Peter has usefully opened discussion on possible future network plans for Auckland transit systems. There is currently a great deal of work happening on both the CRL and and a study into ways to optimise access to the airport and the rest of south west AK. There is also a huge and exciting revolution underway for the entire bus network in full flight. So as we wait for the results of this work I think it is useful to run through various options for the city as a whole across all modes, but in order to do this we do need to look at some parts separately and in detail.

Here I want to have a look at the rail network alone. And in particular the next possible stages beyond the CRL and how that might all connect together. Yes this is only part of the RTN resource but because rail is, by definition, a closed system, it does require understanding on its own logic. And we need to have some idea of where we’re heading in order to not close off important opportunities. Peter discussed lineal routes with branches in his latest post. And I did a post on how important Aotea Station will be for the whole of Auckland, here. In this post I want explore a different variation in network design to the one discussed in my previous Aotea post, but one that still has Aotea as the essential heart of the network.

It seems to me that a combination of two largely discrete lines is the most elegant and efficient way to serve Auckland. This pattern reconciles the shape of the existing network with the most pressing new needs. And because no route can be designed separately from how it will be run we need to think about how best to integrate the next major addition to the network, after the CRL and the extension to the airport, the North Shore Line. This line could operate in isolation across the harbour but it would be better if it integrates more fully with the rest of the system. And happily by doing so it creates a more balanced network than the one we have now, or even the much improved network we’ll have once the CRL is built. In the Aotea post I looked at connecting North to East, and West to South. Here is another option with different advantages: North/South and East/West; forming a simple cross shaped network of two lines. Potential 2030+ network:

'The Cross' possible North-South and West-East network model

Now feel free to haggle about various details. How exactly the airport is best reached is a whole debate in itself and deserving of its own post. And whether the North Shore line just heads to Akoranga and Takapuna and allows the the busway north of the Aoranga Interchange Station to serve the northern Shore is also a good debate. You can see that I’m not a great fan of the full Onehunga to Avondale line as it has both a very expensive steep section and a dubious running pattern. Happy to be argued with about that. Of course if there was a strategy to develop Marsden Pt Port and therefore the freight route was put through this route that would change my view.

The big point is, just two lines: North-South and West-East. Hinging on the all important Aotea Station. Rolling stock stabled at yards on the fringes. I added the Mt Roskill spur because this is a booming area and the buses there could do with some relief, and because post CRL rail will be so much faster on the Western Line into and through the city. But also because it is a cost effective way to balance the Western and Eastern Line running patterns. There are also questions around direct West South running through Grafton: I’m a fan, especially once rail reaches the airport as people from all over will be heading there, and it makes no sense to send every trip through the busiest CBD section. Note that the Mt Eden Station has moved with access to both Dominion Rd and Mt Eden roads and is an inexpensive surface station south of the junction to the tunnel entrance and the branch to Grafton.

The really interesting part with this model is how it elegantly knits the North Shore Line into the Southern Line at the bottom of Parnell with the useful addition of a University Station and gives us an opportunity to all but avoid the slow and inefficient loop around the back of Vector arena:


Here’s a close up of Stanley St. Sitting on the train through here I have often thought how easy it would be to just straighten that bridge out at the bottom of Parnell stay above the traffic on a short viaduct and slide into a tunnel entrance into the cliff on Constitution Hill. Especially as it is so painful crawling around the back of the Vector Arena, and how many of those on board are heading up town from Britomart anyhow. This would also sort out the conflicted Britomart entrance at Quay Park, leaving it for Eastern Line and Intercity trains only.

There are two options, the northerly one over the pub, or a more southerly one between two buildings on the east side of Stanley St, if possible. Unfortunately the building site in the background image between these two is now a building, occupied by Kiwi Rail on the floor level with the track [!]. The land on the other side of Stanley Street I believe is owned by NZTA as they have further massive motorway plans for poor old Grafton Gully.

Parnell to Aotea Options

A University station would be tricky to site and make for a short run to Aotea, but would be extremely busy immediately and not only for the Universities but also the courts, the Art Gallery, the Library and so on. But more importantly I think it is essential to take pressure off Aotea Station as it would likely to become overwhelmed by both Southern Line and Northern Line riders as the only central city destination. There are of course heritage factors to consider too, as there are preexisting tunnels [and here] in the basalt and scoria on this route. But what a great opportunity to access them. We could leave the station cavity rock walls exposed , in an even cooler volcanic version of the Stockholm Subway. There are so many ways our network could be wonderful see here from examples from around the world. I particularly like Shanghai’s light show.

