Rail to the airport is in the news again – and not in a good way – this time related to the Kirkbride interchange the NZTA are currently building and whether it’s future proofed for rail. The answers by Auckland Transport and the NZTA also hint at some of the dysfunction, lack of critical thinking and potentially deliberate sabotage that’s long plagued this project – one which is constantly one of the most popular publicly.

Auckland Transport is having to stump of $21 million to “future-proof” a motorway project for trains or trams to the airport.

The council body is paying the money to the Government’s Transport Agency, towards extra costs of designing a motorway interchange for trams to run through a trench beneath Kirkbride Road, Mangere, or trains on an elevated line.

That is additional to $140m the agency is spending on the 580-metre trench and a motorway extension to the airport in an accelerated Government-funded project.

Preparations are well-advanced for the trench to be dug west of George Bolt Drive.

Considering that airport rail has been talked about for decades and has been on regional plans for probably just as long it’s absolutely absurd that AT are having to pay $21 million to widen the trench to be able to accommodate rail. Long-time readers may remember the excuse given by the NZTA for not building a busway along SH16 at the same time as all the motorway widening going on was that the old Auckland Regional Council didn’t list the route as a rapid transit one (rail or busway). That isn’t the case here because as mentioned rail has long been on the plans and been subject to many studies, some of which they themselves have been involved in. The NZTA should also remember the public desire the project in the form of the 10,000 signature petition the CBT organised back in 2007.

So why are AT now paying the NZTA future proof the interchange?

As I understand it when the government announced they were accelerating the project back in 2013 the Highway Network Operations (HNO) team within the NZTA quickly went to work on designing the interchange. They didn’t look at the work their planning teams had been working on with AT and designed the interchange to take up the entire space of the motorway designation. They claimed their design future proofed the interchange for rail but what they really meant is there was space beside it for rail to go but it would effectively require starting from fresh including needing to purchase and designate all the land. In other words the NZTA’s work didn’t preclude a future rail line but didn’t do anything to help it either.

When AT realised and challenged HNO they claimed it was a done deal and they were on too tight a schedule to make any changes. They also tried to use Watercare – who need to build a new pipe through the area – as an excuse for not being able to accommodate any changes however it turns out Watercare were only bringing their project forward after being told to by HNO. After working out they only needed a few extra metres and some high level talks HNO backed down and agreed include the project but with a new catch – AT would have to pay. They then tried to claim the extra work would add something like $60 million to the $140 million project. The price of $21 million has come about after AT sat down and worked out what the actual extra cost would be.

That it even got to that this point is absurd and puts into question both organisations claims of working together well in partnership. Putting this aside, so what are we now getting?

Auckland Transport project director Theunis van Schalkwyk has since, in a joint statement with the Transport Agency to the Herald, confirmed that his organisation has allocated $21m to make the trench 3.5m wider than planned.

Its new width of 29m would provide an 8m rail corridor, which the statement said would be enough for trams to run through the trench or for elevated trains above it.

So the NZTA almost severely hampered rail to the airport all for the sake of 3.5m – that’s less than a single motorway lane. Here’s what the current plan is for the project

Kirkdbride Layout

And a closer look at the interchange itself

Kirkdbride Layout - interchange

The answer and these images also raises new questions.

  • How will Light Rail run through the trench, presumably it would have to be down the centre and would have to be protected from cars by barriers. Is 8m enough space for both the tracks and barriers?
  • By designing so that heavy rail has to be overhead is that a strategy to ensure local opposition?
  • After either light rail or heavy rail pass the interchange then what? How does light rail get to or from the centre of the motorway, if elevated how does long is the line elevated for?
  • If an elevated line is built I’m assuming that it would have to stay elevated for some distance to get past Bader Dr and the SH20/SH20a motorway interchange. How will that impact on Mangere Town Centre. Alternatively it would be interesting to hear the local communities thoughts if as a result Mangere town centre was served by a station like this from Vancouver (Brentwood Town Centre).

