A couple of weeks ago Harriet kick-started a pretty big discussion on whether Parnell station is fundamentally flawed in its current location. The post was picked up by The Spinoff and provoked much interest in the comments.

In essence, because the station was located up the Parnell valley, its walk-up catchment is far smaller than if the station had been located further down, towards the rail bridge over Parnell Rise. A station further down the valley would be closer to the University, closer to the large office park in Carlaw Park and closer to the many apartments and other activities located in this part of the city. This is fairly obvious by looking at the map below, which compares the two locations. The station was build in the location of the red rectangle below:

The Spinoff recently published a follow-up on the issue, where Simon Wilson interviews Waitemata Local Board chair Pippa Coom on what’s planned to improve access to the station in the future. Here are a few excerpts:

While there’s only one access point on that east (Parnell Rd) side right now, there will be two. There will also be, in time, a greenway for walking and cycling that runs alongside the rail line all the way from Newmarket. The rail line runs through a tunnel to the south of the station; next to that tunnel is an older one, currently sealed up, which will be reopened for the greenway.

On the west side, there will be a walkway directly connecting the station with the new complex at Carlaw Park. It just hasn’t been built yet. It will link to an underpass (or possibly an overbridge) at the north end of the station, so you can catch trains going either way. It should open quite soon…

…The station is on a barren stretch of land, but the site is empty because it’s destined to become a very large retirement village. The station will become a major asset for the residents of that village.

Being slightly cynical, it seems like a lot of this is about making the best of a bad decision, or potentially sending good money after bad. It will certainly be interesting to see whether NZTA are willing to subsidise this future investment, given they weren’t willing to help fund the current station. A really strong and clear pedestrian link down to the University appears like it’s still possible, while after the City Rail Link is finished, this section of the rail network will have less pressure on it, meaning that all trains passing through will be able to stop without stuffing up the whole train network.

I do think there is a lesson to learn from this stuff-up though, and that is about being really clear why we want a new station, what the major target market is and how we can best meet the needs of the most people. It seems that what happened here, if we set aside the personalities, is that a trade-off was made between serving the university and major employment area further to the north against serving the town centre and (theoretically at least) the Domain and Museum further to the south. Or put differently, whether the target market was more about occasional shoppers and visitors or many thousands of students and workers. The Spinoff article summarises this point well:

So, in summary, is the location bad? It’s further from the Stanley St/Strand workforce than it could have been, which is unfortunate. The rail network is supposed to become a key element in reducing congestion on the roads, so why were the needs of commuters not prioritised in the decision of where to site the station? Why prioritise shoppers and residents up on the hill in Parnell, when they are already well served by public transport in the form of the Link bus and other buses?

There will always be strong advocates for serving the needs of local businesses and residents. The key is ensuring that those argument are balanced by others and that the evidence behind key decisions is well understood and the trade-offs are well known. Did Auckland University advocate on behalf of its students? Did the major employers in the Carlaw Park office park advocate for their staff? Should they need to? We will continue to explore the process by which Auckland Transport made this decision.

In the meanwhile, if we return back to the title of this post – “Is Parnell Station fixable?” – I think the answer is a little bit of yes but mainly no. Major development next to the station will probably boost its use and better connections to the surrounding area will improve things (off an extremely low base). But ultimately by almost every measure a location to the north would have clearly been better and this is something which can’t be fixed, unless the current site is abandoned and we start again. Certainly this means the role of Parnell Station in being the “University Station” is probably forever lost, meaning the Aotea Station will need to play this role (and increasing the need for Te Ara Tomo).

Perhaps shifting it is something we can think about again after the CRL is completed and this stretch of track isn’t as critical as it is right now. Personally, I’ve always loved something like this idea with a bridge straight out over the tracks from Heather St, which would provide an easier grade to to access the Parnell mainstreet, or even act as extension of that mainstreet. The old Newmarket station building could still be used and placed on the the outcrop of land currently used as a carpark, along with a plaza and stairs/access down to Carlaw Park ave. Relatively easy paths back up alongside the tacks could still provide easily accessible access to the panned new retirement village.

