I’ve long suspected the realities surrounding the City Rail Link and its close relationship to some of the biggest development projects in Auckland would in some ways force the governments hand and require an earlier start than 2020. Yesterday the first sign that the government was starting to move from their position of only having construction start in 2020 started to appear with the Herald reporting they are now considering the construction of part of the project so as not to impede the redevelopment of the downtown mall. Starting at least the northern part of the project has been pushed by Len Brown for some time now and the reason for him doing so was precisely to enable the tower development to go ahead.

The Government is looking at an early start on the $2.4 billion City Rail Link – but only for a short section of the route to go with the redevelopment of the Downtown Shopping Centre. The underground rail link starts at Britomart and goes under Lower Queen St and the shopping centre before turning up Albert St bound for Mt Eden.

Transport Minister Gerry Brownlee told the Herald he had met Precinct Properties about plans for a $400 million to $500 million redevelopment of the downtown site.

Once those plans were firmed up, he said, the Government would want to see how the rail link and redevelopment might gel to ensure everyone got the best results out of the time the site was under construction.

But Mr Brownlee stressed there was no commitment from Precinct at this point and no commitment from the Government, which wanted construction on the full link to start in 2020. The section of the route under the downtown site “would be lucky to be 100m”, he said.

This is the first public indication from the Government of an early start on the rail link, which Auckland Mayor Len Brown wants to start building in 2016.

He is citing the downtown redevelopment as one reason to kickstart a $250 million cut-and-cover section of the link from Britomart and up much of Albert St.

I’ve suggested in the past that one of the reasons the kick start to the CRL is needed is so that we can integrate the construction with other development including Precinct and the proposed tower on Albert St/Victoria St/Elliot St. Put simply the last thing the owners/developers of those sites will want is to have just spent hundreds of millions on new buildings only to have them impacted by construction for the CRL starting up. Precinct confirm this by saying:

“It would make sense to have works around that location done at the same time,” Mr Pritchard said. “Any Aucklander and visitor doesn’t want to see the bottom of the city under [construction for years].”

However it’s not just the Precinct development that benefits from starting earlier as it also allows Auckland Transport to get on with other projects that will be crucial to the improvement of the city, some of which are outlined in the City East West Transport Study.

CEWT Preferred Option

Of course once the project gets started – even if just for a small section – there will be a big increase in calls for the rest of the project to happen too, something that the government is keen to avoid.

Overall I don’t think the government are actually serious about starting the project on time and this is likely just to be something they are saying due to the upcoming election. I do think the government will ultimately be forced to commit to Len’s Kick-start proposal so as not to hold up other developments.

While on the topic of the CRL it is also something that came up in the document released the other day by the person who hacked Cameron Slater and was used for the the Dirty Politics book by Nicky Hager. The release shows the contents of a discussion between Slater and Aaron Batnagar who is a former Auckland City councilor and has worked for the National party.

June 27, 2013

Aaron Bhatnagar, 6/27, 12:54am

And so much for Joyce and English warning Banks off promising an inner city rail loop at the last mayoral elections.


Aaron Bhatnagar, 6/27, 12:55am

Because the moment Banks’ campaign went off the rails was when he backtracked on transport because of cost, and left Len looking like the only visionary

So John Banks supported the CRL in his campaign even after being told not to by Joyce and English while him backing off his initial support for rail to the airport and Albany showed he lacked vision. It’s worth noting that the way his campaign rapidly increased the cost of the rail projects was a factor in us creating the Congestion Free Network.

And in September 2013 talking about Maurice Williamson not running against Len Brown

Aaron Bhatnagar, 9/30, 6:13am

Maurice could have been in a real contest sadly. It just would have meant going soft on a city rail loop, but sadly key/Joyce fucked that issue.

So basically an acknowledgment that it’s politically impossible to now win the mayoralty on a campaign of stopping the CRL.

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  1. So Mr Brownlee thinks we’ll be lucky to get 100m of the CRL before 2020. If that’s not aspirational for Auckland, I’m not sure what is.

