Michael Barnett and Kim Campbell: Inner city needs rail loop to thrive

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In the second of two articles Michael Barnett and Kim Campbell explain why the city rail loop is vital.

The Central Rail Loop would connect Britomart to Mt Eden via a 3.5km tunnel. Photo / Supplied
The Central Rail Loop would connect Britomart to Mt Eden via a 3.5km tunnel. Photo / Supplied

Auckland is ranked 69th out of 85 metro regions in the OECD for our international competitiveness. As a city we produce less value and can therefore only afford to pay lower wages than the cities we compete against for the title of the "most liveable".

Auckland has 40 per cent lower GDP per capita than Melbourne or Sydney.

Like it or not Auckland must compete internationally for the ideas, talent, skills, capital and innovative businesses that will sustain the standards of living of all of us. But we're not doing as well as the Australian cities which beckon thousands of our talented young people and experienced trades people.

Auckland's future resides in being globally connected, and a competitive economy critically dependent on the quality of life delivered here to attract and retain the skilled people we need.

What sort of initiatives should we embark on to achieve this? And have we the courage to see them through to completion?

One game-changing project that Auckland as a city needs to embrace to help do this, and which is ready to go, is the Central Rail Loop (CRL).

This link in a 3.5 km tunnel connecting Britomart to Mt Eden is a no brainer for growth.

It would be a catalyst for creating coherence and identity for the greater Auckland CBD. It would accelerate the residential densification that the city's planners and green awareness desperately call for. The densification process would make the CRL itself highly bankable by rapidly increasing the number of commuters wanting to use it.

In total it would make the inner city an attractive, convenient and interesting place to live and work.

With the CRL up and running by 2021, as the Auckland Plan directs, the population projection of 55,000-70,000 more people living in the centre city by 2040 is very conservative. Several thousand would be working at the rail link stations, their retail and commercial centres, and on the trains themselves.

The whole of the CBD would come within a 10-minute walk of a railway station. Britomart would then become much more than a dead-end as another train came by every 10 minutes.

A lifestyle of choice would be to work in the inner city's stimulating, highly productive knowledge-based economy with easy travel around the city and access to many suburban centres. Rail links to them would spur on suburban regeneration as well.

The CRL is expected to cost $2 billion. Compare that to the $600 million already sunk in track widening and building the Britomart Station.

Without extending the rail lines through Britomart into a complete rail loop the station is largely a white elephant. It can never run at more than 30 per cent of its potential capacity. That means the money spent building it will always deliver a return less than a third of what it would be if the CRL were completed. Similarly the multimillion-dollar programme to electrify the existing network and modernise rolling stock won't deliver anywhere near its potential as quickly as it would with the CRL up and running.

The CRL, the Ameti project discussed in the previous article, and a third harbour crossing would generate big benefits for the whole country, and in particular Auckland's profile as an international city. According them top priority is long overdue, simply on the basis they have for making money and growing the economy.

So we have written to the Prime Minister and to Auckland's mayor urging they lead a change of thinking in how investment in infrastructure is to be viewed. We advised them that meeting Auckland's transport challenge is less about a funding shortfall; it's about Auckland having a single, accountable transport investment facility charged with delivering the full range of private and public sector financing tools and options. We need targeted action - a partnership between the council and its organisations, Auckland business organisations and central government working together to facilitate investment in fixing our transport systems, because the returns from them are begging to be enjoyed.

Michael Barnett is chief executive of the Auckland Chambers of Commerce.
Kim Campbell is chief executive of the Employers & Manufacturers Association.

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