Some great news with the first physical works to enable the City Rail Link kicking off following a dawn blessing yesterday

CRL Route

Preliminary work for Auckland’s largest infrastructure project, the City Rail Link (CRL) started today with a dawn blessing of the work site by Manawhenua.

About 80 people gathered in the still of the morning on the corner of Victoria and Albert Streets in the central city as kaumatua blessed the worksite between Swanson and Wellesley Streets where the first part of the $2.5billion project has begun.

CRL project director Chris Meale says the start of work was a great milestone for AT and the project team.

“Today was a celebration, but for most Aucklanders, the first piece of work will be largely invisible. A replacement stormwater pipe will be built under Albert Street so that the existing one can be removed when work on the CRL tunnels starts in the middle of next year.”

Those gathered, including Mayor Len Brown, acknowledged that it was a day that Aucklanders have been contemplating for almost a century.

“In 1923 Railways Minister Gordon Coates gave his support for a city-to-Morningside underground rail line that never happened. In the 1970s, Mayor Sir Dove-Myer Robinson’s rapid-rail proposal met a similar fate,” says the mayor.

“Today’s blessing means that in the coming months, Aucklanders will see the CRL starting to take shape”.

Mr Meale says when the works started in earnest midway through next year, people would have to think about how they travel to and through the city.

“Public transport or active modes will be wisest but for those who don’t have that option, using parking buildings closest to city entry points will be sensible rather than driving through the city”, says Mr Meale.

It is my guess that even though the enabling works will only see the tunnel built as far as Wyndham St, from now on we won’t see the project stop until the entire thing is completed. I expect the government and the council will announce a funding deal in the new year that will see the main works start as soon as possible – which AT have suggested in the past is some time in 2018. The reality is that now they don’t have a whole lot of a choice about it, this is for a few reasons.

  • Patronage is growing so strongly that if current rates continue we’ll hit the target they imposed for an early start of 20 million trips by 2020 some time in 2017 – that is unless capacity constraints at peak times slow growth but that will create it’s own pressure.

2015-11 - Rail vs Govt Target

  • We’re hearing a lot of the business and development community are pushing for the government to get on with it. Albert St is undergoing almost a complete makeover over the next few years with a number of new buildings due to be under construction and almost all of the rest of the buildings undergoing renovations. They want the upgraded streetscape that comes after the project and the last thing they want is to still have a hole outside their shiny new doors with noisy construction work still going on.
  • Given the points above I don’t think they’ll want their lack of commitment to the project becoming a festering sore in the local body elections.

While I expect the project to be brought forward I suspect the nature of the funding may be different. Perhaps through a deal such as the council paying it’s share upfront with the government’s share being paid during the second half – which would be around 2020 meaning the government could still claim it wasn’t funding the project till then.

I’m looking forward to works really getting underway on the tunnels themselves which is due to start around May next year.

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38 comments

  1. Great news, is the lack of Newton Station considered a big loss?
    It seems to be to me, as there is a lot of places to live there now and a line of shops just waiting for some new blood and quite a walk to the nearest station.

    1. The shift from Newton to Mt Eden is a more sensible decision than the retreat from Beresford Square for the K Rd station. But both reflect the complexity and cost of building mined stations; the platforms in a trench at Mt Eden will save hundreds of millions and should completion is brought forward. Also without the complication of closing Symonds St and working on that constrained site. Retaining a Western Line-CRL station at Mt Eden will also be a considerable asset in the redevelopment of that whole area too.

      And yes the same could be said for Newton [as well as offering a better transfer point for west to south connections] however there are other constraints on development at Newton such as the volcanic view shaft height limits and the the fact that it hosts those value ruining-traffic sewers. The longer term plan for Newton is Light Rail on Symonds St, medium term is Light Rail on Ian Makinnon Dr, and the near term improved bus services and priority.

      Newton Rd will remain a traffic blighted fact of life in auto-dependent Auckland.

    2. My understanding is that there is a serious chunk of hard basalt rock where Newton station was proposed. After consulting with Vector who built the power cable tunnel there in the late 90s it was strongly recommended that the minimum amount of digging is done there (just tunnels no station) to stop a major cost blowout on the project. This was then re-framed as a cost saving exercise.

  2. I am very pleased to see the CRL under way but there still needs to be a reform at national level regarding the way NZTA operates. It should be responsible for the funding of all modes of travel with the requirement that if rail transport is the most efficient method, as it frequently is in large cities,
    then that is where the government monies should be directed, whether sourced from petrol tax or not.
    As a conservative voter, the handling of the transport folio as far as Auckland is concerned, by the present government is not only merely disappointing – it has been handled incompetently right from the time of taking office. They now have to do better and fast.

