Could Auckland have had the first section of light rail from the city to the airport up and running in time for the 2021 America’s Cup and APEC Summit? A couple of documents the council surprisingly released yesterday suggest it was possible if all of the stars aligned, but the opportunity to do so now looks to have passed.
The first, and most interesting of the documents is a report from the beginning of October last year looking at the feasibility of building light rail in time for those 2021 events. It was requested by Mayor Phil Goff in July of that year. AT fairly bluntly say that it’s not really practical but then in the next sentence claim they might be able to do it.
The accelerated programme outlined in this report is unprecedented in timescale and scope and involves considerable risks. There are no international examples of LRT being delivered within the proposed timescale that the AT and its advisers are aware of. However, there have been precedents set by Auckland Transport with regard to projects that have been implemented in restricted timeframes and have set international examples of best practice, including HOP card rollout, EMU programme and New Network.
They go on to say that a number of conditions would need to be met and that “Failure to achieve this in the timeframe will remove any chance of delivery“. Those conditions related to
- Deliverability – Can you physically design and build everything in time?
- Procurement – for projects like this it usually takes a few years to find the builder/s. Speeding up the procurement can be done but it creates risks
- Market Capacity – The construction sector is already flat out, do they have the capacity to do the work?
- Cost/Funding – Will the money even be available, remembering at the time of this report, no one knew who the government would be.
- Operational Requirements – There needs to be enough time not just to build the system but to test it and get all the necessary sign-offs.
On top of this, they note that there would likely need to be special legislation to speed up the process. They also say legislation changes would be required just for the vehicles to be able to run on the road separated from traffic.
The report suggests breaking light rail from the city to the airport into seven different sections along with an eighth being the proposed bus connection from the airport to Puhinui. The light rail sections are
- Wynyard to Civic
- Civic to New North Rd
- Dominion Rd
- Dominion Rd to Onehunga
- Manukau Harbour Crossing
- Mangere Bridge to the airport
- A maintenance depot at Stoddard Rd
To fast track the project the reports focuses on the delivery of sections A, B and H.
To meet this accelerated timetable, the report calls for:
By December 2020, to be in time for the America’s Cup
Section A (2.8km) and most of section H (1.4km) would need to be completed. This would mean we’d have most all Queen St closed to traffic and turned into a mostly pedestrian space in just a few years. For those wondering how light rail vehicles get from the depot at Stoddard Rd to Queen St, the report calls temporary maintenance facility at Wynyard and deeper in the report it states.
It is proposed that bogies are transported by road from the Wynyard Quarter maintenance facility to the depot at Stoddard Road for heavy maintenance. Light maintenance activities will be undertaken at the Wynyard facility.
This stage would require seven vehicles to operate.
By November 2021, in time for APEC
Section B (2.2km) would be completed. This stage includes a number of big infrastructure components, including:
- an underpass at Karangahape Road, to manage the gradient and to provide for a stop in the vicinity
- a new bridge in Upper Queen Street over the Central Motorway Junction to connect to Ian McKinnon Drive
- at-grading of the Dominion Road flyover (pulling it down).
This would need an extra three vehicles, bringing the total to 10.
The total cost of these sections is estimated at $930 million to $1.2 billion.
It would be fantastic to have LRT up and running by the America’s Cup. The report was dated 1 October 2017 and stated that:
- Detail Design work and Utility design work would have needed to have started in that same month
- Rolling Stock procurement would have needed to start in December 2017
- Enabling legislation would needed to have been introduced to parliament and passed by Feb this year
- Enabling works would need to start no later than the middle of this year.
We seem to have missed the boat for getting the first stages of light rail built by the America’s Cup. It does make me think about what we could have had if the former National government hadn’t dragged its feet on Light Rail for a few years.
The second and third documents related to November last year and are a briefing providing by AT to the NZTA on where things are at with Light Rail. This is notable because the council’s announcement of the documents states “At present work on the delivery of light rail in Auckland is being undertaken by Auckland Council and NZTA“. This suggests that the delivery of light rail has been taken over by the NZTA.
I’ve only skimmed though it but the briefing itself doesn’t seem to contain too much new information. The third document contains some maps, and again, some have been seen before. One of the more interesting though is this one which is meant to show how far you will be able to travel within 45 minutes. More interesting to me are all the red areas which represent Housing NZ redevelopment sites. There are quite a few around the Southern end of Dominion Rd and to the west of it too. When you combine that and the fact there will be a depot on Stoddard Rd, I think it makes the case even stronger for Harriet’s Crosstown Light Rail proposal.
Overall there’s some interesting information in the documents. The reason for the release of the information now seems unclear but it feels like it may have been in response to an information request.