There’s been plenty of talk about light rail in the media and why we shouldn’t build it. So we thought we’d offer a different point of view. On Tuesday, the Herald published the below piece from me about it. There’s a lot more that I would have or could have said if it weren’t for word limit. Later today, the Transport Minister Phil Twyford will be announcing the latest update to the Auckland Transport Alignment Project (ATAP). We hope to see some confirmation about the project as part of that announcement.

Should Auckland spend billions of dollars on a “tram to the Airport?” If that was really the question, then the answer would be “no”. But that’s like saying State Highway 1 is only for trips between the Bombay Hills and Wellsford.

Should Auckland build a new 23-kilometre rapid transit line, with vehicles carrying 500 people each, running at high frequencies, in dedicated lanes with traffic light priority, giving a fast, reliable journey? A line that links Auckland’s biggest and fastest growing employment areas (the city centre and the Airport), that passes by 10% of the city’s population and supports the growth of thousands of new homes from Mt Roskill to Mangere? A line that relieves increasingly problematic bus congestion in the city centre, and all for the same price as the 3.5 km long City Rail Link? Well, that’s an entirely different question with an entirely different answer.

The light-rail project between the city centre and Auckland Airport is a good idea and needs to be built. But just because the line goes from the city to the Airport doesn’t mean it’s only about those trips. In fact, it’s not really about the Airport much at all.

Light-rail emerged as a serious idea in early 2015 to deal with Auckland’s growing bus congestion problem. Auckland has been successful in increasing public transport ridership over the last 25 years – from 33 million annual boardings in the mid-1990s to 92 million today. Bus usage alone has more than doubled to 65 million and now more than 50% of people entering the central city every morning do so not in a car. Without this, Auckland’s huge population growth would have truly ground the city to a halt with over 200,000 extra trips on our roads daily.

The growing use of buses, trains and ferries is starting to create problems of its own. The City Rail Link, now under construction, will allow us to run more trains. But our rail network does not serve the central isthmus, the southwest, the northwest or the north. Many of our key bus corridors in the city are already over capacity, or will be within a few years. Every morning around 140 buses an hour travel along Symonds Street, more than the bus lanes can handle. As a result, buses regularly bunch up leading to delays for the thousands onboard. This problem will only get worse over time.

Light-rail upgrades our busiest bus corridor, Dominion Road, to modern light-rail with a new route through the city. The project also upgrades Queen St and the town centres along Dominion Rd as high quality urban spaces. Taking the Dominion Road buses off Symonds St frees up space to run more buses from other parts of the city. As an added bonus, it sets up the possibility of being extended to provide rail services to the North Shore.

There is nothing light about the capability of light-rail. In Seattle, a similar implementation to what’s proposed in Auckland carries more people than our entire rail network.

The case for light-rail on Dominion Road to Mt Roskill is strong. The previous government recognised this and last year included it in their joint planning work with the Council, after first investigating whether better buses could achieve the same thing (spoiler, they couldn’t).

Which brings us back to the Airport. The number of people travelling to and from the Airport is growing quickly. Air passenger numbers are growing strongly and will soon hit 20 million a year (up 5 million in the last 5 years). In the coming decades that is expected to reach 40 million. There are now regular horror stories of trips to and from the Airport taking just as long as flights, despite the completion of major road projects intended to do the opposite. But the Airport alone is not worth building light-rail for, especially given that a fast bus link to a vastly rebuilt Puhinui train station will be up and running by late 2020. In fact, detailed transport modelling suggests that barely 10% of people using this line will be heading to the Airport for their flights.

Instead, the Mt Roskill to Airport section of the light-rail system is about connecting the people who work in and around the Airport. It’s about the people who live around Mangere, and have never had good public transport to the airport or the wider city. And it’s about supporting a transformational growth programme across a swathe of Auckland.

There are huge tracts of Housing New Zealand owned land in Mt Roskill and Mangere that will become prime redevelopment opportunities with light-rail in place. There’s also Onehunga, perhaps Auckland’s most complete suburban town centre with massive growth potential. Light-rail shouldn’t, and can’t, just be a transport project. It must also be a growth project.

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  1. Yeah Nah, you say the light rail to the airport is a good idea and needs to be built. But a heavy rail from Onehunga to airport is a better idea and needs to be built.
    It seems no matter how hard GA pushes this light rail idea its just not convincing too many people.

    * punctuation changed by John P for clarity *

    1. Except for Auckland Transport, Auckland Council, NZTA, the Ministry of Transport and the ruling coalition that campaigned based on the idea? It’s their plan and they seem pretty convinced by themselves.

      1. Dominion Road light rail is decades away and everyone knows it. Deciding on it is simply promising it but stalling for time. I have never been convinced that a brand new light rail all the way to the airport from Britomart is cheaper than double tracking and extending the Onehunga Branch line. The latter Is a fraction of the distance.

        And what is the sense of a light rail line on Queen St that duplicates the CRL?

        1. How would LR duplicate the CRL?

          Also, what would it take to convince you that LR via Dom Rd makes sense? You’d be providing service to many tens of thousands of additional residents, as well as providing easier transit to hundreds of businesses as well as making Dom Rd a much more pleasant place to be.

          Extending HR from Onehunga doesn’t help Dom Rd, or the western suburbs that LR would hit and would result in either poor frequency or impacting the running of existing southern services (two lines into one)… Are you going to create a nice little loop from Penrose to Puhinui? How would that affect southern services?

          Also, serious question: Have you ever traveled from Ellerslie to Onehunga via train?

        2. These comments are still based on the assumption that the service is all about serving the airport. Obviously it’s not just about that and extending HR from Onehunga won’t do anything to serve the central isthmus. Hell, go ahead and build Onehunga to Airport, but make sure you still build the LRT from CBD to Onehunga.

        3. “And what is the sense of a light rail line on Queen St that duplicates the CRL?”

          The sense is that the CRL is only a two track railway and fairly quickly it is going to be full running the rail lines we already have.

          If we want to build more rail lines, we’ll need another route through the Queen St area to run them on. So it makes a lot of sense to add as much capacity as the CRL again to the rail system.

