Tuesday, May 22, 2012

At Least Five More Reasons not to build the Central City Rail Link

Second Thoughts
So some Auckland councillors think that the Inner City Rail Link is unaffordable without central funding.  Perhaps they will do away with the latter qualification once they have heard  the budget later this week – at this time and place, it’s just unaffordable regardless of whether we throw ratepayer or taxpayer funds at it. 

Not only that – it doesn’t make a lot of sense.  Here are some reasons. (There are others - I have dealt with demand issues elsewhere).

1.       Its inflexible
Rail corridors are fixed, inflexible, and vulnerable.  Even with an Inner City Link Auckland rail will have minimal redundancy built into it.  Any service disruption will have widespread impacts – even when the cause lies elsewhere.  

Rail is vulnerable to severe weather, floods, or geotechnical disruption – washouts, landslides, earthquakes, events that usually occur when transport corridors become most critical.  How useful would rail have been in the Christchurch earthquake? That’s hypothetical, of course.  But think of Wellington’s rail system and the potentially devastating impact of an earthquake on that.  And think of the impact of extreme weather on rail in downtown Auckland or on the eastern corridor.

2.       Stations have limited accessibility and will generate congestion
Rail is difficult to access for the majority of the city’s residents who live or work more than a kilometre from a station.  Park and ride, integrated PT ticketing, and dedicated cycleways serving the stations might improve accessibility. But there comes a point when the additional time and costs discourage commuters.

And nodes will be further compromised by congestion associated with creating high density development around stations to try to boost patronage.  Even for those living close to a station, the majority of trips –shopping, entertainment, socialising, personal business, education, and recreation - are taken by a mode other than rail.  So travel demand by many more local residents combined with park and ride or feeder bus systems will require major investment in roads and around stations to maintain their accessibility.  Is this budgeted into the rapid rail dream?

3.    An irrational option in the face of peak oil?
If (who knows when?) peak oil really bites by pushing fuel prices to prohibitive levels or through an outright shortage travel behaviour will change.  Two responses seem plausible. 

First, many more people will come to rely on public transport.  But the majority will not be able to access a rail-based system without personal transport.  And if that problem can be solved, and quite apart from issues of inflexibility and vulnerability, rail is inevitably capacity-capped. It just won't be up to the job.

Second, people will travel less.  Part of that may be more ride sharing and more multi-purpose trips, more patronage of local services, more  local employment, more localised village life.  How will a fixed line, long-haul passenger system help with that?

In any case there is a solution to the threat of peak oil in place already: a road network on which public transport can operate to every corner of the region.  When people start leaving their cars at home, it will have plenty of capacity for efficient, fast, and  flexible public transport.

And the mode – who knows?  Probably buses of various configurations capable of moving people quickly throughout the region.  Quite possibly light rail will play a part, perhaps even automated personal transport networks.

4.     It’s the geography, stupid
Auckland is on an isthmus – within which sits another densely occupied isthmus. The result is a stretched out city with a big heart – all confined by hill and water. 

This distinctive physical geography shapes a city already lauded as one of the most liveable in the world.  We have a network of corridors by way of state highways and motorways which reflect this geography, and a regional and local road system tuned to it. 

Auckland - city on an isthmus
And we have inherited a heavy railway that responds to our geography with links to cities to the north and south.  What our rail system might be able to do is make dispersal a greater reality, supporting satellites north (and north west) and south of the city.  Transforming it into a version of the London Tube, the Paris Metro, or the Singapore MRT, though, is a stretch too far.

London - City on a plain

5.    Keeping Auckland Liveable
Rhetoric about transforming Auckland into the world’s most liveable city has its place.  Given that it’s already considered highly liveable, it’s interesting that this is not stopping the outflow of New Zealanders to Sydney, Brisbane, and beyond, though.

So let’s try something different.  How about being a smart city?  Or at least a city that makes smart decisions.  We could start by addressing the risks to our current liveability.

The failure to provide sufficient greenfield capacity for growth is an obvious one. Desperate intensification threatening the green and blue spaces that give character to the city is another.  The ageing of existing infrastructure highlighted by the increasing vulnerability of our underground services is yet another,one which Think Big rail plans threaten to deprive of funding .   

Oh, yes, a sixth reason
Right now the gathering fiscal clouds are perhaps the greatest threat to a liveable Auckland.  It is no doubt this that is unsettling councillors.  It will unsettle residents, too, if foolhardy spending is translated into ongoing increases in property rates and charges for services – like public transport - that fail to address the needs of the majority of resident or business ratepayers in the city (or taxpayers outside it) compromise liveablity, and limit choices in the future. 


Mark said...

CRL also runs into other network capacity constraints, so that it doesn't generate much additional am peak capacity. This was highlighted in the Govt review.

the other issue around rail, is that the capacity is used by those further out, and a rail network is very difficult to add extra capacity just for the inner areas. So capacity gets used up, by the time rail gets to the inner city growth nodes! such as newmarket, Mt Albert / Morningside/Kingsland etc. the land use planners haven't been talking to rail operators! They want intensification, based around PT - but don't seem to realise there'll be no capacity!
- which again undermines the $ spend.

