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Auckland rail link: taxpayers billed for massive transport stepchange


The government has confirmed support for Auckland's city rail link, but it will delay construction of the project by five years.

Prime Minister John Key told media this afternoon the government wants the project to begin in 2020; the Auckland Council wants construction to begin in 2015-16.

"The advice we've had is that a 2020 start date is more in line with the likely best use of that," Mr Key says.

"We think it reflects more accurately the demand flow that will come for the rail link."

He says it's not realistic for Aucklanders to pay for the project themselves, although he has not said whether the government will pay for half of the construction cost as Auckland Council wants.

Mr Key has not ruled out using proceeds from state asset sales to help pay for the link. He says bottlenecks in Auckland lead to higher costs for all New Zealanders.

"The reality is that Auckland is experiencing a lot of internal and external migration so ultimately we need to build more infrastructure."

Auckland mayor Len Brown says the government’s agreement to fund the City Rail Link represents a major step forward for Auckland.

“The government has now given us a huge challenge to respond to. Along with the electrification of rail, the CRL will be the biggest advance in Auckland transport since the Harbour Bridge.

“Building the CRL is my number one priority as mayor. It will be a vital piece of infrastructure for Auckland’s economy, and will enable us to better meet  the challenges of a growing city."

The CRL will double the capacity of the existing rail network and slash travel times, he says.

“Removing the cul-de-sac at Britomart will enable our city’s rail network to move at least twice as many passengers as we do now. Travel times from the west and south will be slashed by up to half an hour.

“The economic benefits should not be understated. We expect the working population of Auckland’s city centre to double by 2041. This will lead to gains in productivity that will more than double the city centre’s economy.

“In this context, being able to move people into and around the city more easily is critical to recognizing our economic potential. And it’s critical to our ability to remain internationally competitive for jobs and investment.”

Councillor Cameron Brewer says the council now needs to get its alternative funding sources for the project sorted.

“The government probably needs to lock down its contribution in dollar terms, as the project costs have reportedly gone up six fold in the past eight years.

"It’s now time to put a line in the sand. We’ve got to make sure the costs don’t keep running away for the likes of taxpayers and Aucklanders.

“Already this 3km tunnelling project is set to cost nearly $1 million a metre. That’s $10,000 a cm or $1000 a mm.

"Auckland and taxpayers now need to get some cost certainty and containment."


The government is expected to confirm taxpayer support for Auckland's city rail link, despite its earlier criticism of the project.

But the project will be delayed five years to start in 2020.

This follows a TV3 story today claiming the government would invest billions of dollars – not only for the rail link – but for a transport plan billed as a massive stepchange for Auckland city transport.

The CRL is a 3.5km tunnel which would connect Auckland central's Britomart station to the Western line at Mt Eden. Its route would mostly be under Albert St. 

Auckland Council wants the government to pay for half the project, which is expected to cost $2.86 billion ($2.4 billion in today's terms).

However, the government has waited for an official review of the project by the Ministry of Transport before making its decision. 

Transport Minister Gerry Brownlee says the government would make an announcement relating to the project this Friday.

"The government is going to make, through the prime minister, announcements around a number of issues on Friday in Auckland."

Asked by reporters if this was a change of heart by the government, he replied: "It's not a U-turn, it's a loop."

Mr Key is speaking to the Auckland Chamber of Commerce, which supports the rail link, on Friday at midday.

Mr Brownlee has previously told Parliament the rail link would have a "minimal" effect on traffic congestion in Auckland.

He has also questioned claims by the City Centre Future Access Study that traffic will massively increase in Auckland's CBD by 2041, saying projections of increases in the number of workers in the CBD were too optimistic.

An international researcher has warned taxpayers would be on the hook for any cost overruns from the project if the government committed funding to it.

More by Niko Kloeten

Comments and questions


Yeah, I agree. I don't even live in Auckland and I'm going to cough up dough on this lemon. Aucklanders should pay for it. That city is sucking the rest of NZ dry.

Great! I'm going to get bilked twice - once as a taxpayer and again as a ratepayer so the choo-choo fetishists can have a new toy that a tiny percentage of the Auckland population will end up using.

How are those train passenger levels going, Len, thanks to your incisive leadership?

Pretty great actually, GrumpyKiwi. Last month's patronage up 10% compared to same time last year (8% increase when adjusted for ticketing quirks).

But a 10% increase on a "handful" of commuters, is still only a handful...

