The Importance of Co-Ordination

Well I have finally managed to finish Paul Mees’s excellent book – A Very Public Solution. It is certainly the most comprehensive book solely on public transport that I have ever come across, and if it wasn’t out of print (there’s currently one used copy available on Amazon for around $US 320) it would be an immediate addition to my book collection. Unfortunately I will have to return it to the University of Auckland’s library pretty soon, but before I do I think it would be useful to have a look at some of the concluding statements that Mees makes – and focus on what he thinks is really really critical in terms of getting public transport right. I’ll also see if I can make a bit of a critique of some aspects of the book, and his argument in general, that I think are perhaps a tad on the weak side – as that’s always a pretty useful process in my opinion.

Firstly, perhaps one of the more interesting conclusions that Mees comes to is his belief that the link between land-use patterns and public transport success might well be overstated. In Mees’s opinion it is the level of planning and co-ordination that will determine the success of public transport just as much, if not more, than the density of the urban area that public transport is being provided in. He says:

Changes in urban form are a rationalisation, rather than an explanation of Melbourne’s [public transport patronage] decline. Here we can see an excellent illustration of Glenn Yago’s [referenced in chapter 1 of the book] point that the invocation of deterministic, ‘natural’ factors as causes often obscures the important role of politics and planning. it is planning and politics, including the professional politics of transport planners, and not urban form, which have prevented Melbourne and other Australian cities from having European-style public transport; just as politics has prevented the same occurring in many parts of Europe, notably Britain and much of Italy. The invocation of the dispersed city as an answer to citizens’ demands for improved public transport has itself become a key element of the politics of automobile dominance in countries like Australia.

I must say I only somewhat agree with Mees on this point. I do think that land-use patterns matter a lot when it comes to making public transport work – although at the same time I think that land-use patterns is a lot more than just “density”. It means business nodes around public transport routes and stations, it means varying levels of density that support public transport in different ways (highest around train stations, medium along bus routes, lower for feeder buses etc. ) and the removal of hidden subsidies to car-users – such as minimum parking requirements. That’s all “land-use stuff” that will impact hugely on the success, or otherwise, of public transport. To be fair to Mees, he recognises this and accepts that density is relevant – although (critically) not as important as other factors.

Indeed, Mees’s primary argument is that central planning and the creation of an integrated network is what really matters. This is detailed below:

…all genuinely successful urban public transport systems – be they in Zurich, Munich, Metro Toronto or Vancouver – share a common feature, namely central, regional planning by a public agency. Only central planning enables the provision of flexible travel options through a fully integrated network. This requires the following conditions:

  1. An integrated route structure which maximises opportunities for interchange and reduces duplication and overlap;
  2. Fast, frequent, reliable services on the trunk (rail, busway or whatever) routes;
  3. High service levels on all routes (cross-suburban as well as radial) throughout the day and evening;
  4. Convenient, attractive and safe interchange facilities;
  5. Matching hours of operation on the different routes serving interchanges and either co-ordinated timetables or very frequent services;
  6. Multi-modal fares (free transfers);
  7. Easy to obtain, well-presented route and timetable information covering the whole multi-modal network.

The key here is planning, rather than merely regulation, an unhappy compromise which often reproduces the worst features of both the market and planned models, by protecting inefficient private operators while preventing the type of comprehensive service provision post-modern cities really require.

This really should serve as a blueprint for how Auckland can improve its public transport system. And actually, it should be quite comforting that these are the steps to take to improve things, because most of them are relatively inexpensive. Building more bus-lanes, increasing service levels and improving our trunk system (happening anyway) are the main “expensive” parts of this, but most of the rest is just about being smarter and more efficient. This is great, because it means we can still improve our system enormously within the rather ugly funding constraints being faced by public transport at the moment.

