The Government may have to scale back its $6 billion light rail programme for Auckland by scrapping a line from the city centre to west Auckland, says Transport Minister Phil Twyford.
The MP for Te Atatu said it was his strong preference to see light rail built from the city centre to the west and to the airport, but if it is not possible to fund and finance both lines, then light rail to the airport will get priority.
If that happened, a rapid bus network - along the lines of the Northern Busway - would be considered along State Highway 16 to the north-west, he said.
Obviously money does not grow on trees
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Along with KiwiBuild, light rail 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 the city's congestion.
Ardern promised to build light rail to 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, the Herald reported work on light rail, or modern-day trams, is making slow progress as bureaucrats grapple with the complexities of one of the biggest projects in New Zealand's history.
The Treasury, Ministry of Transport and NZ Transport Agency are working on business cases for the two lines and a procurement process.
Twyford said cabinet decided last year that light rail from the city centre to the airport (renamed city centre to Mangere) was the priority and earmarked $1.8b in seed funding for light rail as part of a joint transport programme with Auckland Council.
He said it is envisaged there will be some kind of public-private partnership to build light rail, saying the NZ Superannuation Fund has made an unsolicited proposal involving long-term financing.
Twyford said he had not seen any advice from officials, including a rise in the cost of light rail, for not building both lines.
"It's only a contingency. If we weren't able to fund and finance it, there are many, many calls on the transport purse, then with that corridor (to west Auckland) we would need to look at some other options. It could be bus rapid transit or other things," he said.
"Obviously money does not grow on trees," Twyford told the Herald.
Cabinet is due to make decisions on the way forward with light rail in the next couple of months, but the call on proceeding with one or both lines will come later, he said.
Twyford has repeatedly rejected calls from Kumeu residents and the Public Transport Users Association (PTUA) to extend rail from Swanson to Kumeu/Huapai and possibly on to Helensville.
He said the line was very old, slow, windy, and deviates to the west away from the major population centres and does not stack up to rapid transit on SH16.
PTUA spokeswoman Christine Rose said residents of west Auckland have been calling for commuter trains from Swanson through the currently unused Waitakere station to Huapai for a number of years to meet the needs of accelerating housing development.