Of course, Mike Lee had to further lower the fares to get any patronage growth this year. Fares were already far less than for Wellington commuters. There is no evidence at all in Auckland that if passengers were charged the fares a first-world nation would charge for new commuter heavy rail, many would use it.
It's a pathetic political bribe to Auckland by English and Key.

Solidarity: Now you're just moving the goalposts. There has been rapid growth in uptake of public transport and it has been the historic high last year, surpassing the historic level set in the 1950s. Meanwhile, car use has been flat or declining since 2004.

Robert M: The thing is we don't have a first-world nation public transport system. Electric trains run in London Underground since the late 1800s. We're only just getting it now. And evidently when you provide, the customers come - like I said above.

Great - this will be a massive change for Auckland and great it will finally happen, 80 years after it was first suggested. A much better use of public money than motorways to nowhere.

Now Auckland can become a real urban centre and not just an overgrown country town.

Once Aucklanders see that public transport can work in Auckland, they will realise that all the bogus reasons we have been given for 60 years against it were just political puffery.

You are so right, Ben. Past generations should feel ashamed for allowing the future of Auckland to go through their denial because of selfishness to future generations. They have cost NZ millions of dollars, and for what?!. The problem I have is, why should the government have the right to say "you Aucklanders can wait until 2020 before the work begins"? In six years one can imagine how much bigger the gridlock will be.

Rail, in the long term, is much better than roads. If nothing else, this will be a catalyst to encouraging more use of public transportation and higher density living around the (future) train stations - i.e., CBD. Not to mention a catalyst for more affordable (multi unit/storey) housing developments.

This can only be good for NZ Inc and will reduce our current reliance on roading and the use of (imported) oil to make and use roads.

Building more roads to encourage more urban sprawl never stacked up; only to land bankers on the city periphery.

Economic sense has finally arrived, and Len Brown should be congratulated. Those oil lobbyists can pack their bags and leave the country.

Won't happen.The Emperor's New Approval. Delayed until not their problem.

I think the money would have been better spent on a rail link to the airport.
Can t see a loop rail within the city is going to attract more workers there.

You obviously don't understand what the link is designed to achieve.

Higher capacity and quicker travel time to the CBD from all directions.

The point is that the vast majority of Aucklanders do not work in the CBD nor do they want to go to it on a regular basis.

Except anywhere north of the harbour bridge - even though Leftie, lyin' Len wants North Shore ratepayers to cough the most...

The public transport sales pitch: the requirement to sit with people you don’t trust or like; at a time you don’t want to travel; in order to get to a place you don’t want to go; taking an inordinate length of time with considerable unreliability.


In return for 'blind eye' to casino?

Over my dead body. This is rubbish, Public transport does not work and never will in Auckland.
It won't until the idiots like Brown understand that no one apart from lawyers, accountants and bankers (the non-productive part of the NZ economy) want anything to do with the CBD, which makes Otara look positively great.

The aim of the CRL is not to attract more workers to the CBD but to increase the overall capacity of the rail network by joining up the different lines. Would help if you understood what it was before commenting...

A great political move. Introduce a policy to mitigate angst from Left-leaning voters. But throw it far enough into the future that neither Red Len or John Key will be around to ever take the risk on it. Meanwhile, consign those in the council to endless and ultimately fruitless hours of analysis that will never matter because it will never get built (thankfully, for tax and ratepayers).

Is there any left policies that Key hasn't adopted? Those stupid Green/Labour leaders need to keep their policies to themselves until closer to the election. The Key/Joyce/English triumverate are just too smart for the Left. But Red Russel just can't help himself, announcing any old half-developed idea as a 'policy' just to keep himself in the headlines. The people see through that, and don't want such flippant people in power. Unfortunately for Labour, the people who are seeing through it are the Labour supporters, rather than the Green ones!

Congratulations to all.

In the meantime, perhaps we can all work on getting Auckland moving by choosing a day each week to be a passenger. For the time being there will be no rail seats, so find a way to get into a carpool.

Hard to believe, but if everyone did this one day each week, we would eliminate the worst of the congestion.

Watch out for the Get Auckland Moving campaign. Visit the website and the FB page.

Great idea in principle - but then again, so is socialism...

How is this going to help the Aucklanders who live on the North Shore and in the Eastern Suburbs who have neither rail (North Shore) or rail and motorways (Eastern Suburbs)?

Generally affluent areas that, I note, do not vote for Len Brown!

