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Transport & Logistics

Light rail is coming to Auckland

1 Sep 2022, by Amy Sarcevic

With its growing population and road use, Auckland was recently recognised as the most congested city in Australasia, and the 112th most congested city in the world.

Over the last four years, weekly motorway trips in the city have grown by 10 percent, with single occupancy vehicles representing 67 percent of morning traffic to the centre.

Historically, attempts to lessen the burden on Auckland’s roads have focussed on heavy rail, with upgrades to existing networks accommodating an extra 19.5 million passengers over the last two decades.

However, as the city reaches its tipping point in population density – and opts to build upwards instead of outwards – light rail has increasingly come into focus.

In January 2022, the Government endorsed tunnelled light rail from the City Centre to Māngere and the airport; and there are plans to progress two more light rail projects over the next thirty years.

More than just a transport project

Auckland Light Rail Board Member Leigh Auton said the project is not just about transport. It is about planning Auckland’s future – making homes closer to where people need to be, reducing carbon emissions, and improving productivity by relieving congestion.

“With the city’s current focus on urban development, light rail is an investment that makes sense because it will attract greater uplift in existing areas,” he said ahead of the NZ Rail Conference, hosted by Informa Connect.

“Is a logical choice – we can either continue to spread at the fringes of the city or make better use of what we have. This will enable more people to live close to work, study and play.

“Light rail moves high numbers of people to inner city locations, and better connects urban communities. Its reliable, frequent (every five minutes or less) and has predictable travel times, so it is an attractive travel option. Being permanent infrastructure, it also attracts investment in quality urban form because people want to live and work close to light rail stations.”

Better access to opportunities and improving productivity

For areas that currently have limited access to public transport, light rail is a much-needed option. The Auckland Light Rail corridor will connect two of the largest employment hubs – the City Centre and airport surrounds – and give access to city universities and more education choices.

“With 33 percent of Auckland’s job growth expected along the route in the next 30 years, a congestion free, reliable, and fast service will connect people to jobs and will be a game changer,” said Leigh.

“With light rail, the city centre is only 30 minutes from Mangere Town Centre. Currently it’s more like 80 minutes on public transport with one or two transfers required. This greatly reduces what people can do in their day and limits choices around where people will seek jobs.”

Supporting future city planning

Leigh says tunnelled light rail is preferable over surface light rail because of its futureproofing.

“A city centre tunnel accommodates light rail from Māngere and future lines to the North Shore and North West in time. With surface light rail, it would be extremely difficult to achieve connections between the services or find the space to build three street level rail lines in the city centre,” he said.

“The tunnel creates an underground home base for future lines to meet, realising a joined-up rapid transit system and providing flexibility for a new harbour crossing, setting the stage for seamless trips across Auckland.

“Importantly, the light rail doesn’t sit alone. We are working towards a fully integrated system, aligned with the Auckland Transport Alignment Project, which combines heavy rail, rapid bus and ferry to create a connected-up network says Leigh.

“This will allow Aucklanders to have congestion free travel options, opening up far more opportunities for employment, study and lifestyle, reducing car dependency and enabling people to live in the communities they want.”

Reducing carbon emissions

With transport contributing 44 percent of Auckland’s greenhouse gas emissions – mostly from private vehicle use – light rail will play an important role in helping improve the carbon footprint and air quality.

“Light rail is a great solution for cities to reduce greenhouse gas emissions,” said Leigh. “Its capacity, reliability, and ease of access will incentivise people to take up public transport and reduce the number of vehicles on the road.

“Expansion of the road system does the opposite and is not a viable method of accommodating growth.

“Light rail is a winner on all fronts,” he concluded.

Leigh Auton will give a key project update on Auckland Light Rail at the NZ Rail Conference, hosted by Informa Connect.

This year’s event will be held 10-11 October at the Hilton Auckland.
Learn more and register your place here.



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