Auckland's light rail project hit by delays, potential cost blowouts

Delays and potential cost blowouts that could amount to billions of dollars have struck Auckland's light rail project.  

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Light rail from the city centre to the airport was a key election promise by Jacinda Ardern. Source: 1 NEWS

Light rail from Auckland's city centre to the airport was a key promise by Jacinda Ardern during the 2017 election campaign.

But the biggest transport pledge by this Government has been derailed by one of its own agencies, the New Zealand Transport Agency.

"I was disappointed that I think NZTA dropped the ball and we lost six months in the process," said Transport Minister Phil Twyford.

NZTA boss Sir Brian Roche has admitted the proposals have been mishandled.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said NZTA "certainly didn't assess it properly".

Two bids are before the Government for a rapid transit corridor.

NZTA was originally in charge of assessing those, despite one proposal being its own.

The other bid is a joint venture between the Super Fund and a Canadian group, and proposes a combination of under and overground rail.

National Party leader Simon Bridges says the project will be worse than the Government's house building scheme.

"This is Kiwibuild 2.0 is actually going to be much worse than that because the reality of light rail down Dominion Road under this Government is it's a slow moving economic train wreck," he said. 

The assessment process has now been stripped from NZTA and handed to the Ministry of Transport.

The group in charge of the rival bid told 1 NEWS high capacity, future-proofed rapid transit is crucial and proposals have not been finalised.

The Government insists both options will be seriously considered, despite NZTA's failures.

"This is a unique and compelling proposition that's been put forward - a public public partnership. We've never done that in New Zealand before. It would mean that every time you take a ride on the train you're contributing to the costs of your retirement." Mr Twyford said.

1 NEWS has spoken to people in the construction industry worried the delays will lead to uncertainty.

But Labour describes light rail as a game changer for commuters and congestion, while National has criticised it as a slow and expensive option.

"The costs have gone from when Jacinda Ardern was in opposition one-and-a-half billion for the Roskill piece to six to eight billion. And today we see estimates of 10 billion and growing," Mr Bridges said.

Mr Twyford responded, saying, "It's wildly speculative. There's no factual basis for any suggestion that there's a cost blowout."

A decision on who will build the project is being promised early next year.