It has been a long time since we heard anything about the City Centre to Mangere light rail project. Delays to what was meant to be the government’s flagship transport initiative seem to stem from a revelation back in February that a frankly bizarre proposal from the NZ Super Fund was being entertained, which proposed a very different design including tunnelling under Queen Street. This from the Herald article at the time:

A radical plan to tunnel below Queen St for modern trams is being considered by the New Zealand Super Fund, which wants to roll out Auckland’s $6 billion light rail project with an international partner.

A political source has told the Weekend Herald the country’s pension fund was looking at tunnelling below Queen St to provide a faster and safer route through the city centre…

…A spokeswoman for the Super Fund would not comment on specifics for light rail, but said it was working with international and local experts to refine its proposal with a focus on fresh thinking.

Tunnelling below Queen St would be extremely complex, cause major disruption and cost more, but was indicative of the long-term outcomes the fund had in mind for one of the biggest projects New Zealand had seen.

“We believe that light rail has the potential to be transformative for Auckland’s urban development and public transport network,” the spokeswoman said.

As I said at the time, you wouldn’t go and build another CRL to then run light rail on the street outside the city so the plan would likely have also involved even more tunnelling or building an elevated line the entire length of Dominion Rd and none of this would come cheap.

However, several comments from Minister of Transport Phil Twyford in recent months seem to suggest that the government is considering the Super Fund proposal seriously, and that the project is proceeding slower than previously expected.

Last week there was some discussion about light-rail in the media for the first time in ages, with comments from Mayor Phil Goff suggesting that we might see some progress in the relatively near future.

Work on Auckland’s long-discussed light rail network could begin next year, with Mayor Phil Goff expecting decisions to come from the Government “reasonably soon”.

The Labour-led Government took over the project from Auckland Council after committing in the 2017 election to build it, but Transport Minister Phil Twyford is keeping tight-lipped on when the lengthy procurement process might be settled.

Little has been heard of where the Government is heading since it sought proposals in May 2018, and flagged that it also had a bid from the Super Fund to finance and build Auckland lines.

“I am assured they (Government) are in the home straight in terms of making those decisions and that, hopefully commencement will start next year,” Goff told Stuff.

The article also revealed a bit more information about what has been happening behind the scenes over the past year.

The head of Light Rail Carl Devlin, did outline the state of paperwork on both the Māngere and northwest lines.

Devlin said an indicative business case for the Māngere line had gone to Treasury and the Ministry of Transport for feedback, before being fleshed out into a full business case.

“When this occurs, there will be more clarity around timing, staging and estimated costs,” wrote Devlin.

“Investigations for the (northwest) line are at a very early stage and still require a lot of work to develop a business case.”

It’s good that work on the business case has progressed, as it will form a key part of the design process where route options get tested and refined – as well as a lot of technical work being done to really understand and maximise the benefits the project can bring. It’s also worth remembering that this is just another stage in the business case process where earlier, less detailed cases have already been completed.

Hopefully the business case documents will be made public soon, because the current lack of information is leading to a lot of myths about the project going relatively unchallenged. For example, this letter to the editor appeared in the Herald last week:

This idea that running on-street light-rail will take away space for buses and cars along Queen Street and Dominion Road seems to be held quite widely – even among transport professionals I’ve talked to who probably should know better. So let’s make two key points:

  • Light-rail will replace bus services along Queen Street and Dominion Road, so therefore won’t conflict with them. In fact one of the main reasons why we need light-rail is because there are only so many buses we can stuff in the city centre and we’re reaching those limits. Dominion Rd is the busiest isthmus corridor so replacing those with light-rail frees up capacity for more buses from elsewhere.
  • Light-rail will not reduce the number of general traffic lanes along Dominion Road, although we should think about doing that in certain locations, instead at peak times it will replace the bus lanes and outside peak times it will replace the on-street parking. There’s currently one lane of general traffic capacity in each direction now and there will remain one lane of general traffic capacity.

