The NZ Herald reports:

Leaked emails between senior officials at Auckland Light Rail, Waka Kotahi and Auckland Transport have revealed a surprising twist in the long-running saga of the Auckland Light Rail project.

A stack of emails between Auckland Light Rail and an unnamed senior official at Waka Kotahi, who appears to have been a close colleague for many years in his former role at Waka Kotahi, have been leaked to the NZ Herald. These reveal damning insights into the Auckland Light Rail project, and suggest a highly controversial change to the project’s design might be on the cards. The emails, some of which also included senior officials from other national and regional transport agencies in Auckland, also provide revealing insights into the culture of these often unknown but highly powerful bureaucrats.

The emails, which date from mid-2021, provide never seen before insights into decision-making processes on the $15-29 billion Auckland Light Rail project, which has proven to be highly controversial. They initially focus on work undertaken by Auckland Light Rail on an ‘indicative business case‘, which led to the government selecting “Tunnelled Light Rail” as the preferred option for the project.

“We’re not sure whether to recommend light-rail or light-metro,” a senior staffer from Auckland light-rail writes in an early email to his former colleague at Waka Kotahi. “Light-rail is significantly cheaper, but takes away traffic lanes and parking on Dominion Road and we’re going to get hell for that. I’m thinking about whether we go for some hybrid option between the two, to try to get as many of the benefits of light-metro but at a lower cost.”

The Waka Kotahi official’s reply doesn’t answer the question on this key issue, but simply states “Mate, don’t forget about the Waitemata Harbour Crossing. You know that that is the most important project in Auckland. Don’t try to create a bigger project than my big project. I’m the guy with the biggest project.”

The light-rail official simply responded with. “Don’t worry, I know. The whole idea is to create something so stupid that a future government will cancel this and shift the money across to your road tunnels. That’s why we’re going with such a daftly expensive option. Robbo [presumably Finance Minister Grant Robertson] tried to make us go with the much more sensible surface light-rail option, but thankfully Jacinda overruled him because she’s worried about disruption to shopkeepers in Balmoral!”

Much more recent correspondence though, suggests a significant change in plans. In early 2023 the same senior official at Auckland Light Rail provides an update on progress to his Waka Kotahi colleague:

“Mate, we’ve got a problem. Our technical guys have run the numbers and it seems like the capacity gain we get from tunnelled light rail compared to surface light-rail is pretty tiny. We thought we could do 40 an hour, but it’s looking more like 24 unless we build massive tunnels or viaducts through Onehunga and Mangere – which is barely more than surface light rail. We’re also really worried about building a complicated underground junction with the northwest corridor so we want to separate ourselves from that project and just run through to the North Shore. But that kills our argument for a tunnel because we only needed that through the city if the northwest plugged into the same section of track. It feels like we’re back to square one.”

The Waka Kotahi official’s response again focuses mainly on his desire to make sure that the harbour crossing project is “the bigger project”, in what reads like a battle of egos, but offers some advice too:

“Mate, what if you turn your light-rail tunnel into a road tunnel and then link it up with my (bigger) harbour crossing tunnel? Then we could have a really really big tunnel and would stop needing to worry about who has the biggest tunnel? We’ve gotta work out how to sell this idea to Woodsy [presumably Transport Minister Michael Wood] though.”

“Just tell him it will reduce emissions heaps,” helpfully responds the Auckland Light Rail official.

“Will it though?”

“Who cares? We’ve bullshitted him so many times over emissions in the past and always got away with it. Can you believe he stood there with a straight face when announcing Penlink saying that a big new road will reduce emissions, gotta hand it to the guy,” responded the Auckland Light Rail official. “God I love the smell of fresh tarmac.”

At this point, an Auckland Transport senior official joins the discussion to add in “You guys are amateurs at this. We managed to somehow ignore Auckland Council’s wishes for us to build cycleways for years, while convincing the public that we were building them everywhere. We even got a new mayor and balance to the council, at least partly driven by backlash against cycleways we didn’t even build – it’s hilarious!”

The most recent email provided to the NZ Herald suggests that the 250 consultants working on Auckland Light Rail, at vast cost to the taxpayer, have subsequently “pivoted to a highly secret new mode” in their design work – which is understood to be a big fat road.

The Herald contacted Minister of Transport Michael Wood for comment. He replied with a statement saying “I continue to believe that my officials are acting in good faith, and doing their very best to provide me with good advice about what the best transport decisions to make in the interests of Auckland and New Zealand are.”