Brentwood Skytrain Station

Of course Kirkbride is just one of what seem like many mountains in front of getting rail to the airport. Earlier promises by the NZTA’s predecessor to future proof the recently duplicated Manukau Harbour Crossing for rail turned out to be completely pointless – only allowing enough space for a single low speed track. At the other end it seems that rail will required to be in a tunnel though the airport property as it will have to get under a longer runway.

In addition to all of this I think that AT’s current fascination with Light Rail is distracting them. Light rail is appropriate for the isthmus routes they’re suggesting but in my view is completely inappropriate for rail to the airport as it simply won’t be fast enough. LRT would likely take around 50 minutes to get to the city vs 30-35 for heavy rail hooking into the existing network – either at Onehunga or perhaps as Patrick suggested the other day.

All up it feels like rail to the airport will go the same way as so many other transport projects in Auckland’s history. So much opportunity to easily get a great result hampered by short term thinking and expediency. So much hassle could have been avoided if AT and predecessors had applied just a little bit more urgency in obtaining a designation for the project.

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  1. It was madness to have traffic light controlled intersections anywhere between the airport and the motorway. There should have been overbridges and whatever else was needed to keep the flows to and from the airport running efficiently. Incredibly poor design / logic right throughout from the outset.

    1. Got any evidence for this claim, or at least an argument? I have never even experienced any delay beyond one cycle at this intersection, I have no issue with it being separated but the ridiculous haste and deception used by HNO to rush through a poor design is absurd.

      1. I have to agree with Patrick on this one. I live locally and use the Countdown near the airport a lot and have never been significantly delayed. Well apart from the usual rush hour about 6pm (even then its usually only 20mins of bad traffic) I can see my dream of having rail to the airport disappearing before my eyes. It seems the only people who will “benefit” from this are the trucking companies who have all set up shop near the roundabout that will be the end of the motorway.

      2. This intersection might have caused 5min delay coming from the city, that is of course if you timed the run wrong. E.g. there is nothing wrong with having traffic lights from the airport to the motorway.

        This intersection was however quite dangerous with cars entering it at motorway speed, exacerbating the danger is the nearby school and sport fields. I actually agree with the need for a proper interchange design here as a result, however it has to be done properly, with sufficient allowance for heavy rail, in-fact to show they are serious they should get it to the point where we just need to put down the steel rails and switch the on button for overhead wires. Future proofing of rail so far has been, ‘lets to the bare minimum and get paid for the premium’, so far anyway.

        Also we should, like in all motorway projects, be looking to improve on the cycle and pedestrian facilities through this area.

    2. There are much bigger cities and airports than us in the world that don’t have a motorway right to the terminal! In fact can’t think of any that do!
      Almost all airports have some form of good public transport though unlike ours!

  2. Spot on analysis. Seems to me that ‘dysfunction, lack of critical thinking and potentially deliberate sabotage’ is symptomatic of not only the current HNO team but also for much of the NZTA’s management, an agency best characterised by its myopic view of transport in the country, supine deference to vested interests, inability to grasp the environmental and social impact of its interventions and failure to provide impartial and considered advice to the current executive branch of government. This whole design encapsulates pretty much everything that’s wrong with our transport agencies. Time for a clean sweep of the stables.

  3. Sounds like massive dysfunctional behavior from HNO. And Auckland Transport pretty much giving up on heavy rail due to their current obsession with LRT.

    Something smells rotten about the whole thing.

  4. Outrageous when you think about it, but sadly not surprising. The Additional Waitemata Harbour Crossing is shaping up to be the next battleground for rapid transit. Great post though, keep shining the light, TB!

  5. Gossip. Just a couple of hundred words of gossip. Reads as if AT staff have been briefing Transport Blog against the NZTA. Disfunctional indeed.

    1. ? What is it you are trying to say. Please add something to the discussion if you dont agree with the article. We love good intellectual debate on this blog.

  6. I don’t understand why light rail is slower than heavy rail. In Tunisia in the 80’s we used light rail that negotiated the tight streets of the city and then went fast through the outer suburbs. When does a tram become a train and a train become a tram?

