Costs for Auckland's $3.4 billion City Rail Link were revealed on Thursday to have risen to $4.4b sparking claims of a "cost blowout" but as the saying goes these days, let's do this.

For starters, the project changed markedly from the original $3.4b scheme to be future-proofed: a decision was made more than a year ago to increase the project's scope for much longer nine-car trains at stations. And that makes sense.

This city has been accused of lacking vision but CRL is so bold, it has always flown in the face of critics.


The project, planned to run from Britomart Station to Mt Eden Station by 2024, will transform the CBD and unlock the ridiculous cul-de-sac dead-end that our main transport hub, Britomart, is today.

CRL will change our lives for the better and - like the Waterview tunnel - once it's being used we'll wonder how we coped before.

From the day chief executive Sean Sweeney took over the Auckland Council/Government joint venture, he didn't hold back on the vast underpricing of original costs. He was secure, professional and experienced enough to prepare us for what he knew was to come. The Herald reported on at least three sources saying costs could be up to $1b more.

The $3.4b price, Sweeney said loudly last year, was based on a 2014 scenario and the contract for the tunnel portion of the job had not even been let at that point. He'd know. He's a vastly experienced engineer with an Australian PhD in construction economics.

In August, he told our property editor Anne Gibson: "The $3.4b was an estimate made in 2014. Things have changed."

Was the latest price rise due to underbidding early on, people asked? Not at all. The $3.4b was only an estimate long before the expensive tunnel contract section was even let. That was only announced this week as well: Downer, two subsidiaries of Vinci Group, Aecom and Tonkin and Taylor.

City Rail Link Ltd chief executive Dr Sean Sweeney is an experienced engineer with an Australian PhD in construction economics. Photo / Jason Oxenham
City Rail Link Ltd chief executive Dr Sean Sweeney is an experienced engineer with an Australian PhD in construction economics. Photo / Jason Oxenham

Sweeney has rightly reiterated how much the construction landscape had changed since original estimates, saying the $1b rise reflected significant changes in just five years.

Who foresaw the competitive construction industry pressures in the past few years and the impact on costs? Oh, yes of course, the same smart people who knew the Government wouldn't bring in Capital Gains Tax? Investor hindsight is 20-20 and anyone can edit yesterday's newspaper.


If you're not convinced about CRL's value to the Auckland of the future, imagine this city without its iconic harbour bridge. Before its opening in 1959, people were asking why those on the isthmus would want to drive to the Shore, apart from strawberry pickers.

Ironically, some Auckland Council-owned carparks might be sold to fund CRL. About half the council's carparks, or 2088, are in the Downtown building which NZX listed Precinct Properties chief executive Scott Pritchard has hinted he has an interest in buying.

Yet Auckland Transport which operates the building is the very same authority which wants us all walking, on bikes, buses and trains - and Limes. The council is hypocritically retaining capital in its low-rise inner-city car parking buildings, reaping cash from the revenue while its own Auckland Transport tells us to step away from our steering wheels.

Cost rises on big infrastructure projects are nothing new. Look across at Sydney's almost-finished light rail/tram project where testing began this month. That 12km scheme has 19 stops from Circular Quay but costs, delays, disruption to retailers and business and contractor disputes have beset it for years.

Get on with CRL. Get tunnelling. More of us can then step away from the wheel and onto the platform.