Archive | Rail

Councillors scrap over buying more trains as car imports skyrocket

As statistics were released on Wednesday disclosing that New Zealanders imported 2566 more cars this June than last June, an Auckland Council committee debated long & hard whether to pay a deposit of up to $25 million to import 17 new-style rail vehicles to meet anticipated higher rail patronage 2 years away.

Auckland Transport’s request for the deposit, and an overall shared payment of up to $207 million (cut to $198 million days before the meeting), came weeks after all the council’s long-term plans & budgets were cemented in place. After trenchant criticism from Cllr Desley Simpson for the surprise, Auckland Transport chair Lester Levy & chief executive David Warburton were apologetic, but also firm in their insistence that if the rail units weren’t bought, commuters would be left stranded on the platform.

Others at the council finance & performance committee meeting said it wasn’t really a surprise because increasing stock had been proposed long ago, while the tabling of a 79-page detailed business case was fair indication that the council’s transport arm had been working on the acquisition well before the end of the financial year.

Lee alone with questions about stock

Cllr Mike Lee at Wednesday’s meeting.

Just one councillor questioned the stock being purchased. Cllr Mike Lee, who was one of the council’s 2 nominees on the Auckland Transport board until new mayor Phil Goff decided councillors should no longer be nominated but could put their names forward for board positions like anybody else, believed Auckland would be buying experimental stock that wasn’t used in any of its comparator cities.

The units Auckland Transport wants to buy are independently powered electric multiple units (IPEMUs), which can run on electricity or battery.

Cllr Lee believed hybrid diesel-electric options should have been put before the committee for a comparison, but Mr Warburton said the diesel units weren’t compatible, and the IPEMUs were more sustainable and had been running in light rail overseas for some time.

Cllr Lee: “In my view they are experimental… We have to make a decision with no alternatives…. In terms of financial decision-making this is very poor decision-making. In terms of the strategic approach, this is ad hoc, done in a rush & deliberately so. This is not about new technology… The cardinal element is politics… Making this decision lets the Minister of Transport off the hook in completing electrification of the Auckland network.”

Council debt limit at risk

Auckland Transport chief executive David Warburton, responding to Cllr Lee.

The acquisition, if completed on the shared terms proposed, would lift Auckland Council’s debt ratio over its 265% ceiling to about 266.5% in 2019 unless other savings are found.

Mr Warburton said he’d mentioned battery electric multiple units numerous times on visits to the council chamber, but conceded that this proposal wasn’t mentioned in Auckland Transport’s budget documents in May.

He said the option for the council was to delay purchase and insert the proposal in a subsequent long-term plan – “and you won’t have trains until 2021”.

Auckland rail patronage has been on a steep upward curve, rising at 17%/year at the moment. Meanwhile, the road congestion it’s intended to defeat can only worsen, judging by the car import figures. Statistics NZ said national vehicle imports were up $118 million (31%) on a year ago to a record $505 million in June, led by an $86 million rise in new car imports.

Mr Goff said the rail decision would tie in well with infrastructure decisions between the council & government supporting housing growth in South Auckland, particularly beside Stevenson Ltd’s industrial subdivision at Drury.

Mr Goff said the infrastructure measures would bring forward construction of nearly 18,000 houses, and the provision of public transport was essential to move commuters out of their cars.

Deputy mayor Bill Cashmore said the addition of the new rail units was the culmination of 7 years’ work, and a “far more finessed outcome” than when planning for development from Papakura south to Pukekohe started.

The debate closed with 20-1 (Cllr Lee against) support for the purchase. It was dependent on the NZ Transport Agency committing to funding at least 50% of the capital & operational expenditure.

Attribution: Council committee meeting & agenda, images from council live stream.

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Council to rejig finances to buy 17 new rail units

Auckland Council’s finance & performance committee will vote on Wednesday on a proposal to buy 17 3-car rail units.

The independently powered electrical multiple units will cost $207 million and are intended to meet forecast patronage growth from 2019.

The council needs to approve up to $25 million in its 2017-18 budget for a deposit for the order to be made in September.

Conditions of the purchase are that the NZ Transport Agency will commit to funding at least 50% of the capital & operational expenditure, and the timing of the NZTA funding must align with the cashflow requirement of the procurement & operation.

In addition, Auckland Transport must reprioritise its capital budget to provide $50 million of the purchase funding, so the council’s projected debt:revenue ratio doesn’t exceed its limit of 265%.

Mayor Phil Goff said on Friday: “New electric & battery-powered trains will have major benefits for commuters living south of Papakura in the high growth areas of Drury, Paerata, Pukekohe & potentially Pokeno. It will also honour a commitment I made at the last election.

