Over engineering is not a dirty phrase
When I hear the term over-engineered or over-designs I usually draw in a large breath and will let out an extremely deep sigh. Over-engineering is often a dirty work thanks to the roading and nuclear industry or rather thanks to ongoing arcane regulations piled upon them in more often than not knee-jerk responses. Rather than going with evidenced based often back to basic simple solutions that were long lost to policy makers.
But as I sat in a forum about Puhinui Interchange as part of Airport to Botany Rapid Transit Stage 1 the terms Over-Engineered and Over-Designed did not prompt that sigh but rather EXCELLENT.
I was invited to a forum at Aurecon Auckland HQ last night on the latest updates on Airport to Botany Rapid Transit (A2B) including the Stage 1 Puhinui Station. Auckland Transport presented on the wider aspects of A2B including the run up to Stage 2 while Aurecon gave the audience a background look into the engineering aspects of Puhinui and Jasmax the intricacies of the design of Puhinui.
The Stage 2 A2B Route Auckland Transport as seen in one of your slides last night?
It was in the Aurecon and Jasmax presentations where the terms over-engineered and over-designed were used. Now why would I consider this a good thing rather than bad as normal?
Because Airport to Botany Rapid Transit and Puhinui Interchange is being delivered in two distinct stages. Stage 1 is the first part of the Puhinui Interchange with Transit Lanes from Manukau to the Airport via Puhinui. Stage 2 is the full Rapid Transit line (Bus or Light Rail) from the Airport to Botany including the “ultimate ” Puhinui Interchange that can also take the Third and Fourth Mains (heavy rail).
The visual representation of Stage 1 and Stage 2 with Puhinui is can be best represented below:
Stage 1 is due for operation in 2021 with Stage 2 due for completion between 2026 and 2028.
The presenters took the audience on both a virtual tour using conventional methods and VR goggles (which I got to wear and walk around Puhinui Station Stage 1) and you could see why the station is indeed over-engineered. The over-engineering came from both the fact the project is in fact in two stages as well as the sheer volume of passengers expected to pass through the station by 2048.
In Auckland when building transit projects we have the very nasty tendency to undershoot patronage projections then find out very quickly that said transit project suffers from overcrowding. Puhinui Interchange (and Manukau Bus Station as a previous project) are/were over-engineered from get go to allow either expansions to the facilities quickly or the high number of patronage. We only have to look at Manukau Rail Station and its patronage continuing to skyrocket to see that if you build it the people will certainly will use it.
Puhinui will be a large station that allows the efficient and rapid movement of passengers from bus (later and hopefully Light Rail) to the heavy rail trains plying the Southern and Eastern Lines (and later inter city trains) and the design will promote this.
Yes Stage 1 while Stage 2 is being built does appear very clumsy as you get off your train or bus, trundle the pram and baggage to the lifts, walk across the station then down another set of lifts as you catch your next mode. But the facilities to allow this movement are large enough for this minor inconvenience until Stage 2 is built and the A2B portion is level with the station meaning only needing the lift to access the heavy rail trains. I suppose this Auckland Transport the ‘encouragement’ to move swiftly with Stage 2 and get the transit bridge built (as see in the Ultimate Puhinui above) ASAP.
As for a minor quibble. The minor quibble from me and this might be more of a Stage 2 project is the lack of retail in the immediate station area. Non Fare Box Revenue methods in Auckland are non existent with amenities at Station level apart from Manukau rather lacking. Retail and a diverse range of amenities at Puhinui especially as this will be a major interchange would not only make the station more attractive to use but also drive Non Farebox Revenue to cross subsidise the OPEX of the transit system. Auckland Transport with Panuku and ATEED need to lead with this especially as overseas jurisdictions (Japan) make very heavy usage of Non Farebox Revenue not only to cross subsidise the OPEX of their transit services (thus not relying as heavy on Government subsidies) but also drivers of amenity and urban development in the immediate area – Transit Orientated Developments!
But as I said a minor quibble – that can be fixed quickly.
A2B as Light Rail
At the end of the forum were questions to the presenters; mainly around Stage 2 and the projected patronage figures for A2B.
Rather ironically (to me anyway) was that the suggested Stage 2 route through Manukau (see above and below), needing buses with double sided doors (a massive NO NO from me owing to always run a homogeneous fleet) and the patronage numbers expected told me that Stage 2 should be Light Rail right off the bat.
No fluffing with buses for 10 years then trying to get LRT over the line after that. If A2B and Puhinui is all that Auckland Transport is saying it is in these forums then lets not short change it as we have done with other projects in the past but rather build right first time every time by having Stage 2 as Light Rail.
By the night’s end and after a whirl on the VR goggles I walked away (to Newmarket Station to catch my Southern Line train back to Takaanini Station) feeling well informed (especially around the Puhinui design) but overall super-impressed. I knew not much on Stage 2 would be coming just yet but none-the-less over-engineered and over-designed were not dirty words, not that night and not with Puhinui and A2B.
My thanks to Aurecon for hosting the A2B forum, to the presenters from Auckland Transport, Aurecon and Jasmax, and to my counterpart Rob Mayo for organising it. Yes the spread was good but hey I am not here for the food (or am I) but rather a well presented presentation followed by picking the brains of those involved in the project.
The Auckland Transport Board is meant to discuss Stage 2 next month. Stay tuned as that occurs and the implications after that!