As mentioned yesterday, Britomart is now 10 years old and Auckland Transport and the Council decided to celebrate that milestone today. I caught an early (for me) train into Britomart this morning to have a look at the celebrations. Here is Len arriving at the station.

10th Birthday - Len Arriving at Britomart

Many people would have received some cake as they arrived this morning. Here is what it looked like before being cut into small pieces. I’m told the cake weighed 60kg and contained lights and the number on the top rotated.

10th Birthday - Cutting the Cake

But the most interesting thing about the morning was Len Browns speech. Precinct Properties – the owners of the Downtown Shopping Centre – want to demolish the mall and redevelop the site which is likely to start 2016/17. The council is in the process of negotiating with them to build the CRL tunnels through the site at the same time so that they don’t have to hold the development up or go back and do it later on. This is significant for many reasons, first of which is that it means the CRL is officially being started in 2016 but that isn’t the only thing. It means that Auckland Transport no longer need to purchase the entire site saving around $80 million.  This is even more significant as while AT would have been able to resell the empty site once they had finished with it, my understanding is that one of the quirks of our economic assessment criteria prevents the resale of future unneeded land from considered in the Benefit Cost Ratio calculations. The map below shows the designation that Auckland Transport is seeking:

CRL Downtown site

News that the a section of the tunnel will begin earlier than the rest of the project in order for a development to occur is also extremely similar to what happened with Britomart itself. Back in the late 1990’s the tunnel connecting the station to Quay Park was built before the station itself was even agreed upon and when it was far from certain that it would even happen and was done to enable the land above it to be developed.

But this announcement won’t be without its own challenges. Auckland Transport had initially intended to use the site as a works yard – something Precinct weren’t happy about in their submission on the designation (pages 34-38).

Submission Precinct Properties

Not having the site available could mean that AT will have to reassess how the build the project or alternatively buy another site to use. This perhaps represents one of the key reasons that Precinct are keen to get an agreement, and their development under way as soon as possible.

However while it might present some challenges for AT, it also presents some interesting opportunities. At this stage the plan only seems to be to build the tunnels under the actual mall site however there is potentially a lot of value in extending the tunnel a little bit on either side.

An extension under Customs St could mean the intersection is sorted out before Quay St is hopefully narrowed down and made more pedestrian friendly. It would mean that when it comes time to dig the rest of the tunnel that Customs St can be unaffected which I’m sure would help greatly with traffic flows. It also means that permanent changes – like hopefully a busway – could be made to Customs St before the CRL is built.

At the other end, extending the tunnel under QE2 Square, the bus only section of Queen St and connecting the tunnel into Britomart itself could bring even bigger benefits. It would allow the tunnels to be used to store trains which could increase the capacity of the station enough to enable another couple of trains per hour to use it. That could potentially allow for upgrades and higher frequencies on the Onehunga line to be brought forward separate of the CRL or alternatively a new rail spur to Mt Roskill. It would add capacity by having one train enter the station, dropping off passengers at the platform then carrying on into the tunnel stub to end its journey. Because the points don’t need to change another train could follow through right behind and terminate at the platform like what happens now. The first train could be parked up in the tunnel until it is needed again in the afternoon peak where the reverse happens. In the off peak there wouldn’t be the capacity limitations like there are at peak so services into Britomart wouldn’t be as constrained.

With these two small extensions it also means that the entire northern end of the CRL project is completed and can then be largely immune from the disruption that will occur when Albert St is dug up. It also means we can put in place some permanent infrastructure for buses through the area .

Here is a press release from Precinct Properties on the issue:

Precinct CRL negotiations with Auckland Council

Scott Pritchard, the Chief Executive of Precinct Properties, said today the company has entered negotiations with Auckland Council with a view to coordinating the timing of works at the Downtown Shopping Centre with the building of a tunnel at the site for the City Rail Link.

“We welcome the chance to work together with the Council as obviously it would make a lot of sense to coordinate timing so they can advance works for the CRL tunnel at this site at the same time as we develop the Downtown Centre.”

While it was still early days, he said the company’s work at the Centre would deliver on a long-held vision of building on the natural advantages of the location to create an attractive new precinct with quality office space and a new level of retail experience.

“We have had a strategy of focussing on the harbour-front area for some time. This is a unique location right on the waterfront and near Auckland’s transport hub. It offers an exciting opportunity to create a special area in the heart of the city to attract people into Queen St.”

Precinct has been a long-standing supporter of the City Rail Link and the Council’s City Centre Masterplan

Precinct will seek world-class input into planning for the location. But the process is still at a very early stage, with actual physical works not expected to begin until 2016.

As well as the CRL we will be closely following what develops on this important site.

