It’s been a while since our last update on the progress of New Zealand’s biggest singe transport project, the City Rail Link. Here are a couple of quick updates on progress so far, or lack of it in some cases.

Construction

Britomart

Inside the former Chief Post Office (CPO), they’ve been busy transferring the building over to a supportive frame so that they can then start excavation for the tunnels.

Out the front of the CPO, piling work has just been completed so that the tunnels can be dug

City Rail Link Limited (CRLL) have just released some videos of what the spaces around Britomart will look like when complete in 2020. The first one looks at the space on Lower Queen St out the front of the CPO

The second video shows the back of the CPO along with the two side streets, Tyler and Galway. The biggest change will be the removal of the temporary structure that the station is currently accessed through. You may also notice that there used to be a small carpark off Commerce St, that won’t be returning and so the area will become a new plaza. The two streets either side of the station will be blocked off to prevent vehicle access to the square and will be made much more pedestrian friendly

Commercial Bay

The tunnels through the Commercial Bay site continue to progress, and progressively disappear under the development

The curved tunnels are starting to be covered over by the development
Actual CRL tunnels
Albert St

While excavation of the trench on Albert St continues at the northern end, the tunnels are starting to be formed at the southern end and the first section is expected to be finished by the end of June.

The tunnel walls within the Albert St trench.

It remains a shame that all the space above the actual tunnels will be filled in again. Remember, in the image below they’re below the bottom rung of steel crossbeams.

Excavations continuing at the southern end. CRLL say the works are 65% complete.
Mt Eden

Work is now underway to realign a stormwater pipe at Mt Eden. One of the most visible aspects of this so far has been the demolition of an apartment building on Mt Eden Rd. This project is due to be completed in around a year.

The building in the process of being demolished

Tendering

You may recall back in February (20th to be exact), CRLL announced they would be delaying the tender following the withdrawal of Fletchers from the process. They were one of the two shortlisted bidders.

The release of tender documents for the City Rail Link tunnels and stations will be delayed by up to three months following the withdrawal of a preferred bidder from the process.

CRL chief executive Chris Meale says while the withdrawal is disappointing it won’t prevent progress on the CRL tender and discussions have already started with another prospective bidder.

It is too early to tell if the three-month delay will roll on into the current project completion date of early 2024.

Well the three months has come and gone so I thought I’d ask CRLL for an update. This is the response I had

We are still in negotiations and although a decision is expected soon, I can’t give you a specific date.

Importantly CRLL remains focussed on its stated opening date of March 2024.

I don’t find that response filling me with a ton of confidence. I certainly hope that I’m wrong though.

On a separate note, we have heard that CRLL have been looking at the options future proofing for 9-car trains and to build the Beresford Square entrance. The primary issue of course is the cost of doing so.

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  1. I hope that they will decide to have an entrance at Beresford Square after the derailment at Britomart . And when they start the tunnels from Mt Eden why don’t they cough up the extra cash and get 2 TBM’s to dig the the tunnels that way the platforms at K rd and Mt Eden could be completed by the time they reach Albert St and the system could possibly opened a couple of years earlier

    1. The bored tunnels won’t be the slow bit, it’s the cavern excavations that will take the time, especially with K road being excavated from the bottom.

    2. Why would an exit at Beresford Sq make any difference to a derailment there. The platform will extend to from Mercury Ln-Beresford Sq anyway, you just walk along that to exit where the entrance will be on the site of the current Mercury Plaza

      1. It works the same way as your house which usually has 2 means of exiting if you have a emergency , Britomart and Aotea both have 2 ways out but K’rd has only 1 . So if this a Derailment or even a fire what will happen when the Emergency services arrive and need to get through the people trying to get out ? .

  2. I’m glad that they seem to have given up on the idea of allowing cars into lower queen street although the planting on Tyler/Galway smells of a shared space. Lower queen street will be at the confluence of the second busiest train station, the ferry terminal, light rail, major bus routes, the country’s largest pedestrian mall (hopefully) and a major office/retail development; to compromise the pedestrian ammenity here in the name of a couple of taxis an hour would be pure vandalism.

    Other than that it looks a bit sparse, still waiting on the landscape designer perhaps? Now to get the old arches rebuilt.

    1. It’s going to be sparse because (as you note) it’s going to be mainly a movement plaza between rapid bus routes on all sides, ferries, the train station and the walk up queen street.

      Tyler and galway will be shared spaces but dead ended – there are property entrances there that need to be accessible but no one else will have any need to take a car down there as they would just need to reverse out again.

