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.

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  1. Nice to see the CPO back in use. One question though- why couldn’t the facade restoration have been done while the other works were progressing? More red cones in the public square….

  2. “Perhaps one of my favourite features is that the floor is now completely level.” – does that mean that the irritating feature of having to walk in and climb up a few steps to a higher platform has been done away with? So the new floor level is now all at the lower level? Or is it all now at the higher level?

    1. It looks to me that each of the columns in the main entrance have had a metal plinth of about 80cm added to them. Therefore I would go with a new level floor at the lower level and no more annoying steps up as you go in.

      1. That metal plinth is actually original 109 year old steel/iron, it was just concealed before. The new design deliberately encases it in glass to expose the building fabric.

    2. The old CPO had a raised section in the middle of the building which meant most people went around it (3rd and 4th pillars in image below) and could be a source of a bit of people congestion. That raised section is now gone

      1. Yes Matt, it was a source of congestion, especially at peak times, so it’s good that hazard is now done away with.

        However I did like the seating section which was nice to wait in if you were a bit early for your train or were waiting for a friend, family etc. So I hope they will still have a nice, chilled waiting area, again, And no I am not talking about the the very small amount of seating in the circular area in the middle. Needs to be more than that.

        Oh and it looks like there will be two cafes, Mojo as well as Starbucks. That means no sushi kiosk as there was before (and that one was popular). That sucks.

        There are four Customer service counters. Maybe one of them could’ve been for the sushi instead 😉

        Also looks like there will be 11 ticket machines scattered around. I sat down and watched things for about 30mins today in the afternoon peak and I think I saw the ticket machines used twice. I am wondering if that many are really required now days and maybe some of the space can again be better used for small retail kiosks.

        It’s interesting that now there are two major cafe chains in Britomart whereas before the cafe and sushi kiosk were small independent operators. It seems finally that major operators have seen the value of having a location in Britomart. There should’ve been good competition for the cafe tenders so I hope AT has made those companies pay a pretty penny for the lease 🙂

        Other than that, yeah, the place looks good. So good to have the CPO back again after 4 years.

        1. Wait for tourists to return. They will use it more then any hop/snapper/Oyster card etc.

          Would like to think that sooner or later I can use my debit/credit/EFTPOS card to pay and not need an app or another bit of plastic in my wallet.

  3. Great story about the upgrading of the building. But there was another story in Stuff today which shows the problems of getting people to come to Britomart by train. It was comparing driving to Auckland versus travelling by the new train. It starts with a classic bit of opinion based journalism “I want to start this off with a disclaimer – I despise riding public transport. For the environment’s sake, I want to enjoy it. But if you ask me to catch a bus or a train, tears start to form in my eyes. It’s just not for me.” Then you have photos of a maskless driver versus those poor people on trains who have to wear masks. And to help the car driver good parking is provided in downtown Auckland. “Arriving in Auckland we found a park easily near Britomart Train Station”. No comparison given of relative carbon footprints. The fact the train is slow and doesnt go all the way to Britomart is a problem. But this sort of lightweight opinion based journalism does not help our transition to a low carbon economy.–can-a-car-beat-the-new-te-huia-train

    1. Also they spent $90m on the rail and about $2.14B on that road corridor in the last decade with more spending planned. Also it was early enough that traffic wasn’t that bad

    2. Yeah saw it. Really disappointing. It would be hell a lot better if we do more effort to upgrade the lines, electrify the lines, add fast electric trains from Britomart to Hamilton CBD. This would be a winner and WILL entice people to use it.

        1. I think we are gambling by spending the majority of money on only motorways. Any good investment advisor would tell you to spread your risk. Which doesn’t mean having two motorways instead of one.
          How will be all get around if/when there is another oil crisis?

      1. IMO, Te Huia is a good way to kick start this. You have to start with some basic ass service in order to draw in some legitimacy to improving a route. This rail route has great opportunities to incrementally be improved. And will, if there is any stickability. Plus this intercity service stands to gain a lot of improvement from Auckland’s current projects. CRL will open up at least 2 tph slots into Britomart’s remaining island platforms. The third main will allow non stopping trains into the core rail network (sorry kiwirails freight division). The electrification extension makes the gap smaller and improves options in the future for BEMU, dual mode, or further electrification extensions to happen to enable better service to the tron.