Govt review showed only an extra 6000 CBD rail users, and most will have come off buses!

Anonymous said...

So much Mark for using Shuttles like the old Otahuhu Shuttle? Your question is easily solved with Inner Circuit Shuttles that would run New Lynn to Britomart or before Manukau, Otahuhu to Britomart on the Eastern Line.

The Theory - which works is place a shuttle 5 mins ahead of the through service that started from Swanson, Papakura or Pukekohe, starting from Otahuhu or New Lynn and watch that shuttle hoover up all those inner circuit passengers quickly.

The shuttle allows the through train not to be jammed packed by the time it hit the inner circuit, and crowding problems were mitigated quite well. So your Mt Albert, Morningside, Kingsland commuters would catch the shuttle to their destination rather than risking the full through train behind it and not get squashed.

However we no longer have the rolling stock for the shuttles due to the Manukau Line, so you will need to wait for the electrics before shuttles can return. Oh and Phil, do you class Meadowbank, Orakei and Newmarket as inner suburbs?

Creativity folks - there is a way. And the shuttles will need the CRL as well unless we bottleneck Newmarket-Britomart section

Phil McDermott said...

Voakl, will Britomart cope with the combined shuttle/long haul services you are suiggesting?
I guess I would class Newmarket as an inner suburb, on the edge of the planned loop/link (like Mt Eden). The 2006 numbers are pretty ropey today, not only dated but small (and rounded for confidentiality reasons). But based on them, buses carried three times the number of morning commuters to the CBD than rail did from Newmarket; and 70 times at Mt Eden North (but that would no doubt change with a more direct link to Britomart).

The question is do we need an inner shuttle when buses already carry so many in the area - and with the likelihood of a long-term reduction in private vehicles could easily carry more on existing carriageways? Not only creative, but cost effective and flexible.

Mark said...

What is true frequency though? looking at western line max switch time is said to be 5min, ie 5min gape betweeen next train. However from my research, you then have to factor slow parts of the network/switching areas etc to be able to get a std frequency. You may be able to get say 5min between close stations, with top speeds between them. But when you hit slower parts, where speed can't increase to full 5min speed required eg Morningside to Kingsland, and 50km limit in CRL tunnel, and also stations with >1min dwell times eg high capacity ones such as Newmarket /grafton /and CRL ones, where it might take 2-3 min dwell time, tehn giving 7-8 min frequency. You then can have trains banking up, and you don't a constant frequency - so it drops back to frequency which is constantly "achievable" ie 10 min on Western line.

Not sure how a shuttle works? It still takes a slot in the CRL stations, which delays regular service? and also has to switch off main line to siding,switch tracks to then come back and do cbd run again. I thought there was a legal requirment after going through a switch before next train? 4min?
I remember years ago talking to ARTA rail experts from overseas, and it was very interesting, and pretty basic rail "engineering" how a network can be run. And the transport planners hadn't understood how the system really worked.
It's like the old light rail option 1a up queen st - Becca's rubbished previous ARC planners, and at a cost of $1m consultancy, proved it couldn't work! That's why I'm amazed we can't see simple constraint capacity analysis - apart from Govt review.

Andrew D Atkin said...

Hi Phil,

It's a contradiction when the pro-rail brigade go on about peak oil. If they're really concerned about that then they would be jumping up and down for initiatives like comprehensive congestion-charging, which can ultimately eliminate serious congestion. Congestion-charging is probably the best precautionary thing local government can do to protect us from "peak oil".

Obviously they're not really worried about peak oil - just looking for excuses for rail.

Phil McDermott said...

There is another problem - we already have pretty high PT penetration of eligible commuters so that the marginal returns on additional investment are bound to decline. And bus is the key to this penetration because it can penetrate all the suburbs.

In 2006 25% of all motorised trips to the CBD were by bus, just 4% by train. We know those numbers have gone up, and probably a lot faster than the total number of CBD commuters.

The figures were 27% (bus) and 4% (train) for people living elsewhere on the Isthmus, but 14% train and 11% bus for people coming from the south - bearing out your point, Mark. (40% of all train trips came from the Isthmus, 38% from the south and 21% from the west).

A quick check of the raw data shows that those train trip numbers only build up when you get past the inner suburbs of the Isthmus to Remuera and Meadowbank in the east, or past Kingsland, St Lukes and Mt Albert in the south west.

On the other hand, bus is very clearly favoured ahead of rail in the busy inner suburbs. So the question is what great benefit we might get from building expensive stations there on a $2-3bn inner rail loop. I know, I know - build them and let’s see how many more people use the train. But actually, inner suburb residents are already doing well using the bus. And it's an experiment that we can ill-afford.