Auckland’s CBD rail loop gets one step closer

A preferred alignment for an underground rail loop to run through Auckland’s CBD was announced yesterday by ARTA. This is exciting news as it means this crucial project is coming one step closer to completion. You can see that there will be three stations, one near Aotea Square, Karangahape Road, and Symonds Street.


ARTA estimate that the Aotea Station and related intensification could generate another 40,000 jobs in this area. But I’m especially excited about the Symonds Street station. I believe there is a huge opportunity to build more quality intensive housing and commercial development around this area – transforming it into one of the most vibrant parts of central Auckland.

This is a really cool project for Auckland, it will be great for Auckland’s environment and the economy and we need to get it finished as soon as possible.

However, we can’t start it without the funding. And right now the Minister is stone walling in response to written questions in the House. He’s saying he can’t dedicate any funding to this project until (another) study of the business case for the CBD rail loop is completed at the end of 2010.

However, he’s already put over $100 million from the National Land Transport Fund into investigating the Puhoi to Wellsford motorway even though the NZTA’s initial study showed that motorway hasn’t got a strong economic case. In fact, with a Benefit to Cost Ratio of 0.8 they’re predicting it will lose the economy $280 million.

I’m going to fight to get the CBD rail loop finished as quickly as possible. I hope you’ll join me.

26 Comments Posted

  1. I’m all for better public transport and do support the CBD rail link however, what does get my blood boiling is the labelling of the Puhoi – Wellsford as the ‘holiday highway’. I use this road reguarly for work and the section between Puhoi and Wellsford is slow and dangerous. Why else would most of it have an 80 km/h speed limit? It is not just the bypasses for Warkworth and Wellsford but also the entire ‘Dome Valley’ area. Warkworth needs to be bypassed as does Wellsford. This pretty much includes the whole stretch so why not just do it properly – once?

  2. Jeremy, I presume you don’t mean that there are far, far more pressing concerns than saving lives. My point was that we need to adopt the successful cost effective approaches pioneered in Sweden and that it why I suggested Joyce needs to read that Irish pamphlet. The 1+2 and 2+2 concepts utilise the existing highway pavement except where there are real alignment problems.

    It should already be obvious to Joyce that the motorway extension approach to dividing opposing traffic delivers too little, too late, for way too much money. The approach used in both Australia and Sweden is to upgrade the flattest sections of intercity routes to 2+1 or 2+2 standards because that’s where it can be done cheapest. Providing extensive passing opportunities on the flat sections reduces time pressures for long distance travellers on the remaining two-lane sections resulting in lower average speeds and fewer severe crashes on those sections. Of course, Sweden and Australia are much smarter than us – they allow speed limits of 110kmh on the 2+1 and 2+2 highways thus making 90kmh (or even lower) speed limits acceptable on the 2-lane highways so that their highway speed limits make a postive contribute to road safety.

  3. There are far, far more pressing roading concerns with far, far higher vehicle per day than this stretch Kevyn…

  4. Jeremy argues that “a couple of hundred million of bypasses, safety barriers and alignment easing is all that is required for this section of SH1 as 15,000 is a very low amount as far as SH’s go”.

    15,000 may be very low by New Zealand standards but it is well into the range where traffic separation is considered essential in the OECD countries with the lowest road tolls, ie Sweden and Britain. However, even those countries do not consider full motorway standard to be cost effective at less than 20,000 vpd. In addition to Jeremy’s recommended improvements it will be necessary to include 2+1 lane capacity with provision for future 2+2.

    Mr Joyce needs to read this brochure from Ireland:,11236,en.pdf

  5. Jeremy,

    Fair comments on both. The other player in the port utilisation discussion are the shipping companies (particular container). They want one stop of point in New Zealand. Hence you are right, having two container ports just miles from each other (Aucland and Tauranga) does not make sense to the shipping companies.

    And for the same reason Marsden wont be a viable alternative.

    Another problem with Marden is that the swing circle to turn ships around is only 450 metres. Not enough to swing the new large container ships around with any degree of safety (they already wont turn ships if the wind is above 20 knots for a high side ship (car carrier, container ship)and 30 knots for a low riding tanker).

    Nor is there room to construct a container terminal the size of Auckland or Tauranga. Requires heap of land space and 24/7 operations.

    Cant see the resident of the nearby Marsden Bay canal development nor the well established One Tree Point settlement being all that keen on expanded port operations.

    I would foresee the Navy relocating to Marsden and the port closed to commercial operations except for the current trade.

    Navy ships would be able to utilise the 7 metre channels to Portland wharf and Whangarei.

