This is a guest post from Waitemata Local Board Member Graeme Gunthorp.

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:

  1. Running bigger, longer buses (or “trackless trams”) with dedicated lanes, but no grade separation.
  2. 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).
  3. 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?).
  4. 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.

Tunnel Alignment

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.

Potential light metro tunnel alignment

Station Locations

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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
Potential station locations, showing 400m radius from centre of station

Considerations

  • 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.

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74 comments

  1. Have to say, if it’s 2 stations then it should be wynyard and not Victoria alongside Aotea

    Also seems that we should be aiming for 2030 for opening this considering the forecasting milestones we’ve hit decades earlier recently

  2. How many stations is a question that should also be influenced by what kind of station is being built and the construction techniques used.

    A few large, high quality stations may be desirable for providing a customer experience similar to the heavy rail network and limiting the delay caused by each stop. However their construction (if by cut and cover) is highly disruptive on the city around them. After CRL construction finishes its likely that central city businesses will be pretty sensitive about further disruption.

    More frequent smaller stations have the benefit of providing greater connectivity / a bigger walking catchment at the expense of a slower journey. Their small size allows construction to be less invasive (potentially using techniques where much of the station is constructed from within the tunnel without disturbing the ground above).

    Of course considering how aggressively value-engineered most public projects are in NZ it seems likely policy makers will decide to compromise with fewer stations that are also smaller.

    1. How much shrinking of station size is possible given that track space does not shrink, nor platform length? Access size provision is likely to be set by emergency egress provision for full car sets plus a full platform loading.

      1. I think it would be wisest to:
        Initially upgrade the northern busway to light rail of two-car sets. Run just one unit of two car’s off-peak and have 2 or 3 units of 4 or 6 cars respectively at peak times. Make the platforms on the northern end up to 6 cars initially, but with clearances to increase platform sizes in the future.
        But future-proof the underground stations in the CBD to make sure they’re capable of taking up to 8 cars. Or possibly: Even 10 cars. Just seal-off the surplus platform length until the stage in the future when they’re needed.

    2. I don’t think stations being more frequent means they are smaller. The main elements of platforms, concourse and vertical access remain the same, they are governed by evacuation requirements more than anything. Whether there are two banks of escalators in daily use or three is pretty trivial.

      I would vote for a station at Wynyard with on entrance in the middle of the precinct and the other at Victoria Park by Fanshawe St.

      Second station at Aotea west, with one entrance at the CRL and the other coming out around Nelson St.

      Third station at university, again with one entrance by wellesley and the second a couple hundred meters away, either up Symonds St or maybe over close to the hospital.

    3. A basic station is 2 or 3 platforms, toilets, stairs, lifts, escalators and covered seating like at Middlemore. The Otahuhu station also includes a large expensive building which added greatly to the cost.

      1. I would think that a “basic station” would merely be platforms with access points and some form of sheltered seating? Maybe a rubbish bin.

        Toilets, card/ticket machines, vending machines, even timetables/network maps/service displays/service announcements are all luxuries.

      2. JFamilton
        Yes I completely agree. When these light rail services are hopefully running at turn up and go frequency why would you need a huge building to wait in for four or five minutes?

  3. Far out man , Did Auckland win the world city multi-Billion dollar Lotto? Sorry I missed it on the news.

    This should of been done before the western train city tunnel.
    Then ‘they’ want Auckland ports moved out of Auckland (like up north) so Auckland city can go bankrupt with all these projects.

    Every time I take a trip on the north shore, I see empty buses at Orewa running every half hour, but nobody is interested to fix it instead thay want to cut the city outer link bus and just put it on a C route back & forwards between Newmarket & St Lukes via Auckland city CBD (is out transport operators handicap or what?)

    It seems nobody can fix up anything but we can think up a new kind of tax to be used so we can waste more money and break the system even more.

    ++++++++++++++++++++++++++ and I post this again ++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++
    Something needs to be done now to stop the wasted money on Auckland public transport, otherwise if someone comes along and chops out the buses that almost run empty, that is going to make the system less trustworthy for public transport users and have a flow on effect to other public transport to make people use their car.. The root problem is Auckland population is too spread out compared to other citys around the world to have a efficient public transport system.

