I hadn’t travellled on the Eastern Line for about four years, so I thought I’d better check it out. The new Sylvia Park station, located right next to the giant shopping mall, meant a pretty good excuse for checking out the railway line existed too. A nice chance to hang in Borders for a few hours too, which is a rather favourite occupation for Leila and me. However, actually travelling on Auckland’s train system at the weekend is a bit of a mission (even if you’re really keen to do so), and probably the length of time it took for us to catch a bus into town (necessary because no Western Line trains were running today because of track work) plus the cost (the down-side of not having integrated ticketing and having to go via the city) means that 99% of people would probably still choose to drive to the mall unfortunately.
However, even though it was more expensive and less convenient than driving, armed with a makeshift version of a timetable (scribbled down on a piece of paper), an umbrella which got blown to bits crossing New North Road in Kingsland, and after an excellent breakfast feed at the Roasted Addiqtion cafe, we embarked upon our mission. First step was catching a bus into town. I had considered the merits of trying to coincide with a rail replacement bus so we would have been able to buy rail day passes, but the saving was only about 80c compared to paying cash fares for the whole trip, so it wasn’t really worth the hassle of waiting 20 minutes for that particular bus. Furthermore, the rail bus would have had to undertake a pretty random route via Newmarket, a stupid way to make your way into town from Kingsland on anything except a proper train. After waiting at the bus stop for a fairly decent length of time, as after all it is a Sunday and buses have horrific frequencies on Sundays in Auckland, our bus finally arrived and slowly made its way into the city. With 10 minutes to get to the Britomart train station, we didn’t bother running, but figured it’d make more sense to catch the next train, which was “only” another 30 minutes away. Half hour frequencies for trains in Auckland on Sundays I guess isn’t TOO bad, especially considering no trains ran on Sundays until a few years ago.
But anyway, we finally did reach Britomart, and even though we couldn’t buy tickets at the station (because the one person selling them was on their lunch break) we made our way down to the trains a few minutes before our train, the only services that were actually running today, arrived. Quite differently from the train we’d caught out to New Lynn on Thursday evening, this was one of Auckland’s particularly crappy old DMUs – bought off Perth in the early 90s when Perth electrified its rail system. The irony is that Perth decided to electrify its rail system because their rolling stock were getting so old they needed to upgrade anyway and figured it made more sense to shift to electric than to buy new diesel trains. Gosh how they must laugh that their crappy old trains are still running 17 years later in Auckland.
However, interestingly as soon as we were actually on the train and moving, I found myself pleasantly surprised by the ride. Compared to the Western Line service that we’d caught a few days ago, the train seemed much quieter, the ride smoother and also significantly faster. I suppose on the Western Line there are a lot of bends, a pretty significant hill and quite frequent stations, but the whole trip out to New Lynn felt incredibly frustrating as though we were idling along in 2nd gear the whole time. I’m sure with decent trains and a few kinks removed from the line that half hour trip could be cut down to 20 minutes maximum! But anyway, the trip on the Eastern Line seemed so damn quick by comparison. Most of the stations we travelled through on our way to Sylvia Park looked like they’d been upgraded recently, the gaps between the stations were large enough for our train to actually pick up a decent amount of speed, and as we cut across Hobson Bay and Orakei Basin, as well as passing through quite a few nice forested gullies, the trip was also surprisingly scenic.
Apart from Glen Innes and Panmure though, it really did feel like all the stations were in pretty random locations, and only had seemingly very limited appeal to users. On the city side of Glen Innes in particular, there were grassy fields with horses grazing in them – quite nice from a scenic perspective but seemingly a bit of a waste of land that could be used for intensification built in close proximity to train services. At Meadowbank station it seemed like one would be surprised to actually realise there was a station, as it’s tucked down the back end of a pretty random corner of Auckland. The same with Orakei, although apparently the park n ride there is quite popular (and there’s also some pretty amazing plans to intensify directly around the station). The best way to encourage use of the train system is to increase the number of people living in close proximity to train stations. I guess it means there is plenty of opportunity to enhance the attractiveness of rail in these areas through transit-oriented developments in the future.
The trip back was pretty normal, and we timed our bus back to Kingsland fairly well. So all in all a pretty interesting experience with a different part of Auckland’s transport system for me. My overall impression was surprisingly good actually, particularly in comparison with the painfully slow Western Line rail services that I’m used to.