    2. Recreating the CPO flanking arches would be a great thing. They’d give a little welcome architectural texture to an otherwise pretty bland public space and would, ironically for a recreation, provide a tangible connection to the long since removed Auckland railway station.

  3. I’m not sure you would save that much time, I’d wager that most of the programme would be lining and fitout. You might get the boring done six months sooner but unless you’re willing to back that up with more labour you probably wont complete the project much faster if at all. At which point you’re saddled with $100 million worth of TBM that you’ll only end up burying.

    1. When the TBM arrives at Aotea they will then pull it to bits and then take it back to Mt Eden and start it again and when it comes back to Aotea pull to bits again and then onsell the parts , the same way as they did on the Vector tunnel . The TBM was strip down under the motorway opposite St Peters then all the parts were the taken out at the New Market entrance . and nothing was left underground

      1. Surely it will come out at Aotea and be turned around and do the other tunnel in the reverse direction? This is what happened at Waterview.

        1. That only happened at Waterview because taking it out and back to the start would have been a massive undertaking. For a smaller machine like this its relatively straightforward

          1. I would have thought they would want to get on with building Aotea station and closing the top as soon as possible, which could only be done if it turned around at Aotea and went back.

            I’m not an engineer though, there may be reasons it is better to bore both tunnels in the same direction.

          2. Perhaps its easier to get the excavated tunnel spoil out and the tunnel liners etc in at the Mt Eden end.

          3. Yes they’ve previously said that the spoil needed to come out the southern end so it didn’t have to be trucked through the CBD streets.

  4. +1 on the not backfilling the void above the tunnels. At the very least it should be kept as a void for services and maintenance access etc so that the road above doesn’t get ripped up every time a company wants to install something etc. Even better if the space can be used for pedestrians to avoid Auckland’s weather and busy streets.

    1. It would be a huge cost to build a structure to permanently hold the up the road above and all the buildings alongside the trench. Hopefully they will put in some small tunnels for various utilities in the future.

      1. I’m presuming they will leave the Diaphragm walls intact, (whether they leave the cross members is not clear)-

        If the walls remain intact any future excavation could be undertaken reasonably easily (road disruption withstanding) using hydro or mechanical excavation…..

        Someone could take AT’s road engineers to Chicago and see if they could be tempted to create Auckland’s version of Lower Wacker Drive ( provided they turned to top of albert street back into a park or other public place….

  5. It’s a total shame that the space above the CRL tunnels on Albert St will be filled in again. It would make a fantastic retail space and dry-weather connection between buildings on either side of the road (and is there not a direct cost in bringing back fill material?)

    Have the designers of the CRL tunnels never been to places like Shinjuku in Tokyo and seen the massive underground malls around the station there? In summer and winter especially, they are packed as people walk around in comfortable shelter, and funnily enough spend lots of money. There’s a huge economic opportunity going missing here…

    If nothing else, why not just blank off the space for now until someone sees the opportunity in the vacant space before/after the CRL opens. Why go to the effort of backfilling?!?

    1. A retail space jammed between a railway tunnel, a road surface, a sewer pipe and a storm water pipe sounds hellish.

    2. Because they want to put the road back on top……
      If they don’t backfill they have to engineer and build foundations to hold to road above the tunnels

      1. So why not? Retail or other space provides ongoing revenue, a filled-in hole does not.

        And if you think underground shopping is hellish, you need to get out more

        Here are some links about a few in Shinjuku, Tokyo, firstly the Subnade

        http://fun.subnade.co.jp/ (in English)
        https://ja.wikipedia.org/wiki/%E6%96%B0%E5%AE%BF%E3%82%B5%E3%83%96%E3%83%8A%E3%83%BC%E3%83%89 (in Japanese, but with a nice picture to give you an idea)

        The Odakyu Ace…
        http://www.odakyu-ace.jp/shop/ex/en/index.jsp (in English)

        The Tokyo Metro Mall
        http://metro-shokudo-gai.co.jp/access_f/ (in English)

        Note lots of food outlets but also heaps of fashion stores. A dynamic retail environment.

        There’s no ambient noise so you can’t tell you’re underground. It’s a comfortable a shopping or pedestrian environment as you’ll find anywhere.

        But what you do have is proximity to major train stations, which means massive pedestrian traffic driving through and destination shopping. Which means lots of money spent in lots of shops.
        It’s doesn’t take much imagination to realise this could happen in Auckland too.

      2. You are linking to some seriously dense cities, even in the best case scenario Auckland will not get anywhere near these densities.

        From what I gather it is more expensive to do this rather than just back filling, therefore we would basically be taking a bet, with ratepayers money on whether this will succeed or not.

        The large number of cities without these stands out to me much more than the small number with them.

