On Saturday, The Spinoff published a fantastic and concerning piece by Simon Wilson on the City Rail Link. It comes following an interview with the CRL project director Chris Meale, whose answers to a few questions ought to have the new board of City Rail Link Limited, along with their stakeholders in Council and the Government asking some serious questions. The two issues are ones close to our hearts and that we’ve written on before, the level of future proofing and the Beresford Square entrance.
It’s an important time for the CRL, the tendering process starts to get towards the pointy end of things. The deadline for the Expressions of Interest close on Wednesday, after which the eight remaining bidders will be whittled down to just two.
Just two weeks ago I questioned if we were building the CRL with enough capacity for the future. As I pointed out, the CRL, once fully developed, will more than double the capacity of our rail network. But that doesn’t seem all that much when you consider the CRL team claim it’s being built with a 100-year design life.
You can’t clip more lanes onto a tunnel. Meale said, “You only get one shot when you’re building underground.”
True that. He added that the CRL will be a “hundred-year asset”. Which makes capacity an issue. The thing about that is, doubling the capacity of the existing lines is not a big target. As rail transit becomes the most appealing way for many people to get into and through the central city, demand will grow to far greater levels than that. This is something else we know in Auckland: when you build public transport, they do come. You’d be nuts not to think it will happen with the CRL.
Meale talked at length about all this. “Future proofing”, he said, was a watchword.
So I asked him, why are the platforms at Karangahape Station going to be only 150 metres long?
“Why would they be longer?” he asked.
I said that the current trains, when they have six units, are 144 metres, so if more units are added they’ll overhang the platforms.
“Who’s talking about longer trains?” he said.
But this is not a new idea. Auckland’s trains have always had the capacity to add extra units and many of the platforms on the current network are long enough to cope with that. I asked if that wasn’t part of the future proofing, to build in extra capacity by allowing for longer trains.
“Longer trains?” he said. “They may be. That’s a decision for another day.”
Not exactly a future proofing sort of thing to say.
If we don’t design the CRL now with the ability to add longer trains in the future if they’re needed, we’ll never be able to go back and do it again. From my post the other week, it appears that it’s only the Karangahape Rd station that’s not able to have longer trains.
Interestingly this line appears in Auckland Transport’s Code of Practice (ATCOP) for rail stations although obviously there’s some limitations to this.
The station design must be able to be expanded by future additions without major re-planning or major functional/structural alteration.
As the design of a remodelled or new station evolves, due care must be taken to not preclude further enhancements, changes in patronage or services. At present the design must meet the service levels specified to some future date. But that design should make provision for increases in services and an increase in the level of amenities provided. The design should reflect the module concept adopted by AT in terms of structures, but also make allowances for future systems such as ‘Integrated Ticketing’ automated gates.
Who knows, perhaps they’re right and we won’t need longer platforms, in which case the space on the platform could be used for retailing or other amenities, but my guess is come to regret such a decision.
We’ve long be critical of the decision to only initially build the Mercury Lane entrance to the Karangahape Rd Station, leaving the more prominent and more popular Beresford Square entrance to be built at some other time, if it ever is. They’ve said in the past that this was mainly because this entrance is easier to build and allows for more new development around it.
Here’s Wilson again.
I asked him, why will Karangahape Station have only one entrance? (It’s going to be south of K Road, down Mercury Lane, just by where the Mercury Plaza is now.)
He said the EOI requires allowance be made for a second entrance on Beresford Square, if it’s needed in the future. Yes, I said, but why not build it now?
Meale doesn’t think it will ever be built. “We’ve modelled the demand. Everything we’ve looked at suggests we won’t need a second entrance.”
Given that these days every prediction for public transport use in Auckland is quickly exceeded, this seemed bold.
You don’t think it will ever be needed?
As for Mercury Lane, passengers will have quite a steep walk up the street to K Road. I asked why there won’t be escalators rising to Karangahape Rd itself.
“That’s not a difficult walk,” he said. “It’s good for you.”
Not difficult for him or me, perhaps, but moderately fit adults are not exactly the benchmark for ease of use.
That last comment is astounding and that alone should have the board and stakeholders asking serious questions. The Mercury Lane entrance is located down a steep street away from K Rd that I imagine would be difficult for many sections of society who struggle with mobility. Here’s what it looks like today and I know many people who would struggle to make it up there. By comparison a Beresford Square entrance would be at the same level as K Rd making for an easy and level connection to the area.
What’s more, it seems that once again this is a case where the CRL team have once again completely ignored AT’s own rules regarding station design. Once again here’s ATCOP and while I believe it’s primarily talking about within the station, given the K Rd station is about serving K Rd, access for passengers to K Rd should also be included. Further, given stations are also required to comply with national guidelines for access and mobility, my guess is that if the access to K Rd was included then it wouldn’t comply.
Stations need to provide access for disabled persons to and within the precinct.
Primary access routes should be designed to meet the access requirements of people with disabilities. Access routes should be designed in such a way as to provide safe and easy access for disabled users in a manner appropriate to the specific considerations of the site and station requirements. Accessible routes should be clearly identified and conveniently located as much as practicable
CRL team also talk up the Mercury Lane entrance as being good for connections to light rail, which would be about a 180m walk along Cross St, although at least in this case it’s a flat walk. But this ignores that a Beresford would allow for easier connections to the huge multitude of buses that travel through the area, including the inner link, most of the buses from the inner/northwest and in future even the NEX3.
Then of course there’s the age-old issue of modelling. CRLL consistently say that they’ve designed the project to cope with the expected future demand. As I understand it, one issue is they’ve modelled demand based on the capacity of the trains we’ll have, not the total demand from the public. In other words, we have 6-car trains so the maximum possible demand is a bunch of 6-car trains full of people – of which only some will get off at K Rd. My guess is that over the 100-year design life of the CRL, we’ll see a lot more demand than the CRL can provide.
My guess is a lot of the thinking with the CRL can be summed in this quote.
He and Carol Greensmith both talked about how because of space and heritage issues it was relatively easy to build on Mercury Lane but not on Beresford Square. In the end, Meale said, “We took the line of least resistance.”
We’re getting what’s easier, and it isn’t the same as what’s better.
If we’re going to spend up to $3.4 billion then we deserve better.