        4. In about half an hour, Minister Twyford is going to rock your world if you think “dominion road light rail is decades away”

        5. Do you have any concept of the lead time for projects like this? The CRL was mooted in the mid 2000s and won’t be finished till at least 2022 and more likely 2024. That’s 17-19 years. So on that basis we won’t have Dominion Rd LRT till 2035-37 at least. And Dom Rd is a far more complex situation – no tunnel that avoids landowners’ litigation, but instead hundreds of business people and homeowners affected on the route itself. And that route is far longer than the CRL too! It’s decades away and subject to being ruled out by a new government.

        6. They started the design in 2015, so 2026 would be eleven years from inception to ribbon cutting. If you take it from today as the funding approval date, it’s eight years.

          Rule of thumb for a project like this is seven years, so no probs.

        7. From the first spade in the ground a project like this will take three to four years to be completed and operational.

        8. “And what is the sense of a light rail line on Queen St that duplicates the CRL?”

          The CRL does not run along Queen Street. Any LRT system will complement the current Bus/Train network.

          The CRL is designed to double the capacity of the current train network. All of this information is available online.

    2. So why exactly would HR from Onehunga to the airport be better? What about the many thousands around the Hillsborough area, or those wishing to transit south from (say) Mt Roskill?

      Unless you can back up your criticism, it’s empty…

    3. “heavy rail from Onehunga to airport is a better idea and needs to be built.”
      Where exactly does Matt say this?

      1. Matt didn’t say that, the commenter did. I’ve taken the liberty of changing the punctuation to make it a little clearer.

    4. Totally agree Heavy Rail which links to our existing Heavy Rail Network and not just to those on Dominion Road is a better option, and is also into the City.
      The almost 50 minutes time quoted for the light rail solution, and that is before trf to any other lines such as the South Line or out West.
      The light rail solution has captured everyone attention unfortunately and is not a long term solution that suits all of Auckland.

      1. I don’t understand this idea of heavy rail links to heavy rail, like light rail and everything else doesn’t?

        The airport line is one line, and it can only run through to one other line. To get to the existing lines or any other ones you’ll have to change trains. That fact doesn’t change if it’s heavy rail, light rail, bus or camel caravan.

        So it doesn’t really matter if those trains aren’t the same technical configuration, you still have to change.

        1. Hi nick
          Penrose for those heading south and newmarket for those heading west are a lot closer and quicker than connecting via light rail at Mt eden or krd in the future.
          Plus heavy rail is fully grade separated so will get effected by traffic issues

        2. LRT is separated from traffic too though, right? On its own corridor and has priority through intersections.

        3. If you are heading south wouldn’t you go via Puhinui rather than all the way up to Penrose area? And Mt Eden is closer to the west than Newmarket, two stops closer.

        4. Priority through intersections can still slow down the trains, same issue that happens with the many rail crossings on the western line at the moment. Plus will slow cars through the area.
          Also a traffic accident could potentially block a road which has a tram on it – especially at an intersection something that would not happen on a separate heavy rail line.
          And a heavy rail train will get to Newmarket quicker than the proposed light rail to Mt Eden and changing trains is simply changing platforms on heavy rail – something which will be a more complicated on the separate light rail stop which may include a walk carrying lots of suitcases and bags.

        5. Adam W, how do you then suggest we deal with the issue of too many buses on Dominion Road and Symonds Street?

      2. Lrt via dom rd and onehunga plus brt via manukau and puhinui seems like a much better network outcome than hr imo.

      3. You still need to build Light Rail on Dom Road even if you HR to the airport. The town centre just can’t fit anymore buses. You still need Light Rail out West to the bits the train line doesn’t go to. I’m not really sure how HR to the airport benefits all of Auckland either, as opposed to just those already lucky enough to have access to rail already.

        1. Yes. LR along Dominion Rd benefits many more Aucklanders. It gets us started on a LR programme, which will win many people over to public transport, benefiting both LR and HR programmes in the future. Honestly, HR fans, this is classic divide and conquer stuff. Personally, I’m excited.

        2. +1, and you especially need light rail out East and North to the very large bits that train lines don’t go to. Light rail could be good for Auckland but it should be everywhere and not just for the few. It would be really good to settle on LRT for an Auckland-wide network rather than the old piecemeal ATAP approach.

        3. Yes. The piecemeal approach has different modes fighting each other instead of complementing each other.

        1. We are not. We understand that there will be stations at Mangere Bridge and Mangere on the Airport line.

        2. Go look at the plans. The level of catchment and service provision just isn’t in the same league. It’s not even close.

          If you think you’re not talking about the Airport, you’re missing some enormous pieces of the puzzle. Pieces so obvious it’s absurd to imagine you’d advocate for a specific, very expensive mode, without being aware of the differences.

      4. “All of Auckland” being code for “the tiny minority of people who make trips to the airport from the City”.

        This is a post which is literally telling you the reason to go with LRT is because it’s not about the Airport. But everyone is using exactly the same arguments they use to say “But we can do better for the aeroplane catchers of the City”.

        We’re trying to get a Southwestern Line built. There just happens to be an airport there. If every aeroplane was grounded for 300 years starting tomorrow and manufacture of new ones banned worldwide… we’d still need LRT through Mangere towards the former Airport.

    5. I am not totally convinced about LR from city to airport either, as there are other cheaper options that will cause less road disruptions in building and operation of the line

      Does anybody know what the project cost will be for HR from Onehunga to Airport?

      Once the CRL is completed, this will allow increase HR services between Britomart, Ohnehunga, Mangere and Airport.

      1. I believe it was circa $2.1bn for HR vs circa $1bn for extending LR from the end of the Dominion Rd route I the AT / NZTA study, largely due to undergrounding costs and needing to rebuild the Onehunga Line to be double track with level crossings removed. HR also was not able to have an intermediate station between airport and Mangere Bridge.

      2. Auckland Transport commissioned a private company Jacobs to do the following business case:
        As you can see: they gave Light rail al the way from the Auckland CDB to Auckland airport (via Dominion Rd) a highly favourable CBR offer extending the Onehunga line.