    1. Ha, my thoughts exactly. The early start won’t be allowed to impact on Albert St least the flow of traffic is affected.

    2. Lets be completely honest here. This government don’t want a bar of the CRL so any pretence that they are considering it should be filed under “Bullshit”! Watching National descend in the polls after Nicky Hagers book is the only reason this is even been mooted.

      1. The government has previously said 2020 and has now had discussions with Precinct about bringing the affected section forward.
        This sounds nothing like not having a bar to do with it.
        And is far more firm than “considering it”.
        Discussions will have been organised well before Hagers’ book.

        I see nothing but good news here, and an issue being raised to the ministers attention.
        Hopefully “New Development Group” are also talking about their site on the corner of Elliott and Victoria St. . .

        1. I think you are being overly generous. It’s been pretty clear from the get go of this Key administration that they are fairly anti-PT and have proven themselves very reluctant to fund anything other than motorways. They stalled on rail electrification funding for years until they finally conceded to provide funding as a loan…
          The only reason they said they’d fund the CRL by 2020 is that they know they’ll be out of power by then so it won’t actually be them that will have to fund it. They may as well have said nothing, but they know it’s inevitable once we get a Labour led govt. This way they can say they “supported” it, even though they won’t have to hold their nose and fund it themselves. Smart politics by Key.

          1. +1. The current National inner circle is totally anti-PT, their roads splurges give their true intentions away.

            Their Clayton’s support for the CRL is only to draw the sting from the CRL as an election issue, and make it look like they care about public transport. Don’t be fooled, and don’t let the people around you be fooled.

          2. I think they’re politicians and telling people what they think they want to hear.

            The message from the whole of Auckland is that the current roading focused transport policy is deemed a failure and that public transport is needed, but also needs to be frequent, reliable and affordable.

            All political parties are now dancing to that tune, although some look like the awkward kids at the school disco and haven’t quite picked up the rhythm yet.

            I’m pretty sure that we’ll get there, with the next step being downtown redevelopment and the cut and cover up Albert Street, just like roads, it’ll probably be built in stages. Sure it won’t unlock the true potential quickly, and will probably end up being more expensive long term, but it may well be the most expedient way.

          3. Nik, indeed politicians do have a habit of telling people what they think they want to hear. Perhaps we can add this to the column with death and taxes as the true inevitabilities in life? 🙂

            But why should we settle for the CRL to be built in stages? All that does is add complexity to the planning and execution, slow things down, and ultimately cost more. National (and their hanger-on parties) are the ones championing delay. A strange position for the supposed party of fiscal discipline. If they were truly fiscally careful, they would make an immediate start to building the CRL in one hit to build it quicker and get all the benefits sooner.

            That National are championing delay can only mean they don’t want to build the CRL at all. All of the opposition parties want to start on it now, and Labour and the Greens have the track record on public transport to back up their promises.The choice is therefore clear.

          4. I don’t think we should settle at all for a staged implementation for the reasons you’ve stated, however a pragmatic view would suggest that maybe that’s how it’s going to happen. Given the additional costs and delays, it’s the worst possible outcome.

            The question I struggle with is why would you delay the project that has proven to be the most popular and well thought through, given the consistent increases in all metrics over and above the rate of investment in public transport and even what the business cases have predicted.

            The only answer I can think of is follow the money, which leads to the construction companies who are building the roads. What is their link to the politicians and how does that play out if the limited funds for infrastructure are moved into public transport related spend.

          5. “The only answer I can think of is follow the money, which leads to the construction companies who are building the roads. What is their link to the politicians and how does that play out if the limited funds for infrastructure are moved into public transport related spend.”

            Not only the construction companies. The Road Transport Forum aka the truck lobby is one of the biggest funders of the National Party, whose chief fundraiser just happens to be Steven Joyce.

            These links are sleazy and insidious and should be investigated further. They explain why the Nats support illogical, uneconomic and unnecessary roading projects.

          6. I thought someone would have a better answer than me. It starts to make more sense when you follow the money and the motivations than the rhetoric.

