Letter to the Ministers on Airport Rail. Also Herald and Commenters Wanting Heavy Rail Option too. #AKLPols

Heavy Rail to the Airport seems most logical (as Spock would say)


With the working year effectively starting the Herald has in earnest started editorials on the case for heavy rail to the Airport rather than Auckland Transport’s fetish with light rail instead.

From the Herald:

Editorial: Case for trams to airport does not stack up


Auckland councillor Mike Lee is not alone in doubting the practicality of running trams from Britomart to the airport. The proposal is one of several under consideration by Auckland Transport for another mode of public transport to and from the airport, which has asked for a decision by the middle of this year so that it can include a rail or bus station in its plans for a new domestic air terminal.


The ability to greet or farewell travellers at Britomart may be more convenient than driving all the way to Mangere for many Aucklanders. For that very reason a rail connection to the airport should be a high priority for the Auckland Council, as it was until, inexplicably, Mayor Len Brown postponed it to the 2020s in his planning.

Auckland Transport is considering laying tracks along a number of streets on the central and western isthmus, starting on Dominion Rd. It is now thinking a Dominion Rd line could be extended through Hillsborough to Onehunga, then cross the Manukau Harbour and run through Mangere to the airport.

It believes the journey from Britomart could take 44 minutes. Mr Lee is dubious for good reason. The trams would need to travel at up to 80km/h. These would not be the rattling old trams of now distant memory in Auckland – a relic of which can be ridden around the Wynyard Quarter. “Light rail” cars are swish modern vehicles that whirr along almost silently. But, like trams, they run on streets, sharing the road with other vehicles and stopping at lights like the rest of the traffic. That is on top of their frequent stops to pick up and drop off passengers.

They may accelerate faster than a bus but it is hard to believe they would beat a bus to the airport as Auckland Transport’s consultants claim. They estimate a bus would take 45-60 minutes. They cannot be thinking of the excellent express bus that already runs to the airport from Queens Wharf. To be an improvement on that service, any public transport connection would need to be as dedicated; it could not be making all the stops on a commuting route.

That is why an express train seems the best option. Auckland’s central rail corridor does not cross too many streets and it would seem possible to extend the Onehunga line to the airport alongside the motorway.

The airport company envisages an underground station in the new domestic terminal. That sounds perfect. AT should forget about trams and get real trains in there.


Source: http://www.nzherald.co.nz/nz/news/article.cfm?c_id=1&objectid=11569198


I have noted from the comments thus far (safe to read as of when this post was written) are also in favour of heavy rail over light rail but that heavy rail extending from Manukau and Puhinui rather than Onehunga. I can see the logic behind that in itself but from Manukau is where Light Rail rather than Heavy Rail would actually come into play. See The Botany Line Sky Train: Time to Link the Eastern Suburbs, Airport and South Auckland up with a quality Light Rail Transit System for more. 

Letter to the Ministers


The Airport Rail has become as an important transit issue as the City Rail Link itself. In fact I would argue Airport Rail is a natural extension to the City Rail Link more so than the North Shore Line (which would be Light Rail).

My distrust in Auckland Transport handling the transit options to the Airport has led me writing a letter to Ministers English, Bridges and Smith outlining concerns and as well as presenting an opportunity from placing down heavy rail from Otahuhu to the Airport.


The Letter (edited for brevity)

To: Hon. Bill English: Minister of Finance, Minister for Housing New Zealand Corporation
Hon. Dr Nick Smith: Minister of Building and Housing, Minister for the Environment
Hon. Simon Bridges: Minister of Transport


Monday, 4 January 2016


Subject: Airport Rail in Auckland

Over the Christmas-New Year holiday period the New Zealand Herald ran an article titled: Trams proposed for airport route – By Mathew Dearnaley (5:00 AM Wednesday Dec 30, 2015) (http://www.nzherald.co.nz/nz/news/article.cfm?c_id=1&objectid=11567299) which consequently prompted further media articles as well as debate on Social Media (Twitter, Facebook and blogs).

The crux of the matter and the subsequent debate is whether Auckland Transport builds either a light rail (LRT) system from the City Centre to the Airport via Dominion Road and alongside State Highways 20 and 20A or, a heavy rail extension from the current Onehunga Station. A video of the LRT verse Heavy Rail from the City Centre to the Airport was presented to the Auckland Council Infrastructure Committee in 2015 and is “available” from Auckland Transport.

