sign uplog in
Want to go ad-free? Find out how, here.

Lobby group NZ Transport 2050 Inc debate with Transport Minister Phil Twyford over whether light rail or a new rail link is the best option to Auckland Airport

Lobby group NZ Transport 2050 Inc debate with Transport Minister Phil Twyford over whether light rail or a new rail link is the best option to Auckland Airport

Transport Minister Phil Twyford says NZ Transport 2050’s call for a new rail line running from Papatoetoe’s Puhinui Road to the airport instead of the proposed Auckland light rail project doesn’t stack up.

And despite set backs and delays Twyford says he remains committed to seeing a modern tram system built in the City of Sails.

NZ Transport 2050 Inc. was formed last year and has since mounted a public campaign alongside the Public Transport User’s Association to stop the light rail project. This has included everything from newspaper ads and social media and public meetings. 

Chairman Paul Miller says building a new rail line could be done for a fraction of the cost of a building a light rail line from the CBD to the airport and would also involve less disruption to Aucklanders.

He says the lines already run through Papatoetoe and building a rail spur linking the existing network to the airport from Puhinui Rd would pass mainly through farmland. Miller claims it could be done for $600 million to $700 million.

He says while the rail lines would have to be upgraded at Papatoetoe to cater for the increased traffic, it would be covered by existing upgrades that are already in the works.

“It would be nice to have light rail to west Auckland,” Miller says. “But having it all the way to airport just doesn’t make sense. Let’s cancel the light rail project and look at extending the rail network.”

Miller says NZ Transport 2050 is funded through donations from its members and it doesn’t receive financial support from any outside agencies or organisations. But he says some of the organisation’s recent advertising material was partially funded by the Rail and Maritime Transport Union. 

Transport Minister Phil Twyford says NZ Transport 2050’s claims are way off the mark.

“Our Government knows Aucklanders need better transport, including between Puhinui and the airport. That’s why one of the first tasks I asked NZTA [New Zealand Transport Agency] to take on when we came into government was rapid public transport from Puhinui station to the airport. It will be a bus service to begin with. In the future, it will become part of a rapid transit route connecting to Manukau and Botany with a dedicated busway or possibly light rail.

“But a heavy rail spur from the airport connecting to the existing network at Puhinui would be surprisingly expensive, potentially costing billions, and it wouldn't increase the overall transport network capacity.”

He says it would mean trying to send more trains into the CBD on the southern line which is already near capacity.

“On top of that, heavy rail would need a rail tunnel through to the airport that would be as long as the City Rail Link and that's a costly and time consuming project in its own right,” Twyford says. “I would encourage Mr Miller to release any business case he has commissioned into the Puhinui rail spur.”

He says a modern tram system remains the best option.

“Light rail can be built on existing corridors, making it faster and more cost effective to build and that means people will start enjoying the benefits sooner,” Twyford says.

And he remains committed to the Auckland light rail project, despite the fact there have been delays in coming up with a final business case.

“Light rail will be a magnet for private investment in urban renewal and it will be able to carry 11,000 commuters per hour. The cost for light rail from city centre to Māngere has not been finalised and because it’s such a significant project, it’s important that we take the time to get it right.”

NZTA is leading the development of the Auckland light rail programme with the support of partners, Auckland Council, Auckland Transport (AT) and HLC, a wholly owned development subsidiary of Housing NZ. 

Last month NZTA head of light rail Carl Devlin said it couldn’t finalise its business case for the project until Twyford and the Government finished their deliberations on the NZ Super Fund proposal.

The NZ Super Fund presented a proposal to the Government last year to fund, design, build and operate the Auckland light rail project in conjunction with Canadian partner CDPQ Infra.

Under the project proposal first outlined by Twyford in 2017 two light rail lines would be established in Auckland. One leading from downtown Auckland out to the airport at Mangere, while a second line would run from the central city along State Highway 16 to Kumeu/Huapai. Twyford has estimated that the Auckland that project would cost about $6 billion, making it the biggest transport project in New Zealand history.

We welcome your comments below. If you are not already registered, please register to comment.

Remember we welcome robust, respectful and insightful debate. We don't welcome abusive or defamatory comments and will de-register those repeatedly making such comments. Our current comment policy is here.


