There has existed a major policy difference between Labour and the Greens on the one hand and National on the other hand about when Auckland’s city rail link should be built.
The Greens are solidly in support of it. Last election Labour pledged to cancel the holiday highway and use the funds to help fund the city rail link’s immediate construction.
The logic behind the project is inescapable. At some stage in the future because Britomart is a station with only one entrance the Auckland Rail System will reach capacity. It is at the range of 24 million trips a year that the system maxes out. You cannot get enough trains to enter and leave the station to get any more passengers through. And by constructing the link you will make the rail system able to be more frequent, more relevant and for all passengers much quicker, especially those out from west.
If Britomart is made a through station so trains can pass through then its capacity will double. But this requires a rather expensive tunnel to be built. And so you can get a sense of how important the city rail link is and what a big project it is.
Len Brown and Auckland Council have campaigned for the CRL for a significant period of time. Apart from a few right wing councillors who cannot get past the cost there is solid support from within Council.
Len managed to gain what I thought was an outstanding concession from the Government and that was to agree to construct the project starting in 2020 although Len’s preference is to start construction in 2016.
[T]he Government is committing to a joint business plan for the City Rail Link with Auckland Council in 2017 and providing its share of funding for a construction start in 2020.
And we will be prepared to consider an earlier start date if it becomes clear that Auckland’s CBD employment and rail patronage growth hit thresholds faster than current rates of growth suggest.
Our current thinking is that an earlier business plan could be triggered if two conditions are met.
The first is if Auckland city centre employment increases by 25 per cent over current levels – that is half the increase predicted in the Future Access Study.
And the second is that annual rail patronage is on track to hit 20 million trips well before 2020.
But that is something we will discuss with Auckland Council.
The situation is subject to six monthly reviews. The first review suggested that job growth was only 2,000 for the first six months. Annual growth of 5,000 will be required. This review also noted that rail patronage was static.
However the patronage figures to the end of March have shown significant growth. As noted by Patrick Reynolds at Transport Blog the figure hit 11 million and if this figure was extrapolated out then the 2020 target should be met.
The imminent introduction of the new electric train engines and the reorganisation of the bus service routes should result in significant patronage growth starting soon. And in a world where petroleum is going to become increasingly expensive you would think that the Government would make a high priority improvement of the electricity fuelled transport system in the country’s biggest city.
There is I believe a strong rationale for National to review its decision. National has an anti train belligerence that is hard to understand. But National will find that the introduction of sleek state of the art trains into the Auckland system will make the inner city loop that much more attractive to Auckland voters.
What is the bet that if and when National’s lead in the polls wanes serious consideration will be given by them to announce that the inner city loop’s construction can start now?