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  1. I don’t think demolishing the station and build a new one would be possible at this stage.
    Moving forward they just need to put in more money to fix it. They could consider fund the connections by value capture the new apartments and from the shops.
    For example, the new retirement village will be responsible to build a link the the station. The Parnell shopping strips should also fund the money to build a direct flat leveled link to the main street.

    In the future, if the Auckland port moved out, we can potentially build a new station at vector arena and develop the port land.

    1. Even with the port there there is still a high chance that at some point there will be a station developed in the vicinity of the old Strand Station. It might be only for Eastern Line trains though but with the CRL there will be plenty of places for people to change from that direction and it will be easy enough to do at Britomart from the South while from the East they won’t have to.

  2. I didn’t think much of it until recent trip from Papakura to the University I really got the first-hand experience of the bad location for this station! I didn’t realise how bad it was. The Carlaw Park link once finished will definitely make it better, but this is such a terrible location as is.

    1. Wont the CRL provide better access for the University/AUT than a big hike from Parnell no matter where you put the station?
      The blue circle shows a catchment containing Birdwood Cr and St Georges Bay Rd- these are all residential areas.
      Something in the back of my memory once showed escalators from the Shopping strip to the railway station- it is quite a steep climb?- Not sure if that was the case .

      1. The lower part of St Georges Bay Rd (just outside both circles) is mostly office conversions and probably the largest employment zone in Parnell. The other employment zones (Carlaw Park, Heather St) are all within both circles.

        Interestingly, Google suggests 17 minutes walk from Britomart to University (pins at recreation centre), and 18 minutes from Parnell Station via Parnell Rise. So the Carlaw Park connection would help reduce that (13 minutes from CP student village). But Aotea Station will only be 10 minutes walk…

        A shame that the council’s original Heritage Precinct proposal got kyboshed (by the council’s property arm iirc), but I think the station works had already been started before KR put the land on the market.

        1. Actually I think that the best way to go (and the one I use) from Parnell Station to the Uni is through the Domain Walk then Grafton Road overbridge – takes about 15 min at a brisk pace and has the advantage of being less steep compared to the Parnell Rise route

          Also I think that if one was coming from the South post-CRL, wouldn’t it still be faster to get off at Parnell and take the slightly longer walk instead of spending more time on the train to loop around to Aotea?

        2. You would hope so. If people going to uni use the first possible station, that leaves space on the train for others to get on.

        3. Isn’t Parnell going to be consigned to Onehunga only? With a Papakura-Aotea-Britomart-Manukau running pattern? Or possibly just stopping at Britomart and turning around as now. Either way, if you want uni students to get off before Aotea, it would be from Grafton and you’d have to sell it as a kind of scenic-exercise route thing.


        4. Whirstler – you are correct, that seems to be a forgotten component of this debate. Post CRL Parnell is going to be serviced by 4tph that terminate at Newmarket and 2tph that terminate at Onehunga. For most students Aotea will be much easier to get to.

          Based on this I don’t think it is worth throwing too much more money at Parnell.

        5. Or we could not use the shittest running pattern possible and actually provide a useful service to Parnell?

        6. Swanson to Manukau via Aotea and Panmure.
          Henderson to Pukekohe via Aotea and Parnell.
          Otahuhu/Onehunga to Otahuhu via Grafton and Panmure.

          Three lines, starting 6tph and ramping up to 8tph each. Heaps of service on all of the inner lines. No staging in the CBD to leave plenty of room for intercity services. Most impotantly, only otahuhu keeps that stupid line that goes through stations twice in each direction, with two different destinations.

          I’d seriously consider closing the Onehunga branch or changing in to LRT for a second airport line when airport rail goes in. This will allow us to run trains Papakura to Otahuhu via Grafton and Panmure when we need more capacity on the Southern.

        7. Sailor, why would you run the main line from the south through the slower, less direct route to the CRL through parnell, and not the faster, more direct route via Grafton? Put the little, low use line thorugh the less effective route, and the busy main line through the main route.

        8. Good point. I hadn’t thought of that.

          Lets try:
          Swanson to Manukau via Aotea and Panmure.
          Henderson to Otahuhu/Onehunga via Aotea and Parnell. (potentially extended to Papakura)
          Pukekohe to Otahuhu via Grafton and Panmure.