I have followed some of the debate between NZ Transport 2050 and Greater Auckland; the later pro light rail. I must say GA does come across as a lot more reasonable 99% of the time. The problem that NZ Transport 2050 can't seem to address is that light rail provides so much more benefit to the areas along Dominion Road through to Mangere. They keep on thinking that light-rail is about an express service to the airport. No matter how many times this is put to them they refuse to acknowledge that. I have been a huge critic of Mr. Twyford but on this he is right (I know! even I am shocked to say that).

How is LRT along that corridor any better than a modern, dedicated Rapid Bus ("BRT") corridor?

Because you end up firing so many buses down Dominion Road that people can't get on or off them? You then have the issue of even more buses trying to turn around inside the Auckland CBD, which is already strangled by buses, let alone before accounting for any future growth on the route. Buses don't just disappear once they reach their turn-around point and the CBD is a choke point.

1. How is "firing" a bi-articulated Rapid Transit bus down dedicated infrastructure on Dominion Rd any different to "firing" LRT down dedicated infrastructure on Dominion Rd?;
2. Can't see how that impacts people getting on/off (see (1));
3. How would the CBD not be strangled by LRT infrastructure? LRT doesn't disappear either? Is it coz undergrounding? Why not underground buses the same way?
4. Turnaround? You know the great thing about buses? They are able to go on existing road infrastructure, so you can loop them out onto other routes far easier than LRT rolling stock.

Support for LRT borders on religious zealotry.
Anyone who dares question it is met with such scorn.

A double decker bus holds about 80 people (actually probably less because they would need more space for bags etc for the airport). An LRT train can handle up to 500 odd I think (depending on the model and configuration they choose). So you need 6 buses or more to carry the same number of people.
If LRT is needed every 5 mins, a bus is needed more than every minute. Then you get bad issues with bunching - a bus stops to pick someone up and 2 buses get stuck behind it. You also lose the possibility of traffic light priority (can't have that every minute). LRT doesn't need to be undergrounded as it can go down queen street and make the place nicer. Buses every minute or more in both directions will just make it worse.
Sorry for the scorn...

LRT doesn't need tunneling, and even if it did, tunneling electric trams is far cheaper than tunnelling diesel busses. c.f. the business case for the CRL that look at an equivalent bus tunnel, but bus tunnel was far more expensive and delivered less transport outcomes.

This has been well explained, but if it's 'zealotry' to have actually read the proposals, understand what the problems are and what they are trying to solve and why MOAR BUSSES!!!!111 aren't the answer, then I guess I'm a zealot. On the other hand, I could be like many who oppose it, who don't understand the problems on the routes, won't make any effort and just want to scream about whatever whimsical far off abstract self driving automated Elon Musk fetishist method of transport that will somehow save us all, which magically means we don't need to do anything and people in the West can just keep losing hours of their lives a day stuck in congestion because "out of sight, out of mind" right?

But sure, it's the LRT proponents who are the dickheads, right?

Because light rail doesn't require an underground bus line to get the buses into the city. Routes into the city are already congested and light rail, being more space efficient, can shift more people within extising road corridor.

The rest of the busway is only fractionally cheaper than the light rail line to build, and when you consider the bus way will need to be ripped up and replaced with a light rail line within a decade or so, putting light rail in at the start is actually cheaper.

We don't have the space in Auckland to put in high capacity multilane bus ways that you see in some cities overseas

I don't follow - Why would you need an underground bus line? Would we need an underground LRT line to get rolling stock into the city?
How is it any less space efficient than LRT on dedicated infrastructure?

Why would the bus line need to be ripped up and replaced with LRT within a decade?
That's a big assumption that BRT will be redundant - what if LRT is made redundant within a decade (or two) by autonomous vehicles?

Again, how do we not have space for dedicated bus infrastructure, but we do for LRT?

cmat - the answer is above. LRT's capctity is so much more than a bus even a multi-articulate bus. In regards to redundant I think that's a bit of a red herring as we will all be using jetpacks in the future.

Each bus requires space for its own engine, fuel supply, spare tires, air conditioning system, transmission, space for a driver, steering, controls, suspension ( because busses can be used on roads and roads have bumps that rail does not ), etc. with Light rail the energy is supplied as you go, the wheels are smaller, a single motor ( electric motors are smaller than Diesel engines) is capable of pulling multiple carriages, a single driver can operate multiple carriages, etc. there are many many ways to save on space and weight when you have a dedicated route that is all that you can move on. Busses by their every nature due to their versatility advantage have to pay a commensurate price in efficiency.

