With the exception of how people access Britomart, the construction works for the City Rail Link so far have had little impact on rail users. But as we wrote last week, that will change from the middle of next year when the Mt Eden station closes for 3½ years to enable the western line to be dropped by as much as 4m as part of grade separating Normanby Rd and to accommodate the construction of the CRL tunnels.
There has understandably been some concern about the impact of this including questions about temporary stations. I’m not an engineer but I can appreciate it’s going to be difficult to do this work while maintaining a single track through the site and trains running at 10 minute frequencies, especially when you consider all of the health and safety requirements and that compared to previous examples of track realignment, this time there is also all the issue of overhead wiring to contend with.
The CRL works will see the removal of the Normanby Rd and Potters Ave road crossings along with the Ngahura St pedestrian crossing. The latter two will be replaced with pedestrian and cycle bridges. But that still leaves 15 road level crossings and an additional seven pedestrian crossings on the Western Line and as train frequencies increase post-CRL these will become increasingly important to deal with.
Some crossings will just be able to be closed but for that that can’t, in order to grade separate them, some may require tracks to be lowered or realigned. There is the additional challenge that many of the level crossings are also next to stations and so if tracks need to be lowered then that will also impact those stations too.
The current Regional Land Transport Plan, the 10-year investment programme that is refreshed every three years, currently includes about $239 million for closing roads and grade separation but most of that is not due to be spent till after 2024. That itself is just over half of the $424.3 million that was estimated to be needed for the network.
Given all of the above, one of the risks I can see is that just after we complete the CRL and convince a lot more people to use trains, that we then start going through a similar process as with Mt Eden resulting in lengthy periods of disruption and possibly closed stations while we roll through a grade separation programme. This got me thinking,
- Assuming the funding was available – which would require the government stepping in to provide it, could we get all of the crossings that require major disruptive works done before the CRL opens?
- Given how disruptive it would be, would it be better (and even possible) to ‘rip the plaster off’ and do it all in one go, even if that meant shutting the line down for a number of months? Another way of putting this is, would it be better to have one short but highly disruptive period or less overall disruption but have it drag on for a lot longer?
Of course even if there was the money to do this there would first need to be a considerable amount of planning and we can get an appreciation for some of the challenges from a study completed in 2014 and covered in this post. The study didn’t recommend specific outcomes but looked at the options for grade separation of the crossings AT didn’t think could be closed. Challenges include at Glenview Rd in Glen Eden where options such as putting the rail line under the road would require regrading 1.2km of tracks
Some of the geometric challenges will be even more pronounced now that there will be a future requirement to accommodate 9-car trains but perhaps such works could enable those longer platforms to be built sooner.
If we were to go for a highly disruptive option it would be interesting to understand just how long that would need to be for. Some of the big Christmas/New Year closures we’ve seen have included
- The underpass at the western end of Kingsland Station was installed over a 21 day period.
- A major regrading of the rail line between the Parnell Tunnel and The Strand along with rebuilding the underpass though to the domain closed the line for 4½ weeks and was needed to enable the future Parnell Station.
- Similar closures occurred to lower the tracks around the Avondale station as part of double tracking works.
So Western Line users, would you be prepared to put up having no train for a few months if it meant there was no more disruption after the CRL opens? I think it’s something worth considering.