In terms of critiquing Mees’s book, while overall I think it is excellent I do think that he misses many of the factors that have led to people being encouraged to use their cars instead of public transport. Things like parking subsidies, the focus on road-building policies of the past 50 or so years, and I guess that interaction between land-use and transport which I mentioned earlier. I know that Mees is effectively trying to say “just because you have low densities it doesn’t mean public transport won’t work”, but I do think the interactions between land-use planning and transport matters are stronger than he gives credit. I also think that hidden subsidies such as minimum parking requirements and fact that employers aren’t taxed when providing their employees with parking – but are if they provided them with a public transport pass play an important role, and until many of these subsidies are removed we can provide all the public transport service levels in the world but people are likely to still make the logical choice of choosing to drive – as it will probably still be cheaper and faster than catching the bus.

Nevertheless, I think a lot of what Mees says makes huge sense and I could not agree more that improving co-ordination and planning of our public transport system is what can turn it from its current fairly sorry state into something much much better. We are making a start on that matter with the Regional Public Transport Plan, but a lot of what that plan hopes to achieve is dependent upon the Public Transport Management Act not being messed around with. Co-ordination and planning are essential parts of creating a great public transport system, and I think it is this fact which makes the lack of integrated ticketing in Auckland such an enormous frustration.

Newmarket West Station

There has been quite a lot of talk over the last few days about the future of the Newmarket West Train Station once the new Newmarket station opens in January next year. Brian Rudman wrote a fairly lengthy article on the matter in today’s herald, while another article on transport issues also mentioned the ‘up in the air’ future of this station. Effectively, the debate is about whether or not the station should remain operational once the flash new multi-million dollar Newmarket station is opened.

This is what the Newmarket West station looks like at the moment:

800px-Kingdon_Street_West,_Car_Park_BuildingsRudman presents a good analysis of the pros and cons of the options, and comes to the following conclusion:

One compromise would be to retain Kingdon St as an additional stop while taking the trains into Newmarket as well. Is an extra stop in a busy shopping precinct such a bad thing?

ARC Chairman Mike Lee is also keen on retaining the station:

…a new $35 million central station opening behind Broadway in January and another beneath Park Rd.

Newmarket rail users fighting for the retention of a temporary station off Kingdon St, near the junction of the western and southern lines, were surprised last week when the transport authority said it was considering building a permanent facility there for $9 million to $13 million.

Supporters of the temporary station, such as Auckland Regional Council chairman Mike Lee and Newmarket business owner Guy Herbert, are questioning the authority proposing such an expensive alternative while it is considering budget cuts to cover a $60 million shortfall in Government subsidies over three years.

It’s an interesting conundrum actually. I don’t think it’s really a goer to not build the Grafton Station – as the biggest users of the current Boston Road station (which Grafton station is effectively replacing) are St Peter’s College students. Forcing them to walk all the way to Newmarket would be pretty mean and stupid. Furthermore, Grafton Station will be pretty well located to provide access to the hospital, the domain and the Museum. So I think it’s necessary to keep that station – plus a decent amount of the work building it is already underway.

It might be useful to provide a bit of context with an aerial photograph showing different station locations:

Newmarket-map

Looking at distances, it’s about 450m the Grafton Station to the current Newmarket West station, and then another 300m from the Newmarket West station to the station currently under construction. Those are pretty short distances really. Especially if a northern access to the Newmarket station ends up being provided (anyone know if it is or isn’t?) the gap between the northern access to Newmarket station, and that to Newmarket West station might be shorter than the platforms of the stations themselves.

