Archive | Rail

A milestone for the city rail link project, and a start on the next major section

The 2-year task of reinstating Albert St began last week while, over at Britomart, excavation for the city rail link tunnel can now proceed at full speed.

Image above: Work underway on the tunnel at the intersection of Albert & Customs St West.

The first is an obvious milestone in the development of the rail tunnel under Auckland’s downtown business area because, for most of the time the project has been underway, pedestrians have been able to peer down.

Britomart is far more complicated, requiring the railway station building – the city’s former chief post office – to be jacked up to enable excavation for the tunnel that will cross under Lower Queen St, under the Commercial Bay tower under construction on the former Downtown shopping centre site, around under Albert St & up to Karangahape Rd and on to Mt Eden station.

The Albert St tunnel project in September 2017 (my photo above) and (below) in September 2018.

The Government-Auckland Council company in charge of the rail project, City Rail Link Ltd, in its latest newsletter out last Thursday, counts some major steps forward:

  • Albert St reinstatement starts
  • Excavation under the Albert/Customs St intersection paves the way for construction of the tunnel box sections that will eventually link the Albert St trench to the rail tunnels being built under the neighbouring Commercial Bay development
  • The Britomart load transfer is complete and tunnel excavation can proceed.

City Rail Link chief executive Sean Sweeney said backfilling of the trench which runs directly beneath Albert St will eventuate in the roadway being reinstated & returned to road users by late 2020.

Backfilling with 50,000m³ of materials – a mixture of crushed concrete, crushed rock, sand & flowable fill – will take until mid-2019 to complete.

The work is being completed by Connectus – the McConnell Dowell Constructors Ltd & Downer EDI Ltd joint venture delivering the city rail link C2 contract.

Under the Customs/Albert St intersection, excavations have reached the halfway mark in preparation for building a key section of rail link tunnel box.

The twin underground tunnels being built under Albert St will connect at that point with those that have been built under the adjacent Commercial Bay development site.

Excavation is also continuing with the installation of supports for the trench walls and the removal of an old stormwater pump chamber. Construction of the tunnel structure under the intersection is expected to start this year, with a full connection being made to Commercial Bay by mid-2019.

On the C1 contract in Queen St, Downer & Soletanche Bachy JV completed the weight transfer of the 106-year-old category 1-listed ex-post office heritage building onto a series of underpinning frames, which will protect it from damage while rail link infrastructure is built underneath.

The City Rail Link website is full of images & more detail on the project.

2 time-lapse videos on the link’s website show a 6-month sequence of the city rail link tunnel box being built underneath Albert St. One camera faces south, and the other faces northern Albert St (downhill).

Links:
Albert St milestone
Video: Latest look inside the Albert St trenches
Britomart tunnel excavation is go

Attribution: Company release.

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Dominion Rd argument raises the question: What are we trying to solve?

How do we get around Auckland? Badly.

How should we get around Auckland? The first answer is: Well. And the argument over how to get between the airport & downtown Auckland is a fine example of how not to achieve that.

Below, Infrastructure NZ chief executive Stephen Selwood sets out his view of how to set the course for a decision:

Stephen Selwood.

Lingering debate over the form of rapid transit to Auckland Airport reveals a lack of clarity about the role for light & heavy rail, and this issue must be resolved when the business case is released.

The public is understandably confused about the purpose of the Dominion Rd light rail project & its role within the wider transport system. They are also confused about the potential for heavy rail connections to & from the airport.

This is a symptom of a wider strategic issue around how heavy rail is to support the future growth & development of Auckland, given the significant investment in the central rail link currently underway.

Under standard practice, we would normally first ask what issue we’re trying to address – congestion, urban regeneration or access to the airport? – and then we would decide what investments are required.

With the decision to proceed with light rail effectively made before a business case has been developed, best practice has been diluted, but not the need to be clear about what we’re trying to achieve.

Is Dominion Rd light rail designed to reduce congestion, support urban development or provide a rapid transit link to the airport? Is it all 3 or something different?

If the purpose is to improve access to the airport, then the business case should demonstrate that light rail better serves this objective than alternatives, including heavy rail.

If the purpose of the project is to reduce congestion, then business case analysis must demonstrate improved travel times for general traffic commensurate with the investment being made by road users.

Alternatively, if the purpose of Dominion Rd light rail is to unlock & enable urban development, then the business case must present a co-ordinated land use plan indicating the residential & commercial property opportunity linked to the project’s delivery. This should include the rezoning which is required and the timeframes for development.

Importantly, if the objective is urban development, and if congestion & other transport benefits are not improved, then funding should be primarily sourced from urban development, rather than the National Land Transport Fund.

Targeted rates, capital gains taxes & land acquisition via an urban development authority are all options which should be assessed.