        9. Better but I’m not convinced on the value of having three lines on the base network. You end up having overlapping lines with lots of frequency all day every day, despite any given line not being especially frequent.

          For example, I’d rather have two lines at ten minute headways each all day, than three lines at fifteen minutes headway each all day.

        10. Lets do an apples to apples comparison though. my network uses way fewer trains that AT’s. So you would obviously be able to run those frequencies all day if AT think that they can do their four line network all day.

          It also isn’t actually possible to run a two line network without eliminating short runners so you will still have to run shedloads of trains. I think that my proposed running pattern is the most efficient way to give every station a ten minute frequency and have enough capacity at inner stations without completely changing the running pattern at peak times.

        11. I assume in each case you’d have extra peak frequency and short runners, I’m talking about the base all day pattern here. YOu’res would have more trains and more km all day.

        12. That’s efficient network planning in a nutshell, determine the minimum you need to supply your minimum service standards to every station (two lines for four termini), then add any extra capacity to parts of those lines where and when it is required if the base doesn’t meet peak demands.

          Purple line not withstanding of course.

      2. Depends where at Uni you want to go.
        Carlaw Park to UoA Business school is a 9 minutes walk, 11 meters climb.
        Aotea station to UoA Library is also 9 minutes walk, but 22m climb.

        So in reality Aotea station is a bigger hike… 😉

        1. OGGB is actually pretty inconvenient a measuring point. At the moment, if you approach from Grafton Road you have to walk past all of OGGB and to get only to Arts 2. It’s a gentle incline (ish) for several hundred metres. On the other hand, if you come up via Carlaw Park you walk up a vastly steeper slope (and wait much much longer to cross Stanley St to boot) and then have to walk several hundred metres along flat ground to get to OGGB and then you’ve got to climb up a set of stairs.

          From the Library to Arts 2 you walk downhill for about 100m to the traffic lights and cross. Done.

          Oh, and here’s the kicker, no-one wants to go to Arts 2: there’s nothing there. (I used it here because due to the construction-demolition going on in Engineering Arts 2 is the most easily accessed building from OGGB.)

          To be fair, OGGB is a popular destination and it’s why I presently use Parnell (not via Carlaw Park, that’s a mug’s route) but even though it has some big lecture theatres, I think everywhere else is more in demand. And easier to get to via Britomart routes (e.g. Lumley Centre lifts or Anzac’s relatively gentle curves).

          Basically, I think it’s a very simple question: are you going to OGGB? Although given (https://www.cityraillink.co.nz/crls-benefits/) I am really not convinced it’s a relevant question (except to those students who can use the post-CRL Onehunga line).

  3. If it had been done properly, as per the flash projected artists impression in Transport Blog a couple of years back, with ALL trains servicing it, then yes it has a chance.

    But leave it more or less as is and AT may as well abandon it. And I get the horrible feeling that the skimping will continue.

    1. As you write, it is 400 metres extra – the operative word here being “extra”. 400m on top of an already long walk will deter many.

        1. Actually I was being inclusive. I’m saying that there might be people in that retirement village that wouldn’t have access to the station if it were further away. People with prams are mobile, obviously, and remember that the gravel and crap currently surrounding the station can (and probably will) be paved in the future upgrades, so your pram will work better and you won’t have to carry it.

  4. “There will always be strong advocates for serving the needs of local businesses and residents. The key is ensuring that those argument are balanced by others and that the evidence behind key decisions is well understood and the trade-offs are well known. Did Auckland University advocate on behalf of its students? Did the major employers in the Carlaw Park office park advocate for their staff? Should they need to?”

    That’s a crucial point both in this case and more broadly with civic engagement, and the answer is a resounding yes. Public interest is infinitely contestable – somebody/something always fills the vacuum of public opinion. So people need to be pro-stuff as well as anti-stuff. This blog does a good job of filling some of that vacuum.

  5. I recall Mike Lee copping a lot of flak from people on this blog. Simon Wilson’s article absolves him so maybe a few apologies are in order.