“The purchase of the new units, which can operate on lines not yet electrified, allows us to eliminate aging, less reliable diesel trains currently used on the Pukekohe line.

“For commuters, it means removing the need to transfer trains at Papakura, making travel quicker & more convenient. It brings in a cleaner form of transport, eliminating diesel emissions, and ensures a more reliable & comfortable trip for commuters.

“The result is a more attractive public transport system which will help tackle growing congestion levels, especially on the Southern Motorway.

“The units could ultimately be transferred to the Kumeu-Huapai line when the Southern line is electrified in 2025.

“The purchase of 17 new units needs to be made now to meet the greater-than-estimated demand for rail travel. Demand has increased by 17% over the last year, and within months will achieve a record 20 million passenger trips/year in Auckland.”

Mr Goff said the council was also examining cheaper options. One of those is to buy 15 electrical multiple units (not independently powered) for $133 million. Another is to buy units with Korean batteries for $174 million.

Committee agenda item

Attribution: Mayoral release & committee agenda.

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Tunnel dig starts on Albert St

Work began on Monday on bulk excavation for the city rail link cut-&-cover rail tunnels under Albert St in downtown Auckland.

City Rail Link Ltd project director Chris Meale said it was a milestone for the project: “This work marks a significant point in the construction process as we will start to see the tunnels taking shape. It will be exciting & challenging work from an engineering perspective, as we build rail tunnels below groundwater level, while maintaining surface-level access to Albert St for foot & vehicle traffic.

“The bulk excavation is also providing employment opportunities with about 50 people working on site. This is likely to increase to 80 by the end of the year, once tunnel box construction & waterproofing works are underway, with many being workers employed by local sub-contractors.”

The excavation represents about 10% of the 3.45km length of the twin-tunnel underground rail link, and involves digging 18m (about 5 storeys) at the deepest (southern) point, using long-reach excavators above ground and smaller machinery inside the reinforced trench. The tunnels will then be constructed with a cast concrete floor, walls & roof before the trench is backfilled.

The work will be undertaken progressively from Wyndham St at the southern end to Customs St at the northern end. Excavation at the southern end is expected to be complete by October this year and the northern by the middle of next year.

Construction of the tunnel box is expected to start late this year and be completed by late 2018.

By spring 2019, this section of Albert St will be reinstated with a new road surface, bus lanes, widened footpaths & street furniture.

For those interested in watching the big dig, CRL & contractors the Connectus joint venture (McConnell Dowell & Downer) have provided viewing windows at the Wyndham St pedestrian crossings.

Cut-&-cover construction is being used at each end of the CRL tunnels – between Britomart Station and the future Aotea Station and, later, where it connects to the western line at Mt Eden. Between Aotea & Mt Eden stations, the tunnels will be between 13-42m below ground and bored using a 7m-diameter tunnel boring machine.

The city rail link is jointly funded by the Government & Auckland Council and is expected to be completed in 2023-24. Their joint venture company, City Rail Link Ltd, took over the project on 1 July.

Image above: Looking north along the CRL tunnel route on Albert St.

Link: CRL cut-&-cover tunnel excavation

Attribution: Company release.

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Hamilton-Auckland commuter rail service wins support “in principle”, Panuku gets more tools

Auckland Council’s planning committee voted more strongly yesterday in favour of investigating a regular commuter rail link between Auckland & Hamilton than the tone of the debate indicated.

The committee had before it a position paper prepared last year after multiple-agency collaboration and received brief input from a lobby group chair, Rob Weir, who’d come up from Hamilton for the meeting and was invited by committee chair Chris Darby to speak.

Auckland Council staff sought committee support for a high level review to identify opportunities & constraints, but there was more debate on the value of such a study if it was unlikely to lead anywhere.

The way forward was determined by an addition by Cllr Cathy Casey to the recommendations for the committee to support the provision of a passenger rail service in principle.

While some thought it ought to be a low priority against a stack of other multi-billion-dollar infrastructure confronting the council, the “in principle” tag worked, the additional clause was supported by 18-1 and the amended recommended was approved unanimously.

That means the proposal will be studied, not necessarily resulting in a regular service.

Extra acquisition tools for Panuku endorsed

The committee also endorsed a proposal that its regeneration arm, Panuku Development Auckland, be able to use – “prudently” – statutory tools such as designation & compulsory acquisition in the areas around the region marked as “unlock” or “transform”.

  • Both the commuter rail proposition and the extension of Panuku’s ability to advance regeneration are worth a lot more attention than the few words above. I’ll write more about both in the next few days.

Attribution: Council committee meeting.

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Last preparations start for rail tunnel excavation

Auckland’s city rail link project entered the final stage of preparation works on Albert St last week before tunnel construction works begin.

