Infrastructure Report: Auckland Light Rail shifts up a gear

7 June 2023


Work at Auckland Light Rail Limited (ALR) is shifting up a gear as the clock counts down for significant project milestones that will shape Auckland and benefit wider New Zealand — the confirmation in a few weeks of the route and station locations, and the lodging with Auckland Council of our notices of requirement to protect the land needed to build light rail.

Together, these actions clear the way for progressing the country’s largest transport infrastructure project — protecting the route, completion of our corridor business case and next year the start of our procurement process and all the opportunities that will bring to New Zealand’s infrastructure industry and its companies and workers.

Our rapid progress comes at a time when the international economic environment is tough. New Zealand is doing pretty well in that environment but we mustn’t let ourselves fall behind, especially when it comes to helping tackle what Treasury identifies as our biggest economic challenge — low productivity.

Australia wins infrastructure’s ‘Bledisloe Cup’

Across The Tasman, the Aussies already have their hands on transport infrastructure’s equivalent of the Bledisloe Cup. Sydney, Melbourne and Perth are attracting investment and revitalising their city centres. They all share one thing in common — the development of rapid transit schemes.

Many of our Pacific neighbour cities benefit from foreign direct investment (FDI) — cross-border investment from one county in another country. Our research shows San Francisco attracted $600 million in FDI, Vancouver $1.1 billion and Melbourne $8.8b — again, all cities with rapid transit systems.

Auckland Light Rail is not a cure-all for the economic challenges facing New Zealand, but it can certainly help reduce the risk of New Zealand losing its edge if there is no investment in such projects.

The case for light rail helping improve productivity is compelling — for country and for city.

Auckland is New Zealand’s, economic heart. Last year it accounted for 37.4 per cent of national GDP and employed 35.2 per cent of the workforce. By 2048, it is expected to be a city of 2.3m and is increasingly becoming the innovative, globally connected economic powerhouse for the country.

Transport is the lifeblood of a growing city. If quality transport choices are out of kilter with demand, caused by growth, then congestion gets worse, journey times for everyone increase, and a city offers fewer options for a job or a home.

Aucklanders already spend an average of nearly 80 hours a year stuck in congestion.

It’s estimated congestion costs Auckland’s economy $1.3b each year. Putting more buses on the road is not a viable option. Four of Auckland’s six busiest bus corridors run along the central isthmus, that part of Auckland where we plan to build light rail. Buses are close to capacity, roads are congested, and travel times unreliable. More buses in the central city add to congestion and there are additional challenges around finding more spaces to park them. Light rail can carry up to 17,000 passengers at the peak, equal to 14,500 cars or 13 new traffic lanes — that’s a huge commercial dividend for the city.

Fewer cars will make it easier for trucks, vans, couriers and cabbies to do business.

Growth and prosperity

Auckland’s light rail project will help underpin growth, and greater productivity and economic prosperity. Already, 24 per cent of Auckland’s jobs lie along ALR’s central isthmus corridor, connecting the two biggest employment centres — central Auckland and the airport.

Huge developments for employment — and affordable housing — are already in the pipeline along our corridor.

ALR forecasts indicate that the 10,200 people who worked in the airport precinct area in 2021 will grow to 15,900 in 2031, 24,000 in 2051 and, by 2065, well over 33,000. How are we going to get them all to work?

The Irish capital, Dublin, has a similar population to Auckland’s and faced similar transport congestion issues before Luas, its light rail system, opened.

Luas was expected to trigger city redevelopment benefits of around $2.8b. Those numbers have now been revised up to around $5b, largely due to higher productivity gains relating to greater labour mobility, and a general increase in the attractiveness of Dublin as a business and tourist destination.

ALR is expecting similar outcomes for Auckland.

For a start, the frequency of services — no need for a timetable, just turn up and go — creates mobility making it easier for people to get to and from work and giving them more free time to call their own. Lecture halls at the city’s two universities will be more accessible and so, too, will be big event venues like Eden Park.

Communities along ALR’s route will become even better places to call home with housing and commercial redevelopment, and safer and healthier streets for walking and cycling, with fewer cars around. The Government has committed $3.8b to accelerate housing delivery and redevelopment, including in Mt Roskill, Onehunga and Māngere — communities along ALR’s corridor.

Construction benefits

These communities are not the only ones to benefit.

The construction of Auckland’s light rail project will pump hundreds of millions of dollars into the economy.

Geo-tech work to investigate soil conditions along the light rail route is well advanced and in a couple of years, first spades go in the ground for establishment works.

While we want to be ready to take advantage of an opportunity to get skilled contractors from Australia as large-scale projects over there start to tail off, the enormous size of the Auckland light rail project opens a huge window for New Zealand’s construction industry right along the supply chain — including big contractor companies, subbies, suppliers and workers.

The industry already has a proven track for ideas and innovation with the Christchurch and Kaikōura earthquake rebuilds, Auckland’s Waterview Tunnel and City Rail Link (CRL) projects.

At construction peak, CRL had a workforce of around 2000. Given the project’s greater scale and complexity, the numbers employed building Auckland light rail will be vast.

Importantly, construction provides a great opportunity for the project to further develop its relationship with Mana Whenua and help build the Māori economy through commercial partnerships and workforce development.

Current public transport investments like CRL and the Eastern Busway are successfully helping reshape Auckland. Nevertheless, there are significant gaps.

Three torrential rain storms this year and electricity supply issues disrupting the commuter rail network have had a big impact on Aucklanders and the city’s commercial and business life and provide timely reminders that more public transport investment and choice is needed. Auckland’s high reliance on its road network makes it less resilient than successful cities overseas that have a broader range of transport systems.

People and destinations are not connected in a reliable and convenient way.

The Auckland light rail project is an opportunity to improve this — not just for Auckland’s benefit but for New Zealand’s, too.

Auckland Light Rail at a glance

  • Auckland Light Rail will make it easier, faster and safer to move around Tāmaki Makaurau now and in the future.
  • Auckland Light Rail’s 24km-long route and 18 stations will connect people across the central isthmus to the big job centres at the airport and central city.
  • In the future it will connect the North-West and the North Shore.
  • 22 per cent of Auckland’s population growth and 37 per cent of job growth over the next 30 years will take place along the route.
  • Light Rail will be tunnelled between the city centre and Mt Roskill and run above ground to Māngere.
  • By separating the trains from other traffic, they will be more reliable and frequent, making travel times quicker right across the route.
  • Light rail will carry 17,000 passengers at peak times — equal to 14,500 cars — easing congestion and making it easier for all vehicles to operate.
  • Light rail will help Auckland grow — it will drive housing and business growth along its route.
  • Building light rail is huge — the country’s largest transport infrastructure project — creating enormous opportunity for the infrastructure and contracting industry.
  • Investing in high-capacity, high-quality, rapid transit is critical to developing a modern, international, connected city.
  • Further Auckland Light Rail information:
  • Tommy Parker is chief executive of Auckland Light Rail Ltd (ALR).