        There are a lot of improvements that could be made south of Pukekohe too, I cant find information now, but more double tracking, speed improvements. Which would also be sold as improving freight service too.
        But you need some passenger service in order to spur some kind of more significant spending. Rather than, spending a couple billion day one on the bet that some internet pundits are right. Chicken or egg. And with a few more dollars in the right places it will be a much more compelling service

    3. I read the article and it was an unfair comparison. The Te Huia train arrive at Pukekohe early and had to wait for the Pukekohe/Papakura shuttle to leave before traveling to Papakura arriving 4 minutes early meaning a 14 minute wait for the 7.35am AT Metro train from Papakura to Britomart to depart.

      1. Actually though the article started off in a negative vein, the car driver journo did spell out clearly that the contest was done on a school holiday so the drive that day could well not represent the average drive time. They also highlighted the fact that one accident and their mission to beat the train could go up in smoke just like that. And they did say as well that while the drive was faster, the train ride was probably more comfortable.

        The comfortability and productive aspect was then further emphasised by the journo who took the train. So the article itself wasn’ t all bad. I think also yesterday the stuff article content was pretty good but the headline was crappy which made me think to myself, oh no, don’t say Stuff is going down the same road as the Herald with its headlines.

    4. We just did the same comparison this morning – from Hamilton to Auckland – though somewhat incidentally, as we live in Auckland and were just passing through. My partner dropped me and our two boys off at the Hamilton Train station for the 5.46am and we met again at Britomart. The boys were keen to make the trip, for the sake of it, and it fitted in to our travel home from the Easter break. But one of us needed to bring the car home. All I can say is that the three of us enjoyed our travel and arrived 15 minutes earlier than the car (actually, two of us did; the other got off at Ellerslie to go to school). My partner did not enjoy the heavy traffic, whereas we played games and the commuters around us chatted and worked on their laptops. Our arrival time at Britomart was 8.30am, which is a bit longer than the estimated 2.5hrs on the website, but then we didn’t run through Papakura station to get the first connecting train. If we had done so, like some of the passengers did, it might have been about right. It was really clear that if the train went further into Auckland on it’s own track before stopping, it would cut the travel time down considerably. We had to wait on Te Huia at Pukekohe for another train to move on so we could join the track, and the Southern Line was very slow in comparison (and not so conducive to games or laptop work). This improvement would make it a far preferable option to the car.

      1. Excellent to hear. For anyone who doesn’t actually enjoy having to concentrate on driving, it seems a no-brainer to me. Getting it into one of the central stations eventually needs to be the goal.

        1. “Perhaps some sort of dual mode loco hauled set like this”

          It would have to be nothing like that.

          Putting aside the track gauge, It’s 14 tonnes too heavy, grossly underpowered in diesel mode and lacks dynamic brakes.

          In diesel mode they would have around 40% of the power of the DFT locomotives currently used on Te Huia and in diesel mode it would take 4 of these to replace a single Kiwirail DL class diesel electric locomotive.

          Note that dynamic brakes are a must for NZ diesel freight locomotives.

          In short the locomotive type that you make reference to is totally unsuitable.

      2. Yes it’s a good start this service. Did you connect to a Pukekohe train just for the novelty of it I take it? I think they still working pretty hard isn the track fixing up on the Pukekohe to Papakura section which would explain a lot.

        1. I took the second train yesterday. Yeah, we stopped for about 3mins just before Pukekohe, I think for another train ahead (ex Pukekohe subbie?). Yes, I was having a conversation with some young guys coming up to AKL for the day and explained that there’s been track work and will now be electrification work between Pukekohe and Papakura that could disrupt things on that part of the trip.

          Also, interestingly, I did talk to a Waikato local govt rep on the train and he raised the possibility that they were hoping there might be a possibility of getting the Sat train to go through to the Strand, as due to less Akl local trains on Sats, there maybe a path available for the Te Huia train. I guess we’ll have to wait and see about that.

      3. Oh sorry misread that and the Te Huia doesn’t normally stop at the Pukekohe station anyway. Obviously thinking of some future stop.

        1. Well, when John Campbell interviewed Waikato District Council mayor Alan Sanson on the train yesterday, Sanson mentioned they are still talking to AT about extending train services from Pukekohe further down to Tuakau, Pokeno, and Te Kauwhata.

          Said they are looking at Waikato-Auckland train services with two arrows, one Te Huia being limited stops like now, and the other arrow, being the extension of AKL local services via Pukekohe.

          So I don’t think they are planning further stops for Te Huia at the northern end, including Pukekohe.

