This is the second in a series of six posts looking at a collection of articles written by Sir Dove-Myer Robinson in the mid 1970’s promoting and clearly trying to build support for his rapid transit plan. They come from a booklet I stumbled across while in the Takapuna Library one day. The first post is here.

This was published in the NZ Herald on 24 June 1975

‘All-Bus’ Scheme a Non-starter on Capital Cost

Despite gloomy prophesies of unbearable capital costs and ruinous operating costs, the philistines were confounded when the costs of an all roading-bus transport plan were compared with the proposed bus and rail plan.

First of all, we should get straight what we are talking about. When De Leuw Cather & Co. reported on the suitability of an all-bus, or a bus and rail transport plan for Auckland in 1965, after nearly two years of study, they strongly a bus system fed by a main railway artery.

This recommendation has supported by all Government departments and officials who have examined it, and by the ARA and the Government itself.

Simply stated, the plan is to widen to four lines the existing railway from Papakura to the city near the present railway station, and in a loop underground connecting up again with Main Trunk Railway at Newmarket.

The lines would be electrified and modern electric three-coach trains, controlled by the most modern electronic controls and signals, provide a service every 10 minutes during off-peak hours, and every seven a half minutes at busy periods.


There would four underground stations in the city:

At Beach Rd (“Railway”) near the present station.
Under Customs St (“Downtown”) adjacent to present bus station.
Near the junction of Queen St and Wellesley St West (“Civic”).
Under Karangahape Rd (“Karangahape”) near the top of Upper Queen St.

Another station is planned in the Grafton area, when estimates of passenger demand require it.

Ten other stations would be located at the suburban stations on the main line between the city and Papakura.

Provision would be made for large scale car parking and bus/rail transfer facilities at the suburban stations. The reorganised bus system would provide feeder services to and from the railway stations, providing for a fully integrated bus and rail service that would be fast, clean, silent, cheap, safe and comfortable. More important still, it would be reliable and not be affected by road congestion or other conditions. This would result from the reduction of private vehicles on the roads, thus allowing freer and speedier travel for the buses.

Various proposals have been made to construct the line and stations in phases, but there are disadvantages of rising costs and delays in getting the maximum benefits, if this “phasing” plan is adopted.

The Government has stipulated that results of operation of the first stage – Papakura – City – Newmarket – must be studied before, later, undertaking one or all of the three recommended main extensions, which are:

  • Eastern loop through Tamaki, Glen Innes and Mt. Wellington to Westfield.
  • Northern extension under the harbour to the North Shore.
  • Western line to Henderson and Glen Eden.

However, because of the high revenue-earning potential of the eastern loop in comparison with its capital and operating costs, strong pressure is likely to be brought to bear to persuade the Government to construct the eastern loop simultaneously with the Papakura-Newmarket stage 1.


The Government has agreed to provide the capital costs and to replay loans and interest, therefore, Auckland ratepayers will not have to bear any part of the capital costs. Nevertheless.
as rateplayers, they will be interested in the financial aspects of the scheme.

Based on 1974 prices, the estimated capital costs are as follows:—

Stage 1. Papakura-City-Newmarket, $125,254,000
Rolling stock, electronic equipment, signals, controls, buses, etc., $29,300,000.
Eastern loop, Tamaki-Glen Innes-Mt. Wellington-Westfield, $16,162,000.
Total cost stage 1, eastern loop, rolling stock. buses, etc., $170,716,000.

Now a very important factor must be considered. If, for any reason, the railway part of the plan were rejected, it would be necessary, in the area covered by this scheme, to provide additional motorways, bridges and parking facilities to cost a calculated $110 million.

Therefore the difference in cost between stage 1 plus the eastern loop, which would provide the backbone of a first-class transport system, as against the cost of perpetuating the un-satisfactory, bus-only present system, is $60 million.

To take the plan to completion, we have the following estimates:

Stage 1: Plus Eastern loop, rolling stock, electrification, etc., $170 million.
Now add in the later provision of the western line to Henderson and Glen Eden, estimated at $20 million.
Also, the harbour crossing to the North Shore estimated at $50 million.
Provide for additional rolling stock, signals and other contingencies $60 million.
The estimated cost, at 1974 prices, of the ultimate completion of the whole plan, $300 million.

This is where the financial advantages of this scheme begin to show up very clearly.

On the other hand, if the underground rail loop were not available, Auckland would be compelled to accept another bridge across the harbour with its inevitable disturbance of housing and other properties to provide more motorway approach roads.

The city would be on the horns of a dilemma, because the city council has already made it perfectly clear that under no circumstances will it agree to another harbour bridge that would further destroy the appearance of harbour and which would encourage the disgorgement on to already overcrowded city streets daily of more thousands of motor vehicles.