    1. Peter, light rail is slower simply because it has to cover about 12km on city streets with traffic lights and intersections first, before getting to the last bit where it can be like a train. The heavy rail already has the grade separated corridor from britomart to onehunga and does that in 28 minutes (could be about 23-24 with some improvements).

      The light rail on street would be more like 45 minutes to get to Onehunga. After that it’s probably much the same speed.

      1. I challenge that it would take that long. I think it will get to Mt Roskill in about 25 minutes (I could drive it in 10 mins if I had a dedicated lane), and then it will be a dedicated run via the avondale-southdown designation or the southwestern motorway which should take no longer than 5 minutes more to Onehunga. So 30 minutes vs 28 minutes by my guestimation…

  7. It sounds like light rail would be pointless. a 50 minute journey between airport and CBD is about twice as long as it needs to be to be worthwhile. Heathrow airport is slightly further from central London than Auckland Airport is from the CBD, and the train takes 15 minutes.

    1. Personally I am less bothered about time than certainty, but I agree 50 minutes is longer than desirable. Benefits of this line will be every much for local workers and commuters to Mangere as to the airport. If light rail is constrained by road traffic and congestion then time is less certain and that’s a significant constraint. In London I always take the Heathrow Connect as I prefer the extra 15 minutes travel time to unwind from the long flight.

      1. +1

        Yes, a grade-separated route gives you that certainty (almost always), whereas a tram/LRV on city streets (even with priority) can’t, as road vehicle breakdowns or crashes or gridlocked congestion blocking the path of the tram/LRV would effectively close the route.

    2. Yes the $40 odd train takes 15 minutes, but most prefer the $12 tube that takes about an hour. I only took the heathrow express if work was paying.
      If we include the true cost of implementation in the fare I think the rail vs tram here might have a similar price structure…

    3. According to AT’s web site. the Dominion road bus only takes 29 minutes from the south western motorway to the St James:
      1077 Dominion Road, Mount Roskill to St James Theatre, Auckland Central
      Departs at 07:38
      Light rail should be a lot quicker – less stops, more dedicated roads, will go straight down queen street instead of the Symonds Street detour, quicker boarding through much bigger doors. I think 25 minutes or less.
      From the south western motorway to Onehunga should only be about 5 minutes – I imagine it will either go down the side of the motorway or down the avondale southdown designation so won’t get caught in traffic.
      So the light rail should get to Onehunga in about 30 minutes, 2 minutes slower than the train.
      From Onehunga I imagine light rail would have pretty much the same dedicated route the train would have – it may be above ground at some stages around the airport to save money. Lets say it is 5 minutes longer.
      So light rail should only be 5 to 10 minutes slower than heavy rail (and I imagine at a fraction of the cost)

      1. All this seems to be assuming light rail couldn’t run on the heavy rail lines for the central city end of the runs? Why is this? This is just what was proposed for Wellington – tram-trains…

        1. Different track gauge, different floor/platform height, different voltage, different current, different signalling system, different crash standards, different driver training, different safe working regime and the fact it’s currently illegal and you’d have to push shit uphill to get anywhere near kiwi rails network.

          You could devise some system that overcomes all of these problems, but it wouldn’t be cheaper than either light or heavy rail alone and you have a compromised outcome.

  8. What’s to stop heavy rail turning into light rail for the final run to the airport, whatever route it is going to take, much like the old interurban system in the States or the current metre gauged railway networks in Europe, especially Switzerland; full sized cars cruising through the countryside, then mixing with the traffic for the final run through town. In NZ what we are talking about is building the track to a smaller gauge than the proposed LRT will be, and bringing in some different vehicles, and these would be available off the shelf from manufacturers such as Alsthom which cater for the large network of metre gauged railways in Europe (only 72mm difference between the NZ and those European track gauges).

    1. Because we have brand new trains on routes that are almost there. No need to reinvent the wheel, or rather introduce a hybrid system when all we need to do is continue existing services on some new track. I have shown how elegant and cost effective that can be. No new depot, no new system, more efficient utilisation of existing network and kit.