        2. If they are going to extend AT services, then it would only be a full-electric service, surely?

          Let’s hope the government just decides to electrify the Puke to Hamilton gap already

    5. I am a big PT fan but in my opinion that train service is a joke, and will fail.
      Having said that, it’s ridiculously unfair to leave by car at 5.30 in the morning and use that as a comparison.

      1. I disagree. The third main might be crucial here. Due to be finished in 2024. Might allow the te huia to get further into auckland and stop at a much more useful place than papakura.

    1. I think that’s great. I used to patronise the foodcourt across from QE2
      Square, but sadly that’s gone now. The replacement Commercial Bay is
      totally different – all upmarket, foreign food shops and more expensive.
      Nothing there for a boomer, whereas McD & Starbucks are right in
      my elderly alley.

      1. What do you mean by ‘foreign food shop’?! Best Ugly Bagels is there, along with cafes and pub food. The food court serves international cuisines, but they’re hardly ‘foreign food’ these days in Auckland!

        1. I don’t know what a bagel is. Oh for the 1950’s, when we had
          fruit squares, butterfly cakes and sweets like tar babies, sherberts,
          and frosted peanuts. All washed down with a coke soda.

        2. One of the new retailers in there will be a bakery so maybe Grumpysmurf will find something to suit their tastebuds there. Possibly a sourdough, langebrot, or a large cheeze pretzel LOL. Yeah, a good German bakerei just like the one I saw and purchased food from in Karlsruhe Hbf. That’s what I want ha ha!

        3. Unless you’re digging a hangi it’s all foreign food. Even that is imported from the pacific.

    2. I think these large chains are actually not a bad choice for these spaces. They probably pay more which will be why at has them. But a couple small independent shops I think will be pretty unlikely to survive. Nothing worse than a closed storefront in a place like britomart. As annoying as it is that these chains are so successful, them attracting more customers and making the space more lively is pretty important in a station. Plus I like McDonald’s

        1. Yes I noticed tonight when I went home at about 7.30pm that the Starbucks was still open. The old small cafe previously in Britomart was always closed by 5 or 5.30pm.

        1. One of the retailers is going to be a convenience store. There will also be an Auckland tourist info type place, bakery, and florist. And then you have Mojo and Starbucks cafes.

  4. I really love when good buildings are re-purposed and given a new life. Grand buildings elevate the sense of importance and legitimise public transport.
    I wonder if there was a missed opportunity to do similar elsewhere in Auckland or NZ.
    Could Mercury Theatre have been the K-Road station hall? Put Grafton Station in the Old Mt Eden Gaol building. Newmarket Station in the Olympic Pool space? In Wellington could a restored post-modern central library building house an underground station and library on top? Te Pae in Christchurch has some station blob-architecture about it (because who knows for how much longer conferences will be viable)

      1. Well the Mercury Theatre building is still there and hopefully the CRL Station being beside it will inspire a new revival of it (though I think a church has had a lease to use it for some time).

  5. Does anyone know if the britomart rebuild includes the lengthened platforms? I know aotea, karagahape, and mt eden are all getting the ~220m platforms for 9 car sets. But because the construction started at britomart earlier than the other stations they might just be built for the 6 car trains. I don’t really want to go down there with a laser and measure it haha. And if the platforms aren’t long enough now, I wonder how expensive the upgrade path would be.

    1. When you visit next, notice that there’s a bit of a gap between the end of where the trains stop on platforms 1 and 5 and where the tunnels start. Combined with a bit of work at the other end they think they can just squeeze in 9 car platforms.

        1. Jack, while the CPO work is done, there will be work done on the platforms and Eastern entrance in the next couple of years. The number of platforms will be reduced to 3 or 4 and the new platforms will be wider (a great thing).

          So we have had disruption up above with the CPO work and sometime in the not too distant future will be having some disruption down below on the platform level 🙂

        2. Yes, I read about that. Seeing pictures during rush hour currently, the wider platforms will definitely be needed. 2 through and 2 terminating tracks seems to be a pretty good balance in the final Britomart form. Leaving the 2 island platforms. That would allow a couple, (one day) regional services or special services to sit in the station for some time after arrival / before departure. Although I presume it will for a while post CRL be rare to see those terminating platforms used.

          It is a shame about the constant construction, but that’s the sacrifice in order to not fully shut the place down while construction is done.

  6. What is the space actually for? Is it a waiting area? Do people actually have to wait up there? Or is it just a covered space you have to walk through to get to the escalators? If I had ever used the station I might know but I haven’t so I am asking, what is it actually for?

