Project Update: City Rail Link

From transferring 14,000-tonne historic buildings to new foundations to avoiding volcanic lava flows, the Auckland City Rail Link (CRL) project has been one of the more challenging transport infrastructure projects in the Australian/New Zealand pipeline.

Similar to other jurisdictions however, Auckland has had a significant population increase. Since 2010, Auckland’s population has risen by 50 per cent.

“We were at a stage where the road network was unable to cope,” City Rail Link’s CEO, Dr. Sean Sweeney, said at AusRAIL PLUS 2019.

When a new station was built in 2003, it took until 2014 for the line to be electrified and new rollingstock provided. This resulted in the doubling of patronage numbers.

“That passenger growth has continued ever since and City Rail Link has an ever-increasing need for public transport.”

Construction towards the $4.4 billion project officially commenced in 2018 with preliminary works ongoing since 2016. Its scope consists of the construction of twin 3.5 km long double-track rail tunnels underneath Auckland’s city centre, between Britomart Transport Centre and Mount Eden Railway Station.

Two new underground stations will be constructed at Aotea and Karangahape. Britomart will be converted from a terminus station into a through station and Mount Eden Station will be completely rebuilt with four platforms to serve as an interchange between the new CRL line and the existing Western Line.Wider network improvements are also part of the project.

It is slated for completion by 2024.

“Similar to Sydney and Melbourne, we’ve got some form of a loop. The Western line and the Southern line converge at one railway station with the Eastern line, so all of Auckland’s rail traffic goes into the Britomart station and then basically stops there so that the trains get backed up, full or not,” Sweeney said.

“Essentially, what City Rail Link is seeking to do is make Britomart a through station and extend the line back up to the rail network so you can run trains in both directions. Then, by enabling longer, nine car trains, with longer platforms, we can triple the capacity of the rail network.”

This means increasing capacity from 14,000 pph to 54,000 pph into the CBD, allowing for a train every ten minutes in peak.

“By our calculations that’s the equivalent of sixteen lanes of traffic into the city centre in peak,” Sweeney said.

This will double the number of people within 30 minutes of NZ’s biggest employment hub, bringing with it significant commercial and residential opportunities around stations.

Though early works commenced in 2016, Sweeney explains that about ten years ago a forward-thinking Auckland mayor decided to start the project without funding from central government.

“This project had quite an unusual start. The mayor realised that to make Britomart a through station someone had to start building tunnels underneath the city, so Auckland council went out and started construction without central government support which was a very brave thing to do.

“They managed it with a whole range of contracts and multiple contracting types, which made it a little bit confusing but it was what they had to do to get going, and it’s gotten off with different forms of construction, bored tunnels, cut and cover tunnels, etc. There’s a really complex grade separation into existing railway lines.”

One of the challenges for the project is that Auckland is built on volcanoes, “some of which erupted as recently as 800 years ago, which is very recent geologically”.

“So, to try and avoid some of the recent lava flows we built an incredibly complex geological model. We used the information that was available to us to plot the safest route. We used this model to locate the top striations, so to avoid some of the most recent lava flows. That was a very complex investigation and we have made that model available to the bidders.”

Another challenge is the current size of the infrastructure pipeline across a number of sectors in Australia and New Zealand.

Over an eighteen-month period, Sweeney tracked the pipeline from $80 billion in September 2017 to more than double that in August 2018, and then $220 billion in February 2019.

“I’ve never encountered this extent of growth and the way that this complicates what we have to do and the effect it has on our market is a real stretch. Certainly, historically New Zealand has built very little in 20 years and so, even getting major international contractors to take us seriously and come and bid for us was a big piece of work.”

However, early works are now “pretty much completed” according to Sweeney.

Moving forward, the agency has wrapped up the outstanding works (highlighted in yellow) – including the remaining tunnels, stations and rail systems infrastructure, as well as the related wider network and tracks – into one contract, Contract 3, to be delivered by a ‘Grand Alliance’.

The alliance consists of: Downer, AECOM, Tonkin + Taylor, WSP Opus, Soletanche Bachy, and Vinci Construction.

In October 2019, the demolition of thirty empty buildings demolished near the Mt Eden railway station began. This will ensure space for the construction of the southern portal for the City Rail Link’s twin tunnels. The cleared site will be used as a staging area for a Tunnel Boring Machine and other machinery.

The first phase of this demolition is due to be completed in March 2020 , and is being managed by the alliance.

NZ National party proposes more transport authorities

New Zealand’s opposition party, National, is proposing a shake-up of transport governance, by establishing regional transport authorities for both Wellington and Canterbury as well as the accelerated rollout of integrated ticketing.

“It is unacceptable that people have been using bank cards and phones to pay for London’s Tube since 2004 but train users in Wellington still pay with coins and cardboard tickets,” the party’s transport spokesperson Chris Bishop said.

