A new Auckland-based business has joined a group which has indicated its intention to bid for Auckland's $6 billion tram project.
The Board, headed by NZTE Beachheads advisor Kevin Smith, announced it has signed a deal with Coester Sistemas De Transporte in Brazil to represent that light rail technology locally.
"We can build it much cheaper," Smith said of the project. "We've priced it out from Auckland to the airport for $600 to $700m because it's a more simple technology and also the footprint is smaller because the system is lighter."
Previous estimates have ranged from $6b up to $10b.
Giant Paris-headquartered Alstom, China's Silk Road, the NZ Super Fund and Canadian investors have also made their interests in the project known.
Smith said he had lived in South America from 1985 until last year where he ran large companies including the South American operations for the world's largest electric motor company Johnson Electric and agricultural spraying equipment business Guarany Industries. But he said he had no experience in trams or transport.
Last month, Alstom hosted a briefing in Auckland to update industry specialists on its latest technology.
John Dalzell, formerly head of the Auckland Council property arm, is representing the interests of a Chinese supercapacitor tram system builder which wants to build the new line to the airport.
Carl Devlin, head of light rail at the NZ Transport Agency, said an important document drafted on the first leg of the plans was now out for feedback.
But that was only on the first spur of the project to the airport and not the Te Atatu line, he said.
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"Auckland light rail is made up of two separate lines: the city centre to Māngere line and the city centre to north-west line. Investigation for the city centre to north-west line is at a very early stage and still requires a lot of work to develop a business case," Devlin said.
"An indicative business case for the city centre to Māngere light rail line has been developed and shared with our project partners including the Ministry of Transport and Treasury for review and feedback," he said. That document could not yet be released "as it is not finalised and is still under active consideration."
Around April, Transport Minister Phil Twyford said the Government might have to scale back its light rail programme for Auckland by scrapping a line from the city centre to West Auckland.
Very little has been heard of plans lately, so questions were put on whether the project was at the procurement phase yet.
Devlin indicated it was some way from that.
Part of the case study now out for consultation would be made public at some point but not yet, he indicated.
He also mentioned the surprise pitch from the NZ Super Fund and Canada investors Caisse de dépôt et placement du Québec or the Quebec Deposit and Investment Fund.
That concept was also being examined, he said.
"Alongside this, NZ Infra - being the NZ Super Fund and CDPQ Infra - has presented an unsolicited proposal to fund, design, build and operate light rail in Auckland, based on a public-private investment model. The Minister of Transport [Phil Twyford] has sought further advice from the Ministry of Transport and Treasury on this proposal and the outcome of that advice will be released in due course," Devlin said.
The business case would examine "how best to support growth and desired land use outcomes for the north-west area, opportunities and constraints provided by the current State Highway 16 corridor and integration with and opportunities provided by the wider proposed transport network", he said.
"Further work is required to progress the IBC to a detailed business case (DBC), including the completion of the Ministry of Transport/Treasury review and key decisions from the NZ Transport Agency's board.
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"Key decisions arising from the IBC cannot be submitted to the Transport Agency's board for endorsement as it would be inappropriate to consider it in isolation," he said.
"No expressions of interest have been received as none have been requested yet. Early market engagement was done last year but no expression of interest process was initiated then or since," he said.
A document, City Centre to Mangere LRT business case scope from NZTA gave more information about the project and is attached at the end of this article.
That showed that around July to August this year, a programme was in train examine lane use, station locations and cost.
Around the same time, transport modelling, financial modelling, funding and financing, procurement draft strategy, consenting and legislation and engagement were also planned.
A draft Cabinet paper deadline was set at September 30
An executive summary asked why light rail, why city to airport, why now, why do we want redevelopment, what is the route, what is the scope and scale, what are the key interchanges, what will it cost, how will we pay for it, is this value for money, how will we get the desired outcome, how will it be delivered, how will risks be managed and who is responsible?
Problems with the existing Auckland transport network were listed as "increasingly constrained access to the key employment hubs of the city centre and Auckland airport precinct". Those would limit the growth and prosperity of Auckland and New Zealand.
Benefits of the tram project were listed as improved economic growth and productivity, particularly in the city centre and Auckland Airport precinct, improved access and travel choice, as well as improvements along the corridor.
The investment objectives were listed as: "Provide a step-change in capacity and access improvements along the corridor to the city centre and Auckland Airport precinct by delivering a reliable and frequent light rail link; unlock significant growth potential along the corridor for housing around Mangere, Onehunga and Mt Roskill in a way that supports a quality compact city."
Along with KiwiBuild, light rail was 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 the city's congestion.
Ardern promised to build light rail Mt Roskill within four years, followed by light rail from Mt Roskill to the airport and to Westgate in West Auckland within 10 years. Labour later said it would extend the western line a further 9km to Kumeu.
Last month, an Alstom team came to Auckland to show off the latest tram technology, indicating the best trams for the city due to the length of the run to the airport and the hilly terrain.