A strong, transparent business case, clarifying why the project is being delivered, its costs, benefits & how it will be funded & delivered will address public confusion over the reason for light rail and resolve the question of light or heavy rail to the airport.

Attribution: Stephen Selwood, chief executive Infrastructure NZ.

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Port company names first tenant for Waikato hub

Ports of Auckland Ltd named the first tenant yesterday for its new 33ha freight transport hub at Horotiu, just north of Hamilton.

Open Country Dairy Ltd, 77% owned by Talley’s Group Ltd and New Zealand’s second largest exporter of whole milk powder, will take occupancy of the facility next year.

Ports of Auckland chief executive Tony Gibson said the earthworks were complete and building had started.

The Waikato hub – or inland port – is Ports of Auckland’s fourth, following developments at Wiri in South Auckland, Mt Maunganui & Longburn, Manawatu.

The Tainui iwi’s Tainui Group Holdings Ltd is establishing a much larger inland port in Hamilton, intended to cover 480ha of a total 820ha of rezoned space at Ruakura.

Mr Gibson said the Horotiu hub was part of Ports of Auckland’s strategy to support regional growth with freight hubs next to rail in regions that generate significant volumes of exports.

“The freight hub network will contribute to lower freight costs, reduces carbon emissions and offer a wider range of shipping services to North Island exporters & importers. The hub provides future customers with a unique opportunity. Businesses will be able to have their own sites with customised warehouse design & layout.”

Until the rail connection for Horotiu is built, freight will travel by road to Hamilton and then by rail to Ports of Auckland’s Waitemata Harbour sea port.

Attribution: Company release.

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Transport agency sets out project list

Published 3 September 2018

Transport and Housing & Urban Development Minister Phil Twyford.

Transport Minister Phil Twyford – who’s also Housing & Urban Development Minister – said on Friday a record $5.7 billion transport investment over the next 3 years “will get Auckland moving and deliver a safer, better connected & more resilient transport system”.

Mr Twyford’s comments accompanied the NZ Transport Agency’s publication of details of the planned programmes of investment in transport around the country, totalling $16.9 billion over the 3 years.

Auckland projects make up the bulk of the story below, followed by Northland, Waikato & the rest of the national programme.

There’s a lot of it – some brief detail of specific projects, and a number of lists to skim through.

If such an array can be summed up it’s this: Major road spending reduced, more attention away from large metropolitan areas, metro focus on public transport as best option to reduce congestion.

Dollars are generally separated from initial project mentions and I haven’t got them together again. Most of the relevant dollar figures are toward the bottom of this story.

The details are set out in the 2018-21 national land transport programme. The funding will be generated through 3 channels:

  • $12.9 billion from the National Land Transport Fund, generated through fuel excise, road user charges & other revenue sources
  • $3.4 billion from local government, generated through rates & Auckland’s regional fuel tax, and
  • $547 million in other Crown investment.

Mr Twyford said the $5.7 billion for Auckland was 23% more than under the 2015-18 plan and 44% more than under the 2012-15 plan.

The NZ Transport Agency’s forecast for Auckland access infrastructure spending over the next 3 years includes:

  • Maintenance & operations $1.2 billion
  • Public transport $1.9 billion
  • Walking & cycling $149 million
  • Targeted at safety, 15%

Mr Twyford emphasised road safety, along with alternatives for reducing congestion other than building more roads, although road-building will continue: “We are putting a much stronger focus on public transport, and making record investments in road safety, local roads, walking & cycling.

“Safety is a top priority for the Government, and $875 million will be spent on programmes & projects in Auckland that will save lives. This will include revamping intersections to stop collisions, installing median barriers in high risk areas and increasing road policing.

“We are committed to delivering a rapid transit network for the city so we can unlock critical housing & urban development opportunities, and give people better access to jobs, health, education & recreation. With the $459 million set aside for the development of rapid transit and $266 million for transitional rail, we’re investing in light rail to Mangere, extending the Northern Busway and supporting the introduction of more electric trains.

“To ease congestion and make Auckland a healthier place to live, $1.9 billion will be invested in public transport, a 56% increase from 2015-18, and $149 million for walking & cycling, a 30% increase from 2015-18. This will create great walking & cycling routes in the city, including the SeaPath walking & cycling connection between Northcote Pt & Esmonde Rd, the SkyPath project across the Auckland Harbour Bridge, and the Glen Innes-Tamaki Drive shared path.

“The significant $1.5 billion investment in state highways in the city reflects the Government’s continued commitment to this vital part of our transport system. The Northern Corridor project will complete the motorway connection for the Western Ring Route to the north, the Southern Corridor improvements will result in a safer route between the city centre & the south, and the Transport Agency will continue to build the 18km extension of the Northern Motorway (State Highway 1) from Puhoi to Warkworth.”