Auckland Mayor Wayne Brown initially replied with “piss off drongos I’m playing tennis because it’s Friday” before his office issued a more fulsome statement. “Mayor Wayne Brown was elected by over 180,000 Aucklanders and has a strong mandate to fix Auckland and move the Port. The mayor is generally worried about fat-cat officials making billion dollar recommendations in this way, but last week he had a beer or two with these guys and he reckons they’re all good. He’s happy to slash community services so they can continue their ego trips about who has the biggest …tunnel.”

North Shore Councillor Richard Hills was approached for comment, stating: “Look, this is seriously concerning to see into the culture of senior people in our transport organisations. I’ve long wondered why there was such a gap between what we put in our plans and what ended up happening on the ground. I have to say that I almost didn’t want to believe that senior officials would hold elected members and Ministers in such contempt, but perhaps at the back of my mind all along I had this sneaking suspicion that has sadly turned out to be true. Auckland does not need a massive new road tunnel, this scheme is like a zombie from the 1950s.”

Other stakeholders were more supportive of the idea, with a spokesperson from the AA saying “I’ve long been concerned that the AWHC project would simply feed a bunch of traffic into spaghetti junction unless substantial extra capacity was provided on the isthmus. I perhaps thought that might come in the form of the long-forgotten Eastern Highway, but I guess a revival of the long forgotten Dominion Road motorway is just as good. Brrrm brrrrrm!”

A spokeperson for the Road Transport Forum said “I’m glad to see the back of that namby pamby light rail and a good return to the days of building rrrrrrrrrrroads for big trucks!”

Nowhere in the leaked emails was there any mention of the possible cost of the road tunnel. A word search for “cost” revealed one point where a senior official said “don’t worry about cost, the politicians always stump up the money eventually.”

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  1. It’s official, stage one options have been announced for the North Shore rail plans! Though it’s still unclear what the full rail link would look like! For a long time now it is vital for the North Shore to have a rail line to meet population growth and get people chasing public transport for once and not into private vehicles! Once of the contributing factors to why residents in the Bay Area of the North Shore don’t want to change to PT, is the journey time, indirect route for work, terrain if walking to nearest station (especially if it’s summer). A rail line running through Bay Area of the North Shore would solve these problems! Along with it is the roading issue which as been issue for decades!

    Option 3 is the best option going forward for all residents who live along the Bay Area of the North Shore such as Long Bay, Torbay, Browns Bay, Rothesay Bay, Mairangi Bay, Campbells Bay, Castors Bay and Milford. Once upon a time, the bay areas of the North Shore had direct public transport to the city such as 839, 858, 875 and 879 every day of the week, during peak day and hours you had the ‘express buses’ running through the suburbs and running on the Northern Busway, without the need of transferring, now you have indirect buses during peak hours take you longer to get into the city or into Takapuna. Waiting at stations increases your travel time whereas direct route would bring relief to those stuck in the bay areas who want direct way of getting into the city by Public Transport!

    Option 3 brings opportunity to layout plans of a line running through the Bay Areas of the North Shore! Stage One of the plans shows the line going under Birkenhead, Northcote, Akoranga Station and Takapuna, but its unclear what the rest of the line would look like if was to go ahead. If you were to make an overall terminus of where the line would end up, well solution should be having a line constructed along the Bay Area of the North Shore and have it end at Long Bay. So the stations running all the way to Long Bay world be Milford, Castor Bay, Campbell’s Bay, Mairangi Bay, Murrays Bay, Rothesay Bay, Browns Bay, Waiake, Torbay and terminating at Long Bay and call it the ‘Bay line’. If your the Bay Area of the North Shore heavily sick and tired of transferring stations, PICK OPTION 3!

    There are a lot of benefits in bringing in a rail line into the Bay Area of the North Shore. It would indefinitely solve the Everyone on the North Shore’s Bay Area always having to end up taking a second bus to the city while people who live closer to the Northern Busway or places like Takapuna, Birkenhead, Beach Haven, Hillcrest and Glenfield have a ‘direct’ bus route to the city while us people along the bays don’t and find it unappealing to take the bus due to the long duration journey, which affects ability to have balanced life. Also sometimes not able to board for 30 mins at the stations like Constellation or Albany Station which can disrupt your work and outside of work life.