    With news a few months ago on the latest budget blow out on the underground rail project between Britomart and Mt Eden, with shrinking rate payers and growing rent payers, not too mention public transport users we will all have to pay for it one way or another. If someone can save money using more efficient uses of buses and trains without cutting services, any idea should be improved on.

    One suggestion to pick on the north-shore for example is to keep the rush hour workers buses the same until or unless cheaper improvements can be made without making workers worse off in anyway for getting to work on time.

    At the moment there is
    NX1 buses going between Hibiscus Coast bus station & Albany to Britomart.
    NX2 buses going between Albany and Auckland University of Technology & Auckland University, (however we have to be careful with the NX2 as I have noticed it is often near full throughout the day.)

    PROBLEMS:
    Sometimes I have noticed while on the NX1 bus between Hibiscus coast to Britomart, as the NX1 gets into Albany bus station, The NX2 bus is just leaving, there is no way to get a direct transfer, without having to wait at the bus station for the next scheduled NX2 that could be as much as 15 minutes.

    The Sunday #981 bus between Hibiscus coast bus station & Orewa,
    The latest 30th September 2018 timetable shows that the #981 on Sunday comes to a abrupt end at 7:45pm, while NX1 buses keep leaving Hibiscus coast station to Auckland CBD until 11.05pm.
    The strangest thing about it, there is half hour buses needed for phantom Sunday rush hour passengers for most of the day.

    The #981 & #984
    Based on the previous “phantom Sunday rush hour passengers” paragraph. I am sure they could alternate times between the #981 & #984 each half hour on Sunday and there would not be too much hardship compared to how it would look if no buses ran at all, due to lack of money to run the buses from very poor or zero passenger numbers.

    As I use a NX1 and it travels between Akoranga bus station and Constellation bus station along the “Northern Busway”. I can not help but notice the frequent almost empty NX1, NX2 buses coming the other way. I have to ask “Could there be a more efficient use of buses between 9am to 3pm weekday outside the rush hour times, ultimately to save money” like having a “busway link service” similar to the four different link buses that operate from Auckland CBD that started with the dollar a trip inner link bus. The busway link would go only on the busway route. Akoranga bus station and Constellation bus station(or better still to Albany bus station), lets call it for this example NX-link.
    So between 9am to 3pm a NX1, bus only goes between Britomart and Akoranga bus station, The NX2 between the two universities and Akoranga bus station. The #866 could be replaced with for this example NX866 and only go between Newmarket and Akoranga bus station, no doubt there could be many more NX? options tried out going directly to other parts of Auckland, such as the Museum of transport & Technology and the zoo in the weekends, just to give one destination example.

    Go to https://tracker.geops.ch/?z=13&s=1&x=19446649.8366&y=-4385812.6254&l=transport
    or go to https://tracker.geops.ch , zoom out of Europe and zoom into Auckland city.

    1. “This should of been done before the western train city tunnel.”

      Can I ask why? What are we missing by doing the CRL first?

      1. (think inside the square)
        Because the westeners using the train via newmarket only miss out on a few minutes everyday.
        People on the North shore have to put their name on a waiting list before they get to use the harbour bridge during peak travel times

        1. By removing the current deviation via Newmarket, the CRL saves Western line users headed to city centre ~10-mins on running-times. The new Aotea station will then save another ~10-mins walk-time for most people travelling to mid-town. So we have ~20-min savings before we include the reduction in wait-time that is enabled by increased frequencies. I’d guess most users will end up benefiting by between 10-30 minutes.

    2. Eric
      “As I use a NX1 and it travels between Akoranga bus station and Constellation bus station along the “Northern Busway”. I can not help but notice the frequent almost empty NX1, NX2 buses coming the other way. I have to ask “Could there be a more efficient use of buses between 9am to 3pm weekday outside the rush hour times,”

      There is little doubt in my mind that the network could be made more efficient off peak. For example, the 82 and the NEX1 and NEX2 trundle to the city alongside each other, when terminating the 82 at Akoranga makes more sense to improve frequency. The other advantage of terminating the 82 at Akoranga makes a trip north more easy.

      However the real challenge for AT is to ensure the bus network is a much larger provider of public transport trips other than just home to work and return.