The big public transport projects hinge on upgrades to the rail network, much of it an extension of the network spreading out from the city rail link (listed starting in the south):

  • Papakura-Pukekohe electrification
  • Puhinui bus-rail interchange
  • Wiri-Quay Park corridor improvements
  • City centre-Mangere light rail
  • City centre-north-west light rail

Other corridor improvements:

  • Southern corridor (road & rail)
  • Southern & eastern airport access, State Highways 20 & 20B
  • Ameti (Auckland-Manukau eastern transport initiative) eastern busway
  • Glen Innes-Tamaki Drive shared bike-foot path
  • City centre bus improvements
  • Skypath over harbour bridge
  • Seapath around Northcote foreshore
  • State Highway 16, Brigham Creek-Waimauku safety improvements
  • Northern corridor
  • Ara Tuhono, Puhoi-Warkworth 18km highway extension construction

The transport agency said Auckland’s population was expected to grow by 300,000 over the next 10 years and was forecast to reach 2.3 million by 2043 – an increase greater than the rest of New Zealand’s population growth combined and requiring 400,000 new homes.

The mantra from the agency is this: “For Auckland to be successful, it needs a safe, reliable & integrated transport system, where people have choices about how they move around.

“The national land transport programme 2018-21 focuses on ensuring people have improved choice for how they access employment, education & services, today & tomorrow. This means continuing to develop strategic connections for public transport, private vehicles, walking & cycling into & across the busy urban centre, and shaping more liveable communities with appealing transport links that bring neighbourhoods together.”

The agency said one outcome from the Auckland transport alignment project between Auckland Council & the Government (ATAP) was “a new collaborative culture for prioritising the projects & initiatives that will deliver the best outcomes for Auckland. Together with its local government partners at Auckland Council and Auckland Transport, the Transport Agency is working to ensure the city grows in a smart way, with new communities being safely & effectively connected by a range of transport choices.

“Central to this is the need for a rapid transit network to unlock critical housing & urban development opportunities, giving communities better access to jobs, health, education & recreation.

“The project to deliver light rail between the city centre & Mangere is a first for New Zealand that will provide a modern, integrated public transport system with seamless connections. This is an opportunity to create a great transport system that can be part of the fabric of the city and can improve people’s lives, through transformational projects & initiatives that leave a legacy for future generations.

“The national land transport programme will invest in the infrastructure & operation of the public transport network as patronage continues to grow. This includes extending the Northern Busway and supporting the introduction of more electric trains.

“Key corridors around the city will continue to have strategic importance, especially as the city grows & changes. The Northern Corridor improvements project will complete the connection for the Western Ring Route to the north, the Southern Corridor Improvements will result in a safer route between the city centre & the south, and the Transport Agency will continue to build the 18km extension of the Northern Motorway (State Highway 1) from Puhoi to Warkworth.

“These investments will help to make Auckland a better place to live, work, visit & raise a family by providing safer transport choices, better access & a transport system that is easy to use.”

Rapid transit a network – not a single line

The agency makes it clear that rapid transit is intended to be more than a single light rail line down Dominion Rd and on to the airport, but a network, which started with the Northern Busway in 2008.

“The national land transport programme 2018-21 will invest in expanding Auckland’s rapid transit network. Moving forward, light rail is being investigated for several key routes. The Transport Agency is leading the delivery of the light rail programme. It is working in partnership with Auckland Council, Auckland Transport & the Hobsonville Land Co Ltd to give people more choice about how they travel and to support the creation of more accessible communities.

“The city centre-Mangere corridor will be light rail, and largely unaffected by road traffic & congestion. It will likely have fewer stops than current bus services, but provide a step change in capacity and more frequent, reliable services to improve access to 2 of the biggest employment areas in Auckland. Residents in neighbourhoods along the route, including the city centre, Dominion Rd, Mt Roskill, Onehunga & Mangere will benefit from better connections & amenities.

“Investment from the national land transport programme will also progress work on a second new rapid transit corridor to improve access to the growing north-western suburbs. This will provide a critical connection for these suburbs to provide a high capacity, frequent & reliable public transport service.

“The wider plan is for an integrated rapid transit network. For example, the Auckland Airport area will have more options to travel between the airport, the city centre & the eastern suburbs.”

The agency said its Southwest Gateway programme would build on the investment from the last 3-year transport plan to improve access to the airport & surrounding areas, including Airport-Botany rapid transit and 20Connect (referring to State Highways 20 & 20B, a programme intended to improve journey reliability and provide more travel choices between the airport & surrounding areas).

“Improvements may include bus priority along State Highway 20B to Puhinui rail station, an upgrade of the station, improved capacity & connections along State Highways 20 20A & 20B, interchange upgrades & rapid transit between the airport & Botany.”

Connecting communities as the city grows

The Transport Agency said its projects on Auckland’s public transport, road, walking & cycling networks were “increasingly integrated & creating a safe, connected a system that offers great transport choices”.

