A few times every year we’re unfortunately reminded of the lack of action there has been on removing rail level crossings across Auckland. Removing these crossings have numerous benefits such as increased safety, reduced delays for drivers and allowing for signalling improvements which will trains to run faster. Removing them from the western line in particular will become even more important after the completion of the City Rail Link when frequencies will be able to be further increased and trains could be running in each direction every few minutes. In that situation, crossings will probably be closed more than they’re open.
Across the electrified network there are currently 45 level crossings, 31 are road/pedestrian crossings while a further 14 a pedestrian only crossings. The majority of level crossings are on the Western line with the rest are primarily along the short Onehunga Line with another cluster around Takanini.
Yet despite the need to remove level crossings, the last ones to be removed were about seven years ago as part of the New Lynn trench construction, but there has been nothing since then. Looking to the future, Auckland Transport are hoping to remove the Sarawia St crossing and their latest board report suggests they’ve come to an agreement with those who appealed the consent so hopefully work will start on that soon. We also know that the Normanby Rd and Porters Ave crossings will be removed as part of the City Rail Link works with the latter replaced by only a pedestrian and cycling bridge. Other than those crossings, AT have previously told us some crossings will need to be dealt with as part of packages and the packages with the highest priority are: (not in any particular order)
- Southern NIMT – Walters Road, Manuroa Road, Taka Street, Spartan Road
- Western Line – Morningside Drive
- Western Line – Woodward Road
- Western Line – St Jude Street, Chalmers Street, St Georges Road
- Western Line – Glenview Road
- Western Line – Bruce McLaren
One of the challenges with the level crossings across Auckland is just how they might be done. Some crossings, such as St Jude St, appear to present significant technical challenges to grade separation.
Harriet has been doing a great job requesting up a storm of information recently and one of the items she received from AT was a feasibility study of grade separating the level crossings that involve roads. The report says of the 31 crossings, AT first identified the crossings that, from primarily a road operations perspective, it might be feasible to just close the crossing. They found ten could potentially be closed and a further five which could possibly be closed leaving 16 crossings to look at, although more work would likely be needed to confirm if crossings could be closed. The report doesn’t separate out what the feasible and possible closures are but includes crossings such as Fruitvale Rd, both Rossgrove Tce and Asquith Ave, and George St – which would likely be removed when the New North Rd interchange is torn down.
For the remaining 16 crossings, the study looked at three options for each one:
- Road bridge over rail on existing road alignment with the railway retained at its current level (Road Over)
- Rail trench under road with the road retained at its current level (Rail Under)
- Hybrid of 1 and 2 consisting of partial raising of road and lowering of rail to achieve required train clearance beneath road bridge
The study is only really a high level look at the options so doesn’t state which of the three options is preferred or even rule any options out, although based on the results, options at some locations would almost certainly be ruled out. The potential costs for each option a have been blacked out so we can’t see those. I’ve only looked at the Western and Southern Line crossings so if you want to see the ones on the Onehunga Line, or more detail about all of them, take a look at the report.
Morningside Dr – This is one of the most common level crossings that gets discussed as it’s also the one that probably appears the most frequently in the news. Option 2 of rail in a trench really seems like a no starter as they say it would require significant regrading of the rail line including having to lower Kingsland Station as well as the New North Rd bridge and the road underneath it.
Woodward Rd – Option 3 seems the most likely here as Option 1 would require raising the New North Rd intersection by 2m and Jersey Rd by 6.5m although they say it could be closed too. Option 2 here is also effectively ruled out here as it would be restricted by the Mt Albert station
St Jude St – St Jude St is one of the busiest crossings for road traffic in the country with almost 20,000 vehicles per day passing over it. On top of that, the crossing is effectively on the side of a steep hill. They say that for a road bridge to get back to ground level by Gt North Rd, it would need to have a gradient of a very steep 12.5%. It’s also worth noting that during double tracking the rail line (Project DART) was already lowered once, a missed opportunity to do things properly as part of that project?
St Georges Rd – As rail is already at the maximum gradient for freight an changes to the rail line would require option 2 or 3 for St Jude St.
Portage Rd – Any options for lowering the rail line have already been ruled out due to the close proximity of the New Lynn trench and Whau river crossing, both of which would otherwise have to be lowered. Again this appears to be something that could have, and should have been tied in with DART.
Glenview Rd – AT seem to be stuck with this crossing as no option is considered feasible. Option 1 would require raising the West Coast/Glenview Rd intersection by a whopping 8.5m, above the height of most of the buildings in Glen Eden. Meanwhile Option 2 would require regrading 1.2km of track and Option 3 would need 1km of track regraded. AT will have to look for other options here but once again, I can’t help but think this could have been done as part of DART when the whole line was being dug up.
Bruce McLaren Rd – The close proximity of the intersection to Railside Ave to the east of the crossing and access to industrial properties to the west makes Option 1 difficult while Options 2 or 3 would interfere with plans to add additional rail access to the stabling yard also next to the crossing.
Metcalfe Rd – Given all the other road connections to Metcalfe Rd on either side of the crossing, it makes Option 1 difficult while options 2 or 3 would require redevelopment of the Ranui station and have potential impacts on the ponds to the east.
Walters Rd – This appears to be one of the least difficult of all the crossings.
Taka St – Option 1 would likely require closing access to Takanini Rd. Option 2 would require Takanini Station to be rebuilt but given it’s never been upgraded, that’s probably not a bad thing. It would also require lowering the tracks at Manuroa Rd
Manuroa Rd – This is similar to Taka St
As mentioned earlier, other than a few crossings, most have no time frame for removal. ATAP identified level crossing removals as an important item and in their costs suggested spending $203m in the first decade and $385.3m in the second decade on addressing them. I’d certainly much rather we focused on these kinds of projects rather than mega projects like the East-West Link.