Certainty is the word I’d use to describe the announcement by John Key yesterday that the government would support for the City Rail Link main works beginning in 2018. While it was widely expected it was an announcement that was both very low on specific details but also contained a lot of information.

Aotea Station Design Platform Oct - 15

As readers may remember, the government had long opposed the CRL with former transport ministers at the time Steven Joyce and Gerry Brownlee seemingly taking great pleasure in dismissing reports at that time. That all changed in 2013 where in a similar speech Key announced the government would accept the CRL from 2020 onwards but entertained the idea of an earlier start/finish time if patronage doubled to 20 million earlier than expected and CBD employment grew by 25%.

While the government hasn’t put in place targets for any other project before (or after), having one for patronage isn’t too bad an idea but we were always very critical of the employment growth one for a number of reasons. In the end the employment target was irrelevant in the decision.

CBD employment levels are still some way from the 25 per cent growth threshold.

But strong growth in rail patronage since 2013 means it will reach the 20 million annual trip threshold well before 2020.

It’s become clear that we need to provide certainty for other planned CBD developments affected by the Rail Link.

This means we see merit in starting the project sooner.

As we posted the other day, patronage on the rail network reached 15.4 million to the end of December, a 22.9% increase on the year before. The scale of the growth and that it has been sustained at around that level for a year are impressive and highlight just how quickly things can change. It’s meant that at current rates we would hit the CRL target up to three years early. Perhaps the more interesting aspect is the impact the business community have had on getting an earlier start date. There is a huge amount of development planned along the CRL route and much of it is premised on CRL happening. Providing a commitment which then allows the private sector to get on with investing billions makes a lot of sense.

Emmerson CRL John Key 2016.01.27
Emmerson in herald yesterday

In quite a shrewd move Key actually only confirmed the government share would arrive after 2020 which is in line with his original time frame from back in 2013 but just by having that commitment now means that the council can use it’s share to start in 2018.

So I can today confirm the Government will work with the Council to bring forward the business plan and formalise our funding commitment from 2020.

The Council has indicated this would allow construction of the Rail Link’s main works to start in 2018 – at least two years earlier than currently envisaged.

It would also allow the council to get on with negotiating contracts and providing certainty for investors in other important Auckland CBD projects.

By providing the commitment he has it’s likely he’s saved more than just the two-year gap. The big reason for this is it means that those at AT working on the project can get on with the tender process and engage with potential suppliers knowing that will definitely be there from 2018. That can allow them to optimise the built, possibly reduce the amount of time the main works will take and definitely reduce the overall amount of disruption the city will experience from the construction. It of course also means we start getting the transport and economic benefits sooner.

One quite interesting statement about the project was that the council and government need to sit down and work out just who will own and operate the infrastructure. I can’t imagine the council/AT paying for half of the project and then being keen on say Kiwirail owning it.

On the funding, Key confirmed in this interview with Duncan Garner that the money would come from the government’s consolidated account and not the National Land Transport Fund once again highlighting the issue that rail infrastructure is funded differently to other land transport. This is something that really needs to be changed. Also of note in that interview was him being quite positive about development around the rail network which is encouraging.

It remains to be seen how the council will pay for its share. Funding for it was already included in the Long Term Plan agreed last year for 2018 onwards however Len was also talking yesterday again about using road tolls to raise funding for it. Interestingly the government also appear to have softened their stance on this. Previously they’ve outright refused to even consider it but Key is now saying they will if there is a good case for it.

Phil Goff has called for the project to be treated like one of National Significance and be fully funded by the government.

The council yesterday released this short video of the change that that Albert St and the surrounding area is about to go though

Congratulations and thanks to Len Brown for is effort over the last 5 or so years in turning this project into a reality. At times it’s looked like it may never happen but the persistency has paid off and Auckland will be considerably better for it. There are a lot of others that need to be congratulated too and many of whom we may never know just how important of a role they played

Following on from Key’s announcement on the CRL there have been a few of frankly bizarre press releases from some politicians that are worth mentioning. Top of the list is the response from David Seymour who has used the announcement to call for more money to be spent on schools in his electorate and this statement. Odd as the government have already shown they are prepared to fund greater investment in schools to deal with changing roll sizes – such as this at the beginning of December.

“The reality is that we have a train looking for passengers, rather than the other way around. That’s why the Rail Link requires heavy intensification around Mt Eden Station, among others, to be viable.

“The Council has not considered the implications of changing land use on education in the area, where schools are already bursting at the seams. The Mt Eden Station development, for instance, will bring hundreds of new residences into already-full school zones.

