Tomorrow the Mayor and government ministers will find out just how much more the City Rail Link will cost and how much longer it will take to deliver. While they’re discovering that, it would pay for them to cast their minds to what impacts the factors behind those changes will have on Auckland’s other big rail project – light rail – and whether now is the time to change course for a cheaper and better alternative.

For example, City Rail Link noted last week that there has been severe price escalation since 2020 and I wonder how much, if at all that’s been factored into Light Rail’s costs. From what I can tell, they assume a 2 per cent annual inflation rate, yet we’re currently running at over 7 per cent.

Mayor Wayne Brown has already been fairly critical of the light rail project so far, but it does seem he’s open if it can be shown to be sensible.

So what would a more sensible light rail plan look like?

The first step would be scaling it back to something that is achievable but that can be delivered and upgraded over time, something like a surface route from the city to Mt Roskill.

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The Auckland Light Rail team, as well as other players in the infrastructure game, have convinced the government that there’s only one chance to build something and so they need biggest thing possible. The oft-touted urban myth about the harbour bridge is often used as an example here. (in short: people think the clip-ons show the project should have been more ambitious to start with, when in fact its careful scoping was what enabled it to get under way at all.)

But when it comes to public transport and this project in particular, there are a few things worth remembering.

  • Attempts at mega projects in past, like earlier versions of the City Rail Link, have failed because they’re too big making it easy for the whole project to fall over. When we’ve succeeded it’s because we’ve taken a staged approach to get the ball rolling. With both the rail network over the last two decades and the Northern Busway we’ve built smaller more achievable projects and used the increased usage that results to help in justifying further investment. We wouldn’t be building the CRL now if we hadn’t first built Britomart, then improved the network and stations, then electrified the network etc.
  • Even if we have to come back in 20 years time to upgrade a surface light rail line or supplement it with a new line, that is not a failure but will be a sign of it’s success. No one today is saying we shouldn’t have built Britomart because we now have to build the CRL, or that the Northern Busway is a failure because it needs upgrading. And if it’s a new line that’s needed, even better, ultimately two lines are better than one because every time we add new lines, it makes our existing ones and the wider PT network more useful.
  • No matter what happens with tunnels across the isthmus, we will always need a surface route along Dominion Rd – and that corridor, along with the town centres along its length, needs upgrading.

  • A surface route is not only cheaper to build, it’s easier to operate – tunnels are expensive – and its stations are faster to access and more accessible for everyone. It’s worth noting that the travel times touted by the light rail team don’t include the time it takes to get into and out of stations. Where those stations are underground that can be a few minutes each.

  • Speaking of costs, even based on the extremely high costs for a surface option in the business case – which is 2-3 times more expensive per km than most light rail projects in Australia – we could build a separate line out to Westgate or a crosstown line from Avondale to Penrose.

  • It is common for many cities to start with surface options and develop them over time with tunnels. What’s more important right now is that we built a rapid transit network rather than focusing all out efforts on a single line. In addition to other potential light rail lines we also need Busways like Airport to Botany and across the Upper Harbour

  • The issue of disruption is overplayed and while construction is more visible with a surface route, overseas experience shows it can be completed much faster with only small sections of the road impacted at any one time. Most light rail projects are completed in 2-4 years, by comparison, we’d be lucky to complete a tunnel project with multiple stations in less than a decade – CRL will be 8 years at least and a third the size of what’s been proposed.
Tunneled light rail needs potentially as many as 8 underground stations
  • As well as improving transport options, we can also improve environmental and community outcomes though green tracking light rail.
Green tracks in Barcelona, Spain (left) and Grenoble, France (right)
  • A surface route fits in better and enhances our urban environment
Sydney’s George Street was recently turned into a pedestrian-friendly transit mall. Image via

This being a good time, perhaps even the last chance, to take a different approach that has more widespread support. In fact other than the project team and a few ministers, I’m not sure anybody supports the tunneled light rail option. It is after all the worst of both worlds.

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  1. I am struck a bit by the parallels I see with cycle projects.

    Every man and their dog adds “requirements” to the cycle project – it needs to upgrade the stormwater! the road needs repaving! we need to fix other safety issues at the same time! the urban design needs to be better! more trees! keep all parking, even if you have to build it new somewhere else! The traffic signals aren’t up to modern spec! Rebuild all the vehicle crossings and bus stops!

    At the end, the project is enormously more expensive than “the cycleway”, but the Herald reports it as “gold plated” and it eventually gets canned.

    I know that the people making all these add-on wishes are often well-intentioned. The proposed designs ARE “better” than doing “just” the original project, whether it was adding a cycleway or a light rail line.

    But at the same time, the costs and durations are driven through the roof.

