The Herald have been running a number of articles on Light Rail this week
Light Rail to Kumeu
On Tuesday, it was presented with some surprise that light rail will eventually reach Kumeu
Major changes are on the way for Auckland’s $6 billion light rail programme, including extending the modern-day version of trams to Kumeu in the northwest.
In an exclusive interview with the Herald, NZTA chief executive Fergus Gammie said the plan for trams from the CBD to Westgate will probably be extended to Kumeu.
Extending modern trams to Kumeu is being driven by already congested roads from a housing boom and projections of 25,000 more homes in the northwest by 2032.
The Herald also cover why it’s so important we get some better options for people in the Northwest
Every workday, Yelena Khalevina, her husband and son leave home in Huapai at 6.30am for the long 30km crawl into the city. With jobs and daycare over, they get back in the car at 5pm and don’t get home until 6.30pm.
There’s a stash of books and toys for the “quality time” they spend with their toddler, who’s tucked up in bed soon after they get home and feed him.
“I would gladly take the bus,” says Yelena, except it takes longer than the drive to and from her job as a digital analyst in the city.
The motorway can’t cope with the numbers of people living there now and an extra 75,000 people are expected to be living in the area in the coming decades.
In a separate article published yesterday afternoon, the Herald questions the need for light rail to the northwest.
Government plans for a $2.2 billion light rail project to West Auckland go against a business case that says a busway can be built relatively quickly and cheaply.
Light rail, a modern-day version of trams, came second behind the preferred option of a busway in an indicative business case for rapid transit to northwest Auckland.
There’s a couple of things to unpack here:
Business Case stops short
We obtained the same business case last year. It’s mostly pretty good but has a major flaw. The study stopped on the edge of the city (around K Rd) and didn’t assess any impact the potential solutions would have on the city centre. In other words, it just assumes that we can chuck an unlimited number of buses down already busy city streets (Albert St). That’s clearly absurd and is at odds with the whole reason light rail for Auckland along Dominion Rd was being considered in the first place, that we have too many buses in the city preventing us from improving services.
One of the inherent problems with out traditional transport assessment tools is we tend to look at projects independently and not part of a cohesive network. The Northwest business case falls into this trap by not considering what’s happening on the rest of the network. Considering the wider network was exactly what we did when we updated our Congestion Free Network. In it we included light rail to the Northwest as part of that for a few key reasons:
- There is huge growth planned for the Northwest. In the coming decades around 75,000 more people will call the Northwest home. There’s already a similar number who live near the SH16 corridor and many more new residents will be added to places like Te Atatu and Pt Chev with developments like Unitec. Long term we’re going to need significant capacity.
- We’re going to need to upgrade the Northern Busway to light rail in the decade between 2028 and 2038. The modelling suggests there’s about twice the demand from the shore to the city as there is on the Dominion Rd – which is why there’s also a spur to Takapuna. Instead of just turning half of those vehicles around empty after they’ve already travelled through the city, it makes sense to send them somewhere new and expand the network.
- Because of point 2 above, it also addresses the issue above of what to do with the Northwest corridor once it reaches the city. This could also potentially allow for Albert St to be further detuned and made more pedestrian friendly, or to allow more buses from areas not served by the rapid transit network. So we’re getting better use out of the rapid transit corridors through the city, exactly what we should be aiming for.
We expect the current work being undertaken by the NZTA would address these flaws and to take into account a future connected network
The cost difference
The light rail cost of $2.2 billion is highlighted on the first line but the real story is hidden in the middle of the piece, noting “The busway was costed at $2b and light rail, via State Highway 16, at $2.2b”“. So there’s actually only a 10% difference ($200 million) difference between a short to medium term solution and a very long term one, that seems like a great bargain. Light rail is also likely to attract higher usage as the article also notes ” The business case said light rail is the best option in achieving transport outcomes“. More expensive but also more benefits.
The biggest challenge with building light rail, or even a busway, is the cost. But the funding environment has changed significantly from when this report was completed. The new government have made it clear they’re looking at longer term funding options for the project, which was highlighted back in May when procurement started. Even with funding sorted, physical infrastructure still takes time to build and parts of that would be staged, which is seen as a negative for light rail.
The business case, obtained by the Herald under the Official Information Act, said light rail would have to be built in one package, whereas a busway can be staged.
It said the busway was designed to light rail standards and could be upgraded to light rail in the final stage of the programme.
Transport Minister Phil Twyford said in response
Twyford said Labour was going straight to light rail to avoid the cost and hassle of building a busway first.
“To cope with population growth, we would need to replace the busway with light rail in time because light rail can carry more people than a busway.
“We don’t want to disrupt one of the city’s major arteries again in 15 or so years. Better to do it once and do it right,” he said.
Twyford said the indicative business case did not properly consider the intensification benefits of light rail or the disruption of replacing busway in the future.
There’s actually a way to satisfy both sides of the staging debate, building light rail in a way that buses can run on it until the rest of the route is complete. This is highlighted in a now published cabinet paper titled “Proposed approach for Auckland’s rapid transit network programme” which led to procurement starting.
If the long term need and goal is to have the Northwest corridor as a light rail route, you’d have to ask why you wouldn’t go use this option.
In another bizarre twist to the piece, it’s claimed that the Pohutukawa along Gt North Rd would be under threat from light rail.
The options could also see the loss of six pohutukawa trees opposite Motat on Great North Rd that were saved from the chop after a public outcry during work to widen the northwestern motorway.
The trees weren’t under threat from the motorway widening directly but plans by AT to widen Gt North Rd to further focus on moving cars.
Light Rail is assumed to go on the Northern side of the motorway but it’s hard to see how the Pohutukawa would be under threat. The carparks between them and the motorway definitely would be but not the trees.
To me, the biggest questions that remain are not whether we should build it but more detailed information such as:
- Exactly where will the stations be?
- Which parts would be staged first? (it’s previously been suggested that regardless of mode, the City to Pt Chev section is required first followed closely by the Te Atatu to Lincoln Rd section.
- When can we start building?
- How long will it take to build?
- How will the line cross the causeway?