We have been very critical of NZTA’s approach to communications for the light-rail project they’re now leading. That’s because their approach has mainly been to not actually do any communications, and to allow misleading and incorrect statements to generally go unchallenged. On Friday though, NZTA finally stirred into life with a Herald opinion piece from Chief Executive Fergus Gammie:
As a responsible Government agency, the NZ Transport Agency’s job is to thoroughly investigate the case for Light Rail between the city centre and Mangere. While some people are speculating about what light rail may or may not be, we are getting on with the job.
We’ve been drawing on the expertise of transport and urban development professionals both here in New Zealand and overseas. This includes the likes of Volterra from the United Kingdom, who have provided economic analysis on light rail projects from London to Kuala Lumpur to Adelaide. Systra, a transport consulting firm based in France, has been a part of the development of more than 40 light rail lines worldwide. We’re also working with LUTI, who’ve worked on light rail across Australia.
Given the only information NZTA have released on light-rail so far has a couple of very high level brochures and an extremely basic webpage, it will be really interesting to see the results of all their detailed technical work when it eventually is completed and gets released. Volterra’s Paul Buchanan led the business case for London’s CrossRail project, so it seems some of the world’s best advisors are being brought in to help develop the light-rail work. As nowhere in New Zealand has yet implemented modern light rail, it will be important to draw in the lessons from similar major projects that have either been built in recent years, or are currently underway.
NZTA also usefully highlight that the light-rail project is about so much more than just linking together the city centre and the Airport – emphasising the enormous growth potential that exists in the parts of Auckland the project will run through:
The preferred route between the City Centre and Māngere has been developed after comprehensive studies based on two central goals – providing better transport access and more capacity to support growth in the CBD and wider urban areas.
The City Centre and Māngere, including the airport, represent two of Auckland’s fastest growing employment centres. More than a third of Auckland’s job growth over the next 30 years is expected to take place in the City Centre to Māngere corridor. The communities along the route are currently home to nearly 200,000 Aucklanders and in the next 30 years, the population will grow to an estimated 300,000 people.
They are communities that have large areas of publicly owned land that give us a rare and important opportunity for large-scale redevelopment close to the city centre and the airport.
Light rail will provide greater transport access to suburbs that don’t currently have good public transport options and this will in turn attract private and public investment in new housing developments. It will also connect with walking, biking and other public transport options, giving people much greater choice than they’ve ever had about how they travel.
Finally NZTA also get to the heart of the matter by highlighting how heavy rail costs a lot, and doesn’t achieve anywhere near as much as light rail. Interestingly it also seems like a bit more work has been done that looks at some of the challenges of getting heavy rail into the Airport area – with it now seeming as though a very long tunnel would be required.
Heavy rail is a much more expensive option and won’t deliver the same urban development opportunities that light rail does. Studies show heavy rail between the airport and Onehunga would cost approximately $2.3-$3billion, and the airport to Puhinui between $1.7b and 2b. Either of these options would serve tens of thousands fewer people who live and work along the light rail route and it wouldn’t ease traffic in the CBD or along the corridor.
Heavy rail would need a rail tunnel through to the airport that would be as long as the City Rail Link, that’s a costly and time consuming project in its own right. Light rail can be built on existing corridors, making it faster and more cost effective to build and that means people will start enjoying the benefits sooner.
Overall, this is a good first step by NZTA into actually talking about the project and giving an insight into how much work is going on behind the scenes to confirm a route, develop the project’s business case and surely a lot of other necessary technical analysis. It will be great when that work is done, so there’s some real information to fill what remains a pretty big information void.