City Rail Link Facts

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Recent comments by Transport Minister Gerry Brownlee indicate that he has been poorly advised on the benefits and costs of the City Rail Link.

You can watch the interview at the Auckland Transport Blog.

We wrote to Mr Brownlee on 20th May to correct and clarify the benefits and costs of the project. A PDF version of the letter is here.  There is more information on the CRL here. We will let you know if / when we get a response from the Minister.


Hon Gerry Brownlee

Minister of Transport

Parliament Buildings



Cc: Hon Nikki Kaye, MP for Central Auckland; Hon Paula Bennett, MP for Waitakere; Rt Hon John Key




Dear Minister

Re City Rail Link

I am writing to you on behalf of the Campaign for Better Transport in regard to recent public comments you have made on Auckland’s City Rail Link (CRL). Your comments indicate that you have been poorly advised of the main benefits of the project, and that you also misunderstand the costs associated with the CRL.

Specifically, on 30th April on Campbell Live, you stated:

  • That the CRL is “a short little loop”
  • That the CRL will cost $3 billion dollars
  • That “we” (implying the central Government) are currently funding $1.6 billion dollars to expand the rail network in Auckland.
  • That “we” are spending $790m in the next three years on public transport in Auckland.

I would like to take the opportunity to correct and clarify each of these points. As the Minister of Transport it is vital you have an accurate understanding of Auckland transport issues.

 The CRL is a not a short little loop

The CRL is a 3.5km rail tunnel forming a direct link between the Western Line near Mt Eden and Britomart, bypassing the current dog-leg via Newmarket as shown on the map below.

While the CRL is relatively short at 3.5km, in practice it will never function as a loop. Instead the most likely operating pattern will be for Western Line trains to proceed directly to Britomart via the tunnel, continuing on either the Southern or Eastern Lines. Similarly trains from the South and East will continue through Britomart station to the west. Western line commuters will enjoy considerable travel time savings on journeys to Britomart and beyond due to the CRL. For instance the trip from Henderson to Britomart currently takes about 45 minutes because of the dog-leg via Newmarket; via the CRL this trip is expected to take around 35 minutes – a saving of 10 minutes. Travel time savings of this magnitude will no doubt attract even more rail passengers from the west than there are currently. (From Auckland Transport’s most recent survey, some 5,000 people a day board the train at stations within Paula Bennett’s Waitakere electorate.) In addition, three new stations will be built on the new CRL: Newton, K’ Rd and Aotea. These stations will greatly increase the accessibility of the CBD region to all commuters on the rail network. For instance a trip from New Lynn to Aotea Station (near the Sky Tower) will take just 23 minutes at peak time – faster than a car journey and much faster than the current journey via public transport, which takes 45 minutes.

However, the key reason to construct the CRL is to increase the capacity of the entire Auckland rail network. The rail network is the backbone of the public transport network, since it offers the highest peak time capacity for people of any transport mode. Currently Britomart is a dead-end terminal station, with all trains having to exit via the same two tracks they arrived on. Consequently there is a relatively low limit (approximately 21 trains per hour inbound) to the number of trains the station can handle. As Britomart station is by far the most popular station on the network, a bottleneck is created which limits the number of trains that can operate on the entire network. The CRL opens up the capacity of the entire network by turning the Britomart cul-de-sac into a ‘through route’, ensuring we get value for money from the rail network and significantly enhancing the capacity of Auckland’s public transport network. The City Rail Link creates a second rail entrance to the city centre (from Mt Eden), doubling the number of trains that can enter the city centre at any one time. Capacity is further increased through the reduction of conflicting movements on the rail network as trains do not have to ‘turn around’ and return the way they came – they can simply keep on going. The CRL is a necessary prerequisite to any future expansion of the rail network in Auckland.

The CRL will not cost $3 billion The 2011 business case review confirmed a cost estimate of $2.4 billion; however note that this also includes other network upgrades such as double tracking the Onehunga Line and the cost of additional trains. More recent estimates expect the cost of land purchases, constructing the tunnel itself, the three new stations and track works to be under $2 billion.

