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Auckland transport project overhauled

KARINA ABADIA AND JESS ETHERIDGE
Last updated 05:00 01/08/2014

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Auckland's top transport project has been overhauled to save the debt-ridden city almost $500 million.

The City Rail Link project, in the pipeline since the super-city was born, will lose a train station in the inner-city suburb of Newton, saving about $150m.

Extra electric trains, to the tune of $300m, have also been slashed from the project.

Instead, the current open-air Mt Eden station will be upgraded and connected to the CRL.

Auckland Mayor Len Brown said the design revamp makes the 2016 construction start date "even more realistic".

The CRL could become operational "using the existing fleet" of trains, he said.

But more electric trains would be needed as the city's transport network grew, Brown said.

The decision comes as Auckland struggles to find $2.8 billion in savings to keep rates rises capped at 2.5 per cent.

Not only that, but the city is facing a $12b transport-funding shortfall with rates and fuel taxes or road pricing seen by some as the only solution.

Auckland Transport chairman Lester Levy said the improved design would result in Mt Eden commuters being included on the CRL route. The previous design bypassed them.

It will "improve operation reliability through the provision of a separated east-west junction so train lines won't need to cross over each other", he said.

The Newton station was to be built 42 metres below ground. Cutting the Newton station out will make the Karangahape Rd station the next deepest at 33m.

Levy said dropping plans for the Newton station would reduce construction disruption around upper Symonds St by 12 to 18 months.

Brown said losing the Newton station would improve reliability and journey time for train commuters. It would also reduce the number of properties the council needed to buy.

As of June, Auckland Transport said it had bought about $45m of inner-city property on the designated CRL route.

About 42 property owners were in "active negotiation" with Auckland Transport.

Auckland posted a 13.9 per cent boost in rail patronage in the last financial year.

That equated to 11.4 millon trips, Auckland Transport said.

The CRL will be 50 per cent funded by central government.

Prime Minister John Key last year said the Government would bring forward the CRL construction start date if employment in the central city increased 20 per cent or rail patronage hit 20 million trips a year.

Alternative funding, through either rates and fuel taxes or road pricing, was being investigated to cover 30 per cent of the CRL costs.

Twenty per cent would come from rates and developer contributions, Auckland Transport said.

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