It said much of Auckland’s strategic road transport network was complete, but the agency was working to create targeted improvements at the same time as it prepares for the networks that will be needed to connect growth areas.

“In Auckland’s south, the Southern Corridor improvements project will deliver the widening of the Southern Motorway (State Highway 1) between Manukau & Papakura. The State Highway 1 Papakura-Bombay project will begin work to provide a third lane in each direction between Papakura & Drury, aiming to improve journey reliability, safety & network resilience.

“On the North Shore, the Northern Corridor improvements will see substantial progress (estimated completion 2022), completing the final section of the Western Ring Route and providing a new continuous motorway link between the Northern & Upper Harbour Motorways. Improvements along the Lake Rd corridor will provide a better corridor between Devonport & Takapuna.

“In Auckland’s west, improvements will be made to Lincoln Rd to accommodate additional transit/bus lanes, intersection & safety improvements and footpath widening.”

The agency has established the Supporting Growth programme to investigate, plan & deliver the transport services needed to support future urban growth areas over the next 30 years: “Through this collaborative programme with local government, the national land transport programme will invest in the initial preferred network that has been identified, including the Matakana link road connection between Matakana & State Highway 1 near Warkworth.

“The Transport Agency will continue a staged programme of route protection processes, and future delivery of projects will then follow in line with the Auckland transport alignment project’s priorities & the release of new land for growth.”

Improving walking & cycling

The agency said 38% of Aucklanders rode bikes this year – over 518,000 people now cycling: “The walking & cycling programme will be strategically planned & delivered to achieve maximum impact for short trips to the city centre, public transport interchanges, schools and local & metropolitan centres. A new footpaths regional programme will construct new & widened footpaths.

“A number of key infrastructure projects will enable more active ways for people to move safely & easily. SkyPath & SeaPath are key links in Auckland’s walking & cycling network which will both be delivered by the Transport Agency, enabling project efficiencies & improved co-ordination. There will be investment to progress the SeaPath project, a shared path between Esmonde Rd & the Auckland Harbour Bridge, as well as SkyPath, a shared path across the bridge itself. Work will continue on the Glen Innes-Tamaki Drive shared path, and investigations will begin into a Manukau Harbour crossing dedicated to walking & cycling (to replace the old Mangere bridge).”

Enhancing public transport

Auckland’s public transport users are making about 90 million trips/year on buses, trains & ferries, the highest patronage recorded in the city.

The transport plan will continue to invest in Auckland’s public transport network, with new electric trains to provide for growth and reduce crowding that would otherwise occur. The rail line from Papakura to Pukekohe will be electrified, a third main line will be added between Westfield & Wiri and the Westfield rail junction will be upgraded to provide better separation of passenger & freight services.

A programme to improve the performance of the city’s rail network includes an upgrade of the Onehunga line to accommodate higher frequency services & longer trains. The works also include progressive improvement & removal of road/rail level crossings to better manage safety risks, allow for more train services & reduce road congestion.

The agency will invest in city centre bus improvements (with Auckland Transport). They include bus priority lanes along Wellesley St and a new Learning Quarter bus interchange. In the downtown area, there will be new bus interchanges on Quay St East and Lower Albert St in conjunction with the City Rail Link & Auckland Council’s downtown projects.

The Auckland-Manukau eastern transport initiative (Ameti) will deliver new dedicated busways & cycleways to improve access & safety, unlocking housing development opportunities. Over the next 3 years work will focus on the Eastern Busway from Panmure to Pakuranga, including the Reeves Rd flyover.

The Northern Corridor improvements will deliver an extension of the successful Northern Busway to the Albany park-&-ride, running in both directions along the eastern side of the Northern Motorway. A new station is also proposed to be added at Rosedale.

There will also be new & expanded park-&-ride facilities, completion of the future ferry strategy for Auckland and redevelopment & construction of a new downtown ferry terminal.

More resilient & efficient

A key strategic approach of ATAP is to make better use of the existing network, and to explore new opportunities to get more out of what is already in place: “This means looking at the whole Auckland transport system and understanding the way people want to interact with it, as well as a programme of optimisation to improve the efficiency & reliability of people’s journeys.”

The agency said new technology was opening up opportunities to do this: “Transport Agency investment in the intelligent transport systems programme will use emerging technologies to better manage congestion, improve safety and influence travel demand. The network optimisation programme will provide a package of targeted small-to-medium-scale infrastructure projects to optimise routes through synchronisation of traffic signals, optimising road layout, dynamic traffic lanes & managing traffic restrictions. Another key initiative is the bus route priority phase 1, which involves implementation of bus priority measures along the frequent service network to improve capacity & speed.”