    And if you don’t want the project to suceed in the first place, that’s a perfect strategy. Just encourage everyone to add to the specs and requirements. Either you get your cake and eat it too, or somebody eventually cans it for being “too expensive”.

  2. Yes this is what European cities do, build and keep upgrading a full network in over time, understanding the time value of money and the particular benefit of networks. It is only the excessively accelerating mega cities of Asia that have been building 20km tunnel routes straight-up.

    Auckland is growing, and faster than anywhere else in NZ, but not on those scales. Furthermore all existing places and people across this now mid-sized city on a tight geography need and deserve good access and connectivity, ie a full high quality network, before one route needs now what it -might- by 2060 or whenever, if all things follow one particular model.

    This is an important route, but only one of a number, let’s right-size for the foreseeable in order to get it going, and carry on directly adding the rest of the network.

    What an amazing city we could have, and sooner.

    1. Sydney was much smaller than Auckland is now when they built much of their underground (and fully HR) network.
      That said the proposal is lunacy! Tunnelled LR is the worst of both worlds. Expensive, limited capacity, slow etc.
      Build LR along the surface of Dom Rd. Build LM on a shorter more direct route to the airport (roughly along Manukau Rd alignment) and it’d likely cost less than what is currently proposed.

    2. I think light rail is just an add-on for Auckland.
      Better to plan heavy rail to North Shore and extend electrification to Helensville within 10 years. Small, incremental add-ons to the present system will be much cheaper than a completely new tram-type system.
      I believe that the present electrified suburban system can be improved little by little over a 10 to 20 year timespan. All the way to Hamilton by, say, 2030 ( at latest) would mean longer distance link-ups with such far flung places as Te Awamutu, Otorahonga and South Waikato. The wiring is already there, would just need a few extra trains to suit the longer distances.
      I envisage an initial timetable would be two early trains from S. Waikato in the morning, returning in the late afternoon similar to the Masterton run. Later a return AK to S. Waikato in the middle of the day could be added as demand ramps up.
      I think this is doable, not pie-in-the-sky, and spread over, maybe 10 + years would spread the cost as well.

  3. A problem with the government proposed scheme is it is trying to solve too many problems at once, without actually addressing any of them very well.
    Way back when the council started looking at bus congestion on Dom Rd and in the CBD, a street running LRT was a natural upgrade and solution.
    It could be built block by block as finances allow, with timed transfers bus-LRT.
    I’d suggest it could initially be built out from Maungawhau station using New North Rd to Dom Rd and progress south.

  4. I like to call this ‘incrementalism’. And it’s often far less sexy that making giant projects, but it tends to result in more resilient solutions because you’re not dependent on that ‘one big thing’ working out.
    Unfortunately this government has shown very clearly that it doesn’t do incremental (Light Rail obviously, but also Te Whatu Ora, Te Pukenga, and arguably the original failed KiwiBuild proposal).

    1. Anyone working in IT will tell you after a long history of failed ‘big bang’ projects (anybody remember INCIS in NZ?) that more recent IT projects are typically run as Agile projects. Breaking down bigger projects into smaller more easier to digest chunks and developing a team that can deliver these consistently, learning from earlier stages.

      It is OK to start even if you haven’t finalized what the the final complete solution looks like, as that could 10+ years in the future with changes in technology and requirements.

      But in the meantime, you have a much smaller project complete and working in service, and you can decide to pivot and perhaps built out west rather than to the airport, or that you need to complete a key underground metro section to link what surface lines you have built.

      1. This is exactly what has been done with the Auckland motorway system. There is always another lane, another interchange, an increase in length, another branch for my entire life. It has never (AFAIK) been a period where there has been no development. Increments and small or bigger projects constantly

  5. The incrementalism also allows for a consistent pipeline of work, which allows you to keep hold of workers and material, rather than losing it to Australia.

  6. IMO, it is so sad we are looking at a tunneled solution for ALR. ‘We’ asked the wrong people to look at the opportunity – tunnel people will build tunnels.
    At this stage, I will be protesting in front of the TBM before it starts turning.
    A surface solution would be an absolute game changer in so many ways. And it wouldn’t have to be built in one hit. What is the problem with it?

  7. Wayne Brown rightly or wrongly is pushing for the Avondale Southdown freight line my view is if this is going to be built it might as well be used for passengers as well. Afterall it is a cross town route mirroring the only effective cross town route we have which run cars through the Waterview tunnel. Ideally a future North Western light railway along the Western Motorway would tie into this heavy freight railway at Avondale railway station allowing for change between systems. So surface light rail from Avondale Station to the motorway where it continues its merry way to Kumeu. Heavy rail from Avondale to Otahuhu via Onehunga and Southdown. No duplication of Light and heavy rail between the city center and Avondale. Convert the Onehunga branch line to surface light rail and extend it to Mangere over a new bridge.

