Government U turn on inner city rail link

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city-rail-link

Reprinted from the Standard.

As had been widely anticipated the Government has performed a U turn on Auckland’s inner city rail link and has agreed to bring forward funding.  Instead of it starting in 2020 it will now start in 2018 and match Auckland Council’s planned start date.

Can I praise the Government for having the intelligence to do this.  At the same time can I criticise the Government for taking so long to do so.

The rail link has been mooted for many years.  The Green Party for a long time has been a supporter.  Labour’s policy in 2011 was to cancel the holiday highway and build the inner city rail link instead.

The need for the link became clear shortly after the opening of Britomart.  Having a major train station where trains had only one way in and out placed a limitation on its use.  The rail link doubles the capacity of Britomart and future proofs it against future growth for many years.

Without it the Auckland Rail System  will reach capacity in the near future. It is at the range of 24 million trips a year that the system maxes out. You will not be able to get enough trains to enter and leave the station to get any more passengers through.  And by constructing the link the rail system will be able to deliver more frequent, more relevant and for all passengers much quicker, especially those out from west.

The Government’s initial response to the project was very muted although the rhetoric was negative.  Steve Joyce essentially described the project as being crazy.  There was some movement in June 2013 when John Key said:

[T]he Government is committing to a joint business plan for the City Rail Link with Auckland Council in 2017 and providing its share of funding for a construction start in 2020.

And we will be prepared to consider an earlier start date if it becomes clear that Auckland’s CBD employment and rail patronage growth hit thresholds faster than current rates of growth suggest.

Our current thinking is that an earlier business plan could be triggered if two conditions are met.

The first is if Auckland city centre employment increases by 25 per cent over current levels – that is half the increase predicted in the Future Access Study.

And the second is that annual rail patronage is on track to hit 20 million trips well before 2020.

But that is something we will discuss with Auckland Council.

I struggled to understand the first requirement.  It seems to me to be totally irrelevant the reasons for people using public transport.  Whether they are travelling to work or to their place of education the effect on congestion is the same.

The second, that rail patronage be on track to hit 20 million trips well before 2020 is very likely to be met.  The introduction of more comfortable and faster and quieter electric rail carriages has seen a surge in train usage as is shown by this Transportblog graphic.

2015-12-Rail-Patronage

At the current rate of increase the 20 million target should be reached some time in 2017.

The problem is especially evident when you consider that peak time the network is already approaching capacity.  Talk of Auckland Council hiring additional security guards for Britomart shows how urgent the situation is.  The work should have been started years ago so that future pressures could have been handled adequately.  Instead of this we are in the situation where the rail system will be placed under intense pressure and this will only be alleviated when the inner city rail link is opened.

The news is not all good for sustainability.  National has also announced the Onehunga Mount Wellington motorway which is frankly a piece of vandalism.  I have not seen the detail of the speech but other roading projects are mooted to be announced.

So at least as far as the inner city rail link goes congratulations to National for agreeing to do its part.  It is a shame that it did not do so years ago.

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