Pressure grows for trains from airport to downtown

By Mathew Dearnaley

More than 10,000 Aucklanders have signed a petition for an airport rail link which also won political support yesterday from regional councillors.

The council pledged its backing for the Campaign for Better Transport's efforts after that group presented it with a petition signed by 10,431 people over four months.

Although the council's transport authority subsidiary is a month away from decisions on preferred rapid transport links for southwestern Auckland, the politicians decided not to hold back their support for the airport rail campaign in the meantime.

That was despite a cautionary note from the council's former transport committee chairman, Joel Cayford, that the authority may also chose to concentrate resources on bus priority measures.

Council chairman Mike Lee said that without a rail link, the country's largest airport would retain a "provincial" flavour.

"In my view it is a very provincial airport and a very provincial experience," he said.

"Until there is a rail link from the airport to the central business district, Auckland will not be an international-class city."

Councillor Sandra Coney said congestion on the Southwestern Motorway was so bad last Friday that it cost her a $97 taxi fare to get from the airport to her Auckland home.

"It took so long crawling along the motorway - I live near Britomart Station and how much better to hop on a train like in many other cities in the the world," she said.

Campaign for Better Transport convener Cameron Pitches said a surge in the price of crude oil past US$110 a barrel on Tuesday after a fourfold increase in four years suggested a race against time to cope with "enormous pressure on our public transport network."

"We need loud, vocal advocates on council who aren't afraid to state the obvious that spending $2 billion on a pair of motorway tunnels at Waterview is a risky investment if petrol goes to $3 a litre," he said.

Mr Pitches said it had taken an appeal to the Environment Court for his group to persuade Transit NZ to safeguard a rail corridor towards the airport beside the duplicated motorway crossing it is due to start building across Manukau Harbour for $265 million from the end of this month.

Transit had since given assurances that it could make room for a rail corridor to the west of a section of motorway it wants to widen between a duplicate Mangere Bridge and Walmsley Rd as part of that project.

"However, Transit - whose sole job is to build and operate the state highway network, have made it quite clear that it is now up to ARTA [the Auckland Regional Transport Authority] to determine the exact route and planning of any future rail link."

Although the lobby group wants top priority given to a rail route through Onehunga, building on the Government's agreement to reinstate and reopen that suburb's branch line by the end of next year, Mr Pitches said a link from the main trunk line at Wiri was also important.

But despite the inclusion of a branch line from the Manukau City centre to Wiri in the Government's $600 million basic Auckland rail upgrade, he pointed to a lack of provisions in district plan documentation for a link between there and the airport.

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