    1. The light rail parts of my plan could be started almost immediately and would be standalone even if the Avondale Southdown freight line takes longer to eventuate.

    2. If Avondale to Southdown happens, they could squeeze in an Onehunga rail loop of some sort probably more easily than whatever they are going to do with Onehunga line now.

      Pretty sure that would capture the all important Wesley and Most of the “Inner triangle” would be walking or single bus transfer to the rail.

      1. Nothing is planned for the Onehunga line. The designation for the Avondale Southdown line must cross it a some point so there can be a connection. Once the line gets to Southdown the existing freight line is signalised all the way to Otahuhu Station so nothing to do there. I would suggest trains would run ex the CRL to Avondale then Mount Roskill Onehunga. Southdown Otahuhu and return. Leave platform three where it is at Penrose but provide lifts as well as the existing ramps. So stage one build light rail from Mangere Town center to Penrose.

        1. What is happening to Onehunga is that it is not going back into Britomart. Making it a lot less useful and probably semi disruptive, particularly if it goes to Grafton.

          Why not just run Onehunga, Otahuhu, city (one south then one east), west, then hook back at Avondale.

          If we are making a loop, why not use it?

        2. Because I want it to go to Otahuhu much better to travel south and east it makes the city more whole than if we just have the idea public transport is only to travel into the centre. And the Avondale Southdown designation goes to the freight terminal not to Penrose. Also heaps of level crossing on the Onehunga branch which are more suitable for light rail. So heaps of reasons but the best is the line to Mangere Town centre could start almost immediately because it must be designed already and as you say the branch is pretty useless now so what’s the difference between changing at Newmarket or at Penrose. We may have to wait for years for the Avondale Southdown freight line meanwhile we have improved things for Mangere people.

        3. It could go to Otahuhu, I suggested it to do so as part of the loop.

          Sure there is too much city focus, but a loop here does everything a cross town straight train does and much much more.

          “So heaps of reasons but the best is the line to Mangere Town centre could start almost immediately because it must be designed already and as you say the branch is pretty useless now so what’s the difference between changing at Newmarket or at Penrose. We may have to wait for years for the Avondale Southdown freight line meanwhile we have improved things for Mangere people.“

          K. ALR is almost certainly going to start at the difficult city end. It’s not close at all. I reckon Avondale to Southdown could be built before hand.

        4. Definitely vote for an isthmus circle line going from the city on inner west to Avondale, then Avondale southdown to go under/over southern line to connect straight into the eastern line and back to the city. A big transfer station at the intersection of the southern and isthmus circle line near Mt Hobson somewhere. That would create the most interconnected and simplest rail system auckland could hope for.
          In the future a further heavy rail extension past avondale up under the park to unitec, then along the motorway with stops at pt chev, Western springs and Grey Lynn. With another big transfer station at avondale where the lines cross.

      2. MRB

        Circle lines that share tracks with radial lines are not an optimal transit routing. See the London Underground’s Circle line, which had to be rerouted as a spiral with proper termini to prevent frequent disruptions not only to itself but also the District, Hammersmith & City, & Metropolitan lines which all share twin-track sections with the Circle line. Any delay on the old looping Circle Line would cause flow-on delays to the other 3 lines it shared tracks with, and that would be the case with your Isthmus loop line too.

        If you want a circle line, build it as a stand-alone system separate from the heavy rail network. Which obviously will be expensive, perhaps more than ALR’s bloated light rail proposal.

        You could get the same level of rapid transit interconnectivity with a point-to-point line, e.g. light rail from Pt Chev to Pakuranga via Avondale, Mt Roskill, Onehunga, & Sylvia Park. That would intersect with Northwestern rapid transit, the Western, Southern & eastern rail lines, and CC2M, creating excellent high-frequency interchanges where the lines met.

    1. I reread some of the earlier stories, but makes me sad

      I mean, there was a comment about Sydney being brutally expensive at $2.8b for 12km which is over $200 million/km

      I think if we had the option of building an MVP solution, even for $1b, it would look pretty good to just get started

      Instead I really still can’t get my head around that they want to spend $15b on a 28km solution. Five times more expensive per km than Sydney

      I just can’t deal with adults sitting around and deciding that was the best and most reasonable option. It won’t get built, but people will get paid consultancy money for years.

      1. The adults can’t get past the political ramifications of surface development, what we’ve done in the past has caused massive surface disruption. The underground proposal is preferred,not because it is the best transport option ,it will supposedly have the least disruption on the surface. Probably the most cost effective way of doing surface development is to buy the leases,close the section of road you are doing ,and insist on pocketing some of the gains when buildings are released.
        Notice Waka Kotahi have had a gutsful of trying to keep traffic flow,when carrying out major works,and just have 2/3 month road shutdowns,much more cost ceffective and faster. If we can shut the rail system down for repairs,surely the road s6stem is no different.

