A rail Loop to Unlock Aucklands Potential

The following thinkpiece was published in the NZ Herald on 12 October 2009 on how rail improvements would help boost Auckland’s productivity – particularly in relation to constructing an inner city rail loop and doubling the throughput of the Britomart station.

I seek nothing less than Auckland becoming the aspirational capital of the South Pacific. Modern Auckland is a successful city.

It generates 34 per cent of the country’s wealth and is home to a third of the country’s population. It houses more than two-thirds of our biggest companies and is our only truly internationally competitive metropolis.

Quite simply, New Zealand needs Auckland to work, and for that to happen, it needs to work efficiently. Auckland cannot rely on roads and motorways alone to meet the region’s future transport needs, as the city’s roading network is already nearing the practical limits of expansion.
The number of trips made on Auckland’s transport system by 2051 is expected to increase by 65 per cent from 3.2 million to 5.2 million a day.

Plans for an underground rail loop from Britomart southward underneath the CBD to Mt Eden have been debated for nearly a century.

Initial economic evaluation of the CBD tunnel shows that it attracts a higher return than many major roading projects of a similar scale, particularly as rail can shift much larger numbers than any other mode.

The solution to Auckland’s transport challenges and future transport needs lies in having an integrated network that provides people with a variety of travel choices, including enhanced rail access to the central city.

The Western Ring Route, State Highway 20 and incremental improvements to other motorway networks and roads are critical. However, these improvements and the new Central Connector and development of the bus lane network will meet future demands only if we complete a fully integrated transport system, including a CBD rail loop.

The capacity of Britomart at peak times would potentially more than double to 40 trains per hour, if it were a through-station. These are compelling reasons why we need to push through Britomart, up under Albert St, beneath Karangahape Rd and on to Mt Eden and Kingsland.
Because of its higher capacity, rail is the most effective and efficient way of providing for Auckland’s growth in travel demand, especially to the congested CBD.

The proposed CBD tunnel will dramatically improve accessibility to downtown Auckland, as it will:
Provide two additional central CBD stations, creating excellent direct rail access to CBD commercial, employment, shopping and cultural activities.

Remove the constraint at Britomart, allowing dramatically improved train frequencies on the whole rail system.

Investment in the CBD rail loop delivers less congestion and agglomeration benefits that will benefit the whole region.

This equals growth in economic productivity and to New Zealand heading back to the top half of the OECD.

For example, good quality inner-city public transport makes great city centres more accessible and supports new, high-value jobs for people from throughout the region.

This CBD loop is no ordinary transport project. This project looks ahead 100 years, to the kind of centre a true super city aspires to.

Super cities all over the world have strong centres and with vision, good design and a sound business case, this project unlocks the potential of Auckland’s centre by enabling much greater access from all parts of the region. This will reinforce the existing role of central Auckland as a regional destination for workers, students and residents and it will cater for the projected growth in the size and intensity of the centre of Greater Auckland.

Enhancing access through a CBD rail loop is critical to the central area’s contribution to lifting the entire region’s (and therefore the country’s) economic performance.

This rail loop is more than a rail link. It is a transformational economic development project at the centre of the new Super City.

Think of London’s Circle Line and of other examples, like Sydney, where the centre acts as a hub for the transport network for the whole region.

Let’s come to the crunch. I clearly understand that this Government is cash-strapped and staring in the face of mountainous debt.

The currently estimated cost of a CBD rail loop is between $1 billion and $1.5 billion. If the rail loop is not constructed, we do have a good handle on that cost, which includes further road and motorway construction to meet demand (at least $3.3 billion for roading and additional parking capacity, according to the Auckland Regional Transport Authority’s latest estimate).

Of course we cannot nail all of these figures precisely. However I am confident that informed citizens of Auckland are united in their belief that a CBD rail loop is a good idea.