NEW Zealand transport minister, Mr Michael Wood, has announced the formation of an Establishment Unit to progress the stalled Auckland light rail project.

The line from the city centre to Māngere was proposed in 2017, with two competing public and private proposals put forward to construct the railway. However, the governing Labour party failed to gain the support of its coalition partner New Zealand First for the project, and the proposal was put on hold in June last year.

After winning an outright majority in the October 2020 election, during which New Zealand First failed to return to parliament, Labour has since revived the plan.

Wood says the new proposal has been redesigned to better take into account the views and opinions of stakeholders in Auckland.

“There’s wide-ranging support for rapid transit but Aucklanders felt shut out of the project,” Wood says. “Today I’m drawing a line under that and involving Aucklanders from the get-go. Light rail is a critical investment to develop a modern, connected mass-transit system in New Zealand’s largest city, supporting jobs, growth, and housing.”

The Establishment Unit will sit within the Waka Kotahi NZ Transport Agency and be a collaboration between central and local government, drawing on expertise from a range of agencies including Auckland Transport, Auckland Council, Waka Kotahi NZ Transport Agency, the Ministry of Transport, and government housing agency Kāinga Ora.

“Without decisive investment in mass transit Auckland will choke on its own growth,” Wood says. “Light rail will support growth in Māngere, Onehunga, and Mount Roskill in particular, connecting these communities and giving people the option to leave the car at home, which will help reduce congestion and emissions.”

The government has tasked the unit with a six-month work programme including:

  • developing a business case so evidence-based decisions can be made on mode and route, providing cost estimates, and funding and financing options which includes looking at value capture
  • partnering with Māori
  • engaging with stakeholders and communities, and
  • determining the best form for the delivery entity, which will be either City Rail Link (CRL) Limited or a new joint venture with Auckland Council.

CRL is currently overseeing New Zealand’s largest infrastructure project, the $NZ 4.4bn ($US 2.9bn) scheme to build a 3.4km underground line under central Auckland.

“The Establishment Unit will be led by an inclusive governance board, involving an independent chair, local government, key agencies and community and Māori representatives,” Wood says. “Taking this inclusive approach allows for a strong focus on engagement - which is crucial to getting the best outcome for Auckland.

“Involving Auckland Council is critical, so the mayor and the deputy mayor of Auckland will work with me and the minister of finance to oversee this work. Once the government receives the advice from the Establishment Unit at the end of the year, we will make the key decisions on route, mode, and delivery entity. We will then be able to give the public certainty on issues like cost and timeframes.”

Wood said the development of the line would be the most significant piece of infrastructure for Auckland since the Auckland Harbour Bridge, which opened in 1959.

“The city centre to Māngere line will be a backbone that eventually will link with the North and North-west, forming a rapid transit network that fully integrates with other forms of transport across the city,” he says.

For detailed data on light rail projects around the world, subscribe to IRJ Pro.