The years of work and millions of dollars that have already been spent on designing and developing light-rail potentially end up going down the drain if the Government picks the Super Fund option. But as I’ll cover below, large projects not only tend to take a long time to deliver but significant changes in them are almost a certainty.
The original idea for what became the Waterview connection dates back to at least the middle of the 20th century when the first plans for Auckland’s motorway network were drawn up but the more modern iteration of the project goes back to 2000 when Transit NZ, the predecessor to the NZTA, started investigating specific routes for connecting SH20 to SH16. Debates at that time focused around whether it should cut under Avondale Heights and run along the Rosebank Peninsula or go through Waterview.
In 2003 they announced their draft preferred route as being through Waterview with a mostly surface option through parks and other open space. There was also an interchange with a new road linked from Gt North Rd. This was confirmed in 2005. Notably, the former Auckland Regional Council opposed this route and preferred the Rosebank option.
In February 2008 the then Transit NZ announced the project would be a pair of two-lane tunnels on a similar but longer alignment to what we have now.
Just under a year later, and with a new government concerned at the cost of the tunnels and that they would only be two lanes, the NZTA were instructed to review the proposals. In May, just four months later, they came back with a plan that would see the road extended along the surface through Alan Wood Reserve then through a short bored tunnel, another open section then a cut and cover tunnel under Gt North Rd.
By September of 2009 they were committed to that route and were convinced they could mitigate the effects. Then in December they changed that again and decided they would once again dig a continuous tunnel but with three lanes and around 800m shorter than the original proposal. The May and December alignments are shown here.
That design was what then went through the consenting and procurement process during 2010/11 and ultimately started construction in early 2012 with the tunnel opening in July 2017.
So the whole project took 17 years from the time they started investigating it till the time it was completed and during that time the project design changed (publicly) at least four times.
City Rail Link
Iterations of what became the City Rail Link have emerged every one to two decades since the 1920s. While there were earlier reports and studies, the version of CRL we now have underway got serious in 2008 when the proposed redevelopment of the Downtown Shopping Centre, what since became the Commercial Bay development, forced the then Auckland Regional and City Councils to take steps to protect the route otherwise there would be no viable way to get out of Britomart. That led to a study and eventual business case kicking off in mid-2009 to identify exactly which route would the tunnel would take. This was released near the end of 2010, just after the inaugural election for an amalgamated Auckland in which the project was strongly supported by both main candidates but opposed by the government.
Much of the debate and delay around the CRL was political but the project has seen a few different design iterations. The initial route was the same as it is now but with a station in Newton. The station would have an it’s entrance on the other side of the Mt Eden Rd/Symonds St intersection and Auckland Transport had already bought the land for this.
One of the issues with Auckland’s rail network and how trains will operate after the CRL opens is that the network is ‘unbalanced’. There is a single line to the west but two and a bit major lines coming the South/East. In 2012 it was proposed to address this by building what was called the Inner West Interchange. The intention was that Southern and Eastern line trains would enter Britomart as they do now, travel through the CRL and then some would terminate here then head back through the tunnel. This would also have allowed AT to drop the East Facing Connection to save money but which would have meant trains coming from Newmarket/Grafton wouldn’t be able to access the CRL.
In 2014 we saw the next big change. The Inner West Interchange was dropped again but so too was the Newton Station, in favour of redeveloping the Mt Eden Station. This was for a few stated reasons.
- It was cheaper – the Newton Station would have been very expensive to build
- There was more development potential around the Mt Eden station
- It allowed for the underground junction to be grade separated, improving reliability
The final change came about just last year when it was agreed to future-proof the stations by allowing for 9-car trains. This primarily only impacted on the Karangahape Rd station but positively also meant they would build a station entrance in Beresford Square.
The first part of the CRL has been under construction for a few years now and the rest of the works are now kicking off with completion expected in 2024. That would make it about 16 years from inception to completion. Obviously the political debates about funding CRL contributed to this long gestation period, but having discussed this with a few people who have been intimately involved with CRL for a long time, they don’t think the delay from the funding discussions was particularly huge because there was a lot of design and consenting work that was going on behind the scenes.
The building of Britomart in 2003 set in motion a need to upgrade the rest of the rail network if we were to make the most of that investment. That would include upgrading all of the stations, double tracking the Western Line, re-opening the Onehunga line and building the branch line to Manukau as well as new/improved rolling stock to run on it. One of the most significant decisions was to electrify the network. In 2006 the Auckland Regional Transport Authority (ARTA) released their Rail Development Plan which included a case for electrifying the network.
In 2008 the then Labour government agreed to electrify the network. They would pay for the physical infrastructure while Auckland would pay for the trains to run on the network from some of the proceeds of a regional fuel tax. ARTA had planned to buy 70 two-car trains (140 carriages) with each carriage being 20m long. They started the procurement process.
The the National government, elected later that year, were opposed to the regional fuel tax but had committed to the project during their campaign. Early in 2009 they announced a review of the project and there were concerns that could see the project cancelled entirely. The review cut the number of trains back to 25 three-car trains but lengthened the carriages to 24m. This would have required 17 electric locomotives to pull the old SA/SD carriages.
In November of that year they confirmed electrification would go ahead but that we would get 38 three-car trains plus 12 electric locomotives, certainly an improvement on what the working group recommended.
The final change came in September 2011 when the government announced Auckland would get 57 EMUs, enough to run all services on the electrified network. There were a variety of factors behind this including that it would be cheaper to run a homogeneous fleet and that all trains would be capable of running through the future CRL, something not possible with the loco-hauled trains.
The first trains went into service in April 2014 and all lines were operated by electric trains in July 2015 – the final of the 57 trains arrived just under a month later. Of course since then ridership grew so much, roughly doubling, we’ve had to order another 15 to cope with the demand and the first of those arrived last week.
So all up about 9-10 years from the start of work till the completion of electrification.
These are just a few examples and it seems light rail is just the latest in a long line of these.
With so much we need to build to ‘catch up’, we really need to find a way of cutting through this consultant make-work scheme.