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  1. And so starts the rush. Any large building or mall would love to have a busy train station in their basement. You think the CRL planners would have just put the route up for tender, and then wait for whom coughed up the most for a station in their lot. That pays for most of the project!

  2. The council should be trying to hold on to some land above stations and develop it themselves. e.g. MTR Properties in Hong Kong.

    1. Except that for most stations, the land has to be bought wholesale, or taken via Public Works Act. I am not sure you can take private land for redevelopment – I don’t think that’s legal under NZ law (though if that’s incorrect, someone clarify). You can only take for public infrastructure, and for construction of public infrastructure – but the latter may have to be given back with right of re-purchase by old owner?

      Anyway, awesome news!

  3. Could Council go a step further and build all the way to Aotea when they start this, or is there not enough funding? Having that station would help grow patronage early, and also highlight the need to complete the rest of the line as soon as possible.

    But then again, I’m sure it could be too expensive.

    1. I guess you don’t need a TBM, so that could cut costs. Though I am not sure running trains to an Aotea stub would make sense – terminus congestion there would be even worse than at Britomart, as you wouldn’t have the many tracks / switches available to store trains / go back. So the best you could do would be to run one of every couple trains to Aotea. Not very attractive.

    2. If you think they have bottle necks at Britomart now, I can imagine that Aotea would be a total zoo,

      But I agree they should probably bit the bullet and build the link between Shopping centre and the britomart terminal under lower queen street.Having the extra train storage space will help britomart out of its bottleneck until the CRL is fully completed.

      1. If an early extension to Aotea-only was made, you wouldn’t try to run EVERY train that arrives in Britomart on to Aotea. Only a selection would run through, but still enough to bring a huge benefit and a valuable precursor to the completion of the whole CRL.

        1. Agreed, and I concur with greenwelly’s comment about extra storage/platforming for trains (in my time in Wellington, this was a frequent headache).

  4. Wow this makes so much sense in a lot of ways. The council could easily fund this part without the government, and it would also add capacity in the mean time. They could start the britomart part of the project soon ish and then the tunnel part in 2016

  5. With new development so close to Brittomart, surely the owners of land and businesses in the Atoea area would soon be lobbying through the Chamber of Commerce for an extension to their area, so they don’t miss out on the building boom.

    How much could the Council use the capital gains of property close to the rail network to help fund its construction ? In Melbourne houses in rail-served suburbs sell for an average of $50,000 more than equivalent houses in non-rail served suburbs. Could there be a differential rate based on property values close to the rail network, calculated relative to property values further from the rail network ? This could be indexed to a year when the rail network was so rudimentary that it had little impact on property values ? This way the Council gets some benefit from the capital appreciation of properties caused by its investment.

    1. I’ve often thought that the Council should send NZTA an annual bill for the huge loss of rates revenue from all the now million dollar plus houses that were all trashed when the motorways were forced through our old inner suburbs. Which really is just a cheeky way of pointing out that our systems for evaluating the value of transport projects complete fail to capture land value loss or gain, changes in land use, and other place effects.

          1. I wonder how bad it actually is to have a low speed curve there when all trains would be coming to (or from) a stop at Britomart anyway?

          2. 95 m is really tight for heavy rail, used low speed track changes e.g. in/out of maintenance yard and not much else. Speed restrictions, rolling stock design constraints, maintenance costs (wheel / rail wear, inter-car connections) and so on. You wouldn’t change it now, but was it ever considered to cut the corner along Beach Road when Britomart was first planned?

          3. It was considered, but it was (and is) a hell of a job to go the Beach Rd way. Remember that the approach tunnel to Britomart was built in advance of actually having any solid plan or funding for the station, it was a bit of a punt so they had to go with the cheapest option.

  6. This is indeed a great idea. Something similar was done (in reverse) when Auckland City Council extended the Victoria St carpark about 25 years ago. At the time Vector (then Mercury Energy) needed a new zone substation in the area so negotiated to excavate below the lowest parking level and build it first. A shaft is included in the parking building to cooling towers on the roof, ie intercooled transformers, and a Gatic hatch is installed on the High St footpath (outside the toilets) for equipment access. There’s also a cable tunnel running along High St to Victoria St with a ventilation shaft cunningly disguised as a rubbish bin on the corner.

    1. The article was written by Anne Gibson. The last time she used the phrase ‘loop’ she was inundated with emails from people suggesting that if she was going to write about it the CRL she should at least call it by its proper designation. To give Ms Gibson due credit she politely replied to the emails (well, she did to mine), a rare thing amongst journos. She’s one of the better writers employed by the Herald and she does her research; her articles are based on facts rather than being vehicles for stuffing ideologies down the throats of readers.