      Capex cost is not everything. Amortised over its life it becomes negligible.

      What is still shocking here is that they are now leaving a space for rail but one that is just 2m too narrow for the superior, faster, and more direct standard rail of our new EMUs. What a total fuck-up by everyone: AT, NZTA, MoT, and before that ARTA.

      Criminal hopelessness.

      1. How do you get this in the media Patrick so the general population are aware of it? Reading about on here with like-minded people is great, but unless this is shouted about loudly to as many as possible the same problems will continue.

      2. +1000

        Totally agree.

        For the sake of 2 metres!

        Looking at the NZTA video at ~1:38, why can’t they reduce the rows of trees between the underpass and the on/off ramps on the southbound side from 4 to 3, to make it the same as the 3 rows of trees between the underpass and the on/off ramps on the northbound side? That would give us the extra 2 metres of width (and could ease the horizontal curvature as well).

        It’s unbelievable that NZTA have got the cheek to make AT pay $21 million for something that won’t work (again, remembering the Mangere Bridge duplication debacle) – they must be laughing at AT (again).

        It’s even more unbelievable that AT (and Auckland Council) agree to be patsies; fall for it, pay up for it, and let them get away with it (again).

        Is anyone here a lawyer? Are there legal grounds that it may actually be criminal: criminal negligence/malfeasance/misappropriation of public funds?

        Is there any way to appeal this and get the design revised to take out a row of trees and incrementally widen the trench by 2 metres before it’s too late?

        Pro-rata it would cost an extra $12 million (if AT should have to pay for it, which is doubtful), but this would probably be much less than the extra costs required to try and overcome the difficulties this project would put in the way of getting heavy rail to the airport.

  9. Great post! Time for some hard-hitting reality. An elevated rail corridor being electric should provide more benefits to local communities than noise interference, not sure about visual. Or the design may be aimed at higher costs to ensure it founders. I helped on a number of occasions gather signatures for the petition for rail to the airport and it was dead easy – pretty much unanimity that it’s a no-brainer.

  10. That interchange is an abomination, there is no consideration for the local community purely built so that people from other parts of Auckland can get to the Airport faster. And its right next to a primary school, the video makes out that this new road layout will be a plus for the school, this layout is worse than the massey road interchange right next to Jean Batten Primary. When are they gonna start carving up Glendowie and St heliers for these peak hour car parks….

  11. Looking at the map, it looks like the interchange bridge as always is long enough to have 8 lanes of highway under it, even though the highway is 4 lane,
    and that’s all it will ever need.
    I guess they are to cheap to build a retaining wall between the highway and off – on ramps. So have a low cont bank on each side and use more space. Hence why the rail line will be pushed out around the interchange.

  12. No wonder why it is costing $140m when they have stupid completely pointless and expensive (and dangerous) concrete arches for some distance over the trench! These probably add about $1m per arch to the cost. Going by the video it looks like they want to add 20 of these so there’s $20m right there – all for no purpose and as mentioned they are dangerous (bright light filters through the gaps and at motorway speeds this is flashing bright light and darkness which can set off epileptic reactions – and again for no purpose!
    They have also set aside massive wasted space between the motorway and the off/on ramps (presumably to allow for future expansion however this would seem to be unlikely to be needed especially once rail to the airport is built). I feel that this entire project is ticket clipping by around $40m plus the $20m for the pointless arches meaning the taxpayer is being overcharged by $60m – which is more than enough to build a proper trench that incorporates heavy rail. Don’t see the point of building a large trench for light rail but then overhead for heavy rail. Just seems an expensive bob each way solution that isn’t necessary.

  13. In 2008 we (the collective ‘we’ that is) voted out a Labour Govt that in its last year of office had become extraordinarily rail-friendly. ‘We’ (that collective bunch again) chose a government openly committed to prioritising road-building above every other aspect of society, and one that had a complete aversion to developing any rail, anywhere,

    Since then ‘we’ have returned this government twice more in full knowledge of where they stand on this and many other issues. The polarised leadership that they have shown in transport has in large part permeated local government also, and has emboldened those local politicians with a similar bent who had previously been kept in check.