Summing up. the capital costs two alternatives, we have:—

Cost of new and upgraded motorways and roading, new buses, etc., in 25-30 years. at least $600 million.
Alternatively: Cost of providing electrified railway services, Papakura-City-Newmarket, including eastern loop to Westfield, western loop to Henderson and Glen Eden, and tunnel under harbour and connection to North Shore with rolling stock, etc., estimated at $300 million.

On this basis. the estimates show the capital costs of an all-bus system would be at least twice as great as the proposed bus/rail system


The reason for this great difference is simple: The need to provide more, and upgrade present roading systems to carry the immense additional load of traffic, if some means has not been provided to divert some of it off the roads.

The map below shows how the tunnel then proposed would have fed through the city centre.


As for the costs, running them quickly through the RBNZ’s inflation calculator gives us the following results:

  • Total cost of initial project, $1.8 billion
  • Eastern line, $174 million.
  • Rolling stock, signals, buses etc., $315 million.
  • Stage 1. Papakura-City-Newmarket, $1.3 billion
  • Western Line, $215 million
  • North Shore line, $538 million.
  • Additional rolling stock etc., $645 million.
  • Cost for the completion of the whole plan, $3.2 billion

And for the roads

  • Eastern Motorway if rail not built $1.2 billion
  • Total motorway package $6.5 billion

The next is titled Question of who pays the operating costs

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  1. Interesting and useful!

    The map is from the New Zealand Railway Observer, and it would be good for that to be acknowledged.

    1. The stupidity is the govt dropped the plan when there was the oil shock and despite the fact that this would be of assistance alleviating the pain in the case of any future oil shocks! So there haven’t been any oil shocks since but with the instability of the Middle East it doesn’t mean it won’t happen again.

      1. But it’s not just shocks, the point is we make our electrons here in NZ, and very cleverly, almost all oil and vehicles are imported which means the private car dominated transport model is extremely costly in terms of forex. We spend nearly every penny earned from dairy, each year, just to just fund this. The whole country would be so much richer if we had built our biggest city more on this Transit plan than entirely on the more expensive highway/sprawl one. And every year we double down on this pattern the poorer we are and, clearly, the stupider we show our selves to be.

        It is a source of constant surprise to me that people who claim to be fiscally sensible wilfully ignore this opportunity, with various nonsense stories that all boil down to claims that everyone always driving is a permanent inevitability. Bollocks. What we feed grows. Feed the better modes; get richer (be able to buy other cool stuff from overseas; not just stuff we burn).

        1. Plus another one, 40 years wasted, what’s wrong with the political system that breeds such incompetence. it’s now a race between climate change and oil depletion.

          The oil shocks in the 1970s were caused by a drop in production of about 5%. it gave me a wakeup call when I had to walk 5 miles to work when the busses were full. from that time I never had a car that wouldn’t do 40 mpg.

          The world got its first taste of what peak oil will be like and learnt nothing from it.

    2. Anyway, 30 years late we’re finally going with the plan. I hope Sir D M Robinson is looking on with a smile on his face. I hope his statue is moved to either the Aotea Station entrance or maybe the new plaza that will be in front of Britomart to give due respect!

      I’d just like to say we’ll get there on other parts of the plan sooner or later i.e. North Shore rail. Rail finally got momentum in this city and momentum gets things done. Started with Britomart, continued with station upgrades and the Western Line duplification. The momentum in numbers and popularity from that helped electrification get over the line. The obvious momentum that that has brought, is one of the factors that has helped get the CRL off the paper and into becoming a reality. The CRL will be such a game changer and offer a ton more momentum that will inevitably lead to strong calls for the North Shore and airport to be connected to the network.

      That’s why opponents fought tooth and nail against the first investment and improvement. Because they knew once the genie was let out, then the rest will be history. All we needed was for one or two things to get done that would attract more use and popularity and the rest would take care of itself. The CRL has faced opposition but the weight in momentum was too much even for the govt to stop the train this time.

      Hopefully when the success and effect of the CRL becomes broadly apparent it will mean less resistance to future projects.

      1. Great comment, Simon. So what do we really need to get people behind now the CRL is sort of under way? The third main, electrification to Pukekohe, North Western Busway? OR do we need to be pushing hard against the silly rules that stop NZTA pulling money out of the East West link and putting money into those rail and game changer transit projects. Or do we just get out there and focus hard on stopping silly road projects.

        1. I think a non-mode biased transport investment agency is key to achieving a more balanced transport system. It’s crazy that the NZTA can only spend billions of dollars on motorways because they are prevented from looking at the broader picture and investing in areas that might be a more efficient solution to a transport problem.

