In some posts recently I’ve mentioned about the idea of a crosstown light rail line. It’s something we’ve talked about before but given the discussions currently underway about light rail, it’s probably worth re-looking at.
To explain the idea, let’s start by looking at the strategic ideas behind it.
Firstly, for many years now, at least as far back as 2005 but probably further, our various strategic transport plans for a future rapid transit network have suggested a crosstown route between New Lynn and Onehunga. The most recent iteration of this is in ATAP which assumes it will be a busway route. Busways are suggested for the rapid transit routes that aren’t travelling through the city where higher capacity is needed in the future.
The route isn’t in the current 10-year plan to deliver and as far as I’m a ware no planning has even taken place even about where this route will actually go. But thinking about where this route might actually go is where it gets interesting.
If we were to follow the existing road network then the most logical route is that buses would travel from New Lynn along Wolverton St, Tiverton Rd, Maioro St and then down SH20 to Onehunga. However, something important to remember is that Auckland Transport’s description of rapid transit is some thing that has a dedicated right of way, which is different from normal frequent routes which just have whole-of-route bus priority. Delivering a ‘dedicated right of way’ along that route isn’t going to be easy.
Next, we know from census travel to work data that a lot of people who live in West Auckland work in the Onehunga/Penrose/Mt Wellington industrial area or at the Airport, The airport will also see a lot of people from West Auckland who are travelling.
Then if we look at the council’s spatial priority areas, one of the most significant ones over the next decade is around SH20 with much of it around the southern end of Sandringham Rd around Wesley where Kainga Ora own a lot of land.
It’s that Kainga Ora land and development as to why Sandringham Rd is being considered as part of the Light Rail project.
And finally, when we consider that we will be building a decent chunk of a ‘crosstown’ corridor for light rail, the question arises, why would we duplicate that with a busway and could we make use of that light rail infrastructure for something else too?
Avondale to Southdown rail corridor
It is expected that light rail would travel alongside SH20 from Dominion or Sandringham Rd to Onehunga. Part of this, and the motorway, follow a rail corridor that was originally designated back in the 1940’s with the intention of providing a way for freight trains heading north of Auckland to bypass having to travel through Newmarket.
The extensions of SH20 over the last 15 years have made use of parts of the rail corridor but have left space for it to still be built in the future. In the case of Maioro St they even added an additional bridge span for it.
Some will no doubt argue that we will need this corridor for heavy rail in the future, particularity once the rail line to Marsden Point is built but there’s a few good reasons to believe the Avondale to Southdown route won’t be built.
- The expected frequencies of train services once the City Rail Link opens mean there will likely be no opportunities to run freight trains along the Western Line during the daytime. There also isn’t the space along most of the Western Line corridor for additional tracks, especially though New Lynn where another entire trench would be required. As such, the current thinking seems to be that there would be a rail yard in the Northwest, likely around Kumeu, where freight to the west and North Shore would be transferred to truck while rail freight travelling through Auckland would do so at night.
But if we’re having to wait till night when passenger services have reduced to be able to send freight trains along the Western Line, there’s no reason why they couldn’t just keep going through Newmarket.
- As the map above shows, east of Hillsborough Rd the corridor snakes inland north of Onehunga in order to get a useful grade. If you look at Google Maps you can actually see large parts of this corridor as green space.
But having a designation is one thing, actually building a rail corridor is something quite different. Freight trains, even if electrified, create a lot of noise and vibration and it’s hard to imagine the local communities surrounding the corridor just sitting back quietly and accepting it being built.
Crosstown Light Rail
Bringing all of this together, the idea is to use more of the Avondale to Southdown corridor to extend light rail to a connection with the Western Line.
While normally you wouldn’t consider light rail for a route like this, it is less than 4km from Dominion Rd to the Western Line. Furthermore, given the corridor already exists and there would only a couple of road crossings to deal with, construction costs could be low – likely far cheaper than building a busway like currently envisaged. It’s also worth noting that the planned section of light rail alongside SH20 would likely have spare capacity as the main limitation for the CC2M route is likely to be the section along Dominion Rd.
Stations between the Western Line and Dominion Rd could help serve the planned development in the area and giving residents a quick trip to either the western line or Dominion Rd where they could transfer to services to the city – or just use the existing buses.
To me a bigger question is not whether we should do this but what station we should connect it to. There are two thoughts on this:
The shortest and therefore cheapest option would be to follow the Western Line around to Avondale. This could even make use of the existing additional bridge span under Blockhouse Bay Rd. This would also be the best (fastest) option for those transferring from west of Avondale.
The second option would be to go in the other direction and link into Mt Albert. This is longer and would require those transferring from the west to backtrack a bit but would have the advantage of a future extension to Pt Chev to link up with the planned Northwest Light Rail.
Both of these options are shown on the map below in yellow.
There is also one other aspect to this proposal. At the other end of the line we could look to convert the Onehunga line to light rail to give even better crosstown connections. This could build on the idea of making the line a shuttle – which is how it’s being operated a lot at the moment anyway.
For the section through Alan Wood Reserve and a few other areas, green tracking surrounded by trees could be an appropriate solution.
With crosstown light rail, travel times from the west to the southwest would be slashed. Travel time modelling I’ve created suggests travel time from Avondale to Onehunga is likely less than 15 minutes, so even including a 5-minute wait between services, it would be much faster to use this than other options.
For example, even after including a 5-minute wait to transfer between services, a trip from say Glen Eden to Onehunga could be done on PT in less than half an hour compared with over an hour today.
I think the idea of crosstown light rail ticks a lot of boxes and would help make public transport more viable for a lot more people. But whether we can actually do it will depend on decisions made by the Light Rail project. Let’s hope they choose to go with light rail (as opposed to light metro) which would keep an option like this open.