The images below show (conceptually) a before and after of how the street might look:

Obvious there are design details to be worked through, especially in the village centres, where we should consider having no cars (below), and how we find the space for bike lanes (which is totally possible). But in general, traffic capacity along Dominion Road is unchanged at peak times. In fact, with fewer conflicting movements from right-turning traffic (which will need to use signalised intersections and not cut across the tracks) it’s entirely possible traffic will run more smoothly along this road.

Removing traffic from the town centres will make them better for pedestrians, bikes and light rail

Hopefully we hear more about light-rail soon.

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69 comments

  1. I sincerely hope, pray, burn incense, offer sacrifices to the Gods that this tentative positive news is saying the government finally realises that a failure on this policy pretty much renders this Labour government consigned deservedly to the dustbin of history.

    Following on from the Kiwibuild failure, their the inability to sell a Capital Gains Tax and the extreme softly softly timidness/pointlessness of their climate change work, (recently announced multi year extensions on oil drilling licenses???), they CANNOT fail again.

    Having nothing to show physically for Light Rail would say to me Labours promises are probably the least trustworthy in a generation and as they say, the phone would be left off the hook for a very long time to come, maybe for all time.

    The Northwest is especially screaming out for this project to happen, something a wax museum dummy can see much less the local MP who should know even if he was half awake in a heavy fog.

    Thing of it this is, announcements are not going to save them, we’ve been there, done that with LR and Skypath, only to be left hearing crickets and seeing tumbleweed blow on through. Only physical evidence of LR well before the next election will save them. And I for one can live with the disruption for its greater good it will bring Auckland.

    1. This ‘greater good’ wash will deservedly face significant opposition. The example of businesses on Albert being ignored and left to struggle for survival amidst extended street chaos has amply demonstrated the future all business and residents in the path of light rail street works will face. No consideration and no likelihood of compensation. Organising oppositiin and action now to stymie this light rail madness.

      1. We can’t magically change from one transport network to another without disruption. And as the existing transport network is inherently unsafe, polluting, inequitable, and ruins urban form, the change must happen.

        The success of any business is dependent on the infrastructure provided by the country and city. What you’re trying to argue for is that the status quo must remain because change is something business shouldn’t have to put up with. That’s rubbish. Business has always had to put up with change. In this case, the owners of the properties will see good returns long term, so they should be providing rent relief during construction.

        If the only reason you’re calling light rail “madness” is because of the construction disruption, how exactly do you think cities have ever been built or improved?

        1. But compensation for the loss of income should be part of the costs in making the transition. Also loss of income from people not being able to park and shop along Dominion Rd should also be looked into. Business shouldn’t have to suffer for this tram. Even if it is for the greater good, shuttered shops aren’t going to be all the attractive in the long term.

        2. Why should private land lords provide rent relief? A lot of those business might be gone before the works are completed.

        3. If a private landlord is any good they’ll decide to do rent relief or not. If it is as dire as the claim it would be in the landlords interest to receive reduced rent for a while, instead of having the tenant go bankrupt and stop paying rent. Then you have to go through the eviction process only to find nobody else wants to lease the property until it’s all finished anyway.

        4. MC – if the construction impacts on the businesses ability to make money then that impacts on the value of the property for the business, so yes they should be paying less rent.

          The landlord will have no problems changing a higher rent due to the increased value of the property once LR is completed and there is more foot traffic than there ever was previously.

      2. So if you are opposed to this, what is your solution to Auckland’s transport problems? You realise that roading projects disrupt businesses as well?

        The main problem for Auckland is NIMBYs opposing everything but having no alternative solution. Why not use your powers for good?

        1. Look at the motorway project at Takanini beginning in 2015 was it?. Jesus wept, it is soooooooooo pre climate change glacial in its progress and the disruption to the business and everyone else is legendary. And the North Western. Lucky if you will see more than a dozen people there at any given time and that is certainly taking its sweet time also.

          But for reasons unknown, that kind of disruption is completely acceptable and yet it will only ever temporarily improve things. In fact, the NW project will still see traffic seizing up but at Lincoln Road instead rather than Royal Rd. An awful lot of money for a few hundred metres of gain!

          Doubling down on insane things does not make them less insane!

        2. And what about all the local businesses devastated when a motorway bypass takes all the SH traffic away from them? That business doesn’t come back after the disruption. It’s gone forever. I’m sure you’ve been organising opposition to get NZTA to pay business owners in Huntley for the loss of business in perpetuity once SH1 goes away?

