Can the $65m and $112m schemes and count properly, Kirby tells region
A proper rail job as a public transport system for Auckland would cost $340 million plus the price of access rights to the region’s rail corridors, says the Rodney District’s commissioner, Grant Kirby.
First the rail corridors around Auckland were going to cost $65 million. Then it was $112 million, counted differently. Auckland City Council has gone for the second version, but with negotiation on the figure.
Now Mr Kirby (right) wants a proper job done. He isn’t proposing that the region spend more, though â€” he wants things counted properly the first time, and he wants things included in the sums now, rather than have them “discovered” later so the bill keeps growing.
Mr Kirby took charge of the Rodney district when its mayor and some councillors resigned and the rest were suspended. He has kept the council’s wheels running, got the district plan through its last hoops so it can be released on Tuesday for submissions â€” and got seriously involved in the regional discussion on the rail corridors as a regional transport option.
He lives at Kaukapakapa, past Helensville, so he knows about the west and beyond, and before going to Rodney he put the new Motat (Museum of Transport & Technology) legislation through Parliament. He knows about trains. Little things like it’ll take 10 years for light rail to run on the north-western corridor, so in the meantime conventional trains would have to be used.
Where a council would get officers to produce a report, Mr Kirby (who has a new chief executive and has all next-level jobs under negotiation with remaining incumbents and new applicants) wrote the report on negotiation’s with Tranz Rail for the region’s rail corridors himself.
Expensive schemes questioned
He has questioned the $112 million price tag and rubbished an Infrastructure Auckland valuation of the rail corridors $400 million on an “across the fence” basis â€” before it’s got up too much of a head of steam.
In their place, Mr Kirby has produced “a comprehensive and pragmatic funding package” for the first stage of developing Auckland’s new public transport network.
The cost of assignment (taking over leases for corridor access) could be included as part of the package, he says. “It would then appear as a cost in relation to an outcome that would in fact put passengers onto public transport.”
Mr Kirby presented his report (to himself, with a small audience) on Friday and adopted a related series of recommendations. His list includes capital items for operations, starting with the double-tracking of the western line, which he said would be useless as a passenger line with only one track, and wasted as a freight line at the same time. Costs are indicative.
$25 million Double track western line
$25 million Connect rail to Manukau City Centre
$80 million Build Queen St station and connect
$130 million Build North Shore busway
$30 million Improve park & ride facilities at stations
$X million buy access rights to the region’s rail corridors
$50 million Buy replacement engines to maintain rail passenger serviceImportant to property interests
Two of Mr Kirby’s points in earlier discussion on the north-western corridor are highly relevant in property terms. One is that he want a consistent system throughout the region, specifically excluding buses from that corridor so they won’t restrict freight traffic.
Following on from that, he said that if the north-western corridor was restricted for freight, heavy road traffic congestion north of Auckland would grow, and freight customers would lose an option. That impacts on regional growth outside the Auckland metropolitan area (and inside the region, if jobs are lost or redistributed).
Mr Kirby said the arrangement for a four-hour night-time period for freight would allow three freight trains a day. That would not allow for freight growth.
The idea of selling part of the Avondale/Southdown corridor is anathema to Mr Kirby: The possibility of an alternative rail freight bypass is eliminated by the proposal to sell because the remaining corridor has gradients that preclude its use by conventional heavy rail.
An example of traffic that can be disrupted, or where the change in costs might result in a change in traffic direction or product use, is the Northland log trade. Mr Kirby said logs were being sent from Northland to Bay of Plenty mills for milling, but if they couldn’t make that journey they might be exported as logs, and from Northland.
Reasons for rubbishing
On the cost of $112 million for a double assignment of the north-western and main trunk lines, Mr Kirby said these were subjected to criticism for the following reasons:
Because the region is the only bidder, no one knows whether this is the correct price. Infrastructure Auckland’s valuation method, arriving at a figure of $400 million for “dedicated and designated rail corridors that have very restricted uses,” has already been rejected in the High Court.
Valuation of the north-western corridor as a passenger corridor “would soon indicate that it has limited value in its present state because it doesn’t connect to key passenger destinations. It will have value only when it is connected to the Manukau City Centre, to Queen St, and the western line is double tracked.
Mr Kirby said the value of these works, plus improving park & ride facilities, “is probably in the vicinity of $150-200 million. Rodney believes this is the level of investment that any private operator would need to put in to the passenger corridors to make them viable. An appropriate price should reflect this cost.”
Mr Kirby’s third point was that the Railways Corporation should take a more-than-commercial attitude to relieving Auckland’s gridlocks.
The perception of the current deal, that tens of millions of dollars are being spent without putting one extra passenger on one extra seat, is a difficult one to overcome. This again should influence the final price.The region’s local bodies are still working towards an 8 December deadline to reach agreement on buying the corridors. Mr Kirby has sent his proposal to all councils â€” but as Auckland City has already agreed the $112 million scheme, it would need to review its decision quickly to adopt the Rodney alternative.