Parts of Auckland close to the Mt Eden railway station will benefit from City Rail Link Ltd's $4.4 billion construction project, says CRL chief executive Dr Sean Sweeney.
The scale of the project is massive, with the building of two underground stations – Aotea in central Auckland and Karangahape near Karangahape Road – and a total rebuild of the existing Mt Eden station.
Twin rail tunnels 3.45km long are being built under central Auckland between Britomart and Mt Eden Station on the western line, connecting the western rail line with the CRL (expected to be completed in 2024) and the Britomart station at the bottom of Queen Street.
Mt Eden station will be closed for four years from June to accommodate the complex works.
Sweeney says the tunnels, underground stations and a new Mt Eden station will produce the sort of "world-class rail system" an international city like Auckland deserves – and will also have some particular benefits for areas close to the Mt Eden station.
Some 30 buildings bought by CRL near the Mt Eden station have been demolished, clearing the way for the development and for the establishment of a headquarters or "base camp" for the next phase of CRL work - construction of the southern tunnel portal or gateway and the launching pad for the project's tunnel boring machine due in New Zealand next spring.
"But after all that has happened, around Mt Eden station, there will be a significant amount of land to be developed – and Auckland Council and the Crown are pushing very hard for us to come up with options for redevelopment there."
One of those options is a classic town planning strategy: mixed use development featuring residential, commercial and retail buildings, with residences sited close to transport hubs – in this case, the new Mt Eden rail station.
He says one of the intriguing elements of the work is what will happen to land left over after it is completed: "Something like this lends itself to precinct planning," he says, "and I think what will spring out of this is an area with the best public transport amenities in the country, thanks to heavy rail and bus and this area could also be adjacent to the proposed light rail."
The area, sometimes known locally as Eden Terrace, bounds Mt Eden, Grafton and Newmarket so has plenty of real estate potential, Sweeney believes.
"Overseas experience generally indicates that residences built round public transport hubs appreciate more and hold their value better."
Sweeney – who lived in Melbourne for many years – says the lessons have been learned from watching the development of cities like Melbourne, Sydney and London.
"A good heavy rail network is unbeatable – it shifts people quicker than even buses. In Auckland even now, I sometimes travel at peak from the CBD to Newmarket and at that time a bus can take 45 minutes. The same trip by train: 10 minutes."
Some have raised eyebrows at the Mt Eden station being closed for four years but Sweeney says many do not understand that the western line will still be open, managed with what is known as single line running, or the art of balancing the need to keep the city moving while undertaking major construction work like the CRL.
With careful management of the line, passengers from Swanson, for example, can still travel to Britomart and back; Auckland Transport had signalled that frequency times would not differ greatly from today.
During CRL construction, AT plans to provide additional capacity to local bus services and a new bus service to connect Mt Eden to Newmarket.
"The reality is that this scale of work in a CBD has never been done in a New Zealand city before," Sweeney says. "It simply can't be done without disruption. It's a journey for everyone and you just cannot do work of this massive scale without everyone noticing."
Meanwhile Auckland Council's Director of Infrastructure and Environmental Services Barry Potter says the progress being made on Quay and Albert streets is now visible: "When you walk along Albert Street, you can see significant development and growth that's taking place and catch a glimpse of what the city centre will look like at the end of this year, ready for the major events being held here in 2021."
Potter says $14b is being invested in the Auckland region over the next decade and many of the city's major projects are on track to be completed for 2021 and the America's Cup.
Auckland's Mayor, Phil Goff, says the benefits from the CRL project would be huge for Mt Eden and the city but inevitably the period of construction would cause disruption.
"The City Rail Link will double the capacity of Auckland's rail network—carrying up to 54,000 passengers into and out of the central city during peak hours—increase the frequency of services and reduce travel times," he says.
"Moving that many people by car would require another 16 lanes of motorways through our city, requiring the demolition of thousands of houses and hugely expensive. The CRL is critical to ensuring that Auckland can meet the challenges of population growth and develop as a world-class city."
There are big savings in time too – 17 minutes between Henderson and the new underground Aotea Station in the CBD by the Town Hall; 17 minutes from Ellerslie and the other new station on Karangahape Road; 10 minutes off a city centre journey between Britomart and Mt Eden and 9 minutes between Papakura and the new Aotea station.
Sweeney says: "Aucklanders will be able to forget the timetable, just turn up and go – they'll be able to hop on a train at least every 10 minutes, even at the busiest times."
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