NZTA “Gives Up” on Light Rail while Alternatives are/were Ready to Go. All we are/were missing is leadership to get it done!

City Centre to Mangere Light Rail setback unsurprising but we got work to do

For most of this week (as of this post) it has been a story of waxing lyrical’s with Airport to Botany Rapid Transit (A2B) and the State Highway 20B improvements now underway. To add further cause for celebrations Hamilton has started the processes in extending the Hamilton to Auckland passenger trains from Papakura to Puhinui to make best use of A2B. So we have great news all round and a good dose of morale boosting.

So when the following news from Stuff about NZTA and Light Rail came out this morning the reaction was one of: COMPLETELY UNSURPRISING!

Since Transport Minister Phil Twyford took City Centre to Mangere Light Rail off Auckland Transport and gave it to NZTA, followed by allowing the Super Fund to present an out-of-scope proposal all New Zealand and more to the point Auckland and industry have seen is delays after delays after delays.

Now we have the news of even MORE delays which translated means someone has given up. This is not going to inspire confidence in the industry who were ready to go nor in residents in Auckland waiting on this project while putting up with congested buses in Central Auckland.

From Stuff:

NZTA backs down from light rail, looks at spending millions elsewhere

Thomas Coughlan. 05:00, Sep 19 2019

The New Zealand Transport Agency (NZTA) has defended its plans for light rail in Auckland.

The Labour-led Government has been forced into another humiliating rail backdown during its “year of delivery”, conceding that most of the $463 million set aside by the NZ Transport Agency to spend on the Auckland light rail project will now be spent on other projects, including roads.

Transport Minister Phil Twyford admitted on Tuesday that the NZTA was now looking at other ways of spending $313 million of the $463 million it had planned to spend on light rail, after the project hit serious delays.

The reversal has come about because construction on the light rail – which will run from Auckland’s central business district to Mt Roskill, a distance of 8 kilometres by car – has been delayed until at least 2021. In the lead up to the 2017 election, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern promised that this section of the light rail track, which would later continue out to Auckland airport, would be built in just four years.

Now it won’t be started until at least 2021, a significant back down for the Government which directed NZTA to start funding light rail for the first time in its history last year. SharePlayMuteCurrent Time0:05/Duration Time1:33Loaded: 0%Progress: 0% Fullscreen

Twyford said NZTA’s decision would not affect the $1.8 billion of additional government money – on top of the NZTA budget – set aside for the project.

He said that the change related to the project’s start date being pushed back to 2021. The Agency’s transport budget only runs until 2021, after which a new spending plan is drawn up. 

But two years on from Ardern’s election promise, no soil has been turned as Cabinet continues to sort through competing bids to build for the project from the NZ Super Fund and NZTA

Source and full article: NZTA backs down from light rail, looks at spending millions elsewhere

In regards to the Super Fund unsolicited bid on City Centre to Mangere Light Rail (CC2M); it was deemed Out-of-scope by officialdom and it should have been treated as such by Minister Twyford and NZTA. That is: dismissed and the Superfund told to wait until the official cases are put forward (those business cases).

That aside there are two figures being battered around in the above article:

  • $463m (of which $313m is being now being sent elsewhere)
  • $1.8b

The $463m is the money NZTA will be repriortising elsewhere in the National Land Transport Fund

The $1.8b was the “Seed money” to get CC2M and North West Light Rail started.

Now here are two more figures:

  • $380m
  • $1.4b

$380m is the cost of a busway for the entire 18km long Airport to Botany Rapid Transit Line

$1.4b is the cost of making that same 18km Line as Light Rail (not including rolling stock but does a basic depot). This assumes $75m/km while Canberra LRT came in at AUD$63m/km and still was delivered on-time and under budget.

Now I know there are other projects like Pukekohe Electrification and the Third Main which both combined would come in at $250m so we definitely have a shopping list for the now reallocated funds. But the reason why I am mentioning Airport to Botany Stage 2 costs is to give a like-for-like comparison as well as the ire Southern Auckland would be displaying at lost opportunities.

That is the constant delays around CC2M has denied the South of an expedited Rapid Transit line that was effectively shovel ready once a bridge had been sorted at the Airport.

Light Rail down 4 lane boulevard Tree Lined and with separate cycle lanes

Airport to Botany as Light Rail Shovel Ready

Readers of my blog will know I have been a long advocate of A2B being Light Rail. Auckland Transport had gotten initial studies gone before the current Government side-railed it.

As for how A2B LRT worked this is from the original Jacobs report:

Airport and bus line up Source:

For more see: Airport to Botany Rapid Transit – More than a Transit Line – A Community and City Builder Too! #UrbanGeography

85% of the route is grass shoulders or grass medians on wide road corridors. A2B also links up residential areas to industrial complexes, two Metropolitan Centres (Manukau and Botany), other transport options (Puhinui, Manukau and the soon-to-be Botany Interchanges) and of course the airport.

Community reception is also positive in wanting the project to get going. Also with reports coming through outlining LRT is healthier for humans and the environment (toxic emissions from rubber wheels being let off when the bus brakes frequently) the extra cost might just be worth it.

Delays upon delays does not inspire confidence in a project or the leadership overseeing said project. Officialdom including Ministers not listening to those either “in the know” or in the midst of solution finding (alternative projects that help the main project) is basically the same as lack of leadership from said Officialdom.

Auckland Transport warned NZTA and Twyford about trying to accelerate CC2M ahead of 2021 owing to CRL works, APEC, constraints on Dominion Road and a Transpower Cable on Fanshawe Street. Advocates including myself had made very clear cases of starting Light Rail at the Airport end and going to both Manukau and Onehunga as a start rather than the more complex City Centre end. Starting at the Airport was less complex owing to land geography of the two routes and would have been a good “First of its class” exercise to work out the kinks before proceeding to the more complex Dominion Road and Queen Street.

Southern RTN enhanced Otahuhu to Manukau including Botany and Mangere

Yes patronage would not be high but given the LRT lines would have connected to Onehunga and Manukau both transport hubs there would have been sufficient initial patronage to test the system before full roll out.

But in the end we seem to be stuck with the Top Down – We Know Best from Leadership and as a consequence stuck with again constant delays while alternatives were long ready to go.

Not inspiring at all!

North West Light Rail or even the Southern Airport Line Source: The Spinoff

2 thoughts on “NZTA “Gives Up” on Light Rail while Alternatives are/were Ready to Go. All we are/were missing is leadership to get it done!

  1. Starting from the Airport first isn’t a goer because it’s already known behind the scenes that light rail won’t be going south of Mt Roskill, where it ceases to be of any usefulness to anyone. Mt Roskill to Airport, and CBD to Kumeu, will both be canned. If the government gets a second term, then CBD to Mt Roskill will happen. If they don’t, it’s goodbye light rail entirely.

  2. This is easily the most disappointing (yet, as you point out, unsurprising) news I’ve heard for some time. When Labour got into power, it felt like such an exciting time, transport-wise, with all these promised projects. The Light-rail has been completely mishandled from start to finish (well, post-announcement on); it makes me feel depressed, to be honest… yet the PR trumpets continue to blaze out about how “transformational” everything in Auckland is. Bah.

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