Time to update the thinking...we won't be driving around in 1300kgs of metal for too much longer. yet we plan as if we will be. Replace the lumps of iron with mini post office size electric vehicles and some decent bike lanes - and see how much road and rail we don't need.

I haven't come across any research suggesting autonomous, electric vehicles shall make mass transit redundant. Please do share if you have.
If electric vehicles were the ultimate answer to all urban congestion and air pollution problems, why don't we see the first wave of movers: say, commuters shunning their petrol cars for electric scooters.
How many trips can your mini electric vehicles do from Auckland Central to the airport before it has to be retired for several minutes of recharging? You'll need a massive fleet of iron vehicles to service the 11k people an hour targeted by Auckland Light Rail in their proposal.
Also, Amsterdam has good infrastructure for bikers but how do explain the 71m passenger trips on its metro rail system each year.

UBS published a report that suggested autonomous taxi services could be a fraction of the cost of public transport.

I can't post the actual report, but here is a reference to it.

Thanks for the link. The article does a brief cost comparison between the two options and ignores several other key factors such as ridership per hour and congestion.
Plus, I don't think we should take infrastructure advice from investment bankers making grand assumptions on technology that is still in its early development stage, least of all use their study to cancel a public investment that may have socioeconomic dividends for a city struggling to meet transport demands.
I would think the likely future isn't either one or the other. It could possibly be a combination of the two: Autonomous public transport. Drivers and on-board staff are expensive to transport companies especially during off-peak hours.

So said the nomad when the horse came along and the man with the horse when the car came along. Engage is some lateral thinking...look at the horizon and think what might be thing is for sure...a 1300kg one person iron cocoon to drive around in is not there. So what might be? Not what has been.

Highways today can carry about 2,000 cars per lane per hour. Autonomous vehicles might quadruple that. The best rail systems can carry more than 50,000 passengers per lane per hour. They move the most people, using the least space. No technology can overcome that geometry.

“Let’s talk about what we can predict,” he said. “The problem of the city is a problem of sharing space. In 2100, the problem of the city will still be a problem of sharing space.”

Jarrett Walker, principal transport consultant

Those in favour of self-driving cars use the cost factor as their primary argument. Right-of-way, fuel requirements, congestion problems - unfortunately self-driving cars do not address any of these problems.

But after being ground down at work for 48 weeks of the year, people want to get out of the big smoke for the other 4 weeks (plus public holidays). And tiny electric vehicles aren't up to that job. said it. 48 weeks driving around in a vehicle fit for the purpose of your 4 week holiday!!! Smart guy.

That's not what I said.

Apart from the bit down Domminion Rd this Light Rail proposal is adjacent to the motorway network. Auckland could add capacity to the motorway network for a lot less expense than putting in light rail. Auckland is getting a light rail network that is both worse than heavy rail at getting people to the airport and worse than widening the existing motorway network to increase transportation to West Auckland & Mangere.

Only by requiring a singular project to cover both both things (badly) can our "Transport" Minister justify this useless waste of money.

You keep pushing this barrow, and I keep point out the jam-packed congested side-streets at 630am in West Auckland trying to get on the motorway. Do you have a solution to this yet or is it just something you want to conveniently ignore in perpetuity?

I was going to reply, but the article got archived off the main page and I can't find the archive.

Light Rail is not traditionally located in places that are difficult to get access, like a motorway corridor. The advantage of light rail is that it has a small footprint and therefore can be built into dense population areas with lower cost. People walk to it and are transported away on a system that is relatively unobtrusive. Putting it in a motorway corridor is silly, because light rail is more expensive than additional lanes and it harder to get people to live within walking distance of a motorway.

Yea, so can you draw for me a diagram showing where you're going to put all those extra lanes in West Auckland on SH16 and how all those side streets are going to handle them? Bearing in mind this motorway is already congested as all hell and you're advocating for even more induced demand with no alternative to driving (Hint: it's congested for a reason, and it's not "not enough lanes").

No, I don't think anyone could come up with a sensible way of doing that. But our Transport Minister is planning to do the equivalent of doubling the amount of people using that corridor. How are the surrounding streets going to cope with that? I'd suggest when offering a mass transit alternative to driving, maybe don't put it in a sparsely populated motorway corridor which is very hard to access. Maybe put mass transit close to masses of people who transit.

