Former ARC Councillor Joel Cayford has recently criticised the City Rail Link as being unaffordable in the near future – largely it seems because of the need to invest in a number of pieces of bus infrastructure to support the new PT network that’s being rolled out over the next few years. Here’s his key point:

However, the CRL is a massive project that improves just one of Auckland’s transport networks – the rail network. It will have a huge impact on Auckland CBD during construction because of the cut and cover sections through Queen Elizabeth Square and up Lower Albert Street. It will offer major opportunities for land development – including the Downtown Precinct which abuts Queen Elizabeth Square. And it comes at enormous cost.

So it needs to be right. It is more important that it’s planned right, than that construction gets started in 2016. And it is critically important that its construction takes its place in the queue with other important public transport network improvements.


This Auckland Transport map depicts the proposed Frequent Network which would/could have services running at least every 15 minutes 7am to 7pm 7 days a week. What it amounts to is a strategic re-organisation of Auckland bus routes in particular. It has largely been agreed after detailed consultation. Parts of the South Auckland network have already been improved.

The transport objective underpinning this plan is the establishment of frequent services right across Auckland. Not just on Rail and the Northern Busway (which you can see in black) NB: The proposed CRL is not shown on this map, but its route is more or less from Britomart, via K’Road to Mt Eden station (shown as the purple star).

Given the affordability of the CRL, the low hanging fruit public transport priority needs to be to deliver the frequency and promise that can be obtained from the new frequent bus sections of the network, which require modest investments in key sections (bus priority lanes, other priority measures such as priority signalling, some network interchange stations, extended lanes, corridor widening, and additional bus stops and shelters).

I understand that all of these bus network corridor improvements have been planned and await funding in a package of works that will cost about $200 million, but that this package is being stalled because of the perceived priority of the CRL. Under the mayor’s current direction, the CRL project is becoming a black hole. All consuming. Surely it’s a priority for South Aucklanders to benefit from the promised frequent bus service.

The political problem that I see is that the pressure to “start CRL in 2016” (especially in a substantial way) threatens a tight public transport budget. And threatens to delay the rollout to wider Auckland region of frequent bus services that might not be “world class”, but they will be a lot more reliable and attractive alternatives to car than the bus services available now. And the packages of work required a whole lot more affordable for Auckland Council than trying to get the CRL off the ground all by itself.

We know from page 96-99 of Regional Public Transport Plan that various pieces of infrastructure are required in the near future to ensure that the new network can launch successfully in 2016. Items identified as essential include:

  • Integrated ticketing (completed)
  • Electric trains rollout (already funded)
  • Integrated fares (funded in 2014/15 Annual Plan)
  • City Rail Link (for the 2022 networks rather than the 2016)
  • Bus stop and shelter programme ($30m programme completed by 2015/16)
  • Otahuhu interchange (funded in 2014/15 Annual Plan)
  • Te Atatu bus interchange (proposed for funding in 2016/17 year)
  • Westgate bus interchange (proposed for funding in 2016/17 year)
  • Wynyard bus interchange (proposed for funding in 2015/16 year)
  • Other city centre bus infrastructure (funded over three years up to 2016/17 year)

There are others but either they’re desirable rather than essential or they’re fairly small. Joel says all up this comes to about $200 million and that might be roughly in the ballpark from what’s in the RPTP. We really do need to do these projects – and a bunch of bus lanes – to make sure the new PT network is implemented in a successful fashion. Its connected design relies upon good quality interchanges and a much larger bus lane network to ensure services run quickly and reliably. So I am in full agreement with Joel that we can’t let funding CRL (or AMETI, East-West Link, Penlink, Mill Road or any of the other big projects sitting in Auckland Transport’s future work programme) get in the way of funding these other projects.

But where I disagree with Joel is the extent to which the “new network infrastructure” outlined above really conflicts with funding CRL. Timing-wise, it seems that most of what’s listed above will be completed by 2016 or 2017. Almost by definition the projects have to be done by then in order to roll out the network successfully. No Otahuhu interchange means no new southern network, no Te Atatu bus interchange means no Western network rollout. These projects are top of the current priority list – with many funded in the 2014/15 Annual Plan (see page 198 of this document). Further there has been mention of the need for this investment in the draft Government Policy Statement.

GPS 2015 (draft) will enable:

  • completion of improvements to metro-rail services, integrated ticketing and public transport network changes intended to increase patronage, including transfer and interchange facilities
  • provision for targeted infrastructure improvements that improve transfer facilities across the network and address emerging bus capacity constraints in central Auckland, Wellington and Christchurch

In contrast, we know that even if construction of the City Rail Link begins in 2016, the serious investment in its construction will be after 2017 once the main tunnelling and construction of the three new stations gets underway in earnest. Early construction – particularly for the section under Britomart and the Downtown Shopping Centre, is around $250m, leaving plenty of available funding for the new network infrastructure, given that Auckland Transport plan to spend $825 million on transport projects in the 2014/15 year by way of example.

