We Need A Rail Service, Not Future Monuments To City Officials


Looking at the hideous “ruins” of Aotea Square  as it undergoes a major multimillion dollar patch up redevelopment, I’m reminded of the small town tendency for Auckland civic officials to want some monument toaotea  004 be built in the town so they can be remembered long after they have departed office.

Look at Aotea as they dig it up. A soulless unfriendly concrete jungle where city workers struggled to find space to play touch or sit in the sun; a concert hall that was promised to be world class and according to regular patrons still has appalling acoustics; a convention centre that, as was shown by the now departed Armageddon Expo, was a frustrating rabbit warren where queues easily formed and people just bumped into each other.

It was opened in 1990,  after apparently many expensive legal wrangles  as the monument  to Mayor Dame Cath Tizard, a strong arts supporter who later became a popular Governor-General.

The $204m Britomart Transport centre, that is so familiar to all of us, was opened by John Banks who got the accolades when Mayor in 2003 but the project was first envisaged by former Mayor Les Mills and pushed ahead by the rather forgotten Mayor Christine Fletcher who, to her credit,when mayor in 2001, defended the project’s over cost, and called the design “visionary” and necessary .

The design was still painfully flawed. One line in, one track out now causing daily delays to trains making it hard to see how improved timetables can work. This of course has prompted calls for the tunnel to become a through tunnel as a CBD loop, as happens in cities like Sydney.

So as we head towards the first grandiose sounding Auckland SuperMayor, we must make sure no one hijacks some of the things on our wish list to demand they become their monument to the city’s first ever combined mayor - rather than a measured examination of what the city needs and to get that right first time around.

Why do we get things so wrong first time? Is it just that costs get cut (as happened with the Auckland harbour bridge which later needed clip on lanes) or do people just get carried away with the vision and forget about the practical details like a hall where patrons can hear the orchestra or a train centre that is future-proofed for more than one train arriving at a time.

aotea2  003Wandering depressed around Aotea while considering the city’s history of mayoral monuments, I angst whether, if we take a deep breath,  the minister of transport may be right to openly wondered if future rail projects being talked about for Auckland stack up.

The electrification is a done deal. The government will finalise funding within the next three months and tenders called. It’s beyond that, that rail fans have to worry.

An Airport rail link and a CBD rail loop are on our wish list and mayoral hopefuls Banks and Len Brown (and yet-to-be-announced Mike Lee) have all promised a CBD rail loop.

It’s obvious the government is yet to be convinced about either project and with an Auckland history of rushes to the head with monuments, I’m not sure you can totally blame them.  Much as I want both to happen asap, I’m not sure  who is promising what on which basis and whether the ducks are lined up as they should be when it comes to the arguments why.

Take the discussion about the airport link. Anyone who has felt ripped off by the fees at the airport parking building would have suspected cheap rail trips to the airport are the last thing the airport authorities would encourage - and especially now they have allowed an avenue of pay for parking lots to spring up to compete for motorists’ business there.

Our favourite magazine, Metro, has published a curious complaint from Simon Robertson, the chief financial officer of the airport, who takes issue with the previous issue’s similarly reasonable assertion his company opposed a rail link. “Auckland airport strongly supports improved public and private transport links…. Currently we believe an effective short-term public transport measure that would better link the airport with the CBD is to further improve bus links.

“However we recognise that a viable rail link to the airport could well form part of a longer-term public transport solution and we will continue working with all transport agencies, including the new Auckland Transport Authority, on future regional transport plans.”

But then a few weeks ago, the Auckland Regional Council’s regional transport committee sent different signals in its disappointing initial consideration of a draft 2010 Regional Land Transport Strategy policy . A rail link to the airport didn’t figure on any priority list with the suggestion there would be no plan to even start construction before 2031 and on that basis, construction may be up to a decade later than that – 2041.

It would be hard to convince any minister in recessionary times when the committee said that as far as an airport link was concerned, only limited investigations have been carried out to date on the detailed route of the rail connections, how the introduction of rail would be staged, and what bus services should be established in the interim.

