Following the release of the government’s decision on Light Rail two weeks ago, the Auckland Light Rail team (ALR) released the Indicative Business Case (IBC) used to make the decision and although some of what are probably the most interesting parts of it are redacted, and they still haven’t published the appendices, there is some useful information in it. At the same time what is there often raises more questions than it answers.
Some of the information is from the business case we saw in October when a summary was released, so in this post I’m focusing on parts of the IBC that we haven’t covered before.
We’ve complained before, including two weeks ago, about there not being a clear picture of where stations will be, only showing vague information. This is ridiculous as they have to know where they are so they could model usage. ALR redacted images in the document that might show the station locations however they did miss one. In a section about places of significance for Māori they include a map showing places along with the potential Light Rail and Light Metro options. It appears to show a dash for locations with stops with either mode and a dot for additional stations under the surface LR options. This highlights the following stop locations for Tunnelled Light Rail
- Wynyard – On Gaunt ST
- Universities – but based on the position on the map is actually up by Wakefield St so not really any closer to the University of Auckland than Aotea is.
- Dominion Junction – Where the Dominion Rd/New North Rd junction is
- Sandringham Rd / Balmoral Rd intersection
- Sandringham Rd / Mt Albert intersection
- Wesley – between Stoddard Rd and SH20
- Mt Roskill – at Dominion Rd
- Hayr Rd
- Mangere Bridge
- Coronation Rd – close to intersection with Walmsley Rd
- Bader Dr
- Mangere Town Centre
- Landing Dr – is this just about serving the airports Park and Ride site?
- Airport North – I assume somewhere around Manu Tapu Dr / John Goulter Dr
The other thing of note with this, with stations so far apart, there’ll still be a need for buses on the Sandringham Rd corridor in order to help those with less mobility get to stations. This undermines one of the key reasons for initially investing light rail to begin with.
As to how they got to this route, the IBC includes mention of a long list of potential options that were assessed at a high level. For mode they looked at buses, trackless trams, light rail, light metro and heavy rail, we saw the result of some of this back in September. For routes they broke this down to four sections:
- Section A: Airport to Ōnehunga
- Section B: Ōnehunga to Mt Roskill
- Section C: Mt Roskill to New North Road
- Section D: New North Road to Wynyard Quarter,
The routes that were considered in each segment are shown below.
There isn’t a lot of detailed information in the IBC as to how they assessed each of these options – that is in an unreleased appendix – but they shortlisted the options to light rail and light metro with the routes being on Dominion Rd and Sandringham Rd. This is no surprise given these were the two modes and two routes the government told them to look at.
One thing I find extremely disappointing is they’ve only looked at solving the transport problems through one line. For example in a list of risks they include
Developing a rapid transit solution that does not optimally integrate with the rest of the RTN may lead to future cost in other RTN projects and inefficient sequencing.
Additional lines do cost more but are also more likely to end up as a greater benefit than just one line. It’s disappointing ALR didn’t look at some multi-line options for the same price as the tunnelled option they recommended.
The shortlisted options, plus the chosen tunnelled light rail are summarised in the table below
A few things that stand out to me from this as well as a few of the other comments related to it in the document.
- The Sandringham alignments are preferred due to serving Kainga Ora land at Wesley and having an additional station. They note that for the metro option the additional station results in an extra 7% in ridership in their models.
- On stations, the IBC notes:
However, with the Light Metro and the Tunnelled Light Rail options it would be harder for people with physical mobility issues to access the underground stops/stations. So the Light Rail option is more equitable for those people.
- The downside of that diversion to Sandringham Rd is it adds about 1.4km lengthening journey times. Though I suspect there’s an error in their model here as it adds two minutes to the Light Metro option, which seems about right, but only 1 minute to the light rail option.
- I doubt the travel times have included how long it will take to get down to the platform level for those underground stations, these could easily be as deep as a 10-storey building.
- It’s not clear why the Light Metro option on Dominion Rd costs quite a bit more than the Sandringham Rd option, tougher geology?
- Surface light rail on Sandringham Rd was ruled out due to the need to move a major power cable, probably to Dominion Rd and resulting in two years of additional disruption.
