Time to Link the Eastern Suburbs, Airport and South Auckland up with a quality Light Rail Transit System
Since the Botany (heavy rail) Line got bottled along with the Eastern Highway when John Banks was defeated in 2004, as well as a heavy rail option from Manukau to the Airport now ruled out (junction issues at Wiri) I have been wondering how can we revive the Botany Line.
The answer: a Vancouver styled Light Rail Transit – Sky Train system!
This is where the Botany Line (working name) would be built in linking up the Eastern Suburbs, Manukau and the Airport together:
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The total line is about 30,645 metres (30.65km) or 25,220 metres (25.2km) without the Manukau Loop. The line is divided into four sections each built progressively over time as demand and finances allow it. The four sections being (and in order of construction):
- Airport – Manukau City Centre section (Yellow Line)
- Manukau City Centre – Botany Metropolitan Centre section (blue line)\
- Botany MC – Panmure Interchange section (red)
- Manukau Loop (White/grey dash line)
To add further flexibility and reach the Manukau South Rail Link would also be built to allow direct Pukekohe/Papakura – Manukau Station services with the new EMUs.
The Botany Line sky train would be built in four stages listed above over a set amount of time. To keep the line away from ground traffic the entire line and stations would be elevated. This would mean incorporating future connections and urban design of the buildings surrounding the line/stations rather than the stand alone stations we see with most of our heavy rail system.
The depot would be located in what is currently Greenfields just west of the existing Wiri industrial complex. It is of note though that particular area is undergoing a zone change with the area to be flipped from rural to medium or heavy industrial land (which is sorely needed down here any how). So if this Botany Sky Train Line is a go we would have to future proof the yellow section of the line for both the line and any stations plus the depot.
As for stations I have not placed them in yet but will do so in the near future if and when the Sky Train concept gains traction. The idea has been presented twice – in both the May and November Manukau Presentations. Rolling stock wise I would see no issue asking CAF (the builders of our new EMU’s) to adapt the EMU model for elevated light rail running. Like the heavy rail EMU trains on their way to Auckland you should be able to run a single or double consist together with capacity topping out at the 750 passenger mark. Unlike our heavy rail EMU’s these Sky Train EMU’s would be fully automatic (meaning driver-less) not having to worry about freight trains.
Frequency, timetable and potential amount of passengers carried is something I will work on at a later date. But I suspect the Sky Train will be pretty popular along its entire route.
Airport to Manukau Section (yellow line)
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The Airport-Manukau section (yellow line) of the Sky Train is the longest and in theory the easiest to build owing to the land use in the area. The section is about 9.2km long and run through mostly rural or industrial land.
As mentioned earlier in the post I have not decided on station location yet for any part of the Sky Train system. However, the depot for the system would be located on this section owing to the rural or industrial land use within the area.
I am aware though of the airport planning a massive overhaul of the terminals over the next 20-30 odd years so when the airport section is being designed and built, consideration of the new terminals will need to be taken into account with Sky Train.
At the Manukau end of the yellow section of the line you have an interchange that handles heavy rail passenger services, buses and a parking facility not too far way if anyone was up for Park and Ride. The proximity of this interchange would allow seamless transfers to other modes of transport to carry one’s journey on else where.
Again the Manukau-Airport section of the Sky Train would be the first section to be built.
Manukau-Botany section (blue line) and Botany-Panmure section (red line)
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The Manukau to Botany section (blue line) would be the next section of the Sky Train system to be built. It is the second longest piece of the puzzle and is approximately 8.71km in length end-to-end.
This section links up Manukau City Centre with the Botany Metropolitan Centre – both forecast to take significant growth over the next thirty years. Again station locations are not picked as of yet but consideration will be given where maximum passenger capture within an area can be ensured.
The blue line section would be moderately difficult to be built owing to some tight turns as well as building alongside or within in two major thoroughfares: the Great South Road and Te Irirangi Drive. The fortunate part is though with the line and stations elevated the trains will never have to compete with road users at ground level. To make the situation a bit more easier is the fact Te Irirangi and the Great South Road are served by wide centre grass medians (especially Te Irirangi which was future proofed for the original Botany Line) so the elevated tracks and stations can be built on top of them rather than on the side of the road which runs the risk of demolishing buildings. The other beauty of running the track and stations down the centre medians is that it is easier to build over bridges to link either side of the road for pedestrians so that the pedestrians do not need to cross the often busy roads.
The blue (and red) sections of the Sky Train Line also carry in one other factor that makes construction more easier than otherwise normally. You can build the sections in pieces as finances and patronage allow. For example starting at Manukau you then build to the Rainbows End station, then to the Te Irirangi/Great South Road intersection, then to Boundary Road, and so on and so on until you reach Botany (or Panmure) itself. Building it in pieces minimises disruption along an entire sectional route as well as keeping costs (money and time down). For some reason Auckland seems to be better at building things in bite size pieces rather than the whole hog unless you want major blow outs somewhere. Only catch is that the idea is once one section of the line is built, the next one starts within 6 months – not 30 years 😛 .
Patronage wise I expect the blue line to be the heaviest of all the lines when factoring in weekends and weekday off-peak periods (red line would be the busiest in the peak periods feeding people to and from Panmure Interchange as they head into the city). I estimate that people on an all day shopping session would shuttle between Botany and a revamped Manukau – or for those more game do the Manukau-Botany-Sylvia Park circuit which would be all accessible by heavy or light rail. To add further patronage to the line the Eastern Suburbs would now also have a direct access route to the airport (without needing to be on the congested roads) for the first time. Something tells me a trip by Sky Train (that would run 24/7) from Botany to the airport in half the time it takes by car and at considerably less money wise in terms of petrol and airport parking would be a natural boon even to the more conservative Eastern Suburb residents.
