Last week the new government was officially sworn in and among other things, it means we have a new transport minister, Michael Wood. One of the biggest challenges he’ll face is making some progress on Light Rail. As I covered last week, the good news is he has previously shown himself to have a good understanding of transport issues and the light rail project. He also responded to the Herald’s Simon Wilson that he’s committed to the project.

There is certainly plenty of detail to work through and soon that will include the Ministry’s advice on the ‘public sector delivery model’, essentially their recommendation on how to proceed with the project following cabinet ending the silly Superfund / Waka Kotahi NZTA horse race in June.

As readers will know, during that process the project evolved from light rail as was initially proposed to fully grade separated driverless light-metro solution with fewer stops and focused on speed to the airport. Different modes have different benefits, trade-offs and costs and I’ve talked before about making sensible mode decisions. The biggest difference between the light rail and light-metro is the cost. Looking at some overseas examples, at a very high-level it suggests we might expect light rail to cost about $100 million per km to build while tunneling or elevated light-metro sections might be upwards of $600 million per km – it’s no wonder the Super Fund and their Canadian partners are so keen on pushing the light-metro option, they would have been getting a guaranteed percentage return on a larger principal amount.

Perhaps the most compelling argument for the shift to a light-metro option revolves around the long-term capacity of the network as envisioned in ATAP.

The concern is that in the long-term there might not be enough capacity on the network if we just use light rail. Over time our political and technical processes have evolved to take a “do it once” approach which would suggest we go straight to the 100-year solution by building light-metro up-front.

The challenge with that is that going straight to light-metro is much more expensive and therefore harder to justify and takes longer to deliver. It also potentially crowds out funding that could be used to deliver other critical parts of the network, for example, for the price of one light-metro line we could probably get a couple of light rail lines that are nearly as good and a bunch of busways too. All up that second option would give us a much better overall network and deliver greater overall mode shift.

The other issue with the “do it once” approach is it also ignores the ability to stage improvements and for the network to evolve over time. We’ve even got an extremely relevant example of this in Auckland, the upgrade to the existing rail network.

The biggest project we have on the books right now is the City Rail Link but the first iteration of plans to tunnel through the city centre date back to the early 1920’s. Then called the Morningside Deviation, it came about when the city’s rail terminal was in the process of being moved away from Britomart to make way for the Chief Post Office. The project had been approved but then a change in government saw the project scrapped. Cost was the main factor for this and nearly half of the cost was because the project would have electrified the network between Papakura and Helensville. Similar attempts with similar results happened in the 40’s/50’s and in the 60’s/70’s with Robbies Rail. In all cases the projects were essentially trying to do too much.

Then starting in the late 90’s a different approach was taken and in 2003 Britomart opened and returned rail to near the heart of the city. That and the response then provided justification for starting to upgrade the rest of the then rundown network. Stations started to be upgraded, more (diesel) trains bought, the Western line was duplicated, the Onehunga line reopened and the Manukau line built. While this happened, usage continued to grow and that provided the justification to electrify the network. The growth we’ve then seen from that investment has then highlighted the need for the City Rail Link and there will be more improvements needed in the future too.

So the question is, can we take a similar approach with light rail/metro? Can we deliver something that is affordable and useful now, that builds usage and then improve later on? I think the answer is yes.

If we take the light rail network from ATAP and look at the original light rail plans we can split it out like below. Based on this, of an over 62km network, only about 9.6km, or just over 15%, would be ‘on-street’ and the rest would be in a dedicated corridor allowing services to run reliably and at high frequency. This would of course be delivered over a period of many years in many stages.

Then at some point in the future, when demand/capacity are clearer and funding options are available we could develop the network further. For example, one option would be to build ‘CRL 2’ to perhaps link up the North Shore and Northwest lines. This would have the major benefit of creating a fully grade separated line but also free up capacity for more services on City Centre to Mangere line that remains with sections on-street. Note: the exact route would need to be assessed but we see lots of value in one that is able to serve the University, part of Ponsonby Rd and Grey Lynn.

Of course as the map earlier also shows, the section south of Onehunga was already expected to be in a dedicated corridor and so other projects, such as one I suggested here, could enable us to link that up too.

Once routes are fully grade separated then we can also consider converting them to driverless ‘metro’ style operation. This may also entail enlarging stations but that shouldn’t be a major issue if we’ve allowed for the possibility in advance.

The key point of all this is that networks are changeable. We don’t have to build the perfect network upfront. Our existing rail network shows us that the key is to get something in place that we can then expand and improve.

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  1. Surely light rail makes sense for NW & Dominion. OK we could have light metro for NW but that would add insane costs to then tunnel the stations in the CBD and therefore would push it out decades as usual.

    Surely any NW light rail could just be converted to light metro once the CBD is sorted out, whereas Dominion Road could never be automated due to the corridor?

    ALso why would anyone want to take NW rapid transit and then sit through the big dogleg we make western rail users do at the moment? Surely any North SHore Metro would stop under Aotea, then go to Uni then the Hospital and end up under Newmarket as a terminus until we decide to spend billions tunneling further on?

    1. Automation can be useful but in my opinion it’s not the most important feature. Plus sections can be automated with other sections being driver run. Eg cross rail is doing this, and I believe the crosstown light rail project in Toronto. Very achievable, with I believe off the shelf hardware / software.

      The issue with continuing up to Newmarket is that we already have rail that goes there. It’s hard to fit all these major centres in maybe if one or 2 missed out we could get a straighter network. Although I don’t think the dogleg would actually add very much time at all.

      1. People seem crazy about automation, but I’m not convinced. We already have around 1,300 non-automated transit vehicles in use at peak times. What’s another few dozen in the scheme of things?

        If these are properly designed rail lines there will be no problem justifying the drivers wages in the operating cost, they’ll be very well used.

        Also light rail drivers don’t cost as much as train drivers, they don’t need full locomotive engineer training and certification. They cost about as much as an experienced bus driver. And often human driver runs faster and better headways that electronic systems, which can be extra conservative.

        1. If you want PT to be as competitive as possible with driving, you need automation. It’s increasingly difficult to justify the very large expense of having humans sitting in the front of LRVs or trains pushing buttons and pulling levers when it isn’t necessary, especially on guided vehicles. Just like it isn’t necessary having someone on trains to push a button closing doors.