        1. True, but remember we’re not talking about underground malls all over Auckland, just in one specific location where the potential location (the trench which has to be built for the tunnels anyway) and the potential users (the thousands of people who will be walking between Britomart and the new bus terminal area will be a few steps away, not to mention the people living and working in the area) exist.

          IMHO it’s still worth looking into.

          1. Oh and BTW those links all refer to the area around one station in one city (Shinjuku Station in Tokyo) 🙂

            FWIW wikipedia says that the Subnade opened in 1973, when Tokyo was quite a different place… does any developer in Auckland have the foresight to get involved in a long-term project now? 🙂

          2. I can see it now…dozens of 2 dollar shops underground. Makes sense. Let’s bury them.

          3. If there is a private investor willing to take the risk and stump up the extra cash then I’m all for it but I wouldn’t want to see a cent of ratepayer cash going to it.

          4. Underground retail? Bad idea, bound to fail. No one in NZ ever wants to shop underground. Every single underground mall in NZ has failed. Don’t build any more.

            Underground pedestrian underpass? Fills up with grunge and urine, chip packets and homeless people, P addicts sleeping out of the rain. Not a good thing.

            Underground storage? World’s most expensive storage? Yeah Naah.

            Underground services routes? Fantastic idea. But incredibly expensive. They did it in Canary Wharf, around the base of the Canary Wharf tower just so they would never have to deal with people digging up roads…. frighteningly expensive….

          5. On the other hand, fill it with stabilised dirt, and it is a zone for some seriously large tree roots to grow, with some trees going all the way up Albert. What a fantastic use of an unwanted giant hole.

          6. Most malls in Auckland are totally enclosed, they could be underground or on the moon and people would never notice.

          7. Backfill so that just below road level is a light rail tunnel hence keeping the LR out of lower Queen St

    3. Totally agree they should not fill it in. They should at least future proof it by leaving it as a empty space.

      1. They don’t have enough in the budget to do Beresford St entrance, but they should spend tens of millions and months of added disruption to Albert St on making an extra hole, just in case someone wants to use it in 10, 20, 30 years in the future? And it’s AT who are not thinking opportunities through properly?

        1. It isn’t an extra hole. The hope is already there (literally). It’s a case of not filling in the hole that had already been made.

          The only thing missing is the imagination to see the opportunity 🙂

          1. +1 Glen. Would be great if GA could do a piece on this and maybe promote the idea see if it’s possible etc?

    4. The main weather threat in Auckland is the ozone-layer-free sun with burn times in the low minutes. I think this space could work as a pedestrian mall in conjunction with the Albert Park tunnel and some tall, luxuriant plantings in the Victoria St Linear Park to create the “Gingerway”, a safe, flat route from Parnell to Customs St & Aotea square for blond and redhaired people who like cycling.

      1. We definitely need covered, shaded and beautiful active mode corridors. If they can’t use the space between the trains and ground level for an active mode corridor, or for light rail to free Queen St up for an excellent active mode corridor, then the next best idea is average human’s one of making sure the soil is absolutely top quality for big trees.

        When trees are really big, they’re very effective at filtering pollutants from the air and mitigating the urban heat effect. Smaller trees much less so.

  6. So bland, drab and grey… Whilst it is designed as a highway for foot traffic, a few more trees would really help make it more ‘human’. Make the area inviting and people will actually stop.

  7. It’s a bit hard to tell from the fly-throughs, but have they taken away the steps up into the Britomart (ie the stairs up into the old Post Office) ? I always thought that the really ungainly solution they had, stepping up inside and those awkward floating column junctions, was an ugly and awkward resolution. Level access would be so much nicer – is that to be achieved?

    1. I really hope so! Pedestrian flows through the CPO foyer were terrible before and the temporary arrangements have not been any improvement. Desire lines quite lopsided. Artists impressions give little impression of a better outcome.

  8. You’re going to need all that empty space to provide a waiting area for peds wanting to cross at the lights at Customs (the designated traffic sewer) and Quay the secondary one.

  9. I assume there will be track crossovers in the tunnel just outside Britomart? If they complete them as soon as the first 300 metre section of CRL is finished, they could increase the throughput of Britomart years before the CRL opens, as a lot of the track-changing could be moved to the other end of the station, freeing up paths and capacity in the Britomart tunnel. Bring the trains into platform 5, change tracks in the new tunnel, then depart from platform 1.

      1. Thanks for the link – Those diagrams are fascinating!

        4km/hr corners for several hundred meters @ Britomart gave me a knee jerk reaction, but I guess it isn’t too bad…

        Can anybody refresh my memory why platform 2 is being removed?

