An interim review of Auckland’s City Rail Link (CRL) project, commissioned by the New Zealand Infrastructure Commission – Te Waihanga, offers a timely reminder of the significant challenges with delivering large, complex infrastructure projects and the consequences when risks eventuate
The purpose of the review is to assist project teams and decision makers considering Auckland Light Rail and similarly complex projects to learn from the lessons of New Zealand’s biggest infrastructure investment to date.
“It is important to reflect on what we have learnt so far from this project, particularly around business case processes, as we contemplate a significant number of new major transport investments,” says Blake Lepper, GM Delivery.
The review was led by experts Graeme Joyce and Peter Spies, who studied project documents and interviewed team members. Joyce and Spies have either been involved in or have reviewed many of Australasia’s largest infrastructure projects, including both heavy and light rail and road tunneling projects.
“These multi-billion-dollar projects are complex, disruptive and can exceed a decade under construction. It’s critical we learn as much as we can from this experience if projects of this scale are going to become a more substantive part of our total infrastructure investment,” says Lepper.
“There is no doubt the City Rail Link will be a tremendous asset for Auckland City, delivering significant travel time, safety and urban intensification benefits. However, it is projected to cost more than double what was estimated in 2015, with many billions more to be spent across the Auckland rail network in years to come to realise the full design capacity of the project.”
The review highlighted opportunities to improve the business case process and recommended that future business cases be reviewed when expectations, scope or costs for a project change. The reviewers queried why more than a billion dollars of upgrades essential to delivering the benefits of the project were omitted from the business case altogether. It also emphasised stronger procurement planning, in light of the challenges involved in working with local and international contractors – who all have important, but different, roles to play in making projects a success. And that the community and businesses impacted should be made sufficiently aware of a project’s impacts.
Those interviewed by the reviewers generally agreed that City Rail Link Ltd is delivering in a timely manner and to an acceptable standard – putting this down to the cooperation and support of entities involved in the project. Reviewers were complimentary of many aspects including the project’s property acquisition approach which was a significant step forward on prior projects.
All up, the review contains 24 recommendations for future infrastructure projects.
While the lessons from this review generally mirror issues found internationally, one learning particular to New Zealand is a shortage of people who are skilled and experienced with projects of this scale and complexity.
“For CRL this issue is illustrated by the way in which the governance and oversight of the project needed to continually evolve and develop “workarounds” for the structures originally agreed. This was time consuming and created additional pressure on teams that needed to be focused on delivery,” says Lepper.
“A project of this type has never been completed in New Zealand. It is also the first large-scale integrated-transport-urban development project in New Zealand. If we want to get better at doing these types of projects, then we are going to have to get better at rolling this expertise from one project into the next and ensuring every project is set up better than those that came before.”