  6. The plan has been for a while to do a reclamation around Ferguson wharf and increase both Tauranga and Marsden as to close Bledisloe, the problem is that all the ports are at least part owned by their local council and are cannibalising each other and not performing in the manner best for NZ, there is a good case for the central government to purchase these three, reorganise them and sell them back to their respective councils but I digress…

    Manukau is actually $72 million for 2.4 kms I believe but there is a HUGE difference between laying new rail and the associated earthworks, etc and relaying old rail (Kiwirail just purchased a new laying machine which utilises existing railways)… You may be right about undervaluing the monies required but hey the story of neglected rail maintenance can be seen around NZ, our system is third world…

  7. jarbury

    It is interesting to view shipping details through Northport.

    Mostly it is timber export (logs, chips, triboard) stuff that needs to came to the port from points North. A railine is not of much use as there is no railine to Kaitaia. The existing run down NAL finishes at Kawakawa.

    You envisage the port becoming an major import one at the expense of Auckland and Tauranga. I cant see that happening. Auckland and Tauranga are far closer to the distribution and manufacturing centres than Northport.

    Northport has facilites for 3 berths (one more to come), simply not enough for numerous ship turnarounds.

    Strategically Northport will not become a major import port for while it has deep water for the current and proposed berths. There is no more deep water unless one goes further around towards the harbour entrance.

    Google Earth


    The channel toward Whangarei shallows very quickly. (14 metres to 7 metres)


    I think you underestimate the cost of upgrading the whole NAL. It is all 71 lb rail. To run modern traffic this needs to be replaced with at least 90 lb rail and to future proof 110 lb rail.

    The Manukau Rail Link is costing $50M for just 2 kilometres.

    You could argue that much of the infastructure on the NAL line is in place but I think $400 million is way short.

  8. I don’t believe Whangerei has the population to support passenger services (until oil hits $3 dollars plus a litre at least)…

    Marsden is seen as the best potential port in NZ because it is deep water, no dredging required… (Jarbury beat me to this one)

    The NAL requires extensive work, the track is really run down, a few tunnels need widening (or daylighting) before it can carry containers and really benefit industry in Northland…

    All better spending than the biggest waste of transport spending in NZ for some time (Puhoi to Wellsford, though maybe Transmission Gully will be worse) a couple of hundred million of bypasses, safety barriers and alignment easing is all that is required for this section of SH1 as 15,000 is a very low amount as far as SH’s go and at the times of greatest congestion the vehicles are in the main not providing much economic benefit to the country…

    If I had $1.4 billion for Northland, I would break it down like this:

    $400 million upgrading the NAL
    $300 million upgrading SH1 Puhoi to Wellsford
    $100 million to build the Marsden Port line
    Increase Northland District Council funding for cycleways, bus services (including buying back NZ Bus’ assets) and local roads

    @Gareth, it is great to see another politican who GETS it about Auckland transport, hopefully between people like Phil Twyford, David Shearer and yourself we can make some real progress in this area in 2011, 2014 or 2017 on…

    My I suggest you join the Campaign For Better Transport…

  9. Gerrit, it was my understanding that Marsden Point is the best deepwater port in the country. I have also heard that it’s likely there will be larger and larger ships travelling around the world in the future so having a deepwater port like Marsden Point would be particularly useful.

    I guess the issue with the Puhoi-Wellsford road is that it’s a project within the Auckland region, but whose benefits would be largely felt by those in Northland.

    However, as I’ve said before, I think that most of the benefits brought by Puhoi-Wellsford could happen through a simple Warkworth bypass and some safety upgrades. You’d have about a billion dollars in change compared to what Joyce wants to build.

    The Puhoi-Wellsford road won’t have earth-shattering results for travel times either. All up I think it would save around 10-12 minutes off a trip from end to end, most of the savings that could be achieved from a Warkworth bypass. Any new road is going to have a relatively similar alignment to what’s there now, so we won’t get the vastly shorter distance that you achieved from the Orewa-Puhoi upgrade.

    Overall, yes we need to do something up there. But building a 35km motorway is like cracking open a nut with a sledgehammer.

  10. jarbury,

    Upgrades to the NAL will only be useful if the Marsden Point rail branch is built.

    So Whangarei and the industries and people dont count? No roading development , no rail development?

    I guess that is why the current nationwide roading developments is called “Roads of National Significance”.

    Good to see the government has a view of ALL New Zealands requirements. Not just Aucklanders.

    Transport infastructure developments for Northland has been lagging even more then Auckland.

    What is the rail line to Marden Point suppose to be used for? There is not enough room for a genuine Port up there (one to at least match Tauranga) without requiring massive dredging (Greens would not be OK with that I would imagine), the refinery is serviced by an existing pipeline. Timber exports go out via Whangarei.

    If we look at some of the indutries serviced by road we can see the need for the road upgraded.

    Dairy out of Maungatoroto and Kamo, Kumara’s from Dargaville, Timber from Kaitaia, wine from Matakana, etc.