        And if you look a bit harder; you’ll see that there’s no detailing in their costings. There low total for light rail seems instinctively low given the cost blowouts of the latest few Light rail projects across the Tasman and that it will probably need its own dedicated bridge between Mangere and Onehunga. And that their benefit calculations (in particular those for catchments) looks a bit flawed and full fo double standards.

        I’m not normally one to go for conspiracy theories but this all looks a bit fishy to me.

        And nobody has addressed the issue that Kiwirail own the safeguarded corridor that this system is proposed to use between the end of Dominion Rd and Onehunga and need it for the future Southdown Avondale link….

        1. That’s because it is fishy..
          Many commentators within industry are saying lrt isn’t a viable option.

        2. Many commentators within the industry are highly mode biased and have never seen a modern LRT system with signal priority in the flesh. It’s easier to talk about religion.

    6. “Yeah Nah, you say the light rail to the airport is a good idea and needs to be built…”

      Did you even read the article? Even just the title?

    7. I’ve posted this list, now with a few edits the other week, I’m pretty convinced LRT is the best option after looking into it quite a bit as a self confessed armchair transport “expert”. This is done in the negative so as to compare with the main alternative options for rapid transit in the south-west:

      *** Reasons against HR to airport line via Onehunga instead of LRT:
      1. Cost & hence opportunity cost for other projects including LRT to Botany via Puhinui & Manukau for example
      2. Impossibility/cost or cost risk of providing equivalent stations: Ascot (near Montgomerie Rd) & Airport Business District (John Goulter Dr)
      3. Favona Station (Walmsley Rd) could be added in my mind but was dropped from SMART study so as to keep the travel time nearer to the LRT route (says at grade in preliminary plans – also in the HR one interestingly but video shows as elevated?!)
      3. Extra tunnelling required under future runways & airport station itself = high cost risk due flooding
      4. High cost of upgrading Onehunga line (double tracking, closing level crossings, considering the lines value in itself?
      5. Onehunga HR station will be moved further from the town & main bus terminal (so can take longer trains)
      6. Likely or more cheaper to provide higher fequency on the LRT line.
      6. Not as resilient as a whole new LRT line
      7. If/when Dominion Rd Northern LRT line and/or North Shore LRT is done you will have a continuous line all the way without transfer needed.
      8. If/when Southern LRT line done (via Puhinui, Manukau, Botany) you have through Airport & surrounding suburbs line.

      *** Reasons against HR to airport line via Puhinui instead of LRT:
      1. Running pattern doesn’t work nicely = slow frequency, cost of junction etc upgrades and/or confusing timetable etc
      2. Lost chance of LRT on same basic route?
      3. Lost chance of getting LRT north line done?
      4. Don’t get all the other station catchments north
      5. Still have the tunneling/station issues in the low site of the airport itself see above (6-8M agove sea level)
      6. Not as resilient as a whole new LRT line

      *** Reasons against LRT northern line:
      1. Travel time reliability risk through village centres (Conversly the HR line will be fully grade separated)
      2. Less seating for full length trip?
      3. Ultimately long term less capacity especially if consider very long LRV through Queen St/Dominion Rd, though this is debateable. (eg another corridor could be added etc).
      4. Lost chance of upgrading Onehunga line (safety/speed/frequency) & providing better station location for Mt Smart Stadium?

      *** Reasons against LRT southern line (via Puhinui, Manukau, then Botany) :
      1. None really, but probably best a busway first.

      1. I generally agree with everything you have said, although there are a few issues relating to the Onehunga Line. The costings for HR to the airport appear the have included the cost to double track the Onehunga Line and build a new station at Onehunga. However in the CFN 2.0 the Onehunga Line appears to be the other end of the Western Line, meaning that it must be double tracked and ready for 6 car EMUs.

        I doubt that the HR option would be cheaper than the LR option even with these costs removed, however I think that it’s important to make a fair comparison. If the Dominion Road section isn’t included in the LR airport costings, then neither should the Onehunga Line.

        1. A good point but not that simple probably, perhaps the cost should not be fully included though due to benefits of the line itself. Double tracking OBL in itself doesn’t really stack up I think. Post CRL with CFN2 or with AT’s plan I think it seems (and from past comments IIRC) they would split the western line to either Onehunga or Otahuhu (or whatever fits I guess). Not as nice I know.

          To do HR to airport you would definitely need double tracking and level crossings removed of the Onehunga line or would really be pretty sucky.

          The Dominion Rd to City section of LRT on the other hand stacks up nicely for other reasons apart from the airport connection.

          But hang on if the benefits of the OBL have been included then it shouldn’t matter..I quick scan seems at least they have done this somewhat but didn’t account for the difference for the cheaper HR option (the non-grade separated option) ie full cost version should show a higher benefit ratio that stated.

          Remember it’s not all about costs but benefits so just think if we included all the benefits of the of the Dominion Rd end of the LRT line?!

  2. The possibility of extension to North Shore – how viable is it, and is this future extention already baked into current plans for CBD to the Airport ? Any cost estimates, route protections,etc so it can happen ?

  3. To the anti-light railers: Don’t use Melbourne as an example because the trams already run to within about 5ks of the Tullamarine Airport, servicing the equivalents of Mangere and the surrounding industrial area, it’s just that they are looking at an alternative heavy rail route to cover the airport itself – and they want central government to pay.

    1. Also Melbourne trams are a totally different thing to the LR that is proposed for Auckland. They essentially function as buses rather than trains. They don’t even have dedicated lanes in much of the city.

      1. Indeed, Melbourne trams are, well… trams. Like the streetcars of North America they are little more that tracked buses tootling along in traffic. Hardly a good example, in fact they are close to the example of exactly what not to do, and what Auckland isn’t doing. The suggestion in the media recently that Melbourne has the most sophisticated network in the world is just laughable, it’s about the least sophisticated, clunkiest old legacy network you could find.

        1. Melbourne is still work in progress to getting rid of the kinks in the older established areas of the tram network. They are slowly getting there. Despite the problems, the Melbourne tram network is still a good system, that is now starting to experience capacity issues especially in the CBD and inner suburbs with to many people using it.