The motorway goes through Westgate, Massey, past Hobsonville Pt in one direction and out to Haupai in the other. There are tens of thousands of houses planned for these areas. This is exactly where there needs be an alternative to the motorway.

An alternative to the motorway would be great, adding more capacity in the motorway corridor is considerably less great. We have a congested motorway, with congested approaches - adding more facility to transport people within the same corridor is not going to improve things too much. If Auckland is going to do mass transit light rail, we should do it properly and have the thing built outside of the motorway corridors.

This number of people this rail line will carry is equivalent to about 3 motorway lanes in each direction. Please elaborate where you see space to put an additional 6 lanes through 1) dominion rd 2) existing motorway corridor 3) onehunga township

Alright, pretty easy to do. In the earlier planning stages for this thing it was slated to go down Dominion Rd to Mt Roskill, along Mt Albert Rd and then down to Onehunga, across the inlet, along Coronation Rd, along McKenzie Rd (or through Mangere township) and then through to the airport. Virtually none of it was going to be in the motorway corridor and it would have transported the same large number of people, who would access it from high density living near the track (not a motorway). Unfortunately, more costly a lot more to build.

But now these things are going to use the motorway corridors, much cheaper. People do not to want to live next to motorways - health and noise mainly. People of Auckland shall be forced to live next to a loud, polluting, stinking motorway to access this public transport. Why is that a good idea?

OK, if it's pretty easy to explain where you would put 6 new lanes of motorway, why did you ramble on about something else instead?

I've outlined a rail line to handle the equivalent of 6 lanes of motorway to the airport, but not in the motorway corridor.

I think it is (Twyford level) silly to put 6 additional lanes in the motorway corridor to the airport.

That motorway was just widened from 2 lanes each way to 4. Its now full again. Compare that to the London Underground which hasn't really needed added capacity in 100 years.

“On top of that, heavy rail would need a rail tunnel through to the airport that would be as long as the City Rail Link and that's a costly and time consuming project in its own right,”

Tunnel would be a cut and cover affair so much less expensive than the CRL, as there aren't many hills at the airport. Maybe a politician is making a misleading (yet true and factual) statement that lets people infer the costs of an airport rail line will be much, much higher.

Tunnel vision personifies the average politician as it communicates easily to the voter.
In regard to light rail it appears little thought has been given to options like modern multi unit trackless trams on existing roads with dedicated links between these or to the power source like hydrogen/fuel cell/ with battery/ hybrid.
And what about the loss to commuter flexibility by having to reduce stop numbers along Dominion Rd by 60% in order to speed up inter terminus transit times?

Trackless trams that carry fewer people and wear the road more than railed trams? It seems people who keep insisting this is possible aren't prepared to think critically about them either.

Yeah great idea, throw a bunch of technologies that individually have failed to make it to produce one spectularly expensive and unreliable transport solution.

NZ Transport 2050 keep ignoring the following:

1) We need to (regardless of what you do with the airport bit) do something about the buses and frequency of buses down Dominion Road; you therefore have to compare the cost of extending the HR spur with the cost of extending the proposed Dominion Rd branch as a marginal cost, not the total Light Rail project cost.
2) The required grading limitations of rail and the requirement of an underground station at the Airport end.
3) The fact that Heavy Rail offers limited catchment due to it having fewer stops than Light Rail on the feasible alignment, unless you want to go with a super-expensive tunnel option.
4) The Pro-HR camp seem to want to portray Light Rail as prone to cost blow-outs but nary a word about the likelihood of that happening with heavy rail.
5) There's no room for a freight depot in the area so there's limited benefit to the freight businesses, and HR won't be able to connect to the business parks out there. I would have said a pre-requisite for a commuter service is to go where commuters actually work, but that's just me.

If they can propose an option which addresses these issues and still comes in at a 'fraction' of the marginal extension to the Dominion Road branch, then I'm all ears. But they probably can't and therefore won't.

I come from a city (Geneva) that does have trams (LR) they eat a huge amount of space on the road, it's not just the extra 2 lanes required for the rail, it's also the "islands" for the passengers to get safely in and out of the trams and then cross the car lane to the footpaths.
2 x rails width of 3.0m = 6.00m +
2 x islands for passengers to get on and off 1.5m ea = 3.0m
Total width taken by light rail on any road = 9.0m

Where are we going to find an extra 9 meters of width on Dominion Rd (or on most other roads)

You don't have to find an 'extra' nine metres of road. There's bus lanes and a median strip for the most part. Besides, you don't need a space for passengers to get on or off all the way down the line. Other cities manage these sort of issues, I'm not sure why it would suddenly become too hard in Auckland.

