First steps towards electric rail

By Mathew Dearnaley

Physical preparations are starting for Auckland's $1 billion-plus rail electrification project, with the deepening of a tunnel under Newmarket's main street.

Railway tracks being duplicated beneath Broadway - part of a $70 million project to provide Newmarket with a new station - have to be laid deep enough to leave room in the tunnel for overhead power lines.

Diggers this week started scooping earth and rock from the floor of the 80m tunnel to give it a 5.5m height clearance through its passage under Broadway, Davis Cres and a multi-storey parking building sandwiched between the two streets.

The Government rail agency Ontrack will also close a railway level-crossing bisecting neighbouring Kingdon St tomorrow, to allow a temporary station to be built between there and where the tunnel emerges from under Davis Cres.

That means motorists will be unable to use Kingdon St to bypass Broadway until two temporary platforms are removed in mid-2009, after the opening of a permanent replacement on Newmarket Station's existing site.

The Newmarket Business Association suspects the closure will end up being permanent, as trains become more frequent and transport authorities will want to minimise road traffic movements under railway power lines.

General manager Cameron Brewer said yesterday that, although he believed every Aucklander would support electrification, Kingdon St was a key link for which the effect of closure to through traffic had yet to be assessed.

But Ontrack project director Ted Calvert said his organisation had applied for the crossing to be closed only while the temporary station was in use, and it would be up to the Auckland City Council as the road-controlling authority to decide whether to keep it that way.

His contractors have between now and the end of January to build temporary platforms and shelters at Kingdon St, for western train passengers, and south of Remuera Rd, for those using the southern line.

The project is being run in partnership with the Auckland Regional Transport Authority, which willpresent a design for the new permanent station to Newmarket businesses and residents at an open day next month.

It is likely to include an elevated concourse off Remuera Rd, with stairs, elevators and escalators for passengers to reach platforms below.

Mr Calvert said Ontrack was spending about $50 million on the main Newmarket project, leaving it to the transport authority to pay for the new station building.

But his organisation will also spend about $20 million duplicating the western line between Kingdon St and Boston Rd, and building another new station between Khyber Pass Rd and Park Rd to give passengers easier access to facilities such as the Auckland City Hospital and the Domain.

That will allow it to close the Boston Rd station, which Ontrack believes is in an undesirable location under the Southern Motorway and close to Mt Eden Prison.

The Broadway tunnel is the first of about 40 structures straddling the Auckland rail network which need modifications before electric trains can start running between Papakura and Swanson by 2013.

Yesterday, Waitakere City Council opened a $2 million "park and ride" area of 100 vehicle spaces at the remodelled Sunnyvale railway station.

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