        1. It’s to simplify the trackwork and allow faster geometry and remove potential points of failure, and to allow the remaining passenger platforms to be wider to handle increased passenger movements on 1 and 5, and to allow extra escalators to be added to the east concourse for the same reason.

          With the CRL practically all trains and passengers will use platforms 1 and 5 only, so the middle tracks won’t be used in routine service. The terminating tracks are really just a backup if the CRL needs to be closed.

          Even in the future with intercity trains or regional expresses or something, there would still only be the existing east tunnel for all the trains, so not much potential to fill up three terminating tracks either. You might sneak three or four in an hour, for which two terminating platforms is sufficient.

          In the long long long run I dream of frequent intercity and commuter trains terminating at Britomart. But really to make that work we’d be talking about building a second approach tunnel from Quay Park and somehow modifying, extending or supplementing Britomart to get four or six tracks for a terminus.

      1. Because nothing ever goes wrong on train tracks…. /sarc
        Seems a bit of a design flaw especially considering the cost of doing so (particularly in the cut n cover sections) would be minuscule.

        1. I imagine it would be very expensive to do in the tunneled but of the CRL and I’m not sure crossovers would be that valuable in the cut and cover bit.

          My guess is if something goes wrong on one of the tracks they would just run single direction trains in the other direction, with a train every three to four minutes it would still be possible to service each line with 10 min frequency, better than what we had with last month’s derailment.

  10. The fly by gives the impression of an empty concrete wasteland. Typical of these productions they portray summery conditions often far from reality. For an area around a major transport interchange with large pedestrian counts where is the shelter from inclement weather? For far too long we have been dished up these poorly designed spaces. A quick check of annual rainfall shows Auckland has a higher rainfall greater than Wellington, Brisbane, London, Manchester and Liverpool. Time to get real!

  11. These area’s are designed by all the shopping area’s around so when it rains you are drawn into the shopping area’s to stay dry and spend money whether you want to or not

    1. Yes, that’s also why all the public toilets disappeared from Auckland’s streets a few decades ago.

  12. On the area outside the old post office needs more trees and things for people to relax and some small business rather than wide space with nothing. Shame there can’t be better use of the space under Albert street. Underground walking biking path, bike storage, self Storage and some innovative ideas

    1. It’s quite barren. There’s loads of potential to create good ecological and social design there … I imagine that’ll follow, but I hope they have enough sense to consider what supporting infrastructure they will need for it now.

  13. I wonder how the Novotel on Customs Street feel about having their rear service entrance removed? I suspect that road will have to remain open for service vehicles, maybe with restricted hours.

  14. Would prefer to see the road fitting on top of the rail tunnel and a pedestrian area on the top. Putting the car traffic underground out of sight is a option that a number of cities have followed.

  15. CRL opening in 2024? I lived in Newcastle UK when they started building their underground Metro, 6.4 km of dual bored tunnels (around twice as long as CRL?), new bridges over a river, route designation, compulasary purchase through a city city, whilst linking to exisiting track and arguments / negotiation between central and local government funding – sounds familiar?
    From starting construction to first trains using the tunnels in the city centre was 6 years. What are the challenges that on the face of it, is a less comp,ex challenges and build, is making the CRL construction so long, around 8 years on current estimates, since the cut and cover started from Commercial Bay?
    PS. I became a civil engineer because of watching the construction of the Newcastle Metro in my teens!!! Great that the CRL is being built, I just can’t understand the timing?
    https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tyne_and_Wear_Metro

    1. The CRL proper only begins this year so six years seems about right. The work happening at the moment is effectively pre-stage that is happening because the developers of the Commercial Bay precinct lobbied the government and council to get on with it so they could start building their towers.

      Same happened with Britomart. The tunnel was built in 1998 as the developers wanted to get on with their building, the main station project wasn’t even signed off until 2001.

    2. Thanks for that, Paul. Interesting to read the history. The plans were approved by the Tyneside Metropolitan Railway Bill which was passed by Parliament in July 1973. Around 70% of the funding for the scheme came from a central government grant, with the remainder coming from local sources. Construction work began in October 1974, so 15 months after the bill was passed.

      Jezza, how does that compare with Auckland’s CRL and with our light rail?

      Also interesting to read the pitiful history of de-electrification of the railway. And: “The Newcastle-South Shields line was de-electrified in 1963, and the north Tyneside routes were de-electrified in 1967. This was widely viewed as a backward step, as the diesel multiple units were slower than the electric trains they replaced. In the early 1970s, the poor local transport system was identified as one of the main factors holding back the region’s economy…”

      Do we have any lessons to learn here? 🙂

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