Airport Rail Planning Study To Go Ahead

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The NZ Herald covers the signing of the Memorandum of Understanding, which hopefully is just days away.

As the Super City’s mayoral combatants argue over timing for trains to the airport, officials are planning a major study before securing land designations for a $1.5 billion rail loop.

Six organisations including the Transport Agency, KiwiRail, the Auckland Regional Transport Authority and Auckland International Airport Ltd are preparing to sign a memorandum of understanding to begin detailed planning investigations for airport rail services through both Onehunga and Puhinui.

Hopefully this will go into more detail than the recent BECA report, which was more of an options analysis.

The proposed study will include a business case on a cost-benefit analysis for airport trains, and is likely to take about 18 months to complete, a similar time-frame to a $5 million investigation into a preferred route for a $1.5 billion central Auckland rail tunnel.

Neither will it come too soon for more than 10,000 Aucklanders who signed a Campaign for Better Transport petition in 2008 for an airport rail link.

The idea was also endorsed by 53 per cent of 300 people interviewed in a two-week Herald survey last month who said they would be willing to pay higher rates to be able to catch trains to the airport.

In 2008, consultants recommended to the transport authority an airport loop costing about $1.5 billion and a $729 million heavy rail link between Onehunga and the western line at Avondale as offering greater connectivity than light rail or busways.

They estimated that a double-tracked railway from Penrose to Onehunga with bridges or tunnels replacing the sector’s eight road level-crossings would cost $271 million, and that running a line to the airport – across Manukau Harbour and then parallel to State Highway 20 and George Bolt Drive – would cost $707 million.

The $271m figure seems high to me as it is more than the entire Manukau Harbour crossing project.

Governor General slams Auckland’s traffic congestion

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Auckland’s traffic congestion was decried by Governor General Sir Anand Satyanand yesterday as a “deadweight” on the region’s productivity.

Sir Anand, who grew up in Auckland, said heavy investment in motorways and the decline of public transport after trams were taken off the roads in the 1950s had led to severe congestion to the detriment of both individuals and the economy.

His comments came as he opened New Lynn’s $36 million railway station and bus interchange.

“Aucklanders lose valuable time through sitting in long traffic queues – the frustration to them and cost in time lost and petrol and diesel converted into fumes for no purpose has been immense,” he told 200 people at the opening.

“That cost is not simply borne by individuals who could have been at home enjoying time with their families. Congestion means that it takes longer for goods and services to get to their destination and onward to export markets.”
“All of this has been a deadweight on productivity for Auckland and, given the size of the region’s economy, the whole of New Zealand.”

But Sir Anand said new investment in Auckland’s public transport was beginning to pay dividends, evidenced by an increase of almost two million boardings last year to more than 60 million passenger trips on buses, trains and ferries.

Although that was still well below a figure of about 100 million trips in the 1950s, when as a child growing up in Ponsonby he enjoyed catching trams and trains, “it is good to see the trend heading in a northwards and correct direction.”

Sir Anand’s leadership of yesterday’s event, as a politically-neutral figure, came as politicians of the left and right congratulated each other on the realisation of a vision for the transformation of what
retiring Waitakere Mayor Bob Harvey said had been a “very tired” town centre.

The station has been part of public investment of $300 million, on which his council has spent $91 million on surrounding road upgrades and a contribution to the railway trench, on which the Government spent $140 million.

Cry of gouging as fares go up

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The Herald reports

Auckland public transport rides will cost at least 10c more from the end of next week, and fares on Fullers’ unsubsidised Waiheke Island ferry service will be boosted by an average of 4.7 per cent.

Auckland Regional Council chairman and part-time Waiheke resident Mike Lee is accusing Fullers of “price gouging” and says he will write to its British-based owner to complain.

The Auckland Regional Transport Authority announced late yesterday that fares on buses and trains would rise “typically” by 2 per cent to 3 per cent on Sunday, October 3, in response to the GST rise on October 1 from 12.5 per cent to 15 per cent.

Passengers face rises of 10c for short to medium trips and of 20c on longer trips, meaning an increase of 5.8 per cent on central Auckland’s Link bus service, although inner-city rides will remain unchanged at 50c – as will one-stage child fares.