The top 1.5m of road surface is being removed on the eastern side of Albert St between Wyndham & Swanson Sts before installation of the second half of the temporary steel work required to support the walls of the trench in which the future rail tunnels will be constructed.

Auckland Transport said: “Any utility services that remain in this top portion of the road will be temporarily supported on the steel work to ensure there is no disruption to local residents & businesses.”

In a few weeks, a temporary deck will be constructed over the top of these steel struts, which will provide working room over the top of the trench for excavators & haulage trucks.

“A lane of traffic will be maintained in each direction throughout these works.

“On the remainder of Albert St between Swanson & Customs Sts, work continues to tie together & brace the 20m-deep piles installed to support the trench walls.

“Excavation also began last week on the third portion of the traffic deck being constructed at the Customs/Albert St intersection. When all 4 sections of the deck are completed in September, they will form a bridge structure that spans the entire intersection, allowing all 4 traffic lanes to be re-established while the rail link tunnels are constructed underneath.”

Auckland Transport, city rail link web page

Attribution: Auckland Transport release.

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3 shortlisted for city rail link lines tender

3 companies have been shortlisted to tender for linewide systems integration, testing & commissioning for Auckland’s city rail link (contract 7).

Project director Chris Meale said on Monday there were 8 expressions of interest from international parties for the work and 3 had been selected to move to the phase of request for tender.

They are:

  • John Holland NZ Ltd
  • Laing O’Rourke Australia Construction Pty Ltd, and
  • RCR Infrastructure (NZ) Ltd

They’ll have 3 months to tender. Mr Meale said that, following evaluation, the successful company was likely to be appointed in the last quarter of this year.

The contract will be for the systems that include tracks, power systems, communications, controls, ventilation & signalling from Britomart, through the city rail link and connecting to the western line at Mt Eden Station.

Attribution: Auckland Transport release.

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Valerie the tunnel borer lines up for a new stretch

Valerie – the 2m-wide tunnel boring machine named in honour of the strength of Olympic shotput champion Valerie Adams – is about to begin the next stage of an underground journey through downtown Auckland for the city rail link.

The machine will simultaneously excavate & install a new stormwater pipe under Albert St.

It’s completed the first 290m of tunnelling & pipe-jacking work between Victoria & Swanson Sts and is being refurbished in the shed at Victoria & Albert Sts in preparation for the next stage of its journey. It will be lowered down the shaft to begin the final 200m stretch towards Wellesley St, and is expected to arrive there in April.

Project director Chris Meale said the stormwater diversion was needed before the cut-&-cover tunnel construction of twin tunnels can be delivered by Connectus, a McConnell Dowell & Hawkins joint venture.

A smaller tunnel boring machine is working under Victoria St, diverting the Orakei sewer main and enabling the existing sewer to be strengthened under the future midtown Aotea Station.

The city rail link will join Britomart & the city centre to the western line near Mt Eden. Construction began in December 2015.

The project, now a joint venture between Auckland Council & the Government, has tender documents out for major components. Expressions of interest were sought at the start of February for the design, procurement, installation & commissioning of all tunnel track work & rail systems between Britomart Station & the western line at Mt Eden.

City rail link

Attribution: Company release.

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Tender documents go out for rail link tunnels & stations

The first tender documents for the largest component of Auckland’s city rail link project – the construction of the tunnels & new stations – were released to the industry yesterday, a fortnight after expressions of interest were sought for the design, procurement, installation & commissioning of all tunnel track work & rail systems between Britomart Station & the Western Line at Mt Eden.

2 new stations will be built as part of the underground rail line linking Britomart with the existing western line near Mt Eden. The new stations will be near Aotea Square (artist’s impression at top), with entrances at Wellesley & Victoria Sts, and a station in Mercury Lane, just off Karangahape Rd. The Mt Eden train station will be extended & redeveloped. Associated works are already underway around downtown Auckland.

An artist’s impression of the new Karangahape station, which will be the deepest at 30m below ground.

Project director Chris Meale said yesterday the 2m-wide tunnel-boring machine simultaneously excavating & installing a new stormwater pipe under Albert St had finished the first leg of its journey. The 9-storey-high piling rig working in Albert St has dug over 140 of the 376 piles required.

An artist’s impression of the planned redeveloped station at Mt Eden.

The tunnels & stations contract will be procured using a design & construct model with a lump sum price based on a bespoke contract.

Attribution: Auckland Transport release.

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Auckland Council’s rail link scores top marks from Government’s project monitors

On a scale of well to badly managed major projects – green through amber to red – a Treasury report issued yesterday said Auckland’s city rail link again scored a green, but Housing NZ’s programme to accelerate redevelopment of its land in Auckland to deliver affordable housing only scored an amber.