The video shows the apparent savings and differences in favour of Light Rail compared to Heavy Rail. However, it is believed Auckland Transport have skewered the findings of a report (that would be used to produce the linked YouTube video) towards the benefit of Light Rail and as such a Local Government Official Information and Meetings Act request (https://voakl.net/2016/01/03/lgoima-to-auckland-transport-1-airport-rail-enquiries-aklpols/)  has being filed with Auckland Transport to try to obtain the full methodology of their report into LRT verses Heavy Rail.


So the question is why am I writing to you (the three Ministers) on the Airport Rail matter? It is because I wish to:

  1. Highlight the problem above that I believe central Government should keep an eye on
  2. To present an opportunity to central Government from a third option for Airport rail that has wider positive benefits to the Auckland area specifically Mangere and Mangere East.


The opportunity to central Government and to Auckland lies in a third option for the Airport Line that Auckland Transport wrote off early and placing it in the “too hard” basket. The option being:

  • Run heavy rail from the North Island Main Trunk Line between Otahuhu and Middlemore Stations,
  • The heavy rail line heads south-west through Mangere and Mangere East, before joining the State Highway 20/20A interchange
  • It then follows SH20A through to the Airport complex.

The picture below shows an approximate route of this third option (Airport Rail via Otahuhu)

Close up of the LRT and heavy rail via Onehunga route vs the via Mangere to Otahuhu route
Close up of the LRT and heavy rail via Onehunga route vs the via Mangere to Otahuhu route

Figure 1 Airport Rail options. Red = LRT option, solid black = heavy rail, dashed black = heavy rail via Otahuhu to airport


As a comparison the following picture runs a comparison of the three options (also indicating where new infrastructure would need to be built)

Airport Line Comparison Red = LRT proposal by Auckland Transport Black = Heavy Rail Route proposal Black dash = Via Mangere route to Airport instead of Onehunga Yellow = LRT to Manukau as part of Botany Line
Airport Line Comparison
Red = LRT proposal by Auckland Transport
Black = Heavy Rail Route proposal
Black dash = Via Mangere route to Airport instead of Onehunga
Yellow = LRT to Manukau as part of Botany Line

Figure 2 Red = LRT via Dominion Road, Solid Black = Heavy Rail extension from Onehunga, dashed Black = Heavy Rail extension from Otahuhu. Yellow = future Rapid transit to Manukau.


As we can see with Figure 2 the level of new infrastructure is large with LRT and equally large extending heavy rail from Onehunga. This is because the main cost comes in a duplication of the Mangere Bridge as well other terrain issues such as the downhill grade from Dominion Road to Onehunga.

Figure 1 shows that heavy rail from Otahuhu to SH20/20A interchange will run “over” 60 houses of which 48 belong to Housing New Zealand. While I fully understand invoking the Public Works Act in this area will disrupt residents an opportunity presents itself through urban renewal in the proposed corridor.

That is with the Proposed Auckland Unitary Plan due to go live later this year the opportunity to form a Mangere Redevelopment Company similar to the current Tamaki Redevelopment Program and kick start urban renewal in the Mangere/Mangere East area presents itself.


We know through an MBIE report that South Auckland is the fastest growing area in Auckland in terms of population and employment. We also know South Auckland has a high level of socio-economic deprivation and Mangere is not immune from it.

Figure 3 Presentation to the Auckland Development Committee, Dec. 2015 https://voakl.net/2015/12/08/presenting-to-auckland-development-committee-on-transform-manukau-betterauckland/
Figure 3 Presentation to the Auckland Development Committee, Dec. 2015 https://voakl.net/2015/12/08/presenting-to-auckland-development-committee-on-transform-manukau-betterauckland/


Figure 3 Presentation to the Auckland Development Committee, Dec. 2015 https://voakl.net/2015/12/08/presenting-to-auckland-development-committee-on-transform-manukau-betterauckland/


So how does: heavy rail to the airport from Otahuhu, Mangere, Mangere East, the Proposed Auckland Unitary Plan, Housing New Zealand and you the three Ministers of your respective portfolios come in all into play?