  2. That is quite shockingly amazing in that the government chose to go with the road option at almost double the price! Thing is roads are relatively easy to build they should have decided to build the rail and then if needed roads could have been built quickly.

  3. Years ago, IIRC, I heard Jo Brosnahan tell of how the Muldoon government cancelled the project in 1976 when a review “doubled the project’s costs in a morning”, and at that point, and in the economic climate of the time, it was no surprise that the project was canned. Can someone with more knowledge than I confirm if this was in fact the case? The view at the time I heard this story (about 2000) was that the scheme was trying to do too much at once, and a more incremental approach would have worked much better (and what in the end did work).

    1. Most likely “trying to do too much at once” was simply a cover for the fact that doing it required the importing a lot of expensive overseas sourced components and finished goods that couldn’t be “import substituted” (trains, modern signalling etc). And that would have (in Muldoons eyes) sucked up too much precious foreign exchange. Which would have impacted the ability of the government to allow NZ Inc to afford the equally, if not more, expensive (ruinous, and ongoing) oil imports.

      So it was really down to the simple political expediency keeping the status quo [of allowing unfettered car driving] over a short term pain Balance of Payments problem, for a much longer term gain.

      And since the Government Muldoon held the Foreign exchange reserves purse very, very closely, there was no chance that Robbies plan would get a fair hearing under Muldoon.
      As there would always be a more pressing need for that foreign exchange – say, I don’t know, another Marsden Point oil refinery expansion, or another Aluminium smelter or two, with matching hydro dam to power it, or a Glenbrook Steel Mill, or a Gas to Gasoline plant].

      So the “costs doubling in one day” story is most likely nothing but evidence of a political hatchet job done to ensure it wouldn’t happen on Muldoon’s watch.

      By the time more enlightened views prevailed the right of way was long gone.

    2. One other consideration – at this time, it was actually very expensive to buy a car, never mind run it, and yet the number of cars on our roads grew very strongly during the postwar period. This is not made clear in the Mees paper, but is important because this growth in car ownership and therefore road demand, even under these conditions, must have influenced the policymakers quite considerably. My take on things is that if Auckland had been offered a direct choice at the time between more motorways, and rapid rail (but not both) – they’d have opted for the road network they eventually got.

  4. Question: If for some reason or other it was decided to build a 3rd and 4th main on the NIMT is it actually still possible? More specifically is there the room for 4 lines? We all know that the 3rd main is likely and should be possible.

    1. I’m glad someone else is pondering that. The third main has started – in fact it was started long ago in that many of the bridges, platforms and track alignments made in the last ten years are future proofed for it and the corridor is wide enough with only a few exceptions. Parts of the track already exist through Otahuhu and Wiri. Plans for overcoming the Middlemore bottleneck have been made. The electrification from Westfield to Wiri is aligned to accommodate it. The only thing needed is dollars. I reckon it will be done before the CRL, at least from Wiri to Tamaki. Wiri to Westfield much sooner. Maybe from Papakura to GI if more money for some new bridges south of Wiri can be found. Purewa tunnel won’t be done. Not sure about Purewa to the Port. We might even see a Westfield to Penrose link one day, especially if the Onehunga branch gets duplicated. “Fourth Main” gets chucked around a lot in armchair speculation and wishlists, but it seems mightily premature and even more unlikely given the corridor limitations. There isn’t even money yet to lay the easy third, never mind the substantial challenge of acquiring land for a fourth and rebuilding all the bridges from Papakura to Westfield or beyond to take a fourth line. I’d be surprised if a fourth happened inside 40 years, if ever. Crossing loops at former station locations like Papatoetoe are as close as we’ll get.

      1. Yes the third is now done north of Middlemore. And adding it south of that station is relatively trivial, it’s more serious at that station itself, but entirely doable with funding. More maddening is the relatively recent closing off of the future at places like Newmarket: simply the retention of the couple of metres needed for a fourth track through there would add a huge resilience and capacity to the passenger network. And at very little cost had that trivial amount of space not been flogged off through privatisation. And indeed the failure of both railway and transport agencies to predict the chance of the passenger rail revival and therefore retain more of the prior existing rail reserves throughoit the city. Grrrrr.

        Still the challenge now is to reform our funding structures so that rail has a regular source of funding for capex.

        1. Compulsory (re) purchase of the land at Newmarket and skittling of the buildings should not be ruled out in future. It’s done for roads so why not for railways?