I would have thought it obvious that we don't need station at every point on the rail line, only where the stops are.

Furthermore northbound and southbound stops don't need to exactly the same point, they can be staggered. Furthermore dominion road is currently full of indented bus stops that currently have enough width for the stops.

For instance at balmoral the northbound stop could go here,+Mount+Eden,+Auc...@-36.8860342,174.747676,19z/data=!3m1!1e3!4m2!3m1!1s0x6d0d464bfa8c2025:0xb51e18d376d40ccc

Or here,+Mount+Eden,+Balmoral+1041/@-36.8887648,174.7468296,20z/data=!3m1!1e3!4m2!3m1!1s0x6d0d464c11260423:0x17704841708da7ff

Both spots are currently 6 lanes+flush median wide.

GV & the Person, the bus stops don't run the whole length of Dominion Rd, the trams will. You're excused for your lack practical experience, even if you were to sacrifice all parking on both sides and the median turning lane, and thus kill Dominion Rd as a destination, (the shop keepers will have to relocate in order to stay in business), you have massive problems with cars turning left (and holding up all traffic behind them since there's only one lane) and much worse problem with cars wanting to turn right (thus crossing both central tram lanes + oncoming traffic) holding up traffic behind them for even much longer.
Just think about it practically, it's not going to work

My point about the stops is that the trams do not have to allow for the stop width for the full route, they can run side by side when there is no stop and separate again when they need to for a centre island station. You know, like literally every other city in the world with trams does. Insisting there be room for a central island station down the full length of the route i.e. "Find 9m ALL THE WAY" along Dominion Road is flagrantly misstating what Light Rail will look like.

As for being excused, I guess I can overlook your patronising asshattery. But I will point out that Melbourne manages, hook turns exist, signalised intersections with priority largely solve this problem and I don't think Aucklanders will like being told they're stupider than Australians and can't figure this stuff out if they need to.

The solution that's needed immediately to get people to the city 30 minutes quicker is:

A) faster baggage processing at the airport. (Save 10/15 mins each trip) and bigger carousels to avoid you having to crowd round to find your bag


B) ten addition lanes for "nothing to declare" customs checks (save 15 mins each trip)

biggest issue at the moment is not the transport, it's the airport itself.

exactly .. and I bet those are much cheaper to fix as well .

The other thing I would implement is a mandatory 20 second message on board every landing plane "if you bring fruit, seeds or other banned foods or live animals into NZ you will receive a 7 day mandatory custodial sentence as a minimum immediate penalty and you will be deported". I don't think we need to bend over backwards having customs staff interview and filter every passenger. Let technology and dogs do the job. Nothing wrong with being firm to be fair.

@Yvil | 13th May 19, 12:53pm
"Where are we going to find an extra 9 meters of width on Dominion Rd (or on most other roads)"

Be bold, make Dominion Road one way and use the other side for LR.

That is not bold - it is foolish.

For a good comparison between heavy rail and trams just take a ride from Sydney Airport to Darling Harbour.

The first leg from the Airport to Central Station on the train is very fast, it's great. The second leg from Central Station to Darling Harbour on the tram is excruciatingly slow.

Trams are merely a novelty for tourists to enjoy a slow ride around a CBD and no amount of artists impressions or renaming them "light rail" can change that fact.

There is an alternative - Trackless trams - that are 10% the cost of light rail, look like light rail, perform like light rail (eg in terms of carrying capacity, ride quality, value uplift etc). They are electric, and run on roads, and can and should be provided with the same quality of infrastructure in terms of dedicated corridors, priority measures, types of stops and interchanges etc. Their cost allows them to be rolled out on high capacity corridors across the network. Trackless trams are being trialled in Perth. I think they are worth looking at for NZ.

No, they do not have the same capacity and are therefore unsuitable for Auckland's needs. They cannot be provided with 'the same type of infrastructure' as they are effectively heavy vehicles and will wear road surfaces far quicker than steel wheels on rails will. They are a "do nothing" excuse solution that won't address the actual problems we have and are trying to solve with Light Rail.