        2. $40 an hour per vehicle isn’t a very large expense in the context of a system like this. The driver costs on the whole LRT system shown above would be less than the driver costs of the link buses.

          Requiring automation can easily add billions to the capital cost in control systems and infrastructure. A billion dollars capital costs $700,000 a week. That’s enough to pay five hundred drivers salaries.

          Agree you don’t need an extra person to close doors, in every light rail system in the world the driver does that also.

        3. @Zippo, I disagree, the drivers aren’t the biggest cost by far. One person driving 200-300 people per vehicle is very effective. There are other advantages with automation that perhaps would be worth it, but the drivers salary isn’t really one of them. They are an easy thing to point out though as a cost that could be minimised, but there will be many many other decisions that will have a much larger impact on the running cost of the system. Rolling stock choice for example.

        4. Zippo I don’t think spending billions extra to automate would ever stack up up in terms of salary savings. Even if it was cost neutral (very unlikely) then you could argue its still better to employ people than not.
          The only other real advantage I can see is that machines don’t tend to go on strike. The flip side of that is that it just takes a broken sensor or similar and the whole system is screwed.

        5. The question of course is, does automation actually cost “billions” as everyone here seems to think? Kiwirail locomotives already use a system which basically instructs the driver on speed, braking, acceleration etc etc. The obvious next step is to have the system directly control the loco with the driver only needing to interven if things go awry. A new Toyota Corolla has significant driving automation built in as standard. The technology gets better and cheaper all the time

        6. Automation requires an entirely closed, grade separated corridor, and removes the ability to do short sections at street level like a Queen Street transit mall, or something similar for a block or two in Onehunga or Takapuna. That adds billions for sure.

          One day soon that might disappear, surface light rail that is automated is already under test.

        7. No, it doesn’t now in the 21st century. That’s 1960s thinking. If cars can be automated to self drive on a public road, then trains certainly can and well before automobiles given the control aspects are so much less complex.

        8. Yes it does, if you go out to build an automated line today, or any time in the next ten years, it will have to be a 100% grade separated closed system.

          Cars can’t be automated to self drive on a public road. It doesn’t work, and they aren’t used anywhere. There are a couple of test cases where they have a backup driver in the car at all times, but those keep crashing and killing people.

          Don’t believe the fluff, the whole driverless car thing is 90% hype and 10% genuine disappointment. BMW and Mercedes have just given up and cancelled their driverless car programs by the way.

        9. Automation is indeed possible. Tesla have rolled out full self driving beta to a select number of people on the US, with Canada and Norway coming soon. If you throw enough expertise and resource at it it can be done. NVIDIA have a self driving car and Toyota did a full self driving prototype. NVIDIA I believe don’t care about making the car but will instead be providing the technical brains of the self driving architecture. Its only a matter of time that it will be on par with real human drivers as in fact if they start talking to each other would be much better than human drivers. If they can automate cars then trams and trains is easy.

        10. In 1962 Seattle rolled out a fully functional monorail between two stations. It was only a matter of time before they’d roll it out across the city.

          Yet 60 years later, still just the two stations. Same with Maglevs and various other high concept things that seem great but don’t work at scale.

          Anyway, beside the point. When you can buy an autonomous non-grade-separated train system on the international market from a range of suppliers we can do that. Until then, it’s a myth.

        11. Here’s an example of an automated rail line operating now that is not a 100% grade seperated closed system. I accept that it’s a private line in a remote area but it includes many level crossings and is a normal railway in most aspects but the trains are driverless. Note the advantages are not just saving on wages but also far more consistent performance which results in less wear and tear and timing variation. No need for crew change breaks either, just imagine how that would speed up Auckland to Wellington freight trains.

        12. It would cost billions more depending on your starting point. If you already have a fully grade separated corridor, then it wouldn’t be that much more cost, especially in a new build system. However if you are arguing for a fully grade separated system on the single basis that it would allow for automation then that would cost billions. Obviously there would be other benefits too, but the argument on GA at the moment is that it wouldn’t be worth it and that the money could be better spent, spread around the city.

          As for having your cake and eating it too which would be non grade separated, but also fully automated. Nah, liability black hole for AT, huge risk that they would even be able to deliver, the tech isn’t off the shelf at the moment, and AT aren’t going to take such a massive risk to develop it themselves. And then the safety standards for rail / PT are far, far higher than cars. Tesla can just point to the bit of paper you signed that says you are fully liable, and should be paying just as much attention as if you were driving. Which they do routinely when asleep drivers plough into crashed stuff ahead. AT cant do that even remotely.

        13. Steve D: Tesla’s “Full Self Driving” isn’t.

          “Autopilot and Full Self-Driving Capability are intended for use with a fully attentive driver, who has their hands on the wheel and is prepared to take over at any moment. While these features are designed to become more capable over time, the currently enabled features do not make the vehicle autonomous.”

          The hype is still outstripping the reality.

          Yes, it’s true that automating trains is easier than deploying autonomous cars, which is just as well. Best to just drop the autonomous car argument.

        14. Zippo – Automated metro and trains need to have a dedicated, obstruction free corridor to operate autonomously. If the corridor is has is subject to any form of obstruction like humans, vehicles, etc, then a human driver is required.

          The Rio Tinto Autohaul system, like with the Sydney Metro Tallawong to Chatswood line are dedicated obstruction free rail corridors hence automation can be used.

        1. There is a big difference between 42 rural level crossings where the trains have full right of way, and street running light rail where bumping into a car would cause outrage, and there are a lot more surprise hazards. I’m sure it would be possible, I really, really wouldn’t want AT to take the risk.

    2. There needs to be a really good reason to divert through Grey Lynn. It’s not like this area doesn’t already have a swathe of public transport options. Making the NW connection more meandering isn’t befitting of a supposed Rapid-Transit service. We don’t make the Northern Explorer busway buses dogleg through Takapuna, as far as I’m aware, so unsure why this is suddenly acceptable for the NW.

      1. the “diversion” hardly seems to be significant, and I think would be a rather minor price to pay for unlocking intensification (and therefore more housing) in a desirable part of the inner city…

        1. The whole point of this is ‘rapid’ transit for the Northwest, not ‘well-off inner city suburb which already has access to Outer Link bus services definitely can’t miss out on something so let’s divert the whole line through local roads at the expense of journey time’. Don’t forget people riding this from out West will have already been on a local Tiki Tour on a feeder bus through their own area. Again, the Northern Explorer doesn’t get diverted through Ponsonby and Three Lamps before getting on the Motorway. Why should the North West be any different?

