Auckland's run-down rail a bad look for RWC visitors - expert

By Matthew Backhouse of NZPA

Auckland's rail network will give Rugby World Cup visitors a bad impression of the city, says an Aussie expert. Photo / Greg Bowker
Auckland's rail network will give Rugby World Cup visitors a bad impression of the city, says an Aussie expert. Photo / Greg Bowker

Auckland's "run-down" rail network will give Rugby World Cup visitors a bad impression of the city and the Government has dropped the ball by failing to do something about it, a visiting Australian transport expert says.

RMIT University transport planning lecturer Paul Mees also criticised the Waterview motorway connection, saying Auckland was one the most congested cities in the world due to half a century of motorway-dominated policies -- and more roads would only make the problem worse.

The comments come as the Government today announced it had awarded a $2 billion contract to construct the Waterview connection, New Zealand's biggest and most complex roading project.

The connection, which would complete Auckland's western ring route, is among the top priorities in the Government's "roads of national significance" programme.

Speaking at the Green Party-hosted Smart Transport conference at Parliament today, Dr Mees said prioritising roads over public transport would produce "more of the same results" in the long term.

"Auckland is one of the most congested cities in the world already. It's one of the most car-dominated cities in the world, it's one of the cities in the world that's hardest to get around by public transport.

"That's happened because of half a century of motorway-dominated transport policies, so continuing with those policies is just going to make the problems worse."

Dr Mees said it was "nonsense" that motorways were the only viable form of transport for such a spread-out city.

Auckland had about the same population density as Sydney and was slightly denser than Melbourne -- two cities that employed light rail systems.

A CBD rail link, like that proposed by the Auckland Council, was needed.

Dr Mees said he could not understand why the Government did not take the opportunity to upgrade Auckland's rail system in preparation for the Rugby World Cup.

"Auckland's going to be on show to the world and people are going to come here from other countries and use a rather run-down, rather unimpressive rail system and they're going to go away with a bad impression of the city."

Cities such as Perth, Munich and Sydney all used major sporting events as a chance to upgrade their transport systems, and Dr Mees said Auckland could have done the same.

"It's a great opportunity to show the world what you're really like, and the message that Auckland is going to be giving the world is not going to be a good one," he said.

Transport Minister Steven Joyce said Dr Mees was "completely wrong" about the Government's transport priorities.

"My view of it is you need good roading systems and you need good public transport systems, and we're delivering both," he told NZPA.

The previous government had not acted fast enough on Auckland rail, and upgrade work was now progressing.

"We're dealing with the hand we were handed, and we've moved pretty quickly on that, including ensuring the funding is secure and the upgrade is happening."

Progress had so far included securing funding for electrification, double-tracking the Western line, opening new stations at Newmarket and New Lynn, and upgrading the Kingsland station.

Mr Joyce said Auckland's rail infrastructure had coped well during the recent Bledisloe Cup match at Eden Park.

"There were a couple of operational issues which they're fine-tuning in terms of one or two things that occurred on the night, in terms of departures from Kingsland.

"But they've coped very well with the infrastructure that we have available, and it's moved 18,000 people within an hour, which is what was required."

The rail network was in good shape and Mr Joyce said he was looking forward to the test it would receive during the World Cup.

- NZPA

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