The blue line though especially in the Manukau area would need to be three or four tracked as that particular area of line carries the Manukau Loop (the grey/white dash) which I will cover after the red line)
Botany-Panmure section (red line)
This section is the shortest through section of Sky Train line at 7.4km long. It connects Botany to the massive Panmure Interchange which is currently under construction. The red line of the Sky Train line would for the first time allow the Eastern Suburbs to be connected by a high passenger count moving service between them and the CBD (via a transfer at Panmure to the heavy rail system). I would estimate even with the bus way proposed for the area journey times being cut down by two-thirds than what it is at present by car and bus doing the same trip.
The red line route follows Ti Rakau Drive to Pakuranga Town Centre before following Pakuranga Road over the Tamaki Estuary and towards the Panmure Interchange. You might be able to see with the Panmure end of the red line that I have taken the Sky Train up and through Panmure Town Centre rather than running behind it along Lagoon Drive. The idea being that Panmure Town Centre could pick up some patronage from the Sky Train Line although if there is too much resistance from shop owners on that idea I can easily get the line to follow Lagoon Drive and into the interchange that way.
Between Pakuranga Town Centre and Panmure I am wondering of the Sky Train line should be running three tracks rather than the standard two. The reason being that Pakuranga Road between Pakuranga and Highland Park is pretty wide and can handle a Sky Train line running down the middle of it. Further more that area of the Eastern Suburbs misses out on being connected to Sky Train resulting in the residents in that area more likely to take their car (rather than do a triple transfer along the journey route (car-sky train-heavy rail). If in time the residents in the area want it I see no issue building a spur line from Pakuranga to Highland park and running shuttle services between Highland Park and Panmure for the residents. If nothing else it might jump-start the redevelopment of a dead Highland Park and attract more patronage into the Pakuranga Town Centre which is forecast to allow 11 storey buildings.
Manukau Loop (grey/white dash)
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This particular part of Sky Train is entirely optional but I have placed it in there as the last component of the entire system should it ever be built.
The “loop” is 5.43 km long and encompasses both Manukau (the residential suburb) and Manukau City Centre. The Manukau Loop connects up with both the Yellow and Blue Line sections of Sky Train and potentially widens Sky Train’s reach across the hub and beating heart of Southern Auckland.
The Manukau Loop is part of the Developing a 21st Century Manukau concept in that it serves two purposes:
- No part of Manukau (being pushed into a major residential area) nor the Manukau City Centre (a Super Metropolitan Centre) will be more than 800 metres from the Sky Train system meaning you will not need a car to get around the area
- Thus the fragmented urban islands are stitched back up together in part owing the Sky Train reach of Manukau
The Manukau Loop means you might live in the redeveloped Manukau residential area, hop on the loop to Manukau City Centre for some shopping, get back on the loop to the entertainment precinct (Vodafone Events Centre area(?)) then one more trip back on the loop to go back home in Manukau.
Or for example living in Papakura I could:
- Catch a Pukekohe/Papakura to Manukau via the Manukau South Link heavy rail service that runs every 20 minutes
- Do some shopping in Manukau City Centre
- Catch a sky train on the Manukau Loop that runs every 6-10 minutes and head to the entertainment precinct
- Catch the Manukau Loop back to the Manukau Interchange
- Catch Manukau to Papakura/Pukekohe service via the Manukau South Link back home
An all without using the car
Finally the Manukau Loop would allow greater potential to turn the Manukau residential area to the south of the Super Metropolitan Centre into a thriving area with Terraced Housing and Apartments to support the major growth coming to Auckland.
The Botany Line Sky Train in Relation to Transport Blog’s Congestion Free Network
As we know Transport Blog and Generation Zero have been lobbying hard for their Congestion Free Network across Auckland. You can see the CFN here with the potential map below:
The CFN plans to have buses serving what would be the Botany Sky Train Line and also makes no relation to the Manukau South Rail Link.
Owing to the growth that is coming down towards Southern Auckland and weighing in also consequences of Golden Banana planning (meaning Manukau and Albany step up even further as major centres) I have gone one step further and brought forward the elevated light rail transit system in what the CFN has planned out.
We know elevated rail will have its own right of way and never be interfered with by ground level traffic. Further more at anywhere between 375-750 passenger potential movements per train every 10 minutes on the sky train concept, the system would carry at best 1000% more potential passengers more efficiently and quickly (moving at 110-120km/h) than a 72-seater bus trundling along the roads.
I have already mentioned in earlier posts the benefits of the Manukau South Link and what it allows via running 20 minute frequency services between Manukau and Papakura/Pukekohe.
While the South Link should be built and in operation by 2016, the sectional nature of the sky train system means we can build it stage by stage over a say 20 year period (if not faster if you wanted to go the whole hog quickly).
The Manukau South Link and Botany Line Sky Train concepts future proof rapid mass transit systems for Southern Auckland for the next 100 years as the area undergoes significant growth.
So it might be time for Auckland Council and Auckland Transport to undertake a comprehensive study to get this project off the ground rather soon.
- Looking at Developing a 21st Century Auckland – Series – Surburbia (voakl.net)
- Manukau’s 21st Century Development (voakl.net)
- The City Rail Link (voakl.net)