In what seems like a lifetime ago now but was only August we released Regional Rapid Rail to much fanfare. It was quickly adopted by both the Greens and Labour and appears likely to become a cornerstone of the $1 billion per annum Regional Development (Provincial Growth) fund that is central to the Labour/NZ First coalition agreement. In short, with a new Government Regional Rapid Rail is now a serious possibility and appears incredibly well suited to the Regional Development Fund. So what do we need to think about?
Originally, when we developed Regional Rapid Rapid earlier this year, we wanted to try to get all major political parties to sign up to it. As part of trying to get National to support the concept (which unfortunately they never did), we thought it would be good to focus on a staged approach that could get something on the ground at low cost. Then we would progressively build on the success over time. This approach is summarised below:
It’s fair to say we were in two minds about this approach. On the one hand, we wanted to find a way of getting something up and running quickly and cheaply – essentially a “non-scary” way of getting broad support for the idea. But on the other hand, we didn’t want to sell the concept short by running slow, old trains. The key point of Regional Rapid Rail is that this is a step-change in better connecting Auckland, Hamilton and Tauranga much faster than would ever be possible by car. This requires fast trains and network upgrades – Stage 2 of the concept.
Jumping straight to Stage 2 means that for what is still a relatively low cost, we can achieve most of what the whole concept seeks to deliver, especially in relation to supporting a revitalisation of railway towns in the northern Waikato like Ngaruawahia, Huntly and Te Kauwhata.
Accelerating Stage 2, while also preparing for Stage 3, requires a number of next steps if we are to get it up and running in the next 5-6 years (as a point of reference, City Rail Link opens in around six years time, before CRL trains would have to terminate somewhere like Otahuhu as there are not enough available train slots into Britomart).
Here are some of the key next steps:
Protecting the Corridors: In Regional Rapid Rail we proposed a new Bombay deviation of the North Island Main Truck, a Whangamarino realignment of the current single track swamp section and a potential updated Hamilton underground station. It is imperative that the rail corridor, as well as all future stations, are protected so are available when needed. It is also possible that the Southern Motorway could be widened to Drury at the same time as the extension of the electrification due to overbridges. It is imperative that these works are future proofed for Regional Rapid Rail. Too many times have we not protected corridors and it has cost a fortune to do later or has meant a project can’t go ahead.
New Rolling Stock: Consider procurement of the new dual-mode tilt train rolling stock as soon as possible. The power of new rolling stock should not be under-estimated with Aucklanders flocking to the network since electrification the same sort of benefit would exist by providing new fit for purpose rolling stock with the range of passenger conveniences expected for longer distance intercity trips, including comfortable high-backed seats, tray tables, USB charging, tray tables and onboard Wi-Fi. Other facilities would include wheelchair accessible toilets, drinking fountains and luggage racks.
Auckland Side Works: The Labour and Greens both supported during the campaign the third main as well as the upgrade of Puhinui station. Getting these integral upgrades done as soon as possible will assist Regional Rapid Rail. The Government should also investigate if the CRL can be sped up in any way. The faster the CRL is completed the faster we can get Regional Rapid Rail into the City Centre proper.
Investigate Capital Connection Regional Rapid Rail: The Capital Connection between Palmerston North and Wellington is another corridor a Regional Rapid Rail service could work for. With upgraded trains, some track works and more frequent all-day service, as opposed to the once a day service at current the service, will be much more viable for people to use suiting a range of travel times and trip purposes, serving commuters, tourists, students and residents alike.
Integration with KiwiBuild: KiwiBuild is likely to be one of the top priorities for this new Government with the proposal to build 100,000 high quality, affordable homes over 10 years. Smart integration with KiwiBuild especially its proposed Affordable Housing Authority using Regional Rapid Rail infrastructure to help enables more affordable housing with decent transport options. In yesterday’s article, Phil Twyford the new Transport, Housing and Urban Development Minister mentioned this in regards to KiwiBuild and the Southwest-Airport Light Rail Corridor
Labour’s plans for a 20km light rail track within four years rom the Wynyard Quarter and up Queen St in Auckland’s CBD to Auckland International Airport offered significant development opportunity.
“We’re looking at creating an urban development company for the whole zone, an investment of billions of dollars. It will have a massive effect on the development potential alongside the lines and stations. This is how Cross Rail has been done in London. They used an urban development company to optimise opportunities around the stations to get apartments and retail,” he said, also citing the Gold Coast’s G:Link.
This model would also be perfect for Regional Rapid Rail.
It’s my hope that the new Government will be committed to Regional Rapid Rail and Phil Tywfords comments the other day indicate so. It was very popular, it not outrageously expensive, even Stage 3 is comparable to some RONS and has the ability to act as a catalyst for a large scale of regional development.
If you have not given the full Regional Rapid Rail report a read I highly recommend (though admittedly I am a little biased).