Column: Rail Through the Inner-City

August 1, 2013 by  
Filed under Blog

Rob Thomas HeadshotPonsonby News – August 2013 edition – By Rob Thomas – Candidate for Waitemata & Gulf Councillor:

 

Let’s Talk – Rail through the inner-city

The government’s announcement to back rail through the inner-city is a gasping breath of fresh air.

The rail link has been imagined for many years, dating back to the original Britomart Train Station on Queen Street which closed in 1930. More recently, the rail link has drawn many comparisons with Robbie’s (Sir Dove-Myer Robinson’s) rapid rail plan for the Central City, a plan which was defeated by the central government of the day. Only now has Robbie’s vision come close to being realised; with a comprehensive rail network for the central city.

We don’t have to look much further than the Britomart precinct to see how transport solutions can lead to city transformation. For many it might be a faint memory, but the former Britomart Bus Terminal and car park was an unruly and derelict cesspit on Auckland’s Waterfront. In 2003, when the station opened, there were a paltry 2,500 people using the station each day. Britomart has demonstrated how rail can reclaim parts of the inner city for local residents and businesses. Today, 10 years later, over 20,000 people rely on trains into the city every day. Our opportunity now is to replicate the same urban renewal along the route of the city link and planning needs to get underway now.

While studying at University, I worked alongside former Labour MP and Councillor Suzanne Sinclair on the Britomart Project Team, where we advocated to the public on the merits of the $204m transport, heritage and urban renewal project. Former Mayor and now Councillor Christine Fletcher was a driving force in its success. As you may recall Christine Fletcher’s Council signed off on the $98m station contract only weeks before John Banks was elected Mayor. That was a close call. I will always remember Christine Fletcher walking down to the Britomart Display Centre with the biggest smile on her face and bottle of Champaign under her arm after the contract was signed. Credit must be given to Mayor Len Brown for his leadership and persistency on this important Auckland project.

Winning design group Mario Madayag and Jasmax Ltd designed the Britomart underground railway station to allow rail to break through its walls into Auckland’s innercity. The jewel in the crown of the Britomart precinct, the former Chief Post Office Building with its ornate Oamaru stone and Coromandel granite facade, had new foundations designed to allow rail underneath her central domes. The current station configuration is designed to serve up to 10,500 passengers during the peak hour. The rail efficiency that will be gained from electrification, the rising cost of fuel and an increasing population will drive the current stagnant rail passenger numbers back up.

In the not so distant future, when Britomart reaches its limits and becomes operational inefficient, the innercity will be crying out to reach its economic and social potential and at that time I look forward to seeing the first sod turn on the Central Rail Link.

Let’s Talk – Dedicated cycling links

With talks around expansion of Auckland’s motorway and rail network, some of the city’s most exciting transport projects have fallen by the way side. These large, regional transport projects have eclipsed many smaller projects at a time when residents in our community are crying out for safer walking and cycling.

Cycle infrastructure has an excellent investment record. The existing western cycleway has seen a $4 return on every dollar spent on it, a great bang for our buck. Active transport modes takes money away from the fuel pump and puts it back into our local retailers, restaurants and bars while keeping us healthy. I cycle because it’s the best option for me. Cycling is not for everyone but for many people in our community it’s easy and the most cost effective way to get around.

Last month the Waitemata Local Board adopted our Greenways plan that will connect our parks and open spaces for walking and cycling. The first section of the Coxs Bay Boardwalk, which was delivered $70,000 under budget, is the first realisation of this plan. The heart of the plan is simple; that an 8 year old child can safely walk or cycle through our community. This is achievable with separation and dedicated paths. The plan has two key project priorities to build the Grey Lynn Greenway from Coxs Bay, through Grey Lynn Park, to the Western Cycleway and re-opening the abandon rail tunnel in Parnell to link the Western Cycleway at Stanley Street to Newmarket Park along the rail corridor.

While the Local Board is doing its bit, Auckland Transport is yet to come onboard and support the Greenways Plan and Auckland Council has stagnated on its decision to support the Get Across Campaign for walking and cycling across Auckland’s Harbour Bridge.

This election I will be standing as your Councillor with a commitment to focus on making the innercity more accessible and safer for walking and cycling.

THE BIG DAY OUT

A quick update on the BDO. A resource consent has been granted for Western Springs – so see you there!

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