Last week I was taking a look around the Takapuna Library during my lunch break and stumbled across a booklet containing six articles written by Sir Dove-Myer Robinson in the mid 1970’s promoting and clearly trying to build support for his rapid transit plan.

Dove-Myer Robinson Op-Eds Cover

Here is the reason the articles were pulled together in a single document

Dove-Myer Robinson Op-Eds Reasoning

The plan he was talking about was not too dissimilar to the plans we have today although I believe they did involved duplicating the rail lines using different gauge tracks so would be for passenger use only. Of course the scheme never went ahead after Muldoon’s newly elected National Government scrapped the whole thing.

1970 - Proposed Rapid Transit Network

Over the coming weeks I’ll publish all six articles, the first of which is below. One of the things that strikes me about them is that while some aspects have clearly dated, many of the core arguments are just as valid today as they were back over 40 years ago.

Great Financial Savings in Bus-Rail Scheme

A vastly improved bus service, served by a main railway artery, and the promise of large financial savings plus greater social benefits – this is the exciting prospect in store for Auckland when the Auckland Rapid Transport combined bus and rail scheme is inaugurated in 1981.

Naturally citizens will want to know the estimated capital and operating costs of the scheme in order to evaluate its economic and social benefits.

Costs should only be considered in relationship to identifiable benefits. It is therefore appropriate that the benefits to be expected from the scheme should be examined first. Only then will it be possible to decide whether the costs are warranted.

In a later contribution, the urgency of, and the need for, improved public transport facilities in Auckland will be fully explained. In this article it will be possible only to give a forecast of the anticipated benefits and costs.


It is proposed to construct the scheme in stages. Stage 1 will include the electrification and addition of two more railway lines from Papakura to the city and then underground to rejoin the main lines at Newmarket. It is also recommended that the eastern loop through Tamaki, Glen Innes and Mt Wellington to Westfield be constructed at the same time as Stage 1.

Further extensions to the North Shore, Henderson, Glen Eden and the western districts will be made as and when estimates of traffic demand show they will be required. The same applies to the airport and other possible extensions.

Because some concern expressed about capital and operating costs, it should be emphasised at the outset that the Government has already agreed to provide the capital, and to accept responsibility for capital service charges, that is, the repayment of loans, plus interest. Thus these capital charges will not have to be met by Auckland Ratepayers.

Agreement on two other matters has yet to be reached between the ARA and the Government:

Who will have to pay the losses (if any) on operating the system?

Is depreciation to be treated as part of the operating costs, or will it be the Government’s responsibility – as part of the undertaking to meet capital service charges?

Agreement on the above two points will affect significantly the annual financial surpluses or deficits. However, irrespective of the strictly “balance sheet” financial results, the economic savings and social benefits to the whole region will be so great as to overwhelmingly outweigh any possible annual cash deficits.


What benefits are to be expected from this scheme? –

  • For the first time, it will be possible to provide a satisfactory public passenger transport service, by a balance between roading, buses and the railway. (Similar combined bus and railway systems are at present either under construction or are in advanced planning stage in over 80 cities in other parts of the world. No city anywhere is planning or constructing a wholly bus/roading system.)
  • It will be possible to avoid the building of more motorways and other roading (for which there is no more room on the isthmus in any case) other than those already planned or under construction.
  • The growing congestion and delays to traffic on the road system will be halted or reduced.
  • The improved transport services throughout the whole region will be a direct benefit to non-motorists such as the elderly, the young, the sick, the disabled, and those who cannot afford, or do not wish to own and use private cars, about 50% of the population.
  • An adequate transport system will save motorists many millions of dollars yearly, because public transport – especially rail transport – is cheaper than private transport.
  • Whether it will be the increasing number of private motor vehicles on already overcrowded roads, or whether it will be the greatly increased cost of using private cars in 1981, it is inevitable there will be increased demand for more and better public transport services.
  • Improved public transport will allow socially underprivileged citizens greater opportunities for movement within the region.
  • Reduction of private car congestion will allow for faster and safer transport. The travel time by train, from the city to Papakura at even busiest times, will be 32 minutes.
  • There will be a considerable reduction in accidents, injuries and deaths because rail and bus transport is so much safer than private transport.
  • There will be considerable reduction of atmospheric pollution and noise with fewer private cars and buses on the roads.
  • Operating costs per passenger mile of electrified railways are much lower than buses, and buses, in turn, are cheaper per passenger mile than cars. There will be substantial savings in travelling costs to those using the improved service.
  • The cost of delays to commercial vehicle operators of wages, petrol, overheads and other transportation charges due to congestion on roads and delays at traffic lights and intersections, will be reduced very considerably.
  • There will be great savings of petrol, especially at the higher prices likely in 1981, and there will also be savings of man millions of dollars of precious overseas funds through reduction in the use of petrol by private cars. (Of New Zealand’s overseas spending, 20 per cent is on importation of fuels.)


