Last Friday I was lucky enough to be invited to the City Rail Link site to watch Transport Minister Michael Wood and Mayor Phil Goff officially launch the Tunnel Boring Machine that will dig the CRL tunnels between Mt Eden and Aotea.
There have been quite a few CRL milestones recently and a common refrain at them all is something along the lines of this from Phil Goff.
“When complete, the City Rail Link will transform rail travel in Tāmaki Makaurau. It will carry up to 54,000 people an hour, moving the equivalent capacity of three Auckland Harbour Bridges or 16 extra traffic lanes into and through the city at peak times,” he says.
That is a huge amount of capacity, especially when you consider that even pre-covid around 75-80k people arrived in the city centre by all modes over the two-hour morning peak.
About a third of that capacity came from a decision in 2018 to future proof the CRL to handle 9-car trains, which is mainly achieved by lengthening the Karangahape Rd station and adding to it the entrance at Beresford Square – which also makes the station more accessible. At $250 million the future proofing doesn’t come cheap but is a bargain when you consider it increased the capacity of the entire CRL by 50%. It was also important to do the work now as would be nearly impossible to go back and do later.
Currently the rail network is theoretically capable of delivering about 15,000 people an hour to the city centre – 20 six-car trains, though the Onehunga line isn’t capable of that so the actual capacity is less than that.
But just completing the CRL alone won’t achieve that 54k per hour and will require much more investment.
The refresh to Auckland Transport Alignment Project (ATAP) was released in early March. It’s largely an evolution of the previous iteration of ATAP though we were critical of it for not reducing emissions. At the time it was announced just a summary of the programme was released but recently the full ATAP report was published and one of the most interesting aspects to it is it describes what is needed to “fully realise the benefits of CRL” and estimated costs for that doing that. The TLDR version is it’s not cheap.
The report breaks things down into three key steps with step two and three occurring at some point in the future. Looking at the details I can also see there will be some projects that will deliver benefits even if other parts of that ‘step’ are not yet completed. So let’s look at what’s required.
This describes effectively what is needed for day one when the CRL opens or shortly afterwards. These projects have been committed to in ATAP with many of them already underway. Overall it will deliver a 50% increase in rail network capacity, up to 22,500 per hour, which represents 15 trains per hour per direction passing through the CRL. That will be a train every 4 minutes in each direction through the CRL but the actual impact on individual lines will depend on how Auckland Transport eventually decides to run the trains.
AT’s Regional Land Transport Programme (RLTP) gives more of a funding breakdown and detail breakdown for these
- City Rail Link
- 23 new electric trains & additional stabling – $412.5 million – the additional trains likely make up just over $200 million of this cost with the remainder being more stabling, maintenance and cleaning facilities along another traction feed
- Electrification to Pukekohe – $338 million – this is lower than when announced as some money has already been spent
- Westfield to Wiri third track – $209 million – this is lower than when announced as some money has already been spent
- New stations in Drury – $185 million – this is lower than when announced as some money has already been spent
- Papakura park & ride – $9.9 million
- Catch up renewals – $137 million – the cracks in the tracks were just the tip of the iceberg and a lot more work is needed to get the network fully up to spec.
- Removing highest priority level crossings – $220 million – this includes grade separating Taka St and Walters Rd in Takanini as well as Church St east in Penrose which will cost a huge amount of money to serve one or two properties. The other two crossings in Takanini, Spartan and Manuroa roads, will be closed as part of the work.
- Network resilience improvements – $52 million – this includes programmes such as moving the Auckland train control to Auckland.
It would certainly be nice to have a reliable network for a change
This step can be summarised as “maximising our existing network with six-car trains”. The aspect I’m most unsure about is the Onehunga Line Upgrade. Back in 2016 this was estimated to cost at least around $600 million and likely a lot more, a decent chunk of the of the $4.1 billion budget. This kind of cost is also one of the reasons I think we should consider converting it to light rail as part of our crosstown idea.
The maximum capacity of the CRL is 48 trains per hour, 24 each way. Based on this and with 6-car trains the actual capacity would be about 36,000 per hour rather than the 40k suggested here.
In this final step the network is upgraded to handle 9-car trains as well as other improvements.
All up this suggests we’ll need to spend around $7 billion on top of the CRL if we want to make the most of it. However, much that cost is likely to be able to be spread over a decade or more so won’t be as scary of a figure as it sounds today. Even so, that spending will need to be balanced against all of the other transport priorities we have.
I also think there’s a good chance we’ll see a bit of a swap of some of the priorities, such as AT potentially wanting to move to at least 9-car trains before looking to maximise frequencies.