      1. I was just about to post the same link! As it happens i think its fair to say that AT management made a mistake in deciding to locate the station here, while also acknowledging that a lot of unhelpful pressure came from mike lee. Who you might recall was on the board of AT at the time.

        Blames a tricky thing, but in this case there seems to be enough to go around.

        1. I realise for some reason Mike Lee is the devil on this site, quite why I don’t know, but did he order it at gun point to be exactly there or was there a process that reached that decision?

          That grade is quite steep for trains and the area where the platform is located was leveled to a lesser grade. It drops away slightly more at the bottom toward the bridge so locating a platform there may not have worked too well overall. In fact the grade was considered too steep to safely or at least efficiently stop the SA’s on going down the hill I recall.

          Again if the station was equipped with the lifts and bridges and connecting paths it was supposed to have it would be substantially better than the supremely half arsed mess there is now!

        2. From what I’ve heard it’s because he’s fought against some local projects (particularly cycling) and of course was one of the biggest voices against the passing of the UP which stopped me from voting for him myself. I think he may also be a supporter of a HR airport rail option while this blog supports the LR option (though a difference of opinion shouldn’t be a reason for demonisation).

          However he did support the skypath and was a supporter of rail development including the Onehunga line reopening which he had to fight for over the heads of the AT “modellers” and I’d emphasise that was at a time where it was far less popular to advocate for better rail services than nowdays, and before this blog had even been created.

          So it seems a bit rich that he’s been demonised on here even more than than the likes of Quax and Wood who’ve done almost nothing for PT in Auckland, and that the blog has been so reticent about having a go at some in AT leadership like Mark Lambert & Greg Edmonds who have at least as much to answer for.

          Yes, absolutely Lee deserves criticism, but like you I’m a bit bemused by the personal demonisation and in my opinion it has slightly taken the lustre off the professionalism this blog has exhibited since its creation.

        3. Some good points there Simon.
          Regarding Greg, I have worked with him previously and he really is a pencil-pushing numbers guy. Has made some decisions in the past that don’t really achieve anything except some short-term savings which end up costing more in the long-term. I’m not too sure how he is doing at AT but if he is still doing the same thing then that’s not doing anyone any favours.

        4. I think its fair to say that this site and it’s predecessor thoroughly raked Quax and Wood over the coals!

          Remember how they invented the word Quaxing to ridicule Quax’s claim that nobody ever went shopping without a car?!

          Or the bit where they lambasted Wood for interviewing a cat who was ‘against skypath’, or his claims of the ‘heritage’ concrete road in Northcote.

          Bit of selective memory going on, GA seems perfectly happy to call out anyone they don’t agree with.

    1. I agree that Mike Lee deserves an apology from GA. I appreciate the robust debate but the first post completely misrepresented the decision making process and issues with the location. It led to unwarranted, personalised attacks on Cr Lee.

      I understand a number of different locations were considered but rejected for a variety of reasons. For example, the bridge site was never realistic because construction of the platform would require rebuilding the bridge at huge cost (estimated at $40m).

      I think Parnell station is going to be a success but there are clearly things that need to be fixed first. I also have greater appreciation for the station building after hearing a presentation by Brent Lancaster, General Manager Project Management office, Kiwi Rail on the extensive restoration work (presented to the Heritage Advisory Panel yesterday – but not yet online)

      1. Hi Pippa – As somebody who lives in Ellerslie and used to work in Carlaw Park, it was incredibly frustrating to find out that there wasn’t to be a connection to CP in the near term. I understand that there are many factors that determine what order things are financed but please tell me that CP is a high priority – The increased capture should make it a no brainer imo.

      2. The guy is perfectly happy to put his face front and centre for work he has driven such as improvements in the rail network and regional park purchases, even though there were many others involved in these two.

        As soon as he champions a project that is so clearly a poor decision his supporters downplay his role as there were ‘many others involved’. He is a publicly elected representative he needs to be able to take the criticism with the accolades, and like all good politicians someone else goes under the bus when their ideas fail.

  6. The bridge across Heather St/extension of Parnell main st would make sense anyway, no?

    Would provide better access both to the main st and the station.

