The Northern Busway has been a roaring success since inception, connecting a formerly car-crazy collection of suburbs with the city centre and beyond via a fleet of double-decker buses.
But capacity issues are creeping in, and the city centre is struggling to handle the current level of buses arriving from all directions. Some estimates show the Northern Busway maxing out by 2040, meaning higher capacity modes are required to reduce the number of vehicles. Those modes may need to have bi-directional running capability, so city blocks are not used as turning circles.
Space constraints within the city centre limit the number of additional buses that can be used on the busway, as corridors and bus stops within the city are already heavily congested.
– Auckland Plan 2050
Upgrading the Northern Busway could take a few different forms:
- Running bigger, longer buses (or “trackless trams”) with dedicated lanes, but no grade separation.
- Extending the light rail system from Queen Street, along Fanshawe, down Daldy, and into a tunnel to the North Shore where it would effectively become light metro (as per Greater Auckland’s Congestion Free Network 2).
- Adopting light metro for the North Shore, with the tunnel continuing on to Aotea Station and Universities, but not linking to any non-grade separated light rail. This would allow driverless trains and automated running, as with Vancouver’s SkyTrain (Matt describes a variant of this option in his post If Light Metro Is the Answer?).
- Heavy rail is not feasible on the existing Northern Busway due to the steep gradients, and it would unnecessarily congest the CRL tunnels reducing existing service.
This post examines option 3, underground light metro, and specifically where stations in the western city centre should be located.
After making landfall from the North Shore, the tunnel will likely run under Daldy Street in Wynyard Quarter. It may turn under Victoria Park, then follow Wellesley Street to intersect with Aotea Station, which has been future-proofed for a line to the North Shore, then up to Symonds Street for a Universities station and beyond.
Assuming a total underground section of 1.8km from Jellicoe Street to Queen Street, and platform lengths of 200 metres, there are multiple options for station locations.
Here’s a couple to start the discussion:
- Three stations: Wynyard, Victoria & Aotea East (shown in purple on the map below)
- Wynyard Station would serve the rapidly growing dense new suburb, and help it achieve the required 70% of trips being in PT or active modes. Transfers available via bus along Fanshawe and light rail along Daldy.
- Victoria Station would serve the western city centre including Victoria Quarter, City Works Depot, and the inner western suburbs via bus.
- Aotea Station platforms would likely be between Albert and Queen Streets, allowing for easy transfer to CRL trains and light rail. This does mean an uphill hike to the Hobson Street ridge, however escalators will do the majority of the work.
- Two stations: Victoria Park & Aotea West (shown in green on the map below)
- Victoria Park Station would connect via underpasses to Wynyard Quarter to the north (around 600 metres to Jellicoe Street; light rail transfer available) and Victoria Quarter to the south. Construction would be less disruptive to the road network but may damage park flora.
- Aotea Station platforms could be between Hobson and Albert Streets, allowing it to connect to the convention centre easily, and help revitalise the Nelson / Hobson Street area.
- Alternatively the platforms could be in between Albert and Queen, as per option 1, however this would mean a 750 metre distance between Aotea Station and Victoria Park Station.
- Having more stations provides more amenity, increases coverage and accessibility, however it also increases costs significantly, and adds a minute or two journey time for through travellers.
- All of these station locations give the opportunity for underground connections to office and apartment buildings, however landowners need considerable forewarning in order to prepare.
- I’ve referred to the North Shore Line as “Tūāraki”, meaning “Northern”. I’d love to hear ideas for alternative names!
Whatever the outcome from the Government’s light rail thinking, we need to start the conversation about rail transport in the western city centre, to ensure the optimum solution for all.