Personally I think the University Station could be called Princes St, Albert Park or even Albert Barracks and it should be sited with very public street entrances as well as in the quad as it’s not just about the Universities. It seems to make more sense for the line from Wynyard Point to be under Wellesley St than Victoria St, but either way here are a couple of options with possible station exists in white:

University Station options- 'Albert Park'

No route with underground stations and tunneling is cheap. But it is not as long nor as steep as the CRL. Of course the harbour crossing is expensive too. But that needs to be put into the context of the numbers that the proposed road crossing of the harbour come to. And it would staged; Aotea to the busway Interchange Station at Akoranga is essentially the harbour crossing. And this plan to link this line to the existing Southern line could follow later. The real question is about the value of these competing ideas for the city as a whole. The fact that there is absolutely nowhere for thousands of additional cars to go either side of any further road crossing whereas a line like this can move tens of thousands of people day and night irrespective of the congestion above both into and right through the city. It directly connects the businesses and beaches of Takapuna to everywhere on the rest of the network including the airport. Like the CRL it helps unlock the hidden value in our already existing long rail lines.

Albany to Airport: It could be called the ‘A’ Line or the ‘A’ Train: ….I look forward to your views.

The 'A' Train; from 8th Ave to Rockaway Beach
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  1. I think a north/south and east/west cross is nice and simple pattern and would work well. The only problem is it would orphan Grafton which would require something like a shuttle from your Dom Rd station to Newmarket which isn’t ideal.

    It actually opens up four main running patterns.
    Swanson to town then out east and to Manukau.
    Mt Roskill to town then out east to Papakura
    Papakura to town via Newmarket then over the shore to Takapuna
    Airport to town then over the Shore to Albany
    Each of these lines could easily run at 5 minute frequencies which would mean the inner sections would see a train every 2.5 mins so lots capacity over what we have now.

    Thinking about the connection between the north and south, it would probably be easiest under Victoria St but I think a uni station might be too close to the Aotea one. I would also say that if we were to build things like you suggest then we should at the very least get the designations sorted at the same time as the CRL so we can easily do it in the future. I fear that otherwise something could happen that prevents it from ever being possible (without huge costs).

  2. Very nice plan Patrick and very similar to where my network was heading. If it becomes clear that the North-South line should go under Victoria Street then that has some implications for the design of Aotea Station.

  3. I like the idea of simplifying the future Auckland network into 2 cross city lines that link in the CBD with opportunities to transfer.
    Looking at the PT coverage of the CBD post CRL, I think it will be getting harder to justify additional underground railway stations in the CBD. Rail coverage holes like around the uni campus can be filled with bus coverage. Also the cost of another cross city rail tunnel has got me looking at alternatives.
    I would suggest comparing your proposal with an option that has the eastern rail line going:
    • underground at Mechanics Bay
    • possibly building a station close to the old beach Rd station or Vector Arena
    • and then through a Quay St cut and cover tunnel to new platforms parallel to Britomart
    • continuing on to Wynyard Quarter to connect with future harbour tunnel.
    The advantages of this should be cheaper construction due to the cut and cover of Quay St and the avoidance of the tricky and expensive cross platforms at Aotea. With this network the Northern and Eastern/Manukau lines would link up, the Western and Southern lines would join and the Airport/Onehunga train would have space to start at Britomart.

    1. Can do that, but it is always better to send the route to where the people are. As we had that underlined during the RWC, the harbour edge is just that; an edge, not a centre. And it is an edge that is already well served by rail, ferries, and buses. Spending any money must put balance into the system not further tip it in one direction.

      We cannot keep adding buses into Auckland indefinitely. Sure, the CRL will solve capacity on the isthmus for the foreseeable future, but then the problem is the North Shore. here is a chance to kill a whole bunch of birds at once. But not cheaply of course.

  4. I very much like the “A” logo bit at the end of the post.

    Well I have to give it to Peter and Patrick on some fine work here in facilitating a debate here. One could say I have the pencil and pad out busy taking notes on these posts and comments for various reasons.