Then there’s the CBD rail tunnel. Any rail passenger can put up a case for the tunnel to go through because of the Britomart capacity issues, not because Smith & Caughey uptown may get a few more shoppers dropped off at their door through an underground loop. That’s not worth over a billion to make happen.

But remember how back in August, there was the  ARC transport committee report where the tunnel which we think we need to get trains moving was being put forward instead as a way to increase the vitality of downtown businesses. Then there were the fantasyland - sounding figures from officials.

The officials comparison in their computer projections of rail demands with and without a CBD rail loop indicated the loop system would increase rail and ferry patronage by 23% from 93,000 to 125,000 users during the morning, interpeak and afternoon peak periods.

But they say other proposed rail services such as the airport link will increase by a much more impressive 70%. The report concluded that , while the CBD loop would alleviate the terminal constraints and allow for increased services, the loop will NOT on its own maximise rail use – their jargon for increase rail patronage.

I warned then that the Minister would start hearing these reports and conclude it was all a bit nuts. Any argument with a hand reaching out for a massive government handout needs to be very clear on the benefits. We all make up crazy figures of what can happen in the future, as reliable as tomorrow’s horoscopes. Such numbers need to have science, not just doctored to look impressive and win funding.

There have to be economic benefits for the city but they will come by providing usable public transport that takes cars off the road and moves people around but if the argument for a rail loop is just to save the CBD as a thriving retail environment, even I can pull holes through that. If you want to move around there to shop, you could walk. Buses are free, cheap or regular Link services, but the horse has bolted. The council with its increasingly overbearing parking restrictions (soon to expand to night time meter charges) and downtown parking building fees plus a lack of overhead cover above shops in rainy times will always force shoppers to prefer the one-stop shopping mall experience with its free parking.

Moving the beggars and homeless from the streets and improving the heart of the city to be really vibrant, fun and pedestrian friendly would be a better plan than an expensive CBD rail route if that plan is just to keep shoppers happy.

We, as frustrated  commuters, know a case can be argued for the CBD route for train services to serve the city at various points including the university and AUT . But then every time an official speaks out there seems to be a different definition of what an inner city loop means.  Is everyone is on the same page as to where the loop is going. The Uni? Mt Eden? Parnell?

I’m sure Mike Lee has done a great job as always in the pile of the reports sent to the Minister recently to remind him about electrification and rail projects. But let’s make sure everyone speaks with the same voice. If we get the expected dozens of mayoral candidates emerging in coming months, all arguing different transport plans, it will be a circus that kills any case.

Let’s make sure that when these new ideas are kicked about in months to come, they’re done so logically, calmly and with clear economic and technical benefits for rail passengers - not as some pie in the sky idea that the Minister can fairly interpret as yet a sneaky way for someone to claim a city memorial in their name. One that , on the track record so far, will turn out to be more of a white elephant like Aotea square needing subsequent councils at great expense to improve but never really being able to make it work.

It’s becoming tiring and frustrating to see good ideas at risk of never getting off the ground.

Related Posts

  1. Auckland In the Future: Rail Links Everywhere – But What Happens To This Plan Now?
  2. Auckland Airport Rail Link Becomes Top Future Priority
  3. Joyce Unconvinced About CBD Rail Tunnel
  4. Auckland Airport Rail Link Now Many Decades Away
  5. Auckland City Council Support For A Rail Harbour Tunnel




  1. Jeremy Harris says:

    Well the NLTP had funding for a proper route analysis of the proposed CBD rail tunnel finishing late next year, that is what we should be pointing to…

  2. Andrew @ Ellerslie says:

    A Thoughtful post.
    We do need those improvements but you are right we need a united voice, not a sea of vooices all with different views arguing for their own selfish or political purposes.
    I like your line about rushes to the head. Thinking about projects like Aotea, thats what happens before the detail is mapped out.
    Mike Lee certainly continues to do good work.

