Is Airport Heavy Rail Dead?

No – we just have to be more proactive instead


I saw this from Stuff come up earlier this morning:

Airport rail may fail to fly

JAMES IRELAND Last updated 05:00 17/06/2014

It could be too late to get a rail system to the airport, a Campaign for Better Transport spokesman says.

Cameron Pitches says the planned widening of State Highway 20A and the massive number of buildings erected around the site might have scuppered any chance of building an “L” shaped rail line from Onehunga to the airport and then to Manukau. The project is still being investigated and he has told Auckland Council’s infrastructure committee about his concerns.

“In 2007 we presented a petition with more than 100,000 signatures in support of rail to the airport,” he says.

“Since then there have been new buildings built that are taking up space where rail might go.

“And with the Government planning on widening the road to the airport, this has taken up more space that could have been used for rail.

“The rail services would be primarily servicing the workers . . . public transport in South Auckland is particularly bad.”

The number of people going to the airport is expected to rise over the next 30 years from the current 63,000 to 140,000 a day.

But Auckland Transport says it’s still working with the airport on how transport links can be improved.



First up I thought the Airport to Manukau section of the Airport Line was put into the abandoned basket along with the Eastern Highway. In its place would either be a light rail Sky Train type system or a bus way using State Highways 20B and 20 to Manukau City Centre. Oh well.

On the Airport Line (from the Airport itself and running alongside State Highways 20A and 20 until the line connects with the Onehunga Line at Onehunga Station) itself, it was meant to be one of Mayor Len Brown’s top priorities apart from the City Rail Link itself (which is needed before the Airport Line can be built). However, it seems to have fallen by the wayside a bit for various reasons and could soon fall victim as the Government gets ready to turn State Highway 20A into a full-blown motorway.


So the question is: “Is the Airport Line Dead?”

Looking at these three maps one might think so

The proposed Airport Line (black)
The proposed Airport Line (black)
Where grade separation would be needed to avoid level crossings
Where grade separation would be needed to avoid level crossings
No room here with the warehouses right up against the highway as is
No room here with the warehouses right up against the highway as is


The corridor where the warehouses are is already pretty narrow and in some respects too narrow to get a double track heavy rail line along side the existing highway. To make matters more interesting there are four points in the line’s trip where there are road intersections. To avoid pesky level crossings the tracks you either need to be running under the roads or over them via bridge. This means long approach embankments to these grade separated crossings as heavy rail is not as capable with steeper gradients as light rail otherwise is.

So apart from having a designation set down 20 years ago when State Highway 20 was being built between Massey Road and the Mangere Bridge it would seem from the photos that the Airport Line is dead in the water. Or is it?


Regardless of the Budget 2014 announcement for State Highway 20A the corridor has long been compromised for heavy rail to the Airport, especially down the George Bolt Memorial Drive section. So if we still want the Airport Line then what do we do? We check Vancouver and how much is costs them to build an elevated Sky Train line and translate it back here for the Airport Line. Most of the Airport Line will be on the ground but the section along George Bolt Memorial Drive will need to be elevated above State Highway 20A.


Two Birds with One Digger?

With the State Highway 20A motorway project inevitable I do wonder if it would have been prudent at the same time to build the elevated section of the Airport Line while State Highway 20A was being upgraded. Do the entire construction in one go while the crews are there and avoid repeat disruption later on. The ground sections of the Airport Line as well as the respective stations can be built soon after.

Now while that would have been prudent there is one small problem. This is New Zealand and we don’t have a knack of forward thinking. Whether it be taking up the American’s gift of a 4 lane highway from Auckland to Hamilton free of charge after World War Two, the Harbour Bridge and the clip-ons, the City Rail Link, or numerous other projects New Zealand and Auckland has always being behind the 8-ball in future planning. And it seems with the State Highway 20A upgrade and Airport Line issues, that behind the 8-ball continues.


Maybe the Mayor could have been a bit more proactive in securing the designation for the Airport Line to save some expense. Expense it seems we will be paying for