In terms of whether the Newmarket West station should be kept, I guess there are a few different options for us to look at:

  1. Keep the station and run all Western Line trains via Newmarket West rather than the new station. This would be a really stupid option in my opinion as it would negate half the reason for spending tens of millions on the flash new Newmarket station. It would also make life very difficult for people trying to transfer between Western and Southern Line trains (hopefully in the future they will be timetabled to allow for pretty easy transfers).
  2. Keep the station for express Western Line services only. This could be quite a good idea, in that it would enable Western Line trains to avoid the “reversal” they will have to put up with at the new station. On the down-side, once again it compromises the ability to provide for trasnfers between services – plus it seems a bit strange to keep a whole station for a mere two services a day.
  3. Keep the station and stop trains at both stations. This seems to be Brian Rudman’s suggestion, and would involve trains heading (from Britomart) to the new station first, reversing out of that station, then stopping at Newmarket West station before continuing onwards. In my opinion the extra stop is a pretty unnecessary delay and I don’t think the benefits from it are really worth the hassle.
  4. Close down the station. This would have a disadvantage in terms of forcing all Western Line trains to reverse at the new station and would also result in some loss of accessibility for areas immediately adjacent to the current Newmarket West station. Its advantages would be faster travel times (compared to option 3) and fully utilising the new station and the possibilities for transfers with the Southern Line. It would also reduce confusion for people as to which station they should go to to catch their train.

I think overall I’m leaning towards option 4 here. I just don’t think there are particularly great benefits from keeping the station open that offset the costs – slower travel times, loss of transfer options, greater confusion for users and under-utilisation of the new station. However, I think that there might be some merit in option 2 if it was shown that this was of great benefit to people catching express trains. Rudman’s article includes a comment that perhaps it is some version of option 2 we end up with:

This week ARTA will contemplate a compromise solution to keep Kingdon St open until – you guessed it – the Rugby World Cup in 2011.

As I noted with regards to the Onehunga Line, sometimes I do wish ARTA would harden up a bit and make decisions that will create the best transport system possible, which isn’t necessarily the option that will please the most people. There may be some excellent argument for retaining the Newmarket West station, just as there may be for locating the Onehunga bus terminal on the opposite side of town to the train station – but I haven’t heard either argument yet.

Further details on electrification

The latest KiwiRail newsletter has some interesting insights into Auckland’s electrification project – and specifically the announcement of funding for that project’s trains last week. A couple of extracts:

kiwirail-1

kiwirail-2

A few thoughts. Firstly, it is disappointing that a contract won’t be awareded until the end of next year. Considering that the original contract by ARTA would have been announced many months ago now (it was put out for tender around the end of last year), it would seem as though the electrification project has been effectively delayed by about 18 months. Secondly, it’s interesting to hear that the plan is for the EMUs to run on the Eastern Line and the Western Line, with the SA Trains – to be pulled by electric locomotives – running on the Southern Line. I thought the widest tation spacing was on the Eastern Line myself, where loco-pulled trains might have been best suited. It very much seems as though the plan is for the same bunch of trains to run along their particular line, which I guess could make things easier and simpler for the operation of the network. Thirdly, it’s good to hear that the final outcome will be a system with the same level of capacity as ARTA’s original proposal. The ‘Working Group’s” compromise that we heard about in August/September was pretty ugly in terms of reducing capacity quite significantly.

So it’ll be a while yet before we see any electric trains running in Auckland, but it’s good to start getting an idea about the details of how this ‘once in a lifetime’ project will happen. Thanks to Geoff_184 from the bettertransport.org.nz forums for sharing the newsletter.

Regional Public Transport Plan – submission

As mentioned in a previous post, the Auckland Regional Public Transport Plan is open for submission until December 24th. This plan will be very useful in guiding the structure of Auckland’s public transport services over the next few years – and involves a pretty big shift in the structure of the public transport system.

As per my submission on NZTA’s farebox recovery policy, I’m happy for people to copy as much or as little as they like of my submission. Anyway, here’s my draft submission in full.

1. Introduction:

This submission is on the Draft Auckland Regional Public Transport Plan (RPTP). This is a plan required by the Public Transport Management Act 2008, and forms a key part of planning public transport services over the next few years in Auckland.

