The City Rail Link will be a truly transformational project for Auckland. One that I believe will change not only how many Aucklanders get around but also how many see their city. It represents Auckland finally growing up and delivering the kind of transport infrastructure expected in a modern city.
But one of the key features of transformational projects is that the effects of them are usually misunderstood, even by those in favour of, or charged with delivering them. Because if a project is truly transformational, it will change things more than most expect, and certainly more than any transport model will predict.
It’s for this reason that there are a few aspects about the project I’m really worried about – that by not building things properly now we’ll add to Auckland’s long and sad history of short-sighted transport decisions. Because unlike, say, the Harbour Bridge, with the CRL we can’t just clip on a few extra lanes. Getting the CRL right is much more of a one-shot deal as the cost to go back underground to fix, both financially and on the impact to services, would be too prohibitive.
Future Proofing for longer trains
We believe there are two key reasons why we’ll see see the use of the CRL exceed the current predictions
- In Auckland we’ve had a history of exceeding expectations when it comes to rail use. When justifying Britomart, it was predicted that by 2021, about 22 thousand would pass through Britomart daily. A number exceeded in about 2011. Rail electrification was expected to see ridership reach 15.7 million trip annually by 2016, we reached 16.8 million despite the first electric services starting around two years later than originally anticipated. Even the CRL got in on the action, the government set a target of 20 million trips to start the CRL early with the Ministry of Transport in various monitoring reports suggesting it wouldn’t be reached, Auckland surpassed 20 million trips in 2017, three years early. This is essentially the “not understanding transformational change” issue.
- Projects like the CRL typically only assessed over 30-40 years. But the CRL is a century scale investment, meaning we could still be running trains through the tunnels and stations 100 years or more from now. Even if usage is lower than expected in the coming decades, we’re still likely to eventually exceed the planned capacity over a longer term.
With that in mind, we believe it’s important the project is future proofed for up to 9-car trains.
Here’s a few things we know about what’s planned
- Auckland’s trains are up to 6 cars long and can carry up to 750 people each.
- Our current network runs at a maximum of 20 trains per hour per direction (TPH), 6TPH on the Western, Southern and Eastern lines and 2TPH on the Onehunga Line. Once the next batch of trains arrives all except the Onehunga Line will be able to be 6-car trains.
- Upon opening, the CRL should be capable of running about 18TPH, up-gradable to 24TPH in the future in each direction.
This suggests that at the very most, capacity through the CRL would be about 36,000 per hour. That’s about 2.5 times the capacity we’ll have which is excellent but we should do better.
The graph below shows the potential AM peak usage of trains under a couple of growth scenarios I came up with. In the high scenario, which doesn’t seem all that unlikely, growth would plod along until CRL opened at which point there’d be a spike over a few years of up to 20% before settling back down to an annual growth of 5%. As you can see, by 2050, usage would exceed the 2-hour AM capacity but services at the height of the peak would be at crush loads long before that.
I’ve previously looked at this issue and I believe the only station that needs any serious modification to enable longer trains would be Karangahape Rd. Incidentally that would also be the hardest to go back and change in the future so is important we get it right from the start.
If 9-car trains are possible, that would allow for a 50% increase in the potential capacity. Of course other stations would also need to be changed over time to allow for it but the’re unlikely to be as difficult as the CRL stations will be.
Beresford Square Entrance
The Karangahape Rd station is also the site of the other key aspect of the CRL we believe needs fixing, the missing station entrance to Beresford Square. Currently the plan is only to have one entrance to the station, located down a steep hill on Mercury Lane.
This entrance will be useful for all the development that’s expected to occur nearby, on both sides of the motorway, but isn’t as good for accessibility to Karangahape Rd or the areas just north there as an entrance at Beresford Square would be.
With trains potentially arriving almost every minute or so, having a second entrance would also help in dealing with crowd numbers, rather than forcing everyone through a single entrance.
With the tender process back underway, fixing these two issues and including it in the tender would go a long way to putting the project back on track to being hugely transformational for Auckland.