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.

Karangahape Station Platform View

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.

Aotea Station Design Platform Oct - 15

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.

Britomart Station Redevelopment 1

Our red checked shirt guy also likes Britomart too.

Britomart Station Redevelopment 2

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.

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  1. Ministers aren’t the bosses of public servants under our Westminster system; the State Services Commissioner is. However obviously ministers have influence and it’s problematic that free and frank advice is being eroded.

    Also how come vkt is predicted to grow constantly (even when it isn’t); but when rail shows growth it is predicted to flatten off immediately.

    1. Yes the Nats seem to be using the public service as their own private service a lot of the time and influencing who works there too.

        1. So that makes it alright then? Anyway the evidence is that it is much, much worse under the nats.
          “It” does not take the possessive apostrophe.

  2. Gotta say, I like that new Britomart. Also, hopefully the underground stations are well lit as the images above. Dim underground stations are depressing.

    Also just a personal preference but I like how Aotea Station has a higher ceiling making the station feel like you’re not underground. KRoad station looks cramped and feels confining. So used to Auckland stations where its all open, but you cant get everything.

    1. K’ Rd will be our only true underground station. Aotea like Britomart is a subsurface station; in a trench with a roof. Both Mt Eden stations are trenched but open air, even more so than New Lynn.

      If you find being underground uncomfortable you can simply avoid K Rd once the CRL opens; take a tram up Queen St from Aotea or Britomart, or even avoid the CRL entirely by alighting at Mt Eden or Kingsland and also taking the coming surface LRT into town.

      Personally I love true underground stations.

    2. Removing the middle platform upstairs really does improve the space a lot. The refresh should also be a good chance for the next wave of retailers to get in there; the florist and the Subway (ha!) seem to be doing OK but the convenience stores have been limping along on their last legs for a while.

      I predict we’ll get well acquainted with Omnipresent Red Check Guy (ORCG) as the various renders come and go in the next few years.

      1. We’ll need to refresh the semi-enclosed space that is Newmarket soon.

        We’ll also have opportunities when the Shore rail project is developed.

  3. Heads should roll, but we know that will never happen because there is no accountability. Have these people no integrity? They serve the greater good of the public, not the personal preferences of the political flavour of the month.

    1. I love the idea of platform screen doors – Save energy on air-con and stop idiots stepping/falling into harms way.
      Would also allow faster in/out of the station for the EMU… Though having said that, hopefully not Hong Kong fast – flying lessons there 😉

    2. What is the technology involved for platform screen doors? Not meaning the doors themselves, but the technology to make the trains stop at the right place every time? Would this technology be compatible with Auckland’s EMU/Rail system? The only places I can think of that have PSD are full mass transit systems (I could be wrong there).

      1. think i read somewhere that the crl will be automated itself but the driver goes along for the ride and takes control for the rest of the trip?

      2. Stopping the tain at precisely the same spot every time is essential for platform-edge doors (PEDs) , and that’s much easier if the trains are driven automatically – not the case in Auckland.

        And there are savings with air-con only if the screens are full height and the stations are air-conditioned – is the latter going to be the case?

        Only fully automatic metros need them for safety (and not even then if you follow Nuremberg’s example), and fully air-conditioned ones for energy efficiency, so I doubt very much if AT is considering incurring the extra capital and operating costs.

        1. It’s not essential to be automated to stop regularly in the same place, most systems have consistent stopping positions and many systems do PSDs with driven trains. For example the Singapore metro is driven by people on four of the main lines and supported with a similar automatic train protection system as Auckland already runs. Likewise with almost all lines in Tokyo, it’s just part of the drivers training to stop in the right place.

          I might add that in most cases the doors on the platforms are significantly wider than the doors on the train which means the alignment doesn’t have to be perfect.You can see in the first pic Matt linked below that it isn’t perfectly aligned.

          1. It seems to me that there’s a bit of confusion here between purpose-built metros (eg Singapore and Tokyo) and multi-purpose mainline railways (eg Auckland). The passenger-only CRL is a small part of a much larger mixed-traffic system, and its mainline-style ETCS control system reflects that.

            As has been noted, metros are can be likened to horizontal lifts (a vast oversomplification!), but mainline railways are much more complex – comparing the two is not really comparing apples with apples.

