Barely 24 hours after I discussed the need to fix up two problems with the City Rail Link, it seems that our wishes are to be granted.
Mr Goff said the council was considering plans to widen the rail tunnel and lengthen the platforms at two stations – Aotea and Karangahape – and put in a second entrance to the latter at Beresford Square.
Present plans already included a provision for a future entranceway there.
Mr Goff would only give RNZ a rough figure on the cost of the expansion as he did not want to prejudice the tendering process, but he said this was the biggest single contract of the overall project.
“If we did the minimum work that needed to be done, you may be talking about double figure millions, maybe just edging into triple figures. If you’re talking about the full fit out, then you’re talking a bit more than that.”
His preference was to do all the work now, because he said the rail line was forecast to reach capacity within a decade.
Doing so would lift the capacity of the rail line from 36,000 passengers per hour – which was the estimate in the original plan – to a peak hour capacity of 54,000.
As I discussed on Monday, the key driver of this future-proofing has been higher than expected growth in rail ridership and the real risk that the CRL would be “full” not long after it opens. This left three options:
- Continue with the current plans. This would make it extremely difficult to lengthen K Road station in the future because it’s more than 30 metres underground. Not only does this sound very expensive, Goff has even said that it would require shutting down the CRL for two years to do the work.
- Do some basic future-proofing. Goff is saying that this would cost “double figure millions, maybe edging into triple figures“. In other words, this seems to be about $100 million. This sounds like it’s enough to enable longer trains in the future but that there’d still be extra costs in the future to fit out the tunnels. I assume this also means the Beresford Square entrance happening at some point in the future.
- Do it all now. This sounds like it would do the future proofing above but then also fit it out, in other words instead of just creating a station box long enough, would also build the extra length of platforms and the Beresford Square entrance for potential use from day one. There’s no specific information on how much this option costs with Goff saying it will be a bit more than $100 million.
This creates a really interesting situation. Future proofing for 9-car trains is something we will see a long-term benefit from it doesn’t help much in the short term. For example, before it can be used it will require other platforms around the network to be lengthened and some of those stations are likely to be easier to lengthen than others. But at the same time, there’s likely a lot of value in building the Beresford Square entrance upfront and it would fix up one of the huge mistakes Auckland Transport made back when they were leading the project.
It always seemed strange to me that this entrance was cut, given it’s in a much more prominent location than the other entrance down Mercury Lane.
Furthermore, the Mercury Lane entrance is down a rather steep street, steep enough that CRLL were/are going to have rest points included in it to meet mobility requirements. The issue was also highlighted in Simon Wilson’s infamous interview with former CRL Project Director Chris Meale when he was at The Spinoff:
I asked him, why will Karangahape Station have only one entrance? (It’s going to be south of K Road, down Mercury Lane, just by where the Mercury Plaza is now.)
He said the EOI requires allowance be made for a second entrance on Beresford Square, if it’s needed in the future. Yes, I said, but why not build it now?
Meale doesn’t think it will ever be built. “We’ve modelled the demand. Everything we’ve looked at suggests we won’t need a second entrance.”
Given that these days every prediction for public transport use in Auckland is quickly exceeded, this seemed bold.
You don’t think it will ever be needed?
As for Mercury Lane, passengers will have quite a steep walk up the street to K Road. I asked why there won’t be escalators rising to Karangahape Rd itself.
“That’s not a difficult walk,” he said. “It’s good for you.”
Not difficult for him or me, perhaps, but moderately fit adults are not exactly the benchmark for ease of use.
He and Carol Greensmith both talked about how because of space and heritage issues it was relatively easy to build on Mercury Lane but not on Beresford Square. In the end, Meale said, “We took the line of least resistance.”
We’re getting what’s easier, and it isn’t the same as what’s better.
Assuming everyone supports the changes (and who wants to go down in history for being the short-sighted person/s to knobble CRL for the sake of a tiny proportion of its overall budget) this is a huge step towards ensuring CRL is a huge and long-term success. One that can continue to be an effective core of Auckland’s rail network for 30, 50 and 100 years into the future. Is there anywhere in the world that would turn down the opportunity for a 50% increase in the capacity of their rail network for a few hundred million dollars?
It appears that council will vote on whether to approve the scope change tomorrow and the government will vote on it next week.