In the comments and on Twitter recently has been some discussion about what would a Crosstown Light Rail line look like, while I think we have a lot on our plate, there isn’t any harm in looking at how it could fit in.
A strategic level crosstown public transport route isn’t a new idea. It’s been appearing on maps for a while now such as this rapid transit map on Auckland Transport’s website and even in ATAP (below). In both cases this shows a route from New Lynn to Onehunga and is assumed to be a bus, but the details are fairly vague.
Light rail could be a big step up so in thinking about what a crosstown route would need to deliver, for me, the key aims were:
- Solving the PT accessibility issues of large number of western residents who work in the Penrose/Onehunga, Airport and Southern employment zones;
- To the extent possible not interfere with local bus routes;
- Attempting to leave space on East/West arterials in the Central Isthmus for safe bike infrastructure;
- Keep costs down (As while incredibly useful will never carry the same level of passengers as many of the other routes we are planning Light Rail for);
- Link with as many strategic PT connections as possible creating a bigger network effect
- Provide crosstown capacity taking pressure off the CRL in the future;
- Limited severance and does not hinder placemaking;
After a rather large think, I came up with an option that I feel provides many benefits while keeping costs low and utilising assets we have, or are about to build.
In essence, it involves using and extending the light rail that is already intended to be built as part of the airport project and extending that along the Avondale-Southdown line.
Stage 1 – Avondale – Onehunga/Airport
Starting at Avondale, an upgrade to the train station would put light rail alongside, perhaps not to dissimilar to what’s been built at Helensvale on the Gold Coast (biggest version of the image I could find sorry).
The line would follow the Western Line, passing under Blockhouse Bay Rd using the spare span that already exists as part of the bridge.
It would then use the Avondale-Southdown designation, crossing New North Rd on either a new signalised intersection or a more expensive grade separated crossing. From there it would be relatively easy work using the existing rail designation and then connecting to the proposed Light Rail to the Airport route near the Dominion Rd interchange. Like with the old idea of a heavy rail spur to Mt Roskill, there is the option for one or two stations along the route before it gets to Dominion Rd. After that, services would use the already planned route to get to Onehunga and possibly beyond.
All up, the line would be about 4.4km and much of it would be in an existing rail designation and relatively easy to build. Furthermore, the line would be nearly completely grade separated and services to Onehunga would be able to utilise infrastructure we already intend to build. The line would use the same rolling stock and depot as the other proposed Light Rail lines. All of this would make it not only very fast, but also relatively cheap to build, all while leaving east/west arterial streets for local buses and cycling. It would link the Western, and Southwestern lines as well as a few major bus routes.
The Dominion Rd to Onehugna corridor, being completely off-line, is likely to have additional capacity compared to the Dominion Rd section. This would mean there is plenty of capacity to run these east-west services. Most likely they would run from Avondale to Onehugna but could potentially run all the way to the airport too.
I know some people are very keen on the Avondale-Southdown corridor buts lets be honest here;
- There are other ways we can move rail freight through Auckland even with the increased role for Northport without needing it;
- A lot of upgrades beyond those potentially slated by the new Government which need to happen first on the North Auckland Line such as upgrading signalling before Avondale-Southdown required;
- It’s going to be expensive and pretty unlikely at least in the current form to easily happen (Just look at the number of grade-separated crossings through the suburbs it will need, as believe new heavy rail level crossings are non-compliant in the Unitary Plan);
Travel times would be slashed
Avondale – Airport at peak would be under 25 minutes down from over a 1 hour today;
Avondale – Onehunga would be under 15 minutes down from around 34 minutes today;
The sections through parks such as Hendon also are unlikely to destroy amenity or create large severance as we could consider using green tracks for these sections allowing us to delicately integrate transport and space.
Stage 2 – New Lynn & Penrose
One possible next step would be extending the line to New Lynn, connecting it with the growing Metro Centre there. That would also allow an interchange with the hub of the Western bus network meaning much more potential two-seat west-south journeys. This would likely be along Gt North Rd but there would be difficulty in crossing over the western line.
Another extension we could think about is taking the line to Penrose to allow for an interchange with the Southern Line. This could be by re-purposing the existing Onehunga Line to Light Rail. The Onehunga line will likely pose a problem in the future it is going to be frustrating to double track meaning lower frequency, it also slows down southern services due to the flat junction. A more frequent service connecting to Penrose may end up being a better service to users of the current line than the current heavy rail service, the line could also easily add an additional Mt Smart stop closer to the stadium.
This line could also in future take pressure off the CRL as it would be over 10 minutes faster for West/South trips. This would free up future CRL capacity for other passengers, because let’s be honest the CRL will get busy.
Stage 3 – Further Extensions
We could create even greater crosstown options in the future with some further extensions.
Extension Option 1 – Panmure/Sylvia Park
After getting light rail over the existing rail lines at Penrose, it could be sent down Penrose Road to turn connect to either Sylvia Park or Panmure stations. Penrose Rd would likely need some widening in many sections and this would likely be much more expensive than previous stages. Sylvia Park would be cheaper to connect to an allow an additional strategic PT connection to the Metro Centre there plus the station, however, Panmure would allow connection with the hub of the Eastern New Network as well as the Eastern Line.
Extension Option 2 – Northwest
The would be an additional advantage from being able to connect through to the proposed Northwest LRT line. There are a few options here but I am not sure if they make much sense for the foreseeable future due to the expense and lack of clear routes.
In short, Stage 1, and to large extent Stage 2;
- Solves PT accessibility issues of westies who work in the Penrose/Onehunga, Airport and Southern employment zones by drastically slashing travel times;
- Allows local bus routes to largely operate business as usual;
- Frees up streets like Mt Albert Rd to have a larger cycling rather than PT infrastructure focus;
- Is relatively low cost heavily utilising proposed infrastructure, as well as cheap greenfield or protected corridor.
- Links with the Western New Network, Southern Line, Southwestern-Airport Line, Western Line as well as many other bus services like Sandringham Rd;
- Provides crosstown capacity taking pressure off the CRL in the future;
- Does not create severance nor does it hinder placemaking;
We do need to be careful of mode bias and using the right tool for the right job. Rail is not always going to be the best option, however, in this case, due to the unique circumstances of the Avondale-Southdown corridor and the proposed building of Light Rail from Dominion Rd interchange to the Airport, a Crosstown Light Rail line could actually be a feasible alternative to a rapid bus line as listed in documents like ATAP and even our own Congestion Free Network 2.