Is the urgent priority of a rail link to 'get Auckland moving' serving the wards where his constituents live just a matter of sheer coincidence?

Yeah, right!

The CRL is a necessary first step that needs to be made before we can make expansion of the network to other areas.

If you live on the Shore, get on a bus. The timetables are being updated and integrated ticketing should be fully implemented within a year. Lots of money has been spend (wasted) on this.

In the eastern suburbs, for every extra person who catches the train, the traffic flowing into the city from the south will be reduced.

CRL isn't the answer to all problems. It is the answer to one problem, congestion at Britomart stopping increased capacity, which also has the effect of slowing travel times for certain commuters.

Once that issue is solved, the next part of the network can be worked on.

"Get on a bus"

Yeah, right! Have you seen the state of the bus network? Only a few days ago, TV3 (I think) had an expose on the electronic signalling signboards offering bus arrival info.

It must have been designed and implemented by a socialist committee, after Novopay verified its worthiness and suitability to go "live".

The bus system a real joke!

I would use the trains if they ran on time and had stations anywhere useful to me, but driving to the nearest station then training seems stupid to me.

So building the CRL which will increase the number of CBD destinations and will increase reliability has to be a good start then.

To make rail attractive, it has to be fast, reliable and cost-effective. This plan will not do any of those things, so how do you expect to get people to want to use it?
If you create a public transport system that gets people from the suburbs to Auckland city for work that is faster and cheaper than the cost of running a car daily, then you will get people interested. This means proper planning. It needs to be top technology that is cheap to implement/run/maintain. Automated to reduce labour cost would be the best option.
Think a bit harder than just laying down more track and running tunnels under the central city.
Where is the real vision?

It would help if you understood what has been taking place before commenting. The lines are being electrified, the new trains are being constructed, and will start arriving here by August. Here are some pictures: Now, shush....

What are the chances Auckland Council have understated their costing for the project and overstated patronage? If taxpayers must contribute to Len Brown's legacy make Auckland Council responsible for ALL cost overruns paid not by increasing rates but by selling assets inter alia Ports Of Auckland which they nationalised and have run into the ground.

Noticed on Prime News the cringing whinging Australian Russel Norman, half owner of the so called "Green Party" doesn't like the announcement. His comments were negative personified.

Hard to believe National can really be serious about this. It's as absurd as Cullen purchasing NZ Rail. Someone please tell me its a joke?

John Key has secured a third term, then if interest rates are too high and growth figures don't support the 2020 start he can pull the pin in 2017 and get an unprecedented 4th term without having to walk across the Manukau harbour or feed the 1.8m Aucklanders with one loaf of bread and a snapper.

More centralisation is the wrong strategy. In this modern day of ultra-fast broadband, there should be more focus on decentralisation, building nodes of commerce outside of isthmuses, away from Auckland, which is already a major problem with tens of thousands trying to get in within a small timeframe and then out again in a similar timeframe.
Link those centres by a rail loop including the airport, and with access as far north as Warkworth.
Leave Auckland as the City of Sails, not the city of snails and slaves.

Along with the attempted new friendship with Winston Peters, the govt's announcements shows that there is no low too low for them to stoop to to try and stay in power....Talk about a 180! Has our PM heard of principles, or does he think a principle is the leader of a school?

I hope that the politicial trade off here is a huge increase in the amount of of land available for subdivision and development all the way from Westgate to Helensville. This would go a long way to solving the land price/housing affordability problem.

Fast track to 2020. This rail link won't have happened, Key likely a disgraced knight living somewhere in the US, two general elections will have taken place, endless political posturing, deferrals, much social unrest, many more cycle tracks, few more electric motor cars on the city's clogged roads. However, no successful working Auckland urban rail system of any merit has taken place.
75% of NZers not bothered and most probably don't care!

I find it intensely disturbing to think that people on a lower wage may soon be able to travel in relative dignity and comfort around the city! Where is the reward for them to better themselves? Where is the incentive for them to acquiesce to their corporate masters?

The City Rail Link is Marxism, pure and simple. I, for one, shall order the driver of my Daimler to take routes which AVOID the new rail stations. There shall be nothing but depravity and social disorder at these places. Mark my words!

I can't tell if you are are being sarcastic or serious.

What a disgraceful attitude. You should be grateful that this new service will enable vandals, louts and drunkards to get into the city to cause their mayhem so much more conveniently and efficiently.