“National is proposing to accelerate the rollout of integrated ticketing nationwide.”

The proposal was made in the party’s Transport and Infrastructure discussion document, released on Monday.

“National is proposing new regional transport authorities in Wellington and Canterbury that will have sole-charge over public transport, as well as cycling, parking and roading.”

“We believe public transport governance is too fragmented in this country, with opaque accountability and no clear delineation of which agency is responsible for each part of the network. This is diluting the quality of service for commuters.”

“I think everyone would agree the current transport model is not perfect, it’s far from perfect, and we’ve seen that with the rollout of the bus changes over the course of the last year.”

“The bus fiasco in Wellington has indicated that the shared responsibility and the divided responsibility and accountability lines has not really worked.The city council blaming the regional council, the regional council blaming the city council and when that kind of expired they all put up their hands and blamed the New Zealand Transport Agency, and that’s just not tenable.”

The party says, if elected, they will introduce a revenue-neutral congestion charge in major cities to help manage the flow of traffic.

“By charging for travelling at certain times and/or on certain routes it encourages commuters to find alternatives, such as travelling earlier or later, taking a different route or getting out of the car and taking public transport,” the document says.

KiwiRail conducts major work blitz on Auckland, Wellington networks

KiwiRail is replacing sleepers, tracks and turnouts on the Auckland commuter network over the Christmas and New Year period, as part of a holiday work blitz, while further maintenance work will also go ahead across the Wellington passenger rail network.

In Wellington, the work includes installing the foundations for 60 new masts for the overhead power lines in the busiest part of the network – the approaches to Wellington Railway Station.

“Replacing the masts is not an easy task. Building new foundations for each of these requires a three-metre-deep hole. The masts date as far back as 1938, and need to be replaced,” KiwiRail’s chief operating officer capital projects David Gordon.

“It is just not possible to carry out that work while commuter services are running.”

“Already the network is delivering more than 14 million commuter trips a year to the 500,000 plus people who live in the region,” Gordon said.

“That is predicted to grow, and this work is needed to make that happen.”

“We’ll be taking advantage of the holiday lull, when passenger demand is down, to shut down big parts of the network and give our teams safe access to work on the line.”

KiwiRail is working on sites spread from the Wairarapa to the Hutt Valley and Porirua. Work includes building underpasses, upgrading level crossings and barriers, replacing rail and sleepers, and improving slope stability and drainage, along with the foundation work.

The work blitz is possible due to nearly $300 million that the government has slated to go towards modernisation and upgrades, alongside the usual annual maintenance.

Nearly 150 KiwiRail and NZTA staff and contractors will work on the Wellington line upgrades, while nearly 170 KiwiRail staff and contractors will take on the Auckland commuter network.

Auckland’s Western line will be closed to allow for works to replace sleepers, track and turnouts – which allow trains to change tracks – at several locations.

The Southern line and Eastern line will be closed south of Westfield for Otahuhu third platform work and the Puhinui interchange, track work and sleeper replacement between Papakura and Pukekohe. This includes four level crossings along the Western line and one on the Southern line.

“Working at level crossings also causes disruption to road networks, so it makes sense to take advantage of the holidays when both rail and road networks are quieter. This way we can carry out a lot of work with minimal disruption to commuters and road users,” KiwiRail executive general manager operations Siva Sivapakkiam said.

“Auckland is a busy network, with nearly 200,000 commuter services a year, and 246 freight services a week. That means a lot of wear and tear on the network. The maintenance we do now will help reduce delays and increase reliability in the future.”

Demolitions begin to clear the way for Auckland’s City Rail Link

Thirty empty buildings are being demolished near the Mt Eden railway station, as part of Auckland’s City Rail Link project.

Demolition works started this week to provide space for the construction of the southern portal for the City Rail Link’s twin tunnels. The cleared site will be used as a staging area for a Tunnel Boring Machine and other machinery.

The first phase of this demolition is due to be completed next March, and is being managed by the Link Alliance which is delivering the stations and tunnels of the City Rail Link.

Construction of a new Mt Eden Station will allow the existing tracks to be moved around to connect the Western Line with the tunnels.

From Mt Eden Station, the City Rail Link will run under the Newton ridge and central motorway junction before it reaches new underground stations at Karangahape Road and Mayoral Drive/Albert Street and the redeveloped Britomart Station in lower Queen Street. The project will be completed in 2024.

“Demolition is a significant and visible development for the project, clearing a site that will essentially be ‘base camp’ for the substantial programme of construction to complete New Zealand’s biggest infrastructure project,” said City Rail Link’s Chief Executive Dr Sean Sweeney.

“In many ways Monday will mark the end of the project’s beginning. When these buildings have gone, the way will be clear for us to get below ground, complete the tunnels, build two underground stations, redevelop Mt Eden Station and then handover a world class rail system an international city like Auckland deserves,” said Sweeney.

