Of all the potential new rural motorway projects that get thrown around, including ones recently announced, there’s always one I’m surprised we never hear called for more. Surprised because the two-lane road it would replace carries about twice (or more) as many vehicles every day as any of the other motorway projects that been getting media and political attention. The road is even busier than most of the recently completed or under construction projects such as the Waikato Expressway and Puhoi to Warkworth.

As you may have guessed from the title image, the road is the proposed bypass of Huapai/Kumeu. As a quick comparison, the section of road between the end of SH16 at Brigham Creek and the Coatesville Riverhead Highway carries almost 37k vehicles a day, dropping to just under 29k per day north between there and Kumeu. The Waikato Expressway between the SH2 turnoff and Hamilton generally carries about 20-25k per day, so do does the road north of Wellington being bypassed by the massive Transmission Gully. Most of the new projects announced in January or promoted in the media by political parties tend to carry 12-20k per day.

Quite why this project in the Northwest so often gets left out of the discussion is unclear. Is it just because it’s in Auckland?

Although it’s not completely ignored. The current road is getting a safety upgrade from Waka Kotahi NZTA and the bypass is included in the current ‘Supporting Growth‘ work which is looking to protect the routes in the greenfield areas. Below is the indicative network for the North west with the bypass shown as number 4. I’m also not sure why it doesn’t also bypass Waimauku. Perhaps they’re leaving that for a separate project.

What I have been thinking about recently is not so much if the motorway extension happens but if it does, should we also take the opportunity to divert the rail line with it. Here’s my high-level thinking about it.

Currently the rail line runs north from Waitakere and as it reaches Kumeu it turns west and runs alongside SH16 through the township along to Waimauku.

Huapai/Kumeu is currently undergoing significant (sub)urban expansion with acres of new sprawl popping up. That has seen the population in the town and some of the surrounding area go from about 1,500 in 2013 to 4,000 in 2019 – Riverhead has also grown, from over 1,400 to 3,100. As you can also see from the map above, a lot more growth is allowed for too. That growth is also on both sides of the existing state highway and rail line.

Google Earth images show the growth in Huapai/Kumeu and Riverhead between 2012 and 2019

Even without the idea of moving the port, over time we’re like to see an increase in rail traffic due to the current upgrades that are underway. Currently this is often just two trains a day. While we currently have freight trains rumbling through a swathe of our urban area, it is was something to avoid if we possibly can.

In most places, both in Auckland and other parts of the country, it would simply too cost prohibitive these days to move the rail corridor. But the difference here would be if we were already building that motorway scale road, tacking on a bit extra to include a new rail corridor shouldn’t cost all that much.

What’s more this is something that we may need anyway if the suggestions of moving the port ever came to fruition. That’s because there have been suggestions of building an inland hub somewhere around Huapai. That’s probably not the kind of thing we want alongside the main street which should become more focused on people rather than industry. To put things in perspective, I’ve overlaid the size of the current Metroport footprint in Onehunga just to get a feel for how much space is needed and even more would be needed if it was also handling cars and other goods.

Of course, if you did do this it does leave the question of what to do with the existing corridor through the town. It would still be incredibly useful, particularly for the future Northwest Rapid Transit line, whether that is ultimately some form of rail or bus and with 2-3 stations (depending on mode etc). the town would be well served.

I can already imagine some readers yelling out about using the existing corridor for extended rail services but long term it’s simple not a viable option. Most people from the Northwest aren’t travelling to destinations along the western line but going to the city-centre, the North Shore and even areas around Westgate and therefore would be far more likely to use a more direct service along a route similar to what is above than tiki touring via Swanson. For the shorter to medium term we do need out various transport agencies looking to see what quicker wins can be had for buses in the Northwest so they can avoid sitting with those 36k other vehicles each day.

I should point out, all of this is prefaced on not moving the rail line until such time as the motorway project happens, if it ever happens – it’s not in the current 10-year plans. But with route protection already being worked on, it seems the ideal time to make sure we get this right and include a diverted rail line in that.

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  1. “I’m also not sure why it doesn’t also bypass Waimauku. Perhaps they’re leaving that for a separate project.”

    I’d speculate that a future project would just head straight north, bypassing both Waimauku and Helensville and rejoin SH16 around Kaukapakapa.

    1. I’d agree, generally following the direction of Peak Rd over non-rail friendly terrain.
      I’d hope the freight yard is also being zoned for now.

  2. The idea of diverting the freight with the new SH16 bypass and re purposing the rail line is a great one. I’m one of the new residents in one of the SHA built in the last fews years. I’m horrified by just how car centric everything is out here, but there are no other options. I didn’t mind driving for a few years while waiting for the LR line to be built but I’ve now got no hope of seeing that inside this decade. I would love to be able to catch PT to town in a sensible amount of time, and I would also love SH16 through Kumeu to turn into a town centre with proper footpaths. A pedestrian friendly Kumeu would be so good for the residents.

