Bernard Orsman

Bernard Orsman is Super City reporter for the NZ Herald.

Govt targets for rail link 'unrealistic'

Minister refuses to budge on conditions for early start despite consultants’ report.

Photo / Sarah Ivey
Photo / Sarah Ivey

Auckland Mayor Len Brown's latest attempt to make an early start to the $2.86 billion City Rail Link in 2016 has been dismissed by Transport Minister Gerry Brownlee.

A report commissioned for the mayoral office says the Government has set unrealistic rail patronage and downtown-employment targets to start the project before 2020.

The report, by PWC (PricewaterhouseCoopers), said the goals should be set on rates of progress towards targets, such as high patronage growth on rail after the full introduction of electric trains in 2016.

Prime Minister John Key announced last year government backing for the rail link in 2020, saying the project could start earlier if patronage was on track to hit 20 million trips well before 2020 and CBD employment increased by 25 per cent.

Yesterday, a spokesman for Mr Brownlee said the Government had accelerated the start date by a decade from 2030 to 2020 and the two targets for an earlier start were not unreasonable. The spokesman said Mr Brownlee had seen the PwC report and there was nothing in it that would alter the Government's position.

Mayor Brown, who has still to finalise funding for the council's half-share of the rail project, insists a 2016 start is vital to Auckland's economic development and to prevent crippling peak-hour road congestion.

The chances of Auckland reaching the Government's 20 million rail trips by 2020 took a knock this month when Mr Brown and councillors voted to reduce the patronage targets over the next three years. Instead of 17.75 million rail trips by 2017, the council cut the target to 15 million because of lower-than-expected patronage and revenue.

The PwC report said the Government's rail targets were "technically achievable" and not inconsistent with growth rates since the opening of Britomart in 2003, but the timing of growth from full rail electrification by 2016 would come too late to have an impact on an early start for the City Rail Link.

The report said the Government's employment target was unachievable because falling office vacancy rates and new office space in the pipeline could not accommodate a 25 per cent increase in city centre employment by 2017.

Labour transport spokesman Phil Twyford said the Government's targets were always going to be unachievable. If Labour won the election it "would start tunnelling immediately" and pay for it out of the national land transport fund.

Targets for early start

Government
• 20 million rail trips well before 2020.
• 25% increase in CBD employment.
Mayoral report by PwC
• 800,000 extra rail trips a year before full electrification.
• 1.5 million extra rail trips a year after full electrification.

- NZ Herald

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