    2. Northwest definitely needs light rail (or even a busway). I’ve been taking the 120 bus to Constellation, and that bus has been full both AM and PM peak. I feel like the light rail to the airport is a ‘nice to have’ whereas northwest is crying out for some rapid transit

      1. I don’t think it is an either or situation, we have built more than one motorway at once before. It is likely both of them will be built in stages though.

        The Airport LR will likely have higher use as it goes through more populated areas and of course has the Airport as an anchor at one end, which will help it’s business case.

        The counter for this is that the PT provision in the NW is currently much worse. What is clear is that the NW needs some solution, whether that is LR, a busway or an interim express bus with priority lanes is up for debate.

        1. The really depressing thing, is that getting those priority bus lanes to be continuous is not a big piece of work and it’s still not getting done. I realise that the ‘big thing’ might be around the corner, but in the meantime we’re literally driving everyone towards a car-centric commute (and general live). It will take long time to revert those trends.

  2. If you cut through the managerial waffle, this job ad gives some insight into what’s happening behind the scenes: https://careers.aucklandtransport.govt.nz/jobdetails?ajid=YeaF9

    “Auckland Transport (AT) is the strategic specifier, custodian and operator of the Rapid Transit Network (RTN). This relates to right of way mass public transport including the rail network, busways and the future Auckland Light Rail (ALR) system. The NZ Transport Agency has been mandated to fund, plan and construct the RTN whereas AT is responsible for future service delivery and integration into the existing public transport network.

    Auckland Transport and the NZ Transport Agency are establishing a multi-organisational programme and project approach to delivery.”

    It’s all happening far too slowly though. At this rate CRL will be opening before LR even breaks ground.

  3. That cross section isn’t what AT were showing at stops. They showed an arrangement where a stopped tram would block other vehicles. Also the cross section you show isn’t consistent with the passenger transport road widening designation on Dominion Rd that was in the Isthmus District plan and was reviewed and incorporated into the Auckland Unitary Plan. So I wonder what they are actually planning?

    1. Light rail doesn’t replace buses on Queen St. It replaces some buses but displaces the rest. Personally I hate diesel buses in Queen St, but you can’t claim there are only so many buses we can fit in the CBD then claim light rail is the fix to that when it actually prevent Queen st accommodating buses. If bussnake was real then we would be looking to use both Queen st and Albert St for buses as the solution not dedicating Queen St to service one route.

      1. Before CRL construction the main Queen St buses were City Link and Dominion Rd ones. Both routes get replaced by light rail.

        Other services only used bits of Queen St and could easily be shifted to other corridors.

        1. Exactly so light rail doesn’t have any positive effects on Albert Street or Symonds St. It just precludes putting any of the future buses from those routes on Queen Street.

        2. Light Rail would replace all of the 25 services which use both Symonds St. and Queen St. A significant number of buses off the road.

        3. Jason the problem they claim is spaces for stops. Losing Queen St doesn’t solve the problem they have claimed. Doesn’t mean we should have light rail and it doesn’t mean light rail isn’t the solution to a problem. It just isn’t the solution to the problem they claimed in their original propaganda.

        4. If the problem is the lack of space for stops then removing 15 buses per hour that arrive from Dominion Rd will help solve the problem.

        5. Not when you have to dedicate Queen Street to achieving that, no.
          They are going to build light rail because they want it. If the issue were space for stops then they would keep Queen Street for bus growth. Light rail is a good idea but their justification is and always has been bullshit.

        6. The Queen St aspect is not difficult by using the current two centre lanes of Queen St would suffice with island platforms between them.

          The rest of the road surface merging with the footpaths into this proposed shared space.

        7. @Miffy. They will eventually run out of space for growth in buses for starters.

          One aspect of the buses on Queen St, is the City Link will be replaced that by LRT which will be far superior. No looping at the end to turn around or wait at the top on K’Rd necessary anymore. Nicer vehicles, faster, more useful stops.

