The City Rail Link (CRL) is the next essential step in developing Auckland’s rail network. It is critical because as long as Britomart remains a terminus station, the entire capacity of the rail network will be hamstrung.
We got electrification of Auckland’s rail network because we fought for it. I joined the Green Party in 2006 to campaign for electrification when the Clark/Cullen Government of the day was prioritising $10billion on motorways in Auckland, and refusing to allocate $500m for electrification. We went out to train stations and collected signatures. Gareth Hughes, then an employee, dressed up as Electrify Man.
I’m not sure to what extent the campaign was influential. In 2007 when Labour lost the vote of Phillip Taito Field, the Greens abstention on confidence and supply became a lot more important. I have it on good authority that Jeanette Fitzsimons and Russel Norman drove a hard bargain to ensure funding was found for electrification in the 2007 budget, in the form of a regional petrol tax.
Unfortunately, because the Labour Government hadn’t prioritised electrification until towards the end of their third term, we’ve had to wait a lot longer for it. Back in 2006, Mike Lee (then of the Auckland Regional Council) was arguing we should fast track it to have it in place for the Rugby World Cup. That was not to be, but we may have had it complete by this year (2013) if the incoming National Government hadn’t further delayed the whole process by cancelling the regional fuel tax. In the end the project had enough momentum to survive the change in government, but it will be at least another year until we really see the benefits.
Now that we’ve invested in electrification, the next step is to finally complete the CRL, a tunnel from Britomart to Mount Eden station, so we can run twice as many trains. This will enable 5 minute frequencies, not to mention (more than) double the entire capacity of the existing rail network. It will enable the expansion of the network to the airport and the North Shore. It will be the first step in developing a congestion free network of buses, trains and ferries that will give Aucklanders smarter, greener and more affordable transport choices.
But National is again threatening to hold up the whole process. They’ve bowed to public pressure and ceased their straight out opposition to the project. But they’ve committed no funding and are claiming the project doesn’t need to be started until 2020 – a delay of 5 years that will cost an additional $100m each year.
It’s easy for John Key to promise to start a project in 2020, when he will be long gone. By the time the capacity issues hit our existing buses and trains in 2021, most of the transport budget will have been blown on expensive, unnecessary motorways and we’ll just be commencing the 25 years of payments to the private consortiums that will be operating Transmission Gully and Puhoi to Warkworth, and whatever other foolish motorway projects come up in the interim (expect Cabinet to announce funding for the ill-defined East-West link motorway in February).
It looks like a dire situation, but we can still act and organise to raise awareness and stop the maddness. I’ve witnessed enough of the current Cabinet in action that I no longer harbour any illusions they will be persuaded to take another course of action based on reason, facts, and economics. Nor that they will bow to public pressure once they’ve got their minds made up (demonstrated by their determination to proceed with asset sales.)
But we do have the opportunity to change the government next year and that will be New Zealand’s best chance of getting a decent transport system that will support the development of thriving, vibrant and sustainable towns and cities, and cut our over-reliance on cheap imported cars, big trucks, and fossil fuels.
On Sunday we brought together Auckland political leaders and those standing for local body to show support for starting the CRL in 2015. It’s the first round of raising awareness so that Aucklanders know that a vote for National is a vote for years more of delay to transport progress. Please spread the news – this is the team that will bring you the CRL on time.