        1. But also because it is the best transport option! Does anyone really believe London for example would be better if the Underground was all above ground LR having to stop at traffic lights etc?

        2. Jimbo. London has a Light Rail System:

          plus other proposals.

          As this article and the older article say the idea is to get something useful built. In the case of Dominion Road a surface LR is good enough for many years of growth. We then keep building and extending lines.

          By the same token a Light Metro ( Raised and/or Underground ) might be a better fit for other routes ( such as a line along Airport, Mangere, Onehunga, New Market, City, Shore).

          Do you think London would have been better if they had decided to build the Elizabeth line first?

  8. Sensible: Onehunga via Mangere to the Airport. Connecting Otahuhu to Avondale via Onehunga Light or Heavy. Mount Eden Station to Mount Roskill intersect Onehunga Avondale Line. Easy. North Shore far more complicated. But Mangere is grossly underserved with a large working population, as is Mount Roskill. Connect the people. We move enough stuff around as it is, but let’s accelerate Light Rail so we can call ourselves a CITY!!!

  9. Another thing is we shouldn’t be using Light Rail technology for everything. It’s great for short-distance surface routes but Automated Light Metro is more suitable for other routes.

    One thing with the whole government process is that it has decided one new technology a generation is all the public can handle. So Light Rail is being shoehorned into Long Distance and High-Volume routes (eg cross harbour) which other technologies are probably better suited.

    1. I would have thought LRT was perfect for the Shore. OK, if you wanted a line all the way to Wellsford its probably a no-goer.

      One line complimenting the busway between the CBD and, say,Orewa. Another from Constellation to SH16 and the NW Busway. And a network of feeder buses in from the west and East to the spine would serve the Shore for a couple of generations.

      1. Light rail, if designed correctly, is perfectly able to go to Wellsford.

        Light rail doesn’t mean speed is slower than rail (well, unless you are comparing it to the kind of rail we don’t have in NZ anyway). Not only are the differences to heavy rail a sliding scale in practice, but tram-train examples show you can even go regional with trams.

        Vice versa, with a dedicated line you could easily extend a light rail system as far as Hamilton if you wanted to and keep it practical (I am not saying that would be a sensible thing – there are issues particularly when using existing heavy rail lines, especially if shared with continuing heavy rail uses, obviously – just pointing out that light rail can definitely go fast enough for it to not be automatically a jump needed to heavy rail at longer distances).

  10. The CRL may take 8 years at least due to politically caused delays, not an inabilty to do these projects faster. Now that it is underway, the CRL is moving ahead rapidly, despite all the issues around COVID, closed borders etc.

  11. Advocating for an above ground light rail option so resources could be redistributed to deliver a better network made up part of the Waitemata Local Board feedback on the annual budget this morning. We also advocated against cutting cycle projects.

    1. “The cost of the tunneled option could pay for surface light rail across the entire region”? Because I feel like anything that is less blunt about the choice to be made here is going to get spun or just waved away.

      They have to be aware that’s the choice they’re making, and doubling down on what is objectively a crappy use of funds. Doubly so when it is purely just to enable the tunneled harbour crossing at a cost of additional tens of billions.

  12. What would you do with North Shore LR once the busway is maxed out. Surely that won’t be above ground in the city too? And for North west LR, is that also above ground?
    I reckon a LR tunnel through the city is needed at some point, so why spend a fortune on surface LR just to rip it out later? If we know it is just an interim solution, why not go with a better bus solution on Dominion Road? Most of the surface LR changes could apply to buses too but without the big costs, such as using Queen Street instead of Symonds Street, less bus stops, traffic light priority, 24×7 dedicated bus lanes, electrification, etc.

    1. I thought the plan with North Shore LR was above ground and bridge until get to Wynyard, tunnel through to Aotea Station, then join whichever line it joins to (West?)

      1. Yeah, so it needs a tunnel. And North Shore LR most likely needs a tunnel. Why not use the same tunnel for Dominion Road too?
        What is really the problem is the order they want to build LR, maybe starting with NS or NW makes more sense. Buses will be fine on Dominion for decades.

      2. “North Shore LR was above ground and bridge until get to Wynyard, tunnel through to Aotea Station,”

        Aotea Station is already being built to include a northern light rail platform.

    2. “I reckon a LR tunnel through the city is needed at some point, so why spend a fortune on surface LR just to rip it out later? If we know it is just an interim solution, why not go with a better bus solution on Dominion Road?”

      It’s not an interim solution. It’s the right solution for Dominion Road indefinitely. So, we wouldn’t rip it out later.