    I do have one question – cost.
    Having seen what Peter and Patrick put forward some brilliant ideas here the next question that is going to come to everyone’s mind is the $ sign.
    Is anyone able to run THE ENTIRE MEGA-PROJECT of developing this 2040 Transit Network both in grand total and section by section please (while I know the CRL and AMETI costs, throw them in as well to allow a full perspective).

    (Being devil’s advocate here) This entire scheme has its merits for sure – however if it spooks Auckland Council, Central Government (wait useless idiots they are), and more to the point ratepayers because of cost then we get a lame duck. Most people can not see 2040 let alone 2013 and probably the end of Sunday (Saturday Night…) so long term projects need to be sold carefully – but hey preaching to the Choir aren’t I? 😉

    1. Over the period, 30 years, considerably less than we have been spending on Auckland motorways. And it is time to stop building motorways, we’re done. Time for balance.

      So the real question is not to focus on cost only but on value. These are very long lived assets and of great value to the economy and society of our biggest city. Well that is an important debate and part of that debate is to look at the details of what we could have.

    2. I would imagine as part of the planning process this Transit Network will be only one of many assessed, i.e. I guess it’ll be compared against further motorway building plus many more combinations of transit networks.

      Each of these networks will be costed (cost probably the key item to develop and to ensure that it is representative!) and the forecast system performance / LOS compared – to develop a ‘optimal’ transit network. With good robust planning – I think it will be politically very hard to argue against. Why would you want fund a demonstrably ‘sub-optimal’ scheme??

      In terms of cost it you look historically what’s been spend on transit in Auckland, will have some pretty significant funds to play with. We just need to ensure that they are spent appropriately.

  5. Do we need a university station? Under a 2-line system Grafton will be isolated (& redundant?) (as Matt L pointed out) – Grafton currently services the hospital for the Western Line – though not in an ideal location. Therefore under a 2-line system we will still need provide good connectivity to hospital from the RTN – would it be a better of use funds to drop the university station & construct a QTN (light rail?) system to connect the university / hospital to the RTN. If we drop the university station do we need a crossrail tunnel? If this case can the north shore line not connect at Aotea or Britomart?

    Also your point about moving the Mt Eden station to Dominion road – sounds pretty useful to me as Mt Eden buses will be able to connect at the Newton station to the RTN – however without this Dominion Rd Buses will either have to dog leg to Newton or run into the CBD. Do you know if this will happen as part of the CRL?

    1. I’m very keen on the university station for the three reasons above:
      1. Huge numbers of users are heading to both Universities and the institutions and businesses around them: Courts, Art Gallery, Library etc
      2. Without it these A line users will overwhelm Aotea Station
      3. Elegant, efficient, and cost effective way to integrate the North Shore Line to the whole southern network including the Airport; it isn’t just about the CBD at all, it’s about connecting the important edges through the high volume centre. efficient. direct. So not cheap; but of high value.

      I see Grafton as still having services. As I say above. It is important for the local schools, Domain, and Hospital. And it’s there.
      Dom road buses will still travel to the CBD.

      1. 4. Get nascent professionals hooked on rail when they are young.

        From a purely selfish standpoint as a resident of Franklin I have almost no use for commuter rail and scant use for motorways either but I have children who will be university students soon. I would like them to be able to use rail to get to and from the university in a timely, comfortable and safe manner. Walking for hundreds of metres is OK in fine weather but try it when it is squally and raining and you have a laptop and a bunch of books. Buses to the door begin to look more attractive.

      2. The uni station is a great idea in principle but I worry you’d find it extremely difficult to find a route through there and a spot for a station. Most spots are extremely close to much of Auckland’s most precious heritage (Old Government House, Albert Barracks Walls, St Andrews Church etc.)

  6. Small change of detail.
    Wouldn’t be better for the southern leg of the airport line connect to the Manakau station. The line could run south of the South Western motorway(SH20)and use the southern link to the Manuakau Station that has already been build into the motorway overbridge. This would link Manukau Station to both legs of the ‘blue’ line and the costs would be less than pushing through the build up area to get to Puhinui Station.

    1. Yes. You are probably right. Get’s complicated though. Terminate eastern line trains at MC or Airport via MC? Manukau becomes a better and busier hub, fewer transfers for some.

