Auckland Transport have announced they are cutting the Newton Station from the City Rail link in favour of an upgraded station at Mt Eden.
A significant design change to the City Rail Link (CRL), will save over $150 million, improve the reliability and journey time of train services, minimise construction disruption in Symonds Street and reduce property purchase requirements.
Auckland Transport (AT) has decided to redevelop the existing Mt Eden Station and connect it to the CRL rather than build a new underground station at Newton.
AT chairman Lester Levy says that since the City Rail Link’s concept design was developed two years ago, there has been concerted effort to optimise the design and drive value for money.
“The change that has resulted from this focus will reduce cost by removing the very deep Newton station, which will also reduce construction disruption in upper Symonds St by 12 to 18 months.
“The improved design will connect passengers at Mt Eden Station to the CRL which previously bypassed them and improve operation reliability through the provision of a separated east-west junction so train lines won’t need to cross over each other.”
Dr Levy says the changes also will result in an improved customer experience with the CRL platform at Mt Eden now to be built in a trench similar to the New Lynn station, and be open to the sky, rather than deep underground as was the case for the proposed Newton station location. This open air location and the separated train junction will also lower operating costs.
“This is all good news, at a time when patronage is increasing and people are really seeing rail as a travel choice*. We are definitely moving in the right direction to meet government targets for CRL funding,” he says.
In addition, fewer surface properties will be required. Owners affected by the new design have been contacted directly by Auckland Transport about the change.
As well as these significant community, cost and service benefits, the development potential associated with Mt Eden Station will not be limited by volcanic cone view shafts and heritage buildings which constrained the Newton location.
Changes in the rail track alignment will also reduce vibration and noise effects on surrounding properties and improve travel times.
Dr Levy says AT’s on-going design improvement focus included a comprehensive review of all project elements by an international “challenge team” of experts.
He says information on the design changes and upcoming milestones for the CRL will be explained to the community at open days in the project area in late August/early September.
*The year to June 30 saw a 13.9% increase in rail patronage in Auckland, to 11.4 million trips.
Here’s a plan of how the Mt Eden station will work. You can see the tracks for the CRL come in underneath the ones for accessing Newmarket which lead to the station in the trench. You can also see a new road will be built that will connect the station to Mt Eden Rd. Sometimes it seems like we can’t get a PT project without having to add a new road somewhere to appease the transport gods.
And here’s an artistic impression of it.
From this information I can see two major differences between the old Newton plan and the new Mt Eden design:
Firstly, while Newton station would have been located deep under the main street of the Newton town centre area, Mt Eden station is located about 500m further south by the existing rail line. This shifts the focus of the station, and subsequent redevelopment, to the Eden Terrace area instead of Newton. This no doubt means revisiting various area plans and growth strategies, and probably requires changes to pedestrian and cycle networks and bus connections.
Secondly, Mt Eden will be located on the west side of the the new junction, which means trains running from the south to the city via Grafton and Newmarket physically can’t stop there. This is unlike Newton which would have been on the north side of the junction and a stop for all trains using the CRL. So relative to Newton, Mt Eden loses connectivity to the south and gets less frequency to the remaining city stations.
Effectively this ‘downgrades’ Mt Eden to being the first suburban station on the Western line, while Newton would have been a proper City Rail Link stations with the same service and connectivity as Britomart, Aotea and Karangahape. The design does however include a second set of platforms at Mt Eden to allow trains to run between the west and south without going to the CRL. It looks like AT plan to make up for the loss of service and connectivity by running extra crosstown trains over the top of the regular lines, more on this below.
I have quite mixed feelings about this as there appear to be some good and bad aspects to the decision.
First and foremost it’s good that AT have managed to find ways to save money on the project – although it’s not to a level that the government are suddenly going to agree to funding it starting in 2016 like the council plan. The savings which total about $166 million are made up of $152 million in reduced construction costs and $14 million in property purchases. On the latter it means AT will no longer need to buy sites around the station entrance and that the tracks can be moved slightly closer together saving on sub-surface purchases. When I spoke to them they were initially a bit hesitant to say exactly how much the project will cost but they eventually said the non-inflation adjusted price was $2.069 billion which equates to an inflated price of ~$2.7 billion (compared to the $2.86 often quoted in the media). AT are also not to buy extra trains quite as early as planned saving an extra $330 million from the upfront budget.
The change allows for a grade separated junction at Mt Eden which can help in reducing delays from trains. The one downside to this is that there will still be five other flat junctions across the network which could cause issues for trains so it doesn’t mean there still won’t be issues.
There are other benefits the engineers have managed to get out of the design including:
- Previously all of the proposed stations were planned to be on a slight grade but now they will be able to be level.
- They’ve improved the track alignment allowing for slightly faster trips (up to 30 seconds faster per trip from the west)
- They’ve managed to squeeze slightly more width out of the Aotea station island platform. It will now have a slight curve on it and at it’s widest will be about 9.5m wide.
In my view shifting the station back to Mt Eden significantly weakens the potential catchment and development potential of the station. It means that most of the land immediately south and within 800m of the station will be the existing standalone houses that are not able to be developed due to the zoning and heritage rules. It also means that the potential developments north of the original proposed station are not as likely to happen as they won’t be in as close proximity to the station. In saying this it also made me think that if we could improve access across the CMJ then it is possible some of that potential growth might be able to be served by the K Rd station which is likely to have a station entrance on Mercury Lane.
For their part AT say they think the change in station will allow for development to happen quicker on the large site that will be left after the CRL is completed. What’s more the land in the area bounded by the railway line, New North Rd and Mt Eden Rd doesn’t have the volcanic view shaft requirements on it allowing for taller buildings than in other areas around Newton. All up they say the construction will leave about 2.7ha of developable land almost right next to the station. Further as the council will own that, it’s the one who will get significant improvements in property values from the presence of the station. That fits in nicely with Michael Barnett’s correct suggestion of developing council land near stations to help pay for the councils share of the project.
Perhaps the biggest concern I have with this suggestion is that it may lock us in to having to always run West to Newmarket/South trains for perpetuity. With a Newton station it would have allowed us to run a simple network at high frequency with those going to Grafton, Newmarket or other points south doing a quick transfer across a platform. Because there is no platform on the eastern side of the Mt Eden Junction it means people transferring either have to go in to Karangahape Rd – adding at least 5 minutes to their journey – or we run direct west-south services. The problem with the latter there’s not likely to be enough demand to run them at anything other than every 20 minutes which is not turn up and go frequencies. It thumbs it’s nose at the New PT network being implemented by AT which focuses on concentrating service on core routes and encouraging transfers expand the reach of the system.
Here is what Newton may have looked like, because of it’s depth it was planned to be accessed by a series of high capacity lifts.
So what do you think of the change?
Update: here’s a video showing the change