Seven pedestrian crossings are being removed from Auckland’s rail system in an attempt to make the rail system safer and increase the frequency of trains.

It’s the first move in a wide-reaching plan to prevent cars, people and trains from sharing space around railway lines in the city, which Auckland Council has signalled will potentially cost hundreds of millions.

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Speaking to Auckland’s councillors last Thursday, Auckland Council chief financial officer Peter Gudsell presented a slide saying the council would be on the hook for a share of a $500 million-plus bill for the removal of high-priority level crossings.

Gudsell said the figure meant to give councillors a sense of what costs might accrue around level crossings during the period of the long-term plan – the next 10 years.

Councillors will meet in the coming months to establish an overarching budget for the next decade, before making final decisions in September.

“The figure provided to the governing body last week in relation to level crossings was an indicative number used to provide the Mayor and councillors with context and a sense of scale around future shocks the council is expecting to have to address through the long-term Plan,” Gudsell said.

“Auckland Council and Auckland Transport continue to work on the level crossing projects and funding required to make the City Rail Link operational, as well as the delivery of the level crossing programme over the next 15 to 20 years.”

The frequency of trains is expected to increase following the completion of the City Rail Link later this decade. Photo: Matthew Scott

While at least half a billion dollars is being forecast for the whole programme, what’s on the books at the moment is going to cost a fraction of that.

Auckland Transport estimates around $50,000 per removal for the seven pedestrian crossings currently on the chopping block – $350,000 to complete the current plan.

That’s less than a tenth of a percent of the total cost signalled by council staff when they warned the councillors of coming ‘future shocks’. Gudsell didn’t give much detail on exactly what this money is for, meaning it could represent a crossing removal plan over a number of years.

And with the delivery programme expected to run over 15 to 20 years, it’s a figure that could represent costs over multiple long-term plans.

But while a significant chunk of cash seems to have been ear-marked for changes to crossings, a lack of funding simultaneously saw Auckland Transport going for the cheaper option with the seven crossings planned to be altered.

Budget constraints on council-controlled organisations stopped Auckland Transport from looking at bridges or underpasses for those crossings, which it estimated would cost $11m to $15m per location. 

Ongoing maintenance for locations requiring grade-separating lifts could add to the cost through the years as well.

Instead, it has opted to remove them wholesale.

Pedestrians and cyclists trying to chart a course to the other side of the railway line will have to find another path across seven different sites, mostly in the west and south of the city.

And while it’s currently just seven spots, the oncoming City Rail Link trains and the planned delivery of crossing changes over the next two decades could see crossings like this continue to vanish.

The seven seem to have been chosen due to their proximity to schools and town centres, including Homai Station crossing which is near a blind and low-vision school.

The seven pedestrian crossings set to be removed are:

  • O’Neills Road, Swanson
  • Corban Estate, Henderson
  • Tironui Station Road East, Takanini
  • Kingdon Street, Newmarket
  • Lloyd Avenue, Mt Albert
  • Homai Station

Safety regulations mean that train services with level crossings are prevented from being too fast or too frequent. 

Most of the removals are happening on the Western Line, which new City Rail Link services will eventually feed into. It seems to be a move to ready the broader rail system for the addition of the CRL trains.

These changes are an attempt to ready the network for higher use once the new city lines open. Auckland Transport has forecast that some areas will see a 100 percent increase in frequency of trains.

These crossings could mean barrier arms are down and automatic safety gates closed for hours a day.

Many of Auckland’s rail crossings were designed in a time when there were both fewer people and fewer trains going by, and as the system gears up to be even busier in coming years, it’s put the current crossing model under the microscope.

According to data from Waka Kotahi, there were four fatal incidents on level crossings last year, most of which involved pedestrians.

There were 48 fatal incidents at level crossings across the country between January 2014 and December of last year – 26 involving pedestrians, 21 with motor vehicles, and 1 with a cyclist.

Auckland Transport is currently engaging with the local communities and other stakeholders to work out the best time to remove each of the crossings.

Matthew Scott covers immigration, urban development and Auckland issues.

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