  3. “…if the suggestions of moving the port ever came to fruition…”
    It’s got a lot more chance of happening than this light rail down Dominion road to the airport has.

  4. The railway could be diverted around Kumeu and Huapai but we could also retain the right of ways and the rails just in case it is needed for a passenger service. I assume Matt.L is thinking that the wonderful light rail could use the right of way but it is possible that there will be a change of heart or circumstances which could see passenger services. Another possible use could be as a return loop for freight trains to and from the proposed container yard so the locomotives wouldn’t need to swap ends. However not to sure where that yard would be located. In general I disapprove of any sell off of railway land or right of ways.

  5. “Quite why this project in the Northwest so often gets left out of the discussion is unclear. Is it just because it’s in Auckland?”

    Yes interesting with those traffic volumes. I suspect it’s because no major/outspoken politician or journalist lives & commutes from out that way?

    We get a lot of coverage about the North western motorway and public transport from Westgate area coming from Todd Niall for example.

    1. It will partly be because it is a bypass. It is possible a large portion of the traffic is heading to and from Kumeu and surrounds and wouldn’t use a bypass anyway.

      In saying that there is 15,000 vpd between Kumeu and Waimauku so there must be a decent enough volume of through traffic, probably enough for a 2 lane bypass anyway.

  6. For an easy public transport option, why don’t they extend the bus that runs from Swanson to Waitakere the few ks down Waitakere Road to Kumeu. At least it would give a public transport option that doesn’t include buses fighting with the general traffic and give purpose to a virtually useless bus service. If it is successful, then we could look at extending the suburban rail service to Kumeu/Huapai, and it wouldn’t cost a fortune to find out what that level of support would be.

    1. How many passengers travel on that Swanson Waitakere bus I have often asked on this website but nobody has ever come back with any kind of an answer. I mean pre Corona I imagine customers are pretty scares at the moment just like all buses and trains for that matter. .

      1. I’ve never heard you ask that.

        The route 146 bus averages around 60 boardings per weekday, so around 30 people.

      2. I’d imagine very few, but the job of that route isn’t to have high ridership. It’s to provide critical access for local residents.

  7. You are asking on the wrong websites. You need to ask on the websites for Kumeu/Huapai (there are more than one). There are quite a few driving to Swanson to catch the train, or driving their kids so they can catch the train to school.

    1. OK different question to volumes on Waitakere Swanson bus but good suggestion for Kumeu Swanson bus. Experiments should be made reckons are useless.A man with out the facts is just another man with an opinion. And a bus can prove and build the market which can justify a train. Same thing applies to building a market between Pukekohe and Tuakau, Pokeno and Mercer which could prove the need to build new stations.

      1. Good suggestion about extending the Swanson- Waitakere bus to Kumeu. This could be done very quickly and could possibly be appealing as it avoids the congested SH16 as you mention.

        I have never seen any one on the Waitakere- Swanson bus though. Mind you the bus often leaves just as the train pulls in so that doesn’t help.

        There are plans to run a bus service between Pokeno-Tuakau-Pukekohe.

        The problem with bus services in rural areas is that there is generally no congestion on the roads in these areas and it is more inconvenient to walk from your house to the nearest bus stop for a service that doesn’t likely run that often, running along a long meandering route (eg Waiuku bus) and then having to transfer onto a train at the end.

        Far easier to drive on the same roads in your car and most people prefer to drive their car to the nearest rail station, such as Pukekohe and Swanson, and catch a train to avoid the congestion to get into the city.

        A train running to Kumeu / Helensville, Pokeno / Hamilton is far more likely to have greater appeal as people will tend to get out of their cars for a train service.

  8. Hi Matt, Great thinking. I like the idea.
    Then both the motorway and the rail cross State Highway 16 (under or over) east of Waimauku and rejoin the existing rail route and generally follow the existing rail right of way to exit onto the existing SH16 about Rewiti. This saves the huge expense of a push through the hilly country south and west of Waimauku.
    Much as the straight liners would like the M’way to go north from Waimauku via Peak Road direct to Kaukapakapa the country is very hilly and there would be additional strong calls for a side branch to Helensville. Better to follow the river valley up to Helensville and around to Kaukapakapa.
    This will mean the kaukop rat runners will now come down Waikoukou Valley Rd to the Wamauku motorway jcn rather than their current route along Old North Rd & through Riverhead forest to the Selaks roundabout. They’re going to do that as soon as the new motorway ends East of Waimauku anyway.
    Good thinking keep the ideas coming.