Yes a train looking for passengers, I guess that’s why they’re often so full that people can’t get on. I haven’t checked but I’m also fairly confident the Ministry of Education would have submitted on the Proposed Auckland Unitary Plan currently before an independent hearings panel.

In a separate release he also suggests the government should have blackmailed the council by withholding infrastructure funding until they allowed unfettered sprawl subsidised by existing ratepayers.

The Government has let Auckland Council off the hook, gaining no concessions on land supply or rate rises, according to ACT Leader David Seymour.

“Writing a big cheque was the time to bring Auckland Council to the table,” says Mr Seymour, “but instead the Council got away with the money and the bag.”

“The Government could have set up ongoing incentives for the council to provide infrastructure. Instead, with no sign that the council will focus on core services, the largesse of the Len Brown era will continue.

Yesterday’s news is also not good for those that have spent their careers first telling us the project wasn’t needed and after being surprised at the government’s support in 2013, that the council shouldn’t do anything till that time. Chief among those was Cameron Brewer who used the news as an opportunity primarily to take a swipe at mayoral candidate Phil Goff.

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  1. Re the Seymour comments, yes MoE submitted on the PAUP – a key part of which was seeking uplift in development potential for schools to make it easier to intensify them to accomodate growth – redevelopment of more intensive schools can often be quite difficult as they are located in low density residential areas where increased building height etc is opposed from residents. seymour’s numerous musings over intensification of the PAUP have regularly been in conflict with his supposed concern for schools.

    1. I thought Seymour would have been far more sensible about the CRL given that he is Gen Y and also as I’ve seen him catch the train from Newmarket to Britomart before. These comments about a train looking for passengers bares no resemblance to reality and really is a bad commentary on his insight.

  2. This is yet another sign that all those persistent retrogrades who insist we must pretend nothing has changed in the this city or the world since the 1950s are in for more disappointment; Brewer, Wood, Quax, Seymour, and all the rest are going to see more and more unfathomable decisions as their whole view of the world is just simply no longer capable of understanding the forces at work in shaping the city. Lets see:

    Rail upgrade
    Bus priority
    Shared Spaces

    Unitary Plan
    Rapid Transit as the next major Harbour Crossing

    Auckland is more urban than they can understand and is becoming even more so faster than they can comprehend. They are racing each other to irrelevance.

    1. Surely when all of those terrible projects get completed Auckland will be such a horrible place that people will be leaving in droves. There will be plenty of room in those currently overcrowded schools for everyone.

    2. Amazing how much bitching has occurred about the govt spending $1.2 billion on the CRL (supposedly only for people who work in the city, etc). But when it comes to spending $1.8 billion on a small section of motorway right next to the Manukau harbour that only really benefits the Onehunga industrial area, where almost the same outcome could be achieved for less than half as much, no one says a word!

    3. Auckland is more urban than they can understand and is becoming even more so faster than they can comprehend.

      We are building apartments about 70% slower than Brisbane. It is difficult for anyone to comprehend the rate of urban development in Auckland, it is so very slow.

      But lets be honest the real reason Quax, Brewer, Wood, Seymour are upset is that Labour stealing their rentier constituents:

      Underway – a 30% rent increase.

      Coming – 50% rent increase.

  3. The herald is all over the place on this this morning. Oarsman, who probably deserves to be in my little list above [has Brewer and Seymour on speed dial], leads with a beat-up about motorway tolls for the CRL.

    This is simply nonsense, even if the Mayor did mention it. The Council’s share of the CRL is all covered in the LTP, which will be particularly painless if the Transport Levy is rolled over, which is likely and politically simple.

    Which is not say road pricing wouldn’t be welcome but there is just no mechanism to achieve any form of road pricing outside of the always present ‘road-pricing by proxy’; parking charges.

    Fran O’Sullivan says Key is 2 years too late, and the Editorial is plainly odd, Roughan’s hand is all over it. And of course he is confused by his adoration of Key but failure to understand the CRL or the city; bangs on about level crossings.

    No scrutiny of the blow out on East West, save one quote from us by new transport correspondent Amelia Wade.

    1. The editorial is plain weird. Questions the need for infrastructural spending, downplays the value of rail, then finishes by saying the loop [sic] should lead to capacity and frequency improvements. Slanted against but does a fairly good job of making the case for it.

    2. “The herald is all over the place on this this morning.”

      They are all over the place every morning. It would be great if they could sort a consistent editorial line. At the moment it’s like a sinking boat with several captains fighting for control of the rudder.