Speaking of disruption, the IBC puts a lot of weight on the potential disruption of the surface option while almost dismissing the disruption for the tunnelled options. For example:
The Light Rail option will result in disruption along the entire route as the surface running tracks and facilities are put in place. This will result in disruption for long periods of time, perhaps 3-5 years, in important areas such as Queen Street, Fanshawe Street and Dominion Road. There would also be similar impacts through the town centres of Ōnehunga and Māngere. The Light Rail option will also likely result in ongoing restricted access (left in left out access only) to properties and streets along the route.
There will also be disruption during the Light Metro and Tunnelled Light Rail implementation. Due to the tunnelling of these options through the city centre, central isthmus and Ōnehunga and Māngere town centres, the level of disruption for these areas is significantly reduced. There will however be considerable disruption at the station locations and at the tunnel portal locations
Firstly, most overseas surface light rail systems are delivered in 2-3 years. Second, it’s hard to see how even building deep stations, like we’re doing at K Rd, won’t mean significant disruption to places like Kingsland, Balmoral Rd. And it’s even hard to see how mining and joining in a second station to Aotea is not going to be significantly disruptive to the city centre and the city’s critical Wellesley St corridor.
Capacity and Ridership
The government have talked a lot about how their decision for the tunnelled option is about future proofing the corridor. So it’s notable then that the tunnelled light rail option clearly has significantly less maximum capacity than the metro one. This is important as if the network is built out as currently planned with the Northwest joining in to this route through the city, this maximum capacity will need to be shared between the two lines.
There are also some interesting graphs on their peak hour modelling forecasts vs future capacity. The bars on these graphs represent the seated and standing capacity on trains. The dotted lines represent demand based on a general uplift in land use from improved transport while with the solid line comes from a programme to deliver higher levels of intensification. Perhaps the most interesting thing about them though is it highlights the steps that would be taken to increase capacity over time, such as improvements to frequencies.
The surface light rail option suggests we could eventually move to 3 minute headways on the route
Light Metro could go as high as a train every 90 seconds, which with trains holding 580 people each could move over 23,000 people an hour. This is also notable as elsewhere in the IBC they note this – which I assume they’re talking about just the parts on the CC2M corridor:
Once the CC2M is connected to future extensions to the North Shore and Northwest, patronage is forecast to increase by around 20-30 percent.
The government praised the tunnelled light rail option for being able to move 15,000 people an hour. That doesn’t quite match up with the table earlier though which states a maximum of 12,600 per hour. The plans seem to indicate light rail vehicles will be about 66m long and carry 420 people per train and would run at twice the frequency in the tunnel section – every 2 minutes – to achieve that. Interestingly to get more capacity in the future this graph suggests in future there could be longer 80m light rail units. But given they’re also running on the surface sections through Onehunga and Mangere, why aren’t they also in the Dominion Rd option?
On ridership, we’ve seen before estimated usage with 2051 forecast annual boardings at:
- Light Rail – 22.3 million
- Light Metro – 34.95 million
- Tunnelled Light Rail at 31.2 million
One thing that the IBC doesn’t include though is what this means for ridership on the wider public transport network. For example, how many trips are these options diverting off existing trains and buses, equally, how many of those trips are transferring from bus.
The IBC includes graph comparing their estimated ridership and density based on other cities.
One big thing we were missing from the cost information released in October was the operational costs. These costs are the average annual value and it highlights that the Tunnelled Light Rail option has the highest operational costs though I’m surprised they’re so close. I also note the light rail and light metro figures are both $104 million in the paper that went to cabinet.
They’ve also included an estimate of farebox revenue based on our current (and planned) fare structures.
The IBC talks about how the options will all benefit active modes too but there’s no guarantee that active mode improvements will be included, in fact I’d suggest they’ll be one of the first causalities of the value engineering stage.
All options increased active modes (e.g. walking and cycling) because they increase patronage and intensification along the corridor which means more people to walk to stops/stations.
The Light Metro option and Tunnelled Light Rail option are partially underground so theoretically there will be more space on the surface to provide for cycling (specific designs have not been undertaken). The Light Rail option will also have space for cycling facilities, albeit in a ‘busier’ surface corridor.
Theoretically I can ride a unicorn to work and theoretically there is already space on the surface to provide for cycling so why not get on with providing that now?
There’s plenty more information in the IBC that I haven’t covered, if you’ve taken a look is there anything that stands out to you?