Following on from years of investigation and initial design, Auckland Transport are currently going through the process to get the City Rail Link designated. Over the last few years the project has been discussed not only on this blog but also in other forms of media. I tend to find that attitudes to the project generally fall into one of three general categories – those that oppose it, those that support it and those that support it with changes. It is the last of those groups that I want to look at with this post, in particular the suggestions that the route the CRL takes is wrong, or at least not ideal. While he is by no means the only person doing so, one of the common people to push this idea is Michael Barnett with his most recent mention of it coming just before Christmas.

It is very clear that the principle of turning the end-of-the-line Britomart rail station into a through stop on a loop line, so doubling the number trains that can travel on the rail network, has been sold to the Auckland public and has strong support as part of the city’s transport solution.

Whether the extended rail line should go closer to Auckland University or Auckland City Hospital to maximise the number of passengers the rail service will attract is important detail for transport experts to sort out.

Other common destinations frequently mentioned include Wynyard Quarter and the North Shore. It’s pretty easy to understand why each of these locations are on the list:

  • The Hospital area has thousands of staff who are coming and going at different hours and on top of that there are huge numbers of people visiting family members. Across the road there is also the  med school which would house quite a number of students.
  • The two Universities have tens of thousands of students between them and as we know, students are large users of PT
  • Wynyard Quarter is a large area where the is expected to be a lot of development, both residential and commercial in coming years
  • The North Shore is the largest area in Auckland that doesn’t currently have access to a rail service.

I’ll come back to look at the stations again shortly but first I want to see if there is actually a route that could take all of these locations into effect. I think there is a potential route that takes these all into account and it is shown in red below with some potential station locations in yellow. For comparison purposes I have shown the existing rail network in black and the CRL in blue.

Altnerate CRL route

As you can see it takes in all of the major destinations listed above and would allow for a future connection to the North Shore, all of which is great, but what are the downsides?

First of all from where the Grafton stations is, down to where Wellesley St crosses the motorway is a change in elevation of around 50m, way too steep for a rail line which means any tunnel would have to start back towards Mt Eden and Newmarket respectively. That would make such a tunnel, even just to Wynyard quite a bit longer than the CRL and therefore more expensive. It would have to provide a lot more advantages above that delivered by the CRL to justify changing the route.

The next bit is perhaps the key problem with such a route, how do you run services. One of the beauties of the currently planned CRL route is that it allows us to join together the routes on our existing network creating a handful of more efficient through routes, like shown below.

Post CRL pattern

When we look at the red route however, things aren’t as easy. At Wynyard we don’t want to be building a terminus station Terminus station like we have with Britomart and even when such a line is extended across the harbour, there is unlikely to be enough demand to extend all services across there. The most logical solution in my head would be to send Western line and Onehunga line trains down the red route. With capacity at Britomart freed up, additional services from the Southern and Eastern lines could be sent there.  This of course raises questions about how people would use the overall network. Would someone from the Eastern line have to travel into Britomart transfer to a service going out to Britomart, then onto a third service to get  across the harbour. Alternatively would they have to walk or bus up Queen St to transfer? Neither of these options sounds appealing, even to someone like me who supports PT, and the transfer concept strongly. Trains from the Western line would also not get the same level of time saving benefits they will get with the CRL.

The third key area where such a proposal falls over is with the station catchments. The hospital is already less than 500m away from the Grafton station and it is fairly easy to walk between the two. The same applies for the universities with the Aotea St station. With integrated ticketing and fares it will be even easier for those that don’t want to walk to jump on one of the many that will travel along either Wellesley St, Symonds St or Park Rd. In fact both the Hospital and Universties are easy to access from two directions, as shown below.

Hospital Access

Uni Access

Also as Patrick pointed out in this post, depending on where the final entrances and exits to the Aotea station end up being, the walk could be reduced further. One thing the CRL station would do is likely provide a bit better access to the western side of the CBD. We also miss out on having stations that will help revitalise both the Karangahape Rd and Newton areas.

All of this doesn’t mean I think there aren’t some good parts to this alternate route. The proposed Aotea station is said to already include provision for platforms under Wellesley St for a future connection to the North Shore. As part of that the Wynyard station would be built and would have a lot more development around it to be used. From Aotea the line could extend along the route shown in red or go somewhere else entirely different, perhaps something like the future network I suggested a while ago.

Instead of arguing about the route, something that has been looked at a number of times, lets focus on getting the proposed CRL under way first. Even so it wouldn’t half surprise me if the government use a route like suggested as a way to support the idea of a CRL without having to agree with completely with the council.

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  1. The only other option is to simply continue the outer tracks at Britomart straight ahead to Wynyard then to the Shore. Of course that means no improvement to wider CBD access (except at Wynyard) no faster trips into town from the west, no reducing pressure on Newmarket and most crucially you still have the whole existing rail network fighting over 20 tph into Britomart as there’s no extra entrance to the CBD.

  2. Good post Matt,

    I think that ultimately both routes are needed. However, I do think there is merit in considering building the red route before the blue route.
    What services would run where? I think your last diagram is as good as any. As a first itteration: anything that goes on the Newmarket – Penrose section (red and blue) goes to the the noth shore. Anything waterfront or Western (green or yellow) goes to Britomart.

    An interchange at Otahuhu allows anyone Otahuhu or south to reach either CBD station, an interchange at Newmarket allows Western, Southern and Otahuhu passengers to reach either CBD station.

    Those on the waterfront stations between Otahuhu and Britomart have no direct benefit, but I suspect their services would get less crowded as those passengers heading towards Aotea station from Otahuhu and south won’t be on those trains.

    Britomart and Quay Park Junction have 5 trains an hour each way removed from them (Southern and Onehunga services), freeing up capacity for additional Western and waterfront services.

