Auckland councillor Mike Lee is not alone in doubting the practicality of running trams from Britomart to the airport. The proposal is one of several under consideration by Auckland Transport for another mode of public transport to and from the airport, which has asked for a decision by the middle of this year so that it can include a rail or bus station in its plans for a new domestic air terminal.
The fact the airport company has made this request is good news indeed. Though it has long said it is open to the idea of a rail service to the airport, the revenue it earns from carparking and retail rentals in and around its terminals has given reason to wonder whether it would really welcome trains from downtown Auckland.
The ability to greet or farewell travellers at Britomart may be more convenient than driving all the way to Mangere for many Aucklanders. For that very reason a rail connection to the airport should be a high priority for the Auckland Council, as it was until, inexplicably, Mayor Len Brown postponed it to the 2020s in his planning.
Now the airport company's wish to start building the much-needed new domestic terminal by 2021 means it needs a decision much sooner on whether it needs to accommodate a rail or bus service. It probably has not contemplated trams, or "light rail" as urban planners call them.
Auckland Transport is considering laying tracks along a number of streets on the central and western isthmus, starting on Dominion Rd. It is now thinking a Dominion Rd line could be extended through Hillsborough to Onehunga, then cross the Manukau Harbour and run through Mangere to the airport.
It believes the journey from Britomart could take 44 minutes. Mr Lee is dubious for good reason. The trams would need to travel at up to 80km/h. These would not be the rattling old trams of now distant memory in Auckland - a relic of which can be ridden around the Wynyard Quarter. "Light rail" cars are swish modern vehicles that whirr along almost silently. But, like trams, they run on streets, sharing the road with other vehicles and stopping at lights like the rest of the traffic. That is on top of their frequent stops to pick up and drop off passengers.
They may accelerate faster than a bus but it is hard to believe they would beat a bus to the airport as Auckland Transport's consultants claim. They estimate a bus would take 45-60 minutes. They cannot be thinking of the excellent express bus that already runs to the airport from Queens Wharf. To be an improvement on that service, any public transport connection would need to be as dedicated; it could not be making all the stops on a commuting route.
That is why an express train seems the best option. Auckland's central rail corridor does not cross too many streets and it would seem possible to extend the Onehunga line to the airport alongside the motorway.
The airport company envisages an underground station in the new domestic terminal. That sounds perfect. AT should forget about trams and get real trains in there.
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