      Surface light rail is an interim option for airport access. We’d rip out the 50m ramp from Dominion Road to SH20 and retain the 7km from Britomart to SH20.

      Once those lines are maxing out, we can then tunnel NW to N and eventually a new line to the airport. That way, we spend slightly more, but we get way more for it, and we get to spend it over 60 years instead of 6 years.

      1. OK. But even is that is the case, how does Dominion Road make it anywhere up the LR priority list compared to NW or NS? They haven’t even tried making Dominion Road buses work well (maybe deliberately?). And I say this as someone who lives in Mt Roskill.
        Unless it connects to Mangere and Airport it can’t be that high a priority, and as you say above ground connecting to Mangere and Airport is a pretty poor solution.

        1. I agree about the NW, that should be first, i have no idea how it gets no love? But the Shore already has RT, highly effective RT, the Isthmus and especially Mangere has none. It should be the priority to add RT lines through areas currently with none.

          Not duplicating yet, and certainly Kingsland does not need another RT line to add to its Rail, frequent bus, and even Auckland’s only bike super highway.

        2. Look at the demographics, that explains the vociferous suggestions for the NS.

          Certainly I agree the NW is where the emphasis should be, long b4 the airport. /when the /botany to Airport bus is working well with the Puhinui transfer, ther won’t be the urgent need for CBD to airport direct link. Feeder buses are the way to go. Most large cities you don’t get many places on direct PT links

        3. The whole reasoning behind the Northern Busway getting replaced/doubled with rail has little to do with the Shore’s admittedly wealthy demographics but with demand forecasting the busway’s demand reaches maximum capacity by the mid-2030s – and that is assuming buses every 30 seconds at peak.

          I don’t know if it accounts for larger higher capacity buses (biarticulated or ‘trackless trams’) which would offer a 50% increase in capacity, or if station overcrowding is also being considered.

          Agree that Northwest, Isthmus, and Mangere rapid transit should be a much greater priority.

    3. “What would you do with North Shore LR once the busway is maxed out.”

      The Northern Busway was designed to be converted into a LR system at some date in the future. The fleet of double decker buses that currently operate on the Northern Busway, would then be re-deployed to high demand routes elsewhere across Auckand, ie Eastern Busway, Botany to Airport and Western Busway.

      1. Isn’t the plan for two RTNs up the spine of the North Shore? The WK plans provided in an earlier post show a new line complementing, but not replacing, the busway, at least initially.

        We could be many more decades away from the busway being maxed out if some of the patronage shifts to LR taking largely the same line down the shore but a slightly different route after it crosses the harbour.

  13. It would be hard to know what it would take the current government to change tack on this. Perhaps with lower passenger numbers as a result of covid they should focus on bus prioritisation changes, including bus lanes, on the proposed light rail route. As numbers recover, light rail could be added. Ardern is very committed to consultation, which ends up favouring the status quo. Labour risks running into the trap of the last Labour government when Key persuaded voters Labour was extravagant when it came to parts of the public sector, and National would ensure better value for money for the taxpayer.

  14. How much was Auckland Metro cost was the cost of the architectural wonders that is the new stations?
    Could you build simpler more cost effective underground stations outside of the CBD?
    How much did it cost to bring in & set up the boring machine in comparison to the cost per meter of boring, lining & provisioning the tracks.


    WIth light rail running down either side of the center of road.
    How do pedestrians, bikes & vehicles cross to the other side of the road/track?
    How much further will everyone have to travel when some of their destinations are on the other side of the road?
    How many emergency breaks & stops will the light rail train be performing?
    How reliable and rapid would it be in comparison to an underground metro?

    1. I have wondered about that too. Once the CRL project got the go-ahead, the scope crept up and up. In many cases this was justified (like 9-car platforms), but some of the scope-creep was for addition of nice-to-have features such as straight, level platforms, high-end fire-safety requirements (which many legacy railways do not have, and which may have ruled-out their ever being built had they been mandated back in the day), architecture, artwork and style. All this is good stuff, but if it sets an expectation on the cost of future projects, and that cost is deemed unaffordable, we may all end up losing out. And meanwhile life goes on, people still need to be moved, and the solutions finally chosen may not be as safe, benign or elegant anyway. So we need to be a little careful how we grab what seems like golden opportunities to add lots of nice-to-haves.

    2. “WIth light rail running down either side of the center of road.
      How do pedestrians, bikes & vehicles cross to the other side of the road/track?
      How much further will everyone have to travel when some of their destinations are on the other side of the road?

      Surely its little difference than with surface cars and buses?

      1. Arguably better, because it takes away car / bus lanes, but has less traffic (in terms of times when one cannot cross) with light rail cars than with cars.