    2. On using Melbourne: it’s a city of 4.8million people. a direct airport line makes a little more sense to them. Auckland less than half the size. LR is the answer for now and the next 60 years, which is a pretty long time. The government/council is going ahead with it, learn to like it or move to a part of Auckland which is only accessible by cars.

      1. Auckland’s airport is not far off the size and busyness to Melbourne mind, Auckland is the hub for New Zealand as well as the city itself.

        One thing to not miss is that Melbourne has been talking about an airport rail line for decades, and the current proposal for a heavy rail link has a cost starting at $5 billion dollars. That’s just the federal governments pledge, which suggest the total cost might be more like $10 billion.

        This is a hugely expensive project, which is probably why it keeps getting deferred year after year. Maybe they should be looking to extend the tram as a first step. I can’t imagine running it 5km up Melrose Drive would cost anything like that.

        1. I hate to nitpick.

          But Auckland airport gets about 19.5 million boardings a year and about 165,000 aircraft movements. Melbourne airport gets about 33.5 million boardings a year and 235,000 aircraft movements.
          So Melbourne airport is more than as half as busy again as Auckland airport.

          Auckland Airport isn’t actually that big nor that busy by world standards.

        2. Correct, which proves the size of the city isn’t a relevant measure. Melbourne is three times the population of Auckland, but it’s airport is only 1.5 times busier.

    3. Evanj – The route you are talking about, is the Essendon route, that terminates at Essendon Airport – Melbourne’s he former main airport.

      Ever since Tullamarine Airport was opened in 1970, there has been alot discussion about extending the tram route from Essendon to Tullamarine Airport.

      You are correct, there 2 camps – one wants to extend the existing Essendon tram line and the other group wants HR as part of the Melbourne Metro Rail Project. In either case. the Victorian State Government will have to pay for it.

  4. Maybe I should give way to many who clearly know more about the costings and potential than I however my doubts are possibly echoed by other Aucklanders. A few years ago in Paris I caught a light rail vehicle (tram?) and it seemed to work fine. From memory it was the colour as per your first graphic and I think half the length.
    Judging by this picture it would seem that 8 buses or 4 double decker buses would have the same capacity with an increased staffing cost but better flexibility. With the last storm a tree fell across Verbena rd and I had the delight of watching a Birkenhead bus execute a 19 point turn and change its route to the city. That is robust design – a bus adapting to conditions in a way a tram connot. If new apartment blocks are built in Birkdale (gentle shudder) and filled with poor people then they can add a bus or a new route as soon as demand is appropriate. Light rail assumes it will come first and then the apartment buildings will be built to be convenient to the tram.

    The arguments pro-light rail are
    1. reduced pollution – but electric buses would solve that
    2. fewer drivers (cost saving) – but driverless buses are under development and with new computer developments they ought to be able to link together with just the first bus leading the others
    3. congestion in the CBD. I can’t see why a long tram causes less congestion than say 6 buses. Isn’t the CBD problem with potential bus overload caused by (a) cars that ought to be banned (b) terminating in the city instead of just outside the city (my own Birkenhead buses terminated by Sky City and now near the Viaduct; they ought to loop round and terminate near Victoria park.

    I’m sure light rail is not under consideration without good reason; maybe time to list the advantages with its competitor being dedicated bus lanes.

    1. The option of just putting on more buses has been thrashed out extensively, but the simple fact is we’ve been following that approach for about 20 years now and have run out of room to keep adding more to the same streets.

      In theory a bus system can move tens of thousands of people per hour in a single lane. However in practice the second you have the realities of traffic lights, intersections, ramps, roads etc that theory goes out the window.

      For the large part it comes down to the spatial requirements at stops and terminals. Buses only go one way so need to turn around on a loop path or a large diameter roundabout (not an insignificant task for say 120 buses an hour, one red light and you have four or five buses stacked up in a queue eight metres long trying to turn right, for example). Light rail is double ended so can turn in place at the stop itself.

      Buses also generally take longer to line up at the kerb, and often never quite perfectly, and load and unload less quickly. To get the same sort of throughput you have to allow for the buses to enter and leave a stop independently, so that the whole chain is not constantly held by the weakest link. If you want a stop for eight buses that meets the operational requirements of the AT code of practice, you need a stop 216m long, and four extra-wide lanes wide (two for buses stopping, two for buses passing). Add in the passenger platforms etc and you have a huge requirement.

      Apart for the fact there is simply nowhere large enough to devote that kind of kerb length to a bus stops, that’s actually really ineffective for passengers who might be trying to catch a bus in any one of those 8 positions. Do you wait at the front where it is almost certain to be full, or wait down the end where the bus might not arrive that time. Do the bus drivers wait for people to spend 60 seconds or more walking the length of the stop, can they even do that wen you are trying to get two or three buses through the stop in that time.

      You can fix that with busway type stations and infrastructure, you can split stops out into smaller stop groupings, have them in sets up and down both sides of the street. You can make big bus only corridors, create turning roundabouts etc… but that requires a heap of space, and to a large extent we already have that in the city centre, and to a lesser extent other centres. Adding the same again just wont fit.

      1. Just playing the devils advocate.

        A really large modern bus terminus may well be a billion dollar expense but still be cheaper than light rail? And you can sell the space above for office space.
        Many of the advantages you list could be handled by buses – why do bus stops have to be cut into the pavement – just build them as per light rail but send buses. Same for road junctions etc. Just a matter of deciding who has priority – buying a light rail system just because it solves the political issue of arguing PT against car drivers is understandable but sad.
        Are light rail vehicles always the same length? The one in the graphic appears to a double length. If they can vary in length then the same issue of where to get on /off applies.

        My memory of using light rail in Paris was clean and fast but definitely we were standing not sitting. Similar to my experience commuting in London on the underground. As you get older and the journeys longer you want to sit down. So Onehunga to CBD standing while holding on to your business briefcase / large handbag would depend on the radius of the curves etc.

        1. Yes you could build a couple of new busways and a really large modern bus terminus, but that would be considerably larger, more land and therefore more expensive than the equivalent capacity with the rail line.

          Selling office space above transit is a very poor reason to build transit, and no net benefit. It’s always easier, more profitable and creates better office space to just build an office building there instead. It’s better to no use up extremely valuable city centre land in the first place.