Minister of Transport:

  • To begin full independent investigation and business case analysis of extending the heavy rail line from Otahuhu through Mangere to the Airport complex
  • Review Auckland Transport’s methodology and findings into their favoured LRT option to the Airport
  • If the business case stacks up for heavy rail from Otahuhu to the Airport begin NoR for route designation set down either through Kiwi Rail, NZTA or both
  • When the Minister of Finance deems appropriate for funding Kiwi Rail and NZTA begin building the heavy rail line (Auckland Transport would build the stations)


Minister for the Environment, and Building

  • Coordination with Minister for Housing New Zealand in establishing a Mangere Redevelopment Company allowing urban renewal (through housing stock upgrades) in the Mangere area triggered by the airport rail line (and stations) construction and operation
  • Regulatory hurdles through possibly the Unitary Plan are mitigated against


Minister of Finance and Minister for Housing New Zealand

  • Funding the heavy rail project mentioned above when appropriate to do so
  • Set up a Mangere Redevelopment Company to task Housing New Zealand in undertaking urban renewal of their land in the Mangere area that would be subsequently triggered by the heavy rail passenger service operation
  • Transfer Housing New Zealand assets in the proposed rail corridor to Kiwi Rail to which Kiwi Rail would transfer any surplus assets back after construction of the line
  • Given the warning by The Economist over subdued economic growth due to decreasing public investment the funding and construction of the Airport Line via Otahuhu (alongside the City Rail Link) and subsequent urban renewal in Mangere would boost economic growth along:
Figure 4 @TheEconomist The World in 2016's forecast for New Zealand http://econ.st/1YvvRny
Figure 4 @TheEconomist The World in 2016’s forecast for New Zealand http://econ.st/1YvvRny

Figure 4 @TheEconomist The World in 2016’s forecast for New Zealand http://econ.st/1YvvRny


Benefits of the Airport Line via Otahuhu and subsequent urban renewal in the Mangere area triggered by that Airport Line

  • An extension of existing infrastructure (heavy rail) to a major employment and destination area – the airport that would allow:
    • A 35-39 minute trip between Britomart and the Airport via Otahuhu compared to realistically up to an hour for LRT via Dominion Road (or up to an hour with the Airport Bus as current)
    • LRT has at most 300 passenger capacity per unit of rolling stock compared to an Electric train 6 car set having a capacity of 750 passengers (375 for a 3-car set)
    • As the airport train passes through Otahuhu Station transfers can be made to allow passengers to head to Manukau Station (approx. 25 minutes) or Papakura in the south (approx. 35mins). LRT via Dominion Road and Heavy Rail via Onehunga do not allow connections to South Auckland thus leaving out a large population catchment.
    • Also as Otahuhu Station contains the soon to be built Otahuhu Bus Interchange the airport trains that pass through would allow passengers to transfer to buses at the interchange widening the catchment of those who could use the Airport Line.
    • Utilisation of already in operation Electric Trains rather than needing to design and build an entire new set of rolling stock as you would for LRT
  • Cost savings:
    • Airport Rail via Otahuhu utilises existing infrastructure including trains that would be extended through to the Airport. No need for design and construction of entirely new infrastructure needed with LRT
    • No costly duplication of the Mangere Bridge as you would need for LRT and heavy rail from Onehunga
    • No engineering difficulties faced with LRT down SH20 from Dominion Road to Onehunga and with heavy rail duplication on the Onehunga Line
    • Time savings as heavy rail is fully grade separated from roads and road traffic whereas LRT shares the road space along the Dominion Road corridor slowing it down
  • Urban Renewal:
    • As the Airport Line and its subsequent stations from Otahuhu to the Airport run through Mangere the value in residential property uplifts in response to be close to a high quality rapid transit line. This value uplift especially if the Unitary Plan zoning allows it triggers the demand for investment into housing stock and most often intensification. Given that Housing New Zealand owns most of the land in the Airport Line area the opportunity for urban renewal and intensification on what is poorly utilised land is an opportunity HNZ and the Government should not ignore
    • Mangere is surrounded by four large employment centres as pictured below. The urban renewal prospects to maximise land use as well as those centres connected one way or the other via the Airport Line (at least for part of the journey) would go some steps in the Government’s agenda lifting people out of hardship
Airport Line with Sky Train and buses Black = Heavy Rail Connection Blue = Buses Yellow = Sky Train
Airport Line with Sky Train and buses
Black = Heavy Rail Connection (dashed = Manukau Line spur)
Blue = Buses
Yellow = Sky Train

