The Auckland government’s plans to start on its $2.86 billion city rail link project a decade earlier than first intended could be scuppered, following an independent review from PwC.
The consulting firm prepared a report for the Auckland Council, which warns that it is important to set realistic targets. This issue was raised after the government planned to shift the start date from its original target of 2030 to 2020, with forecasted increases in both rail passenger numbers and central city employment driving this confidence.
And in the latest development in the project, Auckland Mayor Len Brown is hoping to push the start date even earlier, saying that construction could start as soon as 2016.
The main crux of the PwC report is that the growth targets set by the government – with rail patronage to reach 20 million trips before 2020 and the number of jobs in the CBD to jump by 25 per cent – are unreasonable and impractical. One of the reasons for this is that with Auckland’s electric trains only having commenced operation this year, full electrification is only likely to be achieved in 2015 or 2016.
Meanwhile, limited office space in the central city and the lack of new office buildings slated for construction within the next three years mean that the employment target is just as unachievable.
As a result, PwC recommended the government adjusts its targets in line with growth rates witnessed since the Britomart CBD transport hub was opened in 2002. This translates to 800,000 additional rail trips per year before full electrification, and 1.5 million extra trips a year after electrification.
As one of the most exciting rail projects in New Zealand for the coming years, it is essential that the right decisions are made in a measured manner before commencing the Auckland city rail link. PwC’s report should provide clearer guidance around the targets the Auckland government should aim for.