        2. It’s not a diversion, but a better route; it’s picking up catchment along the way. The Newton m’way corridor has almost no-one near it, the western line serves its southern ridge, taking a new subway say under Williamson Ave with a station each end would pick good intensifying catchments and useful destinations. Certainly worth analysing, especially with the NPS up-zoning around stations.

        3. I understand Grade Separated to be running in its own corridor – if so where, otherwise are we talking a tunneled section? I could see the appeal of a greened, Motat-style path but this will mean reclaiming big bits of road to do so.

        4. Buttwizard: Grade Separated means being at different levels (aka heights or grades) so either underground or elevated. Conversely, At-grade means running on the same level, which could be mingling with traffic or in its own corridor.

          I agree with you and others that a diversion through Grey Lynn is a waste of time. Whether grade separated (very expensive) or at-grade (slower journeys than using the motorway corridor).

        5. Just for the record, “Grade separated” means that the rail corridor is on a different level to the corridors of other users (road, rail, cycleway or path) that it may be required to cross. A level-crossing is “at-grade”. A bridge over or under is “grade-separated”. Grade-separation implies an intersection or other co-incidence of corridors which are placed on different levels.

          This is distinct from an “exclusive right-of-way”, which means the rail service has a dedicated corridor free from other users, but not necessarily at a point of intersection requiring different levels. A corridor at ground-level across open country or threaded through an urban development can be an exclusive right of way if nothing else is permitted to use it. But it will need grade-separation at points of intersection to remain fully exclusive throughout.

      2. It doesn’t make any sense whatsoever to turn a rapid line into a local line by going through Grey Lynn. It would repeat the mistake they are trying to make with the Mangere line having to trundle up Dominion Road except in that case at least they are doing it because they don’t see an alternative.

      3. That second stage through Grey Lynn says it’s grade separated, so presumably a tunnel, and a quite direct one at that.

        However, compared to the first stage grade separated along the motorway I doubt the multi billion dollar cost of doing that tunnel would stack up, just to get one station at Grey Lynn shops and another at the south end of Ponsonby Road.

        1. +1 offers no significant upgrade to people further out, offers no significant upgrade to people close in.

        2. Well… it would be very significant for people around those hypothetical Grey Lynn and Ponsonby stations. Direct rail line into town and on to the north shore, direct out to the northwest the other way.
          But again, the cost to avoid them catching a bus for ten minutes… you’d want to see a plan to build towers all along there. I suppose that is starting to happen, so it might eventually be warranted.

        3. It’s a ridiculous idea, billion dollar tunnels and subway stations, put a Light rail stop at Bond st and run feeder buses down to it plus secure bike racks. There, I’ve just saved several billion dollars which can be used to extend quality PT to areas that have almost zero provision at the moment, which is certainly not Grey Lynn/Ponsonby. They can be served by cycle lanes.

        4. I really don’t like the idea that the central areas are fine with buses and we should spend all our PT budget getting rail to sprawl. It seems like an expensive and counter intuitive model.
          To me the much better option would be to get LRT / rail to the central areas and encourage people to live there.

        5. Cheaper or perhaps interim version instead is you could have a grade separated line along the motorway by and large for the NW linking to the Queen St/Mangere/Northshore line but also have a street running one through Grey Lynn etc this could somehow thread to go down Albert St. NW line could alternate coverage between the faster end to end one or more coverage, stops for the inner west.
          Later do the CRL2/University thing. I do see the need for more coverage to the University side of things.

      4. I think to be honest the whole line doesn’t make sense. Without going through Grey Lynn there would be very few stations that have any walk up catchment at all, just a few stations at the end. And if it does go through Grey Lynn it will be slow.
        I think a decent business case would show a bus corridor to be a better option as that enables buses to use the corridor for that part of their route then carry on to other destinations. Otherwise almost everyone will need to transfer from bus/car to LRT.

        1. “Otherwise almost everyone will need to transfer from bus/car to LRT”

          That’s how the northern busway works FYI, and how a northwest busway would work too.

        2. The northern busway does have some walkable catchment though. It also has a whole lot of park and rides which I am not sure we should emulate.
          I really don’t see why a full bus load of people having to get off at say Lincoln Road and then wait for and find room on LRT is a better solution than that bus just carrying on to the city without stopping…

        3. Same reason that doesn’t happen on the northern busway, mostly because they aren’t consistently full and don’t given good service.

          The busway feeder and collector routes now run a lot more frequently, then transfer people to high capacity double deckers. More efficient, more reliable, more cost effective… How frequent are the suburban buses to town at lincoln road and te Atatu now?

          …and it avoids having hundreds of buses an hour turn up in a city that can’t handle them.

        4. Riccardo yes I guess there is the 100s of buses an hour aspect I guess.
          I still think the North West line is quite a bit different to the Northern line though. It doesn’t really seem that well suited to LRT to me due to the lack of walk up catchment. Why gold plate a service that most people have to catch a clunky bus to anyway? May as well be all buses until it hits capacity constraints which seems like a long way away given the current level of PT use from the NW.

        5. I don’t see it, the Northwest line is about as close as possible to the Northern as you can get.

          Low to negligible walk up, bus transfer based trunk network running alongside a motorway to downtown. Westgate at the end of one, Albany at the end of the other. Big stretch of motorway bridge/causway dead zone in both. Interchange stations next to motorway junctions in the middle of nowhere. Big park and ride at the end stations, none in the middle or centre, not that park and ride is very important. It only supplies about 10% of users on the north.

          I don’t follow why walk up is supposed to be important for rail. Certainly not important for our current rail stations, and not for our busway stations either. Why for light rail?

    3. Responding to some of the comments about this NW diversion in the post. The way I envision it, light rail/metro would be along the northern side of the motorway from Pt Chev to Western Springs. The initial build would continue along the motorway and join the Dominion Rd route around Ian McKinnon Dr.

