One of the world's biggest train-builders has pitched its machines to planners working on Auckland's proposed $6 billion light rail project.

Jean-Francois Blanc of French train maker Alstom hosted a breakfast briefing yesterday alongside company executives from Paris, Sydney and Brisbane.

"Auckland light rail has various landscape challenges," Blanc told delegates from the Ministry of Transport, Auckland Transport, the NZ Transport Agency and Fletcher Building.

"First, good commercial speed, second mixed traffic and third gradient."

Alstom's CITADIS X05 on the new Sydney line. Photo / Alstom
Alstom's CITADIS X05 on the new Sydney line. Photo / Alstom

Blanc was referring to the need for relatively high speeds on the proposed 25km line to the airport, for trains to share roads with other vehicles and the city's hilly terrain.

Naturally his company had a solution — the CITADIS X05, which can reach 80km/h, operate from an electrified rail at street level or overhead power lines, and handle 8 per cent gradients.

The same model is due to run on Sydney's new 12km CBD tram circuit.

Light rail — commonly known as trams — is one of Labour's flagship policies. It was announced by Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern at her first public appearance as Leader of the Opposition in August 2017, where she called it a "game-changer" and a solution to Auckland's congestion.

Auckland tram project to start in two years: Twyford
Trams could run under Queen St as part of Auckland's $6 billion light rail project

Ardern promised light rail to Mt Roskill within four years, followed by an extension to the airport and a second line to Westgate in West Auckland within a decade. Labour later said it would extend the western line a further 9km to Kumeu.

But the complexities and cost of one of the biggest projects in New Zealand history has already raised the prospect of the scheme being scaled back.

Transport Minister Phil Twyford said in April that were it not possible to fund and finance both lines, the airport route would get priority.


The Treasury, Ministry of Transport and Transport Agency are working on business cases for the lines and a procurement process.

While yesterday's 60-minute session at the Hilton on Auckland's waterfront was an informal briefing, Alston is expected to pitch formally once the window opens. It's expected to face competition.

The French multinational operates in rail transport, signalling and trains. Products include the AGV, TGV, Eurostar and Pendolino high-speed trains used on main line routes in Western Europe and the UK.

Blanc on an Alstom tram. Photo / Anne Gibson
Blanc on an Alstom tram. Photo / Anne Gibson

The company also makes suburban, regional and metro trains, including the CITADIS trams.

Using an electric rail at street level wouldn't compromise public safety, Blanc said. The third rail — sitting between the rails the wheels run along — would be live only when the tram was directly above.
The trams would be low-floored, making it easy for passengers to get on and off.

French flyer

Train-maker Alstom says its most suitable model for Auckland would be the CITADIS X05. They can:

• Reach speeds of 80km/h.
• Handle 8 per cent gradients.
• Run on an electrified rail, or from overhead lines.