    3. “WIth light rail running down either side of the center of road”
      How do pedestrians, bikes & vehicles cross to the other side of the road/track?…

      I highly recommend spending time in a city with decent functioning light rail system; there is no shortage of them around the world including quite notably Melbourne only three hours away.

      It is remarkable how much they improve the street environment and make it easier to cross the road; you just have to look for electric light rail trains gliding along the middle.

      So much easier, in particular just walking to the mid point of a busy wide road to a station that has a slightly raised platform for a ‘station’ than having to risk a busy bunch of buses and speeding cars in a street without LR.

      As people keep pointing out, Auckland arterial routes used to have trams, and Auckland is not some exceptional city that LR can’t work as well as elsewhere. I used to live & work in a city (KL) that has a really good mix of surface LR, fully automated underground MRT, heavy rail and even a mono-rail. Integrated with buses and Grab (Uber) with an express train to the airport. All works pretty well; it doesn’t have to be one solution or another, but using what you can afford and need as and when required

      Leave you with this:
      The Melbourne tram stop I used when staying down in the docklands for work:
      Melbourne tram stop


      Dominion Road

      I know what I would prefer

  15. The recently released report of the Public Inquiry into the Ottawa Light Rail Project should be compulsory reading for anyone involved with the Auckland Light Rail Project ( ) The Ottawa LRT project also includes tunnel running which both increases the cost and complexity of the project , becoming more like a heavy rail project in scale. The problems in Ottawa included PPP procurement, lack of system integration between vehicles, track and signalling systems, unproven vehicle design and wheel rail interface issues that resulted in derailments. Basically everything that could have gone wrong did!

  16. Today I read that a new tram line (Limmattalbahn) in Zürich has just been opened under the budget of $94 million per kilometre (including associated works and the workshops). The first political push for that tram line happened in 2007 and 15 years later it is reality, keeping to the timelines set. It would be great if New Zealand transport projects could be similarly successfully planned and delivered.

  17. My problem is that they have chosen the tool for the job, that is light rail trams but are not using that tool in The way it was intended.
    It’s like me buying a skill saw to cut down trees, it may work, but what I want is a chainsaw.
    So if we have to use light rail trams we should put them on the street, they can stop extremely fast and do very tight corners and don’t even need platforms.
    If a tunnel like the one planned was to be built, I would like to see something that can utilise it’s full capacity, you don’t want a station sitting empty for 10 or even 7 minutes, you want a train every 3 or 5 minutes, you don’t want a train to be doing 60 or 70 Km/h in the tunnel you want at least 80 to 100km/h in the tunnel.
    Otherwise you are not getting the best value out of building a tunnel.

    1. Correct. But the tunnel isn’t about the actual service you provide for the Light Rail network, it’s about justifying another tunnel under the Harbour.

      The Light Rail network is a means to an end. If you can blow the scope of that out so much that it doesn’t get funding, but it locks in the need for your super expensive Harbour tunnel which you can get funding for, then the Light Rail network has served its purpose without ever turning a wheel.

      Or, for a fraction of the price of that crap, we could jam surface LRT into St Heliers, Devonport, Pt Chev, Mangere and Botany town centres and everywhere in between. We have to convince people that this is the choice they are letting Wellington make for Auckland, instead of the rational one that costs far less but serves more than just a narrow sliver of the city. Half these streets already had trams running on them anyway, suddenly it’s impossible now and we have to tunnel everything? Not buying it. Reallocate the road.

  18. Ditch CC2M for now, figure out the right mode for the North Shore/AWHC – which is coming sooner rather than later no matter what BCR it has, then build NW automated and elevated down SH16 to connect directly to the AWHC @Aotea.

    NW has major interchanges with other PT routes at literally every stop, CC2M doesn’t. NW needs a good solution now, CC2M can survive with buses for longer. NW has a fairly obvious route that is mostly gov owned, and the added noise/visual pollution of an elevated route is negligible compared to a multiple lane motorway.

    If CC2M gets built, it should be automated and light metro (or whatever mode AWHC selects, but automated light metro I expect will win), but overall it shouldn’t be put ahead of other projects just as worthy.

    1. I’m starting to warm to the ‘trackquaduct’ elevated LRT proposal for NW, but I think it needs to be Light Rail as opposed to metro so it can run at surface through Westgate etc. We should be using it as a place-making exercise – I’m not saying run it down Maki St but it would be good to start having that conversation so we can decide what mode the NW should be getting.

      Unfortunately NW light rail is now a political inconvenience so we don’t hear about it at all, other than from Matt and the comments on this blog, but that doesn’t change the need for it.

      1. The problem with elevated rail is:
        – you lose (and have to replace) a lane on the ground, where you are using single pylons
        – you could use double pylons spanning the road but its more expensive and probably requires land acquisition in some locations
        – elevated stations and the support they require comes with a hefty price tag, though I guess in a busway style format there are not that many stops
        – every elevated station needs elevators and lifts. More cost.