While the agency said its Auckland Transport Operations Centre was able to effectively manage incidents & emergencies, there’s a programme to strengthen its capabilities to reduce disruption & delay: “Core technology upgrades will support & enhance systems such as Journey Planner, web & mobile applications, asset management, CCTV & network upgrades to improve performance, resilience & safety of customers.”

As the climate changes, the agency will investigate how to address the impacts of sea level rise on Tamaki Drive, and improve the resilience of state highway & local road networks.

Investment highlights:

The wide array of budgets includes money under Te Tupu Ngatahi Supporting Growth Alliance collaborative programme, to confirm & protect transport networks needed to support the development of new urban growth areas over the next 30 years. Projects (including those under the alliance):

Ameti improvements, $240 million
Northern Corridor improvements, $500 million
State Highway 16, Brigham Creek-Waimauku safe system enhancement, $67.2 million
Dome Valley north of Warkworth, safety improvements, $33 million
Matakana link road connection $46 million
State Highway 1 Papakura-Bombay, $140 million
SeaPath, $31 million
SkyPath, $67 million
Glen Innes-Tamaki Drive shared path, $56.6 million
Third main line between Westfield & Wiri and upgrade of Westfield rail junction to provide better separation of passenger & freight services, $119 million
Lincoln Rd, $68 million

Northland, $460 million total – $350 million national fund, $109 million local government:

Northland projects include providing funding for an investigation into the opportunities to carry more freight in the region by rail, and enable the completion of improvements to State Highway 1 through Whangarei.

Waikato, $1.6 billion total – $1.27 billion national fund, $270 million local government, $59 million in direct Crown funding:

Completion of Hamilton section of the Waikato Expressway, $235 million
Mt Messenger bypass on State Highway 3, $109 million
Local road improvements, $164 million (more than doubled)
Public transport, $75 million, including funding to explore an inter-regional rail commuter service between Hamilton & Auckland

National programme, $16.9 billion:

Regional roads $5.8 billion, up $600 million, reversing the focus of the last 3 years on big-city projects
Metro roading, $5 billion
Regional non-roading projects to improve freight connections to ports, airports & distribution centres, $300 million
Public transport, rapid transit & rail, $4 billion
Walking & cycling, $390 million (including SkyPath & Seapath)
State highway projects, $3.5 billion, maintenance $2.2 billion.

Links:
NZTA, 31 August 2018: $16.9 billion investment in the future of NZ
NZTA, 31 August 2018: National land transport programme, 2018-21
NLTP regional summaries
Auckland land transport plan summary

Earlier stories:
29 June 2018: Cabinet approves 10-year transport spend, and Selwood highlights its inefficiency
19 January 2018: Collins raises scare about “road tax” diversion, but government fund already $½ billion in red
Attribution: Twyford releases, NZ Transport Agency.

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Rail network to take 9-carriage trains in future-proof agreed by council & Government

Auckland’s rail network stations will be expanded to take 9-carriage trains instead of the planned 6, in a future-proofing agreed yesterday by Auckland Council & the Government.

The price hasn’t been disclosed, and won’t be while the tender process to procure the work is underway. Auckland Council said yesterday exact costs would be known more precisely early next year once tenders are received.

The council’s governing body voted overwhelmingly to expand the scope of work to cater for increased capacity requirements of the city rail link, and Cabinet approved it yesterday as well. City rail link costs are shared equally between the 2.

The increase in scope follows a new estimate that peak capacity will be 50% greater than originally estimated – up from 36,000 passengers/hour at the peak to 54,000.

A council-government partnership, City Rail Link Ltd, is in charge of a construction programme that will make the downtown Britomart station a through station instead of a dead end. New stations at Aotea (Albert & Victoria Sts) & Karangahape Rd will be on the route round to a revamped Mt Eden station.

Consequences from the future-proofing for the city rail link:

  • Wider tunnels
  • Longer platforms at new stations to cater for the 9-carriage trains
  • A second entrance from the Karangahape Rd station, and
  • Associated station work.

Auckland mayor Phil Goff said: “Last year we achieved the milestone of 20 million passenger trips/year, 4 years ahead of schedule.

“The growth in popularity of rail travel in Auckland required council to take the decision today to increase our investment in the city rail link and expand new rail stations to cater for the huge number of people who will be commuting by rail in the next 10 years.

“Getting the work done now while the rail link is still under construction will avoid retrofitting the system, which would double the cost and require the tunnels to be closed for 2 years for widening within a decade of it being opened.”

Transport Minister Phil Twyford said increasing investment would ensure that when the rail link opens in 2024 Aucklanders get a modern & efficient rail service that benefits the entire transport network for decades to come: “A decade of under-investment in transport infrastructure has brought Auckland to a near standstill.

“Today’s decision has allowed us to avoid repeating the mistakes of the past when, within 10 years of opening the Auckland Harbour Bridge, it had to be expanded from 4 lanes to 8.”