      The diversion would dive into a tunnel somewhere around the end of Ivanhoe Rd and travelling underground, perhaps under Williamson Rd and then perhaps travel under the motorway and then under K Rd before turning down Symonds St and then Wellesley to get to Aotea. Stations would perhaps be at Grey Lynn, Ponsonby, K Rd (tied into CRL station), possibly University and then under Wellesley connected to Aotea. These are all areas where significant development potential exists.

      The travel time implication for this is not significant, likely only in the order of a few minutes all up, if that if you consider street level LR will be at 30km/h. Even the apparent dogleg only adds about 1m to going direct as it’s actually quite short, unlike say the dogleg the western line currently does to Newmarket.

      The intention of this isn’t to replace buses on Gt North Rd and there’ll still be a need for them but this does provide for some journeys a stronger network.

      I wouldn’t expect this to happen for a few decades once most of the rest of the network is already in place and we’re on the the next phase of development

      1. Matt, what problem is the proposed route trying to solve that couldn’t be addressed with multiple simpler rapid transit routes and users making transfers?

        Some technical challenges:
        – Tunneling under the motorway and K-road station commits you to relatively deep stations (slower and harder to access for passengers, not to mention expensive).
        – TBMs have minimum turn radii measured in the hundreds of metres. Other tunnel methods will be slower, more disruptive and more expensive.
        – By tunneling a ring around the South edge of the CBD it makes it harder for future tunnels to come into the CBD from that direction, as they would have to go even deeper to avoid interference.

        Some urban development challenges:
        – The lack of intensification in Grey Lynn and Ponsonby is nothing to do with a lack of rapid transit infrastructure.
        – Light metro will have wider station spacing than on-street Light Rail so provides less opportunity for Transit Oriented Development.
        – A similar length of tunnel would provide much more development potential by heading South or East rather than West of the CBD, and could be extended further in future.

  2. Need to consider that ongoing consultation for 20Connect is under way at the moment. Using SH20 in Mangere to separate the LRT will require consideration in that program.

  3. Undergrounding bits when that part of the corridor is saturated is totally the way to go. Plus that might be further than most people think. Preemptive signalling on the traffic lights, dedicated lanes could provide similar capacity to what one of our heavy rail lines does now.

    It’s very hard to justify building a gold plated tunnel, it underperforming and not having much to show for it and saying you need more money now for it to be more useful. Compared to a couple lines nearing capacity with a clear upgrade that could be made and being about significant improvement.

    But if I’m honest the northwest should probably get the first round of funding. It all needs to work decently enough from day one and provide enough ridership to continue the upgrades. And a single at grade line on dominion road and queen street isn’t exactly a flagship demonstration. Someone prove me wrong.

    1. During morning peak, Dominion Rd already has 1 double decker bus every 2.5min (services 25B, 25L, 252, 253 each running every 10min) heading into the city. The existing quality of service isn’t great because the buses get stuck behind other traffic and each other. Despite this there’s still plenty of patronage to justify so many buses.

      Upgrading the Dominion Rd / Queen St corridor as a demonstration project is a good idea. It can be done at grade so is relatively low risk and inexpensive (compared to other possible routes). The walk-up catchment along the entire route is excellent. There’s no need to coax people out of their cars because the patronage is already there.

      I really want to see light rail built to the Northwest too. However just reaching the Te Atatu peninsula requires 10km of track. The first 5km is through suburbs that aren’t crying out for extra PT. The second 5km is across causeways that have no catchment. It’s only once you get past Te Atatu that you start really benefitting the Northwest, and that could take several years and billions of dollars. Also a Northwest line still needs track through the CBD and it makes sense for it to be down Queen St.

      1. I get the 25 to work. My stop to alight is 7147, the corner Symonds St and St Paul St. That stop is used by about 11 different services. Even at half past six in the morning it’s not unusual to have as many as five or so buses coming in at the same time to stop there, queuing back into general traffic.

        1. So your bus would be replaced by light rail. You would get out on Queen St and get to enjoy a good long walk. Just don’t expect any time savings.

        2. This has to be one of the busiest stops in the city, if not the busiest. Rush hour just has double decker after double decker piling out people. It should probably be upgraded regardless, not sure what could be done. This stop isn’t on any first gen light rail maps. Symonds st certainly needs more bus priority further down.

        3. In reply to miffy below. My destination is Britomart. I like to walk down through Albert Park and High St. If I’m running a bit late I jump on a 27 or 70 at stop 7147 and alight at 7141 bottom of Anzac Ave.

      2. I think surface level along Dominion Road is the way to go. Capacity on this section is likely to be most constrained by the need to accommodate crossing and turning traffic rather than by congestion caused by the light rail cars themselves. This I believe would leave capacity on the ‘light metro’ sections to the north and south of the light rail section. Thus the solution to increase capacity could be to add a secondary light rail corridor. For example along Anzac, Symonds, Khyber Pass, Manukau Road, Mount Smart, Onehunga Mall. This and the Dominion Road section to run at five minute intervals and the light metro sections to run at 2.5 minute intervals. It would allow unused capacity on the light metro sections to be utilised and connect another set of central suburbs to the network.

        1. Why surface level? If you tunnel it you can place the stops at the best possible locations and not be constrained by Dominion Rds layout.

        2. Because the costs are insane, several hundred million for every station underground as well as the tunnelling cost. Dominion Road is easy for on-road light rail because it used to exist there, it’s wide and straight and should have high density housing built down the entire corridor

        3. It’s the opposite usually Henrik. If you tunnel, you are very constrained to where you can build the station access shafts or box. If you are at street level you can build the platforms more or less anywhere along the street.

  4. This is exactly how the m’way system was delivered. No section started as eight lanes or it’s current length, or connectivity.

    Of course it must be staged, and on opening the first section it doesn’t need to have the capacity the model claims could be needed in 2048 or 2065.

    Forward planning and future proofing is also essential, but not over building up front; there’s a difference. Comes with serious opportunity cost and political risk.

    Starting now with full grade separation means embarking on a second CRL before the first one is operating; a pretty bold and high risk plan, I’d have thought.

  5. The problem with upgrading later is years of disruption to the existing service, that’s the lesson from the current rail upgrade program.

    1. And the problem with trying to do it as light metro right from the start is years of a limited network, with a corresponding low level of modeshift.

      And continued high car dependence and emissions.

      Let’s harness the network effect. For both PT and cycling networks.