  3. A slight correction on that map – it shows the Beresford Entrance I think – whereas people getting to it would be going to Mercury Lane. If you imagine the K Rd station on Mercury it kind of looks like it’s in a cul-de-sac, or serving the CMJ. Odd.

    1. Yes this cost-cutting is sub-optimal, even a cursory glance at the map shows that the reach of Mercury Lane catchment is severely bounded by the motorway. A great place for as secondary entrance because of the opportunities for development, but otherwise in a constrained and low visibility location.

  4. The press release quotes $2.5 Billion, is that the tunnels, stations, more EMU and what else?

    I see this project as an opportunity for AT to set new standards in transparency and communication about the project, the monthly updates from the Waterview project are a good start point.

    1. Early works [from May/June next year], tunnelling, mining, station fitouts [Aotea, K Rd, 2x Mt Eden sets of platforms, re-purposing of Britomart train hall and main building] Albert St redesign and rebuild, track, power, signals; commissioning.

      Here is a description of the fit out work on Crossrail, there’s a bit in it [as my builder used to say]: http://www.crossrail.co.uk/construction/railway-systems/

      And I think additional EMUs? But need to check, especially as they are needed earlier anyway.

          1. Matt is it your understanding that that 2.5 b figure includes additional a EMUs?

            Also how about the 100 odd mil for stabling etc at Hendo and Otahuhu for that cross town service. Is that considered CRL works (even though the trains avoid the CRL!)?

        1. Crossroad = awesome vision. Next up Thames link (N-S) then Crossrail 2 (SW-NE)… rolling programme with UK tunneling expertise on top of the world (if that’s not an oxymoron).

        2. Believe it or not, London’s recent experience with railways offer some interesting lessons for Auckland. In the post-WW2 period, rail projects had a bad reputation for coming in vastly over budget, over time and not really delivering all the promised benefits, so the Government wasn’t particularly keen on them.

          Leaving aside HS1, a high-speed line from London to the Channel Tunnel, built by a private consortium, in London, perhaps the first project to turn this around was the Overground, which in 2007 saw some long-neglected ‘Cinderella’ inner-suburban lines taken over by Transport for London (who also oversee the buses, Underground, Docklands light railway and some trams). At a relatively small expense they staffed and upgraded the stations, upped the service frequencies, bought new trains and added in some new infrastructure to create an orbital route (and some other lines). The result has been a stunning success, with usage of some stations up by 14 times over the last 10 years, massive urban renewal, with TfL now taking over further, less neglected lines, but still seeing major increases in patronage. So not really dissimilar to Auckland’s experience really, neither are a fluke, the lesson is that if you create high quality urban rail services, even if some of the stations are in slight odd places, then people will generally embrace them, and you create a ‘halo effect’ on future projects.

          The other game changer has been Crossrail, which is heavy rail tunnelling across central London in a Y-pattern to link heavy rail lines in the west and east of the city and do a number of things, including relieving the tube network and linking central London to Heathrow Airport. In some ways it’s a standard urban rail project, albeit big and very expensive, but the project has focussed ruthlessly on delivering on-time and on-budget, with a resistance to scope creep. They are now at the stage of fitting out tunnels, and taken over one section of railway to get their operating teams running and be able to run-in their new trains before the services through the core start in a couple of years time. Everyone is pretty confident that they will deliver on time and on budget, to the extent that the next Crossrail line (SW/NE) is under planning and is likely to be green-lit officially next year (Thameslink is slightly different, an existing N/S heavy rail line in the middle of a decade-long upgrade programme).

          The success and relative painlessness of these projects also seems to have convinced the Government that new build rail is a good thing, construction is due to start shortly on the HS2 high-speed line to the north, a new rail spur into Heathrow Airport and the railways of northern England are being upgraded with electrification, 200kmph electro-diesel trains and talk of new 20km tunnels under the central Pennines to allow 225kmph services. So again, the lesson for Auckland seems to be that if the CRL meets its milestones early on, then politicians might be convinced to throw their weight behind support for further heavy rail projects far faster than you would otherwise have thought possible.

          1. I would argue the success of the overground upgrade is due to just two factors:
            1) creating a single legible network out of a bunch of disparate lines (largely a ‘paper’ branding exercise)
            2) delivering consistent frequency with good span of service.