          Dominion Rd buses are likely needing to be increased all things being equal. The ones from Onehunga come down Queen presently can easily take the place of the Dominion Rd ones. A couple of other less frequent routes use parts of Queen St which I’m sure can be diverted elsewhere.

          NW LRT will also reduce bus numbers once that is built and on it goes.

    2. And if it blocks other vehicles… so be it.

      It should block vehicles even in that other cross-section with the car lanes on the outside. Add zebra crossings — done.

      1. Right so people should just get off their bikes and wait? Maybe using the designation and building a proper system would be better.

        1. The same is true on a separated bike lane. One way or another people getting off a tram will cross the bike lane to the footpath.

          I used to ride on the shared path along Shakespeare Road in Milford. There’s 3 schools on that side of the street, so occasionally I would have kids disembarking from a school bus in front of me. You’re not getting through on your bicycle until that bus is empty.

      2. I think Miffy’s point is that *if* the lrt stops traffic then it’s not true to say traffic capacity is unaffected.

  4. I hope they produce a report on what was learned here, to provide guidance when there’s another project involving new technology. And I hope the report is then not ignored on the basis that “Since commencing in this job I have seen no evidence of [whatever is found to be the problem].” Unfortunately, history suggests we could easily face head-in-sand denial from any of the agencies involved.

    I imagine the problem was taking the job from one under-experienced agency and giving it to another under-experienced agency just meant much of the learning the first agency had done was lost. I imagine, also, that the Superfund’s proposal was treated with kid gloves instead of given a good reality check right from the start.

    If these guesses about the causes of the problem are right, we need to ensure our system doesn’t allow any more important projects to be so badly held up just because:
    – there’s a misinformed prejudice that NZTA is better equipped than AT to deliver new public transport technology, and
    – we’re lacking a reasonable protocol around how to cope with random proposals.

    1. For me the real ball drop is the complete railroading of the NW LRT plans just because they got an unsolicited proposal for a single part of a critical piece of regional infrastructure.

      I cannot imagine that would be best-practice for any project management approach at all. Yet here we are with a business case for one part of it while the other bit has been totally ignored to satisfy an external party.

    2. What new technology?

      Light Rail is a proven technology in a number of different jurisdictions around the world, just because it hasn’t been done in Auckland or even New Zealand doesn’t make it new.

      The planning considerations may present challenges as people move from a concept of being able to drive and park wherever they wish to go, to a constant change and upgrades of PT/RTN/Transit planning and delivery, but even these aren’t new or different to other places globally.

  5. It’s be really good to finally hear something. It’s been almost 2 years, and all we have by know is some unconfirmed leaks. While the government stalls – NW commute is getting longer and longer with no alternative to driving, and that’s particularly worrying, since the actual transport minister lives out that way.

    1. The Transport Ministers are too sending letters that don’t exist to each other about Wellington transport issues to worry about a provincial backwater like the country’s largest regional economy.

  6. Devlin said an indicative business case for the Māngere line had gone to Treasury and the Ministry of Transport for feedback, before being fleshed out into a full business case. It’s good that work on the business case has progressed,

    Yeah, But the IBC was completed well over 3 months ago., there appears to be absolutely no sense of any urgency around this project

    “An Indicative Business Case (IBC) for the City Centre to Mangere light rail line has been developed and shared with our project partners, including the Ministry of Transport, for review and feedback.”

    -2018/19 THIRD QUARTER PERFORMANCE REPORT 01 January – 31 March 2019
    https://www.nzta.govt.nz/assets/resources/quarterly-report/docs/q3-2018-2019.pdf

  7. I’m wondering if the “tunneling beneath Queen Street” line quoted isn’t just sloppy journalism describing the idea that has always been part of the LR Plans: to tunnel the line under K Road from the top of Queen Street into Upper Queen St? That the pension fund proposal is actually quite similar to AT’s original? We may never know unless the pension fund plan is publicly released (unlikely unless it is adopted though in my view).

    1. Yeah that’s all I thought it was. The vacuum of information around this project has created all sorts of rumours and speculation. Which is why they need to hurry up with designing it already.

    2. No, the pension plan scheme literally includes a new rail tunnel and underground stations under queen street. If the CRL is four billion dollars then this will cost at least as much.

