Two weeks ago the government once again talked about an Additional Waitemata Harbour Crossing (AWHC). There are a number of reasons why another road based crossing is not a great idea – and even the Herald has been sceptical about it – but perhaps the biggest issue of all is the sheer cost of it. It’s been estimated to cost a whopping $4 billion to $6 billion. That’s considerably larger than what we spend on transport for the entire nation each year and about 5 years’ worth of the entire transport budget for Auckland. However the announcement once again got me thinking about what else we could do if we had $4-$6 billion to spend.

Anyone who has read this blog for long enough will know that our preference is for the money to go towards advancing projects on the Congestion Free Network.

Of course even by the time-frame the government suggest of 2025-30 we’d hope that much of the CFN would have been completed or at least already well under way. So I thought, what could we do if we were to spend that $4-$6 billion to further enhance the CFN. As a basis I was reminded of this old post by Nick R looking at something similar to Vancouver’s Skytrain – something sometimes referred to as Light Metro.

One of the useful aspects is that from Vancouver we have a couple of good recent examples of how much such a system may cost.

  • The Canada line was built in 2009 for a cost of just over $2 billion Canadian dollars (about NZ $2.5 billion once you account for exchange rates and inflation etc.). For that price they got 16 stations (8 underground, 6 elevated) on 19.2km of double track (including 9.1km in tunnels, 7.3km elevated and a 614m long bridge). It also includes 20 two-car driverless trains to run on it plus a maintenance facility. All up it cost them about $130 million per km.
  • The Evergreen Line is an extension currently under construction for a cost of $1.4 billion Canadian dollars (NZ$1.5 billion). It will be 10.9km of double track of which 2km is underground and much of the rest is elevated. It also includes six new and one redeveloped station and the existing Skytrain fleet will be boosted by 28 new Skytrain cars (14 two-car trains?). All up the cost is about $137 million per km.

Using a figure of $140 million per km it might deliver us somewhere between 28 and 43km of light metro network which is quite a lot. So what could we get with that?

One potential option is a two line light metro network linking up parts of the North Shore and also the Northwest. Something like below which features both a North Shore and Northwest line. Both pass through the City Centre and under the harbour in a shared tunnel then have short spur off to the Metropolitan Centres of Newmarket and Takapuna. Both lines could be extended further in the future towards Silverdale in the North and Kumeu in the Northwest. In the City Centre it would provide good rapid transit access to areas not covered directly by the CRL.

Light Metro North & Northwest

With automatic trains the shared sections could see trains every two minutes. That’s 30 trains an hour or up to 15 trains an hour on each line. Combine that trains carrying 500-600 people each and we’d have the capacity to easily move 15-20 thousand of people direction every hour free of traffic congestion. As a comparison a road crossing with three lanes each way might carry 6,000 people per hour in each direction.

By now some of you may be concerned about thinking too much along the line of using Light Metro in case it delays the already needed Northwest Busway. It’s definitely a legitimate concern however I feel there’s no reason the busway couldn’t be built sooner but designed to be easily upgradeable later on.

This also raises another key point in favour of a solution like this compared to the AWHC. With the AWHC the entire $4-$6 billion project has to be done in one big burst whereas with a network like this it could easily be broken up into smaller stages. For example we could do something like this:

  • Stage 1 – Takapuna to Aotea with bus/train interchanges at Akoranga and Onewa Rd.
  • Stage 2 – Akoranga to Albany replacing the busway.
  • Stage 3 – Aotea to Newmarket
  • Stage 4 – Northwest

Tying it all in with the other parts of the Congestion Free Network plus Auckland Transport’s Light Rail plans for the central Isthmus might look something this.

CFN 2030 + Light Metro

Given the option of a road tunnel under the harbour or an automated, high frequency rapid light metro system covering the North Shore and the Northwest I know which option I’d choose.