    All has to come by road to Auckland for Distribution.

    The we have tourism. A better road will increase tourism to Northland.

    Not to mention the growth of Warkworth to similar size as Pukekohe. Auckland infastructure cant handle the expected population increase so satelite cities such as Warkworth and Pukekohe will become major centres of industry and commerce.

    Upgrading SH1 north will enable the growth of Warkworth and all places in between Auckland and Cape Reinga.

  11. Gerrit.

    I am OK with the Vic Park Tunnel. It’s a bottleneck in the whole system that needs fixinf, no doubt about that. I also see benefits of the Waterview Connection: as it’s a bit silly to build 90% of the Western Ring Route but not the final 10%. Whether or not it’s the highest transport priority is a moot point.

    Looking at the harbour bridge, traffic flows have beens steady or decreasing for the past 5 years. I don’t see another crossing as a priority. Rail to the North Shore is also not that essentual for a while yet either, there’s a $400 million busway that should serve the area well for a while to come.

    Upgrades to the NAL will only be useful if the Marsden Point rail branch is built.

  12. jarbury,

    Bypass for Warkworth is a must.

    Stupid planning putting three sets of lights in a space of 2 kilometres at Warkworth means that on busy day traffic is backed up to Puhoi.

    I think 15,000 vehicles warrants an upgrade.

    Are you in favour of upgrading the NAL line?

    Emotive language that it is a monument to Steven Joyce’s ego. Stupid reseaning that detracts from your argument.

    I guess the newly started Victoria Park tunnel is not your favourate construction project?

    I personally like the SH20 motorway extension, the North Western extension to Albany, and look forward to the waterview tunnel to complete the road network.

    Just a tunnel (to replace the bridge) to the North Shore to go. (Share with rail to get rid of the buslanes).

  13. Gerrit, as explained in my post above the CBD Rail tunnel is the catalyst that allows us to further develop the rail network. Without it we don’t have the capacity to ever build anything further.

    Of course is dreamland we would want to build all these projects – 4 lane SH1 from the Bay of Islands to Wellington and so forth. Unfortunately we’re not Norway and don’t have the cash.

    The Puhoi-Wellsford section of SH1 is only used by around 15,000 vehicles a day (around the same as the city end of Sandringham Road).

    That’s not to say there aren’t problems with the Puhoi-Wellsford stretch of SH1. Clearly it has safety issues and also there’s a massive bottleneck at Warkworth. So what’s the solution there? How about bypass Warkworth, spend $100 million or so on easing corners and implementing other safety benefits, and throw the rest into this project or upgrading the North Auckland Line.

    I don’t think we need a 35km extension to the Northern Motorway just to serve 15,000 vehicles a day. It’s complete overkill and will actually put off important upgrades like a Warkworth bypass and safety improvements to the existing road, for up to a decade while NZTA plan, design and eventually build this monument to Steven Joyce’s ego.

  14. Gareth,

    The upgrading of State Highway 1 northwards is to service a population of 140,000.

    A far greater population then the inner Auckland population to be served by the CBD loop.

    Surely a focus on the upgrade of the NAL (North Auckland Line) is vitally more important if you were to advocate funding be diverted, from SH1 improvements servicing Northland, to the rail network.

    SH1 improvements is not just for Aucklanders but for those living in other regions.

    Not saying not to build the CBD tunnel, just that funding needs not to come at the expense of other (in this case Northland) regions.

    They need the upgrade to either, or both, the road and rail network as much as Auckland does.

    Much like what the PM Watcher refers to in regards Franklin district.

    What road or rail service will you flog from them to build the CBD tunnel? A tunnel that few from Pukekohe would use.

    Who actually goes to the CBD anyway?

  15. PM Watcher, without the CBD rail tunnel it’s unlikely the frequency of services to Pukekohe could be improved much beyond their current levels, because in the not too distant future the Britomart tunnel will hit capacity.

    The CBD rail tunnel increases the capacity of the rail system significantly, so increases in service frequencies to Pukekohe would be possible. So it does help the poor folk of Franklin District.

    507etc., those are my thoughts too. ProjectDART and electrification were the first two steps of many to create Auckland a world class rail system. We still have a few to go:

    1) CBD rail tunnel
    2) Rail to airport
    3) East Auckland loop from the Eastern Line to Botany, Flat Bush & Manukau City.
    4) North Shore Line.
    5) Avondale-Southdown Line (enabling an isthmus loop line).

    If we spent our money on these projects instead of on Joyce’s roads of National Party significance it would actually be possible to achieve many of these projects within a decade. After all, 60% of New Zealand’s population growth in the next 30 years will be in Auckland so it seems obvious that’s where improvements will be most needed.