    All that we see here, the dysfunction and the wasted opportunities, are a direct result of electoral choice.

    Just a friendly reminder.

    1. Sure but how many people voted in the government based on transport policies? Not many.

      By comparison, local body elections focused hugely on transport, especially the CRL, and have returned a mayor and a majority of councillors that are pro public transport and cycling.

      Which is why central government should just bulk fund transport and leave it up to the local body how it is spent. They understand the issues and desires of residents much better.

      1. But ‘we’ voted in a government that doesn’t want to delegate transport decision-making to anyone else. The govt knows well that others would very likely decide differently and doesn’t want to relinquish any control. And as one term of office became two, and now three, there is no excuse for anyone not knowing that this would be the outcome.

        But you are right. It is a fact that many people are either ignorant of the issues surrounding transport policy, or else are not sufficiently interested to let these issues influence their vote.

  14. To me the goal should be heavy rail, either via Otahuhu or Onehunga. And the goal should be train airport – Britomart in 25 minutes, ideally no longer than 30 minutes. Light rail is simply too slow (although I support light rail from Onehunga to Mangere should the Otahuhu route be chosen). It is outrageous that no detailed planning for the route has been taken so far, stating exactly where it will go (via the centre, right side of the motorway etc).

    A few questions. 1) How much will an elevated rail line cost (I’m only interested in heavy rail) compared to just making the trench that extra bit wider to accommodate heavy rail)? 2) why can’t they just put the rail to the side of the motorway? 3) how do they plan to get the rail from the centre of the motorway out (or will the motorway be parted along its entire route) 4) was an elevated rail included in the resource consent for this project. If not we should have a special law to allow it to be built, and any locals can just blame NZTA.

    Regarding the Mangere bridge end is it possible to have a clip on for two rail tracks, a little like we have at the harbour bridge for cars (resolving the east-west highway issue), and then have the motorway parted to allow a center lane until the SH20/20A intersection, and then elevated all the way to the airport where it will enter a tunnel. And how much will this add to the $1.5bn price tag

    1. Nicholas, I think there is a simple prediction to all this. With the present government there is no chance of anything helpful happening and every likelihood of deliberate obstructiveness. We can lobby all we like, but ultimately I suspect we will just have to suck it up until a change comes.

      However when that change comes, I suspect that the flood-gates may well open and the immense resources currently being squandered on spurious roading projects may well become available for rail (as has happened over much of Europe and elsewhere). In which case, costly, backward decisions such as those being made now may simply have to be undone or reworked with even more wastage.

      Madness I know, but this is the predictable outcome of trusting certain types to run the country.

      1. Hope you are right. Imagine what a Labour/Greens government will do. At-least we have the council for now. But the challenge is that in the current government wants to build all these roads, please atleast don’t mess up our public transport projects. Had this interchange been built wide enough to allow double tracked heavy rail, then it could have actually been a net positive for public transport

  15. NZTA’s responsibility for roads should end at the Bombays and resume at Warkworth. AT will never be able to plan and implement Auckland’s transport strategy when the backbones of that network (state highways and railways) are fully planned and controlled by central government working to a different (pro-road) strategy that generally conflicts with Auckland’s.

    Only 8% of SH1 traffic is through. The other 92% is local, so it should be in the hands of local government.

    1. My exact thoughts. The state highway status should be removed from those portions of SH1 in Auckland, and SH16,18 and 20. Further the Auckland Council should have the power to set petrol tax in Auckland, and all the money raised from petrol tax in Auckland (defined as the Auckland Council area) should go to the Auckland Council. Thus making all decisions about transport in Auckland made in Auckland,. not Wellington. NZTA e.t.c. will still exist, but have responsibility for road maintenance and construction e.t.c. only in New Zealand outside of Auckland. However the central government/MOT will still manage things like road safety campaigns, driver licensing in Auckland. I think we need to campaign for transport devolution to the Auckland Council. London and other cities overseas have considerable powers devolved to them. Why not Auckland?

