Weekend Herald

Rail link upgrade will cost extra $6.7b

Figure should be treated cautiously, given works will occur after 2031

- Bernard Orsman

Auckland’s $4.4 billion City Rail Link is on track to open in 2024 — but needs an extra $6.7b to upgrade the wider network to reach its full potential.

Official documents say the CRL will be transforma­tional for the city but the suburban rail network will require “significan­t accompanyi­ng investment” to go from 15,000 people per hour today to 54,000.

The documents show the Government and Auckland Council have earmarked $6.7b over “future decades” to fully realise the capacity of the CRL to move 54,000 people per hour.

The work includes additional tracks and trains, lengthenin­g platforms for nine-car trains, removing all level crossings on the southern and western lines and a signalling upgrade.

Before the 3.5km CRL tunnel between Britomart and Mt Eden Station opens in 2024, a further $762m will have been spent buying new trains and upgrading the rail network to increase patronage from

15,000 people an hour to 22,500. All up, the CRL and network upgrades are budgeted at nearly $12b.

Auckland Transport and KiwiRail said the CRL was not designed to be at capacity on day one, but this has not stopped the likes of Auckland mayor Phil Goff repeatedly stating “it will carry 54,000 people an hour” without mentioning the extra cost.

The “fact sheet” issued by City Rail Link Ltd also says “at peak times,

54,000 passengers an hour will use CRL stations” and is silent about the extra cost.

The extra CRL costs are contained in the latest Auckland Transport Plan (known as ATAP) between the Government and Auckland Council.

The 10-year plan includes funding to complete the $4.4b CRL build and $762m for rail network improvemen­ts.

The $6.7b spending is budgeted in ATAP after 2031 with Auckland Transport, KiwiRail and Waka Kotahi NZ Transport Agency tasked with working out how and when to make key investment­s in the rail network.

While work progresses on the CRL, the Government is looking to get light rail in Auckland back on track at a cost of billions of dollars and build a walking and cycling bridge alongside the Auckland Harbour Bridge at an estimated cost of $685m. Planning is also continuing on a new multibilli­ondollar harbour crossing, likely a more expensive tunnel focused on public transport.

What’s more, there is no guarantee the CRL will come in on budget. CRL chief executive Dr Sean Sweeney, who has a PhD in constructi­on economics, said the project was on track to be completed in late 2024, but he would not be drawn on costs until the tunnel excavation­s and station constructi­on was substantia­lly completed next year.

The $6.7b figure should also be treated with caution given the works will not occur until after 2031. Just last week, Finance Minister Grant Robertson said Covid-19 and rising constructi­on costs were to blame for the Mill Rd, Penlink and Papakura-to-Drury projects in Auckland more than doubling in cost in less than 18 months.

The Weekend Herald sought responses about the $6.7b package of works from Robertson and other leaders involved in the CRL, including business leader Sir Brian Roche, who chairs CRL Ltd and Waka Kotahi, and Auckland Transport and KiwiRail bosses.

KiwiRail acting chair Sue McCormack responded with a short statement: “I have noticed the response from KiwiRail and have nothing further to add.”

KiwiRail’s written response and an Auckland Transport response said much the same — the CRL was designed to allow for growth in demand, would not be operating at full capacity on day one and future developmen­t would be staged over coming decades in response to demand.

An AT spokesman said: “The exact timing will depend on patronage

This is a multigener­ational piece of infrastruc­ture and we expect it will continue to add capacity for decades to come.

Minister Michael Wood

growth and funding availabili­ty.

Transport Minister Michael Wood said all transport investment­s were part of a network and required investment­s across that network to gain full benefits.

“This is a multi-generation­al piece of infrastruc­ture and we expect it will continue to add capacity for decades to come,” he said.

Goff said the CRL — unlike the Auckland Harbour Bridge which had to be widened from four to eight lanes less than 10 years after it opened — had been future-proofed to ultimately carry 54,000 passengers an hour.

“The benefits of the CRL are immense, including immediatel­y doubling the number of trains able to come into Auckland. Over a period of decades, upgrades will be required, just like any other piece of infrastruc­ture,” said Goff.

Right now, any extra costs from the CRL would spell bad news for the city.

The council has taken a $750m hit from Covid-19’s impact, is temporaril­y exceeding its debt limit and has little wriggle room to respond to future economic shocks.

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