It’s a short week but still lots to talk about. Here’s our roundup.

Transmission Gully omnishambles

Transmission Gully continues to be in the news and not in a good way. A few days ago Newsroom reported that it now might not be completed till 2022 and that as well as the issues we’ve already heard about before, such as workers no longer being in the country, there are a bunch of new issues too. This includes possible issues with the design/physical works.

However, sources close to the project have alleged non-perforated pipes were used in some places where perforated pipes should have been, and in other instances pipes did not lead out into waterways. Both errors would allow water to keep building up beneath the subsoil and threaten the road’s stability.


Sources close to the project have said there are problems here too with rocks not up to specification and a stabiliser that was meant to bind those rocks together not having been spread evenly through the road base.

Stabiliser spread too thinly?

The change allegedly arose because a machine was altered to allow it to spread stabiliser over a wider area. That would make it possible to do the same job with the machine in fewer passes, saving time and money.

This was also covered by Radio NZ yesterday including that the time the route was proposed, back in the 19th century, it was originally intended for trains.

There are more issues than just this expressed in the article. Not all may be 100% true but does raise serious concerns. All of this appears to be leading to a big legal mess. The below comments from Julie Anne Genter.

Speaking in her capacity as Green Party transport spokeswoman


“They can always threaten to walk away from the project, whereas the Government can’t do that, leaving a motorway half built. So, predictably, Governments end up having to amend contracts, delay and pay more.

“So now we’re also having to pay extra legal costs for variations to National’s PPP contracts and this is making the motorways even more expensive.”

It seems PPPs only benefit the private financiers – who squeeze the contractors and government, and the lawyers. We should be steering well clear of doing any more.

New Trains in service

The first two of the 15 new trains we’re getting have gone into service.

These trains are basically identical to the first batch and the most noticeable difference is in the interior where the seat backs have been changed from a dark grey to white – which I assume would hide scratches better. AT say they also have darker carpets and lino. I’m not sure if the doors open any faster. The photo below is from reader Alan.

This should mean that a few more trains are able to run as six-car sets. Once the rest of this batch arrive and are put into service, AT should be able to run all trains with six-cars – with the exception of Onehunga.

Rail works

While on the subject of rail, if you live out west near the rail line you may have noticed the lack of freight trains over the last few days (there were only a couple a day anyway). That’s because on Monday the line was closed past Swanson for a number of upgrades to take place and will stay closed till about Christmas.

The start of major work replacing bridges, improving tunnels and upgrading the rail line to Whangarei will result in more reliable train services and enable more freight to be carried by rail, KiwiRail Group Chief Executive Greg Miller says.

As part of the Government’s $204.5 million Provincial Growth Fund investment to revitalise Northland rail, KiwiRail is upgrading the Northland Line to improve journey times, resilience and reliability.

From today, no more train services will run between Swanson and Whangarei to allow substantial upgrade work to begin, including replacing five aging bridges and lowering tracks in the 13 tunnels. When complete, trains will be able to pull hi-cube containers on the Northland Line.

“While our teams were able to continue design and planning work during the lockdown, COVID-19 halted most work on the ground. We’ve also been waiting on the arrival of specialist track laying equipment which has been held up by pandemic disruptions,” Mr Miller says.

“The work will be completed in stages, with the first objective being able to carry hi-cube containers through the tunnels between Whangarei and Auckland by Christmas.

Also on the Western Line, over Queens Birthday weekend Kiwirail installed a new crossover near Grafton to enable trains run on a single line through Mt Eden while it is closed for CRL works. We really need a lot more of these all though the network to help in those times when something goes wrong on the network.

Living in a low-traffic neighbourhood

We’re big fans of the idea of low-traffic neighbourhoods – places where it is easy to walk and cycle locally because traffic volumes are kept down by preventing things like rat-running. Our COVID-19 lockdown essentially delivered this for a few weeks and Women in Urbansim have published a great report on the experiences people had from it and what policy implications this could have. Here’s the Executive Summary.