    1. Really boosting your troll credentials on this page by pretending to have never used the busiest train station in the country, kudos

      1. You may not have noticed but most of Auckland isn’t served by rail and those bits that are served by rail are more conveniently accessed by other modes for the vast majority of Aucklanders. If you add up all of the trips that are carried by all of Auckland’s rail lines they are equal to those trips that are carried by one or at best one and a half arterial roads. It really is a minor mode well behind walking, cars, buses and probably even cycling.

        1. Figures will be much more impressive once the CRL and related is complete I’m sure. Buses will often still do the lion share of trips though in any city from what I know and if the rail grows in all meaning of the words so will the bus trips anyway with all the connections etc etc etc. There is also some higher density work to be done around the rail line stations as well.

    2. – The ticket gates are now at ground level. This provides space for more gates.
      – There are now wider and faster escalators.
      – The platforms have more space because the gates aren’t there anymore.

      All of these points enables higher throughput of people with less queuing at peak times. This should make for a more pleasant experience and higher usage.

  7. So an old building has all being done up better than new and should last a couple of millenniums. All the tourist from around the universe will be marvelling how it was built such a very long time ago. I am trying to imagine the trains rolling into the Britomart intergalactic space port.
    Now the annex on the back should be turned into a conservatory lots of lovely plants to freshen the air.

    1. So sad they didn’t re-do the sides with the waterfall feature again. Would be cool to see the water coming down the side of the station one more time LOL. Does anyone remember that? Though the tree misting never really did it for me ha ha.

  8. I had an appointment in the city this morning so afterwards went and had a look at the restored station. It does look amazing inside. Well done all who worked on it. However AT are behind the 8 ball, only one bay of the card readers are in place when there should be three. Outside in the square you will immediately see what is typical of downtown Auckland construction – never-ending!. A large proportion of the new square is coned off again and scaffolding being unloaded and assembled in the front of the CPO building / Britomart Station entrance as it is going to now get a facelift on the outside! It already looks nothing like the CRL video in the post today and access will be restricted for a long time to come. I am a public transport supporter (4 buses and one ferry already today) but often disappointed with the inconvenience to customers. Also had a look at Lower Albert Street after walking through Commercial Bay. Another mess from AT, yet to be completed. Why are they going to let ordinary traffic through there again when it is supposed to be a bus interchange linked to Britomart Station?

    1. We want nice things, they have to be built.
      I’m fairly sure the tenting of the building will not impede access through the doors. Just make the building look ugly for the rest of the year.

      There will be a reprieve in lower downtown soon. At least until light rail. Or further ferry terminal expansion. We have just gone through a very significant infrastructure expansion and street reconstruction in the area. Some of the payof won’t come until 2024 though unfortunately.

    2. Totally agree. The Lower Albert st is a mess and has been taking months to just finish it off and the Quay street improvements don’t seem to actually help. The so called Quay st bus lane actually ends before the intersection with Lower Hobson so you are just going to have the same issues with cars turning left impeding bus flow.
      How hard is it to have a fully protected bus lane in and out of the CBD?

  9. A good time to look at this post again:

    Therese T

    I wrote a poem/verse to explain why the Britomart Station is my favourite station :

    Britomart Station
    Is definitely the best in the nation
    From when the first train arrived on 23 June 2003 at 5.40am on Platform number five
    It has literally changed lives!
    Can’t believe nearly ten years have past
    Since such a station came at last!
    She’s got a lot of history and a little bit of mystery

    Located right in Auckland’s hub
    A nice place for a weekend stroll with the bub
    or for single ones to mingle in the clubs 🙂
    Or stop and have a drink at Racket bar, 1885 Britomart or the Brewery Britomart pub

    Added to that, the Britomart station is surrounded near umpteen stores
    Ranging from Westfield Mall, Ted Baker, Nike or Kiwi labels Zambesi, Kate Sylvester, now off you go!
    Browse or shop till you literally drop!

    Once you “hop off” the amazing train, there’s also tons of good wining & fine “district ” dining
    Metro favourites Ebisu, Cafe Hanoi or go try Northern Steamship, Agents and Merchants, and much much more!
    For when you get off at Britomart station, there are opportunities galore!
    Indeed a perfect place to take your date
    Don’t worry about parking, just “hop on” the train and come have coffee with a mate

    And just a few minutes wander from the station, you can enjoy the farmers markets or cool art at Britomart Project Space
    Or bring a book to read at the station and get away from the rat race

    Alternatively, you can just people watch at Britomart Station while waiting for your train
    Here you will not spend your time in vain!
    Chomp on some sushi, a sub at the subway, buy mum some flowers or have a cuppa
    There is plenty to do before the train takes you home – definitely an upper!