  4. Hang on. Light metro isn’t necessarily underground.

    What would make underground light metro cheaper to construct than any other kind of underground rail system?

    1. The usual approach is to have small trains frequently to allow for narrow diameter tunnels and short platforms for small station boxes . That can make a significant difference.

      However it usually backfires as the narrow, short trains run out of capacity easily.

    2. Like all light rail; light metro can have its spec’s and regulations custom-tailored. So it doesn’t need the mainline loading gauge and this doesn’t need the same higher platform heights and clearances. And that ultimately means tunnels with a smaller bore and that means considerable savings.

      It’s going to need to be tunneled under the harbour, so if they’re going to invest in that and the TBM it will need, it makes sense to just continue the tunneling into the CBD.
      Besides: Do you REALLY want vaiducts going up those steep hills into the Auckland CBD?

  5. I found this post interesting so I showed in the Mrs mfwic. Her response was “this is never going to happen because people hate the North Shore”. Sadly I think she is right.

    1. If that’s the case; how did the Auckland harbour bridge, Northern motorway, Northern busway etc ever get built?

  6. sorry I meant to say ‘showed it to Mrs mfwic’.
    I think corona virus is getting the better of me. I went to the same supermarket and pharmacy on the same day our local Typhoid Mary did (the second case of corona).

    1. Maybe if people on the North Shore spent less time moaning about enjoying the best infrastructure and public amenities in the region people would like them better…

        1. Even better, imagine if council hadn’t allowed upzoning of farmland unless they’d bought the land themselves, took the land value increases for the city’s benefit, and maintained all infrastructure to a high level.

        2. North Shore’s infrastructure was in pretty good shape. They sold their airport shares and spent the money replacing the old Rosedale ponds with modern equipment and a decent outfall with capacity for growth. Once Watercareless took it they started building a pipeline from West Auckland to use up as much capacity as they could.
          Our roads didn’t have many potholes and our footpaths were in good shape. Since the referendumless amalgamation our rates have skyrocketed and services decreased. They only wanted North Shore as a source of cash.

        3. If it’s not pathetic dad jokes, it’s bitter parochialism of the glaring-with-crossed-arms-photo-in-the-local-rag variety. Can we just have an article titled The Wisdom of Miffy he can post to which the rest of us can skip over

  7. Busway extension to Albany
    Conversion of the busway to light rail
    Harbour rail tunnel with city stations

    Meanwhile the northwest waits…

    1. Project doesn’t have to start in sequential. We can start all projects concurrently.
      Money actually is not a problem as we can lend more due to low interest rate.

  8. All a pipe dream Auckland missed the bus on building light rail or any other rail to the North shore eons ago ,just forget it put your energies into articles that face reality .Should of been done when the ”busway” was built at the latest. Trackless tram ,or whatever you want to call them the way to go now, double ended don’t need to turn around ,battery or overhead powered and new developments being worked on in Germany with them mean they can be even longer than the present Chinese models.

    1. Just because Trackless trams are “new” (*cough* a new package of something already long-established) doesn’t mean they’re “the way to go now”.

      For one; repeated operation on rubber tyres and asphalt will have efficiency costs over steel tyres on steel rail.

    2. Yeah agree. By then trackless trams will be the obvious choice. I would say a new dedicated tram bridge is also the obvious choice but I’m sure it will end up being a tunnel with lots of car lanes (called a PT project even though the car lanes are 90% of the cost).

    3. “Trackless” trams are a pipe dream that ignore the physics of putting a very heavy vehicle on a road designed for much lighter vehicles. The pavement would need significant rework which would be far from cheap or quick, in fact the level of disruption would probably be similar to laying tram tracks.

      1. Is that actually true though? Take a look at the endless convoy of trucks using the likes of SH27. I doubt that road is anything special, it hasn’t changed much in as long as I can remember. It seems to survive.

        1. Mate, I suggest you take a drive down there – the road pavement is failing all the way to Matamata. It is easily the worse-maintained State Highway in the NI. Or were you being sarcky?

        1. The manufacturers have made some claims that they don’t do pavement damage but this is based on brand new rigid concrete pavements, as mentioned by Kevin S above. This sort of pavement is far more expensive to construct and maintain than what is currently typical in NZ.

