Auckland City officials insist they are on a "very calm, gradual train ride" towards a long-awaited $2.86 billion underground railway by 2021, despite having no assurance of Government help.
"We are meeting all our timelines - there's no panic," a spokesman for Mayor Len Brown said after Auckland Transport's confirmation of a 3.5km route for a pair of tunnels to turn Britomart into a through station to the western line at Mt Eden.
"This process doesn't need to be completed with agreement with the Government for three years or so, so we have lots of time to consider this in a logical manner and decide what's best for Auckland."
But although the Auckland Council has allocated $110.5 million this financial year towards $231 million of property purchases for a five-year construction programme to start in 2015, it is being borrowed on the heads of ratepayers for now.
That is because the Government has said that if Auckland wanted an underground railway that had been talked about since the 1920s, it wouldn't stand in the way of protecting the route from further development, but neither would it stump up any cash yet.
Transport Minister Gerry Brownlee told the Herald this week that before doing so, it would need to see "a considerably improved business case for the project".
At the same time, his predecessor, Steven Joyce, now Minister of Economic Development, was urging Northland's civic and business leaders to keep pressing for a $1.76 billion motorway extension through difficult terrain from Puhoi to Wellsford.
Although Mr Brown says he remains confident of winning the Government around to the logic of developing the rail link as a key to transforming the country's business capital, council transport chairman Mike Lee yesterday accused it of lacking an Auckland focus.
"The Government has no vision nor real leadership when it comes to Auckland," he said.
"It has a double standard when it comes to the business cases for the holiday highway and the CRL [city rail link].
"While it is too politically shrewd to turn the CRL down outright, its strategy is obviously to play for time and hope for a right-wing anti-public transport council after the next local body elections."
But Mr Lee may be underselling the vision of right-leaning councillors led by Christine Fletcher, who as mayor of the former Auckland city from 1999 to 2002 ensured the revival of the region's then-moribund rail network by delivering an underground station at Britomart.
Mrs Fletcher supports route protection measures, from which she says land can always be re-sold, although with a strong caveat that construction must not start without Government support.
The Government is meanwhile sticking with officials' advice that the number of people coming by rail to central Auckland in the morning peak will only double to about 12,000 by 2041, courtesy of the tunnels project, and many of those will swap from buses.
WAITING FOR TRAIN TO K RD
Barbara Holloway hasn't been so excited about Auckland's future since crossing the Waitemata in a pushchair as a child on harbour bridge opening day in 1959.
The Karangahape Road Business Association manager expects to become one of thousands of workers to forsake their cars and catch trains to a new station deep below the retail and entertainment street.
"I haven't been this excited since my parents wheeled me across the harbour bridge when it opened and I was about 2," she said.
She will still face a drive from her Titirangi home to catch a train at Henderson or Sunnyvale, but she expects to get from there to her office in Beresford Square above the new station in about half an hour.
That compares with car trips ranging from 45 minutes to more than an hour in peak period traffic - plus the parking charges.By Mathew Dearnaley Email Mathew