    2. You can avoid years of disruption to existing services by doing what most other cities do: Rather than upgrading a rapid transit line in place, just build a new rapid transit line roughly parallel nearby. This avoids disruption, increases the catchment area served, enhances resilience and is lower risk.

      For example; say CC2M gets built at grade as proposed but after 15 years starts experiencing capacity constraints where the citybound EMUs fill up and people halfway down Dominion Rd can’t get on. The solutions could include:
      – Build a parallel line down Mt Eden Rd to take some of the passenger load.
      – Build a line from Onehunga down Manukau Rd to Newmarket then the CBD, making CC2M more direct and leaving the Dominion Rd section serving its local catchment.

      1. OK, rather than the third main project, just build a new 4 track rail line “roughly parallel nearby”. Let’s do this!

        1. My argument was about passenger rapid transit. If the third main project was about increasing passenger service capacity then yes, you could just put an at-grade light rail line along Great South Rd. However that would be very expensive and passenger capacity is not what the third main project is about. It’s relieving a bottleneck in the heavy rail network to allow better utilisation of other parts of the existing network. This will benefit both freight and passenger services.

        2. Building a new rapid transit line will be very expensive and difficult any where in Auckland, even if it is roughly parallel and nearby to an existing line. There are no easy options.

        3. Building more capacity on the same alignment of the current very limited rail network does not spread the network to any new places.

          So while valuable for improved capacity and reliability etc of current system it is not completing the network.

          There is significantly greater value in expanding the reach of the network over improving the capacity of the existing one, or rather these are two entirely separate issues.

        4. The third main is mainly about passenger transport. We can’t run more passenger trains on the network while we’re also having to accommodate the freight trains – they’re even why we can’t run clockface timetables on the southern and eastern lines

        5. Chris – yes that is true to a degree but is not the complete story. The third (and later forth) main is about allowing us to get more out of the existing network. Without those extra tracks the lines on the rest of the network, such as on the Eastern line between Britomart and Westfield, will have unused capacity. Projects/funding will always need to balance the costs and benefits of increasing capacity on the existing network or building something new.

    3. I’ve been using the trains in Auckland for 15 years, by far the biggest disruption has been this year as a result of dubious track maintenance.

      In contrast the impact of delays due to ongoing upgrades has been minor.

      1. If the track maintenance/replacement had been done properly over the past 15 years you would have experienced far more delays/cancellations. That is a catchup from decades of neglect. The CRL is mostly a seperate project and only affects a small part of the Western line. We’ve still got the 3rd main/ Pukekohe electrification projects coming on top of the track issues. Plus numerous other track amplifications that must happen soon ie Wiri- Pukekohe.

        1. The period I mentioned included the double tracking of the Western line and electrification of the whole network, yet the vast majority of the time the network ran with minimal disruption.

          Not sure why adding a third main and electrifying a small outer part of the network is suddenly going to be a serious disruption.

        2. The Puhinui interchange project alone has caused dozens of track closures. Plus crawling trains from Wiri all the way to Papatoetoe.

    4. The disruption from even CRL isn’t that bad, a weekend closure once a month at the most. The maintenance failure has had a much, much larger impact. Having upgrades, especially complete diversion upgrades is less disruptive than the double tracking projects of old. Especially when you put in a few preparatory works when you build the original project. A rail stub here and there for example to connect up a potential diversion where we aren’t running at grade. Plus most of the upgrades later would be to add new length to the network which would offer next to no disruption to the existing network. And it becomes easier when you don’t have to deal with mainline standards. Eg you dont have to deal with 25kvAC overhead. I dont think the disruption argument should be an issue, although it should be considered.

      1. There has been little disruption to rail from the CRL, just the awkward timetable of the western line to get around the construction site, and of course the closure of Mt Eden while it is modified. It wouldn’t have taken much preparatory work to avoid that entirely if you were building Mt Eden from new.

        Rather, the vast majority of the disruption has been to pedestrians and traffic around the underground station sites. Cut and cover at Aotea obviously, but also the mined out station at Karangahape Rd has required razing a city block, building a huge access shaft, and shutting down half the streets and footpaths in the area… for years.

        There is certainly a message in that about the costs and impacts of going underground with stations, which light metro seems to need plenty of. While the tunnel might be out of sight, out of mind, the stations are a herculean task.

    5. I think if surface running down Dominion Road was later replaced by a parallel underground diversion that the construction and changeover disruption would be broadly comparable to the Western Line disruption being caused by the new Mt Eden junction. So significant but manageable.

      1. That is not the plan above. The plan is add tunnelled section through in say 2040s, or when required, to connect with already grade separate NS and NW lines, Dom and Queen St surface LR remains, and remains valuable.

        Every city even with widespread Metro systems also have surface transit, often LR.

  6. As an outside of the city observer it always strikes me that a component of Auckland light rail discussions is often about getting a greater number of people more quickly too and from the airport. If we really believe there is a climate emergency and we need to dramatically reduce transport emissions – as the Climate Commission is likely to signal soon in its carbon budgets – then primarily serving local community travel needs not the airport would seem the climate friendly ideal.

    1. It would seem like that, however, electric/hybrid planes will become increasingly available, especially for short/medium-haul domestic and Trans-Tasman/Pacific flights, which is most flights.

      Some people are still going to need and want to move around over longer distances, and this can be enabled in an environmentally-friendly and people-friendly way.

      Even if/when we have higher speed rail services between centres in the upper North Island, lower North Island, and eastern South Island, some people are still going to need/want to travel quickly between those areas, and to other areas not served by higher speed rail services, and planes are the only option for that. In Europe and North America this is planned for and integrated, and airports are important hubs on the regional/inter-city rail networks (e.g., Frankfurt Airport in Germany, BWI Airport in the U.S.).

      1. Agree a variety of planes using non-fossil fueled are in development. But most alternative fuels are likely to be considerably more expansive than fossil based fuels. So the flying is likely to also be more costly. So what are the projections for trips to the airport? Still the nearly doubling to 40 million passengers passing through it per year as in the airport strategy documents?

        1. Frankfurt Airport passenger numbers are down 70-80% and some other airports are down ~30-70% (source:, and BWI Airport passenger numbers are down ~50-60% (source:

          If/when the Covid-19 situation improves it is likely to take a longer time to get back to approaching previous projections (if ever).

