In September last year it was revealed the City Rail Link’s cost may have increased from $2.5 billion to $3.4 billion. As much as we have strongly supported CRL over the years, and continue to do so, a $900 million cost increase is massive. In some respects it is surprising there hasn’t been more scrutiny of this cost increase, especially given the CRL team didn’t even tell then Len Brown about it. They also seem to waive away the change by saying that we won’t know what the real cost will be till the tenders come in. For a bit of context, $900 million is more than the entire cost of the AMETI project that will construct a massive new busway from Panmure out to Botany.
While we continue to be strong supporters of CRL, we really do think the project team have made a number of poor decisions as its details have been developed. This includes getting rid of the prominent Beresford Square entrance to K Road, instead focusing on a very hidden away Mercury Lane entrance. It also includes plans for Albert Street post construction and, perhaps most significantly, the proposed operating patterns once CRL opens. In particular, “Purple Line”:
The purple line seems to have emerged because of it seems some people at Auckland Transport as well as the transport models are concerned people travelling on the Western Line to Newmarket and Grafton would lose a “one seat ride” once CRL opens. However, this goes against the entire philosophy of ATs approach to PT service provision that’s outlined in the New PT Network: a move away from many low frequency direct services and towards much higher frequency services with connections:
The Purple Line might look okay on diagram and in a transport but it has a number of factors that make it a poor idea. These include:
The city centre is already the busiest destination on the rail network and will become even more so once the CRL opens. The Purple Line will use up valuable “train slots” that could be allocated to more frequent services on the core blue and red routes shown in the map above.
It will also add a lot of confusion to operating patterns. Instead of just “jumping on the next train”, passengers will need to be careful about what service they take. Ironically, for many people travelling from say the west to Newmarket, it may actually be faster for them to jump on a more frequent “blue line” train and then transfer at K Road. Furthermore, those travelling from past Henderson to those stations would have to transfer anyway.
But not only will the purple line be inefficient, undermine the principles of the new network and potentially be useless to its target market, it is also extremely expensive in terms of requiring extra trains, requiring extra infrastructure at Henderson, Otahuhu and Mt Eden and requiring substantial extra operating expenses. Let’s go through each of these in turn:
- In terms of required extra trains, Henderson to Otahuhu is 52 minutes by rail, maybe a little faster if AT ever bother to speed up services. This means a two hour round trip with a bit of layover. The plans suggest that at least initially there would be a service every 20 minutes at peak. This would require at six trains, maybe seven if you count spares and so would add up to at least $60 million just for the fleet alone. Obviously it would be even more if any of those services were to run as 6-car trains.
- At Henderson and Otahuhu extra platforms are be required to terminate the service. The extra Otahuhu platform was built as part of the station upgrade but the Henderson changes will require substantial work, including to the existing council building. Combined I would imagine easily there’s another $20-50 million of additional investment at these two stations for the additional platforms, trackwork etc.
- At Mt Eden extra track structures are required to fully separate trains travelling from the west and Grafton into the CRL from those continuing between the west and Grafton. Without the Purple Line far fewer trains would travelling between the west and Grafton, likely to only be a few freight trains and empty trains to/from depots. This may not be necessary and could save further millions.
- Over time, the extra capital costs would all pale in comparison the operating services. Costs such as staff, power and maintenance will quickly add up in to the millions each and every year.
Overall it seems like the Purple Line is a bad idea. Not only does it contradict the approach to PT service provision that Auckland Transport is implementing, it introduces a more confusing and lower frequency rail service and worse, it also pushes up the construction and ongoing operational costs of the CRL project by potentially hundreds of millions of dollars. Given the massive cost increase in recent months for the project as a whole perhaps it’s time Auckland Transport abandoned this silly idea altogether.