The transport authority says typical subsidised ferry fares will rise by 2 per cent to 4 per cent on October 3, although 50c more for a return trip between Devonport and Auckland represents a 5 per cent increase.

Fares on Fullers’ unsubsidised Waiheke Island ferry service will rise by an average of 4.7 per cent on that day after an extra pricing review, and will increase by as much as 11.1 per cent for a 10-trip ticket issued to tertiary students.

Adult monthly passes will rise by 4.7 per cent from $315 to $330.

Fullers officials could not be reached for comment, but its website says its new fares are aimed at passing on other cost increases such as an 18 per cent rise in fuel charges in the past 18 months, higher labour and maintenance bills and the Government’s emissions trading scheme.

It’s also worth noting that Fullers have benefited by about $2m from SuperGold subsidies, without actually having to put on any increased services or staff.

Rail Link Puts Fun Into Getting To School

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NZ Herald reports:

Leah Robinson’s young sons leaped out of bed yesterday morning when offered a choice between travelling by car on congested roads or by train along Onehunga’s resurrected branch railway line.

“I told them if there’s any mucking around, we’ll go by car,” said Ms Robinson.

But that was no more than a parental ruse as Ms Robinson said she was sick of spending an hour and a half in morning traffic driving her four children in a circuit from home in Te Papapa to schools and a kindergarten in Ellerslie and Remuera.

“It’s just horrible,” she said of congestion normally at its worst around Greenlane, which has become just a nine-minute train ride from Te Papapa after the introduction of the new rail service at the weekend…

The 3km branch line between Onehunga and Penrose has cost KiwiRail $10 million and the Auckland Regional Transport Authority $3.6 million to resurrect with three stations. Auckland Regional Council also spent about $8 million to buy the site for the Onehunga station near the bottom of Onehunga Mall.

Although Saturday saw the formal re-opening of the line, the new service settled into a workaday routine yesterday. The Herald counted 19 passengers boarding the 7.45am Britomart-bound train at Onehunga, including three high-school students looking forward to halving the 45 minutes or so it used to take them to catch a bus to Newmarket.

St Peter’s College students Griegen Schwenke, Lenny Hayne and Leitham Motio’o – all aged 15 – were also pleased that their two-stage train fare of $1.70 would be less than the $1.90 on the bus.

A smaller group of 10 passengers caught the next train from Onehunga, at 8.15am, although they were joined by 10 others at Te Papapa station.

Events manager Marion Stables was disappointed more commuters had yet to change their travel habits to take advantage of the service, but was confident it would do wonders for Onehunga as its popularity grew.

Campaign for Better Transport spokesman Jon Reeves, whose organisation has worked since 2002 with Auckland Regional Council chairman Mike Lee to reintroduce trains to Onehunga, said he believed numbers would pick up and build momentum to extend the line to the airport.

Mr Lee said the airport was just nine kilometres from Onehunga compared with a distance of 14km from there to Britomart.

“I can’t see any good reason why we shouldn’t push on and extend rail across the new rail-capable [duplicated] Manukau Harbour crossing.”

Onehunga Business Association general manager Amanda Kinzett predicted an increase in patronage once a park and ride zone opens at Onehunga station on Monday with 60 vehicle spaces and CCTV security.

Onehunga Opening Day

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What a day yesterday!  Not even the weather could dampen the crowd’s enthusiasm. Due to snow branches on the line, the carriages for the steam train were late, but Isaac Broome saved the day with a two car set for the dignitaries and CBTers. A big crowd greeted the train as it rolled in to Onehunga station on time yesterday at 10:30, 18th September 2010.

Geoff Blackmore captures the moment the first official train arrives at Onehunga

 While the speeches were in progress, steam loco JA 1275 from Mainline steam pulled into the station. I suspect that’s what the crowds were really waiting for!  At the tail end of the train was a diesel locomotive, which as pointed out on the forum is only 14 years younger than the steam train. (JA 1275 entered service in July 1952, DC 4536 entered service as DA 1505 in September 1966!)