This report explores the experience of living in a low-traffic neighbourhood during the five week ‘lockdown’ or stay-at-home period that occured in the early stages of the Covid-19 pandemic in Aotearoa in 2020. This stay-at-home order confined large numbers of New Zealanders to their homes and local neighbourhoods, and dramatically reduced all forms of travel. The decline in the use of motorised traffic in neighbourhoods was particularly marked during this period. With high and growing levels of car use in New Zealand, motorised traffic is playing an increasing role in shaping community life. It is interesting to explore what New Zealanders noticed about this brief reduction in levels of traffic in their neighbourhoods.

In general, the decline in vehicle traffic on local streets was experienced in positive terms, as improving the quality of neighbourhoods at a time when they were a particularly critical site for recreation, restoration and connection. This research identified a number of things that New Zealanders valued about living in a low-traffic neighbourhood, including quieter streets that enabled them to hear more birdsong and ‘people sounds’; feeling less rushed when moving around the neighbourhood; new opportunities to walk and cycle; and a sense that their streets felt more social or ‘friendlier’. The participants also made a number of observations about the experience of, and challenges associated with, social distancing at the neighourhood level that could be used to maximise community resilience during future periods of confinement.

Auckland Innovating streets

Yesterday the Council’s Planning Committee met and one of the items on the agenda was about applications for the NZTA’s innovating streets fund. I didn’t see it myself but was passed this transcription of a discusion between Waitemata Councillor Pippa Coom and Jenny Chetwynd who is charge of Planning and Investment at Auckland Transport.

Pippa: “My question is to Auckland Transport. I just would like to know in terms of tactical urbanism – and doing things quickly, lighter, quicker, cheaper: We don’t have a good track record of that as a Council family. I can think of multiple occasions where there has been huge internal resistance to taking an approach that takes opportunities like this. And I just would like to know what is being done internally to turn the culture and the skills to empower people within the organisation to really be able to grab this opportunity, and work to develop these projects and to do co-design and to do a whole new approach that hasn’t been done before and that might challenge Auckland Transport? So my question is what skill development is happening, and internal culture change, to ensure that we can deliver these projects successfully?”

Jenny: “I think you’re absolutely right to point out that this is quite a different way of working and quite a different approach, and I had this exact conversation with NZTA last night. And to their credit they are learning as well in terms of their approach and how all this works together and they have a huge expectation that we will be agile, we will codesign, we will work together. I can’t give you specifics right now, Pippa, as to what we’ve got internally in terms of programmes to help us get there but it’s very firmly on Shane and the ELT’s mind about how we enable AT to do this differently and do this better, so I think I’ll just have to give you some confidence that we are committed to it and ah just watch this space.”

I’ll have some confidence that they’re committed to change and doing better when I actually start seeing it –  there’s been little to no evidence of that so far.

We’ve featured some interesting tweet threads from Marco Citti before and here’s another one in which he compares light metro systems in Europe compared to rail developments in North America. In it he compares how some of these systems, with trains only 40-50m long but running frequently are often carrying more people than systems in North America designed for trains 2-3 times that but run less frequently.

I think there’s a clearly a relationship between frequency and usability but I do think he misses one key aspect, the impact of land use and demand. In particular, in many North American cities, like in Auckland, the PT demands are for long trips from the suburbs to the city centre. They’re more commuter trips with a clear ‘peak load’ point on the edge of a city centre whereas many European cities don’t have as defined of a core and so a wider variety of trips occur. To put it another way, in a system like ours, a ‘seat/space’ will generally carry one passenger for their entire trip. In systems like he describes, that one seat might be serving multiple passengers on a single run. They’re also likely to have stronger counter-peak flows and better all day usage.

To me there’s no clear ‘winner’ as it’s horses for courses approach that’s needed but I do agree that frequency is king.

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  1. You just need to look at the Skytrain in Vancouver to see that running smaller trains at a very high frequency is a much better way to go than long cars at a lower frequency. It’s like riding the busway at peak – you never need a timetable

    1. The Vancouver skytrain is dedicated rapid-transit (and I use the actual definition, not the Auckland-only adapted meaning 😉 ) designed from the outset to have high frequencies like all other rapid-transit. And it’s driverless with gated entry, they don’t have to cough-up for staff wages.

      Apples and oranges.

