Rail Link 100 years in the making

By Amelia Wade

Vision of politicians and councils for decades will finally be realised when project starts, writes Amelia Wade.

Tomorrow ground will be broken on the biggest construction project New Zealand has ever seen.

More than 100 years in the making, the City Rail Link's two 3.4km twin tunnels will link up Auckland's existing rail infrastructure to double the speed and capacity of the rail network and allow for future expansion to the North Shore.

At a ceremony in front of Britomart, dignitaries from both local and central government will watch work begin on the $2.5 billion public transport project seen as the next chapter in the city's rail renaissance.

Over the last century, there have been several attempts by various councils and politicians to get it built.

Artist impression of Aotea Station. Photo / AT
Artist impression of Aotea Station. Photo / AT

It was first proposed in the 1923 as the Morningside Deviation but the then 2,174,750 proposal was rejected by the government due to engineering difficulties, the high cost of electrification and the "unpromising future of suburban railway transport".

In the late 1960s, Auckland Mayor Sir Dove-Myer Robinson pushed for an underground rail loop which became known as "Robbie's Rapid Rail", but Sir Robert Muldoon's newly elected National government scrapped the plan.

Once the Britomart interchange centre was built, thanks to former Auckland Mayor Christine Fletcher, and the rail network was electrified, following the work of former chair of the Auckland Regional Council, Mike Lee, the stage was set for another attempt to get the CRL built.

In 2010, mayor of the newly formed Super City, Len Brown championed the cause but faced fierce competition from central government.

Former Minister of Transport Gerry Brownlee said in 2012: "I take big issue with the suggestion that the city rail link is useful or popular."

However, work continued behind the scenes on the project. In June 2013, Prime Minister John Key confirmed the government would back the CRL but delayed construction for five years.

A year later, independent planning commissioners unanimously recommended the land needed by the project be set aside and in August last year, all of the appeals to the designations were agreed or dismissed.

Then in January, the Government announced it would work with Auckland Council to bring forward the start date of the main works to 2018 and formalised its funding commitment from 2020.

The CRL is expected to deliver $1.30 of benefit for every $1 spent and will better connect the $2 billion of private infrastructure set to be built along Albert St.

Mr Brown said once completed, the rail circuit would not only halve many commute times, but would also help to transform Auckland into a truly international city.

"This has been a project that we have debated for one hundred years, it is a project that Aucklanders have seen come and go from the political agenda but this project really transforms the city.

"The future of Auckland will very much be springboarded by this project so for the city this is a real historical time of change."

City Rail Link Q&A

What is the City Rail Link?

The City Rail Link (CRL) will be built in two 3.4km twin tunnels up to 42m below the city centre. It will extend the existing rail line underground through Britomart to Albert, Vincent and Pitt Sts, and then cross beneath K Rd and the Central Motorway Junction to Symonds St before joining the western line at Eden Terrace.

Why does Auckland need it?

The CRL will allow trains to run both ways through Britomart. This will double the number of trains that can run and provide more services more often at all Auckland stations. The Britomart dead end limits the rail network to 15,000 trips an hour. The CRL will allow 30,000 people an hour. A motorway lane can carry only 2400 people an hour.

I live on the North Shore where there's no rail. What impact will it have on me?

It will allow for potential future expansion of the rail network to the North Shore, via Wynyard Quarter, and to the airport.

How much is it costing and where is the money coming from?

The $2.5 billion cost is being shared between Auckland Council and the government.

When can I start using it?

Early works have begun. Main works are expected to start in 2017/18, with completion in 2022/23.

- NZ Herald

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