Central Government is not funding $1.6 billion to expand the rail network in Auckland

We assume that the $1.6 billion figure quoted is comprised of:

  • $600 million for Project DART
  • $500 million for the electrification infrastructure
  • $500 million for the new electric trains

Project Dart has been completed now and included double tracking of the Western Line, station upgrades including Newmarket Station and New Lynn Station, reinstating the Onehunga line and the new Manukau spur line. This was funded from the 2006 budget which precedes National forming a Government.

Funding for electrification infrastructure was initiated in the 2007 budget, with an appropriation for both Wellington and Auckland track upgrades. When National came to power, the regional fuel tax funding mechanism was stopped and the electrification project was put on hold. Eventually this went ahead and was paid for, as I understand it, from nationwide fuel taxes.

Auckland’s new electric trains are being funded by way of a loan which is repayable by Auckland at commercial rates of interest. It is noted that National contributed a crown grant of $90m to procure more electric trains than originally specified. NZTA are also contributing to the loan repayments in the same way they provide money for PT operating costs.

At the same time, Auckland Transport track access fees to KiwiRail were increased to in excess of $20 million annually.

In summary, the claim that the Government is funding $1.6 billion to expand the rail network is patently an exaggerated and misleading claim. The current budget includes little in the way of future funding for Auckland’s rail network.

Central Government is not spending $790m in the next three years on public transport in Auckland

Prompted by an earlier claim in the media from your office that $890m has been budgeted for public transport in Auckland over three years, I wrote to your office seeking clarification on where this figure came from. As you will be aware, you directed my enquiry to the NZTA, who responded with the following:

For clarification, the $890 million is the combined committed expenditure from the National Land Transport Fund (administered by the NZTA) and funding from Auckland Council for Auckland public transport services and infrastructure, between 1 July 2012 and 30 June 2015. The NZTA’s share of the $890 million is $488 million. This is made up of $449 million for public transport services and $39 million for public transport infrastructure.

Almost half of the quoted figure comes from Auckland Council ratepayers, not from central Government. Without diminishing the fact that $488m over three years is a substantial commitment from the NLTF, it is misleading to be implying $790 or $890 million is being spent by central Government, when clearly it is not.

In summary, I hope you have found this information helpful in understanding more about the City Rail Link, and that we now have a common understanding of the project objectives and costs.

You will be aware that we have previously sought to meet with you, and again we would welcome a meeting with you to discuss Auckland transport issues in more detail in the near future. Please advise if this is possible.

Auckland City Rail Link Study Approved by Brownlee

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Media Release: Letter sent to Len Brown contradicts media statements

The Campaign for Better Transport today labelled Transport Minister Gerry Brownlee’s response to an 18 month study of transport options for Auckland as “cynical and arrogant.”

Mr Brownlee yesterday dismissed a report prepared jointly by SKM, Auckland Council, Auckland Transport, Treasury and the Ministry of Transport that concluded that the City Rail Link was essential to keep Auckland moving in the decades ahead.

Mr Brownlee said that he had expected a broader review of potential solutions for Auckland, and said that motorway projects currently underway will have an impact on central city traffic.

However, Campaign for Better Transport spokesperson Cameron Pitches said the website had uncovered a letter sent by Mr Brownlee to Mayor Len Brown in February of this year, which confirmed that Mr Brownlee was comfortable with the proposed scope of the study, and that Mr Brownlee was “pleased to hear of the close engagement of government officials in developing the scope and support this continuing throughout the project”.

“Mr Brownlee’s media response to the study is cynical and arrogant.  He has known all along about the scope of the report through the involvement of his own officials.  His claim that he expected the report to be a broader review of transport solutions is simply not credible, in light of his letter to Mayor Len Brown,” said Mr Pitches.

“Mr Brownlee is also fully aware that the study already has projects such as the Western Ring route factored into calculations.  Even with these projects the City Rail Link is still needed.   It is cynical of him to now pretend that he doesn’t know this, and it diminishes the hard work that officials have done in the last 18 months.”