      1. Some early systems did cause a problem i’m not talking about those .
        Entirely different technology involved in the present trackless trams.

        1. A trackless tram throws away it’s ace card, the track! A steel wheel running on a steel rail is what makes rail so energy efficient. Trackless tram is just a high tech bendy-bus.

  9. If you want to communicate clearly to the as many people as possible call it the ‘Northern Line’. Calling it Tuaraki Line does not aid clarity, does not utilise the world’s important communication language and is merely a sop to a small section of New Zealand’s population.

    1. In Paris the Metro lines are simply 1, 2, 3 etc. with the name of the station at the end of the line depending on what direction you are travelling.
      This means nothing to any visitor who is not familiar with a map of the city yet that doesn’t stop the underground network being the world’s second busiest.
      Tuaraki is a perfectly acceptable name and I can’t see how it would stop people getting where they want to go.

      1. The practice of naming public transport lines after geographic destinations is a purely British commonwealth thing.

        Across most of the world; public transport lines are given unique colours and mere numerals or single Capital roman characters. Except for maybe the US of A, where for the most part they just give train lines the names of their associated colours. And the British commonwealth already always did this with buses and the older style trams. It’s just more practical.

        When I lived in London; for the initial period of 6-12 months when it took me to become more familiar with much of the wider city; I would subconsciously associate underground and train lines & where they would take me with the colour on maps & signage, the colours of the overground EMU’s (Eg South-western, Southern, first capital) etc. and the interiors of the rolling stock (and of course use numbers for bus services like I always had). I’d look at TfL’s journey planner and think something like “Okay take the red line to this stop, then get off and get a brown train to here then take this number bus” or something.

        And it’s the same with Sydney, who about 5 years ago switched to changing their train services from named lines to just “T1”, “T2”, “T3”, etc with their own unique colour for train lines.

        It’s just more practical.

    2. Please remember that Māori is an official language of NZ. Rapid transit lines are one of many ideal opportunities for re-balancing the use of our official languages. Plenty of people are quite fluent now with Māori words and phrases, and others wish to be.

    3. +1 Warren. Why use an obscure language to name something that will most certainly be used by both residents and visitors alike (when virtually none of the former and even less of the latter speak it) when there is a perfectly reasonable, understandable and easier option of doing it in the most widely spoken language both in New Zealand and around the world?

      1. Wow, how do you get around New Zealand mate? If you can’t direct yourself to Maori names then you are really missing on some great places! Must spend a lot of time in the South Island.

        Imagine if everyone when they arrived to Tokyo, tried to use the Public Transport and just went ‘can’t read it, i’ll walk’

        1. Tokyo has a huge network which surprise surprise has directions in English as well as Japanese. Guess what? Japanese is spoken by around 1000x more people than Te reo is! Japan also percentage-wise has a hell of a lot less tourism than NZ does.
          We have a Western, Eastern, Southern line in Auckland. Why would we suddenly decide to not have a Northern line and replace it with Tūāraki – a name which has zero meaning for most people and little purpose. To say otherwise is just PC nonsense.

        2. AKLDUDE – I agree with you. lets keep it simple so all people regardless of what language they speak in NZ whether its is English, Maori, Chinese, Korean, french, etc.

    1. Why would it need bus lanes if the light metro’s going to carry PT across the harbour?
      The original plan for the second habour crossing (a tunnel) had a lower level for the light rail & Walking & cycling, beneath the three lanes of Road.

  10. “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.”

    Gradient is not a prohibiting factor for heavy rail on the North Shore busway-alignment. This is an urban myth that people keep repeating. (See my earlier comment linked below, and follow-on comments)

    https://www.greaterauckland.org.nz/2016/06/16/light-rail-to-the-sea/#comment-211666

    If heavy rail went to the North Shore it would not use the CRL tunnels. It would need an alternative route into/through the CBD – as would light metro. If Auckland is to be properly served by rail it will need a multi-line system in the CBD.

    The crunch question is, how much of the likely demand can be accommodated by light rail running in the streets, and at what point should additional grade-separated alignments be considered? Things are growing fast in Auckland, and the danger with opting for a street-based system is that its capability may be overtaken by demand before it is even open.

