Airport Growth Needs Rail Link


Often lost in the debate about the move to provide an Auckland rail service to the airport for passengers is that the service would also be embraced by workers in the airport area and those who would benefit from station stops along the way. Some of those workers are burning up valuable fuel and personal motor vehicle costs in driving from all over Auckland to work at the airport  - or having to use expensive taxis. Workers joining passengers on an airport bus doesn’t give them a cheap and satisfactory option with its many bus stops along the way to pick up passengers.

When I flew out of Auckland Airport at Christmas, I was amazed at the exploding growth in the area, both around the fringes of the airport where even new hotels are being built and in the number of businesses in the recently expanded international terminal.

The need to cater for a fast growing and important employment area is highlighted in a recent study by consultancy Market Economics for Auckland Airport, which signals both the future employment growth in the airport area and the economic growth brought by the airport and related businesses.

Auckland Airport’s chief executive Simon Moutter said in a statement today reacting to the report:

“It is important that this growth is factored into planning decisions in areas such as land development, transport infrastructure and public transport services.”

It’s disappointing that this public transport issue is not discussed nor explored further in the report – if only it said “we recommend and demand airport rail!” -  but those doing the study would have been aware the airport company is already part of the joint investigation being conducted into preferred routes for rapid transit and state highway links to the airport.

Auckland Transport announced that study late November and other partners are the Auckland Council, NZTA and KiwiRail. It will look at public transport including rail but also road transport options. Let’s hope it does not also dismiss rail freight options and sees road as the only option.

The Market Economics report - which you can read here - says:

“Auckland Airport is and will continue to be a major driver of people and freight movements. Therefore it is critical that this role is recognised in statutory planning, especially the Auckland Spatial Plan, including aspects which are specific to, and often unique to, the Airport and its associated activity, and growth drivers. Auckland Airport has a catalytic effect in the Auckland economy. The future growth in airport activity will require forward planning and additional infrastructure.”

The study refers to the Auckland Airport Business District (comprising land owned by Auckland Airport) or on neighbouring land as the Airport Corridor.

This Airport Corridor already generates or facilitates around $3 billion of GDP annually and its contribution is expected to grow to $5-6 billion by 2031.

An important paragraph is that this growth is expected to increase employment in the Airport Corridor from a current estimate of 21,000 workers to as many as 38,000 by 2031.

That’s potentially a lot of workers who would switch to decent public transport to the airport.

Auckland airport is getting busier

The study notes the correlation between jobs created in the Airport Corridor and growth in Auckland Airport’s traffic volumes – as the more vibrant the Airport becomes, the more companies want to locate close to it. Currently, there are about 1,800 jobs within the Airport Corridor for every million passengers passing through the Airport.

The Market Economics study concludes:

“Within the Auckland spatial economy, the Airport Corridor will be a major focus of business activity, and a catalyst for economic growth across the region. Its significance as a driver of economic growth should not be under-estimated.”




  1. damian says:

    I can see a case for linking the Onehunga branch to AKL. But I am not sure where it would go south / east or Northwest?

  2. damian says:

    I can see a case for linking the Onehunga branch to AKL. But I am not sure where it would go south / east or Northwest?

    Also, would it really be in airports interest to provide PT and lose parking revenue?

  3. Matt L says:

    I agree with you Jon that far to often the debate about airport rail seems to be only about providing a service to tourists when far more people who would use such services are likely to be Aucklanders living or working along the route. With a projected 38,000 jobs in the area that must be close to the second highest concentration of jobs in the region after the CBD.

    Also my preference to building it is to just do it in stages from Onehunga, get the line across the harbour to Mangere bridge, perhaps to Walmsley Rd, then after a few years extend it to Mangere town centre, after that Airport oaks and lastly the airport itself. By doing it in stages we can spread the cost out over a longer time and build some patronage while doing so.

  4. To be credible with its predictions, the report would have to state the assumed price of aviation fuel in 2031, or what alternative fuel planes will be using.

  5. greenwelly says:

    @Matt L Given that the Airport Rail is eventually to become a loop, why not build the Manukau- airport section via puhinui road first, then work on the back loop via Mangere and the bridge to Onehunga,

    It avoids having to fork out for an expensive bridge in the first bite of the project.