  7. Its suboptimal compared to the site further north but then I don’t think it deserves all the doom and gloom.

    The development of the retirement village as well as increased access ways, particularly to Carlaw park, will see lots use it eventually. Then there are (some) students, as well as shoppers, lunchers/diners etc. I could see a lot of tourists using it to access the Domain.

    It won’t be the “4th busiest station on the network” but it won’t be idle, wither.

    1. I agree. The big IF is if the connections from the station are improved, this station could be a popular destination for both Parnell and the Domain for both museum and events (I sure hope trains stop there for the ANZAC Day service next year).

      I’m sorry to say but I think this blog is overstating the whole uni student destination thing. Surely the vast majority of students will come in from the Southern, Eastern, and Western lines and alight at Aotea (and here’s hoping the Albert Park tunnel project gets the green light that would promote uni student use of that station even more).

      Matt, I agree with the idea of the bridge. I’d also like to see one span the valley from the domain over to Parnell with sections down to the platforms.

      1. If they want to promote it for Domain access to big events like the Dawn Service, Lantern Festival and Christmas in the Park, then they will need to upgrade the horrible, dark, gravel track that goes between the two.

        There is no lighting along there, and all these events occur in the dark.

        1. From the Mike Lee blogpost linked above:

          “There had been some debate about the location of the actual station. Ontrack had wanted it further down the hill next to the rail bridge, being closer to the University, but I argued with the support of the Parnell community, this would not serve the Parnell Village, nor the Museum, ‘a Museum station’ always an important consideration in my mind (besides a 100 year old heritage building would look out of place in overlooking Stanley Street).”

          How did he imagine people would get from that station in a gully to either the museum or shopping street on adjacent hills? Dunce.

  8. To me, the amusing thing about the Parnell debacle is the fact that Kiwirail’s Auckland head office is only a few metres away from the rail lines, but is a long walk away from the station.

    Still, I don’t imagine that many of their staff use the trains for commuting.

  9. A member of the Franklin Board told me that Mike Lee pushed for the Parnell Station when he was on the AT Board, ahead of doing up the Pukekohe Station. So it is a now a memorial for a Councillor’s personal project which had no planning involved. Great. I fully support Goff not having Councillors on the AT Board.

  10. For me the Parnell station is somewhat bitter/sweet. I work in the adjacent Carlaw Park offices, so it is great being able to commute on the train to work in a reliable timeframe. On the flip side, it was certainly frustrating waiting firstly for the platforms to be built, and then secondly through the huge gap until it was actually completed and put into service. Also equally frustrating is that the time waiting to put the station into service could have been used to construct the access from Nicholls Lane up to the station. But no, the work was only put out to tender in January, about a month before the station opened.

    I see that the contract for the access path has been let recently (26 June) to John Fillmore Contracting for $1.6m. This is a lot more than the original budget of $750k, so let’s hope that we get a bit more than just a “path”. Has anyone seen any details of the path to be constructed?

    The access to the station on the Domain side is a bit of a shambles. If you walk up the steps from Carlaw Park towards the Domain, you come to a sign that points towards Newmarket that says “Parnell Station – 6 mins”. This leads you along the gravel access road, but goes steadily downhill thereafter – firstly leading across a (wet) grassed area, then to a low lying bog, before taking you up a steep, overgrown track. You then arrive at a gate onto the platform – which is locked and marked no access, and have to keep walking up to the Newmarket end to actually get on to the platform. So you finish up late, tired and with muddy shoes. So really the signpost shouldn’t be directing people this way until the proper pathway is constructed.

    Arriving at Parnell in the morning, I usually walk up the path that goes towards the museum, then turn right to take the long path that wanders around below Lower Domain Drive, and eventually doubles back to the steps at Carlaw Park. But even that path is a bit rugged when it rains.

    So I am really, really, looking forward to a permanent and direct accessway.

    In terms of patronage, I am surprised at the number of people getting off the train in the morning at Parnell – typically between 20-30 people on the trains that I catch. So it will be interesting to see whether the numbers have risen since the first month that Harriet reported on.

  11. I live in Cheshire Street and would like to use the station more. But it is actually quite dangerous.I have been accosted by people both going into the underpass and walking up into the Domain. Inadequate lighting or oversight. Very unsafe.

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