    1. Given that the freight hub served by the NAL is going to be in West Auckland, what industry would we be allowing to flourish by spending the extra billions of dollars giving the Shore Heavy Rail? There’s no room for depots to make use of it and not much there that could not just be conceivably served by adding more capacity to a Light Rail route. At least, not to the extent that would justify duplicating the NAL in a part of Auckland that has a cheaper and more realistic upgrade path to rapid transit for commuters.

      1. “ There’s no room for depots to make use of it”… only some of the largest areas of greenfields in the Auckland region (between Albany and Silverdale), or even the council owned land beside the motorway at Rosedale which is near Constellation Station.

    2. “Heavy rail” merely means mainline standards & regulations. “Heavy” & “light” refer to the number of regulations.
      Technically; “light rail” can be physically larger & heavier and have greater capacity than “heavy rail”. There’s no compulsion whatsoever for “light rail” to have any street running.

      Why on earth would they build a future railway line to the north shore to the compromised & far from ideal “heavy rail” mainline standards if it’s not going to be connected to the mainline? Why not just build it to custom standards & regulations (AKA light rail)?

    3. I’ll ask the same question I asked then.

      “Why would you build a Heavy Rail line at the limits of operation when you could build a standard metro line for the same price?”

      1. Fair question, Sailor Boy. Light metro may indeed be the way to go.
        I am just trying to dispel this persistent but erroneous myth that heavy rail (or rather EMUs, which are not actually that heavy relative to real “heavy rail”) is limited to some arbitrary gradient which would preclude it from the North Shore busway alignment.
        I’m not making any other judgement of one mode over the other, other than cautioning that a system relying on street-running may not cut it.

    4. lol, who is this foamer? Using random examples of a few special legacy lines that do over 4% grade to bust an urban myth… when light rail and metro do 8% out of the box.

      1. Ha ha, foamer – that’s me, guilty as charged! But I fear the term “heavy rail” is a misnomer which is confusing to some. KiwiRail hauls 2,500 tonne coal-trains up the 3% grade of the Otira Tunnel. That is heavy rail.
        But what we are talking about is a passenger-only railway using relatively-lightweight EMUs which have a high proportion of powered axles (like the CAF units). In this context the difference between heavy rail and light metro is not that great.
        But what may be more significant is whether putative North Shore trains are designed to be compatible with the existing rail system or not. This is a question which needs careful consideration before committing to something that’s incompatible with potentially far-reaching consequences.

        1. The CAF units can do 4%, light rail and light metro 8%.

          The busway has 7% grades. You do the math.

    5. There are multiple reports that have identified the huge amount of earthworks required to decrease the gradients on the busway, not to mention all the bridges and flyovers built to light rail standards not heavy rail. Wellingtonians still trying to tell Auckland how it is and what to do hahaha

      1. Ahh what on earth are you on about? Why do you need to decrease the gradients on the busway?

  11. If Auckland is to have a second rail network, be it light metro or light rail, it should be built with 1067mm gauge tracks so as to be compatible with the existing rail network.

    Light or Metro vehicles would use those lines, and trains would use the HR lines, but having the same gauge would enable a third class of vehicle to be employed, that could operate across both networks.

    This would mean one-seat rides could operate from Papakura to the Airport or Botany, or from Auckland to Kumeu then onto Helensville, or north-south services between Orewa and Papakura.

    Changing between networks is a big disinsentive compared to the one-seat ride of a car. This is being given as the primary reason for electrifying to Pukekohe so at least AT understand the importance of through-service.

  12. Haha what Light Rail? To be honest those ideas are great and I have no doubt one of those options should be implemented. But government will be debating light rail to the airport for years now. Doubt anyone will touch any new rail project for a while…

    1. If National win the next election; “light rail to the airport” will be dropped like a hot scone.
      Even if Labour wins the next election; there’s a good chance that they’ll drop it anyway. Maybe I’m wrong, but It appears to me that they’re looking for a way out of it anyway.

      And I doubt that it will be on the table ever again. You might get the odd clown who supports it and can’t accept it, like those silly people who keep flying that ugly flag that got rejected in the referendum, but eventually, most of the public will well move on.

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