The study did consider simply increasing the size of the motorway network, but concluded that this was “not considered to be realistic, given that significant additional road and parking space would be required. This would be detrimental to public transport capacity and reduce the number of people that could access the CBD, which is counter to the objectives of this study.”

Mr Pitches suspects that central Government has treated the study as an expensive delaying tactic, and has been caught out now that the study has found to be in favour of the City Rail Link.

“You have to wonder where he gets his advice from. He ignores the wishes of the majority of Aucklanders and he ignores the advice of his own officials.  I think he seriously believes that the solution to Auckland’s growing transport and liveability problems is the construction of yet more motorway lanes. “

In the last year, The Campaign for Better Transport has twice requested to meet with Mr Brownlee to discuss Auckland transport issues, and has twice been turned down due to “heavy diary scheduling”.

City Rail Link Report Leaked

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Brian Rudman at the Herald has obtained a copy of the report that forms the City Centre Future Access Study. This is the report that central Government asked Auckland Council to produce to identify what other options there were to a rail tunnel.

The draft also warns that by as early as 2021 growing congestion would “limit Auckland’s potential growth” by increasing travel times for city centre workers and reducing efficiency for freight and commercial road users using the port, moving around the city centre, or passing through.

The growing congestion would also push employment out of the centre, reducing productivity and resulting in a less competitive economy.

By 2041, the report said, traffic jams would be keeping 15,200 employees and students out of the city centre and would reduce speeds for commuter, freight and commercial vehicles by 75 per cent.

Several city streets were carrying 80 to 100 buses an hour, resulting in “unstable flow and queuing”.

Ultimately, main bus routes could have be be two-laned in both directions.

The report concluded underground rail was the only option with any capacity after 2041.

The report weighs up the different options as:

  • 78c return for every $1 spent on the rail tunnel project – higher than other options.
  • A bus tunnel was not practical because too much land would have to be taken for it, it would reach its limits between 2025 and 2030 and it would cost up to $2.34 billion. It would have a return of 28c to 36c for every dollar spent on it.
  • A surface bus solution was cheaper at $1.13 billion with a 34c to 50c return but had similar short-comings to the bus tunnel solution.

The ball is now in the Government’s court.  It will be interesting to see the response of central Government and also the MP for Auckland Central, Nikki Kaye in the coming days.

A Letter to Hon Gerry Brownlee

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Dear Minister

Auckland City Rail Link

Recent comments you have made in Parliament lead me to believe you are receiving inaccurate advice on the expected patronage and benefits of the proposed Auckland City Rail Link.

In Auckland, over 40% of all trips into the CBD each day are made using public transport, by people from all walks of life. They do so because they find taking a bus, ferry or train to be more convenient than driving a car, paying for parking, then driving home again.

The primary benefit of the City Rail Link is to enable patronage to continue to grow over the entire rail network in Auckland, by making the current dead end station at Britomart a through station. Without it, patronage will plateau very soon after the forthcoming introduction of electric trains.

Alternatives such as increasing the capacity of the roading network for sole occupant vehicles, or increasing the number of buses into the central city are not feasible if Auckland’s transport network is to grow in an integrated and sustainable manner.

It is not unreasonable for the NZ Land Transport fund to contribute to the City Rail Link, like any other transport project that relieves congestion.

I attach a briefing paper which we gave to the Associate Minister of Transport at our meeting on the 7th June, which contains a brief overview and a rationale for the project.

Again, we are more than happy to meet with you when your diary permits, either in Wellington or Auckland. Could you kindly advise of a suitable date – we anticipate a meeting time of an hour would be sufficient.

Yours sincerely,

Cameron Pitches


Campaign for Better Transport

Update 1/8/2012:

Ministerial Secretary Hayley Eaton has replied:

Good Morning Cameron,

Thank you for your request to meet with Hon Gerry Brownlee to discuss the Auckland City Rail Link.

Unfortunately due to heavy diary scheduling the Minister is unable to meet with you.

Thank you once again.

Kind regards,


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