Every Saturday we dig into the archives to highlight a post from around 5 years ago. Today’s post looks back at plans for the development of Auckland’s rail network prior to light-rail coming along. One key thing to note in reading this post is that it illustrates that building Heavy Rail to the North Shore and the Airport requires a new, underground, rail tunnel that runs east-west across the city centre – a “CRL 2” in a sense. With the development of high-capacity light-rail as an option for Auckland there is the potential to achieve what “The Cross” aims for at a much lower cost. This is outlined in our most recent version of the Congestion Free Network.
There is currently a great deal of work happening on both the CRL and and a study into ways to optimise access to the airport and the rest of south west AK. There is also a huge and exciting revolution underway for the entire bus network in full flight. So as we wait for the results of this work I think it is useful to run through various options for the city as a whole across all modes, but in order to do this we do need to look at some parts separately and in detail.
Here I want to have a look at the rail network alone. And in particular the next possible stages beyond the CRL and how that might all connect together. Yes this is only part of the RTN resource but because rail is, by definition, a closed system, it does require understanding on its own logic. And we need to have some idea of where we’re heading in order to not close off important opportunities. Peter discussed lineal routes with branches in his latest post. And I did a post on how important Aotea Station will be for the whole of Auckland, here. In this post I want explore a different variation in network design to the one discussed in my previous Aotea post, but one that still has Aotea as the essential heart of the network.
It seems to me that a combination of two largely discrete lines is the most elegant and efficient way to serve Auckland. This pattern reconciles the shape of the existing network with the most pressing new needs. And because no route can be designed separately from how it will be run we need to think about how best to integrate the next major addition to the network, after the CRL and the extension to the airport, the North Shore Line. This line could operate in isolation across the harbour but it would be better if it integrates more fully with the rest of the system. And happily by doing so it creates a more balanced network than the one we have now, or even the much improved network we’ll have once the CRL is built. In the Aotea post I looked at connecting North to East, and West to South. Here is another option with different advantages: North/South and East/West; forming a simple cross shaped network of two lines. Potential 2030+ network:
Now feel free to haggle about various details. How exactly the airport is best reached is a whole debate in itself and deserving of its own post. And whether the North Shore line just heads to Akoranga and Takapuna and allows the the busway north of the Aoranga Interchange Station to serve the northern Shore is also a good debate. You can see that I’m not a great fan of the full Onehunga to Avondale line as it has both a very expensive steep section and a dubious running pattern. Happy to be argued with about that. Of course if there was a strategy to develop Marsden Pt Port and therefore the freight route was put through this route that would change my view.
The big point is, just two lines: North-South and West-East. Hinging on the all important Aotea Station. Rolling stock stabled at yards on the fringes. I added the Mt Roskill spur because this is a booming area and the buses there could do with some relief, and because post CRL rail will be so much faster on the Western Line into and through the city. But also because it is a cost effective way to balance the Western and Eastern Line running patterns. There are also questions around direct West South running through Grafton: I’m a fan, especially once rail reaches the airport as people from all over will be heading there, and it makes no sense to send every trip through the busiest CBD section. Note that the Mt Eden Station has moved with access to both Dominion Rd and Mt Eden roads and is an inexpensive surface station south of the junction to the tunnel entrance and the branch to Grafton.
The really interesting part with this model is how it elegantly knits the North Shore Line into the Southern Line at the bottom of Parnell with the useful addition of a University Station and gives us an opportunity to all but avoid the slow and inefficient loop around the back of Vector arena:
Here’s a close up of Stanley St. Sitting on the train through here I have often thought how easy it would be to just straighten that bridge out at the bottom of Parnell stay above the traffic on a short viaduct and slide into a tunnel entrance into the cliff on Constitution Hill. Especially as it is so painful crawling around the back of the Vector Arena, and how many of those on board are heading up town from Britomart anyhow. This would also sort out the conflicted Britomart entrance at Quay Park, leaving it for Eastern Line and Intercity trains only.
There are two options, the northerly one over the pub, or a more southerly one between two buildings on the east side of Stanley St, if possible. Unfortunately the building site in the background image between these two is now a building, occupied by Kiwi Rail on the floor level with the track [!]. The land on the other side of Stanley Street I believe is owned by NZTA as they have further massive motorway plans for poor old Grafton Gully.
A University station would be tricky to site and make for a short run to Aotea, but would be extremely busy immediately and not only for the Universities but also the courts, the Art Gallery, the Library and so on. But more importantly I think it is essential to take pressure off Aotea Station as it would likely to become overwhelmed by both Southern Line and Northern Line riders as the only central city destination. There are of course heritage factors to consider too, as there are preexisting tunnels [and here] in the basalt and scoria on this route. But what a great opportunity to access them. We could leave the station cavity rock walls exposed , in an even cooler volcanic version of the Stockholm Subway. There are so many ways our network could be wonderful see here from examples from around the world. I particularly like Shanghai’s light show.
Personally I think the University Station could be called Princes St, Albert Park or even Albert Barracks and it should be sited with very public street entrances as well as in the quad as it’s not just about the Universities. It seems to make more sense for the line from Wynyard Point to be under Wellesley St than Victoria St, but either way here are a couple of options with possible station exists in white:
No route with underground stations and tunneling is cheap. But it is not as long nor as steep as the CRL. Of course the harbour crossing is expensive too. But that needs to be put into the context of the numbers that the proposed road crossing of the harbour come to. And it would staged; Aotea to the busway Interchange Station at Akoranga is essentially the harbour crossing. And this plan to link this line to the existing Southern line could follow later. The real question is about the value of these competing ideas for the city as a whole. The fact that there is absolutely nowhere for thousands of additional cars to go either side of any further road crossing whereas a line like this can move tens of thousands of people day and night irrespective of the congestion above both into and right through the city. It directly connects the businesses and beaches of Takapuna to everywhere on the rest of the network including the airport. Like the CRL it helps unlock the hidden value in our already existing long rail lines.
Albany to Airport: It could be called the ‘A’ Line or the ‘A’ Train: ….I look forward to your views.