Light Rail Sponsored Defense – Greater Auckland

Yesterday the Herald published a sponsored article from the Auckland Light Rail (ALR) team about their tunnel light rail projects. The main point of the article seems to be trying to justify their solution against a surface solution. That, combined with the fact that it comes at a time when there’s no other major light rail news or public talk, almost gives it a defensive feel, which makes me wonder if it’s It’s partly about pushing back some pressure from behind the scenes for a cheaper and more likely to ship solution.

Let’s break it down.

The play begins well by explaining how the project will allow us to make better use of our existing neighborhoods, helping to prevent sprawl. It’s great to see this being framed from the start and something that needs to continue to be pushed hard. Probably the biggest challenge to this will be Auckland Council who seem determined to prevent change in the inner suburbs in particular, which I will come back to later in the post.

Turning to their proposed tunnel light rail solution, the idea of ​​sustainability is often mentioned.

The first light rail line will run through a tunnel from the Wynyard district to Mount Roskill, then surface up to Onehunga, Māngere and the airport. This alignment was chosen because it ensures that the light rail is built for the future.

With more and more people living in the city and additional light rail lines planned to the North Shore and North West, the Downtown and Central Isthmus Tunnel is key for several reasons.

“It’s not just about transport – it’s about planning for Auckland’s future and integration, also improving access to housing and quality of life,” Parker says.

Many people saw only the price tag, comparing the initial expenditure of $14.6 billion for tunnel light rail to around $9 billion for surface light rail.

But tunnel light rail is preferable to surface light rail because of its durability, he said: North Shore and North West. With surface light rail, it would be extremely difficult to make connections between services or find the space to build three rail lines at street level in the city.

“Tunneled light rail also means seamless travel so that in the future a student can travel from Māngere, for example, to the University of Albany. This is not possible with the surface rail. There should be transfer points, with several surface lines crossing in the city center, overwhelming the area with trains – and negative effects for buses, pedestrians and cyclists.

Building surface light rail now, for less cost, would only postpone solving Auckland’s transport problems – when trying to add to surface rail or build tunnel light rail would increase the overall cost and create ongoing disruption.

“We’re just looking to avoid a short-term fix that in years to come might be seen as short-sighted,” he says. “What we’re looking for is something a bit like the London Underground system, where multiple lines come together at fixed hubs.”

There is little to unpack here.

  1. It is really difficult for the public to understand how the project will improve the communities it passes through when ALR does not publish any information on the likely location of potential stations.
  2. I still have no idea how ALR came up with a $9 billion surface light rail – even though they say it was peer-reviewed. In 2021 dollars, that’s about $296 million per km, which is similar to the recent troubled project in Sydney, but is orders of magnitude larger than almost any other recent light rail project in Australia. and in other cities.
    Sydney’s supply problems are a lesson in what not to do, not what we should aim for. It’s also much more likely that we’ll see a more infrastructure-intensive solution have a cost explosion.
  3. One of the things that annoys me the most about the way the project is currently framed is the idea that we only have one chance to build something and therefore we have to build a solution for 2070 and beyond. -of the. As COVID has shown us all too well, it’s hard to predict what will happen a year from now, let alone 50 years from now. Going for a cheaper option now that we might need to upgrade or supplement a few decades in the future isn’t a bad thing. Not only does this improve affordability and deliverability, but it also means that we probably get a better overall result by having multiple lines instead of one, which gives us a stronger network. In other words, building on the surface now does not mean that we cannot build a tunnel in the future if we need to. In addition:
    • We will always need a surface solution on a corridor like Dominion Rd.
    • Saving six billion dollars means we can afford to start rolling out other lines, like to the Northwest or maybe our Crosstown line, sooner. It means more benefits for more Auckland sooner.
    • To suggest that investing in a surface solution is a wasteful investment because it could be busy in 50 years is like saying we should never have built Britomart and upgraded our existing rail network until we can do this at the same time as we build the City Rail Link.
    • It also gives us a chance to start building capacity and knowledge in the industry, which will be instrumental for further projects in Auckland and across New Zealand.
  4. There are many, many examples around the world of surface networks where multiple lines not only join or intersect, but also interact with pedestrian areas.
  1. There seems to be a strong aversion to transfers. Transfers, when done right, aren’t the problem that many transport planners in New Zealand seem to think they are. I find it particularly funny that they keep referring to the London Underground system as an example of what they are trying to achieve. The metro is a network where transfers are frequent, so frequent moreover that only 37% of journeys do not involve a transfer. There is also no reason why a surface route cannot offer a single seat.

Finally, I also wanted to address the points listed on the benefits of a tunneled solution.

  • Capacity: Tunnel light rail can carry up to 17,000 people per hour and will meet demand until 2070. Surface light rail can carry 8,400 people per peak hour and will potentially reach capacity as early as 2051, a times the extension of the light rail to the North. Shore occurs and patronage increases. That’s 20 years earlier than tunnel rail. “What we build now must serve the people of Auckland in the future,” Parker says.

It is true that the tunnel solution can move around 17,000 people per hour. However, this must be shared between all lines that use it. This means that while there may be some justification for a tunnel through the city center where several lines meet, there is no capacity justification for it in the middle of the isthmus.

  • Time: Travel time for the full length of the tunnel corridor is estimated at 43 minutes, compared to 57m with surface light rail, a faster 14-minute journey from end to end. Faster, more frequent and more reliable services attract more users and more people leave their cars.

Travel time of 43 minutes is for a trip from the airport to Wynyard. It is unlikely that many people will make this journey and most journeys will be to destinations along the route or to the city centre. The journey time to the city center is much closer at only about five minutes difference.

  • Housing: The tunnel corridor will serve 66,000 homes directly along the route, more than 15,000 more homes along the corridor than the surface light rail will attract. The urban planning aspect is to develop housing in Auckland along key rail nodes, as many other countries have done. The rail corridor will attract investment in high quality urban forms, providing more housing and regeneration.

The number of homes along the road will be entirely dependent on the growth allowed and, as previously mentioned, Auckland Council is determined to prevent this level of development from occurring. Aside from the issue of planning regulations, there is also no practical reason to assume that the same level of development could not occur with a surface solution. However, we also find that with development around our existing rail network, even where planning regulations allow much more intensive development, developers are ‘underdeveloped’ sites. Sometimes they build 2 or 3 story townhouses right next to train stations that will be a short ride into town once the CRL is finished.

There’s no reason why this can’t be achieved with a surface solution

None of this is to say that there is no value in a tunnel, but if we are going to go for a tunnel solution, we have to do it right and go for a light rail solution, which allows us at less benefit from being able to run automated trains at even higher frequencies. As it stands, the tunnel light rail solution remains the worst of both worlds.

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