  16. We don’t need to secure a route and we don’t need heavy rail going to the airport.

    Elevated light rail is the answer, like New York has with their air train system. You would simply build it up the middle of the motorway, stopping at one of the heavy rail stations where passengers transfer to the heavy rail system.

    I don’t now why we have supposed experts on here dismissing anything other than heavy rail all the way to the airport when it isn’t the best option available.

    1. Whatever happens for any form of Transit, whether it be Bus or a form of Rail, it will require something to travel on, so I’d say we do need to secure a route, if that is part of another designation, it starts to become a little easier, but it still needs to be included in whatever is planned and built.

      I favour a single fast service between the Airport and the CBD, whatever form that takes I’m not so fussed about.

      That NZTA seem to have done their best to preclude this possibility in the future is criminal, but isn’t surprising considering a range of decisions that they’ve made. It basically reinforces the confirmation bias I have about their planning processes.

    2. That’s fine for the airport, but the ‘airport line’ is more about Onehunga, Mangere bridge and Mangere than actually getting to the airport. Any kinda shuttle to Puhinui is easy, cheap… and limited use.

  17. Has an express airport bus to Papatoetoe or Puhinui station been mooted? They seem like straightforward places to get bus lanes to, and they have a high train frequency.

    I’ve found the 380’s fine, except for the horrendous congestion on the eastern access road, infrequency and limited hours…

    Wouldn’t that get us 60% of the gain for 20% of the pain?

    1. I think an awful lot of the people that tend to fly a lot are also in the group who would never consider taking a bus no matter how long the journey takes. Also we are not just trying to solve the Airport problem, but also the lack of decent PT in Mangere.
      I think what’s needed is a single mode that goes from airport to CBD with no changes and steel wheels. I’m personally happy for it to be light rail as long as the journey isn’t significantly longer (assuming it is significantly cheaper to build). Would prefer heavy rail but I get the feeling it is a lot dearer and won’t happen any time soon (2040 or later).

    2. The bus to Papatoetoe is too infrequent and prone to congestion. It is heading to 15 min freqs but that’s still too infrequent. When you get to the station it’s all good, with trains every five mins to city or 10 to each of the Southern or Eastern line stations. But given that most will have an onward journey from their final stop this really is one transfer too many.

      The train needs to reach the terminus.

  18. Surely any modern city needs a good, reliable public transport option from the airport. I really do not understand why this government is so opposed to a balanced transport policy?!

    1. The trouble is, though, that a modern city with a comprehensive, multi-modal public transport network is likely to be prosperous, self-confident and have a mind of it’s own. That’s the very last thing the current administration could tolerate.

  19. It’s international embarrassment that we’re not able to install public transport in this country as they do in ‘real’ developed countries. I note the over-reliance on dairy is steering us towards a recession. I wouldn’t want to come in and clean up after this lot.

  20. JeffT, I think that you are half right. It’s more than an embarrassment because even developing countries like Brasil, Chile and Argentina run effective, efficient and expanding public transport systems.
    I don’t know whether dairy will be part of a problem for us , but it has certainly been part of our problem. During periods of affluence we build roads somehow thinking that this will eventually fix the congestion problem and we seem to value these roads as reflecting our affluence. Toss a few bridges on top of this. Will we ever forget Minister Roads and Bridges hopelessly conceived plan (BoNS -bridges of no sense) to build nine bridges on roads that very few people had even heard of let alone had traveled on.
    It would have been more prudent in the periods that we couldn’t afford massive roading expenditure that we spent lesser sums slowly developing public transport systems. (Salvador in Bahia, Brasil is a classic example of this. Parts of their metro system are built over the city. You might say, “what’s the point of that?” In my view its just as effective as adding an extra lane between say Esmonde Road and Northcote Road. All it does is alter the point of congestion.

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