Link: City rail link

Attribution: Council release.

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Rail tunnel excavation of Customs St intersection begins

Crossing the diagonal between the Old Customhouse & Quay Tower at Auckland’s downtown Customs-Albert St intersection, pedestrians can’t miss the rising Commercial Bay office tower and the barricades for tunnel construction.

But the barricades hide the excitement of the excavation involving both projects, which started this week.

Image above: The start of excavation to join the Albert St tunnel to the tunnel under Commercial Bay.

City Rail Link Ltd, the council-Government company undertaking the rail project, said in its latest newsletter this work would pave the way for construction of the rail tunnel box section linking the Albert St trench with the tunnels being built under the Commercial Bay development.

“Thanks to the concrete bridge deck constructed over the intersection about a year ago, traffic flow will be unaffected by the excavation occurring underneath. The spoil will be removed from the site using excavators & conveyors.

“Contractors will also be removing an old brick stormwater tunnel located under the intersection and replacing it with a temporary stormwater line that diverts water away from the location of the future CRL tunnels. The temporary line will be permanently diverted at a later date to connect with the Swanson St line, created during the Albert St stormwater realignment works last year.”

The rail link company expects construction of the tunnel structure to start in this area later this year, and a full connection made between the 2 construction sites by autumn 2019.

Crossing at Albert St intersections gives you an idea of the increasing depth of the tunnelling. CRL said the 6th section of tunnel wall had been poured below Albert St, meaning the first 132m of floor & 72m of the wall are complete.

The CRL website provides text, photos & drone views of the tunnelling programme.

Dr Sean Sweeney.

CRL’s new chief has Australian background in innovation

City Rail Link Ltd’s new chief executive, Sean Sweeney, a New Zealander who had been working in Australia, took up the position on Monday 2 July. His predecessor, Chris Meale, retired in March.

Dr Sweeney was educated at Wellington Polytechnic (NZCE), Auckland University (BE Honours), both in civil engineering, and Melbourne University (PhD in construction economics).

Since 2004, he’s been executive director at Major Projects Victoria, head of construction at major developer & builder Grocon Pty Ltd, managing director at Atelier Projects Pty Ltd – both companies which expound innovation – and chief executive at Ontoit Global Pty Ltd, a specialist in public-private partnerships.

Links:
City Rail Link newsletter
Watch drone footage of the Albert St trench construction works online.
Click to view

Attribution: CRL newsletter.

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Government starts on light rail procurement, Super Fund talks assessing viability & investment, mayor talks intensification

Transport Minister Phil Twyford & Finance Minister Grant Robertson announced on Wednesday that Cabinet had agreed to launch a procurement process for the Auckland rapid transit light rail network.

They also mentioned that the NZ Super Fund had made an unsolicited proposal last month to form an international consortium “to design, build & operate Auckland’s light rail network”.

The fund put it slightly differently, saying it had offered “to assess the viability of the Auckland light rail project for commercial investment”.

Housing & Urban Development Minister Phil Twyford.

The fund added that it “understands & respects the Government’s need to run a procurement process and looks forward to further engagement with the NZ Transport Agency”.

Mr Twyford said: “The Government is committed to progressing light rail to transform Auckland. It will be a magnet for private investment in urban renewal and will be able to carry 11,000 commuters/hour – the equivalent of 4 lanes of motorway.

“We are investigating innovative solutions to tackle congestion and build a vibrant & modern city.”

Mr Robertson added: “The NZ Transport Agency will now set up a robust process to explore a range of possible procurement, financing & project delivery options. This process will invite & assess all potential proposals and report back to the Ministers of Finance & Transport. The Transport Agency will work with the Treasury & the Ministry of Transport in this process.”

The procurement process covers both the city-Mangere & city-north-west lines. The recently announced 10-year transport plan for Auckland earmarked $1.8 billion in seed funding, with the option of securing private investment in the network.

Fund investment still tentative

Critics of Auckland Council & the Government’s proposal for the light rail line, especially the proposed path down Dominion Rd, skipped the notion that the Super Fund would “assess the viability” and stretched their criticism to the fund’s as-yet-tentative investment.

The New Zealand sovereign fund was created in 2003 and had $12 billion of funds when the National-led government suspended contributions in 2009. While suspending contributions, then-finance minister Bill English also told the fund he wanted it to increase its investment in New Zealand, aiming for an eventual target of 40% of its portfolio. The new government said in December it would resume contributions and would add $7.7 billion through to June 2022.

The fund has $5 billion (13.2%) of its $38 billion invested in New Zealand and about 2% invested globally in infrastructure. It’s returned 10.5%/year since inception – despite an $881 million loss in 2008, first year of the global financial crisis – while many other sovereign funds around the world have continued to struggle.

