Auckland Transport (AT) continues its consultation on transport options to serve the region’s massive future growth, and locals favour passenger rail transport, but AT’s plans show unsustainable bias toward road based solutions for Huapai-Kumeu, say the Public Transport Users Association (PTUA).
“The high growth greenfields development happening now in Huapai-Kumeu on the North West outskirts of Auckland, is crippling State Highway 16” says local resident and PTUA chair, Christine Rose. “SH16 is a strategic, freight and service industry transport alternative to SH1, but is at a standstill now because of residential sprawl unmatched with decent public transport infrastructure. Auckland Transport are consulting on plans for transport improvements sometime, including new roads and a busway from Westgate into the city, none of which have real timeframes or funding, nor deliver the transport solutions people say they want”.
In the last consultation round, passenger rail solutions were preferred by the public more than any other option. Auckland Transport, to their credit have moved slightly in suggesting an investigation into benefits and costs of electric rail to the area. ”But in effect, we’re no further ahead, with the plans showing bias toward a road-based solutions which have no timeframe, no budget, fail to address SH16 congestion and won’t serve the current growth of Kumeu” Rose added.
“Meanwhile, we’ve got an existing railway line, railway station, and diesel rolling stock that can be used tomorrow on an uncongested, dedicated route. With smart timetabling to meet the rest of the regional rail network, this service could start tomorrow, with marginal additional cost” says Mrs Rose. “Surely that’s a better deal for ratepayers and residents than living with crippling congestion for decades until ‘if and when’ budgets and plans are developed?”.
Both Mrs Rose as previous chair of the Auckland Regional Council’s Transport Committee and PTUA co-ordinator Jon Reeves, have been involved with successful rail campaigns such as that which brought rail back to Onehunga. Mr Reeves says “that campaign showed that there will always be opponents of rail development. But in using existing railway lines, diesel rolling stock, and platforms, we save ratepayers money and increase capacity on roading networks for important freight and service vehicles, and we can provide a decent, truly congestion free public transport service now, not in 20 years when it will be too late”.
PTUA propose a ‘Western Connector’ rail service initially offering hourly rail services between Huapai and Swanson from 6am to 8pm daily. This shuttle will connect with the wider Auckland rail network in the exact same fashion as the successful Pukekohe – Papakura rail shuttle service. “The beauty of our solution is it can start immediately as everything is in place and ready to go. Only the will of Auckland Transport is blocking Huapai, Kumeu and Waitakere residents and ratepayers having a rail service.”
The rail service will also encourage visitors to Huapai and Kumeu villages and the cycling community will benefit as they can transport bikes right out west, which is impossible with buses.
“We know the community overwhelmingly see rail as a pragmatic solution to their existing transport needs” says Mrs Rose. “Now we just need to convince the authorities that the public are right”.
As a side note, voices further north are pushing for a total upgrade of the rail line from Swanson to Whangarei to enable tourist passenger trains to operate at faster speeds. While the concept is slightly different to the “Western Connector” commuter service for Huapai, it shows that there is a growing desire by the public for an upgraded rail service, after 40 years of government initiated decline of the passenger rail system.
The Public Transport Users Association are planning a public meeting at the end of May as part of their campaign for rail services to Kumeu. Discussions are underway with Auckland Transport Chairman Lester Levy in the hope he can attend.
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Western Connector proposal details : http://ptua.org.nz/1/2015/03/western-connector