  2. I am coming into the CBD twice a week. Every train trip in the last 2 weeks has been late, and delayed through the journey.
    AT must do better.
    People like me will seriously consider driving.
    The public transport ‘business model’ is under threat and like any business under threat it needs to lift its game, not get worse…

    1. Lots of rail works and associated speed restrictions are going to mean slow trips for some time yet. Nothing AT can do anything about.

    2. Why is it everyone blames AT for track faults ? . When all the trainsets run on Rails supplied by a 3rd party i.e KR . Do you blame AT for an accident on the road caused by another party , if say a bus is delayed ? .

      1. I don’t care who it is. What I care about is level of service. And it’s been quite average recently.
        Who ever is responsible, please improve! Otherwise pt is going to drop away

        1. It is being improved, there is significant work going on the Eastern line at the moment, hence the delays. This will result in the track being better than it has been for a long time once it is done.

  3. If AT could get away with it they would run a single 63 car train into town once a day and run it out again in the evening. But vans would be provided for AT staff and people who live in Devonport.

    1. way to go, I love your comments, because auckland services is run by money wasting dorks m wasting Rent & Rate payers money getting paid by Rent & Rate payers.

      1. So you have gone blind then and can not see the pedestrian crossing that was moved a few meters along centerway road in Owera, the wasted bus service like the #981 & #984 that go almost neck & neck every half hour and for what when is the Orewa sunday rush hour? they could go once a hour half a hour apart and it would not cause any hardship. There must be many more example they do not want to know about, Keep your head in the sand, at least to will not have to put on the heater.

      2. Renters pay RATES go and learn basic maths, A lot of rates gets paid via the the rent, You can not tell me for a moment, if the rates go up the landlords are going to say
        “oh dear how sad, I guess I am going just cut back on my spending to make up the loss in out going rates”

        1. Since rates are tax deductible for the landlord, the central govt pays some rates too.

    2. Trains can be long and frequent, London Underground has six to eight-car trains running every two or three minutes. Auckland needs shorter dwell times as well.

      1. Yes of course they can, the point is that until ridership is so high that that’s necessary, it’s better to have more frequent smaller trains than less frequent bigger ones, for the user.

  4. The WiU report is really good. I hadn’t thought about the lower level of advertising during Lockdown, but that really did contribute to a nicer feeling, didn’t it? I particularly liked seeing more artwork and messages from kids.

    – There was a noticeable decline in outdoor advertising, which in many cases was replaced by prosocial messaging funded by corporations, public art, or government-
    funded public health messages. Like in many nations, in many neighbourhoods there were also evident physical markers of pro-social community sentiment, such as chalk graffiti, and the ‘Bear Hunt’ initiative…

    1. Mum-of-two, the bear hunt was brilliant, as was chalk messaging… one family chalked over 100 poppies on the local park’s loop path for Anzac Day. It got so many supportive comments on the local Facebook page, it was amazing, and just one example of the positive community spirit. Long may it continue 🙂

  5. I think some of our roads are too perfect and gold plated.
    The transmission Gully is huge, wide and perfect. The runoff from the project is polluting Porirua harbour.
    The concrete makers in Auckland are making a fortune.
    The several km of 2 meter wide walking paths in Barry Curtis Park are very generous. The number of cubic meters of concrete used could make a couple of skyscrapers.
    The new few hundred meters of Murphy’s road to open next week has concrete every where. The perfect paths are about four and one half meters wide. Why such a wide median strip.
    In this new Flat Bush area there are cars parked everywhere. Most (I have counted) home owners use their double garages for other storage or a boarder. The streets are full of cars and most gardens have been concreted over.
    I would like to suggest too that the roads in local areas be one way. This would allow the roads to be narrower and cut costs and more people friendly.

    1. I think new roads should be mandated as grids, rather than curves, allowing for easier implementation of public transport later on. Too many cul-de-sacs entrenches car dependency.

        1. A lot of the home owners want the option to drive everywhere, without restriction, but have nobody else drive on their street, because that would be annoying. Would take planning intervention to resolve that selfish but rationale bias.

  6. Interesting advocacy for automated light metros given the light rail/light metro proposals in Auckland. He points out that automated light metros are a 4 decade old technology that are here and operational new unlike the over hyped self driving car scenario. Despite that the automated light metro often gets overlooked.

