Auckland’s City Rail Link (CRL) is taking immediate action to implement new construction measures to help ensure the $4.4bn City Rail Link project is completed on time and within budget despite the Covid-19 pandemic.
During the level 4 lockdown, work on the 3.45km long twin-tube tunnel project still pushed ahead with a lot of crucial work completed from home – including building consents, designs and planning – which enabled the project to be able to come out of the starting blocks quickly.
“I think we have come out of the lockdown pretty well – apparently faster than most projects – but one thing is certain, Covid-19’s legacy means CRL is now going to be a very different project than it was two months ago,” says City Rail Link’s Chief Executive, Dr Sean Sweeney.
Even with a strong restart, Dr Sweeney says the challenges of Covid-19 are unprecedented and the project must do all it can to respond to these, keep the project on track, and support the economic recovery of New Zealand.
“This pandemic is a 1-in-a -100-year event – something that none of us could have anticipated. I’m proud of what the project has been able to achieve in these different and uncertain times. But we still have to keep finding ways to respond and adapt to a very different way of working for who knows how long.
“This project plays a key role in the economic recovery post-Covid-19. The scale of CRL means there is so much we can do right now and into the future to create much needed jobs and to help get the economy pumping again.”
Dr Sweeney says Covid-19 has presented a number of challenges to the project including delays related to no work, planned April closures to advance construction could not go ahead, and more than 40 project workers remain overseas unable to get to New Zealand.
As well, stringent new health and safety protocols impact on the way CRL’s construction sites work – access is restricted, self-distancing rules must be observed, more protective clothing is needed, and sanitising and cleansing regimes are in place.
“The project is taking a number of steps to respond to these challenges and maintain construction momentum, help kickstart the economy and get this important project delivered as quickly as possible,” Dr Sweeney says.
From next Monday (18 May), Link Alliance will implement double shifts and extend working hours for up to 16 hours a day at its Mt Eden and Karangahape sites – 7am to 10pm Monday-to-Friday, and 7am to 7pm Saturday. Existing work hours are 7am-7pm Monday-to-Friday and 7am-2pm Saturday.
“The new Health and Safety measures are there to protect workers, and the wider community, but they also affect productivity. Moving to double shifting will enable us to regain the construction momentum we need to achieve a higher level of productivity in the Covid-19 context and to play a bigger part in the country’s economic re-build,” says Dr Sweeney.
“Operating two shifts on a site means more people working and more money in their pockets to go and spend locally.”
Link Alliance will revise plans that cover construction issues including traffic management, disruption and noise and vibration and noisy works will finish before 7pm wherever possible. Mats to absorb noise will be used, flashing beacon lights on machinery turned off to reduce light nuisance, and workers will be told to leave sites quietly at night.
“We’re very mindful of our obligations under legally binding consent conditions and of the great support we get from our neighbours and the wider community. That hasn’t changed. Even if face-to-face catchups remain difficult, our priority is to keep neighbours and community organisations well informed through a whole raft of different communication channels so they know what we are up to,” Dr Sweeney says.
City Rail Link Ltd is also working with the Government to try to have the project declared an essential service on economic grounds. This would enable the workers overseas workers to be able to return to New Zealand and after a two-week quarantine period be working on the project again.
“If we able to persuade the Government to support our request, those CRL workers overseas together with their skills should find it easier to get to New Zealand.”
With work on the project back underway City Rail Link has assessed the timetable of key milestones across the sites:
- Britomart/Lower Queen Street:Paving the pedestrian plaza in front of the heritage-listed Chief Post Office to be completed as planned late this year; completion of the Chief Post Office refurbishment now expected early 2021; planning is underway to regain some of the time lost
- Albert Street (between Customs Streets and Wynyard Street):Contractors have made up some time lost by the lockdown and are focussing additional resources and effort to finish street improvements, returning Albert Street to the public by Christmas as planned
- Aotea (central Auckland): Slight delay in setting up the main site compound office; catch-up work to divert utilities continues at pace.
- Karangahape (up-town): Slight delay to tunnel-related work and construction of a noise enclosure on the station site; good progress on utility diversions in front of closed shops without impacting on businesses
- Mt Eden:Planned closures of Mt Eden Station and adjoining Porters Avenue rail crossing delayed several weeks – Porters Avenue will close to all vehicle traffic on 29 May, and the Station in late July (date to be confirmed). Planned arrival of Tunnel Boring Machine from China delayed until late 2020; start of tunnelling delayed in early 2021
- Ōtāhuhu (joint CRL/KiwiRail contract on Southern rail line): Plans are underway to complete works delayed by the lockdown with the objective of finishing this August as planned.
Dr Sweeney says CRL Ltd has also started work on a more detailed investigation of the lockdown’s impact on project timings and costs.
“That work will take several months, and the outcome will depend on the health of the economy, how our suppliers here at home and overseas are faring, and on international efforts to curb COVID-19. CRL is important for Auckland’s future and the measures announced today are an important first step to keep to our timetable and to our budget.”
The project is being built by the Link Alliance, a consortium of seven companies, including CRL Ltd, which are delivering the main stations and tunnels for the CRL project mostly using a 7.15m diameter Herrenknecht TBM
The Link Alliance comprises:
Vinci Construction Grands Projets S.A.S
Soletanche Bachy International NZ Limited
The project is due to be complete in 2024.