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.

We can’t just bolt on extra capacity like we did with the Harbour Bridge. With the CRL, what we build today will be with us for generations to come

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

  1. 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.
  2. 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.

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92 comments

    1. I’ve attempted to make this point before but nobody seemed to understand. The North Shore line could pass under Victoria Park and then turn eastwards under Cook Street. Still underground, it could then meet the CRL in the vicinity of Vincent Street near the Police Station. There, it would turn to the left towards Aotea Station and right towards Karangahape Station.

      This connection to the CRL would mean that North Shore commuters could choose either a downtown service that would take them through Aotea and Britomart and continue out on the Eastern Line without even having to transfer, or they could choose a service that would take them through Karangahape and continue out via Mount Eden on the Western Line without having to transfer.

      There are even two doglegs in the CRL that are perfectly placed and angled that could make the junctions happen. Just south of Aotea is a dogleg to the west and just in the vicinity of the police station is another to the east. These are perfectly angled for junctions coming from the west under Cook Street.

      The proposed plan for the North Shore line to go to Britomart has never made sense to me. Why force a transfer there for passengers wanting to go uptown or west when we could simply place the junction uptown and have the following services:

      North Shore to Manukau via Aotea and Britomart
      North Shore to Papakura via Aotea and Britomart
      North Shore to Onehunga via Aotea and Britomart
      North Shore to Swanson via Karangahape and Mount Eden
      North Shore to Manukau/Papakura/Onehunga via Karangahape, Mount Eden, Grafton and Newmarket

      1. CRL says they are futureproofing a connection at Aotea station for the north shore line. I didn’t think there was any plan for a britomart connection at all.

      2. Your running pattern only allows for one train to and from the west every ten minutes and not even running to the main station at Aotea.

        This is not going to keep up with demand from the west, which is already putting strain on peak hour trains running every ten minutes. There is good reason the CRL running pattern eventually has three trains to and from the west during peak hour.

        In addition, how will passengers from the west get to the main station at Aotea. A full peak hour service is not going to be able to transfer to a another full peak hour service coming from the south at K Rd, there wont be enough room on the trains.

        Your proposal dedicates way too much line capacity to uncommon journeys and not enough to the most common journeys.

        1. Stop thinking of the difficulties of squeezing my proposal into existing timetables and start thinking about the flexibility that it might offer to all routes.

          1. I’m thinking of the difficulties your proposal has for managing future demand. It simply doesn’t allow for enough capacity through Panmure for example.

            Can you explain how your proposal would allow for 3 trains every 10 minutes through Panmure, which will be required with the Ameti busway?

            Secondly, can you explain a full train every five minutes can get passengers from the west to Aotea and Britomart? This is something that will be needed.

          2. Jezza, your comments reflect a “Britomart is everyone’s destination, everyone must go there to transfer” mentality. Not all of the inbound passengers from the west will be going to Aotea and Britomart. Some will be going to the North Shore, despite numbers being low at the moment. With my proposal, who knows how many car drivers would abandon their trips around the top of the harbour and take a train service. In that case, not all western services would need to proceed to Britomart. Some of your five-minute frequency western line services would be Swanson-North Shore.

          3. My comments reflect the form of cities around the world – the highest concentration of employment is around the centre, this pattern is particularly strong in new world cities.

            You appear to be making the assertion that demand for transport to the CBD won’t grow at all from what it is now, which is absurd given the amount of construction in the CBD and the fact the western line is about to get a whole lot closer.

            Your model is very North Shore centric with every service going there, this will result in some very inbalanced loadings, as a similar number of people approach the CBD on each of the Southern, Eastern and Western lines as approach on the Northern busway.

            If people want to go direct from north to west in big numbers it would be much cheaper to build a dedicated rapid transit corridor along the Upper Harbour Motorway than some extremely expensive tunneling in the CBD that compromises other rapid transit movements.

          4. Well there’s your first problem: flexibility is not an advantage for fixed route transit: legibility, frequency, reliability, in short: predictability not flexibility.