    1. Interesting. One of the tweets: “This have for sure an impact on global construction costs. Turin uses VAL 208, that is also extremely narrow (2,08m wide, 50m long). Though, it carries 155k/day, with a hypothetical capacity of 300k/day. They got a full u/g metro for 85/90 m€/km only”

      (I assume u/g stands for underground?)

      If you round that to 200m NZD per km, that comes to 30 km for 6 billion? How much do our proposals cost again?

      1. Our proposals were for $6b for 30 km of grade separated light metro and 10km of on street light rail, so significantly cheaper.

      2. But this is NZ, first it would need a $5 million ‘business case’ which would insist on using uniquely Kiwi design and construction techniques, instead of the well proven standardised systems like the VAL metro. Result, each km would cost double or triple the possible cost of the Italian light metros.

  7. “I can’t give you specifics right now, Pippa, as to what we’ve got internally in terms of programmes to help us get there”

    Lol. Since we know that AT can really talk up a programme that’s in fact sitting on the back burner with nought but a name, this is dire.

    If a programme exists in AT to increase staff skills in tactical urbanism, or if a programme exists for encouraging culture change to allow the approach to thrive, Jenny would’ve known the name, and spun a good narrative.

    They seem to be waiting for this pressure to change to just go away.

    1. Heidi,
      Yes AT can talk a great game. The writers of the AT annual report are the modern day Hans Christian Andersen. In NZ terms the fairy stories that they produce about mode change and PT revolution are larger than the sinking of the Wahine. Without seeking to diminish the tragedy of the latter event the continued and unabated spending on road solutions for Auckland is economically damaging for ratepayers; as well as the injury and death on those roads; the air pollution and the climate effects.

  8. Minister Twyford is a really nice and cool guy (if you’ve met him before), but I don’t think he’s handled his portfolios well. He couldn’t deliver on Kiwibuild, he couldn’t deliver light rail in Auckland by 2021, and yesterday we learnt that he has yet to visit the Transmission Gully site.

    1. lol, as if a politician wandering around a work site in a hard hat achieves anything, more likely to interrupt a days work at best…

      The real issue with that project is naive contract the previous govt signed, giving all the power to private financiers who, along with all the lawyers now for all sides, are laughing all the way to the bank… committing future govts, for decades, to pay at lord knows what interest rate, esp now that the govt can borrow at little above zero.

      Great work from the party of business, well I guess they are the party FOR business; fleecing the public for the benefit of certain businesses.

      1. It’s about morale – the visit of a minister can boost morale amongst the worker, hence leading to more efficient work on the ground. It’s the same reason politicians visit businesses, schools, and workplaces. A study was done on this in the New England Journal of Psychiatry a few years ago (can’t remember exactly when or the authors)

        1. It’s a visit from Phil Twyford we’re talking about here, not the Prime Minister or the Queen.

          The vast majority of businesses never get visited by a cabinet minister but morale seems to be OK.

        2. Maybe it wouldn’t kill the PM to check in on some infrastructure projects once in a while.

          Or maybe it would, I don’t know, I’m not….Dr Seuss.

  9. I’m thinking about Transmission Gully a lot lately, and how the construction “Alliance” may pack it in and walk away. Doesn’t really make sense to me – the Alliance has spent half a billion on doing the work so far, which was due to be complete by Christmas. If they walk away now, then the NZ taxpayer will have to complete the works – probably another half a billion. But isn’t that a good thing, ultimately?

    Instead of having to pay the PPP $125million per year for the next 25 years, or whatever the silly PPP agreement was, the Gov / taxpayer gets the whole road for half the price, and no ongoing sorting of the price deal worked out by National. The Alliance slinks off into the sunset, having lost massive amounts of money, and no-one ever bothers to try and do a PPP deal again. What’s not to like about that?

    1. I’m wondering that myself. My understanding (which might be wrong) is that the Government wasn’t meant to be paying for the project while it was being built, and that they’d only pay for it as an ongoing cost once it was finished.

      So why not take the project over, or maybe even “[leave] a motorway half built”? It’s quite possible that we’ll leave some road projects half built in the next decade as the reality of climate change starts to bite.

      1. +1!