    3. From everything I’ve heard it’s not just a tunnel under Queen St but grade separated all the way down Dominion via way of an elevated structure. Good luck getting that past the local communities. This obviously makes it much more expensive. Also would likely have fewer stops to increase speed but would still require local buses running on the street.

    1. Its well accepted that Light Rail down Dominion Road will result in having to significantly reduce the number of Buses and Cars, – and if they

      There is certainly no scope for on street parking through the areas with Shops… and if they were to include a direct cycleway on dominion road, that would restrict other uses even more,

    2. It would be quite nice to close off Dominion Rd to full through routing of cars. We have the Western Ring Route, Sandringham & Mt Eden Road to do that. Cars will just follow the path of less resistance. People that demand traffic corridors through someone else’s place just need to visualise it been the other way around & having traffic sewers through their neighbourhoods or local streets.

      Let’s make this a truly nice city to visit, not pass through to the next big box retail building in the next town.

    3. That image originally came from AT. There are essentially two ways of separating out vehicles on a street, in space like with dedicated lanes or in time with signals. I think the thinking here was separating vehicles in time so cars would be held back to allow light rail to pass through but then after they’re gone, cars are allowed. Better to just close them completely to cars regardless as we’ve just built a massive bypass for them so Dominion Rd should only be used for local trips, not people driving the length of the road.

  8. I suspect the real issue is funding. $3-$4 billion is money the government doesn’t have right now but rather than tell us I think they will obfuscate with more reports and consultation. Available funds aside, $3-4 billion is a lot of money. Could much of the issue be solved with a fleet of new electric buses? For $150m you could buy 200 new electric buses ($750k a pop is what Wellington paid), I know this doesn’t get you a dedicated bus lane to the West but it solves Queens Street’s smelly noisey bus issue and services Dominion Road etc. This is something that would be affordable and could actually happen during the coming 2-3 years. Realistically light rail is 10-15 years away (have you ever seen a transport project delivered early) and who knows, by then this technology might be obsolete?

    1. The cost is one of the reasons why the proposal for a kind of PPP with the pension funds or other investors might be quite attractive to government.

      1. My issue with PPP is that the community ends up paying more in the long run and we should be thinking about total cost of projects not the sticker price that is discussed up front.

      2. The last thing we (as in NZ Inc) need right now is to be buying a seemingly absolutely dirt cheap bargain V8 Gas guzzling Canyonero with no deposit, 1 months free petrol, and $10 a week for 30 years Hire Purchase deal – right before petrol prices head for the sky and everyone else is already switching to buying cheap to run 4 cylinder Toyota Corollas …

        And by only looking at the “money down now” price we run that real danger of ending up doing exactly that. And taking forever to do so.

        We not only want a better plan than this shiny glittery PPP gimmick.

        We actually deserve better than this from our own Super Fund.

    2. So basically sweeping the massive Transport issues facing the North west and the huge development areas of Mt Roskill, Mangere and Airport Employment zone under the rug? How is that solving ‘much of the issue’ exactly?

      1. It’s very hard to articulate the pace at which traffic is worsening in the North West to people who aren’t dealing with it on a daily basis. I’m almost astonished at the total lack of any accountability of what was a key election promise, or comment from the Council about what is supposedly an ATAP Decade 1 priority.

        It should be a firestorm and the Nats should be pressing it home as hard as they can, but the local MP has been too busy trying to defect to his own Christian party and there is an inherent opposition to anything Light Rail from the Nats, even when they are proposing no alternative themselves.

        I have made my frustration with this clear in the postal survey we received from Hon Paula Bennett – I expect the Nats to make life easier for people trying to get up and make a living, rather than doom them to a live of wasted family time and lost productivity in traffic.

        1. But we were told by NZTA that those works on the NW motorway would be sufficient for decades.

          Are you telling me that, gasp, NZTA lied to us?

        2. “It should be a firestorm and the Nats should be pressing it home as hard as they can…… and there is an inherent opposition to anything Light Rail from the Nats, even when they are proposing no alternative themselves.”

          And there it is in a nutshell. National have zero clue on transport issues in Auckland. None. They’ll know how to criticize and as hypocritical as it will be, it may be useful. But don’t expect any alternatives to what’s proposed.