    3. Emmerson did that “white elephant” cartoon about the Northern Busway, didn’t he? There is no accountability. People can tell politically-motivated lies and just pretend it never happened later.

      Also, isn’t the thing about Orsman that some Brown staffer was rude about old people or some such at a Council function, and Orsman’s campaign of destruction against the Brown administration started from there?

  4. While not unexpected this is great news. A huge amount of credit needs to go to you Matt and your tireless team at TB. If we were informed on this project only by the likes of the Herald I doubt there would be nearly as much progress,

  5. Re the Herald carton the last people on board are the Herald. Orsman who is plain Dr Evil using his hideous band of useful tipsters like Brewer to manipulate the political strings for Auckland to return to a black and white 1950s.
    Yesterday Orsman couldn’t even bring himself to acknowledge Brown’s leading role and scarred battle which helped cost him another term.
    Do we have to have another year of distorted Unitary plan stories and biased right wing election coverage?
    Time for a campaign to demand the Herald replace him with now under utilised Simon Wilson.

  6. I hadn’t realized that there really is a 90% overlap between the Epsom Electorate boundaries and the Grammer zone. However I’d like to point out that even if no houses are built in Epsom there is nothing to stop a larger percentage of houses being ones children which would have the same growth effect.


    If anything paying $500k extra for a house in the Grammar zone when you don’t have children seems risky.

  7. Cameron Brewer, Cameron Slater…guess what I will not be calling my first son? Where do these anti-humans come from? Of course the CRL is of national significance, what serious country doesn’t have a serious subway system in its flagship city? As for David Seymour, he says what his political association requires him to say, so to blame him personally for his idiocy can only go as far as for making an idiotic decision to join the idiots of ACT, who seem to dilsike the whole ACTion thing, unless it involves drinking and rugby. Such pride in such a civilised, cultured country (no disrespect to rugby players). Johnny-come-lately is as consistent as ever, altering history to try to shine a positive light on his joke of a prime ministership. The waterview exchange is truly a sight to see, if you believe in an imminent alien invasion it seems that the ETs have begun preparation. In summary, trains are cool, subways are epic.

  8. Hardly unsurprising remarks from Cameron Brewer, a man better known for moaning about council ratepayer spending rather than the benefit of the people of Auckland, in particular the Orakei Ward. An serve serving egotist who the whole city will be better off as he is not standing again in October.

  9. This was the time to “bring Auckland Council to the table”, according to Mr Seymour. Has he perhaps heard of a thing called the Auckland Housing Accord?

  10. Now that the CRL is confirmed, which will bring increased frequency on the rail line through west Auckland, when will we get certainty on the grade separation of the level crossings?

    Priorities from Auckland Council document:

    St Jude Street, Avondale – Priority 1 
    Morningside Drive, Morningside – Priority 3 (joint) 
    Woodward Road, Mount Albert – Priority 3 (joint) 
    Glenview Road, Glenview – Priority 3 (joint) 
    Normanby Road, Mount Eden – Priority 6 
    Metcalfe Road – Priority 8.


    *Taking the top priority St Jude St as an example, does grade separation need to be completed prior to the CRL opening?
    *How long will rail have to be closed in order for this work to be completed?
    *Does this mean rebuilding the Avondale station, again?
    *Will the soon to be constructed Mt Albert – New Lynn cycle path adjacent to the rails be left open during the grade separation work?
    *How much of the cycle path will need rebuilding?

    1. I live near St Jude St and Avondale Station. I frequently travel through this notorious crossing which is plagued by long delays when a westbound train stops at the station. As a result the intersection between Blockhouse Bay Rd/New North Road/St Jude St/Crayford St E is a nightmare and is always congested and blocked during peak times (although potentially this could be eased up once the Waterview Tunnel is opened).

      I always try to imagine ways to engineer a grade separation between the rail and the street considering the gradient from Blockhouse Bay Rd down to Great North Road and the close proximity of Avondale Station makes this challenging.

      Morningside Drive and Woodward Road also could do with some ideas, they are almost as bad.

      1. St Jude St is easy. Close it and put an underpass in for cyclists, pedestrians etc. About 300m away is Blockhouse Bay Rd. A huge opportunity was missed in not grade separating Portage Rd during the New Lynn station build.

      2. Could always put 2 (or even 3 lanes) lanes on St Jude Street downhill to use for queuing space when barrier arms are down. Might reduce issues at the Blockhouse Bay Road intersection. However on the other hand 5 way intersections with heavy traffic flows in all directions will always be bad, just too many cars to accommodate. Waterview should also reduce flows on Blockhouse Bay Road.