  7. Great to see these pictures of Britomart before and after.

    These are some pictures from Assen in the Netherlands before and after the campaign there to make cycling safer.

    I really hope one day I can show my grandchildren photos like this about Auckland and they will be shocked by the massive traffic sewers we now call streets.

    1. What awesome pictures.. I only know the present day version of Holland, and it seems completely alien to see Dutch urban street scenes dominated by cars like English or NZ cities.

      In contrast there are a few “then and now” kiwi history books out there which can tend to me with a feeling of regret looking at how some things have developed, or gone backwards, like the stupid bridge with its four car lanes. Or the disappearing tram lines. Or how the suburbs have sprawled over so much bush leaving way too few open green spaces or connecting routes away from roads.

      Today by contrast is good news! 10 years of Britomart and a CRL kicker.

      1. Yes, I saw a photo of Jervois Road from circa 1950 recently. What a beautiful street. Really nice Plane Trees all the way down and the tram trundling along. Both were subsequently ripped out for 4 lanes of cars and on street parking.

        Considering the traffic sewer we have now, it is a crime against decency. Brings a tear to the eye.

          1. Yes thats the one – cheers Patrick.

            Very saddening Bryce. What a waste of a lovely piece of Auckland.

            Trees would make such a difference. Best street design for Auckland would be: Footpath – cycle lane – trees – car lane. I can dream cant I?

            Yes – locked in their room until they agree to play nicely. A spanking might not be out of the question either. 🙂

  8. Ah yes, I remember the Britomart construction from go to woe. Of course, as a bus user it provided approximately zero added benefit. We had to fight and fight just to get proper shelters erected and enough seating installed. It took a good year of rain and wind swept nights and complaining on the MAXX forum (RIP) and endless letters and phone calls to get that sorted. Of course, because they essentially just neglected the buses, they got scattered around CBD streets with a ridiculous mapping system that was about as user friendly as, well, Auckland public transport ever is. Hauling arse up Queen Street to connect to busses on Victoria or Wellesley, or nowadays you can just inch up there on the “free” City Link, enjoying stopping at traffic lights every ten goddam metres. Such fun.

    So from a bus user’s perspective, sure the old station was dark and gloomy and grotty and unsafe, but at least it was a proper central bus station allowing for easy connections if needed. Britomart added a whole lot of nothing for most of us. I’d have been stoked if I used trains, mind you.

    Maybe we could get a $300 million bus station? I can only imagine how spectacular that would be – with properly sheltered seating, toilets, service staff (the old Britomart used to have that “fat man in the box” who could tell you everything and anything about the buses, albeit very grumpily), a central exchange where all buses pass thorough so you can transfer with ease, real time information that actually works. No? Why not? What’s the current patronage comparison – 20 million annual trips on train to 50 million on buses, roughly. Seems like once again, bus passengers get the raw end of the deal. But WAIT! we can a new route system and timetable… in 2016??? Glory hallelujah!

    Meanwhile, let’s all celebrate the gay roller disco that is Britomart. Makes for a better photo op.

    1. Given that there will only be 10-20 bus routes in the CBD after the new network is implemented and that Queen Street is likely to be pedestrianised, I would suggest that the intersection of Quen Street and Wellesley should suffice.

  9. It’d make sense to connect the Downtown Shopping section of tunnel to Britomart itself, so that you don’t need to set up a whole separate tunneling site for a discrete 100m section in 2020 or so. What would that involve at Britomart. Do they need to tunnel under the current station building itself to make the connection? If so, what are they tunneling through… dirt, or basement?

    I’m curious about how the tunnel will fit under the replacement Downtown Shopping building, since the tunnel will be just a little below ground level. Will they have a basement structure with tunnels coming through? Or will they build the tunnels and then fill the rest of the site up with dirt to street level? I realise that the building hasn’t been designed, so I’m really asking about feasibility.

    Lastly, the tunnel will probably have a life of 150 years or more, while the replacement Downtown Shopping building will probably be looking old and tatty after 50 years or so. Does it need to be designed so that it can be demolished above street level without disturbing the railway running underneath? That suggests a design with a planned 150 year basement with tunnels, and sort of bolting the building on to the top so you can remove it and bolt on a replacement at 50 year intervals.

    1. Precinct said they would effectively dig out the site to provide a basement and the rail tunnel would then go through that. Presumably a covered box for the rail tunnel with whatever they build going on top of that. They will have their own basement on the rest of the rest of the site.

    2. I don’t buildings have to be replaced every 50 years! It’s people with this sense of thinking that had many of the heritage buildings torn down. Usually they just need to be renovated, but torn down.