JA 1275 pulls in to the station

ARC Chair Mike Lee gave a speech that summarised the long slog to get Onehunga reopened. In it he thanked the efforts of the Campaign for Better Transport, and singled out Garth Houltham as the campaign manager for our petition that achieved 8,000 signatures in the summer of 2005 / 2006.  Mike hammered home the popularity of rail and drew applause every time he mentioned rail to the airport.

Minister of Transport Steven Joyce addresses the crowd

Hon. Steven Joyce also addressed the crowd with the somewhat predictable “need to invest in all modes” speech. Didn’t explain why there is such a disproportionate crown investment in roading over public transport, though this was not a day for such nit-pickery.  I think he had to be secretly impressed by the turn out and the sheer cost effectiveness of reopening the branch line.

L to R: Cameron Pitches, ARC Chair Mike Lee, Garth Houltham, Jennifer Northover, Jon Reeves

We’ll see how the patronage goes this week!

Onehunga Branch Line Opens Tomorrow

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A special historic steam train filled with guests celebrating the reopening of the Onehunga branch line will roll into a brand new Onehunga station on Saturday 18th September. The guests will be the first passengers to use the line in 37 years.

The steam train recognises the history of the line which was the first to run in Auckland in 1873, taking passengers between Waitemata and Manukau harbours.

Guests will join the Minister of Transport Hon Steven Joyce and Auckland Regional Council (ARC) Chairman Michael Lee to officially mark the reopening of the train line and its newly constructed stations at Onehunga, Te Papapa and Penrose.

The Auckland Regional Transport Authority (ARTA) developed the three stations as part of a $3.6m project and KiwiRail developed the track and signalling work. 

ARTA Chairman Rabin Rabindran said: “The reopening of this historic and special line is a major milestone in Auckland’s public transport history.”

[more]

Tram Extension Proposed

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At the Auckland City Council’s Transport Committee meeting last Thursday, Geoff Houtman from ourhood.co.nz pitched the idea for a tram extension (with Rhys Darby and Antony Starr in support).  This builds on the CBT / Motat initiative, and the time is probably right to start thinking more about where to extend the tram lines from Wynyard.

As Geoff puts it:

Wynyard Wharf needs to be connected to the Viaduct and Queens wharf as a matter of course, but it still needs to go somewhere people actively want to go, like tourist attractions and parks. And shops.

Luckily we have a string of such destinations close to Wynyard, some of them already connected by tram. Victoria Park, Three Lamps, Ponsonby Road, Western Park, Grey Lynn Park, Grey Lynn shops, Springs Stadium and MOTAT where the existing tram line whisks us to Western Springs Park, the Zoo and MOTAT 2.

We don’t even have to create a new line, it’s merely an extension of a current one.

Auckland City councillors voted to support the initiative and have referred it to the new Supercity for consideration.  About as good a recommendation as you can get really.  When the CBT pitched the idea a year ago the plan for the Te Wero bridge was undecided.  Now apparently the foundations will be made “future proofed” to support light rail, which is promising. No guarantee that the Te Wero bridge deck will be anything other than pedestrian and cycling at this stage though.

There’s quite a discussion about it at our forum here.

Overlander Passenger Numbers Increasing

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Stuff.co.nz reports that patronage is increasing for long-distance train services.

Travellers are taking to the tracks, with a boost in patronage for long-distance trains – including the nearly derailed Overlander.

KiwiRail’s three long-distance services have shown an 11 per cent increase in passenger numbers – or 34,000 more travellers – in the past year.

And, after narrowly avoiding the axe four years ago, the Overlander train service had the highest growth, with a 24 per cent increase.

Figures from KiwiRail show there were 340,000 passenger journeys on the TranzAlpine, TranzCoastal and Overlander in the past financial year, up from 306,000. Of those the TranzAlpine – from Christchurch to Greymouth – was the most popular, with 193,000.

KiwiRail passenger general manager Deborah Hume said the passengers included tourists and local travellers, and showed that people were increasingly seeing rail as a travel option.

“We have worked hard in a challenging international market and it is pleasing to see that rail travel is increasingly popular with a wide variety of people.”

This is a great result for Debbie Hume and the team at KiwiRail. It seems obvious that a Hamilton to Auckland rail service would do extremely well.


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