City Rail Link
|City Rail Link|
An indicative overview of the planned (as of 2011) route of the City Rail Link, with the three new stations linked to Britomart.
|Termini||Britomart Transport Centre
Mount Eden Railway Station
|Stations||4 (incl. termini)|
|Line length||3.5 kilometres (2.2 mi)|
|No. of tracks||Double|
|Track gauge||3 ft 6 in (1,067 mm)|
|Electrification||25 kV AC overhead|
|City Rail Link layout|
The City Rail Link (CRL) (variously called 'tunnel', 'deviation', or 'loop' in the past) is a proposed rail project in Auckland, New Zealand. The project consists of an electrified, double-track rail tunnel underneath Auckland's city centre, running for approximately 3.5 km between Britomart Transport Centre and the Western Line, connecting just to the west of Mount Eden Railway Station. The project originally proposed three underground train stations: Aotea Station (located near Aotea Square in the heart of Auckland's CBD), Karangahape Station and Newton Station, though in August 2014 it was announced that the station at Newton would be dropped in favour of an upgraded station at Mt Eden. Due to the significant costs and difficulties associated with a project of this size, its planning and funding has been highly controversial.
The current project is an adapted version of previous proposals to improve rail access to Auckland's city centre since the 1920s. The CRL was highlighted as the number one transport project in the 2012 Auckland Spatial Plan and has enjoyed strong public support in a number of polls. In June 2013 the central government announced its support for the project, albeit with a later construction commencement date of 2020, compared to Auckland Council's preferred start date of 2016.
1920s Morningside Deviation
Serious planning schemes occurred as early as the 1920s. The tunnel was initially estimated at 1.75 miles (2.82 km) length and at £0.6 million. In the 1930s, the Minister of Railways argued that the scheme - then known as the 'Morningside Tunnel' or the 'Morningside Deviation', after the proposed southern portal location - would cost approximately £1 million, with another £1 million required for the electrification of the network. He expressed doubts that the tunnel would ever pay purely from a rail point of view, though he acknowledged that there might be other benefits and wider aspects to take into account.
1970s Rapid Rail System
The 1970s plans envisaged the loop connecting with Newmarket as part of a major rapid transit scheme proposed by Dove-Myer Robinson, mayor of Auckland City at the time. Two main stations were proposed: one downtown in the vicinity of the Queen St/Shortland Street intersection, and a second midtown between Queen St and Mayoral Drive, about halfway between Aotea Square and Albert Park. A third city station was to be built at Karangahape Rd, but this would have been a stop on the western line only. The plan was undermined by Council staff, criticised by academics and opposed by the New Zealand Town Planning Institute, before finally being rejected in 1976 by the Muldoon National government, which considered it to be too costly.
2000s Rail Revival / Britomart
In 2004 Auckland City Council prepared preliminary plans for an underground railway connecting Britomart Transport Centre to the Western Line in the vicinity of Mt Eden Train Station. The underground link is projected to place the inner city within a 30 minutes travel for around 370,000 people. The proposal included three additional stations: near Aotea Square, Karangahape Rd and the top of Symonds St - bringing most of the CBD within a short walk of a station.
The decision to electrify Auckland's rail network brought the tunnel back into general discussion, while initial feasibility studies for a possible link have already been made. Estimates for the project's cost were around NZ$1.5 billion (or up to $2.4 billion according to other estimates), taking 12–16 years to plan and build.
On 5 March 2008 ARTA revealed that it had begun preliminary planning for a 3.5 km tunnel between Britomart and Mt Eden, beneath Albert Street and including underground stations near Wellesley St and Karangahape Road, with the Wellesley St station, 18 m under the surface, potentially being larger and seeing more passengers than Britomart (projections of up to 7,700 per peak hour). By October 2008 ONTRACK said that it had reached an agreement in principle with the owners of Westfield Downtown to allow the tunnel route to thread through the foundations of a proposed redevelopment of the site.
