Plan to shut lines before Christmas despite protest

By Mathew Dearnaley

Trains should be running again in time for the Big Day Out. Photo / APN
Trains should be running again in time for the Big Day Out. Photo / APN

Auckland Transport is pushing ahead with a rail shutdown that will stop trains in the busy week before Christmas, deeming it the lesser of two evils.

That is despite the concern of Auckland Council transport chairman Mike Lee that it is favouring holidaymakers and Big Day Out festival-goers over commuters in not waiting until Christmas Day to begin a 4-week closure.

The council organisation, of which Mr Lee is a board member, hopes high-frequency replacement buses will minimise disruption to up to 16,000 passenger trips in the pre-Christmas week.

It has asked KiwiRail to close the line between Britomart and Newmarket from Saturday, December 17, so a kilometre of duplicate tracks can be lowered for a new Parnell railway station, and to prepare for electrification.

Auckland's rail system traditionally closes for three weeks from Christmas Day for construction work, but more time is needed at Parnell.

Auckland Transport reviewed its plan after Mr Lee suggested it postpone the closure and consider using the eastern railway line to carry music fans to the Big Day Out on Friday, January 20.

He wondered why festival trains could not be re-routed to Westfield, then loop back a short distance to Penrose, allowing the Britomart-Newmarket line to remain closed until January 25.

But the organisation's board has reaffirmed the original schedule, after accepting a report from public transport operations manager Mark Lambert that more passengers would be inconvenienced by a shutdown continuing through the third week of January, even without counting Big Day Out crowds. It said a shutdown in the pre-Christmas week would disrupt no more than 2850 passenger trips a day, compared with up to 3150 daily non-festival trips in the third week of January.

Last summer's Big Day Out generated an extra 19,097 passenger rail trips, and Auckland Transport is planning for 20,000 next time, even though festival organisers are pruning their programme for financial reasons.

Mr Lambert said re-routing trains via the eastern line would nearly double the journey time to 34 minutes, compared with a direct Britomart-Penrose service of 18 minutes, compromising Auckland's aim of being an "event city".

But Mr Lee said festival-goers would be under less pressure to get to the event on time than commuters heading to work.

"What's the hurry?" he said.

He believed many others expected to catch trains in late January would be holiday-makers, with greater freedom than commuters to find other ways of getting about Auckland.

"But the Christmas rush week is very busy - even if people are not at work, they tend to be out socialising or doing their Christmas shopping."

He was disappointed retailers were not consulted about the plan.

The Auckland Council has this week announced its approval as landowner of an application for a rail corridor designation to cover an extra 0.3ha of Domain land to allow the tracks to be lowered and the new Parnell station to be built.

Designation committee chairwoman Sandra Coney said it was assured the work would be done carefully to ensure minimal disruption to the Domain while improving access to it and unleashing its tourism potential as well as that of Auckland Museum and Parnell.

The historic former Newmarket railway station building will also be moved to Parnell as part of a construction project expected to cost $19.2 million.

- NZ Herald

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