  6. Andrew Miller says:

    Well there you go…it should be built both ways and now. That’d give another avenue of crosstown trains (more passengers?) and avoids another Britomart dead end to fix. Build it and they’ll more than come. Also it’ll never be cheaper than NOW.

  7. Mike F says:

    Matt L
    Your comments on the Art of Noise post that existing local residents have no right whatsoever to complain about train noise,station noise and train horns etc.
    What do you say to the local residents who will be affected by this possible heavy rail route to the airport ?

  8. Joshua says:

    greenwelly - where does the new bridge need to be built? the Manukau Harbour Bridge was designed to take rail so just need to clip on to that one.

  9. Matt L says:

    Greenwelly - My problem with building it from Manukau is that the government/anti rail/anti PT types will then say ‘look we built rail to the airport and now you want another link which will stop if from ever happening. That means that you get none of benefits of having a link through the Mangere and airport business areas and the line would only serve passengers and those working in the airport building itself. As a result patronage wouldn’t be as good and could harm future rail projects. Also it makes our system less efficient as you would then have 3 different spur lines joining the network (Manukau, Onehunga and Airport) which would impact the number of trains that can run south of Manukau. Doing it from Onehunga means we can extend just extend the existing service, also a link from Puhinui would need a decent sized bridge near the airport anyway to get across the inlet.

    Mike F - This could all or at least mostly be mitigated as part of construction and the costs would be part of the project.
    It would be built from scratch so shouldn’t include any level crossings (no level crossing bell noise or horns)
    It would use electric trains so less vibration and engine noise are created (it is highly unlikely freights would use it),
    It could have noise mitigation built in by way of noise walls and better insulated tracks (easier to do on a new line than retrofitting an existing line)
    It would be next to the motorway corridor which is a constant source on noise anyway.
    I have no issue with improving the noisy conditions on existing lines but it needs to be put in perspective, especially who pays for it. Many of the issues raised are ones that are being fixed anyway but it can’t happen overnight. With a new line those costs can become part of the project and assessed as part of that.

  10. Joshua says:

    Mike F - it will be just like when a motorway goes through a new area, properties effected will most likely either be offered compensation, or have the effects minimised by installation of Noise Walls, even a combination of both.

    Where a rail corridor is already in place then again it’s their fault for purchasing a property on a rail corridor. (thats why they always say to do research before you buy).

    Most of this route however is along side the motorway, so already has the noise problem, trains won’t have much effect to residence along the route. they already live along the motorway, then it travels through a business/industrial area.

  11. Mike F says:

    Matt L
    Somehow I thought it would be a freight line as well.
    Still early days I know and still could be however the freight line would probably come from the Wiri side ?

    PS I think person who complained in Parnell was when the massive freight trains were diverted onto the southern line when the eastern was still closed.
    I saw numerous 2 engine freight trains under full power (doing around 30km/hr) between Ellerslie and Remuera which is quite a climb. Presume the same on the Downtown to Newmarket section.
    Even had a 4 engine train which I presume does not normaly use this section of the southern ?
    Have not seen any this week however.

  12. Matt L says:

    Mike F - As much as I would like freight to use the line as well, I just don’t see it happening. I would like to be proven wrong however but as with my last comment, things like track insulation, noise walls and no level crossings will all help to reduce the noise and vibration.

    I also agree the person who complained was likely not used to seeing the freights as much seeing as they normally use the eastern line to get to the port.

  13. Chris says:

    I dont see why trains should be a problem with a decent electrified system and some noise barriers, which are popular along European motorways and train lines.

  14. Matt says:

    Assuming that it links to the inland port, a freight line from at least the airport to Wiri should be a no-brainer. Building a third track at the time the corridor is established is by far cheaper than doing it later, especially with the need to bridge the Puhinui inlet.

    Ideally it’ll run at least all the way up to Ihumatao and the industrial concentration there, but even if it’s only to the airport that’s still a lot of freight taken off the roads. If they designate the corridor right up to the Bridge with space for a third track, it would be a pretty simply task to build a spur into Onehunga port and send freight trains across the bridge during gaps in the passenger schedule - I haven’t seen anyone suggesting better than 10-minute frequencies for the airport line, which gives plenty of head way for freight trains to do a short trip on the same line.


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