Such substantial benefits, some of which can be reckoned in financial terms, but also other social benefits which cannot be estimated in dollars and cents which are probably more important, fully justify the relatively modest costs. Overall, they show a considerable financial and social surplus.

Some of the economics which can be expected yearly from this scheme are: –

Savings in accidents and deaths in the area served by rail, $1 million.

Savings in petrol and use of private cars through diversion of their passengers to the bus/rail system $9 million.

Savings of wages, petrol and other costs as a result of reduction of congestion in the area served by rail and through more economic use of commercial vehicles (no credit has been included for saving of time of drivers of non-commercial vehicles amounting to many millions, $3.1 million.

Estimated actual yearly financial savings in area served by rail, $13.1 million.

The savings mentioned in the first two paragraphs were estimated by Dr Vautier, the economist who prepared the financial calculations in the Auckland rapid transit report recently released by the Government to members of the ARA. Dr Vautier states these estimates of savings are “very conservative.”

The next article is titled ‘All-Bus’ Scheme a Non-starter on Capital Cost

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  1. That first para of the ‘Why this reprint’ section could apply to pretty much anything the council plans to do.

  2. “The travel time by train, from the city to Papakura at even busiest times, will be 32 minutes.”

    Wow, it really was going to be rapid then, can’t get anywhere like that sort of travel time today on the rails, even with EMUs.
    No doubt dedicated tracks and wider gauge allowed that to be the case.

    And I read a very prescient comment here:

    “There will be great savings of petrol, especially at the higher prices likely in 1981, and there will also be savings of man millions of dollars of precious overseas funds through reduction in the use of petrol by private cars. (Of New Zealand’s overseas spending, 20 per cent is on importation of fuels.)”

    In 1980/1 we had forced upon us (by Muldoon) carless days and such because of the Iran situation with oil prices through the roof and Balance of Payments deficits through the floor.
    All for a mostly futile attempt to reduce our countries use of oil imports (especially Petrol) by about 15-20%.

    Well if we had this in place, we’d have achieved that easily, saved the cost of this scheme in spades to boot, by not spending those overseas funds on oil imports and used our own electrons instead, and had a decent bus/rail system on the side that would have stood in good stead for decades.

    Criminal really.

    And yet we see the same thinking that stymied that plan in the ’70s has worked again ala Joyce, Brownlee and co to slow down the CRL, the electric trains, a rail only tunnel.
    Meanwhile spending oodles on more roads to go in ever decreasing circles. Thinking that is progress.

    1. The biggest benefit to speed would have been the reduction in stations, for example notice there’s no Remuera or Greenlane or Westfield or Te Mahia etc. That saves at least a minute per stop – longer with our current snail like system/processes. I think the different gauge tracks was probably for the same reason San Fran used wide gauge on BART, it ensures that they can’t be used by any other train other than the specifically designed metro ones.

      1. As transport strategists Joyce, Brownlee have clearly been failures. This has been evident for some considerable time as Northern busway and the metro rail passenger uptake clearly demonstrates.

        I am always surprised that John Key hasn’t been more perceptive of his Transport Ministers failings as he is probably better traveled and has lived in cities with comprehensive metro systems, the benefits of which are obvious.

        As Aucklanders, we can only hope that the current Minister is a quick learner and is allowed to swing transport expenditure away from more roads to public transport with a strong emphasis on rail public transport.

        Motorway widening is a big blight on the livability of the areas through which these motorway monstrosities pass and must stop. NZTA take note!

