite Auckland Station is still empty and undeveloped, I wonder if it is in public hands still?

    1. Do you mean the site next to the station hotel, across the road from the Gummer & Ford Station? That’s a road reserve still I think, and certainly could be above any tunnel to link a future North Shore Line through Aotea Station to the Eastern Line at the Strand. Although I quite like the idea of this tunnel coming out Constitution Hill at the elevation of the existing rail bridge, crossing the road at the bottom of Grafton at this height and connecting with the southern line on the city side of the Parnell Station. This would allow routing that avoids the slow loop around Vector and gives AK a cross-like South/North and West/East pattern.

      The North Shore Line would run Takapuna, Akoranga, Tank Farm, Aotea, Parnell, Newmarket etc. Even Barry might be able to see the usefulness of that….?

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