Therefore it seems that there’s little conflict between successfully implementing the new bus network and building the CRL. Put simply, they’re two different things happening in different timeframes – bus stuff in the next 2-3 years and then CRL’s serious investment after that. I wish Joel would spent more of his time criticising the bigger risks for improving public transport in Auckland – like the limited PT funding available in the Government Policy Statement, the refusal by treasury to fund the Northern Busway extension to Albany as part of the Northern Corridor package, NZTA’s willful disregard of the need for a Northwest Busway, government blowing billions on unneeded state highways, the potentially over-sized East West Link project, the expensive and unnecessary Penlink project and many more.

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  1. Hi Matt, great post. Keep beating the drum. That last paragraph in particular needs to be copied on very budding Auckland and National politician’s wall. NZTA & Treasury are a big part of the problem but then a ruling party that runs rough shod over everyone is worse all aided by a local implementer who refuse to eat their own dog food and build parallel private networks; if it wasn’t so sad it would be funny.

  2. Its not bus v train in practice or for funding, it’s about funding for the whole new coordinated Transit network v funding for ever more roads for single occupant vehicles.

    At the centre of the New Network is improving the train system to make transferring from buses and ferries to trains the rational and most productive thing to do. To get the full value out of both the New Bus Network and the new trains the CRL is the vital next step.

    Bit of a North Shore disease to look at the new plan and only see buses, but it is a failure to understand the whole system.

  3. I think Joel has a point at least in terms of resources – it looks like all of AT staff are concentrating on big rail / bus interchange projects and no one is making the small changes to the buses that will actually make them usable. We should apply the Janette Sadik-Khan theory to public transport; make a large number of cheap improvements now, rather than put up with a terrible network for the next 20 years while we do the expensive improvements.

    1. Yes he is right about resources, they are always tight and always contested, and there’s a huge amount to do to catch up for decades of neglect.

      The government has just dropped and extra 800 million on the Auckland State Highway network, speeding things here and there for a minute or so, for a year or so. A very shortsighted plan that does nothing to address the essentially lopsided nature of our one big city’s movement infrastructure.

      However perhaps there’s an opportunity here, this means funding can be pulled from Penlink, Mill Hill, and other overscaled local road projects. And I think the outcome could be better. A lavish m’way system concentrating vehicle movement complemented by a much better Transit system concentrating people movement. Still the local road network will be contested, those cars all have to get to and from the mways, but we will just have to say we aren’t funding place destruction like they’re doing at Western Springs anymore, because there is other stuff that is more urgent.

  4. The present Government should start this funding “Immediately” for the Central Rail Link – The problem I see is that the Present National Government does want to be seen to supporting a scheme being promoted by the present (Labour orienteered) Mayor (Len Brown) — I would also like to see the Rail Link pushed through between Avondale to Onehunga and widen to Two (2) tracks so that this can add passenger carrying traffic. Due to the slope of the link between Onehunga (over Hillsborough Road) to Mt Roskill – I would suggest that this section be done by tunnelling from Onehunga to Mt Roskill Station at Dominion Road – This would allow a more gradual slope for trains and would put the Tunnel Boring machine (currently being used to bore the Motorway link to Pt Chev) into great use once the Motorway tunneling is complete (the debri from this could be used to fill the Three Kings Quarry ahead of using the Quarry for housing development) == The cost of Tunneling is somewhat great but this would add some relief to the present overcrowded transport network

    1. Well presented Murray. Are you sure the cost of tunneling Is more expensive than the huge cost of relocating existing infrastructure? With the high cost of Auckland land and the efficiency of modern tunneling machines the costs may be little different for rail projects. Road tunnels have the major added cost of removing exhaust fumes.

      1. “Road tunnels have the major added cost of removing exhaust fumes”

        They sequester them? I suspect the word you were looking for is ‘redirect’.

  5. He’s right that the project will be very disruptive to downtown. However, many cities have endured cut and cover projects in their major streets. There is a role for the downtown BID to manage a mitigation strategy with information, promotion, and being present from the beginning of design work through construction. Downtown Seattle had such a programme – they called it Easy Streets – and actually saw a substantial increase in retail sales over the construction period. (The Seattle BID went on to sell the programme to other downtowns and made a tidy sum.)

    I take issue with his assertion that the CRL will improve “just one” transit network. What it does is improve the spine of the network and at the most strategic point of that network. It’s not just a matter of cost, it’s a matter of value.

    (“A cynic is a person who knows the price of everything and the value of nothing.” — Oscar Wilde)

  6. Yep. Plus 1. Let’s go on the CRL. If you’re listening Mr Key. Or Mr Cunliffe. . Or even Mayor Brown. It’s time to connect our city. Prioritise it! Make it happen.

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