          Regardless, the Auckland airport and logistics/business area is a major employment and traffic-generating area and people and freight operators can be enabled to have environmentally-friendly choices – it really doesn’t matter what things cost in terms of dollars and cents, it has to be done to meet our obligations to our environment and future generations; and if the externalities of fossil fuel use, plastic packaging use, etc., were added into prices they would likely be much more expensive.

      2. You won’t be flying across the Tasman or to Fiji in a battery aircraft anytime soon. It’s going to be a long time before electric aircraft will be able to replace a Boeing 737 or Airbus A320 in capacity and range.

    2. It isn’t about the airport at all. That’s just a worthy anchor station for a line with value all along it’s route.

      How many times do we have to say this!

      1. Probably a lot more times given that the popular media often portray light rail projects in both Auckland and Wellington as ways of getting people to the airport.

      2. Agree, and we can also think beyond the airport as being an anchor:

        Auckland has decided on promoting sprawl with the Future Urban Zones policy,* so the airport and surrounding logistics/business areas can become (through) stations on a future ‘Southwest mainline railway’ “on the way” to ‘satellite cities’ at Karaka, Paerata, Pukekohe, Patumahoe, Waiuku, etc. – with the current ‘South mainline railway’ going straight from Drury (or Opaheke) through the Ramarama/Bombay area (as per Harriet’s post here: to ‘satellite cities’ at Pokeno, Te Kauwhata, Huntly, etc., “on the way” to Hamilton, Tauranga, Rotorua, Taupo, etc. (and maybe make Waiuku “on the way” to Raglan, Kawhia, Waitara, New Plymouth, etc., by extending the ‘Southwest mainline railway’ (and rerouting SH3) to develop the west coast of the upper North Island?).

        * I’m not saying this is ideal, but it seems to be the current policy and plan – and it doesn’t mean we can’t also improve the existing urban areas within the current MUL/RUB (or whatever it’s called these days) at the same time; we’ll have to anyway.

        At least make allowance for it in the planning now, so that a dead end (e.g., Britomart) can become not a dead end at a later date, is all I’m saying. It doesn’t need to cost any extra now to have plans and designs that allow for future developments. Other countries do this. We used to do this in NZ also (a long time ago, but it was done here, and there are still some people alive in NZ today who can remember how it was done).

      3. Most of the people going to the airport would not even be flying, would they?

        Its the second largest employment hub in the region.

        1. Exactly, airport area workers take ~10 trips a week, compared to a couple a year for travellers. Plan and price it so it works for airport and surrounding area employees, and it’ll work for a good proportion of travellers too. But don’t aim only, or even primarily to serve that market.

  7. “The concern is that in the long-term there might not be enough capacity on the network if we just use light rail”: surely not an issue for airport line, the lowest capacity will be on Dominion Road and Queen St, but can always add light rail on Mt Eden Road, Manukau Road, Sandringham Road, this will divide the Onehunga / Mangere / Airport -> City demand into 4. I’m sure there are other roads in the City that could have light rail too.
    I drove down Dominion Road yesterday. Its pretty damn wide. In almost all cases there looks to be plenty of room for the existing car lanes and light rail and maybe even cycle lanes or wider footpaths. Just no room for the small number of parked cars, however room could be made on side streets. It looked like there is even room for dedicated right turn car lanes at the major intersections.

    1. Ironically it is pretty damn wide bcause it was literally designed to carry 2 lines of rail and 2 lanes of cars, because that it was happened until we ripped out the trams in the 1950s. Remember that when people complain about removing parking etc as if it is destroying the heritage

      1. Cars, trucks and buses were narrower back when that road was first built. I’m pretty sure new trams will also be wider than what used to run in Auckland back in the ‘good old days’.

  8. Are the buses going down the right street surely they should be going down Queen Street and not Symonds street. Anyway if the buses are all out of the way on Symonds Street then I suppose it makes it easier to build the light rail on Queen Street.
    But what about a bus only Harbour crossing then buses up Queen Street then onto Dominion road. So most buses will only be passing through the city center. On there journey from Mount Roskill to Albany via Queen Street. Its a plan that could be done in stages and hopefully with little construction congestion. And it could start tomorrow with electric buses appearing within a short time frame. So they may have problems running to time table but with a frequency of one every couple of minutes would it matter. Also get rid of the necessity for bus parking in the CDB.

    1. So having sorted out Dominion Road and a public transport bridge to the North Shore we should turn our attention to tidying up Onehunga and public transport to Mangere. Has anyone got any ideas other than waiting ten years for a light rail/metro solution which might not ever happen.

      1. Yes. Committing to the light/metro solution and starting to build it. Your plan for a bus-only service to the Shore ignores the fact that the Northern Busway has capacity constraints and that buses themselves won’t be able to shift the number of people waiting at stations in ten years time. A light rail solution, however, on the same dedicated bridge with a pedestrian promenade, would also get the job done.

      2. Royce, you’ve just described the Green Party transport policy going into the election. Start immediately on bus bases rapid transit ‘lite’ on the airport, northwest and north corridors, then get to work phasing in the rail.

        1. I voted for the Labour even though they didn’t tell me what the were going to do. But yes start on the bus lanes see what happens. Did the Greens want a public transport only bridge. I definetly want a mode neutral public transport only bridge from Onehunga to Mangere Bridge which also incorporates the rail corridor from Onehunga to the Port. We should do the same for a new harbour crossing as well. Build the bridges first the buses trains will come later when the people are ready.

        2. Public transport or cycling / walking should claim the rail right of way between Onehunga and Port right now before some dickhead engineer decides they want to use it or sever it to build more roads. The fore mentioned engineer when challenged will brush you off like you are a piece of the proverbial with some glib statement about when the corridor is needed for a public transport project we will be able to work around the road they have placed in the way. However six months later if you mention it again they will tell you straight to your face that it is now impossible because the road is in its way. We want action now “Save the rail corridor”.

    2. Royce I like the bus solution too. By the time it is built buses will be a lot bigger and better.
      Electric bendy buses from Airport to Albany via Dominion Road and city sounds like a pretty good solution to me, probably 1/10th of the price too. I also like the idea of a decent station or two in the city instead of just a bus shelter.

