The (Urban) Geography of Moving Auckland’s Inland Ports and Consequences on the East West Link and Third Main

Kiwi Rail Third Main Business Case might reveal more than being let on


The case of the Third Main between Wiri and Otahuhu on the Southern and Eastern Lines has thrown up some wider dynamics than otherwise one might have initially seen.

First of all we have The Nation interview with Transport Minister Bridges on both the Third Main and the East West Link here:


An interesting Tweet subsequently cropped up pointing out that the Third Main could very well be delivered before the East West Link:


If we take it from the John Key playbook when something is refused to be ruled out then upgraded to “maybe” you can take it that the project is going to happen within the short to medium term. Last year former Prime Minister Key in a post-breakfast interview to the Chamber of Commerce stated they he would not rule out Congestion Charges for Auckland’s road network. Well that is on its way once the paper work is lined up. The same was said about the City Rail Link as well.


However, we come to the curious case of the Third Main and that Kiwi Rail document the Minister still really does not want out there public.

Here is the case for the Third Main (with redactions that are being challenged to the Ombudsman Office):


Third Main Business Case


Fast forward to these two comments made at Greater Auckland about the Third Main:

  1. Interesting reading the report, bits that could be at least. Wonder what the blanked out bit in the Table 3, on page 29 across from: “Separate freight & passenger services in space” just under “Add a 3rd Main Line” is?? Add another line somewhere else, move port? truck everything by road? quit passenger services? Seems strange it’s blanked out.

    1. Its blanked under this OIA rule 9(2)(j) which according the KR reasons for redactions document says this about that:

      9(2)(j) – Information relating to matters that are or may be the subject of negotiations has
      been withheld to enable KiwiRail “to carry on, without prejudice or disadvantage,
      negotiations (including commercial and industrial negotiations).”

      Given where it is and the context of the options being discussed it precludes moving more stuff by road as thats discussed in another option.

      So likely means KR is proposing to move the MetroPort(s) or POAL port [further south?] out of the way of the passenger lines.

      The text of the report that redacted section relates to is (so called) Option 5, its option 5 because it appears between text named options 4 and options 6, and the discussion text appears on bottom half of page 32 and top of page 33. If you want to read that text yourself you may glean some info. But from my reading of the redactions I think two options under option 5 are discussed as there two sets of bullet points each of 2 items long.

      So reading that indicates that something is definitely afoot with the separating “in space” options under option 5. That relates to KR business operations and negotiations [like land purchasing]

      My bet is this option involves changes to where either or both the Metroport or POAL is located, If so this will change the business case for the EW link completely.

      which is likely why its redacted and why the Ministers office got so antsy about that getting out.

      even if its redacted for the wrong reasons, by the time the truth comes out, the EW BOI will have finished its work, and the decision made. So this is all an attempt to impact the EW BOI.

      [After all if Metroport is not where it is now, what is the rationale for choosing EW option F over the other options?].


Well if Metroport wasn’t where it was [it was say further south like where the Wiri inland port that POAL uses is now], and/or POAL moved to either the Firth of Thames coast or threw its lot in with Tauranga.

Then there would be lot fewer freight operations on the NIMT so the reason/justification for the Third main got a lot weaker.

But thats a side show, but either or both of the moving of either Metroport and/or POAL operations is probably what is covered under “option 5”. Which is under the section of “spatial separation of freight and passenger trains”.

If Metroport is moved then third main is not needed as much [but POAL could still use it].

If POAL moves and Metroport stays put [and probably becomes equally used by both POT and POAL], the third main would very much still be needed and if anything the need for a 4th main would materialise as well.

But Option 5 has been redacted because obviously this part is all hush hush stuff and if Metroport moves then the EWL BOI process underway right now, could be impacted [i.e. EWL is denied].

Which Joyce and his trucking industry mates do not want to happen.
This side of the election anyway.



The question is could the Port of Auckland Wiri Inland Port or the Port of Tauranga Metro Port (at Southdown) be on the move south?


I will come back to the Wiri Inland Port facility later on but first Metro Port located in Southdown.


Metro Port is owned by Port of Tauranga and is the main rail-to-road hub for container traffic between Auckland and Tauranga. Currently there can be up to ~14 Metro Port freight trains (also the longest of the freighters that run in and out of Auckland) between Metro Port and Port of Tauranga’s Sulphur Point container wharf. The Third Main in part is designed to shift those Metro Port freighters onto a dedicated track between Wiri and Otahuhu (the most congested part of Auckland’s rail network) freeing up track space for the increasing amount of passenger trains from the Southern and Eastern Lines. Of course over freight trains would use the Third Main but for now I am focusing on the Metro Ports.



With East West Link Option F (as currently proposed by NZTA) apparently one of the main benefactors and supporters this project is Port of Tauranga given the expressway would connect directly to their Metro Port facility allowing the shifting of goods by road to either State Highways One or Twenty.