        1. I don’t think NW will be entirely elevated. But along the space constrained bits, along the causeway/mangrove swamps on the route, and around the stations likely will be elevated. Elevated is a lot cheaper than tunneled, although surface is cheaper when possible.

          Westgate – Mercury Lane has 8 stops inclusive (Westgate, Royal, Lincoln, Te Atatu, Pt Chev, Motat, Bond, Mercury) – so the numbers of lifts and the like even if they were all elevated isn’t exactly out of the ordinary. Northern Busway has a lot of them along the route.

          It’s not like the project won’t cost anything (still land acquisition required, stations, building it etc.), it’s more that compared to CC2M it’s a lot easier to implement.

      2. Rapid transit routes aren’t really for place making – their main objective is to get people as fast as possible from interchange to interchange. They’re the motorways of public transport. Motorways make efforts to improve their local area often, but they’re not place makers.

        Local routes (buses initially, then trams when capacity constraints appear) are for place making. Eventually Westgate might require trams, but a rapid transit route is purely for going to the Westgate PT interchange.

        Re mode – the mode needs to match up with whichever the AWHC deems best – as that’s the main mode constraint. NW and CC2M can be built with whatever mode, but the AWHC needs to be super high capacity for the shore’s future growth.

        I personally believe automated is the future – as we’re only going to have more issues with staffing trains, and automated allows far more flexibility around late night timetables etc. The place making in Westgate should be improving local links, the station, density around the station/walking/biking links and the like, not hobbling the rapid transit, as it’s not just Westgate trips, but also North/South trips bypassing the bridge, and every future trip from the growing NW – as the NW route is the PT spine that will eventually serve the future SH16 motorway extensions to Kumeu and beyond (Waimauku is where it is currently being planned to go to, but in the decades it’ll take to fund and build there will likely be more growth/new settlements towards Helensville). I’m sure using the rapid transit to place make would improve Westgate, but the same outcomes can be achieved without the PT usability trade offs – by using local routes to place make while not detouring the main NW corridor.

  19. I was having a chat with a recently retired director of a major European tram operator. Fortunately, he’s chosen to retire in New Zealand. Talking about the 25km light rail to the airport, he laughed and said, light rail on such a long line to an important destination like the international airport is “silly”.

    He then said, “you know that the heavy rail line would be far superior because it is already functioning, already connected to the Waikato and across Auckland and you get huge economies of scale in operations rather then a separate light rail line which can never, never carry as many people as a heavy rail train”.

    Interesting guy, and unlike all the hopefuls and hypotheticals in New Zealand, he actually has been running a huge tram and bus operation for 40 years.

    1. + 1 A heavy rail spur from Manukau to the Airport and then linking to the Onehunga link makes sense at to least to me. I personally thought building the new Mangere bridge without rail was a missed opportunity. However, I also agree with the article that having surface light rail and staging its development into phases, starting with Dominion Road makes a lot sense.

      1. The Onehunga-Puhinui HR link always looks the best on a map, but the earlier analysis showed it to be the least favourable option.

        Less agility meant less stations, so less benefits to the community. Twice as costly as the other options. Terrible frequencies on the Southern Line (30mins?). Terrible frequencies on the O-Line unless hundreds of millions more spent on double-tracking and station enhancements.

        Mind you, maybe some of those are not so insurmountable if you have $15bn to spend…..

    1. A response to JimboJones:

      “Does anyone really believe London for example would be better if the Underground was all above ground LR having to stop at traffic lights etc?”

  20. I just can’t see how light rail is even future proofing in the first place. Considering how large the area which this route is serving is, how is light rail in any from going to be able to work?
    Having a proper metro system would allow full grade separation and a ton more capacity than light rail could ever bring.
    With the tunnelled light rail, it makes me think of a massive bottle only having a tiny neck.
    The whole project is a bottleneck in itself. Light rail shouldn’t be the backbone of public transport, especially in a car clogged city like Auckland in my opinion.
    Not to say light shouldn’t be built at all though. It can definitely be beneficial for our city.

    1. I guess your bottle analogy could be used in many ways regarding LRT.
      My 1st thought was that the trams don’t have the door and cabin width of modern metros and I can see people having to shuffle and push past each other to get off due to the lack of doors and the narrow sections between the wheels and carriage connection’s, as light rail trams have very short carriages/car’s so they can take tight corners.

  21. There needs to be a big rethink on the Auckland light rail project which has morphed into an incredibly expensive half tunnelled light rail line running to the airport along a dubious route via Sandringham Rd.

    More sensible and useful rail projects could be built instead which would benefit far more people across not just Auckland but neighbouring regions as well, such as a heavy rail line from Onehunga to Puhinui / Manukau via the airport, along with the Avondale-Southdown line.