  3. Frustrated says:

    the CBD is a no brainer. Britomart is broken. It has to be fixed. i hope everyone gets behind Mike Lee instead of playing politics and the officials who mess with stupid figures and theories should shut up.
    There is no debate. How will new timetables in a few months come in if trains forever get stuck in the tunnel?

  4. Christopher says:

    I warned then that the Minister would start hearing these reports and conclude it was all a bit nuts. Any argument with a hand reaching out for a massive government handout needs to be very clear on the benefits. We all make up crazy figures of what can happen in the future, as reliable as tomorrow’s horoscopes. Such numbers need to have science, not just doctored to look impressive and win funding.

    This implies that Joyce understands what is nuts and what isn’t. You are mistaken.

    He himself made up crazy numbers and wacky CB analysis simply to get a surface option for SH20. He’s just as bad as those making up numbers.

  5. Christopher says:

    And there is no editing functionality so the first paragraph of my comment is actually a quote from the post.

  6. Jeremy Harris says:

    The local politicans must read this blog as they all seemed to be talking in one voice about the CBD rail tunnel today in the Herald…

  7. Rationale says:

    Today’s Herald article is interesting. Mr. Joyce obviously doesn’t realise the political stakes involved in high quality suburban rail. Apparently in Sydney elections are won and lost on how well the trains are running - not something I would want to happen in Auckland but….
    I’d suggest to Mr Joyce that it’s now snowballing and already out of control. Mr Joyce, you are a leader in waiting it seems. Show some leadership and like Mike Lee says, give up the holiday motorway. As I commented the other day, you could buy both electric trains AND the CBD Tunnel for around the price of this motorway.

  8. Cambennett says:

    I think Joyce has undersetimated the amount of support for rail in Auckland. The fact that even John Banks is putting the boot in should be a clue to him, this is a big issue for our city. The pressure needs to stay on.

  9. Andu says:

    I was heartened to see all three mayoral candidates all pushing for the CBD loop in the Herald this morning, even Banks! Joyce’s quotes sounded genuinely worried that, if he keeps putting the brakes on progress, the mayoral candidates AND a huge percentage of aucklanders will be giving him hell.

  10. George Darroch says:

    Important reminder to DO IT PROPERLY. Expect there to be expenses, and plan for them, rather than cutting corners and have to spend millions fixing the problems.

  11. bob says:

    Good post, and I second Andrew - Mike Lee is doing good work!

    But ironically, the call for a ‘united voice’ can be the problem, not the cure. Kiwis have a long and bad history of grabbing the first (and usually daft) idea proposed, and then cutting down anyone who suggests anything other than this first daft idea.

    1) Manukau City rail - designed to boost the ego of Manukau Council mayors, but totally financially unviable until it is extended to Airport to Manukau East.
    2) Britomart - a truly stupid idea. Putting the rail underground is what caused this bottleneck. If it had been surfaced, it would be cheap and fast to add at least 2 more tracks. In fact, it could be an option to shift the tracks to run along Beach Rd and CVustoms St East to QE2 square (leaving it ready for extension to Victoria Park & Tank Farm, then North Shore).

    So, you are right to be cautious about diving into a Western CBD rail tunnel. It needs proper costing, and genuine alternatives (not just minor variations in route of the same idea).

    One alternative to a western CBD rail tunnel is to get ‘rail ticket’ buses contracted to run between Kingsland and Britomart rail stations.

    This enhances CBD-Eden Park bus services, and provides a fast short-cut for West rail commuters wanting to go via the western CBD. If enough West rail pax get off by Newmarket, the West trains could be terminated at Newmarket - easing the pressure on Britomart & Parnell rail tunnels. Just one idea.

    Oh, and Joyce and Banks will keep talking pro-PT, but building roads. Long history of Nats doing that ;(

  12. Jon C says:

    Interesting idea Bob about the buses. Glad you threw that into the mix. Let’s hope someone picks it up.


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