      3. If Britomart isn’t chosen, then a future (or additional spur) LR line from the North Shore could transit the Aotea area (for connections to HR) and thence to the University, Hospital and onward to Newmarket (for more connections to HR).

        Seriously, the whole point of a network that’s now being developed (bus and rail) is to simplify and make the system more legible.Offering FIVE different routes from the North Shore to the Isthmus is the complete antithesis of simplicity. Even offering two (as above) is marginal at best, though the NX1 and NX2 will offer these same options.

    2. It would be at K Rd, Aotea and Britomart – take your pick. LR will along parallel to the CRL so you could interchange just as easily at any of these three points.

          1. Sorry, my mistake – that was a light rial. Dion’t know what a heavy rial would be worth.

  1. CRL will not address the city divide, the south auckland and city social and economic divide. Travel times for example Papakura to Britomart won’t change at all. 🙁 Sad. Without express train services the rail system is still far behind and not modern… Why all the investment into ECTS when it cannot handle express + normal trains ?

    1. Express trains from the south are planned once the CRL opens. The reason we don’t have them at the moment is the lack of capacity at Britomart and the lack of extra track for them to run on.

      1. No, on the post CRL network layout there are no express connections and nowhere in the CRL website materials any speed impovement for southern line to Britomart. Do u have a link for any documents about any Express train plans ?

        1. Except the southern line will run from Newmarket to grafton, k road, aotea then Britomart, it won’t go via Parnell.

          It will make it to through grafton, k road and aotea in the current time it takes to get to britomart. So if you are going to somewhere in the middle or southern end of town you’ll have a much faster trip than currently.

          1. Is it really possible for Southern Line trains to reach Britomart via Aotea in the same time they do currently?

            It is further than the current route, and involves stopping at 2 more stations.

  2. Keep the pressure on, GA. Are you getting any acknowledgement at all from the powers that be, that these are critical issues? Are you still getting rot like:
    “Who’s talking about longer trains?”
    “Longer trains… That’s a decision for another day”
    “That’s not a difficult walk … It’s good for you”

    Or have they clammed up after all that bad publicity and embarrassment?

  3. +1 million!! Absolutely mind boggling that they aren’t designing it for 9-car EMUs. The costs to do so are tiny in the scheme of things.
    As for KRd again silly not to build 2 entrances from the start.

    1. Nine car units can be used as the way of training passengers to walk/use the doors that are nearest to platforms as the units are not like the old carriages where you had to walk between carriages , the new have no doors between carriages so it won’t take much to train passengers to use the new way of doing it

  4. Fixing the CRL Short Term Planning Woes. Central & Local Government must:
    1. Get the plan right & future proof demand & capacity growth
    2. Put the customer at the centre of using the CRL e.g. Accessibility, Communications & PT Wayfinding.
    3. Embrace technology e.g. new ways of doing things better for travelling by Public Transport,
    4. Optimise the Public Transport Network
    5. Deliver value for money

  5. If nothing else it is abundantly obvious that there has been and still is little or no forward planning in regard to train length, an issue that was passed on by the Auckland Regional Transport Authority and happily carried on with by AT.

    Back in the early days of SA’s part of the reason they ran 3 car sets was because the platforms throughout the network, raised to compliment the DMU’s, were of inconsistent lengths. In fact AT were still adding to platform lengths less than 5 years ago to accommodate 6 car SA’s in preparation for the EMU’s.

    And we are currently stuck with the limitations of the arbitrary 6 car model purely based on Britomarts underwhelming money saving design to have platforms that long only.

    So quite rightly asked, where is the future proofing and why do we as a city keep woefully under spending in terms of growth that is so obviously happening in Auckland?

  6. Apparently there is going to be a big CRL announcement on either the 4th or 6th of August – no idea what it relates to but was told it will significantly alter the project. Maybe they have been listening?

  7. If the only station that can’t take 9 car trains is K road, then just open the doors on the first 6 cars. That wouldn’t be acceptable for Aotea or Britomart as the majority of people will use those stations, but K road should be much less busy. There are plenty of other places in the world that do this. Keep in mind this is only a possible scenario, we may never need 9 car trains,
    Every $100 million we add to the CRL is $100 million that isn’t being spent elsewhere. Or $100 million more fuel to the fire of those wanting a cost blowout to use against any other PT project. This can be an issue with big projects like this – the desire to get it perfect regardless of cost, opportunity cost and business case.