            I would have thought that the Road Transport Forum would have wanted more people off the roads on into other modes, so that their members would be less delayed, or has enlightenment not quite got that far yet?

          7. The current National government was first elected on 26 Nov 2009.
            The contract for the electrification infrastructure was awarded on 14 January 2010 http://www.radionz.co.nz/news/national/26245/kiwirail-awards-auckland-rail-electrification-contract
            They did not “stall on rail electrification funding for years”.
            The stalling for years was by the previous Labour government.
            From 2009, https://transportblog.co.nz/2009/08/06/labour-and-public-transport-a-dilemma/
            From 2007: https://home.greens.org.nz/oralquestions/auckland-regional-transport-authority-rail-electrification

          8. Nik – the construction companies just want to build stuff and they will be lining up to build this

            Linz – The RTF usually also donate money to Labour too (although often a little bit less).

            Anthony – National were first elected in 2008 and one of their first moves was abolishing the regional fuel tax which was to pay for EMUs. They then went and reassessed the whole project which did delay it for some time. The end result of that reassessment saw them change the spec for trains going from two car EMUs with 20m carriages (140 carriages) to 3 car EMUs with 24m carriages. At one stage it was looking like we might get less than half the EMUs originally planned with potentially diesels still running around. They eventually settled on getting 38 three car EMUS (114 carriages). They then did one good thing which was agree to an all EMU fleet and upped funding to allow for an extra 19 EMUs which is what we’re now getting. One of the results of the changes has been the need for AT to recently make platform extensions at a number of the stations that were only upgraded a few years ago because they were designed with the earlier spec in mind. It should be noted that I’m not saying the change was necessarily bad, in fact it potentially gave us much better trains but the point is it did delay things by 1-2 years

          9. Nice revisionist history Anthony.

            However in reality National was elected in November 2008. At this time the then Labour led government had given the ARC the ability to levy fuel at the pumps up to 10 cents per litre in the Auckland region (the thought was about 3 cents per litre would suffice), to fund the cost of electrification. National were firmly against another tax being placed on people. Ironic isn’t it as National have increased petrol excise tax multiple times since 2008 and have of course increased GST, not to mention ACC levies too, but hey they sounded so genuine at the time.

            Anyway back to the trains. The idea was to get the electrification up to a point where they could be used for the 2011 Rugby World Cup. By then the ADK’s were supposed to be long gone as was some of the other older equipment. But in stepped National who dithered and did nothing and the net result of that was the ARC had to order more SA sets to cover the predicted shortfall in trains for the RWC. Hence the 6 and 5 car sets and the refurbishment of the ADK’s. And we all know how that went, not enough trains and not well co-ordinated. And now perhaps these not so old SA’s may be sold at a loss or scrapped. Brilliant!

            Since then Auckland now has to find in the region of $500,000,000,. that being a loan made by the government to Auckland to cover the governments interference. And now we only have 57, 3 car EMU sets which will be insufficient to meet the increased service goals and growth targets that they have set. Expect to see the retention of some diesel units if these targets are to remain.

            Just as an aside the previous government funded the Onehunga Branch rebuild, and the double tracking of the Western Line in the very least so they didn’t really stall at all. And this was done after they had to buy the network back from Tranzrail, the formerly tax payer owned NZ Rail.

  2. What strikes me about the above diagram is that the transport projects are designed to make it easier to commute East-West downtown. Why can’t we make it easier to use the motorways for this purpose, try and redirect traffic outside downtown, instead of pushing it to go through downtown?

    1. You’re reading it wrong. The diagram suggests chopping out crosstown general traffic capacity and shifting it to bus lanes or more pedestrian space, depending on the road.

    2. Jacques the motorway is the already supposed to be the bypass, these are routes for the accessing the city itself from the m’ways to the vast number of parking buildings.

      All pretty crazy for me right now as I’m in Melb which is currently de-carring a street a year in the CBD. Of course they have both underground rail system and while the cars are removed the trams and bikes are not…. But at least we’re working towards the huge off-street capacity of underground rail and planning to organise the buses in a more concentrated more tram-like way (fixed stops, own Right of way, etc) and important routes can be upgraded to surface light rail later.