Sovereign funds have come looking for over a decade

Representatives of many of those funds have visited Auckland over the last 15 years to talk investment, and Auckland Council & its isthmus predecessor, the Auckland City Council, have acknowledged such funds as potential infrastructure financiers without indicating any steps have been taken to advance beyond a passing idea.

Matt Whineray.

The NZ Super Fund’s acting chief executive, Matt Whineray, said on Wednesday: “The Government has signalled its intention to accelerate core infrastructure investment in a number of areas. We consider the Auckland light rail network to be an infrastructure project of sufficient scale & significance to be an attractive prospect for investment. We wish to explore whether a NZ Super Fund-led consortium leveraging our international relationships can fund & deliver the project, on a fully commercial basis.”

The NZ Super Fund has identified as its potential partner CDPQ Infra, a wholly owned subsidiary of Caisse de dépôt et placement du Québec (CDPQ) responsible for developing & operating infrastructure projects. Mr Whineray said other members could be added to the consortium.

The Quebec provincial government created CDPQ in 1965, initially to manage its new universal pension plan. It’s become a leading institutional fund manager, with a net $US238 billion of assets. CDPQ Infra is responsible for developing, building & operating Montreal’s 67km light rail network.

Mayor says intensification in suburbs will follow

New Auckland mayor Phil Goff.

Auckland mayor Phil Goff said: “Light rail will facilitate new & more intensive housing along major arterial routes, including Mangere, Mt Roskill & West Auckland, and better connect centres of employment across our city. It will help to meet Auckland’s need for more housing for our rapidly growing population.”

Mr Goff said the light rail funding would be on top of the $28 billion earmarked by the Government & council to address congestion. He added: “Light rail will replace buses on routes that are already facing congestion and has been adopted by cities across the world to move large numbers of people more quickly & efficiently. “Unlike heavy rail, light rail does not require the purchase & demolition of thousands of houses to extend rapid transit services to new areas of Auckland.”

Links:
9 May 2018: Government statement on light rail project
Auckland Transport, Airport & Mangere rail
Charles Marohn, Strong Towns, 19 September 2016: Infrastructure spending for dummies
Revitalization News, 15 July 2015: Funding infrastructure to rebuild equitable, green prosperity
Rick Rybeck, report for Washington DC Tax Revision Commission2013: Funding long-term infrastructure needs for growth, sustainability & equity
Just Economics LLC (Rick Rybeck)

Earlier stories:
6 March 2017: Property Council joins call for new infrastructure funding
Tracking ideas Sun27Sep16 – sprawl v compact, inclusionary housing, infrastructure funding, related pieces, Making NZ
14 August 2017: Billions astray, but political thinking on Auckland transport infrastructure is positive
24 July 2017: New Crown entity will advance housing infrastructure
12 June 2017: NZ infrastructure body takes lessons from Scotland
15 February 2017: Steamrolling & funding
3 July 2016: PM talks $1 billion infrastructure fund, English talks payback frame, Smith talks grabbing more power
10 June 2016: Joyce hunts for foreign direct investment in Singapore
6 December 2015: How Panuku proposes to lead transformation of Auckland
24 August 2015: An action plan called 42
26 November 2014: Auditor-general issues blunt warning on infrastructure
30 September 2014: Super guardians pose some investment thoughts
14 May 2009: Finance Minister Bill English direction to the fund to increase NZ allocation
2 June 2009: Fund response to Finance Minister Bill English on increasing allocation to NZ investment

Attribution: Government, council & Super Fund releases.

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Withdrawal pushes back CRL tender

City Rail Link Ltd, the joint venture between Auckland Council & the Government that’s building the rail link under the central city, said yesterday the withdrawal of a preferred bidder from the tunnels & stations process would delay the release of tender documents by up to 3 months.

CRL chief executive Chris Meale said it was too early to tell if the delay would roll on into the current project completion date of early 2024.

He said the withdrawal was disappointing but wouldn’t prevent progress on the tender, and discussions had already started with another prospective bidder: “We are fortunate that the initial lineup of 8 bidders for the project was exceptional and it was a hard choice to determine the top 2.”

Mr Meale said one of them made its own commercial decision to withdraw this week: “While we are naturally disappointed, we are moving on.”

Link: City rail link

Attribution: Company release.

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Collins raises scare about “road tax” diversion, but government fund already $½ billion in red

Former Cabinet Minister Judith Collins, now the National Opposition’s transport spokesperson, raised a scare this week that the new government would divert National Land Transport Fund money from major road projects to rail.

2 things she neglected to mention:

1, while the fund’s income comes largely (but not entirely) from road users, it has always referred to its “land transport” programme rather than to “roads”.

2, it will be a long time before the fund has any money to spend on anything. Its annual reports for the last 2 years disclose that the fund’s liabilities exceeded its assets by $497 million at June 2016, rising to a $528 million deficit at June 2017.

It had budgeted for a $40 million surplus at June 2017.

