By the time the City Rail Link opens in 2022/23, the idea will have been over 100 years in the making, in one form or another. I thought I’d look at how the project and concept have evolved over that century.
The idea originally started in the early 1910’s by people living in the west and north-west who wanted shorten the journey to the city via a spur from around Morningside to the back of the Town Hall, with a terminus station likely taking over Myers Park.
In 1924 the government approved a large package of works for rail all around the country. In Auckland that included building the Eastern line and shifting the train station and freight facilities to Beach Rd. Included as an integral part of the plans was the Morningside Deviation – the first iteration of CRL. It was also expected that electrification of the network would be needed. There are no images from the time but the route, including a tunnel of just over 2.3km, was fairly direct between Beach Rd and Morningside. It was described as:
The route is from the new station site, across Beach Rd then by a tunnel in a straight line to a point beneath the normal school. The tunnel takes a slight curve to Wakefield Street, where the proposed underground station will be situated, with a double line platform. Thence the route is by tunnel to the vicinity of the bottom of Newton Road. An open line continues along the gully to Morningside, where there will be another short tunnel.
There’s a little more detail on the route here too.
Note: it is often quoted that the CRL was first approved in 1923 however the first newspaper reports I can find of the government approving it were in October 1924. There was also a lot of talk at the time for another deviation going from Morningside all the way to Kumeu effectively along what is now SH16.
In early 1930, the government abandoned the project, primarily citing the cost. But it seems they may have deliberately stacked the odds against the project, with more than half of the cost being to electrify the network from Papakura to Helensville. Organisations such as the Auckland Chamber of Commerce were quick to question why it was necessary to electrify to Helensville instead of just Swanson like earlier experts had suggested. It was also pointed out that the only reason people were complacent about the moving of the Auckland station out of the city was because the tunnel had been promised at the same time. One interesting aspect that emerged later was the government also added two extra stations to the plans, one near Karangahape Rd and one in the Arch Hill gully. Interestingly the K Rd station entrance is in exactly the same place at the end of Cross St as AT are building.
In 1946 the Ministry of Works included the project in their fairly well balanced transport plan for Auckland, using what appears to be the same route as described in the 1920’s. It’s also interesting to note what else they proposed at the time, including not sending motorways through the existing urban area.
In 1950 British consultants Halcrow & Partners produced what became known as the Halcrow-Thomas report for the Railways department. Among other things, they recommended the electrification of the Auckland rail network and the building of the Morningside Deviation, although slightly differently to what had been proposed in the past.
Road planners were also coming up with motorway schemes, and so with arguments developing over future plans, a technical advisory committee was set up to come up with a Master Plan. As the late Paul Mees explains the committee was stacked with 23 traffic engineers and only one railway engineer, so it was no surprise when the 1955 the Master Transportation Plan really set Auckland on its motorway focused ways. It proposed a motorway network which even today politicians and road lobbyists call for the completion of. It argued that the Morningside Deviation couldn’t be justified compared to the cheap motorways (they turned out to be anything but cheap). However even in this road orgy of a plan it was suggested that rail needed to be closer to the centre of town, and they proposed a spur from the Beach Rd station to Victoria St – interestingly to the site of what is now the Victoria St carpark.
In the early 1960’s, American Consultants De Leuw Cather were hired to come up with a plan for Auckland. The report they produced expanded on the motorway and expressway excesses of the 1955 plan, but they also produced a rapid transit plan which they said needed to be built first to prevent the motorways from becoming congested. Their plans released in 1965 included a potential future regional transit network.
To start with it, seems they suggested a route along Beach Rd with a station near the Queen St/Custom St intersection and another one at Aotea, with the potential to be extended further.
Included was this design for the Queen/Customs Station. There were also plans for suburban stations with integrated bus facilities.
Despite the recommendation that the transit parts of the plan needed to be pursued at the very least at the same time as the motorway plan, it seems that part of the report was simply ignored by the powers of the day.
In 1972 the most famous scheme of all was promoted by mayor Sir Dove-Myer Robinson. Based on the 1965 De Leuw Cather report the network proposed looks the same – and I suspect before the image above which appears a more scaled back version.
What was interesting is the design in the city centre which included a tight loop with two stations. Quite whether the close junctions could handle all of the train movements isn’t clear, but this is probably where the Loop name originated.
By 1974 this had morphed into the Auckland Rapid Transit System, which was focused on just the city centre and Southern/Eastern lines. Extensions of it to the West and North could come later. Again it was suggested to be built in phases, effectively duplicating the rail network we already had, and also dramatically reducing stations which would have sped up services.
There is more of the article here.
Archives NZ says this plan was from c.1970 and appears to be more of the plan above showing the potential future regional network rather than directly related to the 1965 and 1972 versions.
After the Muldoon government killed the project in 1976, plans went quiet for some time until Britomart was built. Prior to that Auckland had been discussing surface-based light rail. Then in 2001 everything changed with the council agreeing to build Britomart. That effectively changed the conversation of extending rail through a tunnel from “if” to “when”.
In 2004 a study for the Auckland City Council looked at a number of options for extending the rail network through Britomart, and came up with close to what we have today after analysing a number of routes settling on one that only varies from what is now going to be built south of the motorway.
It also included a junction for a North Shore line. If a North Shore line ever happens, it is expected to travel under Wellesley St with a station linked into the to-be-built Aotea Station.
By 2010 the project seemed to be getting closer, and the current project again looked at options. Some are similar to the previous report and some are quite different.
In the end the route selected combined a few aspects of the ones above at the Southern End. Also since this time the Newton station has been dropped.
There could be a lot of debate about what version would have been best, and obviously building it earlier would have had a profound effect on transport in Auckland, but the great thing about this version is that it’s actually being built.