        2. Commuters want buses not waiting in terminals – how many terminals in the Centre of London?? Buses are flexible & fast & bus lanes don’t cost $Bs – as light rail does

        3. Except we already have bus lanes on all the approach roads to central Auckland, and the buses are slow, overcrowded and unreliable.

        4. London is, after all, an interesting example to give. Would that we had that mix of modes.

    2. Four double deck buses *every 5 minutes* that have to turn around in the central city is completely unworkable. Instead, a single traiin that doesn’t need to turn around as it just runs the other way, is silent, electric, with excellent acceleration. Low floors and overall much nicer experience for users.

      1. My Dad says trams going up Queen St were a joke!! He used to get of a tram run to catch another before Grafton Bridge. One slow tram held up the others.

    3. Driverless buses – decent sized ones – are at least a decade away. Decent driver-less anything is a decade away.

  5. To all those who are still arguing for heavy rail to the airport, I suggest we look at the realpolitik of the situation.

    Labour and the Greens are completely committed to LR and we may learn more about their proposed timing later today. If they stay in power, there’s no doubt whatsoever that LR is the way things will go.

    If National wins the next election, they will inherit an existing project that will be under way, building LR as far as Mt Roskill, with a plan to extend it further to the airport. They will then have three options: (1) Cancel airport rapid transit altogether; (2) Continue with the LR project and do Stage 2 to the Airport, or (3) Go for heavy rail. The relative capital costs between LR and HR of extending rapid transit from Onehunga to the Airport will still be more or less the same as they are today. This means National would be forced to decide whether to go for an option (LR) with a BC ratio of more than 1 with an option (HR) that has a BC ratio of around 0.3 IIRC. Given that National is generally much less favourable to PT than Labour, I can’t see them scrapping Labour’s plan and substituting a new plan that would cost megabucks more than the current plan. Indeed, I suspect that they would cancel the project altogether rather than spend megabucks more than Labour proposes by switching to HR.

    The only potential way that National might go for HR is if HR-favourable NZ First was in a position as part of coalition negotiations to extract a promise to make the switch to HR. This would require serious additional expenditure and that there would be many more places than south-west Auckland and the Aiport to put any coalition-sweetener “bribes” (like the regions, for example). In that context, it’s extremely unlikely that National would allow such a huge “sweetener” to be funnelled into what the rest of the country would probably regard as a gold-plated transport solution for a city that many of their supporters despise – especially when there is an existing plan under way to achieve the same outcome more cheaply.

    The LR solution has the support of NZTA, AT, and the government. There’s no groundswell of support from the public for HR over LR – the only people who continue to argue the case for HR are very much at the fringes of the debate (in fact, are not even part of the real debate which is taking place in the corridors of power and with the allocation of funds foremost). Others have expressed the hope (forlorn, in my view) that even after the Dominion Road line reaches Mt Roskill then there will still be the opportunity for the Airport rail debate to be restarted and for HR to be the outcome. I say that’s fanciful thinking – the same political constraints will still be in place, and the reality of the big $$$ extra involved in HR will still be the same.

    So if you are a supporter of HR, I’d be much more impressed if you could outline the way in which the political and financial realities of the present situation could be finessed to achieve your objectives. I just can’t see it myself, but I’m open to the argument.

    There’s a good chance that a reversal of the present strategy, taking HR to the airport might, in practical terms, also be the death-knell of the proposed NW LR line. I cannot see how the gazillions of dollars needed there will be able to be made available if an Airport HR link sucks up all the transport funding.

    1. In addition, National agreed that LRT to the airport needed to happen when they were in Government. So it’s inevitable either way. Only question is timing, which with Green/Labour has now been brought forward (and no doubt will be confirmed today).

      1. “National agreed that LRT to the airport needed to happen when they were in Government”

        That’s not what I saw. I remember Simon Bridges himself saying the idea was poor and that heavy rail to the airport would be the next one after the CRL.

    2. Phil Twyford has SAID he will make light rail to the airport happen. That doesn’t mean it will happen, he’s a politician.

      Something none of you people ever address is the question of how this light rail will get between the end of Dominion Rd and Onehunga. Some of you have claimed that it will use the motorway corridor but the following document shows that Jacobs and AT have clearly routed it along the safeguarded heavy rail corridor:
      That corridor is safeguarded for the future Southdown-Avondale link (and that WILL be needed) and Kiwirail will not give it up.

      The rest of your post seems to be justified on the basis of the business case that gave LRT a higher CBR but whose credibility has been ripped apart with its analysis of costs and benefits.

      1. I have no doubt that there will be discussions between NZTA and Kiwirail about the safeguarded HR corridor from Avondale to Southdown. My understanding is that that corridor is NOT suitable (mainly because of grades) for a surface level HR line anyway, and so its “reservation” for a future HR line is problematic. As I understand it, LR will only follow part of the Avondale-Southdown route in any event.

        All that aside, I still don’t hear HOW a possible HR line would be progressed from a political and financial perspective. Would National in power really throw additional megabucks at a project that they are at best lukewarm about when an alternative that takes 2 min longer for Airport passengers to reach the city has already been committed to by its predecessor? How will they reconcile that with other pressing financial needs?

        And as far as I know, the BC ratio analysis has only been “ripped apart” as you suggest by armchair pundits. To my knowledge, none of the entities who actually have a stake in the project have any qualms about the BC analysis.

        1. “My understanding is that that corridor is NOT suitable (mainly because of grades) for a surface level HR line anyway, and so its “reservation” for a future HR line is problematic.”

          If that was ever the case: Why would’ve it been safeguarded in the first place? Of course that cannot be true!

          I don’t know why you’re making this some Labour vs. National thing; Labour are NO friend to either public transport nor railways. But you should read the business case for yourself; it also lays-out pretty clearly how the Ohehunga line can be extended across Mangere bridge. Twyford can make all the promises he wants; the issue of the safeguarded corridor and the other inherent processes needed to make any light rail system happen out of the box in Auckland will mean that not much can be done come election time in 2020.
          And then there’s aways the real possibility that Twyford and this government will just do what politicians are notorious for; break these promises/go back on their words, etc.