      1. If I hashed it out everyone would still know exactly what it meant. Also it I did remove the other text in the same comment not related to part quoted.

  3. Using extracts from stolen data…. Ethical Standards? Poor form that you are now using personal emails to help your case which jeopardise the position of the people named within them

    1. Allegedly stolen jon – no evidence I’ve seen so far shows this is actually the case. We have an assertion from Slater that he was hacked, but is there actually any prima facie evidence to back this up?

      And no-one, from Slater on down is admitting that any of the gmail addresses or twitter handles/names or whatever in those “dumps” are actually from the person they purport to be from.

      Who is to say that these posts from a “Aaron Bhatnager” are in fact from the person(a) claimed?

  4. Lets face it, this is only to help out Precinct nothing more. I’d expect a similar announcement for the proposed Elliot Street building too, to help them out if it was needed.
    But we don’t need or want a CRL built by 100m stages thanks.

    The only true way to have CRL start and finish in a timely fashion is by exercising your power at the ballot box next month to either get a new Government or to force a change of upper management attitude in the (re-elected) National Government.

    Even if Key now said he would start CRL early e.g. to ensure he gets into power again, you’d have to ask yourself how much weight that would carry given that .Key’s promises about what he does or doesn’t think, seem to actually mean only what he wants them to mean.

    1. What is the proposed Elliot Street building? Sounds worth a look.

      BTW (without some sort of rare personal connection) how is it possible to force a change of upper management attitude in a re-elected National Government? Ultimately all politicians see after elections are the number of votes for them. If National are re-elected they will see it (as any party would) as a vindication of their policy direction and election promises, among which is to delay the CRL and splurge on roads, de-emphasising public transport investment. That doesn’t sounds like much of a change of direction.

      The only way to have the CRL start ASAP is to vote for parties which have said they will start it now, and backed their words with actions in the past. The Greens and Labour are at the top of this list.

      1. Well Key has flipped and flopped (and flip-flopped) on quite a few positions over the years, so anything is possible, and generally if Key says jump, the rest of the National “management team” say “How high, and How soon, Sir John!”

        And so, while you or I don’t have the ear of these guys, the electorate as a whole does right now, and if post 20th of September, National have to do a deal with other parties (e.g. United Future – a unitary party, with no real future), then Dunn may make it a part of the deal to do it, and then Key, like those in power in the novel 1984 did, will completely reverse the status quo position, to “we’ve always been for starting CRL early…”

        As for Elliot Street building, its the proposed on the empty section on the corners of Albert,Elliot and Victoria Streets, which may, or may not go ahead at some point.
        But you can bet your life that they’d be wanting special pleading rights if Precinct can get them too.

    2. Well technically it has been planned for some time to only the northern part in short stages as AT aren’t allowed to impact on more than one intersection at once as part of the resource consent. However I do realise you’re talking about the actual funding of the project. In my view there is no way it will ever only be 100m or even all the way to Aotea and the government know this too which is why they initially said no to Len’s suggestion of a quick start. They know that once the project gets under way there is no way the public will accept leaving it part dug and will demand the rest be finished.

  5. National might unwittingly help CRL with this. Increased support for, and reduced opposition to, may come from seeing it underway, especially if Auckland council takes credit for it.

  6. AT has just finished 3 open days for the CRL.
    These were held due to the recent design change incorporating redevelopment of Mt Eden Station.
    The usual information was on display.
    What was new to me were 3D models of each of the stations showing platforms, trains, concourse and entrances.
    Aotea shows what appears to be a level access to platforms from Victoria St (near Queen) with entrance tunnels aligned with and below the Victoria St footpath.
    There are no entrances aligned with Darby St, or connecting to Sky City (yet).
    The “station” also extends to the north of Victoria St housing what appears to be plantroom equipment and ventilation in the cut and cover area, connected to some ventilation stacks around 87 Albert St.

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