Option F
What NZTA are doing


Option B of the East West Link would allow the same as well for Metro Port:

Option B
This Should Be the East West Connections


Ironically though Option F compared to Option B would in theory allow Metro Port to have their own “dedicated” expressway to State Highway One at Mt Wellington. However, Option B is designed to factor in land-use change from industry to residential, commercial and office as industry moves out of Southdown and into Southern Auckland. More on this further down.


So you can see how the dynamics of both the Third Main and East West come into play.


Time for some Urban Geography


Metro Port goes South

As I have blogged before when surrounding land-use pressures drive the value of land up to an existing heavy industrial complex that complex will often decamp and move to an area where that land-use pressure is not as high. With population growth continuing and the demand for more residential and commercial space on the Isthmus consequently creating pressure on the Onehunga-Southdown industrial complex that complex will begin to decamp south to Wiri, Drury and the northern Waikato.

As an ultimate consequence the viability of Metro Port gets thrown into question with most likely a downscale to occur at the existing site with a new larger site established in Southern Auckland. By downscale I mean something like the Mainfreight facilities at Penrose with some warehouses and a freight spur (so smaller than even the Wiri Inland Port). The new facility would be multi-modal (road-rail) and most likely established on blank industry land out in Drury close to the rail line and Southern Motorway.

Economically this would make sense to bring in (or send out) your goods by the larger trains to the Drury facility then either send smaller shunts to Wiri or the down-scaled Metro Port facility, or straight to the trucks to shuttle the goods out to their final destination. Clustering around an inter-modal facility by supporting industry would also occur (just as we get with the Airport complex) meaning a new employment hub is established (well moved).

Commuter wise it can also make sense given the bulk of the Drury facility’s workforce would be travelling in the opposite direction of the main commute pattern allowing the transport system to work more efficiently.



Wiri Inland Port going South and would the Third Main still stand consequently?

For now it would not make sense for Port of Auckland to shift their facility to Drury even though if they did it could mean the Manukau South Link would be built. Even if Metro Port went to Drury the Wiri facility would act as an intermediary hub supporting the Wiri industrial complex as well as Manukau. Given Wiri still has room to support more industry (and not under thread of a decamp) the Inland Port still has many years of growth in it. The Wiri Inland Port has also just gone major expansion to its facilities and is ramping up its shuttles between itself and Port of Auckland’s wharves so even with possible duplication with Metro Port Wiri will be with us for a while to come. But it does lead to an interesting dynamic of whether the Third Main would still be needed?

Even if the Wiri facility went to Drury the case of the Third Main still stands although it would be expanded to cover from Pukekohe to The Strand where Port of Auckland is located. Why? Shuttling containers between the inland ports at Drury and Wiri to the container wharves up north at Auckland mitigating against the need for more trucks plying the Southern Motorway while still and also keeping track space available for the Southern and Eastern Lines.


While the Third Main would still be required if Metro Port went south the case of the East West Link evaporates quickly.

Third Main in Action at Otahuhu-Middlemore
Source: Kiwi Rail

Geography of the East West Link

The East West Link Option F is touted to allow efficient truck  movements through the Southdown complex and out to the motorway networks. Metro Port moving south due to land-use pressures would pretty much eliminate the “need” Option F given that the main truck movement generator has gone south to Drury.

BUT and here is the BUT if NZTA went with East West Link Option B then even if Metro Port went south and the area flipped to residential and commercial (as it is expected to do over the next thirty years) Option B would still be needed.


Option B upgrades existing infrastructure and allows two new south-facing ramps at the South Eastern Arterial (SEART) for traffic to be diverted away from Mt Wellington and Sylvia Park. This would allow the efficient movement of all traffic through an arterial to and from the two motorways and would even allow bus lanes to be applied. Option B is pretty much the universal connection that works with both existing freight traffic and future residential and commercial traffic. Ironically if a national stadium was ever to replace Mt Smart the East West Link Option B is in best place to service such a stadium compared to Option F now and into the future regardless of land-use in the area.


In concluding remarks we have to ask what is really going on with the Third Main and East West Link. While we might find out sooner rather than later (Simon Bridges under investigation over OIA block) some rather hard Urban Geography lessons could be in the mix. A certain Finance Minister could have also thrown all his eggs into one basket and that basket is beginning to unravel as those Urban Geography and transport economic lessons begin to shine very brightly.


The question becomes how much longer will the Transport Minister defend the Finance Minister’s road follies?!


WELLINGTON, NEW ZEALAND – JUNE 28: Minister of Economic Development, Science and Innovation, Small Business ,Tertiary Education, Skills and Employment, Steven Joyce, speaks during the National Party Annual Conference at Michael Fowler Centre on June 28, 2014 in Wellington, New Zealand. Around 600 National MPs and delegates are expected to gather for the two day conference, during which new policies will be released ahead of New Zealand’s general election in September. (Photo by Hagen Hopkins/Getty Images)




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