          And yes the likes of Mike Lee questioned the benefits int eh business case, especially how they considered catchments.

        2. (1) I suspect that the rail reservation was just a line drawn on the map made many decades ago without any reference to the practical difficulties of building a railway on it (just as so many road reserves in hilly areas turn out to be impossible to construct a road on in practice)..

          (2) It’s not a National vs Labour issue – I’m just pointing out that there is no party which is likely to abandon the LR plan once work gets under way. Practical realities, not politics.

          (3) No one who is within the tent (and Mike Lee is not) is to my knowledge challenging the business case – only those outside the tent who are disgruntled. And they are not part of the serious discussion on the issue moving forward, so I seriously discount them. Sorry.

        3. Why on earth would you ever suspect “that the rail reservation was just a line drawn on the map made many decades ago without any reference to the practical difficulties of building a railway on it”?!
          Here’s something more likely: People who run railways know what they’re doing. They take extra consideration for things like gradients and alignments.

          Frankly: This is looking to me like you’re just desperately trying to make anything up to justify this.
          Unless you can provide any credible source: I’m not entertaining this empty allegation any further.

          The people “in the tent” look like they’ve got some agenda. They’e not going to be in the tent forever. Especially if they continue this sort of conduct and inevitably start failing.

        4. Whatever. However, I do understand that the alignment of the Avondale-Southdown reservation is not practical for heavy rail without serious, serious earthworks/tunnelling. Open to correction, but that’s what I’ve heard.

        5. Far from unclear what kind of “conduct” the people inside the tent are accused of, or how and on what they might fail. Aside from failing to endorse HR, that is. Care to explain?

  6. I find it funny that in response to a post whose entire point is to argue that LRT “is not about the airport”, so many comments are along the lines of “HR to the airport is better because XYZ”.

    i think all the HR comments have entirely missed the point of the post.

  7. Well the fact is that people aren’t opposed to light rail. People are opposed to the light rail to the airport.
    I know I’m far from the only one who finds the claims of it providing a better service, as fast a service and at a lower cost completely incredible and believe that extending the Onehunga line instead makes far more sense.

    If the buses down Dominion Road are really so close to capacity; why not just have a tramway down Dominion Road and end it at Mount Roskill?

    1. Yes I hate the idea of giving poor areas access to rapid transit too. Let’s triple-deck the North Shore busway instead.

      1. “Rapid Transit”?
        Auckland is not having rapid transit in any form either way. I think you have rapid transit confused with mass transit.

        How would these “poor areas” (Mangere) not be getting access to mass transit with an extension of the Onehunga line again? Everything I’ve seen on this has a station at Mangere Bridge and in the Mangere town centre before reaching the Airport Terminus.

        1. For Christ’s Sake, Man! Compare the damn plans.

          Fewer stations. Less catchment. Slower service. Compromising the ability to serve existing rail network as well because you’ve just stuck another great whack on to it.

        2. What has this got to do with anything above? I was correcting the falsehood that the HR would not serve Mangere and the usage of the term “rapid transit”.

          But yeah let’s compare the plans shall we, at least for the point of passengers South Of Onehunga?

          HR: Adequate stations, quicker service, most likely higher capacity, more comfort for airport commuters, gets people to where they’re more likely to want to go, merely a matter of extending an already existing branch.

          LR: More & stops, slower service, takes people form Mangere & the airport painfully down Dominion road whee they don’t want to go, cannot be integrated into the existing rail network and forces an inconvenient interchange with an infrequent branch line.

          Not quite sure where you got this “Compromising the ability to serve existing rail network as well because you’ve just stuck another great whack on to it” comes from…

        3. You know exactly why what I wrote is relevant. It’s why you write “adequate” coverage to obscure that HR worsens service coverage for thousands people. Worse catchment (tens of thousands worse). Fewer stations. The idea that HR can serve Mangere is predicated on the absurd notion that it does so adequately/ See, there’s that word again.

          And, no, the services aren’t slower (LR is, in fact, faster to Aotea. But these numbers are completely trivial, at most estimated travel time is five minutes different). No, you’re just completely making up planned destinations. You’re also lying about linkages with the existing network. Just straight up, bare-faced lies.

          And, btw, long lines are harder to integrate with other long lines. Adding more stops is not a free action. Adding more terminal destinations (as with some HR proposals) is just a straight up dick move.

      1. Are you sure the cost is all that greater? Or even greater at all? Out of the box Light rail projects of late around the world seem to be having cost blowouts.

        What’s your source? Oh that’s right; that dodgy business case from Jacobs.

        1. Whatever the potential blowouts, a new HR line & associated upgrades are sure to have them just the same and possibly more so in this specific case. There is a lot of uncertainty & cost risk of underground stations & such in the airport area.

        2. Why would you assume that heavy rail extensions would have the same blowouts given that NZ has experience in building these and given how it will not have any potential disruptive and compensation-demanding street-running sections?

      2. I just saw in my newsfeed that the government is committing an obscene 28 billion dollars (over a decade) to Auckland transport infrastructure projects.

        I know it was only a media report; but it said that “The majority of this investment will be poured into the construction of a light rail network extending out to the airport.”

        All the more to make me suspicious of the costings in the business case….

        1. I was all ready to dance when I read:

          “Funding was approved by Twyford for two long-awaited roading projects have been greenlit – an upgrade of Mill Road giving an alternative to the southern motorway between Manukau and Papakura and further south where new subdivisions are emerging; and Penlink, a connection between the northern motorway and the Whangaparaoa Peninsula.”

          Now, if you want to pull apart a business case, Daniel, have a look at Mill Rd’s. All erroneous travel time estimates and fanciful benefits of “agglomeration” when in fact it’ll do the exact opposite. I haven’t looked at Penlink’s.

          Anything they do with PT will be undermined by the extra roading capacity of Mill Rd and Penlink. One step forward. One hundred back.

        2. I’m not sure what point you’re trying to make here. Are you mistaking me for someone pro-roading?

        3. Well what is your point?

          That these business cases can’t be trusted? Good! Let’s ignore this Jacobs business case promoting light rail over extending the Onehunga line then…

        4. “That these business cases can’t be trusted.” Yes, that’s my point. Keep up the pressure. The business cases are far too narrow in scope, and erroneous at that. They need to be replaced with multiple criteria decision analysis. Were the broader social, environmental and economic issues considered, I think we’d find the case for more investment in both heavy and light rail would be strong, and the various more sustainable modes would be able to complement each other rather than fight over crumbs.