Overall, I am generally supportive of the RPTP. I do note that as a public transport advocate there seems to be a plethora of plans and strategies that get released, as required under various piece of legislation. It can be frustrating to see so many repetitive plans and strategies, which can often appear to replace actually getting it done. However, I do recognise that this Plan will play a much more ‘hands-on’ role in guiding the structure of public transport in Auckland over the next few years than many of the other plans and strategies. This is welcomed.

My submission comments on a number of aspects of the RPTP, but as a general comment I would like to note my support of the idea of creating different ‘tiers’ for public transport routes – such as the Rapid Transit Network (RTN), Quality Transit Network (QTN) and so forth. However, I think it is important to note that such a system will require more ‘transfers’ between buses, or from bus to train. For this to assist, rather than detract from, Auckland’s public transport system a lot of work needs to go into improving the transfer experience – including integrated time-based ticketing (perhaps the most important), improving service frequencies and ensuring the speed of RTN and QTN services is as high as possible. Otherwise, the greater number of transfers will just put people off using public transport, and the tiering of routes will do more harm than good. Continue reading Regional Public Transport Plan – submission

October 2009 Patronage – the lockout hits home

The effects of the bus lockout, which took place in early October, on patronage statistics shows through clearly in ARTA’s October 2009 Monthly Business Report. Bus patronage is down a whopping 18% on the October of the year before, although rail did certainly pick up some of the slack – meaning only a 12% decline in patronage over all. In fact, rail enjoyed its second highest month on record – with 767,000 trips being made within October. Bets are now on as to when we might first crack a million rail trips within a month – with March 2010, August 2010 and March 2011 being the most likely candidates in my opinion (March and August are usually the highest patronage months).

Here are some of the details from October:october-summary Looking at the trends for the past few years, we can see the big dip that patronage took this month. Although it is interesting to note that patronage is not really too far below October 2007 levels – even though this year we had most of our buses out of action for a quarter of the month. The 12 month rolling average has also taken a slight dip – for the first time in about three years.october-graph Some interesting further information on the rail patronage:

The week-long NZ Bus industrial action from 8 to 14 October helped to boost rail patronage for October 2009 to the second highest volume on record. This was despite school holidays during the early part of the month and engineering work that closed part of the network over Labour weekend. For the month there were 767,000 passengers recorded as travelling on rail services, an increase of 14.1% on the same month last year. There was one fewer business day in the month this year compared to last year. For the year-to-date there have been 2.912 million passengers recorded on rail, an increase of 5.9% on the same period last year. The weekday passenger numbers between 8 and 14 October were, on average, 33% higher than those recorded on the other three weeks, averaging over 40,000 per day over this period compared to around 30,000 for the other business days of the month, with Wednesday 14 October the highest at 44,000 passengers. Veolia Transport was able to add temporary additional capacity by scheduling up to 18 additional services each day during this period particularly between Otahuhu or New Lynn and Britomart.

It will be interesting to see whether people who shifted from using the bus to the train during the lockout have made that shift permanently. By all accounts Veolia did extremely well during the lockout period to add some extra capacity, and also they managed to avoid any particularly nasty meltdowns during that critical week – quite an achievement for Auckland I must say! The November statistics will be interesting, in showing us whether there was any permanent loss for bus patronage, or whether people have simply gone back to using the bus just like before.

On a brighter note, there was also some quite significant progress made on various infrastructure projects throughout October:october-infrastructure It seems like there’s a lot of preparation going on for a huge construction push during the Xmas/New Year’s holiday period. It will certainly be exciting to see the developments to the rail network in particular during that holiday period – as once the trains are up and running in the New Year the new Newmarket station will be completed and operational, and we’ll be getting closer to having Onehunga ready, New Lynn completed and seeing significant progress on the Manukau Line. In terms of infrastructure development, 2009 has been a year of progress rather than a year of anything being completed – whereas next year we will see the benefits of all this work come to fruition.