How would you spend the $4-$6 billion expected cost of an Additional Waitemata Harbour Crossing

View Results

Loading ... Loading ...
Share this


  1. Also I notice you mention the frequency, but what about operation hours, would like to see at least 5am-12.30am 7-days on cfn routes so that its compatible with shift work. (People don’t usually start or finish work between 12.30am and 5am, so its a fair time for maintenance etc, niterider buses can serve the party-goers on fri/sat shutdown times, or alt just run less frequent cfn routes upto 3am on these nights and remove the need for niteriders all together). Sure after-hours travel doesn’t contribute much to congestion but a lot of these people (such as myself) might change shifts occasionally to business hours, so I doubt they would want to switch between car and PT for work commutes all the time, I know I wouldn’t, don’t really want the costs of a vehicle, also 90 mins on a bus home (due to train finish at 10pm) which otherwise takes 29 min by train or 22 min by car,,, what do you think? I think no, I am not wasting 60 mins of my sleep time just because I finish 40 mins later than the last train (current timetable setup).

  2. Yes for a light metro. But run it via the Devonport peninsula through Takapuna for better catchment rather than adding a spur to the network. These needs to be seriously considered rather than offhandedly rejected IMO. (e.g.

    1. As a resident of the peninsula, I love that idea.

      But running it down the middle of Lake Road is potentially a huge problem. It isn’t going to be widened (and physically would be hard to do even with all the political will in the world) so you are looking at taking a lot of space from cars (therefore triggering a massive response from the overwhelmingly auto dependent residents) plus you really need to build in some cycling provision. So pretty tight.

      In terms of intensification, the NIMBYs on the peninsula lead by Auckland 2040 (“Delivering Yesterday’s Solutions Tomorrow”) have ensured that there will be very little population growth on the peninsula. The Ngati Whatua SHAs may lead to some more dense housing but not enough in my opinion.

      As an example, between the latest census and the one before, the population of Stanley Point stayed exactly the same – I mean exactly.

      1. It could run down the centre of Lake Rd on the concrete slab the old steam tram ran on. The slab is still there under a couple of cm’s of asphalt.

        1. The last tram to run down there was a tram to the Bayswater ferry in the 1920s and that would only run as far as Bayswater Ave.

          But even putting engineering aside, the problem is space, not whether it is technically possible. It will be hard enough to get any kind of bus lane on the outside of the road, let alone the space for platforms for a tram.

          I would love to see it but practically it is hard to imagine. Plus there won’t be much population growth thanks to the NIMBYs.

        2. The only way to run this system along Lake Rd is to a) tunnel or b) put it up in the air. It is not a tram system with overhead wires.

        3. Yes the Vancouver system is overhead on concrete pylons. These could run down the centre of the road (would be about 2m wide so not even as wide as a median strip). Does add to the cost but is cheaper than tunnelling. This would be fine from Bayswater/Belmont to Takapuna however I think maybe the citizens of Devonport might get their knickers in a twist about an “eyesore”.

        4. ‘might’, rofl.

          not gonna happen. maybe, at a very long stretch light rail at street level. but even that is unlikely as the direct ferry routes to the city will always win the race, so the role of any Transit system on this spine is to connect ferry terminals with Takapuna with as much catchment along the way…. buslanes and real Rapid Transit Station at Takapuna will do it, and longer ferry hours. If the buses get super overloaded then LRT comes into play as a possiblity, but then as people have noted there isn’t to be much growth in the blessed maritime Shire of Devpo…..possibly ever.

      2. A bus shuttle from Devonport to Takapuna, more frequent than the 15 minute headways now, would be almost as effective and a small fraction of the cost without destroying the ambiance of the area. Run a bus, even a small bus, every 5 minutes and it would be well used. And not adding development isn’t nimbyism, it’s bad planning to place a lot of development on a peninsula, with only one way out and one way in.

        On anther note, the CFN option is superior to the Big Bridge option because it can be built in phases and therefore financed in phases, each phase being a useful facility in its own right.

        1. I really disagree on the development. There are huge open areas of low density navy housing that now belongs to Ngati Whatua and is proposed to be SHAs. These should be developed as medium density, low car developments.

          The other development that should happen are the apartments at Bayswater marina. Again, provide them as car lite developments and emphasise to purchasers that ferry is the preferred method of commuting.