      Pattern for the Southern Line then?: Half direct to the City, half via MC and the airport? Sort of express and local.


      1. Ideas for South Auckland Rail.
        3 lines.
        SW – Via Onehunga and new bridge to Airport terminating at manukau City
        South – via newmarket to Papakura with links to Pukekohe
        Eastern – via G.I. then terminating at Manukau.

        All operating 10 minute frequency. Simple and Good

        1. The other option is loop CBD – Airport – Manukau, every train from the CBD alternate between clockwise and anticlockwise.
          The eastern line (red) run through to Pukekohe.

          A train every 10 mins in the CBD, would give one very 10 mins at the Airport (assuming each side of the loop takes the same time. A train every 20 mins at Onehunga. 3 trains every 20 mins (two red, one blue)between Westfield and Puhinui which would become transfer stations between the two lines.

      2. I think the service should be through the airport to Manukau for two reasons.
        Firstly, the airport station must not be a terminal station. That would be a complete disaster in terms of future capacity. [I have been there before with that one: Manchester Airport station was built as a terminal station with 2 platforms, each capable of taking 2 x 3 car trains, generous capacity for the planned half hourly service of 1 x 3car that was seen as adequate for predicted passenger numbers. Within 10 years it was handling 9 trains an hour and because of the need to stack trains couldn’t accept the 2 x 3 car trains that peak crowding into the city was justifying. So at great expense a third platform was added, and even before the 3rd platform was commissioned we were putting together a business case for a fourth with passive provision for a fifth. If, in the first place, it had been built as a through station with an extra 6km of new track to join the other side to the network, two platforms would have been more than adequate.]
        Secondly, pushing the service on to Manukau provides an interchange connection to the airport for those coming from Papakura and Pukekohe without the need to provide a separate service.

        The other consequence of the pattern is that Aotea has to be built as the main Auckland commuter station. If I am a commuter from Westfield or south thereof, and I am going to the somewhere close to K’Road, Wynyard, University, or Birtomart, I may take the first train that turns up: half will take me to where I want to go, half will mean that I have a short walk and I can make a decision whilst standing on the same platform about whether I wish to take that option this morning. Going home though, I will double the frequency of my available trains if I go to Aotea. So commuters starting somewhere between Aotea and any of the other four are much more likely to walk that bit further to Aotea. That leads back to the earlier argument about all trains going to the same place: maybe all Papakura trains should be on the red line, wirh all returning commuters to to KRd, Aotea or B’mart, and all Manukau services on the blue with returning commuters going to Wynyard, Aotea or University.

  7. Great plan – reminds me a bit of Joel Cayford’s idea for a few years back of running a cross-CBD line…except he was proposing building the cross CBD line and Aotea Station first, thereby making two termini, and then building the CRL to build them. All devised as a way of connecting a future North Shore line to the network…I seem to recall Mike Lee slamming him at the time for not focussing on the CRL, but there you go – the thinking isn’t new. Might try dig up his blog about that if I can find it…

    1. Liam, terminating stations in the centre are a poor idea. This is all about through routing, trying to get away from dead ends. Mike Lee is right; the CRL is the vital first step. And although the expensive work is in the CBD it is about connecting each side of the city with each other through the agency of the high traffic centre.

      This line is for the 2020s by then then need will be so clear.

      1. Of, of course, don’t get me wrong, I’m 100% for the CRL as priority # 1 and all for through-routing… was just an interesting aside.

        As I recall the entire idea was premised on the question of how to get a connection to the North Shore while connecting more CBD destinations. While it would’ve meant two terminus stations initially (and I’m with you on that, terrible idea), the end result would’ve been exactly what you’ve proposed here, only built in a different order. Personally I agree with you that it should be CRL first, cross-town later – but Joel’s argument wasn’t without merit – Aotea Station theoretically gets built sooner and reduces any disruption to Britomart while first stage of the CRL goes through.

        I’m firmly in the ‘CRL first’ camp, but the point I was making is that aside from the sequencing of the projects, Joel’s idea wasn’t dissimilar to this.

  8. A lot of PT advocates (myself included) envision a twin-route Aotea station, but the problem is Auckland Transport are not planning for Aotea station to be designed as such. Plus every single official plan I’ve ever seen for a North Shore line has it coming out of Britomart, with a level junction off the CRL.

