It was a big day for rail in New Zealand yesterday as the Chief Post Office building was reopened as the main entrance to Britomart Station.
Britomart sits at the heart of Auckland’s rail revival. Opened in mid-2003, it returned rail to the city centre and its success opened the door to network upgrades and expansion, improved stations, electrification and now the City Rail Link. On a normal workday before COVID hit, over 38,000 people a day used the station to start or end a journey, which is more than half of all trips on Auckland’s rail network. Interestingly, back in 2001 the business case for building the station estimated that by 2021 fewer than 22,000 trips a day would use the station. We exceeded that in 2011.
Arguably the most prominent feature of the station is its use of the former Chief Post Office building as a grand entrance. In January 2017 it closed to allow the construction of the City Rail Link with passengers accessing the station through a temporary entrance out the back of the station.
When it was first announced and during its construction I was a little worried about how good the temporary entrance would be as it can be hard to get right the balance of being cheap, because it’s only temporary, but also do its job as the main entrance to the busiest public transport facility in the city. But after seeing it finished I think the designers did a great job, at least on the quality side of the ledger with the structure light and spacious. Despite just being a shed it had some charm.
In the four years since the CPO closed the 109 year old building has undergone a massive transformation as the tunnels for the City Rail Link were built through it.
City Rail Link Ltd’s Delivery Manager, Scott Elwarth, says that constructing tunnels is fairly straight forward. However, do this under a heritage building in reclaimed land and the engineering challenges soon mount up.
“It involved one of the most complex engineering challenges seen in New Zealand – transferring the CPO’s weight on to temporary foundations to keep the historic building protected during construction,” Elwarth says.
“For a start, the CPO building with a top heritage rating could not to be damaged in any way. We had to work in some pretty confined spaces, under 14-thousand tonnes of masonry building, excavate reclaimed land below sea level with the Waitematā Harbour just across the road. We kept working under new health and safety construction protocols as a result of the covid pandemic, and more recently stopped work to evacuate the station due to a tsunami scare.”
With the tunnels complete the focus shifted to restoration of the CPO and yesterday it finally reopened to the public as the main entrance. The shed may have had some charm, but it can’t hold a candle on the CPO which is looking amazing. Perhaps one of my favourite features is that the floor is now completely level.
It’s great to have the CPO back in use again but also to see the the fantastic job that has been done on it.
While the CPO is now reopened and the ability to exit out to Te Komititanga it will make using the station easier however it’s not the end of the works. Already scaffolding is going up around the building and it will be shrink-wrapped as Auckland Transport now embark on a 12-month project to restore the facade of the building.