28 Jan 2022

Government to announce preferred route for Auckland light rail

7:28 am on 28 January 2022

The government will this morning announce the preferred route of Auckland's long-awaited light rail project.

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An artist's impression of light rail near Auckland's city centre. Photo: Supplied

Three options were presented to Cabinet last year, each of which run from the city centre to Mount Roskill, Māngere and the airport, at a cost of between $9 billion and $16b.

It has taken many years of back and forth and back again to get to this point. It was one of the first campaign promises then-opposition leader Jacinda Ardern made in 2017 - light rail to Mount Roskill within four years, and then to the airport within 10 years.

But to date, not a spade has hit the ground.

Greater Auckland transport and urban development commentator Matt Lowrie said "We can't keep going on with discussing and throwing options out there. It's seven years since light rail was first proposed and saying that we urgently needed it. We need to get on with it".

Of the three options put forward by a working group, one is completely above ground along Dominion Road. Another option is half under and half overground, and the other completely underground. Both of the latter options would run under Sandringham Road.

Lowrie expected the government would go with the half and half option - underground from the central city to Mount Roskill, and then overland to Māngere and the airport.

But he hoped he was wrong.

"The benefit of the surface option is you have a much cheaper delivery, and you can get it delivered faster. The advantage of the metro [fully below ground] option is for automated services - you can have driverless trains, and run really high frequency. The tunnelled light rail sort of has the worst parts of both of them," Lowrie said.

National's new transport spokesperson Simeon Brown said if he was the one committing to a big ticket item, it would not be light rail.

"I think the number one priority for Auckland has to be a second harbour crossing. I think that's critical to unlocking Auckland's potential," Brown said.

Simeon Brown

National Party's new transport spokesperson Simeon Brown says would instead push ahead with the Mill Road and East-West Link roading projects. Photo: RNZ / Dom Thomas

The government was overly focussed on the "ideologically driven" "pet project" of light rail, or what he called a slow tram, Brown said.

He would instead push ahead with the Mill Road and East-West Link roading projects, which he said were going nowhere under this government.

But he was not all about roads.

"The key focus in terms of public transport is completing the Eastern Busway, the busway from Botany to the airport, the Northwestern Busway. And then it's looking at how to maximise use of the current, existing railway network."

The benefits of the Auckland Light Rail Project just did not stack up, Brown said.

Even the working group's report gave the three options a benefit-cost ratio of 1.1 to 1.2 dollars for every dollar spent.

While the centrepiece announcement is likely to be light rail, other initiatives are expected to be announced too.

Road safety campaigner Caroline Perry said more and better public transport was key to reducing the road toll, because it would encourage people out of their cars.

But the government has also committed to Road to Zero - working towards zero deaths on the country's roads. More must be done to reduce the amount of deaths on the road, she said.

"That includes our roads, things like median barriers and roadside barriers that we know help to reduce crashes and reduce the severity of injuries. And also more investment in things like... driver education and training."

Seventeen people died on the roads over the Christmas/New Year period, which is less than two weeks long.

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