City Rail Link

Rapid rail vs motorways

Rapid rail vs motorways


PHOTO: Auckland’s ‘busy’ new southern motorway section in 1953 (Sir George Grey Special Collections, Auckland Libraries, 1370-280-13)

1956 - The end of trams

Auckland's electric trams ran from 1902 to 1956. Running from downtown at the Waitemata Harbour and across to Onehunga on the Manukau Harbour, they were then the world's only coast to coast tramway system.

Post-WWII, the decision was made not to put more money into the tram network. Instead Auckland was to follow Los Angeles by being dominated by motorways and the decision made to rip up the tramlines and use buses. 

LAST TRAM: In December 1956 - Looking south along the west side of Lower Queen Street, showing a crowd gathered around Auckland's last tram in front of the Oxford movie cinema. (Sir George Grey Special Collections, Auckland Libraries, 1207-881)

video icon

TRAMS REMOVED: Overhead tram wires removed in Kingsland in 1956 (Photo: Sir George Grey Special Collections, Auckland Libraries, 255A-55)

Robbie's Rapid Rail

In the late 1960s, Auckland Mayor Sir Dove-Myer Robinson pushed for an underground rail loop which became known as “Robbie’s Rapid Rail” and caught the public’s attention.

He championed the plan which had been created by the Auckland Regional Authority and NZ Railways.

“Robbie’s Rapid Rail” would have extended and electrified the suburban rail network.

RAPID TRANSIT: The plan for a central city underground station

He didn't get his rail scheme adopted by the government but he is also fondly remembered for leading opposition to a proposal to discharge Auckland’s sewage straight into the Hauraki Gulf. In 1953, he proposed a scheme for oxidation ponds on Manukau Harbour at Māngere, to break down sewage naturally.

ROBBIE: Sir Dove-Myer Robinson, Auckland Councillor 1952-1959 and Auckland Mayor 1959-65 and then 1968-1980. This sculpture by Tobias Twiss, cast by Twiss and Frank Watson, stands in Aotea Square near the Auckland Town Hall

De Leuw Cather Report

In 1963, the Auckland Regional Authority commissioned a report from San Francisco transport engineering firm De Leuw Cather & Co.

Map of proposed downtown Auckland rail network from the 1960's

It promoted motorways but also, in terms of public transport, recommended:

  • "An improved bus system generally similar to existing services except that routes would be coordinated and duplication of service eliminated through control of operations by a single agency. Bus lines would be extended to serve newly developed areas where needed and express bus operation on motorways would be introduced to expedite the movement of passengers during peak periods where practicable."

  • "A co-ordinated bus and rail rapid transit system. The rail would run alongside existing lines from both Puhinui and New Lynn via Newmarket to the Central District. The extension to downtown AuckIand would be built along Beach Road connecting to an underground subway along Customs Street and Queen Street to a terminal at the Civic Centre. Two new subway stations are planned in downtown Auckland at Customs and Queen Streets and at Wellesley and Queen Streets. These routes total 18 miles of surface lines and 1.2 miles of underground, all of which would be electrified. Rehabilitation of the existing 24 outlying stations is contemplated, together with provision for parking and rubber-to-rail transfer facilities."

  • "The extension of the initial rapid transit operations to Henderson and Papakura. Additional coverage would be provided through a connection from Westfield to the Auckland Railway Station via Tamaki. An extension of the rapid transit operation from the Civic Centre station southerly to connect with the existing railway line in the vicinity of the Mount Eden station may be found feasible in the next generation."

  • "During peak times, trains would operate on 5 minute headways on each line, increasing to 10 to 15 minutes headways at other times."

  • "We have estimated the capital outlay required to put the recommended transit system in operation at £21,000,000 on the basis of present day costs. Approximately £15,000,000 would be required for the rail rapid transit system including the downtown subway extension, the improvements to existing railway facilities and the purchase of 114 new cars. The remaining £6,000,000 would cover the investment over a period of years in 545 new buses and new bus depots."

  • "We have assumed 1970 as the earliest year of initial rapid transit operation."

But there was minimal support from politicians for the rail aspect while the report's recommendations for motorways were embraced.

For the rail proposals, there was support from the Norman Kirk Labour government which even commissioned test borings but then came an election and a change of government.

Video icon

View this 1974 documentary about the 70s plans for Auckland rapid rail transit:

In 1975, the newly elected National government of Robert Muldoon killed off the plan. Sir Dove-Myer was voted out of office and his rail dream died. The part of the De Leuw Cather & Co. report adopted was for an expansion of the motorway system.

The NZ Herald, which was pro-rail at the time, editorialised that the council had “walked blithely into the trap prepared by the ‘no-men of Wellington’” – a point it re-enforced with this cartoon by the paper's long-time cartoonist Gordon Minhinnick.

In 1983 the ARA even considered scrapping Auckland's rail system altogether and in 1987, a major transport study from the Auckland Regional Authority reaffirmed an emphasis on motorways.

^ back to top

1969 - Bank skyscraper ready for underground rail

When a new ASB corporate headquarters building was opened in 1969 on the corner of Queen and Wellesley Streets, it was announced that it was future-proofed for a future underground rail link by incorporating access routes to such a link. Architect Geoffry Rix-Trott wrote in a newspaper supplement celebrating the opening: "We have designed the building so that the escalators and stairs from Queen St to the tube station will all be on the bank's land."

RAIL READY: The ASB (then) corporate headquarters building on the corner of Queen and Wellesley Street opened in 1969 (Photo: Sir George Grey Special Collections, Auckland Libraries, 1385-14)