Airport Rail Study: Translator Needed


An Auckland Transport update on the multi-agency study into airport rail and other future transport options to Auckland Airport is welcome but is there a translator in the house?

Some transport projects are drowning in ridiculous jargon and this is one.

Besides AMETI (which should be nicknamed JAWS) we have SWATS (as in SouthWest Atlanta)  South Western Airport Transport Study Update.

So here is the update:

“The project team have developed a draft vision, a problem definition, identified opportunities and also objectives for the project.

Thank goodness for that.

I feared they might just have spent a few months in front of a whiteboard doing one of the tedious corporate mission and vision statements with the assistance of well-paid facilitators.

Some thoughts on the above:

  • If it just a draft vision, how many more meetings will be needed before we actually get a vision. And then get down to real work?
  • A problem definition? To those of us who speak English and shake our heads at the above, we can learn here that the starting point of a problem definition is the information gathered in the problem analysis stage. The different aspects surrounding the design problem have been analysed and should be taken into account in the problem definition. The expected outcome is: A structured description of the design problem, with the goal of creating an explicit statement on the problem and possibly the direction of idea generation. Also, a problem definition clearly written down provides a shared understanding of the problem and its relevant aspects.

And then?
The report continues:

“These will be presented to the Implementation Executive Group and Political Steering Group for endorsement.

Following on from this the project team will be developing a range of ‘multimodal packages’ that can be taken through for further assessment.

The range of ‘packages’ will link back to the vision, problem and objectives of the project.

A typical ‘multimodal package’ will likely consist of:

  • primary rapid transit network (RTN) e.g. heavy rail, light rail or busway
  • secondary passenger transport network which would complement the RTN and provide for the corridors not served by the RTN.
  • State Highway improvements
  • Identifying land use opportunities i.e. Certain locations will benefit from an RTN particularly those areas in proximity to future RTN stations therefore it is important for each package to identify possible future growth areas and their growth potential
  • Walking and cycling improvements

Throughout this process the project team will utilise the expertise from key stakeholders including Auckland Transport, NZTA, Auckland Council, Kiwirail and Auckland Airport.”

Multimodal is definitely the flavour of the month especially when it comes to sugarcoating roading projects with the possibility of say an odd cycle lane.. We had a dose of it when the Wellington Council met last week to discuss whether to support NZTA’s motorway projects for the capital and some of the critics backed away once they heard the words multi-modal were heard. Ohh the relief.

Wikipedia defines Multimodal transport (also known as combined transport) as the transportation of goods under a single contract, but performed with at least two different means of transport; the carrier is liable (in a legal sense) for the entire carriage, even though it is performed by several different modes of transport (by rail, sea and road, for example). The carrier does not have to possess all the means of transport, and in practice usually does not; the carriage is often performed by sub-carriers (referred to in legal language as “actual carriers”). The carrier responsible for the entire carriage is referred to as a multimodal transport operator, or MTO.

In terms of SWATS, it means considering not just new rail lines that service parts of the south including the airport as the Mayor envisages (and AKT has been strongly advocating)  but it could be an increase in roads, motorways, bus lanes, busways or light rail.

And indeed there are those who argue why would we need anything but buses when we already have a bus service of sorts.

Apologies for my cynicism but I worry we will end up with a plan for more roading improvements to the airport along with some cycle lane and more frequent airport bus services. Especially after the Government knocked the idea of North Shore rail for a six because of the success of the busway. I can hear the same knockers saying we have plenty of bus to the airport options. and we just need to increase them.

Having seen expensive management reports drown in meaningless jargon while companies sink, I always worry about buzz words fudging real decision making.

If the study’s final document is full of multimodal jargon, that will be a pity.






  1. Patrick R says:

    yeah, yeah, yeah, the grubby hand of our friends at Infratil and the AK Chamber of Commerce busy fighting to make sure they get 100% of any spending sent their way again. This study has been done before, the rail line is already most of the way there, so instead of making an efficient traffic free service for everyone in SW AK, let’s really make it really Multimodal and so everyone can walk a bit, cycle, a bit, swim the Manukau then skateboard into town.

    Hard not to get just a little bit cynical about the vested interests opposing rail in Auckland.

  2. Feijoa says:

    Yes, rail has the distinct advantage that the ‘hard part’ in the CBD is already there or in the case of the tunnel link [almost] planned for. Bus lanes won’t cut it as they have nothing to connect into for the busiest parts of the trip. With road space so sacred they can’t even designate a bus lane over the harbour bridge or all the way into the CBD for the wildly successful North Shore Bus Way…

    I think it is good they’re tackling this properly and starting with the basics of defining the problem and planning accordingly, even if you get some wishy-washy consultant talk. We’ve seen the mess that can occur when you jump the gun with the Puhoi-Wellsford RONS that Mr Joyce committed us to before understanding the problem, the route or the cost.

  3. The problem with this is that it is a multi-modal agency study, so it is always going to be couched in weasel words. What was wrong with the Southwest Corridor Study commissioned by the ARC and recommending rail, from a couple of years ago now?

    So where can I find the problem, as it has been defined? I would define the main problem as public transport links to south west Auckland are poor, and we are obviously going to need improved public transport as oil continues to increase in price.

  4. Luke says:

    The main important thing that needs to come out of this is that the corridor alongside SH20 is protected from any further encroachment, and the Walmsley Road grade separation that will happen in a few years is built with a rail corridor in mind.


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