The fund’s 3 biggest spends in the last financial year were on the accelerated Auckland transport programme ($236 million), public-private partnerships (for highway development, $557 million) & Tauranga’s eastern link toll road ($107 million).

The fund’s income is derived from “all revenue from fuel excise duty, road user charges, motor vehicle registration & licensing fees, revenues from Crown appropriations, management of Crown land interest, and tolling”.

The fund uses this income to manage the funding of the road policing programme, the national land transport programme & activities such as transport planning.

The fund’s last annual report says: “The National Land Transport Fund has a negative general funds balance due to the programmes that were accelerated and current funding was sourced from the Crown. The funding received has been recognised as long-term payables, which are not due until 2-27 years from balance date.

“The fund has the option to slow down expenditure on the national land transport programme, or utilise the short-term borrowing facility of $250 million if required to meet obligations as they fall due in the short term.”

Congestion issues

Auckland – a region where traffic grinds to a halt daily – has a serious, and growing, campaign to get more people to commute by rail, reducing road traffic, but it still has to work out how to handle freight much more efficiently.

The biggest proposal for improving freight movement, the East-West Link through Penrose & Onehunga, won consent from a board of inquiry in November, confirmed by its report & final decision on 21 December. But, by then, the incoming government had canned the project.

Collins on Labour’s “pet” obsession

Ms Collins said in a release on Monday the new government’s transport minister, Phil Twyford, “has confirmed the government is considering diverting taxes paid by motorists who want better roads to rail instead, while insisting to media this won’t happen.

“This is an important principle, adhered to by successive governments, ensuring the specific taxes paid by motorists are invested in newer, safer & better roads – helping keep New Zealanders connected & safe. Road users pay taxes which are directly returned to them.

“But this now appears under threat, because of the Labour Party’s obsession with light rail in Auckland. Mr Twyford has written to stakeholders saying a number of changes to the government policy statement (GPS) on land transport are being considered. Among the proposals is ‘exploring how rail investment is incorporated within the GPS & the National Land Transport Fund’.

“This is in spite of his office telling media last week that funding for road upgrades would not be redirected to rail.

“In his rush to erroneously claim that a number of roading projects aren’t under threat because of the Government’s obsession with Auckland rail, Mr Twyford has been saying different things to different people.

“This desperate grab for more taxes is the result of this free-spending government realising how much it’s going to cost to build its pet rail line from Auckland’s cbd to the airport – so it’s looking to divert funding from regional roads as a result.

“The National Land Transport Fund is paid for by road users to be invested in improving New Zealand’s roading network and it should remain that way. The Government needs to check its priorities and ensure the taxes paid by road users are invested back in the roads they are using.

“Last week, National launched a series of petitions aimed at saving those regional roads that the Government is looking to slash funding for. Given this duplicity from the Government, I want to again encourage everyone to sign the petitions to save our roads,” Ms Collins said.

Twyford signalled his intention

Mr Twyford wrote in a column for Contractor magazine last week: “To achieve our vision for transport, change is necessary. I am interested in how we can best use existing funding tools – like the National Land Transport Fund & the Government Policy Statement (GPS) – to support a more multi-modal approach.

“The traditional way in which we finance & fund infrastructure needs to change if we are going to address the multiple challenges of urban growth, replacing ageing assets, meeting higher environmental standards & improving resilience. We believe we need to be smarter about how we use the Government’s balance sheet.”

Mr Twyford wrote that the challenges of population & freight growth in the “golden triangle” of Auckland-Bay of Plenty-Waikato “will not be solved solely by investment in the roading network. All modes can be complementary to each other.

“For example, the Government is committed to implementing a rapid transit system for Auckland, which will include light rail from the cbd to the airport and to west Auckland. Such an investment will not only make it easier for people to get around town, but it will also free up our roading network to improve freight efficiency.”

The National petitions

National MPs began launching their petitions a fortnight ago.

Whangarei & Northland MPs Shane Reti & Matt King’s petition calls for the Auckland-Whangarei 4-lane “road of national significance” to proceed as the previous government planned it.

In Auckland’s eastern suburbs, MPs Jami-Lee Ross (Botany), Simeon Brown (Pakuranga) & Denise Lee (Maungakiekie) launched their petition to support the East-West Link.

They commented: “After a decade of planning & $50 million of investigative spending, you would expect that there was a clear direction on the project. This project has been through a fine-toothed procedural process like no other. It is supported by council, iwi, and has been approved by the Environmental Protection Agency’s board of inquiry.

“The current gridlock is a major barrier to commerce. This is making it difficult for people getting access to their basic daily goods. It is quite literally the bread & butter of transport projects.”

Links:
Contractor, 15 January 2018: Infrastructure & transport
National Party petitions: Save our regional highway projects

Attribution: National Party releases, Contractor.

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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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