    1. Trains approaching K Rd from the west and south will likely be full, this makes opening only some doors next to impossible.

      It works at small stations on the fringe of a network, where few people want to get off and the train has plenty of space to move around, not at stations near the core of the network.

      1. Aside from Onehunga I’ve always wondered why we didn’t buy 6 car EMU’s! Can the AM’s be converted to 6 or 9 car sets? The no longer required driving cars could then be used to make up additional sets with new carriages.

  8. Yes, we may never need 9 car trains, it is just as likely down the track we will need 12 car EMUs.

    If we built to allow 9 car EMUs we could, in a pinch implement 12 car EMUs at K’Rd.

    As for “Every $100 million we add to the CRL is $100 million that isn’t being spent elsewhere”
    true but that figure is amortised over 30+ years, no one will care about that even 10 years from now if its built properly now. Its just the cost of getting it right.

    1. It would cost so much less to create a void for longer platforms at K Rd now, than to have to try and come back and do it later, not just for the digging, but also because there will be a train running through it most of the day, leaving only a few hours each night. Sooooooo much more expensive to do it later. So much simpler, quicker, easier, and cheaper to do it now.

      And isn’t that what a Light Rail system is all about? Simple, quick, easy and cheap to ride?

      1. My view is they will never, ever come back to either lengthen underground platforms or build the second entrance. How could they? Consider the logistical nightmare of digging out a tunnel in a live railway used every minute or two by thousands of people. Can’t shut the CRL down for a year to reopen an underground construction site, and how are you supposed to work around it?

        The likely outcome is that the price tag to come back later and start digging again is five or ten times higher. There are examples like this on the tube and in New York where they have given up and built an etirely new replacement station/junction in parallel rather than try and modify the first one.

        So hugely expensive and disruptive, what politician is every going to sign off on that?

    1. No, it wouldn’t. Absolutely not. But I’m guessing there will be at least 2 other exits, available only for emergency egress, hidden away in the K Road station. There should be some closed doors at platform level, that will only open in the case of fire or emergency, each leading to a separate fire escape stair up to the surface.

      Easy way to find out – the drawings should have been deposited with the Council for Building Consent. Available to look at as a member of the public.

      Public entry points cost money. But lack of public exit points could cost lives.

      1. OK thanks, that highlights my point. That exit will still cost structurally. So why not widen it and get a proper exit? How much will the marginal widening cost be if you then do not have to spend extra on emergency use only fire exits?

        1. I believe there was also some push back from building owners who didn’t thing underground connections to transit stations would add enough value to their buildings.

          1. To be fair, the issue heard with Beresford seems to be mainly the potential impact during construction on the surrounding heritage buildings.

  9. Testify!!
    An additional point regarding K Rd: access for people with limited mobility. People pushing prams. Older people. It’s not public transport if it doesn’t take all of the public into account.

    1. AT is still stuck in the same old mode – CBD worker/commuter is their customer. That’s why it’s so difficult for them to see other needs.

  10. The cock-up at Manukau Station is a case in point.
    For an extra $10m we could have had the bus and train station on one site.
    As it is, they will have slower connections and passengers will be exposed to the elements as they cross over Davies Cres to go between bus and train.

  11. For those stressing about the cost of our light and heavy rail infrastructure: the proposed Melbourne Airport (heavy rail) link is budgeted at $A13 billion . . .

    1. Right. Even Auckland (NZTA) still has a second harbour road tunnel crossing on the books for five billion+… You could do CRL plus the first LRT line for that price. We do not need more transport budget. We just need to reallocate what was already being spent on motorways to rapid transit.

      1. cant help but look at cities in Scandinavia with similar populations and contrast their metro & suburban rail networks with what Auckland has. Let alone the cycle networks they have too.

          1. Yet everyone would benefit from the equity, opportunity and healthier social structure a tax system more like theirs would provide.