  16. The CBD loop is important because without it the rest of the rail network cannot expand. More lines means more trains on the network, and without the loop you can’t fit anymore trains in and out of Britomart station every hour. I think the upper limit per hour is 18, possibly up to 24 trains with the signalling upgraded.

    National probably views electrification of the rail network the end of upgrades to the network. In my view, electrification is to enable the CBD loop to happen, which in turn provides greater capacity to the network, which then allows the network to expand with more rail lines to areas currently not served by rail such as the north shore as well as more frequent trains on existing lines.

  17. I’m very pleased for your news, but, living in Franklin, this helps us how? We have had our assets stolen and Auckland City gets all the upgrade. We’re lucky to get any trains at all, no faster broadband, no decent bus service that meets up with the few trains going through and no electric trains at that.

    From previous polls the only people keen of having this super city are the Auckland City people. I now understand why.

  18. The wider economic benefits of this project are huge, and certainly more “real” than the various wider economic benefits made up for Puhoi-Wellsford.

  19. I’m pretty confident it will have a higher BCR than Puhoi to Wellsford and unlike that project I imagine will get used a lot more regularly.

    This is a pretty important line from the ARTA release:

    “Current population levels within 500 metres of the K’Road station are in the region of 7,000 employees and 2,500 residents. With future amendments to the existing zoning there is capacity to provide for approximately 20,000 employees and 7,000 residents. Similar opportunities exist around Newton while around the proposed Aotea Station there is the capacity to more than double the employment opportunities from 40,000 to over 80,000”.

    Here’s a good example of how investing in good public transport can build jobs – a Green New Deal.

  20. “John-ston, of course in dreamland we’d love a 4-track tunnel. I wouldn’t mind a 320 kph train to Wellington either. Let’s not make the perfect the enemy of the good.”

    Like I have said to you on other boards, the problem is that if we do not get this right, now, then we might not have another opportunity. It is because we got Britomart wrong in the first place that we have been forced to do this, and I presume that readers would be familiar with the shortcomings of Newmarket – largely again because we got that wrong when the land surrounding it was sold.

    I don’t want to come back here in twenty years time, say, I told you so, and then be forced to drive a car because getting on board a train is no longer possible in peak-hour due to sardine conditions. That is what has happened in Sydney.

    If we can as a unified voice say that we really need a four-track tunnel, then we should get it.

  21. Exciting stuff, Gareth! Still – sad to see the default approach is still depressingly car-supremacist. The sooner all rail improvement efforts start coming online the better. People can’t see the benefits of superior alternative transport systems until they are almost forced on them – no matter what cost/benefit numbers you throw at them. Lack of imagination?

    @Valis: Joyce doens’t, (and National in general don’t), listen to public “pressure” per-se – more like public popularity. They like to have their egos stroked and be seen to be placating the vested interests of their adoring car-supremacist peers. (Which just so happens to also get them car-supremacist votes in the process).

    They need to hear that more people want to be their friends if they move to more sustainable transport models. These guys are shy – wouldn’t you be trying to please your friends if you were socially and ethically challenged like they seem to be? Poor Joyce, he just wants more friends . . . awww.

  22. Certainly there’s a two step process to getting this funded and constructed:

    Step one: pray like hell it gets a better cost-benefit ratio than the Puhoi-Wellsford holiday highway.

    Step two: assuming step one happens, hammer home that fact repeatedly forever.

    The problem I can foresee is that the 2009 GPS shifted funding for rail infrastructure projects out of the NLTF and simply into general government slush funds. This means that instead of the CBD rail tunnel competing against the holiday highway for fundings, it will have to compete against the health budget and tax cuts, whereas state highways get access to huge amounts of money even if they have very low BCRs.

    The only way this rail tunnel will get built is either Joyce somehow makes an exception for this and uses NLTF funds for it (probably only going to happen in the face of ENORMOUS public pressure) or somehow Bill English feels generous enough to dish out $1.5 billion from the slush fund, which I think is unlikely.

    John-ston, of course in dreamland we’d love a 4-track tunnel. I wouldn’t mind a 320 kph train to Wellington either. Let’s not make the perfect the enemy of the good.

  23. Mark my words, the CBD Loop in its proposed form will hit capacity some time in the 2030s – two tracks will not be enough and four tracks is what is necessary to allow for adequate growth in the Auckland commuter rail system.

  24. One possibility is that Stephen Joyce is in fact Senator Palpatine, a Sith Lord. Imagine him in a hood saying in a breathy husky voice “I will have my roads” 🙂 The whole Hollow Men thing is just a front.

    More seriously, keep up the good work challenging the economic sanity of the current focus on roading. If you can’t make a road get a B/C of one under the current system, it must be REALLY terrible because the benefit cost system seriously over-states the merits of roading projects.

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