    At this intermediate stage of red route and no blue route, however, it is likely to be that Newmarket cannot cope with the combinations suggested in your last diagram. That might mean an interim option of splitting routes. Again referring to your diagram and considering the westernn services, green services representing current level of Western service, continue to go to Newmarket and Britomart, yellow services representing an incremental increase (say the same frequency as the green) go to the north shore. The green and yellow services over the waterfront both continue to work to and from Britomart. That leaves Newmarket with the same number of services as now, so capacity there should be adequate.

    Why the red route first? It may be that expanding rail to the North shore would have a greater benefit than increasing the existing services and running them over the blue CRL, an increase in benefit that justifies any increased cost.

    I am not saying there is a case to build the red route first – but I am saying there is a case to determine whether the option of building the red route first is sufficiently better to contenance a change in strategy from blue then red, to red then blue.

    1. Sorry – I forgot that the other factor in diverting half the Western services over the red route would be shorter journey time to CBD – so it is not just a need to not overload Newmarket capacity that is a driver to divert some western services over the red route, journey time improvement is a factor too. It may be that diverting the longer distance green sevrices may be more beneficial than diverting the shorter distance yellow – but that is a detail that some analysis would clarify.:

    2. The problem is to get the benefit from going to the shore, you are adding in another few billion dollars to the cost which makes it just that much harder to build. Just as easy to build the shore to Aotea section later on, when the busway starts to get busier. Also if you do as you suggest of having the Western line trains continue on to Britomart then you lose any time benefits of the CRL for those users plus as you identified, Newmarket would probably melt down.

      I agree that eventually at least the proportion between Aotea and the Shore is needed, from there it might be better to send the route to Parnell which enables you to remove the dogleg from Quay Park.

    3. Richard the short answer to the idea that the Shore needs a line first is that it already has one: The Northern Busway is not over capacity, yes it does need better priority over the Bridge and city parts of its route but it will do while we build the CRL, then the Airport Line, then take rail to Takapuna.

      Like the motorway programme of the last 60 years we need to stage this not inconsiderable investment. And AC and AT have got the order right. The CRL’s network effects, frequency, and capacity transformations make it the vital first step.

      In my view any arguments from the gov or MoT suggesting they have better routes in mind are simply delaying tactics and a way of not advancing the project while pretending to be interested. It would be a PR response to their polling that is telling them that they are behind the times on this issue. Is it credible that they go from saying ‘no one will a train, motorways are the only solution” to ‘we know better than Auckland how to plan a rail system’?

  3. What….the western line is cut back to Swanson instead of extended, as it should be to Huapai? Not sure I like your forward thinking on the existing network. More people live in Huapai and district than in Paerata….yet you push for a station there!!!

    1. We have covered this before. The western line takes a very circuitous route to the city. As such it isn’t much use to commuters to the city as it will be much much quicker for people from the Huapai area to go via SH16 (car or bus). That means it is only really of use to those going to say Henderson or New Lynn and I doubt there are that many doing that to justify extending services past Swanson for quite some time. Just because there is a rail line somewhere, doesn’t mean it is useful for PT.

      The Census area unit that covers Huapai also covers Waimauku and Riverhead and all up there is only around 7k people who live there. Yes more people live in Huapai than Paerata but the reason Paerata gets a station is that is due to Pukekohe. Pukekohe is expected to get much bigger and the business case for electrification of the line there found that a station at Paerata to serve as a park n ride for the surrounding rural area made the business case stronger.

      There is also expected to be a huge amount of development in that Pukekohe to Papakura corridor in the medium term.

      By comparison large scale development of Huapai might not occur for 20-30 years. If we want to use the rail line, better to do so when the development happens rather than spend huge amounts of OPEX to serve a few people.

  4. Regarding the ‘university’ station, I wonder whether a low level Aotea Sq station to the east of and below the station on the blue route, and with escalator access to that other part of the station could also have escalator / travelator access to the Symonds Street area. At a 30 degree rise, starting from the eastern end of the platform, it ought to be able to get pretty close..

    1. Yes Richard this post here describes the only Uni station Central Ak will ever need:

      Perfectly proximate to both Unis as well as the commercial and arts centre of the city; the highest density of employment in the nation, and growing.

      Also hugely cheaper than trying to knit some kind of station on a further periphery of the campuses as well as balanced with the other stations serving the inner city campuses: Grafton for the Med school, Grafton and Newmarket for the new Ak Uni site in Newmarket, Parnell (with improved ped access) to the eastern end of Ak Uni.


      1. Patrick, Ah – okay. I hadn’t appreciated from your post that you were thinking of the station having angled access rather than just vertical. With that, I am completely with you, and see no need for a seperate university station

  5. I’d like to see the CRL stations’ depth turned into a major advantage by creating very long escalator tunnels that dramatically increase their catchment. I know they’d be very expensive but still far cheaper than some of the alternatives like more busses, new crl route, etc.

  6. Are we sure that the universities are as densely populated as we think? Sure they have lots of students but also a very large land area too.

    1. The universities have extremely low population, but they do have huge number of trips. There are almost as many students in the cbd as there are workers, and the majority of those are based at those two university campuses.

      However if we look at the bus network from the RPTP they get a massive amount of bus service, more than midtown itself. a very easy connection to make, not to mention Britomart and Parnell stations within walking distance. Aotea would seal the deal.

  7. The universities will actually be easy to access from three directions: Parnell will also be popular with university students coming from the south, as it will take about the same amount of time to walk to Auckland Uni and possibly less to get to AUT from that station, and the train will arrive at it a few minutes before it does at Britomart. I’d be inclined to gate Parnell, since otherwise people heading to the city who are inclined to fare-dodge might use it as a substitute Britomart.

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