  11. Surprisingly Rodney Hide’s piece was pretty good. My favourite reaction though is the Stuff comment thread. A lot of people out there seem to think the only money that should be spent on Auckland is for a nuke. How do you reason with people who hate this city and its people so much?

    1. There does seem to be this almost unspoken belief that Aucklanders aren’t responsible for paying any tax at all. Last night’s One News basically said ‘we’ll all be paying for this’ which seems to imply that the poor regions are having to pay for yet another big ticket item for Auckland while everyone else suffers and gets scraps.

      1. I live in a small provincial city (i.e. not Auckland) but would be happy to pay more tax if it would help Auckland sort its shit out. Seriously.

        1. That’s good to know Guy, but my point is more that Aucklander’s pay tax too. Lots of taxpayer funding ends up here, whether it is more than what is contributed by the inhabitants I don’t know, but it would be reasonably close over time.

    2. But it doesn’t matter as they will still vote National regardless..
      National needs to keep the Auckland voters happy, they have the rest of the country in the bag (and always have)

    3. Indeed. 50% Auckland Council share + 50% central govt share of which at least 1/3 is Auckland revenue = ~70% self-funded by Auckland. Laughable for what is a project of national significance.

      1. Unlike projects of “national significance” there are actual direct concrete benefits to public transport, which are realised as property values within the catchment. It is laughable that any of this money is to be supplied from the general fund, the property owners in Auckland that are being gifted rent increases through a taxpayer grant.

        1. As are all those land owners who own land at the end of each new or newly widened motorway or RoNS or around any new motorway off ramps added to existing motorways/roads.

          Your point being?

        2. The benefits of public transport are both massively greater than and more localised than those of a motorway. The investment is almost entirely realised in rental value and is most efficiently recouped through land taxation / rates. The Auckland land market is rising much faster than the rest of the economy, it can afford it.

      2. Correction its not 70%.
        Auckland taxpayers is 1/3rd of the governments half. So total Auckland based revenue is 50% (from rates) + (1/3 of 50%) (from Auckland tax payers) = ~66% of the overall cost is funded directly and indirectly by Auckland ratepayers and taxpayers.

    4. Some nice stupidity in the Herald comment threads. Usual just straight-out hatred for Len Brown, unsubstantiated ranting about “overspending”, and my favourite, some wiseacre saying that “other solutions” weren’t tried – like making Newmarket the transport hub or moving the CBD. !!!!!

  12. Excellent news whichever way you cut it. Talk about cost blowouts for the CRL by Brewer etc. are easily answered – the official costings figure has always been in terms of future dollars (using a so-called discount factor) so the figure of $2.5 billion frequently quoted includes over $500 million to cover anticipated inflation during the construction period. Of course Brewer knows this but is fanning any embers of discontent with deliberate misinformation.

  13. If the council had the money they could build the link now.
    The council could easily get more money. Rates, levies, taxes, tolls, reducing other spending.
    But the council has a large debt.
    I don’t see why other NZ’ers should pay a big share for the link when Auckland has been overspending.
    But I am happy to see the project go ahead as it is important to the economy.

    1. Do you think/agree that the East/West link at up to $1.85B which is being 100% funded by the Government is better value for the rest of NZ?
      And are you happy for your tax dollars to pay for that massive project 100%, whereas CRL is being paid for at least 50% by the ratepayers of Auckland?

      Leaving the tax payers of NZ (outside of Auckland) to contribute at most/worst 66% of a half (or about $800m).

      Which one do you think gives tax payers the better value for the money spent?

    2. Why should Aucklanders pay for schools in small towns to remain open when their number of enrolled students has plummeted. Why should Aucklanders subsidise hospital services in small cities because people don’t want to go to a bigger centre for treatment?

      1. Children and sick people project an image of innocence or of being unfortunate victims of circumstance.

        Auckland property owners, by getting a 100% land price increase and charging their tenants 30% more over the last 5 years, don’t have quite same image. They are perceived differently.

  14. Sounds like the costs/ownership is getting a bit messy.
    In reality the Govt should fund a larger portion and own the actual tunnel and rails (through KR) while AC owns the stations and trains.