    What immense style, what stunning architecture, what a great heritage
    Ain’t the station growing more beautiful and statuesque with age
    It’s no wonder that every weekday 25,000* rail passengers go through Britomart Station
    For me she’s definitely number one in the nation!

      1. I’d love to see Wellington Station have more retail clustered around it, integrated ticketing, and better links to rail/light rail to move people from the north-edge of the CBD.. the kinda things that Britomart either has leapfrogged us with, or soon will (once CRL opens).

        Auckland’s rail is quickly becoming better than what we have in the capital.. and I hope this energises the powers that be down here to press forward with more upgrades.

        1. I would love to see an underground extension of rail in Wellington. It’s the only way to properly unblock the city.

  10. I went there today and I noticed the ALL entrances from East side (Te Ara Tahuhu) is blocked off. People cannot access it from the Commerce Street.

    Public transport users have to go around and enter from the West (Commercial Bay) entrance.

    This is frustrating. This demonstrate AT doesn’t really care about user experiences.

    1. Theres still a lot of work being done the temporary station has been closed for good, CRL are leaving the temporary structure for ongoing works with Auckland Transport will shortly undertake façade works to the Chief Post Office, this ‘face-lift’ is scheduled to take 12-months.

      I vaguely remember reading that the laneway entrances will re-open in due course after the current work on the laneways are completed

      1. The laneway entrances were definitely open today. But I think Kelvin is complaining about the Eastern (Westpac building) end entrances being closed? No? That would surprise me as I haven’t seen any comms saying that would be the case. Only that the Temp Station entrances at the Western end that had been in use while the CPO upgrade was in progress would be permanently closed.

        1. Whoops wrong text copied:

          Access around the area:

          A portion of both Tyler and Galway streets will remain behind construction fencing until the remainder of works are complete. Pedestrian thoroughfare on Tyler and Galway streets will reopen from mid-April, although thoroughfare to Commerce Street may be restricted from time to time.

          Also works to complete toward commerce st deferred due to adjacent building repairs etc were needed first.

  11. Was great to visit this yesterday finally reopened after following the project progress for years. Complete with string quartet check the link on my name on this comment to see my Twitter pictures and vids.

  12. After the opening of the CPO entrance of Britomart what is the next PT infrastructure project that is going to be completed?
    – Puhinui Station Interchange (Mid 2021) ?
    -Public space and gardens on Quay Street ?
    -K Road cycleway ?
    – Busway to Airport via SH20B?
    -Southern Corridor Cycleway (Haven’t seen any work on that for ages – nothing much happening at the Takanini/Waiata Shores end). My understanding this was supposed to be open for Xmas.

    1. The Takanini cycleway was meant to be open with the motorway lanes (which were before Christmas 2019), then “shortly” per their March 2020 update, then by Christmas 2020, and yesterday I got an email from them saying they are aiming for May. I presume they mean May 2021!

  13. Too bad about the gate line effectively cutting off the public access through site link through the Glasshouse along the east-west axis.

    1. Yip I disagree with them moving the ticketing gates. I think it dilutes the space upstairs and cuts off the east-west access as you say. It also meams you have to go through the ticket gates just to go to the loo.

    2. There’s public access through two lanes either side of the station. The station should function first and foremost as a train station, any public thoroughfare is just a bonus.

      Agree about access to the toilets though.

  14. I caught the Train South 3/4 hr before opening and entered through the eastern side and when I came back at 7.30pm I wondered why all the battiers were opened then as I got to the Escalators there were signs stating that to tag off now was through the top . And looking at the work that they have done to the building it is magnificent so bright and airy even at night . But the Barriers to tag on/off cut out to much of the floor area .
    I shot this at around 12.30pm just before opening and faiiled to get the after shot ;-

  15. “Or they could get a similar model to What the NJT in the USA are getting”

    No they couldn’t. They are massively overweight for NZ track, exceed our loading gauge, exceed our track gauge and operate on a different AC electrical system.

  16. Hi, are there any before and after photos of the CPO building?

    I used to work there for Post office Savings Bank and Postbank for much of the 1980’s and 1990’s and am trying to organise a reunion of old satff members and I can’t find photos anywhere of the interior… also is there anyone I can contact to maybe arrange a walkthrough/tour of the complex, with ex-staff members?

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