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Auckland City Rail Link, New Zealand

Designing the future of Auckland’s Transport to ease congestion in New Zealand’s largest city

Traffic congestion costs Auckland’s economy $1.3 billion dollars a year*. The time it takes commuters to travel to work, stuck in traffic on all sides of the city, is also precious time that should be spent with family and friends. Auckland’s need for more reliable and faster public transport options is crucial to its growth and maintaining a high standard of living.

With the vision of making Auckland the world’s most liveable city, the Auckland City Rail Link (CRL) project will unlock the city and provide more public transport options to ease congestion. In 2013, Aurecon was appointed by CRL Ltd to lead the consortium of engineers and architects in the role of Principal Technical Advisor to oversee the reference design.

Commemorated by a Kaumātua (Maori Tribal Elders) blessing on a worksite in central Auckland in December 2015, preliminary work on New Zealand’s largest infrastructure project began in 2016.

Changing commuter behaviours

When Auckland’s rail network was electrified in 2015, it saw the number of Aucklanders using rail travel skyrocket. While it was widely expected that this spike in rail patronage would naturally level off after a time, much to everyone’s surprise it has only continued to increase. The quieter, faster, more reliable electric trains were a big hit with commuters, who had been looking for an alternative to their cars.

The vision with the City Rail Link is that it will further change the way Aucklanders and tourists travel around the city. It will enhance the rail network and provide more direct connections within the CBD. The greatly increased frequency, speed, reliability, and efficiency of the rail network are expected to generate even greater demand – ultimately changing the car-loving nature of Auckland commuters.

Creating a transport future for Auckland

The impact that the 3.4 km underground rail line will have on the future of transport in Auckland is not to be underestimated. Unlocking the rail network will also enable ongoing developments to ameliorate the city’s heavily congested roads.

Aurecon delivered an improved design that would reduce the number of new stations needed with the same desired outcome of linking the city’s rail network together. The modified design will provide a more direct connection for commuters within the city, including a vital connection between Britomart Station and the North Auckland Line at Mount Eden Station. Commuters on the West Auckland line will save as much as 15 minutes of their travel time into the centre of Auckland CBD.

Quicker journeys also provide a whole new level of connectivity for the areas lying on the outskirts of the project. The city is already seeing some of these areas being revitalised with new housing and development projects underway in anticipation of the improved transport connections.

Building a legacy of skills for New Zealand

The CRL is a heroic feat of civil engineering being executed entirely from within New Zealand. The design has had to navigate through a web of utilities in the busiest parts of the CBD, including a 100-year-old immovable sewer line, in addition to building on reclaimed marine mud land and next to the existing operating railway. However, overcoming the challenges for this project will leave a legacy of skills for New Zealand.

The project is using 50 mm high-strength reinforced steel bars sourced locally in Auckland – the first of their kind to be manufactured in New Zealand. Pacific Steel is the country’s only reinforcing steel manufacturer and is able to supply in the required quantities. The steel bars will help hold up the historic Chief Post Office when the rail tunnels are constructed beneath it and keep water out of excavation carried out below sea level.

Another unique challenge facing the design of the CRL is gravity. In most cities, bidirectional ventilation is used to push smoke either way. A bidirectional system in the CRL would effectively be pushing against fumes and smoke flowing up the line’s natural incline. So, the team came up with an industry first, using unidirectional ventilation that would serve to push the smoke up the incline at a much faster rate and in one direction. This innovative design will keep commuters safe in the event of an emergency.

Aurecon brought together a mix of local and international experts to find solutions for the challenges facing the project. Mixing local context with international expertise will ensure that once the CRL is completed, the knowledge gained does not leave with the international experts. Graduate engineers are gaining invaluable experience that they will be able to use on future transport projects around New Zealand and elsewhere in the world.

The power of collaboration

As with any major project of this size and complexity, project success depends on the multiple stakeholder teams working closely together as partners. The CRL is being constructed in a heavily built-up area, and the planning that was needed before work could begin was critical to the project’s success. It required a broad group including engineers, planners, and lawyers to come together and work effectively as one. The many challenges and time constraints of such a high profile and transformational project meant it was especially important to have the right people in place committed to helping get Aucklanders moving and reducing the congestion in the city.

Aurecon has been involved from the beginning and is proud to be working with CRL Ltd and its project partners as a diverse and high-performing team. The power of collaboration has meant that what was once a challenging vision is now becoming a reality that will help to improve the quality of life for Auckland commuters.

*2017 NZIER report on Auckland Benefits of Decongestion
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