Figure 5 Airport Line with Sky Train and buses. Black = Heavy Rail Connection Blue = Buses Yellow = Sky Train

Finally you might be asking why I am writing to you as Ministers rather than Auckland Transport itself. In short and being frank there is a level of mistrust against Auckland Transport to deliver the most efficient and accessible public transport option that is the Airport Line. Auckland Transport has this fascination all of a sudden for Light Rail even though it is not designed in Auckland’s case for the job at hand with linking up the Airport. That is a fast and efficient connection between the Airport and major centres such as the City Centre, Newmarket, Manukau and Papakura. Thus I am asking for central Government intervention to investigate and deliver independently a quality transit link for Auckland as well as urban renewal in a socio-economically depressed area but full of opportunity area of Auckland.


I thank you for your time and look forward to your reply

With Regards

Benjamin Ross



As the letter can be OIA’ed I have made it public through this post any way.


Now before I get people jumping up and down about housing with the heavy rail project from Otahuhu and through Mangere I fully comprehend the potential disruption and level of mistrust after the botched Option 4 motorway saga last year that got mayoral intervention.

However, unlike that motorway the heavy rail option presents three better options to the Mangere community:

  1. Heavy Rail corridor is narrower and quieter than a 4-lane motorway. Trust me you can not hear the electrics (I live close to the Southern Line in Papakura and hear the big diesel freighters) apart from the wheels going over the tracks
  2. Urban renewal opportunities presented when the rail line is built (coordinated by Panuku Development Auckland and Housing New Zealand)
  3. Connection to a rapid transit line that connects one way or the other to the big employment centres of: Airport, Manukau, Otahuhu and via the interchanges Highbrook and Wiri

If the Government does decide to pitch in and go with heavy rail via Otahuhu and Mangere full community collaboration is a must!


Ultimately two things can come from the letter to the Ministers:

  1. Nothing
  2. Government funds the construction of the line
  3. (As an extra) The Government goes and builds the Botany Line as an irony


But there is no way of knowing without formally asking right? One way or the other we will know where Airport Rail via Otahuhu stands.


7 thoughts on “Letter to the Ministers on Airport Rail. Also Herald and Commenters Wanting Heavy Rail Option too. #AKLPols

  1. has anyone runs the numbers on airport commuters wanting to travel to britomart via south auckland vs commuters wanting to travel to britomart via dominion rd, mt eden etc? Assume the airport bus would have some pretty good figures on this. Would be good to get some data on the types of people arriving at auckland airport and what their end locations tend to be.

  2. Why bulldoze through Mangere East when there’s already a route right next door to that other monstrosity, SH20, that also bulldozed its way through Mangere a few decades ago?

    1. Because either way no matter the route the uplift triggered by the heavy rail line is going to spur on subsequent urban renewal as people want to get closer to a transit line.

      And with the Unitary Plan going live at the end of the year and the Mangere area either Mixed Housing Suburban or Urban old houses especially on Housing New Zealand land will be made way for newer (and even more) homes than where things are now.

      So you have a choice we tie in the urban renewal with full community participation when the line is built or we dont and it goes all haphazard and the community left out of the loop.

      1. I’m not arguing against HR through Mangere… I support heavy rail, but use the existing route via Onehunga, otherwise we’ll be carving up our communities once again. I believe the residents of Mangere would only support the Otahuhu through Mangere East route if it didn’t create severance issues. Make it underground, and people will gladly support it. But if we continue to have our homes and communities destroyed then I’m sure grassroot groups such as ROCC will get going once again.

      2. Noted.
        I have asked Auckland Transport through the Local Government Official Information and Meetings Act requests on costings of placing the rail line under the housing in Mangere.

        The tunnel I estimate would be 2km to allow this to happen.

        Once the Ministers or AT reply I will let people know through the blog

  3. 100% in favour of the Otahuhu line to the airport.. It alsop gives an oppotuity for a south connection from the airport to Hamiltion and mybe Tauranga.(maybe using the Fern rail cars in the first place for the south run).
    Strongly opposed to any light rail via Dominion Road to the airport along already congested roads.
    Cliff Dew

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