        1. Do you really want to pay upwards of 60% tax (highest rate in Denmark)? Plus higher GST? I pay 44% (highest rate in Norway) tax, we live in a rural area, with no access to usable public transport and the town hospital is moving 25km outside of town, in the other direct from where we live. Lets not forget that the town I live in is 26,000 people and will soon become the smallest town in Scandinavia with a toll ring, not that we have a traffic problem, its because the kommune bankrupted itself building a performing arts/theatre/library which nobody wanted and nobody uses. In the main the Scandinavian countries are pretty good places to live but they still make some really daft and inexcusable decisions frequently.

  12. I’d also suggest that any grade separation of level crossings (particularly on the western line) should be done prior to CRL opening. It’ll be a cluster doing it afterwards…

    1. If you reframe them as roading improvements they may occur much more quickly.

      For example: Ranui grade separation is “completing the Western Bypass” linking Marinich Dr to Munroe Road, thereby facilitating greenfields development in Red Hills (Massey West).

      Add some PT wash: Access to Ranui Station from the north will be enhanced with new bus routes.

  13. Has anyone done costings on allowing 9 car sets to open all doors at K Rd? I understand the platform length is limited by the grade being something like 3% (from Aotea and to Mt Eden). So the only way to stay within those restrictions while having a longer platform is to add a wider curve or S bend between K Rd and Mt Eden, effectively giving more track length to increase altitude. How much more would it cost to extend the tunnels like this? I’m guessing that’s the only reason why they don’t want to do it?

    1. That’s a fair point – and, worriesomely, also something that could make a later retrofit even more difficult…

    1. Super. What else would be providing additional future capacity if it isn’t this? Confidentially, just between us 🙂 I think you’ve done well, Matt and GA.

    2. That’s great news, good work Matt. Although I don’t want to get my hopes up because it is council/government that we’re talking about here…

      It’s not going to be an announcement on the 4th main since it’s about the CRL. So apart from your two suggestions above, what else could it be?

      Reinstatement of the Newton Station with differing platform heights to allow for the flying junction?

  14. Hasn’t Melbourne decided against 9 car sets in favour of seven?

    But Matt you are absolutely right that there needs to be two entrances at K Road. Won’t most passengers come from K Road and city side rather than the other side?

    1. I wonder if this is a silver lining from having to redo the tendering process? I imagine if it had gone to plan we would have had everything locked in now and it would be too late.

    2. Is there a fourth option? To provide the space for the extra length of platforms required, but wall them off until required. Delays a little of the cost, but doesn’t require closure of the CRL to do the work?

    3. Make you wonder who is listening to whom. Looks like the Mayors office is drip feeding to Greater Auckland to soften the public up prior to announcements.

    4. The entrance and platform lengths were always up for discussion. The terrible news is “the new RFP, if approved, will go to them in September”. This is a huge delay.
      Also interesting to consider “the second option is to broaden the tunnels but not build the stations until needed”. To me this sounds sufficient to prevent future disruption of services.
      While Goff has indicated that it will be some $100M+ more than $3.4B, I expect it’ll be next year before costs are made public. I hope the increasing costs and slowing economy doesn’t result in further delays.

      1. Except “That would also require the routes to be closed, but it would not be as disruptive”… I’m suggesting they do now everything required to not have to close the routes in future, but leave the finishing work.

  15. It’s good to hear on checkpoint today that both the mayor and minister Twyford both agreeing to extending Aotea and K’rd platforms and adding the Beresford Square exit , but then there was the idiot for Epsom saying that the motorways need to be completed with the extra money asked for the CRL . So whats wrong with this member doesn’t he know do it now when it’s cheaper then do it later when it will cost as much as the original project

  16. It’s interesting that all of focus in regards to station entrances and accessibility has been on the Karangahape Rd Station. I have heard very little criticism of the Aotea Station design.

    It seems disappointing that Aotea will not have an entrance at the corner of Darby St and Elliott St, especially considering that the undeveloped site between this location and the station is already owned by the council.

    1. Pretty sure that’s not the case, ie that big site cnr Vic and Albert is privately owned, with a large tower consented and maybe to be built…

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