  15. Re Grade Separations – in current LTP there are no dollars for grade separating any of the 50 odd level crossings on the suburban network apart from Sarawia Street which is being done this year as a one-off (busiest crossing in NZ x cheapest to resolve = no-brainer). There is some limited funding for further investigation + safety improvements (e.g. full gating of some crossings, replacing existing half arm barriers). There needs to be a campaign to get a funded programme inserted into the next LTP (2018-2028) which will be consulted on during 2017. This will not be cheap (hundreds of millions if not a billion to do the lot) but surely we can at least make a start on knocking them off one by one (actually in some cases they may best be done in sets – e,g, 4 at Takanini or 8 on Onehunga line). I did get a sympathetic hearing at the AT Board but it is clear that they will not move until the delays become intolerable in 5 years once the CRL is opened and train frequencies ramped up by 50% and then 100%.

    1. I propose a different approach. Work out which crossings are duplicates and start by closing them using temporary means. Monitor trafic on surrounding streets before and after.

    2. Certainly if there were to be line closures, completing them in sets makes sense.
      For those that can’t be closed, hopefully bridges can be built without effecting daytime services.
      As far as St Jude St goes, could it be closed? The old proposal to extend Rosebank Rd to New Nth Rd around Pak n Save doesn’t look like it will be possible with the council land being sold off and housing built, and the soon to be built cycle bridge over the railway. Has the council got a plan? Given the grades on both road and rail, whatever work is done may well require closing the intersection for an extended period. This would not be appreciated by locals or commuters.

    1. What I really want to call the guy out on is his wearing of the (potential) alternate flag pin (can be seen in that video).

      Doesn’t he get it? Stay the hell out of it and, publicly at least, remain impartial. Have some dignity for your position. And he says its not about him having a legacy?

    2. I suspect it’s largely a case of Key being too hands off and leaving it all to his ministers but then finding his ministers were being idiots over it and he had to override them after they realised polling proved they were wrong. They also realised they didn’t need to do a quick 180 on the project so have spread it over a few years to dampen the impact.

  16. Just closing every other level crossing is no solution (except possibly on the Onehunga line where there are 8 quite closely spaced crossing points) as this would create massive severance issue and even more pressure on the remaining ones. 16 crossings have been investigated for possible closure but it is not intended to close them all – probably only half that number could be deleted without causing serious problems. The problem cannot be wished away and the cost keeps growing the longer we delay. I have always advocated spreading this process over several decades to make the cost more manageable but after 11 years of pleading we still do not have a single dollar in the Long Term Plan for grade separation.

    1. Surely it would be prudent to at least plan for separating one per year? Head in sand is not a plan, and as trains and traffic get busier, separation will only get harder, more painful and expensive.

  17. The CRL is a huge win for all of NZ as Aucklanders move from fossil fuel transport to a renewable energy powered train. Then there is the positive impact on our balance of payments. Well done Len Brown.

  18. KiwiRail being responsible for the CRL from a track and signals perspective is a near certainty. It wouldn’t be a good idea to have trains running in and out of different areas of responsibility on such a large scale. Safety is paramount, and that means one network provider.

  19. While it would be just and fair to have the CRL fully funded like motorway projects this introduce a huge delay into proceedings – if the state is to pay for 100% they may want to have a 100% say in what gets built which at the very least would lead to a review of the current plans and if that review lead to any substantive changes you can see how we might soon be back to a 2020 start date for tunnel boring. So I suggest we accept the 50/50 offer from the government and hope that a future government may somehow redress the balance – for example how are we going to pay for another batch of EMUs to allow us to take full advantage of the increased capacity on the network + extend south to Pukekohe

    1. Additional trains are needed now, and I am sure hat AT is pursuing that process. Remember the first tranche were funded with a loan from the govt. and it should be relatively easy to do that again, and the sum then turns up as an asset on the govt’s books so is positive for their surplus obsession.

      An important issue is to consider what, if any, changes should be made in design or specs for a second order?

  20. Auckland wants the CRL, OK, $2.5 BILLION, ouch. But why pour this into the Black Hole of Britomart? Would an alternative route be better? Why not consider constructing an Elevated Dual Track Rail Link from the new Parnell Station through Beach Road direct to Quay Street either on the street or inside the waterfront to Queens Wharf. Building a transport Hub there for Rail,Ferries and Buses. Then the Line would proceed through too ALBERT street and the required Tunnels? This would be a similar layout to Sydney, Australia. That works very well. Numerous countries and cities have built Elevated Rail Lines which allows normal road conditions to remain. The waterfront area in Auckland has been built on Reclaimed Land and I feel is too close to the possibility of much higher Tidal movements with Climate Change likely to happen. This alternative route could probably be much cheaper to install rather than more excavation of the present site. The old GPO could still be connected to the Queen’s Hub at normal road level.
    The 9.5 metre deep Rail tracks below could then be closed down.

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