It is apparent from the latest Government Policy Statement that Auckland’s proposed CBD rail tunnel is a project the Government does not want to contribute to.
However, the Government isn’t saying what the alternative is. Auckland’s population is predicted to increase by a million people over the next four decades – seventy percent of New Zealand’s population growth overall.
Without the CBD rail tunnel, growth in public transport patronage will reach a capacity limit a few years from now.
No other transport option will be able to support the expected growth in CBD travel demand. We know this because the $5m business case in support of the CBD rail tunnel established that alternative scenarios of increased use of private vehicles or buses won’t be able to cope with this demand.
Even the New Zealand Transport Agency, in a recent board paper, acknowledges that “there is confidence by NZTA that the project offers a potential option for further transport investment in the Auckland CBD, that supports the stated aims of Auckland.”
The CBD rail tunnel will connect Mt Eden directly to downtown Auckland, with stations at Symonds St, K’Rd, and Midtown. It will not be operated as a loop or circular service, but as a more direct connection from Western line stations to the CBD. A trip from Morningside to Midtown will take just 8 minutes. Fast journey times such as this will be possible for trips from all stations on the Western line.
For the other lines on the network, the major benefit of the tunnel is that Britomart will become a through station, rather than a dead end. This will at least triple the capacity of the entire rail network during the morning peak.
Even with all this in mind, though, the financial constraints on the Government are very real, and a lot of money will need to be directed into rebuilding Christchurch’s infrastructure, particularly within the next five years.
It is clear that, as part of that, transport infrastructure projects will need to be reprioritised.
But, in the face of spiralling petrol prices and the pressure this will place on public transport, it would be a huge mistake to cancel CBD rail tunnel outright.
The CBD rail tunnel has a projected completion date of 2021, with construction not starting until 2015. The next four years are set aside for securing the project’s designation, acquiring the necessary resource consents and undertaking detailed design.
This preparatory work is relatively inexpensive compared to the construction work itself, and the Auckland Council needs to lead this work if it really wants the rail tunnel to progress.
Of course, by 2015, the Auckland Council will need to make a decision about whether to progress with the actual construction of the tunnel.
By then we are likely to have a far better understanding of Christchurch’s remaining infrastructure requirements compared with the rest of the country. And by then central Government will have realised that transport projects which reduce our reliance on fossil fuels should be a priority for the economy.