    The truth is a bi-level Aotea station needs to be adopted by AT and planned now, so it can be built (or future-proofed) as part of the CRL project.

    1. Geoff, I think your information there may be a little out date now. As I understand it.

      The interesting question is whether the route from Wynyard, or the Tank Farm (a name I’ve always liked) is to go under Wellesly St or Victoria St? Wellesly looks better as a direct route from a north/south station but I can seeNZTA getting huffy about that idea as they are still planning to fill the whole of Victoria Park and more with 3or4 more daft motorway tunnels. I too have only seen east/west stations here, which I always thought odd, but they may be out of date too. Of course I believe we only need to build rail a crossing so the tunnels would not need to follow any road programme.

      But I see problems with Victoria as the location of an east/west station, for example do the foundations of the Sky Tower mean that we push the station further east to be between Albert and Queen? I guess that makes sense, of course the tunnel will be nearer the surface here. Exits on Queen itself, etc. but that would certainly be the end of the Uni station (would make the link above to southern line a lot cheaper though) and can Aotea really cope with the numbers of people likely to be using this station both as the only CBD destination and the transfer point? That would have to be one big and fancy station. A tricky thing to fit below these full streets? Or fantastic? Easier bit of Vic st to dig up for months and months anyway.

      1. Just thinking if the above is the plan might be good to even give this station it’s own identity, Queen St perhaps, as it would only link with Aotea at its western end. It would certainly mean building the line from Parnell to Akoranga in one go is more of a possibility. To go head to head against the crazy road crossing plans for the money. Will do a future post on this scheme….

      1. That alignment from Aotea to Newmarket is crazy. Surely you’d join up with the Southern Line north of Parnell and save the extra tunnelling. I don’t think a dedicated hospital station is THAT important.

  9. I like PBY comment, I am thinking transport hubs at city CBD edge is not a problem (Amsterdam)Also Britomart waterfront area is always going to be a nicer place to be or wait than Aotea will ever be.

  10. Fundamentally this is a heavy rail network. I look forward to discussions between this style of network and Nick R’s driver-less lightweight, heavy capacity alternative. I haven’t made up my mind on which is the best way to go. As a heavy rail network, Patrick Reynolds has put together a great concept. I like the “X”. It is clear and simple, and avoids future capacity issues through the city.

    I guess a big factor in whether to stick with heavy rail or go to a segregated driver-less metro, is, the role of freight in the Auckland rail network. Without rail freight it is likely that the Auckland network would have been converted to busways or light rail a decade or more ago. Freight again is a key factor in how to develop Auckland’s rail network in future.

    1. Yes that’s right. That’s the discussion. Of course instead of going with heavy rail and linking to the Southern Line we could go with Nick’s Light Metro and send it through a similar tunnel under Albert Park and under Beach Rd and the Southern Line’s track behind the old station and onto new track through Quay Park and up the Eastern Line ROW…..

  11. The plans for rail to the North Shore seem pretty foamy to me. Very expensive, and benefits which aren’t entirely clear. Surely the best option is improved Northern Busway services for decades to come.

    1. I think most people generally agree on that front Simon. The Northern Busway itself (especially the Constellation to Akoranga section where this is a proper busway) has plenty of capacity left in it. Probably enough for decades to come.

      However, there are two issues that may bring North Shore rail forwards. The first is the issue of whether and when we might need to build another road-based harbour crossing. If a rail one is cheaper than a road one, then it might make sense to build the rail crossing first and then analyse whether it solves the problem before embarking on the more expensive road crossing. The second issue is whether certain pinch-points along the busway route (like the harbour bridge, like Fanshawe Street) can be resolved through minor upgrades. The answer is probably yes, to an extent, but they will always be the weakest elements of the system. Kind of like how a computer works: it’s only as fast as the slowest piece of equipment.

      What that suggests is that a staged approach to North Shore rail might make a lot of sense. Perhaps build just the Aotea-Wynyard-Akoranga-Takapuna section first, because that resolves the harbour crossing issue by adding capacity between the city and Akoranga, plus is resolves the “weak point” issue by bypassing the harbour bridge, Fanshawe Street, etc.

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