The new interim Major Projects Performance Report for the period to November 2016, released yesterday, covers 53 complex major projects across government – and beyond, because the city rail link only became a partly Government project last September. All up, the projects have a whole-of-life cost of $37 billion.

The Treasury report lists Treasury & the Ministry of Transport as the Government agencies involved in the rail link project. Until late last year they were on the outside, with work already underway at multiple points around the central business district. The Government, which had rejected former mayor Len Brown’s insistence on an earlier schedule to complete the project, joined as a 50:50 partner last September.

On Housing NZ’s redevelopment programme, the report says: “The focus continues to be on finalising the programme business case, clearly defining costs & benefits for the programme, and finalising governance & delivery arrangements in advance of Cabinet decisions. A draft business case has been to the Housing NZ Corp board for consideration & comment.”

That’s back to front: Work has started, negotiations have been completed for some developments – and the business case is still on its way?

The Government issued its first major projects performance report on 30 November 2015 and scored an immediate hit in Christchurch: Earthquake Recovery Minister Gerry Brownlee was quoted in the Press dismissing the report and calling it “utter tripe”, and saying the findings showed the “arrogant bureaucratic attitude” Wellington-based departments had toward Christchurch, the report had been produced by book-keepers and “They should spend more time book-keeping rather than trying to second-guess the Government’s strategy”. He found the report, which at that point he hadn’t read, “entirely disrespectful” and said funding for the projects was already in place.

Finance Minister Steven Joyce made out yesterday the Government was doing far more than normal; building consent figures out yesterday indicate a slowdown in government works (but not all these major projects are building-related).

Mr Joyce said: “The Government is in the middle of our biggest ever infrastructure spend. We are investing billions of dollars to construct hospitals, schools, roads & courts, provide equipment for our armed forces and develop ICT capabilities to transform public services.

“These investments are instrumental for the provision of quality public services for our growing country, and it is important that they are delivered well. Transparent reporting is a key part of ensuring agencies lift their performance in investment management.”

In the projects report, 90% have been assessed as amber or better, 4 as amber/red and one as red. “Overall, there is an increase in the proportion of projects moving towards green,” Mr Joyce said.

The red & amber/red rated projects are:

  • Anzac frigate systems upgrade – Defence (red)
  • Lincoln University/AgResearch Stage 1 building project
  • Maori land service – Te Puni Kokiri
  • Transforming the system of service delivery programme – Department of Internal Affairs, and
  • National bowel screening programme – Ministry of Health.

The police human resource management information system project was rated red in the previous period and has improved to amber.

2 projects are close to completion and no longer require monitoring: the Christchurch schools rebuild programme and the Burwood Hospital redevelopment.

The Canterbury Public Sector Quarterly Rebuild Report content is now included in this report to provide the public with a single source of information about the Canterbury rebuild recovery.

The interim report covers the period July–November 2016 and was finalised before the Kaikoura earthquakes on 14 November.

Interim major projects performance report to November 2016

Earlier stories:
19 January 2017: Building consent highs still don’t match migrant demand
27 July 2016: First ratings out on government agencies’ management
1 December 2015: Major project transparency brings Christchurch consternation

Attribution: Treasury documents & release.

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Expressions of interest sought for next rail link package

Auckland Transport sought expressions of interest yesterday for the entire city rail link project beyond works already underway at Britomart, Downtown & Albert St.

The contracts cover design, procurement, installation & commissioning of all tunnel track work & rail systems between Britomart Station and the Western Line at Mt Eden. The work involves the provisioning of track slab, track, overhead line, signalling, control systems, tunnel ventilation, fire strategy & communications system.

City rail link project director Chris Meale said the successful contractor would be responsible for the integration of the systems with the existing operations at Britomart & Mt Eden and the new tunnels & stations being built for the rail link.

The documents are the first to be released to build the project past its current Britomart & Albert St sites, and have been prepared as a result of the agreement between the Government & Auckland Council in September to jointly fund the project.

Mr Meale said the C7 systems package would be procured using an early contractor involvement model, followed by a design & construct contract.

Other packages to be released this year include one for the construction of the tunnels and new city, Karangahape & Mt Eden stations, and a package for a stormwater diversion in Mt Eden.

“The new Britomart entrance is in place so we can start building the tunnels, the new stormwater pipe in Albert St is reaching the halfway stage and a third of the piles for the tunnels in Albert St have been completed. Now we are looking further afield to Mt Eden.”

Auckland Transport, city rail link
Contract procurement

Attribution: Auckland Transport release & website.

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