      1. Since I cant edit my comment;
        I don’t THINK buildings have to be replaced every 50 years! It’s people with this sense of thinking that had many of the heritage buildings torn down. Usually they just need to be renovated, but NOT torn down.

        1. So you want to renovate the Downtown Shopping Centre? I know we could probably tunnel under it if we had to, but I’d prefer getting rid of the eye sore.

          1. No the existing mall building is so vile it should have been demolished the day they finished it. But other structures, for example Zurich House the small tower next to the mall was recently striped right back to its structure and totally refurbished. It is, for all purposes, a new building now. Reinforced concrete and steel frame buildings, if well enough engineered when new, are easily re-purposable like this, it’s actually fairly common and cost effective. In the case of Z House, the environmental performance of the new cladding and systems are so much more efficient than the old 1960’s set-up that the payback is greatly accelerated, along of course with the higher rents from the upgraded surfaces and spaces.

            Note too that this build has absolutely no carparking under it.

  10. Very good forward thinking by Precinct – effectively getting Auckland’s Central Station in their basement – great for their tenants’ and their own business…I would assume that as part of the plan Precinct and AT would have pedestrian tunnels (or even an underground mall?) underneath Queen St from Britomart across to their own development. Maybe the AT can make some more money that way too. If I were Precinct I’d also be talking to the landowners all around them about possible pedestrian tunnels crossing under Customs, Lower Albert and Quay Sts too…

    1. They already own all of the neighbouring buildings which is one of the things that attracted them to the site. On the same block they have Zurich House and the HSBC building. Across the other side of Albert St they own the AMP town and the PWC tower.

      1. I’ve heard great rumours about what they have in store for those blocks, hopefully we’ll have some announcements from them soon.

      1. Agree that better pedestrian spaces is vital. They may also do an exit thru the gift shop(ping mall) type of thing.. Britomart already has newsagents, food shops, etc, and I’m sure they could do that on the other side too. Also a direct entry/exit into the shopping mall. A bit like Canary Wharf but with shops going up rather than too much of an underground maze.

        1. Have you been to the revamped Stazione Termini in Rome (Leo Calini and Eugenio Montuori; Massimo Castellazzi, Vasco Fadigati, Achille Pintonello and Annibale Vitellozzi, 1947)? Aside from the amazing architecture – which looks far more impressive than it used to do – it’s now quite an extraordinary space in terms of bars, newsagents, restaurants, supermarkets, bookshops and so on. There’s so much potential for these places; Britomart, by contrast, is a rather anæmic reflection of what a real railway station does in terms of satisfying its client base.

  11. The other advantage with getting this part of the project finished now is that with the physical works having started, it would be suicidal for any future government to try and cancel the project should they (National) change their position on this later on. So it’s virtually guaranteeing that the project is completed. It’s a lot harder to cancel something once the construction has already started.

  12. I have a question with the new CRL from Britomart. While the outer two tracks will continue out the western end of Britomart, what lines terminate at Britomart (the other/existing tracks)? From all the images of possible train lines, none terminate at Britomart.

    1. Good question. And a great way to start thinking about inter-city services, as opposed to intra-city ones.

      Elsewhere people have been talking about Hamilton and Tauranga as destinations….And post Britomart there’ll be those slots for these trains to begin and end. Which will make Britomart as a fairly unique station with those differently focused platforms so usefully close to each other for easy connections…..

    2. Probably none from the suburban network. Any train you bring in to Britomart has the same impact on operations as taking it right through the CRL, so there isn’t much to be gained by stopping there. Might as well run everything through all the CRL stations.

      As Patrick suggests it could be the spot for intercity trains though, these cannot operate in the CRL but could still run in to Britomart. It might be a squeeze operationally but it’s the best place for them to run to.

      1. I would like to see platforms 1 and 5 widened once the CRL opens to deal with the crowds. If that happens then it would only leave us with one platform for intercity trains

        1. We could simply pave over the tracks at platforms 2 and 4 to widen them, and leave the existing platform 3 and track as-is, including the fence to wall it off from the fare-gate area (I’m assuming intercity trains won’t use HOP).

        2. Ah, here:

          Option 3 would be the quickest and cheapest way to make more space but not necessarily speed disembarking and boarding.

          So as volumes rise Option 2 is clearly superior especially as it would allow boarding on one side and disembarking on the other, it does however require new ways over the new track and trains, or just new exists and entrances….

          Or there’s do nothing which will almost certainly be fine for a while as people distribute their city destinations up the CRL stations…?

          Problem is that it is likely that at first there will be only a small number of uses for those middle tracks but as time goes by they may well become more valuable, so perhaps if we do move to Option 3 it would be good if we could do it with a reversible structure so if we then go to #2 we can ‘daylight those central tracks again…?

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