        I cant understand what leverage the PPP has. They are massively in the hole on this, they cant walk away.

        From what I have read it is the construction contractor that is threatening to walk. They would have been getting paid (by the PPP) so have some ability to do so I guess. But that obviously isnt the governments problem, it is the problem of a bunch of banks and equity investors.

        Having them walk away though would cause a massive shambles as it would end up in court for a long time while the road doesnt get finished. If it ended up with the NZTA taking it back over, the headaches around certifying the works done (and completing the rest) would be horrendous.

        1. It should be the same as when someone has a ship built they tender for the job , arrange the finance , build it and when the ship is handed over the client then pay’s for it at the original agreed price with no overrun costs unless the client wants changes while the vessel was under construction .

  10. I don’t know any city in Europe that doesn’t have a well defined centre.

    But you tend to get a more gradual falloff in density when you go away from the centre. In Auckland this is pretty extreme — apart from a few small patches you get immediately down to about 5000/km² as soon as you cross the motorway.

    1. Roeland, I don’t pretend to be an expert on European cities, but as you say many of them do have defined centres. Much of my information about the way that people travel in those cities comes from the exchange students that we have hosted over the years. As teenagers they said that the cheap annual PT pass enabled them to travel all over the city for school, sport and leisure. As some of them move into their twenties they say they are able to travel in the same way and there is no need to own a car. Two of those students are from Vienna where car mode share is only 26%. The city is only able to achieve that because people use PT all day/ every day. It’s just a difference in mind set – we believe that our transport system needs to be based around a car; and increasing Europe with their climate obligations turning to other transport solutions.
      If in Auckland transport trips are made for all sorts of reasons other than the daily commute we too would have very different travel patterns.

  11. This is merely the first spanner in the works of transmission folly.
    Wait until it’s actually finished and its traffic levels are far below expected after the first 2-3 years because of its unavoidable long extreme inclines.

    Feel free to mark my words on that.

  12. I thought the new batch of trains were getting more metro style interiors i.e. seating along the sides of the walls, leaving more standing space?

    1. If that happened you will have more complaining “I couldn’t get a seat today” and they would be the young and fit that don’t get up from their seat for the elderly and infirm .

      1. The longitudinal seating has the same amount of seats as the lateral seating. If you don’t believe me, count the number of seats in the longitudinal part of the middle carriage of an Auckland EMU and compare it to the same in the end carriage.

        The main resistance seems to be the idea that people don’t like sitting sideways, which is strange because plenty of people don’t like sitting backwards either.

        1. I certainly feel like I have more space in forward or rear facing seating, maybe it’s the poles in the middle carriages that make the seats feel more cramped?

          I’d far rather face backwards than sideways, feel the movements of the train a lot more. On a lighter note my then two year old fell flat on her face from a sideways seat when we went round a gentle corner, I expected big tears but she just got up and said ‘Oh oh Daddy’.

          It’s inevitable we will need sideways seating eventually but lets make the trains as comfortable as possible as long as we can.

  13. Nothing to do with what Matt has written, but perhaps interesting (from Stuff):

    Wellington has sold itself as the coolest capital in the world, now it could be one of the “greenest”.

    A major new climate report shows the city is dramatically bucking international emission trends.

    Total greenhouse gas emissions have dropped by 7 per cent between 2001 and 2019, despite 24 per cent population growth and 56 per cent GDP growth.

    The figures, presented in the Wellington City Greenhouse Gas Inventory, were gathered before the impact of Covid-19.”

    And what of Auckland? Apparently Auckland is still unable to obtain figures for 2018, let alone 2019.

    Auckland’s declaration of a climate emergency is either a joke or a festering sore.

    1. As I understand it, these GHG emissions are just those from the Wellington City council area which is just nonsense. To be even slightly useful it would have to show the trend for GHG emissions over the entire Wellington urban area plus those outlying commuter towns in the Wairarapa and the Horowhenua.

  14. Regarding the rail works. It’s almost surreal to me when physical work actually starts on a project in NZ that we have been following. You hear talk about it political or otherwise then consultations, debates, blogs on it, consultations again, detailed design & redesign etc etc, then finally when they finally do something it almost seems unreal.

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