          Devonport Peninsula is great for transport, just not by car. If more options were given to bus/cycle to the ferry terminals and Akoranga then lots of people could choose something other than a car.

          Two good examples of what could be done are bus lanes (maybe tidal?) on lake Road and a walking/cycling bridge from the end of Francis Street across to Esmonde Road. This would then connect to Takapuna through the reserve opposite and to Akoranga along separated cycle lanes.

          This would cost a fraction of the $50m+ that was earmarked for Lake Road – but has now been reallocated elsewhere. The best solution to the traffic problems on Lake Road are:

          1. Improve bus travel times and frequency with bus lanes on Lake Road and also ferry frequency.
          2. Improve cycling infrastructure and access to ferries, Akoranga station and Takapuna.
          3. Don’t improve the situation for cars – people will eventually start using their intelligence to figure out this is not the best way to travel.

          There is no way that with its proximity and limited road links so many people on that Peninsula should be choosing to drive – and for many it is a choice. No healthy person is forced to drive their SUV less than 1km to the Bayswater ferry (yes, they do).

      3. Yep it would definitely have to be a tunnel through to Takapuna. So it would be more expensive than the current proposal, but how much more and what the potential value of that is what I think needs to be properly studied before spending this money. I think most of the additional cost would be in the extra underground stations required.

    2. Yes, and youd need two tunnels under harbour. Sounds expensive, especially given lack of intensification in devonport.

  3. Canadian gets a good value of money. I wonder why our infrastructure cost are so expensive for so little done.

    Everytime I pass by a construction site, I saw 4 people standing there looking at one person who is the only one doing actual work.

    1. The old bullshit claim. All our major road construction (and most of our medium projects) is tendered out. Mostly to (increasingly international) large construction companies.

      Sure, they have no incentive (beyond their own competitors) to keep the prices down they charge to government. But they don’t get paid by the amount of hours an amount of people are on site. They get a lump sump, or some similar contract. So a) if someone’s standing around on site, it’s not costing YOU or ME any extra cent. and b) there’s probably a good reason for it, and even if not, see a)

    2. There are many possible reasons for construction workers standing around on-site, usually its only affecting the contracting companies profit margins and not costing us any more (with the way most contracts are set anyway).

      Some reasons

      – locating services, spotters are needed when digging for services, a broken fiber cable can cost in excess of $80,000.00 to repair. We all know its spaghetti under that ground and services are never where they are on the plans, if you hit high voltage cables or gas mains, you could also be toast.
      – Health and Safety, if working in ditches, trenches, manholes etc spotters are required, their sole job is to be there looking for hazards or to action a rescue plan if something goes wrong. Also your not allowed to work alone in these high risk work conditions, could be there to be there.
      – Inspections, engineering or supervisor inspections. Labour usually is pretty good, but all work needs to be checked and checked again to ensure that quality standards are being reached.
      – Waiting on deliveries, an unfortunate but necessary part of construction, especially on transport jobs where space is tight.
      – Concrete pours, unfortunately one of those situations where you need half a dozen employees to undertake the work, but you cant finish off the job until the concrete has hardened enough to finish. This of course varies with weather conditions, moisture content etc so only way to know is to wait. Then someone might have to hang around just to cure the concrete properly.

      There are more reasons but normally they are either necessary by law, for the safety of employees, or to save money in the long run (as a type of insurance).

  4. I agree too with Kelvin – one sees workers on the road, there is always a road mucked up, and then another 2-3 months further on they do it all again – surely the 10 or so workers, that just stand around, seemingly smoking or eating could their bums…….. off the road and do 2 jobs, not just one at a time.
    The bridge thing – I think I will be dead before there is another crossing – they just cant see it through those’ Aucklanders’ that is the ones on the Auckland side.

    1. Gotta get their pay to work ratio, perhaps if they were paid more they would be inclined to “stand around” less, though I have never done their job so I can’t really judge.

      1. The bureaucracy officals doesnt want to take any risk, and there is no incentive for them to save money. So at the end of the day jobs goes the contractors who has good relationship. Unfortunately they can also quote what they wanted without competition.

