Rail to Shore shelved for inner-city tunnel link

By Mathew Dearnaley

Mayor Len Brown. Photo / Greg Bowker
Mayor Len Brown. Photo / Greg Bowker

Auckland planning chiefs say trains are unlikely to run to the North Shore for at least 30 years, as they are concentrating on obtaining an inner-city rail tunnel.

That runs counter to Mayor Len Brown's election promise last year to develop a rail link across the Waitemata Harbour to Albany, in about half that time.

Although Mr Brown has broad consensus from Auckland Council members for a $2.4 billion tunnel to uncork the Britomart bottleneck by creating a 3.5km central city train loop, he has been under pressure to defer two other pet rail projects.

The result - for all to see in the draft Auckland Plan - is a map of the region's proposed transport network in 2040 without any rail across the Waitemata Harbour.

Mr Brown will at least be pleased to see an indicated rail link across Auckland's second harbour, the Manukau, to the airport and then looping back to the main trunk line at Wiri.

But although that is the second of his top three rail schemes, it is not forecast to be completed until 2040 at an estimated cost of $1.18 billion, rather than by his target of about 2020.

The planners say Auckland is likely to need another Waitemata crossing by 2030 - at an estimated cost of $3.9 billion or $5.3 billion, for either another bridge or a pair of tunnels.

But it will be initially for road traffic only. Rail is factored in at some more distant time, and public transport will have to take the form of dedicated bus lanes until then.

"It is unlikely that any physical work on rail north of the crossing will commence within the period of this plan," the document concedes.

Another sizeable rail project included in the plan is a $1 billion link between Onehunga and Avondale on the western line, which would provide an outer city loop.

But that is not on the cards until after 2030, leaving the planners to concentrate on producing a business plan that will persuade a sceptical Government to support the completion of their inner-city rail loop by 2020.

They also want KiwiRail to build a third set of tracks soon after that, for about $700 million, to ensure freight trains from Papakura to the Port of Auckland are not interrupted by higher-frequency passenger services on what will soon be an electrified network.

The plan also includes severalbig roading projects, to cater for growing freight traffic, as wellas the addition of 15,000 more carsto the region's fleet each year.

These include:

* A Puhoi to Wellsford motorway for at least $1.5 billion

* $3.4 billion of projects - including the Waterview Connection - to complete the western ring route

* A $1.25 billion link between East Tamaki and the Southwestern Motorway at Onehunga

* The $1.5 billion package of roading and busway projects called the Auckland Manukau Eastern Transport Initiative

* A $1 billion extension of the Grafton Gully motorway to the port, to be "grade separated" from Stanley St and Beach Rd.

But the plan says Auckland must strive over the next 30 years to make a substantial shift towards non-car travel.

It foreshadows possible "congestion charges" to discourage car travel at peak times, and increases in parking charges, as well as improved access to ultra-fast broadband to boost the proportion of Aucklanders working from home - from 8 per cent now.

Also listed are an extension of the Northern Busway to Orewa, dedicated bus lanes linking Henderson and Westgate to North Shore, and Botany to central Manukau, and new ferry routes to the Upper Waitemata Harbour, Takapuna and Browns Bay.

A separate city centre masterplan meanwhile prescribes:

* An extensive cycling network including along the waterfront

* An increase in shared pedestrian and traffic zones such as in Queen St

* A possible light-rail (modern tram) service along the waterfront, up Queen St and looping around Ponsonby and Newmarket.

But for all that, the planners acknowledge facing a losing battle against traffic congestion, which they predict will be even worse by 2040.

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- NZ Herald

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