    A conventional street level light rail line running from the CBD along Customs St, Anzac Ave, Symonds St, Dominion Rd, Stoddard Rd to Mt Roskill would be a much better and cheaper light rail option for serving this part of the city.

    For the sort of money they are talking about spending on one single half tunnelled line to the airport, more street level light rail lines could be built to serve other parts of the city where light rail is needed along Queen St, K Rd, Great North Rd, SH16 to Westgate, along with a central city loop through Ponsonby along Customs St, Fanshawe St, Halsey St, Victoria St West, College Hill, Ponsonby Rd, K Rd, Queen St.

    Together with the City Rail Link tunnel currently under construction, the best means of providing a rapid transit link which covers as much of the Auckland urban area, including a link to Auckland Airport, would be with a heavy rail loop line utilising a fully double tracked Onehunga Branch line, extended to the airport, then onwards to connect with the NIMT and Manukau Branch line at Puhinui.

    This would then enable the current Onehunga Line and Eastern Line through Panmure to be linked together in a large central ‘teardrop loop’ running via the CRL tunnel and Manukau station, serving most of Auckland with a simple ‘one seat journey’ on one train.

    The Southern Line and Western Line could also be linked together running via Parnell and the CRL tunnel, to form another ‘one seat journey’ across Auckland running from Pukekohe to Swanson – or to Helensville if the double tracking and electrification were to be extended.

    With the extent of work being planned with shutting parts of Auckland rail network for months on end to rebuild the trackbed formation, this opportunity should be used to increase the capacity of the rail network with triple tracking the North Auckland Line between Newmarket and Westfield Junction, quadruple tracking the North Island Main Trunk between Westfield Junction and Pukekohe, and double tracking the Onehunga Branch.

    Doing this will enable greater frequency of services to operate, as well as enable freight trains to operate clear of suburban EMU services and would enable new express EMU services to operate between Pukekohe and Newmarket / CRL which would make rail services immensely popular verses driving for getting in and out of the city.

    1. I really don’t think the answer is to continue to weigh down the current HR network. Even with the CRL, its going to need help. Thats where the complimentary and integrated new LRT/LM network comes in.

      Totally agree though that we should be stepping back and taking a breath on this, and looking at other options, and other options in the city.

      I wonder if we will see two conversations going on in tandem: ALR, committed (with central govt) to plough through the bloated CBD-Airport line, while Wayne Brown works on his Avondale-Southdown HR line.

  22. Why do we hate buses so much. They are always our fall back.
    Quote re the Sydney Light Rail
    “From late October 2021 to February 2022, services were replaced by buses after major cracks were found in all 12 Urbos 3 trams serving the line.[25] Limited service was then restored with borrowed Citadis trams from the CBD and South East Light Rail.”

    1. Because light rail has greater capacity than buses, and there comes a point where buses cannot cope with demand.

      The largest bi-articulated buses can comfortably carry 150 passengers. A 66m light rail vehicle can carry 450 passengers.

  23. Is there a site at the end of Dominion Rod suitable for a terminus?
    Where will the system sleep and the services be is an important part of the plan.
    It seems to me that the Puhinui interchange with the Botany to Airport bus system will service well for quite a while. There are not many cities world whide where you get on one mode of transport to the airport. (Could be that I have only used the cheaper accommodation options, thus skewing my survey)

    Where the staff start, hardware sleeps and is maintained is an important factor and needs to be considered.

    However Dominion Road needs Light rail now, or at least take all parking off it and dedicate the parking lane to bus transit.
    The buses really need to be reduced in the downtown area of CBD with the buses stabled at the periphery.
    We also need to try and reduce/eliminate the broken shifts for drivers in the central city.

    1. Heavy rail to Hellensville needs to be on the way now. Get those tunnels fixed so that freigt to Whangerei is feasible now.

      1. I believe freight trains are already operating on the North Auckland Line again, including DL class locomotives.

        Passenger heavy rail to Huapai and Helensville, while a nice to have, may not be viable now that the ADL diesel units are withdrawn. And even if the SA/SD trains are reinstated for it or something, you’re looking at commute times of over an hour between Huapai and the City, nearly an hour and a half between Helensville and the City, and a necessary transfer at Swanson or Henderson.

        Long-term using the shorter Northwestern Motorway corridor for RTN access to Huapai makes more sense.

    2. The original plan was to have a LRT depot:
      “From Mt Roskill, Stage 2 turns onto Denbigh Avenue and Stoddard Road, terminating at the proposed depot near the Sandringham Road / Stoddard Road intersection.”
      For initial stage there would be a temporary depot perhaps in Wynyard or I think they would be talking about trucking EMU’s to a depot offline from the tracks.

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