Gareth Hughes

Fast-track the CBD rail loop

by Gareth Hughes

Keith and I launched our Fast-track the CBD Rail Loop campaign today at Britomart – we had some great speakers and  I’m stoked to be promoting such an awesome transport project. I also had a chat to Sean Plunket about the loop today on Morning Report which was great.

I’ve written a piece about the campaign for Craccum which you can read below – enjoy!

Fast-Track the CBD Rail Loop

Are you a geek like me and sometimes stare at the rail map when travelling on the train and imagine how you’d make it better? Given that in Auckland, you are often waiting a fair amount of time either for or on the train I imagine lots of you do… So, what’s the one thing you would do? Most people would probably say build rail out to the airport or North Shore. But me? Well, I’d build an underground track linking Britomart with Mt Eden, turning it from a dumb-as dead-end to a terminus station; creating inner city stations, and a true city loop like they have in other super cities like Sydney or London.

The reason why I’d do this project first is that it is an essential first step to building rail links to other places in future – I’ll explain more about why that is later. But first, this isn’t just a daydream of mine – this plan has been on the cards since the 1920s but it never quite happened.

This week Green MP Keith Locke and I are launching a campaign to fast-track the CBD Loop and I hope you will get on board. You can sign our petition online. Right now the project is stalled because the government won’t stump up with the funds. Our campaign aims to build community support so the motorway-mad Government in Wellington can’t delay and ignore this project anymore.

So, why should you sign our petition and support the loop? Firstly, rail patronage has been growing at a phenomenal rate (over 10% per year for the last 5 years), but the infrastructure is holding it back. Britomart is a dead-end terminus station which means trains have to back out of the station before other trains can share the platform, severely limiting capacity. It is a major bottle-neck.  It is only seven years old yet will soon be at capacity.

The bottle-neck at Britomart is holding us back from 5-minute or more, never-look-at-the-timetable-again services and even a commuter service to Hamilton. The CBD Rail Loop is urgently needed to transform Britomart to a ‘through’ station and meet the growth in demand.

Second, the CBD Rail loop is the key to future development of the network. Once Britomart is a through station we will be able to build many new rail links to places like the airport and North Shore. As you daydream on the train, staring at the rail map, think of the CBD Loop as step 1, step 2 being rail to the Airport, and step 3 rail to the Shore, South-East Auckland etc.

Third, I think the most exciting reason to build a CBD Loop is the chance to transform the city centre from its current boring, car-dependent, and frankly lame state to a more exciting, people-friendly, metropolitan feeling city. Unlike other global super cities, with metro subways or light rail, Auckland only has a station at the CBD edge (but a whopping great hill between the waterfront and K Rd).

The Loop would see new underground stations at Symonds St, Aotea Square, and K Rd, places where people want to stop. The Aotea station would also make it easier for students to get to Auckland University. The CBD Rail loop will transform the city, and bring over half a million Aucklanders within 30 min of the city centre, completely free of road congestion.

The main downside of course is cost. All the tunnelling, track and new stations is expensive and it is estimated to cost in the order of $1-2 billion. I don’t think this should hold us back though. The costs would be shared between the region and the central Government.

Also, the Government is quite happy to pour $1.7 billion of our cash on the Pūhoi to Wellsford ‘Holiday Highway’ even though the road has a Benefit Cost Ratio of only 0.8 which means they’re predicting it will lose the economy $280 million – in other words it is totally uneconomic. By contrast, previous estimates have shown the benefits of the CBD Rail project significantly outweigh the costs.

The difference between the two projects is that, rather than only a few Aucklanders heading north and benefiting on the ten public holiday weekends when the Puhoi to Wellsford motorway is congested, a significant proportion of Aucklanders would benefit from the CBD Loop every working day. Why? Because the CBD loop will massively increase the capacity of the whole Auckland rail network, transform the downtown, and take cars off the congested CBD roads.

These two similarly-priced projects demonstrate the transport choices available to the Government. Their preference for the mad Holiday Highway highlights their 1950s approach to transport.

The Loop has some high level support from the likes of Auckland Mayor John Banks, Manukau Mayor Len Brown, the Regional Council and the Auckland Regional Transport Authority who earlier in the year released their preferred route.

However, we can’t start it without the funding. And right now the Transport Minister is stone walling saying he can’t dedicate any funding to this project until (yet another) study of the business case for the CBD Rail Loop is completed at the end of 2010. The Loop will take between 7-10 years to design and build, and that is all the more reason to ensure that there are no more delays.

That’s why I’m launching the Fast Track the CBD Rail Loop campaign this week to send a clear urgent message to the Government: fast-track the funding! A petition is circulating and you can download a copy and get your friends to fill it out here.

I’m also making it a Super City election issue with a survey of candidates to see who supports the loop. With local body elections coming up over September and October make sure you are enrolled and vote for candidates who support the CBD Rail Loop.

The CBD Loop was almost started in the 1970s but was scrapped by the 1975 National Government in a fit of short-sighted cost-saving, similar to the decision to remove walk/cycle paths and rail lines on the Auckland Harbour Bridge. We cannot let the current Government delay for another decade or two the single most effective thing we could do to transform Auckland’s CBD and public transport system.

So the next time you are on the train daydreaming, check out the map and see how completely common-sense a CBD loop would be, and imagine how cool it would be for Auckland to have a more vibrant downtown with convenient stations, super-frequent trains, and less cars on the roads. In short, a super rail system.

Published in Economy, Work, & Welfare | Environment & Resource Management by Gareth Hughes on Mon, July 26th, 2010   

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