      1. You can build something like Manukau but I wouldn’t know where. Otherwise it seems as though on street shared stops is about the only option. In wellington they have bus parking just along from the train station but most buses just seem to pass through the center city. Seems to work all right from what I could see. While I was down there I went on the train to Johnsonville it really made my day when the train stopped the doors opened and dead silent then I could hear Tui singing up a storm in the bush. At Johnsonville I walked out on the street and a double decker electric bus rolled by. We could do a lot worse than copy some of their ideas.

        1. Yeah, why don’t Auckland’s bus routes/buses go through the CBD and then carry on to somewhere else, as though they were a rail line, so that buses aren’t parked-up taking-up valuable space in the CBD?

          Royce says Wellington does this. Christchurch also does this (with through-routes and orbital routes).

          Why not make the Auckland CBD “on the way” to other metropolitan centres (e.g., Albany to Airport to Addison, Beach Haven to Botany to Beachlands, Glenfield to Glen Innes, Hobsonville to Howick, Takapuna to Titirangi, etc. – the areas don’t have to start with the same letter)?

          The current new networks routes are specific to sub-regions and still look like spaghetti on a map and are unintelligible to anyone other than the most ardent local users (I just had a look, and can’t figure it out, which is why I (and many others I know) prefer rail lines – it’s easy to read on a map).

          So why not have high-frequency ‘bus lines’ that go through the areas where people live and work in as direct a route as possible and go through the CBD and then carry on to other areas where people live and work in the same (or slightly different) general direction? These could help the pattern of development and mobility and establish routes for rail lines as and when higher capacity is required. There could be a circuit of interchange places in the CBD and other points of intersection of these routes, and with other modes (rail and ferry).

        2. The first issue I can see is that busses bunch up and then stay bunched up. Every peak time nx2 I see arriving in the city is immediately followed by one or two others. They split them up and try to start services where the majority of people are getting on so that the busses follow the timetable and are used more effectively. Which is why we have busses stopping and parking for 10 or so minutes. It makes the services more reliable. We essentially do have bus lines once you know what to look for perhaps the maps could be made clearer, the 30, 70 etc. double deckers come every 7 minutes in peak.

        3. Thanks Jack, yes I’m sure the bus operators are trying to do the best they can with the system and network they have to work with. I’m talking about changing that system and network.

          My idea of high-frequency ‘bus lines’ is that they be so frequent that a bus timetable for them isn’t needed, it’s just “turn up and go” like a metro system, with the notice board at stops just saying the next bus is due in x mins (which they already do now); in peak the headways could be 2-5 mins, in off-peak 10-15 mins, which is about the same as most metro lines.

          With proper prioritisation (lanes and signals, and protected stops) and ‘real-time’ communications for buses, they could run almost like a train on a grade-separated right of way, and if a bus lane or intersection is blocked, the buses could be authorised to use flashing lights and sirens to make people get out of the way like for emergency vehicles. Any delays could be made up with even more stringent prioritisation until the delay is made up – and with no timetables it wouldn’t really matter, as long as each bus does a certain number of runs in a shift. Any time-compensation can be adjusted ‘dynamically’ across all of the runs of the shift, not reset for the start of each run, so not requiring any parking-up in the CBD, just a slightly slower/faster pace and slightly longer/shorter dwells at stops along the whole route (from end point to end point, with the CBD being roughly in the middle of the end points), with this being adjusted ‘dynamically’ in ‘real-time’ also. The time adjustments could be totally automated by using an autopilot or driver assistance system to do this in the most optimally efficient way for the driver (smoother operating would likely also reduce bus maintenance costs, and costs related to passenger injuries/claims, etc.).*

          * It’s coming, e.g.:

          (I think there should still be a driver on board to deal with various incidents.)

          I think being able to “turn up and go” will be revdrive a big improvement in PT use, attitudes toward PT, and behaviour around PT – basically, I think more people will be willing to give it a try and use it regularly if it’s made easy and a no-brainer financially (especially with added bonuses like loyalty discounts, free fares, reverse charge/refund fares, and/or regular riders going into a draw to win $x every day/week/month, etc.).

        4. Turn up and go still needs a timetable even if the customer doesn’t see it. Without a timetable built around timing points, layover, fleet scheduling and driver breaks and rotation, you’ll get twenty buses in a bunch then nothing for an hour.

          If you have the sort of routes you are talking about with a four hour round trip, you’ll never recover from the morning peak.

          Your suggestion just swaps stopping at a timing point for driving slowly on a timing section. The end result is the same.

      2. The current double decker busses are already over axle weight limits and had to get a change approved by NZTA, and they pay higher RUC as a reflection of the wear they do to the road. The only option is to add bendy components with more axles or rebuild the roads to higher specs, becoming very large vehicles indeed, unguided in city centres. It might be better to add overhead wires or an in road power delivery system which would be more efficient and better for the environment, and steel on steel wheels offer much better rolling efficiency and failsafe systems prevent collisions, and oh wait we have a light rail system 😉

        1. Fully agree Jack (when I suggested automated/auto-assist electric buses with contactless in-road power charging/supply after a Jarrett Walker presentation hosted by Auckland Council a few years ago I was scoffed at), ultimately nothing currently known, with a proven track record, beats rail-based systems. But many people don’t agree that we need it, and think we won’t need it, so we have to deal with that reality.

          What I’m suggesting is to get the maximum out of bus-based PT with strategic ‘bus lines’ that can indicate future rail lines so land use and living/working patterns (and people’s attitudes and behaviours) evolve around that PT with such success that rail-based PT becomes absolutely necessary to meet the capacity demand in future.

          In other countries (and in NZ, up to ~70 years ago) the “build it and they will come” approach has been proven to work (refunded through betterment value capture taxes/leases, etc.), but alas NZ politicians, officials and commentators are far too timid for that these days, so we need to build the case for it by building the demand to the point that it’s undeniable that it’s needed.

          This is what I got from Matt’s post: do light rail first on the core rapid transit routes, and then do metro rail if/when it’s such a success that more capacity is needed.

          I’m suggesting we use the same approach for the planned but as yet non-existent rapid transit routes and also the likely most heavily-used frequent transit routes: do ‘bus lines’ with full bus lanes/prioritisation first, then do light rail after that if/when required (and then metro rail after that if/when required). This approach also has the advantage of flexibility: if one ‘bus line’ route doesn’t work so well it’s relatively easy to tweak by using different roads until the ‘bus lines’ and desire lines and land use and living/working patterns all line-up as optimally as possible and become a well-established part of the fabric of the city.