            In that regard it was ‘just’ a planning and operations upgrade, infrastructure changes were relatively minimal around stations and I believe there was only one section of new tracks in a tunnel to close a critical gap in the network.

            Sounds familiar doesn’t it? Auckland new network and CRL upgrade should be just as successful.

          2. There is also a zeitgeist aspect to the current success of urban Transit systems globally: not only are the physical builds now better managed, they are not taking place in the context of structural inflation, but more importantly they are happening as people and businesses flock to city centres again. Whereas the second half of the last century was characterised by movement out of city to auto dependent suburbia. Urban rail is the right technology at the right time: Timing, timing, timing.

            This is a global mega-trend, clearly sustained and self-reinforcing, and not a ‘blip’ as officials with only a short grasp of historical pattern often contend. The car, no matter how driven, will not be returning to dense urban centres any decade soon, if at all.

          3. Nick R: infrastructure changes for the London Overground included rebuilding the East London Line, new connections to the North London, South London and London Bridge-Brighton lines and over the Great Eastern main line, at least three new stations, and new platforms at at least five existing stations. That’s hardly minimal – plus a complete new fleet of trains. While rebranding was an essential part, it was by no means the whole story.

    1. Agreed. In spite of National’s attempts, i) initially to ignore the CRL in the hope that it would dry up and blow away, ii) then to marginalise it as being irrelevant at least for any time soon, iii) next, to grudgingly accept its inevitability but ensuring it is prioritised years away unless some arbitrary and impossible overcrowding-conditions on the existing network are reached, iv) then to offer no re-prioritisation or even any acknowledgement that the ‘impossible’ conditions are on-course to being met way ahead of their intended stalling schedule, and v) finally to remain conspicuously hands-off (wallets tightly closed) as Auckland Council shows the foresight to move ahead with it anyway, in coordination with major supportive players such as Precinct Properties. National’s attitude has been deplorable towards something as pivotally important as this.

      Meanwhile they continue to prioritise and shovel money at poor-value, out-dated motorway schemes which are becoming ever more inappropriate in a world faced with the imperative of reducing dependence on fossil-fuel-powered transport and awaking to the practical limit of our environment to accommodate ever-more billions of motor vehicles.

      1. They only agreed to it because they thought it might lose them some votes. Any politicians or councillors who opposed this project and then tries to take some credit in the years ahead need to be vigorously reminded of their position.

        Mind you, National have opposed this development for nearly 100 years. No surprise they would oppose it now.

        Notice the stormwater relocation works starting at the intersection of Wellesley and Albert Streets today. No real disruption at this stage.

        1. > Mind you, National have opposed this development for nearly 100 years. No surprise they would oppose it now.

          National hasn’t even existed as long as this development has been being proposed for! The party was only founded in 1936.

          1. While National may have been formed only in 1936, I think you will find that it was merely a re-branding job for the United and Reform parties, cooked up by a couple of nasty Auckland businessmen who, even then ‘hated’ any form of public transport (unless they owned it), particularly trains.

      2. This government won’t give any ground in transport unless and until it hurts them in polling.

        This is why the next local boggy elections are so important. We need to ensure we get the vote out and that it’s strongly in favour of a Council that will maintain a strong commitment to the CRL and public transport.

  5. I am most encoraged by the last para in the presser above. In Chris Meale it seems AT have found a straight-shooter on what is happening in the city centre and how best to communicate to city users the best ways to work with it. At last, communications not devised in quivering fear of talking straight to the public about driving in the dense centre. A new age is dawning; I tells ya.

          1. is the “not invented here” syndrome as strong in AT as it was in ARC/ARTA? they were reluctant to learn from Wellington’s experience with bus replacement when yravkworks were needed

  6. If the Council/AT are feeling confident about the Government coming to the party, they might order a number of EMUs in order to have them arrive in time to meet capacity constraints, and bundle them with the CRL project. I suspect that once the CRL is built and frequencies are doubled and three new stations available, we’ll be pushing 30 million rather quickly and need another order again.

    I am concerned that the Council may have to pay its share ahead of the Government, with the extra interest on that coming to tens of miliions. Hopefully the ATAP process means that future projects are better aligned and responsibility is shared rather than pushed to the other parties.

    1. ‘I am concerned that the Council may have to pay its share ahead of the Government’

      Maybe they will have to and it’s up to voters, especially those in the west, to decide whether this represents an action of a Government they want to retain.

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