In 2009 and 2010, the discussion on the future tunnel gained much more prominence again, with both candidates for the Mayoralty of the new Auckland Council, John Banks and Len Brown, making the tunnel part of their election platforms. John Banks noted that it attracted cost-benefit returns much higher than many similar-sized roading projects, and would provide much enhanced, integrated access to the city centre. Len Brown also strongly supports the tunnel, and further, a rail connection to Auckland Airport, as part of a package of measures to double public transport patronage within 15 years. However, New Zealand's transport minister as of 2010, Steven Joyce, warned Aucklanders not to engage in wishful thinking. The Minister's comments regarding the City Rail Link (and other rail investment), set in context of the government's focus on delivering Roads of National Significance, has been considered politically risky - going against widespread opinion in Auckland in favour of better public transport.
2010s Designation & Design
In March 2010 KiwiRail/ARTA selected a preferred route with three stations: "Aotea" (beneath Albert St between Victoria St and Wellesley St), "K Road" (beneath Pitt St adjacent to Karangahape Rd) and "Newton" (beneath upper Symonds St between the Khyber Pass/Newton Rd intersection and the New North Rd/Mt Eden Rd intersection), at an estimated cost range of $1 billion to $1.5 billion. In May 2011 the Government noted that after reviewing an initial business case for the project, it was unconvinced of the economic benefits of the tunnel. However, Minister of Transport Steven Joyce noted that he would not stand in the way of Auckland continuing planning and route designation work - if Auckland paid for it. In June 2011 Auckland Council voted to approve $2 million for planning and route protection for the tunnel, with Auckland Transport, rather than KiwiRail, undertaking the process.
In March 2012, Auckland Council decided to bring forward spending from the 2012-2013 budget, in order to continue progress protecting the eventual route. $6.3 million was spent on work including geotechnical surveys, utility and building assessments, contaminated site reports and rail operations modelling and $1.7m towards providing a revised business case, requested by the government.
In July 2012, as part of the works around designating the route, Auckland Council released footprints for four stations. This included designation space for a not previously considered station on the current Western Line, just west of Dominion Road. This station would serve as an interchange station for passengers wanting to travel east in the Newmarket direction, in case the tunnel was built without an "Eastern Link" at the southern end that would allow trains exiting it to turn east. The station was later dropped by Auckland Transport and the "Eastern Link" retained in the route protection documents.
In June 2013, the central government announced its support for the project, albeit with a later construction start date of 2020. The government stated it will 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.
On 8 July 2013, following the 10-year anniversary of the opening of the Britomart Transport Centre, it was announced Auckland Council and the new owners of the Downtown Shopping Centre (formerly Westfield Downtown) have agreed to discuss building a section of tunnel under the mall when it is redeveloped in three to four years' time. The section would be up to 100 metres long.
On 1 August 2014, Auckland Transport announced a significant design change to the project, dropping the underground Newton Station in favour an upgraded station at Mt Eden at ground level. This change would save construction costs of $124 million from the capital cost of the City Rail Link project, require less properties to be bought by Auckland Transport and in the long term save operational costs, with total savings being over $150 million. In addition, the change would allow the junction between the City Rail Link and the North Auckland Line to be fully grade-separated and enable greater redevelopment potential as the Mt Eden Station site is less affected by Heritage buildings and view-shafts.
One of the most contentious aspects of the CRL is whether it is economically sensible to build it. The results vary widely depending on whether certain ancillary projects are included, whether one assumes economic benefits outside purely transport effects (such as increased land value) and depending on what length of time is assumed for the benefit calculation. In this regard, Council experts have highlighted that NZ calculation methods use a 30-year cut-off (i.e. for evaluation purposes, the tunnel provides no benefit after 30 years, even though much of Auckland's earlier rail and road infrastructure already serves for much longer than that). In comparison, if using evaluation periods of 50 years (used in Australia), or 60 years (used in the UK), the total project benefits for the city rail link have been estimated as up to 6 times higher than with the 30 year time frame.
