Auckland Electrification Project Hero

A new era in public transport: The Auckland Electrification Project

In January 2010, a consortium of Hawkins Infrastructure and Laing O’Rourke (HILOR) was tasked with bringing Auckland’s rail network into the 21st century. The result would be a transport system fit for one of the world’s most vibrant cities.

At nearly one and a half million people, Auckland is easily New Zealand’s largest city. It’s also the fastest growing. In 2010, patronage on Auckland’s rail network was in excess of 10 million passenger journeys. That number is set to rise by 70% by 2016. To meet that demand, city and rail planners needed to develop a modern, reliable network.

Electrifying the old diesel network had been mooted for decades, but it wasn’t until the early 2000s that planning began in earnest, and a few years more before funding was secured for this ambitious project.

KiwiRail’s goals:

  • To develop a cohesive, efficient transport system for Auckland.
  • To reduce congestion by changing the focus from private cars to public transport.
  • To create a modern and sustainable passenger transport network. Electrification means quieter and more reliable train services, allowing rail to take a more prominent role in the region’s transport mix. 
  • To electrify the rail network while it remains operationaland with minimal disruption to train travellers.

What we did:

Together with Laing O’Rourke, we built nearly 200 kilometres of new electrified rail network, including the North Island main trunk line (Papakura to Britomart), the North Auckland line (Westfield to Swanson) and the Newmarket, Onehunga and Manukau branch lines.

In order to do so, we installed almost three and a half thousand foundations, and the same number of mast structures to support the overhead lines. We also installed a total of 586km of wiring: that’s almost enough to reach from London to Frankfurt! Plus the infrastructure needed to deliver electricity.

The project featured a New Zealand first – conductor rails within tunnels and inside Auckland’s central terminal, the Britomart Transport Centre.  The major advantages of this system are its: 

  • Low overall height to suit the tunnel environment
  • Smooth transition of the contact and catenary wires from outside the tunnel to the conductor rails within
  •  High fire resistance rating
  • Low maintenance requirement
  • Long service life.

We did all the above on an existing, live rail network, making sure work was carried out with minimal disruption to train travellers.

During the course of the project, we helped Kiwirail to increase awareness of the hazards of the electrification project by educating schools, businesses and local communities.

Unique challenges:

  • The team laying the foundations for the new network worked through the night. We couldn’t interrupt the train service, including freight, so the team worked between 11pm and 5am when trains were running at a reduced frequency. Because we were working in a live rail environment safety and accuracy were paramount.
  • Soil conditions in Auckland can vary dramatically and unpredictably, even over short distances. As a result we had to perform a separate geotechnical investigation and services potholing for every foundation (that’s almost three and a half thousand investigations!)
  • Complicating matters were the many underground services that had been laid along the network over a century or more. Many of them had never been accurately mapped, and some hadn’t been mapped at all.
  • Even when ground conditions were predictable, challenges often remained. The Orakei Basin is one of Auckland’s most picturesque locations. It’s also one of its most challenging from an environmental and safety point of view: one mistake and you’re in the water.

The outcome:

By early 2014, the first section of the new, electrified rail network was ready. Over the following months, the remaining sections were completed. What had started out, decades earlier, as a distant vision, was now a reality. Auckland finally has a modern, efficient rail network that allows commuters to get around New Zealand’s largest city in comfort and at speed.

Auckland’s well on its way to achieving its vision of being the most liveable city in the world. 


It could have been a hugely disruptive programme, but in fact it’s been a total success. We now have a rail network that will serve future generations for years to come.

Alan Gordon

Auckland Transport Programme Director