          When it comes to transport solutions, they are the dunce sitting in the corner facing the wall with a hat on. Just like they were for 9yrs.

        3. Completely agree KLK. The lack of effort, and imagination, from National is deeply disappointing. If anything they are going backwards, relying on shouting and finger-pointing rather than analysis and discourse.

          NZ needs a better opposition than this, or we’ll remain stuck in this NZTA/AT limbo.

        4. Not everyone has such short term thinking. National built the NW motorway without public transport so are the cause of the issue. The current Government are at least trying to progress something, unfortunately it has required a step change in thinking and Governance for agencies involved which has added to timeframes.
          Not sure it’s fair to criticise one party without keeping a balanced perspective

        5. The Bank – You’ll note I’m unhappy with both the party that made grand sweeping promises about supposedly vital infrastructure and the opposition party who is letting them break this promise because they’re incapable of seeing how vital it actually is to the extent that they oppose it.

          That’s before we discuss the new developments being consented in the Westgate area with literally no rapid transit connections or realistic alternatives to driving whatsoever.

        6. You’re right to be frustrated about the lack of progress on Northwest LRT over the last couple of years.

          Two years ago Auckland Transport had nearly completed an Indicative Business Case for the corridor, which narrowed the options down to light rail or a busway and also had a really good phasing proposed so that some quick bus improvements could be made.

          Since then, aside from some noises in ATAP it seems like literally nothing has happened. Two years lost.

    3. 1 – The government have plenty of money and are running surpluses. It’s also cheaper than ever to borrow money and they’re ahead of their debt reduction targets. Money is not the issue. The issue is they’re still entertaining a bad deal from the Superfund.
      2 – Buying a fleet of electric buses doesn’t solve the problem light rail is needed to solve though, that is that there are too many buses in the city centre so we need light rail to replace some of them thereby increasing space for more buses from other parts of Auckland.
      3 – The “technology might be obselete” is a classic delaying tactic used against PT and has proven to be a complete red herring every time it’s been used for the last 70 years. It’s bad faith to suggest it. Until there is a proven alternative operating elsewhere that is better we should ignore suggestions such as this.

      1. Yes the government ran a $2.5B dollar surplus for the last financial year (slightly ahead of budget) but Grant Robertson is acutely aware that we are entering a slower period of growth and he wants to be in a position of entering the next election with some goodies to offer and the books in good shape. To say the government has plenty of money simply isn’t correct, the government has never had plenty of money. Not this government or the previous.

        I simply don’t buy the fact that the city is clogged up with buses. Maybe the infrastructure around the bus network is insufficient, but surely fixing that is cheaper than putting in a completely new net work for $3-$4 B?

        I agree you can’t sit on your hands in case technology improves, and yes PT needs improving massively, but surely you don’t want to wait 10-15 years for light rail? To suggest that it will happen quickly is simply not realistic. Look at Ameti. Planning commenced in 2003, we are now 2019 and only the first stage is complete…..

        1. The only way you could ‘not buy’ that the city centre is clogged with buses is if you hadn’t been.

          The city centre future access study looked at solving this problem in 2015. The only workable bus based solution they could find was a $3b bus tunnel; nothing else had enough capacity. LRT on Dominion Road was one of the cheapest options to relieve bus congestion and had other massive benefits.

      2. An Matt L with all the money they have spent on all these reports they could have built half of the LR to the airport by now . And the govt should do a clean out of NZTA and remove all those Nat cronies that believe roads are the answer to the transport strategy and bring in people that understand the role of PT wiether it’s LR or H.R

    1. What’s the kiwibuild failure? They’re a couple of months behind on targets, that seems to be a stumble rather than a fall.

      1. And believe me, there is a LOT of Kiwibuilds starting to get underway via HLC. A lot. Govt. was probably a little optimistic in its time frames is all.

  9. The whole point of LR is so you can hop on and off with ease directly in front of shops, a pedestrian area, homes, etc. Light rail and pedestrianisation go hand-in-hand in function, and construction. Much cheaper when built together, and gives people rich access to these wonderful amenities we want to build.

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