        1. I consider Joyce and Brownlee as saboteurs, not simply failures. They have purposefully steered transport policy in the wrong direction with foot-to-the-floor. They have seriously set the country back in a variety of ways.

      2. I suspect another reason for a different gauge is that international standard gauge was proposed. Such standardisation should result in reduced costs, presumably one of the reasons AT is proposing the same for light rail.

        Standard gauge would make negligible (if any) difference to operating speeds, as Queensland’s tilting trains demonstrate.

      3. Although the first iterations of “Robbie’s Rapid Rail” may have proposed standard (1435mm gauge), the 1974 Ministry of Works/ NZ Railways/ ARA Auckland Rapid Transit ( ART) assumed narrow (1067mm) gauge tracks. However the ART tracks would have been parallel but separate from the NZR tracks, with 2 ART tracks plus 2 NZR tracks running on the Southern corridor to Papakura. There were far fewer but larger park and ride/ bus interchanges proposed than we have now. This would have provided the bulk of the claimed journey time savings.

      4. One of the key advantages of using the world’s “standard” gauge track width, is that it is easier to buy trains that will fit, ready made. NZ has a long history of buying second hand trains etc – but unfortunately we are almost alone in that, so there is a very small secondhand market of narrow gauge trains for us to buy. We bought into the crazy narrow gauge system 130 years ago, and are still paying the price for it today. Silly narrow trains that can’t go very fast.

        1. NZ’s rail gauge makes negligible (if any) difference to speed – see Queensland’s fast tilt trains – until you get to very high speeds, impractical in NZ anyway.

          Nearly all the second-hand rolling stock imported into NZ in recent years has in fact been standard gauge (Mark 2 coaches from the UK). All you need to do is change the bogies: the trains fit NZ pretty well, because the most important thing, the structure gauge, is very similar to Britain’s. The track gauge can be fixed quite easily, so whether a secondhand market for narrow gauge trains exists is not really relevant.

        2. Sure, Jezza. The structure gauge (loading gauge is a similar term) is essentially the size of the largest train that can fit between lineside and overhead structures and objects. Historically NZ has had a very restricted structure gauge, largely defined by nineteenth-century tunnels – think Waitakere, or old Parnell. This has been increased over the years to a more respectable size, through daylighting (eg in the Manawatu gorge, lowering floors (eg on the Kapiti Coast) or through deviations (eg Parnell, Kaimai), though bottlenecks still remain (eg North Auckland Line).

          While structure gauge and track gauge are not totally unrelated, there’s no direct connection for normal-size trains. For instance, British Rail Mark 2s have operated on broad gauge in Ireland, standard gauge in Britain and narrow gauge on NZ, with little structural modification apart from changing the bogies; the largest trains in Europe operate through the standard-gauge Channel Tunnel, not in broad-gauge Russia or Spain. Similarly, some of the world’s smallest and largest regular trains share a common (standard) gauge: tall people can barely stand up straight in a London tube train, but a Chunnel shuttle has room for two decks of cars or a full-height truck in the equivalent space.

  3. Returning to 2016 for a sec. I notice that in Auckland Transport’s route map most of the lines terminate at Britomart. I assume this is just administrative and they’re not actually going to turn the trains around there and send them back the way they’ve come in order to defeat the purpose of the CRL almost entirely.

    1. That’s exactly what’s proposed hence why it is called the city rail link and not the city rail loop. Effectively doubles the capacity of Britomart and avoids the current bottleneck at Newmarket. Transferring should also be easier.

    2. Yes, they won’t terminate at Britomart. (Mostly, there have been some suggestions of peak-time expresses that terminate there or at the Strand).

      Britomart won’t even have the ability to terminate and turn around trains coming through the CRL. If they come in from the CRL, they have to keep going.

  4. In our conservative country the National government are forgiven anything the do (or don’t do) simply because they’re National. Thanks Muldoon, thanks a lot.

  5. The next article will no doubt reveal that running buses of trunk routes like trains is VERY expensive. In Victoria, there has been a maintenance issue with regional trains. The cost of replacement buses substituting for less than half the train fleet was $2.5m/week on a regional system that moves about 14m passengers per year (about the same patronage as Auckland’s system, but passengers travel further). Passenger anger has been partially quelled by making the buses free, but they are very slow when caught up in congestion on the freeway network.

