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Transport & Logistics

Auckland’s City Rail Link project – developments, challenges and objectives

13 Jun 2019, by Amy Sarcevic

Auckland’s rail network is undergoing a significant upgrade, to accommodate exponential population growth.

The City Rail Link (CRL) is New Zealand’s largest transport infrastructure project and will transform the way people travel, live and work in the country’s biggest city.

The project involves the construction of 3.2 km twin tunnels, two new underground stations, and the refurbishment of two existing stations.

When CRL is completed in 2024, the network will cater for up to 55,000 passengers per hour, doubling the capacity of the Auckland rail network.

Dr. Sean Sweeney, CRL’s Chief Executive, said that he hopes the “once in a century” transport investment will spark a mass modality shift among New Zealand citizens and significantly improve the liveability of the city.

Ahead of the ARA New Zealand Rail Conference – 19-20 June 2019, Dr. Sweeney outlines recent key developments and how he hopes these will help fulfil the project’s lofty goals.

An alliance delivery mechanism

In the last twelve months the project has begun phasing out its traditional D&C procurement model in favour of an alliance delivery mechanism.

“We’ve still got 2-3 lump sum D&C contracts on foot at the moment, but they are really less than 20 percent of the overall construction work. The remainder of the work is going to be delivered by a large project alliance – a collaborative arrangement between the client, builders and senior consultants. We refer to it as ‘pain and gain share’ model. In other words, we all win and lose together.

“An alliance delivery model makes the project more attractive within the international contracting arena. We are very aware of the amount of activity, certainly on the east seaboard of Australia, with more than $200 billion worth of infrastructure in the pipeline. It’s important to make the project as attractive as possible to get the right level of bidder interest. One way to increase contractor enthusiasm is to give a fairer form of contract – and it doesn’t get much fairer than an alliance.

“The model also demonstrates a strong commitment to innovation and collaboration across the whole construction team. In traditional delivery, everyone firewalls off and the model actually punishes you for collaborating, as it puts you at contractual risk. An alliance framework does quite the opposite”.

Updated funding

The project recently received an additional $1 billion in government funding, along with $0.5 billion from the local council.

“The significance of this is that we are now fully funded. And it’s the first time the project has properly put together fully priced estimates of the work, reflecting current construction market conditions. The construction market will be a completely different place in 2014 and we are now properly funded to do the work. This has given us a firm financial footing and relieved downward pressure”.

Eliciting public support

Like most large-scale infrastructure projects, the City Rail Link has incurred its fair share of media scrutiny and public backlash, particularly among local retailers, some of whom have experienced a loss of custom as a result of the works. However, attempts to elicit public support have been largely successful.

“Our research shows that 72 percent of Aucklanders are aware of the project; and 70 percent believe it is a positive development for the city. The statistics are really encouraging.

“Initially, some local residents were wondering we why couldn’t just build more roads. Quite simply, the CRL will provide the equivalent capacity of 16 new lanes. To cater for that extra capacity in any other modality, we would have had to start thinking about which suburbs we’d be prepared to demolish. People have begun to accept that the only way could maintain liveability and remain internationally attractive and competitive is a massive, once-in-a-century investment in heavy rail.

“Auckland has traditionally been a city of cars with not many large projects. A project of this scale is new for everyone and the initial response was shock. Even those who agree with the project don’t want it to interfere with their lives. This is a discrepancy we can’t do much about.

“No matter how well we finesse the construction and the way it interfaces with its neighbours, we’re still going to be digging some very large holes from some very constrained CBD sites. This will undoubtedly affect those adjacent. We are looking at providing more accurate information to stakeholders about how the construction work is happening”.

Resourcing strategy

“It’s fair to say that every construction project is stretched at the moment and a lot of workers are getting pushed up a level or two in the organisation to meet increased workload. As a result, many projects are suffering time delays, due to the comparative inexperience of staff.

“We have sourced largely from New Zealand, wherever possible, but our contractor is also bringing people from its global workforce for key project positions.

“Luckily, it’s a pretty fantastic project to be working on and that gives us an advantage from a recruitment perspective. Working on such a transformational project looks good on anyone’s CV”.

Dr. Sweeney will present at the ARA New Zealand Rail Conference due to take place 19-20 June 2019. Learn more and register.

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