30 Oct 2021

Auckland light rail from CBD to airport: Locals weigh cost and benefits

5:53 am on 30 October 2021

Aucklanders are on the fence about a possible passenger train from the city through Mount Roskill and to the airport.

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An artist's impression of Auckland light rail network. Photo: Supplied

The government has revealed a three-option shortlist put together by an independent group, ranging in price from $9 billion to $16b.

Rail from the CBD to the airport was Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern's first policy promise as Labour leader in 2017 - and after fits and spurts, by the end of the year, we'll finally know if it's going ahead.

All three of the options would travel through the suburb of Mount Roskill.

At the neighbourhood shops, tradesperson Yure said for that sort of money he would rather have better roads because traffic was atrocious.

"Tradies and delivery guys - they can't do that on the train. At the moment with lockdown traffic's quieter but when it's not I lose a good four hours a day travelling to jobs. It's unproductive and I can't jump on the bus with my ladders."

Another man Kieran said he would not use the train himself, but it would make a difference for others. And despite the overall cost, delaying it would cost more.

"You wait another 10 years, it'll be double that," Kieran said. "They always say do it when you need to do it. It's the cheapest time."

Singaporean expat Tiong said he loved the metro there, but he was not in favour of light rail being built here.

He said Auckland was not populated or busy enough for the benefits to outweigh the costs.

"Because the end product seems very promising. Light rail, it looks nice. The construction part is going to take a long time ... a lot of disruption to businesses and traffic. And the cost involved ... it's going to balloon."

Each of the options would also travel through Onehunga, where there is already a rail line into the CBD, but not south.

Sila was in favour of the southern option.

"That's a brilliant idea. I think it's about time too. It'll lessen the traffic, people can park their cars in Onehunga and catch the train to the airport. Carbon emissions [are] something to think about too."

Rosemary, who works in the city and currently drives to work, said the current train was infrequent and unreliable but she would catch a more regular option.

"If it was once every five minutes, definitely. The Onehunga train line comes once every half an hour, and even then it's often delayed. It doesn't really work for us."

Dion, the owner of a cafe on Onehunga Mall Road said Covid-19 had hit it hard, and disruption from the build would be another setback.

"That's not just us, all businesses along Onehunga Mall would have quite a difficult time running their businesses, without having them start their railway here."

Greater Auckland website editor and public transport commentator Matt Lowrie said some form of rail was the best option for this corridor.

But a few things in the proposal did not add up, he said, including the cost of the surface option along Dominion Road.

"Most projects overseas cost $60 million to $150m per kilometre to build. They're proposing for this to cost $375m per km, so more than twice the amount that most comparable cities are spending on these sorts of projects," Lowrie said.

The benefit-cost ratio of the options are 1:1 and 1:2, just above a ratio of one in which the benefits equal the costs.

If the cost throughout the project were to increase, then the ratio may be at risk of falling below one, where the costs outweigh the benefits.

Lowrie said the price tag could yet increase, but so could the utility Auckland gets from it.

In any case, he said other transport projects going ahead are worse.

"There are a bunch of highway projects we're building with have a benefit-cost ratio of 0:2, which we also shouldn't be building. But we're building much lower value projects around many other parts of the country."

The government has not decided that this will definitely go ahead.

Transport Minister Michael Wood called this a "necessary investment" to reduce congestion as Auckland grew to a projected two-and-a-half million people by 2050.

"We should have been investing in this sort of infrastructure decades ago in Auckland, our biggest city. We didn't, and I don't think we should keep kicking the can down the road."

Cabinet will look at these options and have a decision by the end of the year if it wants to go ahead with any of them.

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