The "City Centre Future Access Study" (CCFAS) was prepared by Auckland Transport and released in December 2012. The CCFAS analysed a number of different ways of improving access to Auckland's city centre and concluded that the CRL was essential, noting that bus-only investment will provide for short-term benefits but in some cases will be ‘worse than doing nothing’ for private vehicle travel times in the longer term.
The key benefits of the City Rail Link are intended to be:
- Turning Britomart Train Station from a terminus train station into a through station, allowing more than twice the existing train capacity through the core of the network, allowing trains to run every five minutes on the existing suburban lines.
- Providing three new train stations in the Auckland CBD, making most of the city centre easily accessible by train rapid transit. This will boost economic activity and development in these areas and relieve projected transport access constraints.
- Reducing the duration of trips on the Western Line significantly, by removing the deviation to Newmarket and around the east of the CBD
- Allowing lines on opposite side of the city to be through routed via the tunnel, providing direct crosstown rail connections
- Providing train capacity to allow new lines to be added to the network - including, but not limited to other potential longer-term projects such as Airport Rail or North Shore Rail
- Doubling the number of Aucklanders who have 30 minutes duration rail access to the CBD.
An estimated cost of $2.86 billion is often quoted for the project, but this cost is inflated out to the year of construction. The current/real cost of the project is approximately $2.4 billion.
This price also includes not only the tunnel link with three stations, but additional trains, duplication of the Onehunga Branch to two lines and other small improvements to Auckland's rail network. These additional items are intended to further to increase the capacity of Auckland's rail network when the rail link opens, the main benefit posed by the project.
In February 2012, Auckland Council published the following proposed project timeline for the City Rail Link:
- 2010 Initial study for CRL project and potential route for protection.
- 2011 Review of initial study. Further feasibility investigations. Project team established
- 2012 Confirm route for CRL.
- 2013 NOR and consent applications. Property purchase.
- 2014 Begin tender process for project.
- 2015-20 Construction.
- 2020/21 CRL opens.
Proposed construction methods
The City Rail Link will be constructed using both cut and cover and TBM tunneling methods depending on the location of construction. Cut and cover construction will occur around the existing Mount Eden Railway Station and in the suburb of Eden Terrace, forming the junction of the City Rail Link to the North Auckland Line. North of the junction, twin bored tunnels will then extend as far as Mayoral Drive. Another section of cut and cover tunnel will then extend north underneath Albert Street, before turning east to head underneath the redeveloped Downtown Shopping centre and into Britomart.
It is expected that the TBM will commence the bore the first tunnel from a construction site close to New North Road in Eden Terrace. Once the TBM reaches Mayoral Drive it will be disassembled and taken back to Eden Terrace where it will be reassembled to bore the second tunnel.
Some landowners around Albert Street, including the Ministry of Justice which owns and operates the Auckland District Court on Albert Street, have expressed their concern that construction of the cut and cover tunnel would disrupt foot and vehicular traffic along Albert Street over a period of two years with several intersections along the street being closed for up to 18 months. Similarly, the Department of Corrections has also expressed concern that grade-separating the Normanby Road level crossing (as part of the cut and cover works at the southern end of the project) would cut off access to Mt Eden Prison.
A public opinion poll published on 27 June 2012 found 63% of Aucklanders surveyed are in favour of the tunnel, 29% were against it and 8% don't care. The poll was conducted by Research New Zealand.
Another poll in November showed similar support amongst Aucklanders at 64%. Only 14% overall opposed the building of the rail link; 18% are neutral. Support was lowest in those areas not served directly by rail. The same number of those who support it want it built as soon as possible, while 22% of supporters want it built by 2020. Over 50% of respondents wanted the central Government to contribute significantly to the cost of the project, with 30% of respondents overall supporting road tolling to pay for the project. One quarter of respondents overall supported "targeted rates".
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- City Rail Link (official Auckland Transport website)
- Auckland Transport Blog (City Rail Link page)
- Campaign for Better Transport Forum (City Rail Link Topic Page)