Rudman on Pedestrians

In a similar vein to the post I made a couple of days ago, Brian Rudman has written an excellent article in today’s Herald about how little Auckland seems to care about its pedestrians:

What about the walkers? A few days ago, the blueprint for the Auckland Transport Agency was unveiled. This is the $1 billion-a-year organisation that will preside over the new Super City’s roads, footpaths and public transport networks.

The document contains three pages of charts and lists, itemising involvement in everything from road maintenance and parking enforcement to railway station surveillance and rolling stock asset management. But there’s not a word about pedestrians.

Given that practically every one of us, if only for the quick dash down the road at lunchtime for a sandwich, is a walker, it’s a glaring omission. But perhaps not unexpected, given the new master-plan seems covered in the DNA of the very traffic engineers who, over the past 50 years, have made Auckland the car-centred hellhole it is.

[article continue here]

I could not agree more. Come on, we need to do better than this!

Draft NZTA Farebox Recovery Policy – my submission

Following on from my post on NZTA’s Draft Farebox Recovery Policy, here’s the submission I have put together. Details on how to submit your submission are here (basically just email it off to chad.barker@nzta.govt.nz). Submissions close on Monday, so be quick! Anyway, here’s my submission – feel free to use as much as you like in yours, remember the more people who say the same thing the more likeliness it will be listened to!

Draft NZTA farebox recovery policy: consultation document

Complete list of consultation questions

Question 1
Are the objectives and principles appropriate? If not, why not?

Answer:
In my opinion the current two objectives are appropriate. I also consider the two policies to be appropriate.
I would make the comment that this section makes it sound like regional politicians make unwise choices (judgement calls) on the contribution users and non-users make to funding public transport. As these politicians are accountable to the people of the area they serve, it is reasonable to expect that they have made these decisions in the best interests of those people. It may well be appropriate for regional politicians to make a particular choice about the level of user and non-user contribution to public transport funding, as there might be wider issues that a particular funding policy seeks to address or promote.

Question 2
Are there any objectives or principles that should be added, amended or deleted? If so, what are your suggested changes?

Answer:
In my opinion it is important for the objectives and principles to reflect the Regional Land Transport Strategies of the regions. If a particular region is attempting to significantly alter its transportation system (for example, a shift away from automobile dependency) then there should be significant leeway for the farebox recovery policy to be flexible and reflect this.

Question 3
Is the content required for the policies appropriate? If not, why not?

Answer:
In my opinion there should be a much stronger link between the farebox recovery policy and the Regional Land Transport Strategy for a region. As the farebox recovery policy could potentially have a significant effect on what public transport services can and cannot be provided, it is critical that there is integration between this policy and the Regional Land Transport Strategies. Otherwise, what is the point of going to so much effort creating highly detailed, 30 year transport strategies if they are to be hamstrung by an incompatible farebox recovery policy? Continue reading Draft NZTA Farebox Recovery Policy – my submission

Bus Dispute Finally Over

It was with great relief today that I read the industrial dispute between drivers and NZ Bus is finally over. ARTA seem highly relieved too, in their press release:

ARTA pleased stability returned to bus customers

The Auckland Regional Transport Authority (ARTA) says it is very pleased that stability and certainty has been returned to Auckland’s bus passengers today with notification that agreement has now been reached between NZ Bus and the Auckland Combined Unions.

ARTA’s Chief Executive, Fergus Gammie says. “This has been a long and difficult road in respect of our customers who deserve stability of service. The last financial year has seen the biggest increase in public transport patronage in Auckland for the past twenty-five years. It has been frustrating for ARTA to have such a strong achievement for Auckland disrupted by this dispute.

“The agreement gives stability of service past the Rugby World Cup which will help give our customers the certainty of service they require and deserve, and a sense of relief.”

