Auckland Light Rail – What are YOU wanting to achieve? What Does the Auckland Plan say?

The question got lost in the scramble

The kerfuffle around Light Rail and the subsequent finger pointing that went with it clearly demonstrated the consequence of a Minister being a deer in headlights coupled with three years of progress lost.

But in the entire mess what has been missing – and what has been missing since NZTA took over in 2017 is: ‘What Are You Wanting to Achieve with Light Rail in Auckland?’

That question has been failed to be answer by officialdom in Central Government, the consequence being we have now lost three years of work. As a recap what I wrote three years ago for the Airport Lines (now City Centre to Mangere Light Rail, and Airport to Botany Rapid Transit) still applies today in 2020: How Rail Lines to the Airport will Work

Airport to Botany on Te Irirangi Drive. Source: Auckland Transport

How should the Airport Lines work in 2020?

The same way it was meant to work in 2017 – that has not changed. But with the introduction of “Light Metro” (it is actually just Metro as there is no such thing as heavy Metro (that is just standard Heavy Rail)) we now have competing interests for City Centre to Mangere Light Rail. Light Rail and Metro Rail are two very different things achieving equally two very different things.

Ask yourself: is it about speed or is about urban intensification and connecting Mangere up to employment centres? Also ask: Are we doing speed to the Airport elsewhere? Because the answer to that is yes we are through Airport to Botany Rapid Transit. More to the point what are the objectives of the Auckland Plan?

Newsroom comments

It was asked yesterday over at Newsroom in what are we trying to achieve from Light Rail here in Auckland. The comments are out from the paywall so I will share them here (rest of the article you can read back at Newsroom).

Light Metro vs Light Rail


The trade-off between light rail and light metro came down to a choice reported in Newsroom last year: between encouraging greater housing intensification in Auckland or a faster trip to the airport.

Urban geographer Ben Ross said a light metro system required fewer stops spaced further apart to achieve the kinds of gains that made it worthwhile to build.

That meant there would be more housing intensification within a walkable 800m radius of every station, but because stations were spaced further apart there would be less overlap between the catchment areas of each – leading to small patches of housing intensification along the route.

A street car system would stop much more frequently. This would lead to a longer trip time but enable housing intensification all along the light rail line because more parts of Auckland would be within walking distance of a station.

However, Ross said speed was never supposed to be the major priority of light rail and the Government had other projects in the pipeline to achieve that. 

A combination of the improvements planned to enable a Hamilton to Auckland express train, the City Rail Link, and the Airport to Botany connection (A2B) would achieve speed gains that could see a trip between the CBD and the airport take just half an hour – equalling the 30-minute trip that a light metro system would allegedly achieve.

“He’s [Twyford] duplicating something that Auckland Transport and KiwiRail are already doing,” Ross said.

The A2B project would create a separated bus corridor to Puhinui station that would allow Airport travellers to catch a rapid bus from the airport and transfer onto a train. The construction of City Rail Link would remove a bottleneck that slowed rail connections between Puhinui and Britomart. And the arrival of a Hamilton to Auckland CBD express service would mean a rapid train could connect passengers from the airport to the CBD. 

Lowrie said if speed was the main consideration, Auckland’s rail network could be further accelerated if more attention was paid to squeezing greater efficiencies out of the system.

Analysis he had run showed Auckland’s train journeys to Manukau were on average six to 10 minutes slower than those seen in Australia or even on our own shores in Wellington.

That wasn’t down to differences in rail-types, but technical issues around how long it took for train doors to close, and the length of time each train remained at a station. 

“We could get our trains faster if we operated them better and that would also provide a faster journey to the airport.”

Source and full article: ‘Light Metro’ not ‘Light Rail’

Branch Lines via Jarret Walker Source: Human Transit

The above shows why heavy rail to the Airport will not work.

It is frustrating in having to ask again what we are trying to achieve with Light Rail in Auckland. But here we are: What are we trying the achieve?

The answer is: City Centre to Mangere Light Rail is surface light rail designed to:

  1. Remove bus congestion in the City Centre
  2. Provide Intensification along Dominion Road (stations are every 800 metres to allow optimal walk up transit from said Mixed Use Developments (Transit Orientated Developments)
  3. Connect Mangere to Onehunga and the Airport employment complexes
  4. ACHIEVE THE OBJECTIVES OF THE AUCKLAND (Spatial) PLAN, something the Metro Scheme does not

Speed to the Airport is the Airport to Botany Rapid Transit Line and the existing Southern Line with a transfer at Puhinui Station. As Matt Lowrie said we can get more speed out of the Heavy Rail network to make the trips faster!

In summary in achieving the objectives of the Auckland Plan:

  • City Centre to Mangere Light Rail is about intensification and connecting Mangere to its employment centres
  • Airport to Botany Rapid Transit is about speed to the airport AND Transit Orientated Development east of Puhinui Station!
A2B plus 20connect Source: NZTA
Northern Airport Line Layout: Source: Auckland Transport

One thought on “Auckland Light Rail – What are YOU wanting to achieve? What Does the Auckland Plan say?

  1. Labour announced on Friday they have chosen to drop light rail entirely. They only want light metro now, as the tracks along Dom Rd were going to have to be fenced off anyway, so might as well make it faster.

    You’re wrong about heavy rail not working to the airport. Two indepth studies by ARTA showed it to rank as the best option. Transfers at Puhinui restrict patronage, as already-full trains on the Southern during peak have little space for millions of people from the airport. So yes, transfers can work, but only if you leave most people in their cars.

    40 million passengers and 20 million workers per year, if PT aimed to get 30% of them that would be 18 million per year transfering through Puhinui on/off trains that are already standing room only. Impossible.

    One seat ride all the way is key to maximising airport PT usage. Trains Papakura-Airport, and Auckland-Airport is what we need.

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