            That said, there are similar examples in the rest of the world where mainline railways have PEDs. I’m thinking in particular of the Elizabeth line (formerly Crossrail) in London, but that’s on a much larger scale tham the CRL, with fixed-formation 9-car trains, three different train-control systems and tube-type service levels. Fortunately the CRL is nowhere near as complcated, and I suspect AT wants to keep it that way!

          1. How about waist-high barriers and doors like they have on Tokyo’s Yamanote Line then? Stops accidental falling on the tracks, provides more useful platform capacity at peak times, and you still get to see the train. All good? 🙂

            And yes Matt is right, the full height ones in particular are almost always glass. Google pics of the Tokyo Metro Namboku Line, it has full height glass screens, and yes you can still see your train 🙂

          2. What in earth is the point? In Paris they have some lines painted on the platforms to show you where the doors will be. That seems to work well

          3. Don’t use a lot of elevators then Patrick? 😉 I’m not fussed on seeing the train to be honest. I quite like being able to see out of the train while travelling, but that’s a different story. I like the doors for the simple fact you can walk around the full width of the platform without any worry of getting to close to tonnes of moving metal or tripping or falling onto the tracks.

            But yes, it is a bit of wait by the doors, then get on the great horizontal elevator.

          4. If the platforms get too busy and there is a safety issue, then some form of barrier can be retrofitted. Until then best they’re not installed in order to keep costs down.
            I’d rather have a Beresford entrance (and a platform level tunnel to the bottom of the stairs in Myers park).

          5. I think the benefits of preventing either intentional or unintentional injury or death from falling onto the rails from a busy central city station platform would be huge.
            Also benefits of being able to more securely utilise the full width of the platform without worrying about being accidentally pushed onto the rail line when the station is crowded.
            I’ve got no idea about the costs, but a retrofit would likely be more expensive than doing it from the initial construction I’d bet.

    1. Yup Britomart, Aotea, K Rd, Mt Eden should all have these doors as the disruption a death on the tracks would cause at these stations would be massive.

      1. Agreed that a “one under” (as they call them in London) would be very disruptive, but I suspect risk analysis would show that the likelihood would be very low, and with the added complexity adding more risk, eg of door failure (at 20 tph each CRL station would have up to 500 individual door openings an hour, ie thousands per day), communications failure between train and platform, imprecise stopping, etc, the expenditure would not be justified.

        Perhaps worse, AT would be spending both capital and operating money on making the safest means of urban transport even safer, thereby making it cost more than it should and encouraging people to move to a less-safe mode, increasing their individual risk by about ten times (1000%) if they were to go by car instead.

        1. Exactly right, Mike. Better to spend that sort of money on level crossing removal and improvements to keep people off the tracks across the wider network where there is already a record of ‘one-unders’.

  4. “Look I think ultimately Treasury and the Ministry of Transport respond to what the government’s position is,” he told RNZ News.

    That’s a rather disturbing statement. We deserve a lot better.

    And even with governmental pressure and desires for a particular set of solutions, ministers should have a reality-based set of opinions.

    1. This cabinet reckon they’re little kings, so why would they need quality advice from anyone? Will take a fair bit of work to un-politicise our public service (or what’s left of it).

  5. Based on my two days of peak hour train commute so far, the frequency, at least for the Western line anyway, pretty desperately needs to be increased. Have been packed in like sardines both ways and today people couldn’t even get on going home.

    1. Higher frequencies on the Western Line has been promised for years, but (apparently) it really will happen this year! Going from 4 to 6 tph at peak.

  6. The MOT may slowly be changing their attitude to the City Rail Link and public transport in general but there still needs to be a major reform of both the Ministry and NZTA regarding both the way it operates and the way transport is funded i.e.with all petrol tax channeled only into roads.
    This narrow focus on one mode is enormously out of date and is no longer acceptable to thinking Aucklanders.
    If the government won’t do it, then regretfully to one of a conservative mould, we will have to change the government – that is if we don’t want them to muck-up our fair city even more.

  7. Are the platform widths fixed? If possible they should be wider. Platforms of about the width shown become seriously overcrowded in the underground stations of Sydney and Melbourne. Overcrowding on the platform increases dwell time and so reduces the capacity of the line.

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