City Rail Link began buying the first of the buildings to be demolished back in 2012 and bought the last was in 2015. They are located in Flower, Nikau, Ruru, Shaddock and Ngahura Streets. Demolition will start in Shaddock Street.

Measures are in place to reduce the impacts of demolition, according to Dale Burtenshaw, the Deputy Alliance Project Director.

The demolition area has been isolated by hoardings or fencing and an independent specialist will monitor noise and vibration limits to make sure they remain inside approved limits. However, most of the buildings are low-rise with concrete block walls and either timber or steel framing which will help avoid any extensive vibration. A specialist company is helping remove asbestos found in some of the buildings.

Major contractors onboard for Auckland City Rail Link

Several contractors have allied to deliver a stations-and-tunnels programme of work for the City Rail Link project in Auckland following the signing of a new contract. 

The ‘Link Alliance’ comprises of three construction companies and three design companies, including Vinci Construction, Downer NZ, Soletanche Bachy, WSP Opus, AECOM and Tonkin+Taylor.

 “As a truly international team with members from more than 25 countries, we look forward to working alongside local communities to safely construct the City Rail Link over the next five years,” said Project Alliance Board chairman Pierre Bourgeois. 

“Together with CRL Limited, we are committed to realising the outstanding legacy CRL will leave for New Zealand’s biggest city.”

The $4.4 billion (NZD) City Rail Link project, dubbed the country’s largest ever infrastructure project, involves the construction of a 3.5-kilometre, double track underground tunnel running from Britomart Transport Centre to Mount Eden Railway Station through Auckland’s CBD. The project is due to be completed in 2024. 

Auckland Mayor Phil Goff said that the signing would help to ensure the delivery of a world-class transport system that will double the capacity of the city’s rail network.

 “With the population of Auckland growing by 40,000 a year and public transport journeys exceeding 100 million in the past year, the completion of CRL can’t come soon enough,” Goff said.

KiwiRail boosts Auckland metro backup power following outage

KiwiRail has reconfigured the backup power supply for Auckland’s metro train signalling system after an outage on Wednesday morning led to significant train delays across the network.

The signal fault prevented trains in the region from moving for about 30 minutes (except for the Onehunga line, which was suspended for over two hours), leading to delays for more than 5000 commuters. It was the second signal outage in a week in Auckland, following on from a similar incident on Friday June 14.

The latest outage received criticism from Auckland Mayor Phil Goff, who said on Twitter yesterday that “a second KiwiRail signal failure on Auckland’s network is not good enough”.

Goff said that he had sought assurance from KiwiRail chief executive Greg Miller that the infrastructure was fit for purpose.

KiwiRail’s initial internal investigations have found that the second outage was caused by a contractor working on a nearby property who cut power to KiwiRail’s property instead of the building site he was supposed to be working on.

An independent external review will also be conducted to cover high-risk failure points. The company has boosted back-up power to the signalling system with batteries and generators to reduce the risk of future outages.

KiwiRail chief operating officer Todd Moyle said the system was still being repaired after last week’s failure, which meant the usual back-up systems were not operating normally.

“We have written to Auckland Mayor Phil Goff to apologise,” Moyle explained. “We take our role as manager of the network very seriously and we understand how important reliability is for commuters.”

Busy Auckland intersection reopens after City Rail Link works

Auckland’s City Rail Link works around the Wyndham Street West-Albert Street intersection have now been completed, freeing up access to the area for commuters and pedestrians after three years.

This means that drivers and pedestrians can now freely move east across Albert Street towards Queen Street and west past St Patrick’s Cathedral towards Hobson Street, though some restrictions do remain. Vehicles are still not allowed to turn right into Albert Street from either direction of Wyndham Street and the footpath on the cathedral side of Wyndham Street West is still a construction zone.

“We’re delighted to be able to reopen the intersection for through traffic,” says City Rail Link’s chief executive, Dr Sean Sweeney. “I want to thank people for their support and patience during our necessary work in the area,  I acknowledge it’s been a long wait, but I hope it will now be easier for people to access this section of Albert Street.”

An 18-metre trench at the intersection that was dug at the intersection to accommodate the building of the tunnel in the area has now been backfilled. Tunnel construction under Albert Street is expected to be completed next month, with backfilling to follow in October.

The $4.4 billion (NZD) City Rail Link project involves the construction of a 3.5-kilometre, double track underground tunnel through Auckland’s central business district that runs from Britomart Transport Centre to Mount Eden Railway Station. The project is due to be fully completed by 2024 and is considered by City Rail Link itself to be New Zealand’s largest-ever transport infrastructure project.

“Further disruption will be unavoidable, but we are committed to minimising impacts and working with our partners to keep traffic, particularly bus services, moving through our work sites,” Sweeney added.