Trams or underground metro? Transport Minister Michael Wood wants feedback on first Auckland light rail line

Transport Minister Michael Wood wants to know if Aucklanders would prefer modern trams or an underground metro as the first light rail line between the CBD and Māngere.

The Auckland Light Rail Group - made up of Waka Kotahi-NZ Transport Agency, Auckland Transport, Auckland Council, the Ministry of Transport and Kāinga Ora - has released artist impressions of what light rail could look like. 

The first option is putting light rail underground in a trench and covering it at busy centres so pedestrians could cross over it. The alternative is a modern tram network, with a track through the centre of the road and cars on the sides. 

The route will run from Auckland CBD to Auckland Airport, either down Dominion Rd or Sandringham Rd. The track is intended to be the backbone for a network that will eventually connect with other light rail lines to the north and north-west.

"We're really encouraging Aucklanders to see what this could look like and transform the way we work, travel, study and play in our local areas," Wood said on Thursday as the proposal was unveiled to the public. 

"Light rail is an essential part of Auckland's future and we're keen to get them involved."

Auckland Light Rail Group Board Chair Leigh Auton says the project is no longer just a transport solution, but a foundation for new homes, shops, community facilities and public spaces. 

The group is investigating how light rail could link to planned Kāinga Ora housing developments at Mt Roskill and Māngere. Also being looked at is a new crossing at Manukau Harbour, however this will not affect the replacement of the Māngere Bridge currently being built. 

Artist's impression of light rail metro.
Artist's impression of light rail metro. Photo credit: Supplied

The Māngere connection is foreseen as a thriving hub, with plans underway to see how light rail could link with the Māngere town centre and Kāinga Ora housing.

Also under consideration is how the route will connect from Auckland CBD to Wynyard Quarter, plus a potential university connection. Light rail will also need to connect to the currently under construction City Rail Link, expected to be complete in 2024. 

The Auckland Light Rail Group estimates that light rail will come every five minutes and will bring at least 220,000 people closer to their jobs, study and hobbies. 

The first engagement event will be held on Saturday, July 17, at the Māngere Market. Feedback will be open online until Tuesday, August 31. 

Opinions have already been expressed by the likes of Auckland Councillor Richard Hills, who said on Twitter he'd prefer light rail to be above ground. 

"Open trenches are ugly and dangerous and weird. Also far less accessible," he wrote. "It'll take way longer and cost way more too. Let's have light rail on the surface!"

The Auckland Light Rail Group is tasked with developing a business case and making recommendations. This will help the Government to make a decision later this year about the route, mode and delivery for the project.

Artist's impression of modern tram.
Artist's impression of modern tram. Photo credit: Supplied

The Public Transport Users Association has already expressed concerns about light rail plans. It would no doubt be disruptive for local businesses - reminiscent of Auckland CBD retailers who've lost foot traffic due to City Rail Link construction and are demanding compensation.  

Light rail has long been touted by Labour as a solution to Auckland's traffic woes, but it's been a long wait for progress. 

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern pledged during the 2017 election campaign that Labour would build light rail from downtown Auckland to the airport within a decade. 

Labour had already promised to build light rail from Auckland CBD to Mt Roskill and Ardern said at the time it would be complete in four years, but almost four years have passed and light rail is nowhere to be seen. 

Transport Minister Michael Wood.
Transport Minister Michael Wood. Photo credit: Newshub / Zane Small

Information released by Waka Kotahi-NZ Transport Agency (NZTA) showed $34.8 million had been spent since October 2017 on business cases, project management, legal costs, office space and equipment, and Ministry of Transport funding, for light rail.  

And despite those tens of millions of dollars going into the project, Labour announced in March plans to start from scratch, with a new six-month consultation process launched by Wood.