          In any case, let’s do something, and see what happens. It has to be given a chance … at present it’s been half-hearted, with only partial dedicated busway, partial bus lanes, and partial signal priority; let’s try doing it properly, in a joined-up fashion.

        2. What you and Matt are advocating is the modern equivalent of the 4 lane Auckland Harbour Bridge. It didn’t stay for lanes for long, those additional 4 lanes cost a lot more than what the original 4 lane bridge cost to build.

          This is a golden opportunity to build the right solution out of the gate, why mess it up and build a 4 lane bridge when you really need 8 lanes, a walkway and a railway line?

        3. @Hendrick There is obviously a balance to be had with extensions and rebuilding timing. You dont want to be at capacity within 5 years of opening with the only upgrade path being a very disruptive rebuild (for obvious reasons), and you dont want to be only reaching capacity after 80 years. With the 80 year scenario, you had this money tied up as latent capacity doing essentially nothing which is a big opportunity cost, plus you had to maintain that larger system which would be more expensive.

          The argument is that light rail style system is the correct balance for Auckland. These systems can be upgraded un-disruptively over time, adding bypasses and other lines, causing a similar amount of disruption as if it was all built at once (except spread out). And the peak throughput can be the same as all but the most heavy hitting light metro or heavy rail systems. It offers flexibility to do much much more staging (through quick and dirty surface routes which when proven to be at capacity can have a bypass tunnel and stations driven, while the surface route could be retired. But the surface route cost way less to implement so no great loss. There is however no guarantee that dominon road would reach capacity very quickly when you remove more traffic, and add longer, more frequent trains). The staging takes much more economic and political risk out of the equation, which is essential to get anything across the line. And the driver driven trains allow cheaper surface running. (But can also be automated on busy centre track sections.)

    1. +1 (I think it’s been in gestation for a while, and is now out in the open)
      Yes, well done Matt, hopefully the message will get through to the politicians and officials …*
      * e.g., hopefully the highway bods don’t get to again block the ability to future-proof 20Connect/Southwest Gateway/A2B for rail in the future by making it just a bit too small and/or placing obstacles in the way …

  9. 62km @ $600m/km = $37 billion or debt equivalent to 15% of National GDP just on a few transit lines serving only a fraction of Auckland. I doubt it will happen. At some point the worm will turn on comfort around debt levels and imperatives about saving some of the debt headroom for schools and hospitals etc will kick in.

    It looks like the political will is lining up behind the city centre to airport line (despite it not making a lot of sense). But after that even funding for even the replacement for the Northern busway could be doubtful if the debt levels get uncomfortable by then and subsequent projects will get forced into more affordable options.

  10. Firstly, the “original” plan was heavy rail, not light rail. Secondly, yopu are right that expensive “vanity” projects such as the previous minister was suggesting, crowds out other deserving projects. I agree that the North Shore, NW and Onehunga south are all suitable for rapid rail, so why not heavy rail there too? All the trains will be be compatible with the rest of the system and a lot of infrastructure (maintenance facilities, etc) will not need to be duplicated. I have always believed that the Auckland isthmus needs a mass transit system (light rail), but on the all four of the main arterial routes, not just one. The map illustrates this clearly. Only the city/Dom Rd part needs LR in that plan.

    1. Sandringham Rd is about 1km from Dominion Rd, there would be some significant overlap of catchments if light rail ran down both of these routes.

    2. You could use HR for the NW and North Shore but don’t kid yourself that it could use the existing CRL, it would need a separate tunnel through the CBD.

    3. Heavy rail was never the original plan. A strategy or concept at best… but once proper planning and design started it was quickly identified as a poor option.

    4. Modern light rail / light metro have can have the same throughput as heavy rail systems. But by removing mainline standards you can make things much more practical. Steeper grades, sharper turns, easier signaling system implementations, different power voltages and sources, the list goes on and on. Train compatibility would be a tiny saving, especially considering you’d have to build a new facility / expand the existing one a lot to serve such routes. Being able to run funky services like north shore to the west is pointless (and can be worse) when you run trains every sub 7 minutes, changes are simple and it makes the system easier to understand and use when you don’t have services running every hour every which way. On the surface it looks like a good idea having everything the same, but its not. It really limits you to use standards that were designed for freight on a system that will only ever be used for mass transit.

      1. You’re quite right, “expensive “vanity” projects … crowds out other deserving projects” and that is exactly why we should be building light rail or metro for the North Shore, NW, and SW lines and not heavy rail.

  11. A combined LR/LM (light metro) system would work by using an autonomous LM from city centre through the dedicated harbour rail only tunnel to Orewa using a dedicated obstruction free rail corridor and a 4 route LR network from city to Kumeu, city to Botany Downs, and Airport and from city to Mangere terminating at the airport that uses street and dedicated ‘off street’ operation.

    1. You can have any rail vehicle run in an autonomous train mode where they are on their own corridor and every other train on the network has the correct signalling, and capacity reasons demand it, but you can have autonomous sections, and manually driven section on the same line. The networks dont have to be different trains or systems to allow for dual operation. Crossrail is doing this, and so is the new Toronto crosstown line.

      1. I am aware that you can have both manual and semi automated operation as there will be driver operating up to GOA 2 operation, with GOA 0 (On sight) for street operation and up to GOA 2 (Semi Automatic) for dedicated obstruction free operation.

        I think a 4-5 route LR only network operating to GOA 2 specifications would be the best overall option for Auckland as it will give better ‘street’ and ‘off street’ operation and rolling stock flexibility for day to day operations and any future route extensions to network, as oppose to a mix LR/LM or dedicated LM operation

      2. From memory the point of the Crossrail one doing this in sections is just for accuracy in a tighter timetable area or something? If the driver is still sitting in the train, you wouldn’t save on wages or time of the day/break issues which I think is the main benefits to driverless systems.

        1. I was under the impression that even a conservative estimate of a 20% increase in max capacity was the main goal of automation. Sure there would be other savings, if you went fully automated, but I seriously doubt the roi would be any good for that. Especially when you factor the lower risk that more incremental staging brings. The signalling system chosen should have a clear upgrade path to automation on centre sections but it won’t be necessary from day one I wouldn’t think.

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