    Not only that, it would also solve our ferry development issues, with rail we wouldn’t need a ferry, be no longer in North Shore plans, in-which ferry has been long outstanding issue for long time now and doesn’t seem like the development of ferry terminals along the bays is going to happen, ever! A rail line running through the townships would be solutions to the ferry problem, you wouldn’t need to build ferry terminal no longer!

    With the road issue comes the proposed plans, for sometime now North Shore has long time needed a crossing, the options are building a bridge or tunnel, which one to go for? Tunnel all the way! Building a bridge would make the city landscape look uglier! No thanks! The flaws being set out is ‘no tunnel option’, worse part is another bridge would ruin the lovely vibrant Victoria Park landscape! We can do better! The solution is to build the a tunnel under Victoria Park all the way to the ‘current harbour bridge’.

    Building the 2 lane exit tunnel right at the North Shore end (Northern Way) of harbour bridge will be achievable, just needs proper design and engineering. What you do is build the Northern way under the bridge while Southern way (connecting to the City) won’t be need. Then there’s the obvious issue which is the sea water seeping through the tunnel, if you put a large tall 10 metre wall it will prevent the problem. Along with it, Cyclone Gabriele has caused the hills alongside SH1 to collapse and brings good opportunity to construct northern exit way of the second crossing, also good opportunity to redesign Sulphur Beach by extending it and moving the boat shed.

    Hope this proposal gets taken into consideration!

    1. The National Road Carriers have said in a media release about the reopening of the road through the Brynderwyns that they want an alternative road route between Auckland and Whangarei. Simplest might be to tunnel North from where SH18 meets SH1.

      I reckon we could also manage a route for a road tunnel that connects the Bay area of the North Shore to each of the gulf Islands, too, which will get more North shore residents visiting them and supporting the local economy (Waiheke), or assisting with local biodiversity work.

      And the rail across the harbour could go further north, too, probably along Penlink as well as straight up to join the main rail line.

      All this would give North Shore people really good access North, East, as well as South. Only really missing the West. Which tends to be an ok position, politically.

    2. Now we’re getting somewhere! A tunnel along the east coast can come to the surface at each bay for a cheap surface station. A bit of a deep shaft station at Whangaparaoa, but it can then turn to Red Beach and Orewa.
      Get this planned in time and we can cancel Penlink!

      1. “Get this planned in time and we can cancel Penlink!”

        Oof, No can do, we still do need a private vehicle access getting into the peninsula majority of the way would be tunnelled due to the terrain and difficult to build fully surfaced or impossible.

        1. “majority of the way would be tunnelled due to the terrain and difficult to build fully surfaced or impossible.”

          Sorry that part meant for light rail idea. not for the Penlink.

  2. Very good . The Road Transport Forum is now called Transporting New Zealand – Ia Ara Aotearoa. Same ideology as before: big trucks over everything.

    1. This is unbelievable! It’s not the ministers they are scamming it is the tax payers. Demand an inquiry they are employees supposedly! I am shocked. I hope the herald published and all hell breaks out!

  3. Finally, some bloody common sense! Some brains at the top, at last.
    Now after I drive my ute to the gym through horrendous morning traffic, I can at least stew about something else on the treadmill. Like how brainless and narrow minded that bloody tomato soup thrower was.

  4. No need for either a tunnel or a bridge.

    Just re-elect Lab/Green and they will show us how to walk on (tread) water!

    1. Disappointed that Greater Auckland has abandoned the tradition of April’s Fool satire and instead published accurate investigative reporting.

  5. in fact, all this is not a correspondence, but conversations.

    No matter who cheats, everyone is happy close to the truth

  6. A regular road tunnel is so last century. Any new project should be a transit project.

    Let’s replicate the success of the Boring Company Vegas Loop.

  7. I heard that Rainbows end theme park are wanting to decommission there roller coaster and that Auckland light rail have made an offer.

  8. Good April’s fool..but the walking on water bit is nearest the truth.Get the ferry service into PTOM so we can all travel to Waiheke and round the Bays like Sydney does.Cheap& quickly achieved.O..and a bridge cycleway!

  9. I heard that Option 6 for the Auckland Harbour Crossing, was to deploy unused portions of the airway canals that were left over from WWII and that are still in storage. There is also a secret project to re-establish the Harbour Bridge Authority who will re-install the toll booths on the approaches to the existing harbour bridge.

    Build heavy rail from Takapuna to Devonport, then use the old Wellington-Picton ferries to cross the harbour to a new terminal located at The Cloud.

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