Where to Place the Light Rail Depot for the Northern Airport Line?

Stoddard Road sub optimal


In my Thursday post Northern Airport Line (Central Line) Accelerated? Auckland Transport Say Extremely Risky While CRL is being Built I outlined three risks that could scuttle the Queen Street to Dominion Road leg of the Northern Airport Line. They were:

  1. The need to move a Transpower 220kv cable that runs down Fanshawe Street towards the Harbour Bridge
  2. City Rail Link works currently under-way and any extra works from another project would cause disruption to North Shore and West Auckland busses
  3. Procurement


One thing I did miss and it has entered the debate today is the placement of the Depot for the Light Rail trains that would service the Northern Airport Line. There are two classes of depots that the Auckland Transports mention for Light Rail:

  • Light: undertakes light maintenance of those Light Rail Transit units stabled there. This depot was to be placed at Wynyard Quarter at the northern end of the Line
  • Heavy: this is where heavy maintenance including bogie work and unit overhauls are done. Testing tracks might also be in proximity  for units to be either commissioned (first time use) or certified after an overhaul. In some cases a heavy maintenance depots will have mini foundries attached but they are not the same as full workshops where units are built or decommissioned.

This heavy depot was suggested to be placed at Stoddard Road which is at the end of the Queen Street – Dominion Road leg of the Northern Airport Line or midway once the Line reaches the Airport

Northern Airport Line depot
Source: Airport to City Light Rail Transit Acceleration Strategy


Auckland Transport continues:

Northern Airport Line depot considerations
Source: Airport to City Light Rail Transit Acceleration Strategy

No matter which way one slices or dices this the heavy Depot location for the Northern Airport Line is sub-optimal.


How the Northern Airport Line, the Depot and the Southern Airport Line play out:

Northern Airport Line Layout:
Source: Auckland Transport


And if I am to overlay this with the Unitary Plan maps for the Stoddard Road heavy depot:

Northern Airport Line Depot Unitary Plan

Already problems present themselves for a heavy Depot to be placed on Stoddard Road (I’ll get to Wynyard Quarter next):

  1. The area is zoned either Mixed Use Zone or Town Centre zone. This means the area is set for housing and commercial with industrial activities Non Complying
  2. Higher density residential zoning (Terraced Housing and Apartment, and Mixed Urban Zones) in very close proximity to the Depot and business zones mentioned above
  3. Stoddard Road is a cross-connector between Richardson Road and Dominion Road for cars, busses and freight
  4. Dominion Road Station nearby that if Transit Orientated Developments are to be followed then everything within 800 metres of the station will be intensified to make use of the station and the Line
  5. The heavy depot will be conducting industrial activities 24/7 to service the fleet on the Line, reverse sensitivity rules kick over given close proximity of residential areas
  6. As noted by Auckland Transport above the bogies from units stabled at the Wynyard Quarter depot would need to be trucked down to the Stoddard heavy depot. That would mean trucks plying the City Centre to enter the motorway network in order to reach the depots


As for Wynyard Quarter:

  1. Area is zoned City Centre under the Unitary Plan – this means high density residential and commercial use and new industrial activity would be Non Complying
  2. In saying that if the NZ Bus Depot was flipped over given it is an existing activity the light Depot can be built there
  3. Wynyard Quarter is meant to be the show case of at least urban Auckland. Having a heave depot let alone a depot full stop could get interesting
  4. Again reverse sensitivity rules would kick in from conflicting land use – same as Stoddard Road


Alternative Depot locations:


  1. Area is a heavy industrial complex so reverse sensitivity rules from residential areas is not as bad as further north
  2. Can be tied to Transform Onehunga now that East West Link Option F died
  3. Depot very close to SH20 and Neilsen Street that are both set up for oversized trucks that would service it
  4. Depot can service the Northern Airport Line whether we start with the Airport to Onehunga or Queen Street to Onehunga sections first: We are doing the Airport Lines All Wrong. Start from the Airport not from the City Centres
  5. However, that means if we are to do Queen Street to Onehunga then it needs to be all done immediately meaning it won’t be done until 2023 not 2021 (which is a forlorn attempt anyway given we are this late into the game)



There are two locations the Airport Depot can go:

  1. Where the park and rides are off Landing Drive next to SH20A as suggested by Patrick Reynolds of Greater Auckland
  2. On blank land zoned Light Industry alongside SH20B where Auckland Transport suggested for the bus depot if the Southern Airport Line is to be Bus Rapid Transit

The map:

Airport Depot

The grey is Airport zoning (and land ostensibly belonging to Auckland Airport) while the Cyan and Dark Cyan is Light Industry and Heavy Industry (yellow is Future Urban Zone).