        5. Yeah, we would have been so much better off with a National government not being upfront about their transport spending plans for the next decade while splurging pretty much the same amount on pointless gold plated roads only rivalled in cost per km by corruption-ridden Russian projects, leaving us in a hopeless state of gridlock and doubling the time and effort needed to unwind the problem.

          The flood of people opposing LR here claim that it’s all about the cost benefits and they’re not taking sides, but where were they when ludicrous projects like the East West Link were being rammed through? It’s hard not to infer that “conventionals” have been triggered by the proposal of something that isn’t currently part of the status quo in NZ

        6. Why (oh why) are you mentioning the National party for?
          I’m apolitical. I don’t support any political party, don’t vote, am frankly not interested in it and shake my head over the people who do.

          I’m opposed to the LR to the airport because I have strong reasons to believe that it would offer a vastly inferior service for Mangere & Airport passengers to simply extending the Onehunga line for about the same cost. I have no faith in the business case conduced by Jacobs for Auckland Transport. And I’m not convinced that it will even be possible anyway even how they’re proposing to use the Southdown-Avondale corridor. I want what’s best for Auckland, not what’s best for the ego trip of some bureaucrats.

          Oh and FYI I am opposed to the East-West link too.

  8. “LR is not really about the airport.” Which doesn’t mean it’s not a great idea. But yes, it’s mainly about the 6 km Dominion Road corridor to the city, not the 23 km from the city to the airport. To an extent it’s about the longer Mangere to city corridor too, which is also a great idea. It’s not really about Onehunga to the city though, as there’s a train line already there, which could be double-tracked irrespective of any theoretical (but not that useful I think) airport extension.

    If and when LR along Dom Road ever goes to the airport (which depends crucially on how well the initial stages of the project are managed and delivered, and on local politics as well as national politics), it will make sense as a PT option for people in the Central Isthmus. Also a good idea.

    But it won’t be the main way Aucklanders get to the airport by PT. So yes, good to stop framing this LR project in those terms. To be fair I’m not sure what is the main PT option Aucklanders choose to get to the airport. Probably from the city it’s SkyBus? 55 mins from the top end of Queen St, but in traffic, so if you’re checked in on a 6:30 pm domestic flight with hand luggage, when would you want to be on the bus? 4:30 pm? I’ve never used it so I don’t know.

    With LR the target is 45 mins, which beats that, but the first few km through the city and along parts of Dom Road aren’t really congestion free, are they? Still, 30 km/h average seems reasonable, when you consider the southern half is mostly in a dedicated RoW alongside the motorway and George Bolt Memorial Drive.

    I think, for most of us, for getting to the airport, the Puhinui to Airport busway is going to be a more of game changer than LR. By Eastern Line train it’s 32 mins from Britomart with 8 intermediate stops, but with shorter dwell times 30 mins seems do-able. Puhinui to domestic terminal on a dedicated busway would be 8-10 mins, so if the bus connected with the train, it’d be comfortably 45 mins. And all congestion free, so no need to build in half hour or more margin. For that 6:30 pm flight, even if you were on a 5 pm train from Britomart, you should be OK.

    By 2024, with the CRL, catching an Eastern Line train from Aotea, K-Road and maybe Mt Eden could be quicker than SkyBus. Grafton and even Newmarket could squeeze under 60 mins too, all congestion free with one change at Puhinui, which if designed well will be set up for people carrying luggage.

    This option should make sense for all of CBD, much of the eastern half of the isthmus, areas along the Western Line (change at Mt Eden, rather than walk 500 m to LR on Dom Road) and much of the North Shore of course. LR on Dom Road is great, but it’s about Sandringham, Mt Albert, maybe Mt Eden, not about the airport.

    I guess in a way this also means I think “HR to the airport is better” but that’s not really the point I’m making. I’m talking about using what we already have.

  9. Those arguing for heavy rail are basically arguing for all of the following;

    1. Double tracking the onehunga line
    2. Third and/or fourth main line
    3. Fixing all slow areas/poorly maintained track of the existing HR network.
    4. Flying junctions at Wiri and Westfield
    5. CRL to be completed
    6. Fixing the shocking dwell times

    All these need to happen, don’t get me wrong, but they will all take a long time to deliver, and eat up a lot of the transport funding budget.

    Otherwise ‘simply’ adding the puhinui or onehunga spur / extension will just create an even more congested or reduce other line frequencies on a HR network that already experiences shitty delays & is hamstrung by historic station locations that are far from ideal.

    1. “5. CRL to be completed”


      The CRL is… …going to be completed. Do you think they’re going to begin a +2 billion project and just not finish it?

      1. I know it’s going to be completed – (well i certainly hope so!)

        It was more that without the CRL being fully operational – adding an extension or a spur off the existing rail network isn’t going to be much good is it?

        Very serious question – apart from what you’ve stated earlier, why are you anti LR?
        I see it as a good chance to develop a new system for Auckland, one that obviously will interact with the HR system, but not be ham-strung by the weaknesses we currently have.

        1. I’m not anti Light rail. why would you assume I am?

          I’m anti Auckland building a light rail line to the airport via Dominion road. Because I think it would not provide a very good, attractive service, I think it would be very expensive and I’m not even sure if it’s possible given it the route its supposed to take uses the HR corridor for the future Southdown-Avondale link.
          And I think extending the Onehunga branch line instead makes a lot more sense.

          But no I am not against light rail being built when it’s the best option.

        2. A better question would be, why are you so pro-HR without proof?

          Yours is a lot of conjecture. It’s fine to question a report, where is your counter analysis? Claiming the LRT is expensive but ignoring that HR is twice the cost?

          I’m all for critiques. It’s important. But the no to LRT/yes to HR crowd haven’t come up with a single evidence based reason that I can see why theirs is the right position. I really am happy to hear it.

