Last week during the council’s new Transport and Infrastructure Committee, City Rail Link, Auckland Transport and Kiwirail gave an update on the CRL and the future of the Auckland network.
The update and subsequent questions by councillors was quite long, coming in at nearly two hours all up but I’ve put the videos at the end of the post in case anyone is interested in watching them.
While for regular readers of the blog a lot of the information won’t be new, a couple of things stood out.
- City Rail Link are giving a briefing Ministers and the Mayor this Friday on the updated costs and completion date of the project. In a list of challenges to date, it was noted there had been “severe price escalation since 2020 so the figure could be high. It’s not clear when that will be made public.
- The civil works are still on track for completion early next year at which point the project moves to fitting out the stations, tunnels and rail systems. However, the delays due to COVID mean many parts of the project are now on a critical path. They’re hitting their deadlines so far but there’s not much slack so if any one of those parts of the project on a critical path experiences delay, it could throw out the completion of the project.
Works to be completed
- Mechanical, Electrical, Fire, Hydraulic fit out
- Continue Rail Systems fit out
- Architectural & Station fit out
- HV Energisation & overhead line energisation
- Site Acceptance Testing
- All Systems Testing
- Train Running Testing
- Operational Readiness Testing
- One of the concerns is that from now on in, many of people that are needed to do the work on the project will be coming from Australia where Brisbane, Sydney and Melbourne all have big rail tunnel projects due for completion at about the same time as the CRL. We’re competing for that same resource and that may have impacts on the CRL.
- Before the pandemic, we hit a maximum of just over 22 million trips but the pandemic has reduced that to just over 8 million as of September but AT are forecasting 12 million by the end of the financial year. However, Auckland Transport are modelling that two years after the CRL opens we’ll be at 30 million trips.
- AT also talked about some of the things that need to be done before opening, such as:
- ensuring there are sufficient numbers of trains and drivers
- changes the network such as the removal of some pedestrian level crossings as per a mandate from the regulator (Waka Kotahi)
- wholescale replacement of AT’s mapping system and wayfinding
- integration of stations and other modes
- Kiwirail noted that they’re three months ahead of schedule for the 3rd main project and are in the closing phases of mediation with NZ Health about the station works in with Middlemore Hospital.
- On the Drury stations, there cost inflation means they can’t build all three new stations within the budget they have and AT and Kiwirail have a difference of opinion on what should be done. AT want to do just two stations (Drury Central and Paerata) while Kiwirail would prefer to do all three with lower specification for ‘day 1’. Given how over-spec’d these stations already are, perhaps that’s a better option, cutting out things like the superfluous car parking.
- Kiwirail said they are moving to operating the network more like a metro without big shutdowns like they have done for decades.
- Following the comments from other Councillors, Councillor Shane Henderson made a case for upgrading Swanson quoting our post from a few weeks ago. It was noted that this likely to be part of the cost discussion that occurs this Friday.
Day One Services
The aspect of the presentations that I found most interesting was that AT shared a draft of their current thinking for how services will operate on day one of the CRL. The map they showed is only a draft and subject to modelling as well as consultation next year and there are a number of aspects worth highlighting, some good, some not so good but perhaps what concerns me the most is it highlights that AT still don’t understand the purpose of the rapid transit network that they’re building.
The plan is quite different to what we’ve seen before. It has two core all day routes, of Swanson to Manukau and Pukekohe to the city and then back out to Otahuhu. At peak times this is augmented by a number of additional services, including some running express patterns.
We’ve created a bit more readable version of AT’s strip map of this.
With the exception of the two stations on the Onehunga Line, all stations appear to have at least 8 trains per hour (TPH) at peak times, that’s an average of one train every 7.5 minutes and so an improvement on what we have now of a train every 10 minutes. I’m also personally pleased to see this is from Swanson.
However, at least in the case of the Eastern and Western lines, half of those trains are only in the peak direction with the train passing through the CRL and terminating. That means say you wanted to travel from Kingsland to New Lynn in the morning peak, you’d only have 4TPH you could catch which is less than the 6TPH we have today.
Services off-peak are also only 4TPH, or a train every 15 minutes. While this might meet AT’s technical definition for a ‘frequent‘ service and is an improvement on the 3TPH we have today, in reality it’s not really frequent and in my view, not appropriate for our most important public transport network. It also falls short of the aspiration AT sets out in their Regional Public Transport Plan (RPTP) which calls for services every 10 minutes.
Furthermore, this slide from the CRL part of the presentation suggests that in the evenings we’ll still only have a train every half an hour on our main lines, no better than we have today – the 4TPHPD mentioned will be split across both Southern and Eastern/Western lines. By comparison, The NX1 still runs buses every 10 minutes late into the evening with the NX2 doing every 15 minutes.
The Day 1 map earlier is not always easy to read with the draft text over it but it seems Otahuhu could be the station with the most services to the city. A quick count suggests at peak times it could have:
- 4TPH all stops via Grafton
- 4TPH all stops via Parnell
- 4TPH via Grafton skipping the stations between Newmarket and Penrose
- 8TPH via the Eastern Line
- 2TPH express service that stops only at Panmure
All up that’s 22 services per hour in the peak or a train less than every 3 minutes.
Puhinui comes in second best with 18 services per hour or about one every 3-3.5 minutes. That’ll be great for those arriving in the morning and transferring from the Airport Link bus.
For the Onehunga Line it seems the plan is to keep running it like happens now, only running between Onehunga and Newmarket – though it’s hard to tell and it may actually extend to terminate at Maungawhau.
Another thing that isn’t clear from this all of this s just how much faster those ‘limited stop’ services will be given a lot of the time they’re likely to be following other services. I also wonder how much faster they’ll be compared to what would be possible if AT ran the trains to what they’re capable of e.g. they’re supposed to be capable of Papakura to Britomart all stops in about 41 minutes.
You can see there is a proposed express service from Pukekohe to Britomart only stopping at a few stations. If we were to upgrade Te Huia by extending electrification and/or battery trains, it seems like an ideal opportunity to combine with this.
Overall I can’t help but think this is just a continuation of AT’s ongoing focus of peak time trips to the city centre and we deserve more sophisticated thinking than that.