  9. You’re continuing to ignore the people who matter the most, i.e., the residents of Kumeu/Huapai. Their highest transport priority is to extend the existing rail service there. Your opinion that they wouldn’t use it directly contradicts them saying that they will.

    It’s disappointing you want the existing railway and station right in the centre of town to be closed and moved away. That’s even worse than not supporting the norwest community’s desire to have trains.

    It continues to baffle me why this blog is pro-rail everywhere else but absoutely despises it for the norwest.

    1. +100 Geoff!
      HR from Huapai to Aotea Stn (post CRL) would absolutely be faster between 7am and 9am (and again in the evenings) than any other form of road transport (unless a full dedicated BRT was built – which would take a decade in any case). Likewise LR would take at least a decade to reach Huapai.
      The rail is there, the land is there, even the trains are available with a little TLC, it simply boggles the mind why this pro-PT blog is opposed to HR services to Huapai!
      The ONLY reason I can think of it that they are so ideologically bent on LR that they see HR services as a threat to it (despite LR not having a hope of reaching Huapai within a decade!). Even the argument about the tunnel doesn’t hold up as it has been used before and will be getting upgraded as part of the NAL upgrade.

    2. People saying they’ll use a service and people actually using it if it existed are two very different things.

      And we don’t despise rail in the Northwest but just having a rail line in your town doesn’t make it useful, especially when it’s not direct like this one is. You can’t continue to ignore the facts that all evidence so far shows that people living in the area don’t travel to places along the rail line other than the city centre and that even with the CRL, the route is more than 10km longer.

      Even the $20m planned for early works to provide a better service along the NW motorway will significantly speed up buses. Combine that with other improvements, including some to improve buses north of Westgate and we’ll get a much more successful outcome.

      1. Hi Matt, the rail line from my place in Buckinghamshire is anything but quick and direct to London (it’s curcuitus and slow like much of NZ), but myself and many others still prefer it to driving in the M40/M1/M25 everyday. When I was home in December, I stayed with my friend who works for the govt. In Henderson and lives in Kumeu and is well annoyed he can’t take the train to work even though his home and office are both very close to rail stations.

      2. The flaw in your argument Matt L is something you use in the opposite fashion for other parts of the Auckland mix. That is: No one uses a service that doesn’t exist, so why build a service?
        I’m not sure how you can argue there wouldn’t be demand for residents of Kumeu/Huapai to access west auckland destinations along the rail line, and that they all just head to the CBD? You’ve already shown how the western line acts very much as a local metro type network with lots of trips going from one station to another along the line, rather than all heading to Britomart.

        1. The difference is people from Kumeu aren’t travelling to the west by any mode. Stat’s Commuter View is from 2013 and granted, things have changed a lot since then but it showed that of the ~300 people that they show commuted out of the old Huapai area unit (they’re different now), we get the following
          – 90 went to areas in the Northwest surrounding Huapai,
          – 78 went to the wider North Shore,
          – 63 went to the wider central city area
          – 30 went to places along Lincoln Rd (which I wouldn’t characterise as along the rail network)
          – 12 went to Rosebank Peninsula
          – 12 went to Henderson
          – 9 went to Penrose
          – 6 went to New Lynn
          More than 300 commute out but the other numbers are so small it doesn’t show.
          If there were lots of people travelling from there to the west by car that would be different.

    3. “It’s disappointing you want the existing railway and station right in the centre of town to be closed and moved away.”

      If that’s true; that’s a pretty stupid position they’re taking.
      But hey; these are people who’re also opposed to lengthening platforms to take 9 cars. And why on earth? Because it means they can’t be justified to instead run more services (Because it’s claimed more services would lead to an avalanche of more riders). No they can’t have that. Never mind that they’d be clogging up the network more and needing to pay for more drivers, etc….

      1. Lol, we were the only ones, at least publicly, calling for the CRL to be future proofed 9-car trains. We want them to happen but we also want trains to be more frequent as that not only also adds capacity, it also increases usability, which is why we think that’s a higher priority.

    4. Agree. This could be active years before the NW Light Rail – and could be inducted through a shuttle to Swanson or Henderson the minute the CRL opens, or sooner…

      The one-seat ride via CRL would be a lot more appealing than rail would be today, and especially if they also address dwell times, the outer-most stations benefit most. Western I think will benefit most of all, as dwell are a higher % of overall ride time, given stopping patterns will remain all-stations, station distancing and amount.

      Maybe one day, the two routes could connect (light rail could end at Kumeu for instance) – and it be a spot for a little intensification, nothing crazy, or transport hubbing.

  10. 2013!!. Those figures would be utterly irrelevant today. If that is the latest figures that AT is basing its thinking on, it is simply not doing the job it is being paid to do.

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