        2. It appears to me that just by removing some carparking and a bit of structural remodelling a fourth and even perhaps an additional platform could be routed through the vast subfloor of that rather miserable and greedy building to the west of the station. It’s already double height and pretty clear, and often not even used for parking that much.

          Am assuming what would be best is an Up platform and a Down one…?

        3. Two tracks and platforms to/from Parnell, two to/from Mt Eden. No changing ends post CRL so that will simplify operations.
          I did muse on a 3rd main that did a complete clockwise loop with freights always going down the Parnell bank but remembered that the Southern motorway is currently busy digesting any spare ROW.

    2. The third main southwards through Middlemore is an important project, which it was why it was mentioned specificalyl by Peter Reidy this week as something that needs to be done. I suspect it will happen, and soonish – and it’ll be interesting to see how it’s planned to get past Middlemore’s Up platform.

      A fourth main is much less likely, since apart from anything else it will require junctions at Westfield that will be complex and expensive. I suspect that when capacity does look like it’s running out (and that’s not yet in sight) other options will be on the table, such as grade separation (just as on roads, junctions – especially flat ones – are the main limitations on capacity), shorter headways (perhaps through automatic operation, though I doubt we’ll see driverless trains in the foreseeable future), longer trains. All of these will be expensive, though!

      A third main round the Westfield deviation would also be a complex beast, given the location of the freight facilities and the limitations imposed by such things as the tunnel and the embankments. A loop or loops perhaps, but a new main must be doubtful.

      1. Initially loops (“passing bays in AC’s ITP) are planned for the Westfield deviation with a full third main to follow in the 2030s if I recall the document correctly.
        As for complex and expensive junctions at Westfield; they would seem to be somewhat simple cf. Waterview don’t you think?

      2. Interestingly because freight traffic between MetroPort and PoT is on the west side of the NIMT, but between PoAL and its inland port at Wiri is on the east there is (to my inexpert musing) perhaps a case for a section of fourth track from the eastern line past the Westfield junction south. Then each generator of freight traffic through this congested area would have a means to essentially avoid any crossings at the junction, passengers train movements and each other’s freighters there.

        This is what the short section of 3rd main already achieves on the west for PoT’s MetroPort traffic. Depends of course on whether PoAL’s rail traffic grows significantly etc…

        1. Yes, a going to 4th main from Westfield to Wiri makes a lot of sense. You have one pair of tracks for Manukau and Ports of Auckland freight and one pair of separate tracks for Papakura-Penrose trains and mainline freight. The big benefit is you remove flat junction conflicts at both Wiri and Westfield and create the necessary line capacity for all the passenger and freight trains you could ever want to run.

          Consider the alternative of only building 3rd main. Eventually Westfield junction will have to be grade separated and this cost will probably be pretty similar to building a 4th main anyway.

          The only problem with using 4 mainlines as two separate railways, is that you don’t get dedicated ‘fast tracks” and I think that in addition to the urbanisation of housing close to the city (as per other successful cities), Auckland will also need a medium distance commuter service with fast trains from beyond the current city limits so people can live in the satellite towns and commute in, in less than an hour.

        2. Is there a document handy that has listed schematic of track/line numbers for our railways, or Auckland at least? Also, was thinking a similar thing of our motorway system would be handy also (ie number of lanes at each section, perhaps with exit only lanes marked also). Would be quicker for reference than trying to see on an often out of date satellite image or similar.

        3. Well its not hard: it’s two track Swanson south, a few moments of a little more around some older stations… but that’s it. And now horay! there’s a bit of a 3rd from north of Middlemore station to the MetroPort inland port west of the Westfield Junction.

  5. To get things done you need both money and political support. Robbie had neither. He didn’t have any money and neither the ARA nor the government were in favour. It was a dead duck even while he was still writing this stuff.

    1. Yet to think that as a country we would have been saving at least $500m pa (in today’s dollars) over the past 40 years in overseas oil payments alone (not too mention purchasing less cars and probably even more oil savings from not having a congested city). That’s $20B minimum that has left the country so in other words it would have paid for itself multiple times over (including rail to the Shore and Airport!) and ongoing savings.

      On another note the CRL alignment in this old plan was pretty cool allowing for a station near the hospital and also keeping a free track between West and South.

  6. Great post again Matt, thanks for bringing this to light (and for sparking such great, informative comments also).

    At the time of Muldoon pulling the funding, was there any decent counter-estimate of the oil (and car) import costs that would be saved each and every year due to the ART scheme from the year of opening to eternity? – And/or has such an estimate been done since?

  7. Interesting that the map shows the Dominion Road Flyover to be completely separate from the proposed Dominion Road Motorway; I’d always assumed that the Dominion Road Motorway was proposed to link in with the southern end of the junction.

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