A piece by Todd Niall at Radio NZ has highlighted just how much of the advice the Ministry of Transport has changed about the City Rail Link and disturbingly that the advice they’ve given in the past has been far from neutral.
Papers obtained by RNZ News show officials who once saw little merit for the project starting before 2030 now support it getting underway 12 years sooner.
In July 2013, when Prime Minister John Key announced for the first time that the government backed the project, but with conditions, the Ministry of Transport was advising against an early start.
“We conclude that the evidence does not support a case for construction of the CRL by the council’s desired timeframe of 2021, but that the case becomes stronger closer to 2030,” said a Minister of Transport briefing dated April 2013.
Last month Mr Key went a step further, removing the previous funding conditions, and promising a half share from 2020, in a way that would give the council certainty to start building the main tunnels in 2018.
By then, a joint Treasury and Ministry of Transport cabinet briefing, released to RNZ News, showed official advisors had got in behind.
“On balance we consider the disadvantages are outweighed by the merits of enabling the Auckland Council to provide funding certainty for the project,” they wrote.
We had been seeing the Ministry’s language slowly changing in the six-monthly progress reports that they produced with the most recent being in August last year – we normally would have had one around now however with the government’s announcement I assume we won’t see any more of them. They started off at the end of December 2013 saying Auckland would never reach the target, then it was that patronage was growing strong but would taper off and by August last year said it remained on track to reach the target. In the papers released to Radio NZ they say:
If rail patronage continues to grow at its current rate, it is likely to reach the 20 million threshold that was specified by the Prime Minister by 2018. At this rate of growth, Auckland Transport has indicated that there is likely to be capacity issues with Britomart during the morning peak period from around 2018 which may cause some access restrictions to the station.
I guess that’s the kind of change you see when there are sustained 20% per annum increases in usage.
The papers have a lot of blacked out information including risks – such as the potential for cost escalation – and ownership issues the Ministry think need to be addressed.
The article highlights that there remains a big discrepency between the ministry and AT on the business case for the project with the ministry relying on the results of the hatchet job they performed on the original business case. AT’s response suggests they’ve got a more recent assessment so I’ve asked them for a copy of it.
The most concerning aspect of Todd Niall’s piece is the suggestion that the Ministry haven’t been providing neutral advice, instead telling the government what they want to hear.
Minister of Transport Simon Bridges acknowledged that the view of the government had had an influence on what the officials were advising.
“Look I think ultimately Treasury and the Ministry of Transport respond to what the government’s position is,” he told RNZ News.
We’ve obviously been following the issue fairly closely over the years and it’s been pretty clear to us that this was the case. One of the clearest examples was with the City Centre Future Access Study where Ministry officials were involved in and supportive of the process only for that to change as it emerged that the CRL was the best option.
I’m sure this definitely won’t be the first and won’t be the last time this happens under governments from all sides and it’s hardly unsurprising that it happens. If your ultimate boss – the minister – only wants to to hear one side of the story, not providing that view point could cost you your career. It does make you wonder just what the advice would have been had there not been the political view on the project had of been more neutral.
While on the topic of the CRL, AT have released a new video about the project featuring Jerome Kaino. The messaging about the project is clearly shifting now that construction is getting under way with AT able to focus more on the fact it is happening rather than trying to justify the project.
I also noticed there were a few new images about the project on AT’s website including this one of what the platforms at the Karangahape Rd station may look like.
That goes with this one from late last year showing what the Aotea Station platforms would look like – it looks like the guy in the red checked shirt is a regular user of both.
These images how the ground floor level of Britomart will look are also new and show that the raised platform in the middle will go which will make it much easier for people accessing the station. You can also just make out that the gates are moved to this area which is something we’d that had been indicated before.
Our red checked shirt guy also likes Britomart too.
Lastly in an update a few weeks ago, AT say the contractors working on shifting services before construction starts came across some of the old tram tracks.
Working through layers of power and telecommunications services, they came across an unexpected piece of Auckland’s transport history: a section of the city’s old tramway network in Victoria St West that connected back to Customs St.
“These services are always very dense at the corners of intersections where most are located, so you can never be certain what you’ll ﬁnd underground,” says Mark Anderson, utilities engineer with the Connectus Consortium, undertaking the work.
“Even though we used ground penetrating radar and searched through the city’s service records, we didn’t expect to uncover the old tramway network.
I wonder how much of the old network they’ll discover when they start digging up streets to build the light rail network in a few year’s time.