Another of the interesting items at the Auckland Transport board meeting yesterday was about the plans for removing the remaining four road level crossings on the Southern Line in Takanini at Spartan Rd, Manuroa Rd, Taka St and Walters Rd. The board were asked to approve a business case for route protection of their proposed solution for dealing with the crossings.
The level crossings see the highest number of train movements through them compared to others in the region, with AT’s passenger services passing through as well as regular freight and the odd intercity train too. They claimed that with all the rail traffic, by 2030, it is expected a train will pass through the level crossings every 2.5 minutes and longer term there are plans to add two additional tracks to the line through here.
The Walters Rd is also the busiest level crossing for vehicles, with recent traffic counts showing over 18,000 vehicles a day. That’s more than most state highways outside Auckland, and a significant increase in usage over the last decade or so thanks to all the greenfield development nearby.
In the consultation last year it was proposed to grade separate two of the crossings and close the other two but replace them with a third grade separated crossing.
Following the consultation, it appears the plan is now to also replace the two closed crossings with pedestrian and bike bridges. So five crossings in total but what’s particularly concerning about all this is just how much it’s expected to cost, likely coming in at a whopping $650 million. All crossings are expected to be bridges.
Three new multi-modal grade separated bridge crossings, two new active mode grade separated bridge crossings and two consequential road closures are recommended at a cost $436 million (P50) to $647 million (P95), of which $144 million is associated with property purchase.
There is a breakdown of costs per crossing too.
These costs are massive, especially when you consider that the Newmarket Crossing, which replaced the Sarawia St level crossing, was completed in 2018 and cost only around $8 million. Even the active mode bridges here will cost four times that, not to mention it’s hard to understand why you would also need $22 million in property acquisition for them.
One clue as to why they might be so expensive can be seen in the images showing what the Walters Rd crossing might look like – huge and spatially inefficient.
The paper to the board notes that the Papakura Local board support the proposal but also
There is opposition from parts of the community (i.e., Takanini Business Association and Mr Wallace – Takanini Village Limited) about the impacts of closing some level crossings to traffic and preference for an underpass rather than bridge option for grade separation due to visual impact and urban design reasons. Councillors and local Members of Parliament have also raised these concerns on behalf of Mr Wallace and sought deferment of the recommended option and further investigation of underpasses.
AT say that while and underpass is preferred visually, it is much more complex and disruptive to build due to the peat ground conditions and having to deal with the rail line so as a result, is estimated to cost at least twice as much.
Notably they do say that:
the final design, cost and timing of the solutions for each crossing will be determined via the Auckland Level Crossings Single Stage Business Case (SSBC) which is due in late 2023.
As well as the cost, another aspect I find hard to understand is how they claim that by making it easier, less disruptive and more reliable to drive that it will result in a significant increase PT mode and reduction in vehicle travel. It would be great if it happened but it sounds very much like green-washing and manipulating the model to get a desired outcome.
- Modelling identifies there will be an emissions reduction of 7,090 tonnes per year and 182,800 tonnes reduction over 40 years compared to the baseline network. Route protecting the project further contributes to emission reductions by enabling improved rail service, improved safety for all users including walking and cycling thus increasing the attractiveness of these modes leading to positive mode shift. The projects could result in a daily reduction of 134,900 vehicles kilometres travelled.
- The level crossing upgrades will have positive contributions to the following Transport Emissions Reduction Plan (TERP) outcomes through a reduction of reliance on cars and supporting people to walk, cycle and catch public transport; and facilitating work to begin to decarbonise heavy transport and freight.
- The details of the exact contribution to TERP will be determined with the final design as part of the Auckland Level Crossings SSBC.
I didn’t watch it but I understand the board agreed to proceed with route protection for four of the crossings with further review of the Walters Rd one.
Finally, a few other final thoughts:
- Why is the pedestrian access to Takaanini Station not included in this programme?
- Given the costs, should the Taka St crossing also be closed and replaced with an active mode bridge?
- If costs like these are replicated elsewhere, it’s going to be hugely expensive to remove the other rail crossings on the network, such as the 15 on the Western Line. Perhaps we need to have a harder conversation about potentially just closing some – perhaps in association with a discussion about creating low traffic neighbourhoods in some of these areas.