I can perfectly understand Patrick wanting the depot to be at Landing Drive where the Park and Rides are. However, given the land belongs to the Airport and PnR’s would be with us for a while I do not think the Airport (nor Air New Zealand for that matter) are going to give up the sites. Even if they did who ever owned and ran the depot (most likely NZTA) they would be paying premium land rents to AIAL (the Airport). It also occurred to me the Northern Runway might be slated for that area and if not extremely close by so the Airport might get prickly having a heavy depot in such an area.

If we look some 2.3km to the right a solution presents itself and that is where Auckland Transport said the bus depot would go for the Southern Airport Line. The land is zoned Light Industry and the nearest residential area is over one kilometre away – so we won’t be lugged with reverse sensitivity issues unlike Stoddard Road and Wynyard Quarter. The land is also blank at the moment so the Depot is not having to exactly worry about demolition of existing buildings the other depots including Landing Drive would face. The depot sits right on SH20B which has direct access to the oversized truck route that uses SH20 and Wiri Station Road (to reach State Highway 1) – most of all those trucks would not be trundling through a residential area. Finally if a small foundry was to be attached to the heavy depot the emissions would not trigger reverse sensitivity issues due to and again residential areas not in close proximity.

One other thing is that the SH20B location for the depot allows test tracks to be built (land is blank currently) without interference of the road network unlike Stoddard Road and even Landing Drive. This allows commissioning of the units without problems nor interference. The site would also not be constrained by land size when it came to stabling of the fleet.


The Southern Airport Line

Remember this?

Southern Airport Line can be done
Source: Auckland Transport


Well given the most optimal location for a heavy depot for the Northern Airport Line sits on the Southern Airport Line route the next and ultimate question asks and answers itself:

  • Why not extend the tracks all the way to Puhinui Station and Manukau City Centre seeming they have already started along SH20B? Wouldn’t the extra cost be very small to go that last 7km to reach Manukau?


The Southern Airport Line 2018 – Airport to Manukau via Puhinui Station


The answer is you would take the LRT line to Manukau as a natural conclusion given the depot placement.


What do you think on locating the depot for the Light Rail trains .


light-rail-acceleration-strategy-report Northern Airport Line Case – Auckland Transport October 2017

briefing-note-on-light-rail Northern Airport Line Case – Auckland Transport October 2017

Northern Airport Line Case – Auckland Transport October 2017


8 thoughts on “Where to Place the Light Rail Depot for the Northern Airport Line?

  1. Agree with Don & Robert. It’s important not to dilly dally. Start with the Southern link, which seem’s to be the quickest achievable anyway.
    Workshops etc: Don’t know about ownership BUT there are large marshaling yards already at Westfield and Wiri (where the inland ports are)? May have the names wrong but I’m sure you know where I mean. They’re already ‘plugged’ into Heavy, couldn’t be too hard to include workshops could it? From memory, Mays Rd Onehunga was the depot/service place for trams back in the day. Plus the one at Stoddard Rd.
    I agree that the CBD thinking is detrimental to a speedy resolution. The major traffic flows indicate to me that South Auckland provides most of the Airport labour…….
    Good work Ben.

  2. In a sensible world, we’d make the light rail gauge the same as our heavy rail and provide an intersection point or two. We’d also ensure that the electrical systems were compatible. Then light rail vehicles could be serviced using the present suburban rail fleet facilities. If it was impossible to make the electrical systems compatible, light rail vehicles could be towed.
    Such compatibility might allow light rail vehicles to run on heavy rails for passenger transport if necessary, although I imagine heavy rail trains couldn’t run on light rail tracks because of weight issues.

    1. I would imagine there would be major safety issue with running 25Kv down suburban street, but I’d agree using the same gauge (1067mm/3’6””) would make a lot of sense and would allow the EMU maintenance depot to be used to service the LR vehicles without having to make a major investment in duplicating a service depot for the LR vehicles.

  3. AT and our Council have very downtown centred focus. One day they will wake up when they realise that the need is out in the satellite areas of Auckland……So wake up AT and Councillors before it is to late. The SOuthern LRT from Botany to the Airport via Puhinui is the answer

  4. I’ve got to agree if we aren’t going to build Heavy Rail to the airport then the it make a lot of sense to build the Southern Light Rail line from the airport to Puhinui and onward to Manukau and Botany first then, or even at the same time, build the Northern line from the airport to Onehunga and then onward to the CBD.
    This gives a great rapid rail connection between the airport and the CBD and all points southe of Auckland.
    If we must have a “show case” line for 2020 then by all means build the Wynyard to Civic section, but if it’s true commuter servicing we are aiming for then Connection Mangere and the airport area to the Southern/Eastern lines and to the Onehunga lines has to make far more sense.

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