        We actually need a more competitive and open bidding system without corruption, hidden kick back and political influence.

        1. I know it is easy to see corruption and kick backs everywhere, but NZ is actually praised for its transparency and lack of corruption. And having lived in the most corrupt country in Europe, it is obvious how good NZ is.

          In my experience, what people see as a huge conspiracy is actually just sheer incompetence or going for the safest option – the first thing you said.

          Also, who is to say that the cheapest is always the best? Look at the Novopay fiasco.

        2. This is changing. There was an article about how we are “importing corruption” by way of immigrants from countries where corruption is rife (think China, India, Philippines, Indonesia, Middle East countries etc). That’s not to say that all immigrants from these places are corrupt but it certainly is a problem that we didn’t really have until recently.

        3. Yeez, I could just as well argue that these people will IMPROVE our culture, because on average they are the kind of hard-working, honest folks that leave such countries because they want to improve themselves and are sick of living in a dysfunctional society where you have to pay bribes at every step. I have as much evidence to bolster my theory as you do for yours, but my theory at least doesn’t start with a bad-faith assumption about people that legally immigrated here.

          Don’t perpetuate negative stereotypes, especially when you have nothing to back them up beyond several jumps of assumption, please!

        4. Our ranking in the global rankings for corruption has not budged in 20 years – 20 years of intense immigration from Asia and elsewhere that has radically changed our ethnic and cultural landscape. Yet no change in ranking.

  5. My idea was Airport heavy rail, but it’s already included in the CFN.

    Maybe we can just not spend the $6bn and not rack up more debt?

        1. Yes way – to funders/backers.

          To hard core voters or mugs stupid enough to believe their hype – no way!

  6. As far as cost and utility goes, Light Metro is a no-brainer.

    For starters, it’s cheap to run – no driver means very low operating costs. It’s also an extremely flexible system. Units can run in sets of anywhere from 1 to 6, so you can run individual units at high frequency if you need to, or join multiple units together. That means you can balance frequency and capacity as needed.

    On a related note, I wonder if the next Auckland mayor has the cajones to stand up to central Government the way the Victorian government just has to Tony Abbott and say, ‘shove your heinously expensive roading project, we want high-capacity rail solution instead’?

  7. Let’s say none of these options gets done – no bridge, no tunnel, no light rail, no nothin’ over the harbour. What are the planning implications of that? If the North Shore continues to grow, delays at the bridge will be monumental, not to mention accidents, or gawking at people changing flat tyres by the side of the road. What does that do to the CBD if a large % of the population can’t get there in a reasonable amount of time? I’m not suggesting anything by this. It’s just that people are going to keep moving north (and it’s considered by many to be “the better part of town”) regardless. Is that smart planning? This isn’t fantasy, either. It’s reality. If everybody decides today to build a bridge or tunnel it won’t be done for about 20 years in which time growth continues and harbour crossing capacity doesn’t.

    What kind of assumptions are in the Unitary Plan?

    1. Well what happened in Sydney was that the North Shore there grew its own centre very strongly, everything I’ve read about the development there stresses the separation from the centre as a growth stimulating force for the Shore. That is the most likely outcome, disconnection, or restricted connection can be a creative force. So both Albany and Takapuna may grow as high and as intensely as possible under such a scenario, and of course bus and ferry mode share will grow sharply.

      It’s not unlikely either; that no crossing will happen; the focus is likely to go on the provinces now, especially after Northland.

      Not a bad outcome. The Shore to continue to grow its own identity and independence. Does the UP allow for this growth though?

      Additionally the longer it takes the more likely it will be a Rapid Transit solution and not a crazy 20C road only model [the awareness of which I fear is behind the current haste by this road only gov.].

  8. I’ve chosen the light metro option….but the numbers would have to be crunched as to how many people can ride on how many trains. I’ve used the Skytrain in Vancouver (and their sister monorail in Scarborough, east Toronto) and the cars aren’t very big and rapidly fill. Often people are left standing on the platform waiting for the next train. That may be a while. It certainly can’t handle anywhere near the volume of the trains on Toronto Transit Commission’s subway system. It has been described as toy public transport system by some….but relative expensive when comparing passengers / km / hour.

