After four years of City Rail Link-related closure, innovative construction and meticulous restoration are celebrated today with Auckland’s historic Chief Post Office (CPO) returned to the city, ready to resume its role as the ‘front door’ to the Britomart Transport Centre.
The re-opening follows a complex engineering feat to remove original support columns out of the way of the City Rail Link tunnels and transfer the CPO’s weight to new foundations without damaging the Category A-listed heritage building (as listed in the Unitary Plan).
Auckland Mayor Phil Goff welcomes the CPO’s reopening.
“This is one of Auckland’s iconic historical buildings and a much-loved feature of our city centre for more than 100 years - it’s great to see it open to Aucklanders and visitors once again,” he says.
“Opening out onto Te Komititanga, the new public square on lower Queen Street, and close to attractions such as the new harbourside park, the reinvigorated Quay Street and the Commercial Bay precinct, the CPO is already one of New Zealand’s busiest and most important transport hubs and will gain further importance when the City Rail Link opens in 2024.
“With many aspects of the original design still in place, the CPO provides a glimpse of Auckland’s heritage as well as being part of the future of our increasingly vibrant and people-friendly downtown,” Mr Goff says.
Dr Sean Sweeney, Chief Executive of the City Rail Link (CRL) project, says, “Aucklanders rightly have plenty to celebrate.
“The iconic best of Auckland’s past is preserved and revitalized to play its new role in the city’s transport future.”
The CPO reopens this afternoon after a morning blessing lead by elders from Tāmaki Makaurau Iwi. Transport Minister Michael Wood joined workers from CPO construction teams for the blessing at first light.
At ground level, the CPO again becomes the main entrance to the Britomart station with ticketing and information facilities, access to Britomart’s adjoining train platforms, and shops.
The upper levels will be used for offices. The big difference is out of sight below ground - two CRL tunnels now run through the building’s basement, and more than 70 kilometres of power and communication cables installed.
Many of the CPO original interior features – including windows, lighting and brickwork – are retained. The building’s support columns, old and new, have been turned into engineering features for people to admire on the ground floor.
Mark Lambert, Executive General Manager of Integrated Networks at Auckland Transport (AT), says AT is excited to welcome Aucklanders back to the CPO.
“Each weekday up to 38,000 customers use Britomart Station. This iconic building will be the start of many journeys for Aucklanders on our public transport network,” he says.
Auckland Transport is restoring and repairing the CPO’s façade.
“This work is to clean and restore the stonework, and windows of this Heritage Category 1 site. We want to ensure that this grand 109-year-old building continues to receive the attention it deserves” Mr Lambert says.
The CPO is a pivotal part of CRL – New Zealand’s largest-ever transport infrastructure that will transform public transport in Auckland by building the country’s first underground railway between Britomart and the Mt Eden Station 3.45 kilometres away.
The 109-year-old building was closed in early 2017, one of the first CRL contracts taken to convert Britomart from a dead-end to through station as part of an ambitious project to transform the city’s rail network and make it more efficient.
“What followed was some astonishing engineering to overcome many challenges to build the tunnels - working in confined spaces, dealing with some pretty sticky reclaimed land at the bottom end of town, protecting a building with a top heritage-rating weighting 14-thousand tonnes while we transferred its weight safely and carefully onto new foundations, and keeping Britomart Station next door open and operational all the time,” Dr Sweeney says.
“We pushed accepted construction boundaries with some innovative techniques and use of machinery modified specifically for use under the CPO, and supported the building on high strength steels manufactured in New Zealand for the first time.”
Dr Sweeney says years of planning, design and modelling involving CRL Ltd, contractors Downer NZ and Soletanche Bachy JV , Heritage NZ, Auckland Council and Auckland Transport was rewarded with a successful and positive outcome.
“Great collaboration produced a great ’can do’ attitude. Working together helped replace that old ‘number-eight-fencing-wire’ makeshift attitude with some skillful engineering advances that will continue to serve New Zealand for years to come. Everyone involved with the CPO can rightly be proud of what they achieved.”
When the CPO reopens the main entrance to the building will be from Te Komititanga – the safer pedestrian square that has replaced a two-way bus station at the lower end of Queen Street. Besides work on the Façade, construction around the CPO in adjoining Galway and Tyler Streets will continue for the next few weeks.
From Britomart, the tunnels under the CPO continue below Te Komititanga as well as the Commercial Bay development and up Albert Street as far as Wyndham Street. Construction of the tunnels, together with two new underground stations, continues from that point to Mt Eden.
A completed CRL will double the number of people living within 30 minutes of travel from central Auckland – New Zealand’s largest employment hub. Trains will increase in length from six to nine cars, and services will be more frequent and faster.
Stay up to date with the City Rail Link project at cityraillink.co.nz