Build outside CBD and get industry and commerce to move out to where the people live. Solve congestion and make everyone happier. But make the roads the responsibility of a separate organisation with driving efficeincy as sole goal. That means not Council who use roads as inefficeincy pressures toget you out of cars. Force is the term they use.

Solving Auckland's traffic woes is easy.

1: Get rid of Len.
2: Cancel all traffic lights and cancel further traffic installation projects (Len's crafty way of causing gridlock to cause discontent). Auckland "most traffic lit city in the world!
3: Install roundabouts. They rock (except Kiwi drivers would need, of course, to learn how to drive cars properly). Might be a big ask.
4: Get rid of all bus lanes immediately. That'll free up choked roadways. What a waste of motorways!
5: Ban anyone who is so selfish as to want to cram themselves, with a just few people in comparison to all those stuck in cars, in a smelly bus. Buses block all traffic and are noisy. It'll save billions and free up the city so much. The passengers should be encouraged to buy a car or walk.
5: Get rid of all selffish T2/3 lanes. What a ridiculous concept! They are major bottleneck, very selfish to all those other poor car drivers stuck in the other lanes - e.g., are waste of valuable car driving space.
6: See 1

Train stations and crime, like a horse and carriage.

When did you last hear of a robber/mugger/rapist/murderer makiing their getway on a train? More likely to be a victim of crime at a service station than a railway station. That would be why all the jurisdictions listed in the above web page need their own specialised transit police?

The project is mis-described as the "Auckland City Rail Link" as it is really only a limited downtown loop (3.5km in total). Demographic fact is that only 10% of Aucklanders work in the CBD (none of the planners have yet noticed that means 90% of Aucklanders want to be somewhere else...). And less than one in 10 CBD workers actually use public transport. Summary, I think $3b of taxpayer/ratepayer money is too much to spend on a project whose main role will be getting cruise ship passengers up to K Rd for some jollies.

Please understand the topic before commenting. It is not a loop - the CRL **links** (as its name says) the different lines to allow passengers to travel through them without having to get off at Britomart and change trains. This page will help you:

Agree. The route of the proposed 3.5 km loop is extraordinarily dubious and is doubtlessly the cheapest way of connecting up at Mt Eden. Surely to maximise patronage a city loop would have stops in (1) Shortland St (2) University of Auckland (3) 100m below Langham Hotel (4) Auckland Hospital. The Grafton stop on the west line is a good walk. If Grafton is close enough to the hospital and medical school, surely the present Mt Eden station is close enough to TV3 and Upper Symonds.
Last night's Campbell Live outrageously suggested the trains to and from west Auckland are hopelessly delayed by the need to back shunt into Newmarket station. Nonsense, the tracks were altered long ago so trains could run straight through on to the west line and save huge time on transit time to New Lynn and Henderson. The reason for the slow expensive back shunt is to give artificial support to the case for the loop.
It seems to me the cost of the deep-driven underground rail under Auckland and the Grafton gap may be hugely more than predicted given overseas experience and the fact little is known about the real cost of driving underground rail through the geology of Auckland.
My own view is Auckland should have stuck to trams. In Fay Richwhites' day the NIMT should have terminated at Newmarket and a new tram system should have been installed with shallow cut and cover tunnels like the San Francisco and Boston trams under Quay St and Queen St.
The tram lines would have run on the harbour rail right of way to Glen Innes and swung around to come out for a coastal jaunt between Mission Bay and St Helliers. The other tram route would have run down the street in Parnell and joined the present west rail right of way out of Newmarket to Mt Albert where it would have swung north and south to Port Chev Beach and south to Green Bay and Titirangi.

If, instead of squandering enormous amounts of money on a rail project that, for sure, will cost 50% to 100% more than predicted, Auckland Transport set up apps for car sharing using text messaging and smart phones it could solve Auckland's transport problems. The system would need to include feedback on both driver and passenger, and provide insurance.
When leaving, you would text your destination and get an immediate response from people on your route who needed a lift. The message could include their passenger rating and, maybe, what they were prepared to pay.

New Zealand is well known for being an excellent place to try technological innovations and, compared with the railway tunnel and all the other hugely expensive proposals such as intensification and land rationing, the cost would be trivial. At the worst, it would be of some benefit, at the best it could be a great success.

At the worst, the tunnel will be a burden on Auckland ratepayers forever, and at the best it will make a small difference to congestion. It will certainly help make Auckland one of the most unaffordable cities in the world.