    1. Sorry but I think you are dead wrong.

      Vancouver Skytrains Bombardier MKII units can hold 171 people per car, at a reasonable level of standing density. They can automatically couple and run as longer consists, so say six car sets = 1026 people per train (more than our EMUs) (however I note in Vancouver they designed their stations for only four car lengths).

      Then because they are fully automated with rolling block ‘signalling’ (actually no signalling at all, just computerised) they can run at 75 second headways (which is what they are shifting to in Vancouver), i.e. 48 trains an hour per direction, which is really only limited by the dwell times required to load and unload people at stations.

      So trains that hold 1026 people x 48 an hour per direction = 49,000 people per hour per direction. That’s huge by any metro’s standard, and almost triple what the CRL will be able to move (in a smaller cross section too!).

      Don’t let the small train carriages fool you, designed properly they can move just as much as the busiest metro systems.

    1. I’d vote for “All of the above” but it wasn’t an option – and in any case, I know we’d end up with just the road tunnels and nothing else if I did.

  9. As long as we stay away from elevated tracks wherever possible.

    The first of three MRT lines are being built around KL at the moment and for the most part its above ground. And absolutely massive. I drive past a lot of the construction daily and there is one station that must be 10 storeys above ground level. Most looks to be about 20m up similar to other elevated lines.

    Its an eyesore (in some parts) and an engineering marvel all at the same time. This line is 50kms long and will be matched by two others of a similar length, one a city-circle to link it all up with existing rail lines.

    I am assuming that any light metro lines in Auckland would always be at ground level aside from a harbor crossing. But for those wanting elevated lines along motorways (or, dare I say it, a monorail…) the attached video gives you some perspective. Skip the first 3mins and you’ll get an idea of scale. Also of note is the size of the elevated stations.

    1. Weren’t they building these in the late ’90s? When I was there they a whole lot of elevated MRT stations with no track between them thanks to the Asian “GFC” in the late ’90s.
      They were half baked then and look even worse now.

      So what have they done, dusted off those plans from the ’90s and carried on as it nothing has changed in the meantime?

      1. No, these are all new.

        Not sure about the ones in the 90s but there are elevated lines (in the city) for the existing LRT, Kommuter and Monorail lines. I’ve been here 10years and they were all here before me. Maybe those are the ones you saw.

        The ones in the video are all brand new, have gone up in the last few months and run for 50kms. 100kms to go (2 more lines), all to be done by 2020 I think.

  10. Speaking of light rail, I overheard someone who seemed to be an AT employee when I was at the cricket. It sounds like AT are going to do light rail to the airport via Dominion road, the Avondale Southdown designation, Onehunga train station, and the south western motorway. He said it would take 10 minutes extra to mid town and would cost 10% of heavy rail (not sure I heard that last bit correctly it seems low).

    1. Light rail works well in dense urban areas over short distances. The Airport is none of these. Also light rail is slow by comparison to heavy rail. If it was only 10% of the cost then sure – bargain, however in reality it will be more like 50%+ so you would be better off just building a proper heavy rail line (and get the other advantages – freight can use the Avondale-Southdown, trains linking with the rest of the network etc). I could imagine light rail to connect to Manukau, but as this is a simple short distance having heavy rail there too would make a loop and provide more flexibility.

  11. SkyTrain is an interesting example because it generates an operating surplus, largely by virtue of the fact it is driverless (and so costs very little to operate) while also generating large volumes. In my mind this suggests that if we want 1) PT to succeed and 2) be fiscally sustainable, then light metro may well be a viable option in high demand corridors.

    1. Yes and the Shore Line offers that possibility because it can be completely separate from roads and people, but also freight and current passenger rail.

  12. If a tunnel is to expensive could there be a rail track with a draw bridge accross Waitemata Harbour? Boats could get underneath and track would not need to be too steep.
    The Cook Strait ferries use a draw bridge principles to get trains onto them.

    1. I believe a rail tunnel will be far more practical. Imagine how many trains would be held up if you ran it at a high frequency.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *