Airport rail by when?

By Roger Leroux

Roger Leroux is a transport planner and modeller. He’s seen a fair few infrastructure decisions in his time and at close quarters, too. He reckons not all of them are very good, and that some are very bad, based on bad information and misguided intentions. He’s kindly offered me a few blogs about all this, starting with this one.

Roger writes under a pseudonym because – sad to say – he’s known clients give him the cold shoulder when his modelling doesn’t support institutionally desired solutions. For my part, I don’t always agree with him either. But – more importantly – I find him interesting, challenging and usually enlightening. So, enjoy, comment (here or the socials) and watch out for more. Cheers, James.

With an election less than three months away we probably shouldn’t be surprised by the press release issued by the Greens this week headlined “Greens to fast-track airport rail for the America’s Cup”. It promises rail to Auckland Airport by 2021. It could be one of many press releases issued by different politicians over the years if we substitute the words “rail” or “light rail” for other types of infrastructure, and swap the words “America’s Cup” for other major events. It also uses the words “national significance” and “transformative” which have been used by politicians and others promoting major infrastructure project over the years. As it offers no justification for these statements I think we can dismiss them as meaningless verbiage.

The first significant question is whether such a project could be completed by 2021. This seems unlikely as major projects of this sort usually take much longer than this to plan and build. Even if it could be done in this time frame would it be done properly and at reasonable cost? Major projects have long lives and rushing their completion for some short duration event is unwise.

The second significant question is whether this project is needed at the moment or in its current form. It does nothing for airport access from the east and south of the city – are residents from these areas only going to have the limited bus service that is provided at the moment? Rail links to airports in Brisbane and Sydney after opening failed to meet their patronage forecasts.

 

Aussie Rail

From MacGregor & Raymond, conference paper, available here.

This shouldn’t be a surprise – rail projects are extremely expensive and the economic case for them is often weak. Once a project gets political backing the people doing the demand forecasts feel a need to please their political (pay)masters and tend to adopt more optimistic assumptions to improve the project’s economics. This and the other factors mentioned above is what makes press releases of this sort so dangerous – they inhibit sensible making.

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