          I started pro-rail – Otahahu or Onehunga – but the report is fairly clear to me that LRT is the right solution for the cost-benefit. But I remain open to evidence-based alternatives.

          The only evidence based HR analysis I have seen is in that report and it comes a distant second to LRT.

        3. And I am disappointed I actually got sucked into this debate at all.

          Its not a rapid link between city and airport – read the post. Its a SW RTN line which also connects with the airport.

  10. 1) Where’s the business case for the light rail & what is return ?

    2) The government should commit to the congestion tolling and it should be included in the business case for the light rail to determine the light rail viability

    3) There is little point in simply providing an all stops light rail system that simply duplicates current travel times/speeds – this is not rapid transit. It needs to be overlaid with rapid transit services between the key hubs along the line.

        1. Or… …*drumroll*… ….if the report has easily identifiable flaws.

          If you have an agenda; you can try anything on to justify it 😉

        2. None of which you have proven outside of a whole lot of “I reckons”.

          Agenda? Indeed….

    1. Their is no useful business case for LRT to the airport. The Govt has said that comes next year.

      The Jacobs report was a dog. It Added in wider catchments for LRT and purposely “forgot” catchments around many railway stations.

      The BCR figures in Jacobs report will be shot out of the water when the Govt business case is put together. So will be the much heralded “45 minutes” travel time Greater Auckland advises readers of Britomart to airport. It’ll end up being much slower, more expensive than GA or AT ever thought.

      Treasury will be worried when reviewing similar LRT projects in Australia.

      On the brighter side – yay, buses Airport- Puhinui, how first world is that!

      1. There’s also the issue that this LRT is proposing to use the Corridor that the Southdown-Avondale heavy rail link is going to need (and Kiwirail will not be giving up).

  11. Not going to read through all comments here, but I’ve always thought it best to build the parts that will experience the most use first, and be easiest to construct using BOTH SYSTEMS.

    Manukau to the airport vicinity (ie past the airport towards those parts with no rail access at all) and light rail from the CBD up Dominion Road. Kills both stones and can then use proper stats to see if Light Rail or Heavy Rail would be the best option to close the gap between Onehunga and the Airport

  12. There are two problems here:
    Dominion road pt upgrade – which only LRT can solve
    Rapid access to airport – which both LRT or HR can solve

    The reason why BCR favour light rail is based on assumption LR is as fast as HR.

    It is based on best case scenario for LR and worst case scenario for HR. HR post CRL with improvements in dwell time and line speed can easily beat LR.

    In my oversea experiences, HR always beats LR regarding speed no matter how much effort they put into LR. The only reason our HR is slow is because AT run them slow, to make LR seem faster.

    Another flaw in the BCR report is LR much is cheaper to build than HR, which I don’t believe. It could turns out LR is just as expensive to build.

    So why can’t we solve them separately?

    Build the LRT from queen st to Onehunga via dominion road to serve the residences

    Extend the HR from Onehunga to Airport to have highest speed from city.

    1. These numbers can be twisted to support whatever outcome the bureaucrats want to achieve. At the other end of the scale, when a $406m light rail plan was proposed for Christchurch in 2011 just for a line from the city centre to Canterbury University (a distance of 6.5 km to 7.5 km, depending on route), the plan was rightly laughed out of the headlines for its obscene cost. I’ve learned not to take these kinds of reports at face value.

    2. I still cannot see how they’re going to get past the issue of getting between the end of Dominion road and Onehunga. The route proposed is using sections of the corridor safeguarded for the Southdown-Avondale link and Kiwirail will NOT be giving that one up. The only way I can imagine this getting resolved is if the Transport minister (foolishly) forces Kiwirail to give it up and there would be a massive sh*tstorm and fallout over that.

      I’m expecting this light rail to be contracted to merely Mount Roskill. But I could be wrong.

      What will be interesting will be if they actually get to the point where they tender contracts out. These construction companies will probably be advising them of more realistic costs.

      1. You are right they aren’t giving it up, the light rail alignment runs next to the motorway alongside the freight reservation. The corridor is 20-30m wide, enough for a half dozen tracks.

        By the way the light rail follows the motorway from hillsborough to Onehunga, it doesn’t follow the rail reservation.

        1. I don’t see what’s so hard to understand about this, but just like NZTA did with the motorway incursions into the railway designation, AT will use a combination of lease and land-swap to utilise a piece of Kiwirail’s land. When the time comes to build a Southdown to Avondale link, and that could be in excess of 30 years away, if ever, AT will be obliged to relinquish the tiny strip between Dominion Road and Hillsborough Road or provide an alternative. NZTA will also be on the hook for rebuilding the on/off ramps there to allow for rail underpasses. Kiwirail are not in the habit of turning down multi-decade leases on land they’re not using.

    3. “So why can’t we solve them separately?
      Build the LRT from queen st to Onehunga via dominion road to serve the residences
      Extend the HR from Onehunga to Airport to have highest speed from city.”

      It costs twice as much for the same result.

      Why not just go with the LRT option to Onehunga and if people want to get to the CBD 10mins quicker, alight to a HR train on the Onehunga line? For the rest (majority) where it will make no difference whatsoever, they just stay on for a one seat ride.

      Remembering that only 1 in 4 passengers will be travelling between airport and CBD, the decision should not be about them. And quite frankly, even less will be going airport to CBD. Half of travelers to/from AIA will be domestic travelers unlikely to be going to the CBD and others will be in locations where the southern line and Airbus are better options. The rest will be getting picked up/dropped off.

  13. I don’t think light rail is the way to go to the airport, – maybe in other higher density parts of the city LR would be appropriate, but can’t see it working for the airport trip.

    Why not extend heavy rail from Onehunga and connect into Puhinui/Manuaku, create the additonal tracks so trains can circulate in both directions. This would increase overall network capacity.

    1. Did you read the article?

      Why would LRT not work as well, or even better, than HR? Why could LRT not go through to Puhinui and the east?

  14. I’m beginning to think the light rail line should just be referred to as light rail from the CBD to Mangere via Mt Roskill. Maybe that will sit better with most people, who must surely hear the words “Mangere” and “Mt Roskill” and think ” This will create equity and accessibility for those areas that don’t have good public transport.”

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