    In Melbourne a level crossing replacement program on the Frankston line requires up to 100 buses for a 7 km bus bridge while works are underway. The adjacent Dandenong line has double the patronage, so bus bridges during works would be even more expensive.

      1. millions. Millions per crossing, actually, especially around junctions like Normanby Rd, Porters Ave, Morningside Drive etc, which really need a road bridge over or some other form of grade separation.

    1. I’m guessing that’s because it’s coming in the form of overtime, etc.

      Human transit has some data from Portland, showing that frequent bus lines cost about the same (per passenger) to run as the city’s LRT system.

      While you need more buses to fit all the passengers, they’re also a lot cheaper to run. This is especially true when you have lower ridership, so are running relatively empty trains (ie Auckland throughout the off peak).

      All moot if the buses don’t have a good right of way of course.

      1. Your reference to the Portland situation is of interest; although low-demand bus routes cost more to operate per person than trunk LRT routes, which means that one has to be careful with the comparisons. I’ve located some work I’ve seen which shows the point at which LRT’s operating costs become less than those for BRT; it seems to be at about 2,000 pax/direction/hour. More details here: (referring to a paper by Bruun, 2005).

        1. You also have to consider the capital cost of LRT. If you amortize the construction cost over its lifespan (say 30 years) then it effectively becomes more operating cost. My guess is that would probably double your threshold to about 4,000pax/hr/direction.

        2. Yeah, some years ago I did a big review of BRT and LRT project costs and concluded: (a), that overall, LRT was three to four times as expensive as BRT, and (b), for the segregated schemes, LRT was about twice the cost of BRT, although those schemes did carry more people. Anyway, an LRT scheme handling 4,000 pax/direction/hour is a very busy scheme indeed – that’s on a par with the number of rail passengers coming into Wellington in the morning peak, across two main lines and a secondary one. (Wellington has about 10,000 people coming in via rail during the two-hour am peak).

  6. One of the great myths is that “today’s world is changing faster than ever before.” It’s a patent falsity. If we just looked at transport infrastructure, for example, the US changed more from 1870 to 1890 than it did from 1996 to today; New Zealand changed more from 1880 to 1908 than it has from 1988 to 2016; so on and so forth.

    Past generations were more willing to embrace massive, disruptive change to transport infrastructure. I think we need that courage today

    1. “Past generations were more willing to embrace massive, disruptive change to transport infrastructure. I think we need that courage today”

      Not courage – plutocracy. They didn’t have quite such a democratic ambience back then. The ruling class simply rode roughshod over the working class and their pitiful hovels. UK / USA smashed through existing housing areas with the new fangled train lines, to get their trains into the centre of the cities. We did much the same with the motorways 100 years later, except that motorways are far wider and so destroy more. People nowadays tend to complain quite loudly when you demolish their house for a transport infrastructure project.

  7. SO interesting seeing some of these old docs. Some of the planning schemes were quite visionary too.
    The Auckland Metropolitan Plan from the ’50s prormoted quite high densities and a form of ‘flexi-density’.
    Things started to go pear shaped in the 80s… Rise of self interest???

    1. “Rise of self-interest”?

      Possibly the rise of cheaper motoring. I can remember back in the day when cars were extremely expensive and Australians joked that New Zealand was the land “where Morrie Minors go to die”. In 1985 a change of the rules started an onrush of our roads of “Japanese imports” cars – so, once motoring was a lot cheaper, in effect, people started driving a lot more.

      In the next few years we saw a big decline in the use of public transport, especially in the journey to work. More positively, we saw fewer motorbikes on the road, with some big resulting pluses for our road safety statistics.

      1. Rise of cheaper motoring is only a part of the story. The real reason was the conscious political decision actively to encourage car-use by channelling large-scale funding into major, ahead-of-demand road-development, while failing to develop public transport as a necessary alternative. Many European cities managed to grow their PT networks during this period and avoided the trap of endemic car-dependency.

        1. “…to encourage car-use by channelling large-scale funding into major, ahead-of-demand road-development, while failing to develop public transport as a necessary alternative.” Yup, that’s exactly what’s now happening to the north and south of Auckland (eg: commuting from Warkworth & the Waikato).

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