As Time Goes By

Apr 19, 2021 by Keith Mexsom

As history records, it took more than a century for the original conception of a viable suburban railway network for Auckland to become a reality. However, just because the construction of the City Rail Link is underway, it does not mean the job is finished. Far from it. There is so much more to be done if Auckland’s public transport services are to meet the needs of the city’s population – forecast by Statistics New Zealand to increase from about 1.7 million currently to 2 million by early next decade.

While any such increase could be influenced by many events, such as the pandemic, and the numbers leaving Auckland for less congested regions, improvements in transport infrastructure must nevertheless continue if only to make up for the disastrous lack of investment and implementation that has plagued the city for so many decades.

Unfortunately, instead of implementing even a small proportion of the scores of plans previously formulated and debated, the city has decided to talk to itself again – this time, by means of an Establishment Unit to discuss the viability of light rail to the airport. A second harbour crossing has also been talked about ever since the first was completed and found to be of insufficient capacity. Some sixty years later, as the bridge ages and its structural integrity deteriorates, it is still to be decided if a second crossing should be a bridge or a tunnel, from where to where, favouring road or rail, cyclists or pedestrians.

The reasons given for another study are the same as those that have launched its many predecessors – the need to achieve solutions to Auckland’s traffic problems that are both practical and affordable. While the practical conditions may change from time to time and need further study, the question of affordability remains much the same and continues to predominate and determine the eventual outcome.

When discussing the reasons as to why the original austerity harbour bridge had been decided upon, the late Harry Julian, former chairman of the Auckland Harbour Board, stated some years ago that it had been a matter of accepting the minimum that could be obtained, or nothing at all – that one had to start off with the small, affordable options first and then hold out for what was really needed. 

In the end, the establishment of a toll system decided the affordability of the harbour bridge and, long before the City Rail Link became a reality, there were no end of overseas offers to fund its construction – just as there has been for the light rail proposal in more recent times. On the face of it, then, even the question of affordability should pose no real impediment to even a less ambitious start to the light rail project, or a second harbour crossing, or both.

Except, of course, Aucklanders must wait for the Establishment Unit to have its say in six months’ time. After that, as per historic precedent, perhaps another talkfest or two…or three…