The details of the final pay settlement are fairly irrelevant from my perspective, but it gives us a chance to look back on the whole matter as it is now definitely in the past – and we won’t have to worry about any more disruptions to our bus services of that type for a while to come. From my perspective, what is interesting is that I always thought NZ Bus’s pay offer was fairly reasonable. Of course it would always be better for bus drivers to be paid more, and I am certainly not Infratil’s biggest fan in the world by a long shot, but at this time it seemed as though NZ Bus were being fairly generous before things broke down a couple of months ago.

However, what I have never got my head around is why NZ Bus made the decision to lock out their drivers and force our buses off the road for a whole week in early October. If I had been NZ Bus, and the drivers had threatened to ‘work to rule’ I would have simply said ‘go for it’. Any disruptions would have been blamed on the drivers, and NZ Bus would have come out far better off in terms of public perception. However, they didn’t choose to go down this path – which meant huge disruption (I maintain a late bus is better than no bus) a loss of over a million dollars in payments from ARTA, and a huge knock to NZ Bus’s public image. Perhaps it even put a final nail in the coffin of Snapper not getting the integrated ticketing contract?

I wonder if NZ Bus regret their course of action. I hope they do.

People Friendly Spaces

A fairly common theme of annoyance with the way Auckland operates that was raised in my “Pet Peeves thread” seemed to be the lack of respect paid to pedestrians within Auckland’s CBD. A few examples of comments in that thread:

From rtc:

I think one of my biggest peeves in Auckland is the free left turns that almost all roads in the city have, and of which maybe 2% have zebra crossings. Many of these are downright dangerous and really hammers home the message that the car has priority over anyone on 2 legs.

From The Trickster:

The pedestrian crossing just by The White House on Queen St – when I have time to press the button, pop into the dairy, purchase something and have a brief chat with the owner before wandering out and still having to wait 30 seconds before I can cross on the light, well tells you something about priorities.

From Nick R:

High St oh High St! What a nightmare. At one point on the western side the gap between the shop front and a street pole is about two feet! Ok I realise this is Auckland we are talking about and car parking is up there with oxygen and potable water, but does this narrow laneway in the historic part of town really need parking up *both sides*?! The ironic thing is on a busy sunny lunchtime it becomes a defacto shared space as pedestrians are forced out into the roadway. And don’t get me started on the square having a road across it. Why?

I had a chat with one of the urban designers on the Queen St upgrade, she spent months battling the road engineering team who wanted to do the same thing for the intersection of Queen and Mayoral. Apparently they just could concieve not having a full multi lane intersection with left turn lanes and traffic islands. The engineers were convinced that if the didn’t do the intersection to the standard in their engineering manuals it would become filled with crashes and injured pedestrians. Somehow they didn’t catch on to idea that designing an intersection on the main street of the metropolis so that people can drive through it as fast as physically possible might be a bad idea for crashes and pedestrian safety.

From George D:

Why can’t they lower the speed limit on Symonds Street to 40 and give greater priority to pedestrians with more crossings with better phasings? It goes right through a university with 50,000 students, and right past one with 20,000, and goes right past the court – all of these are important public institutions. Now that the motorway extension is there, the excuse that they used to use – it’s necessary because the motorway hasn’t been built – no longer applies.

Compared to Auckland’s suburbs (particularly the newer ones), of course the CBD is fairly pedestrian friendly, and there certainly are a lot of people who walk around the inner-city streets. Yet it seems that there’s a general opinion that things could be much better, and in fact should be much better.

Let’s have a look at a few photos of inner-city streets – firstly in Auckland and then in a few Australian cities. Here’s Queen Street in Auckland:queen-st-auckland And now Queen Street in Brisbane (which is also the main street of that city):queen-st-brisbane Next we have Bourke Street in Melbourne, a major inner-city shopping street:BourkeStMall2 And finally, Pitt Street in Sydney:pitt_street_mall_sydney While Auckland is certainly making progress, with the current “shared streets” project, I think perhaps the most depressing thing is that the two street of Auckland with the most potential for pedestrianisation of becoming ‘shared spaces’ – High Street and Queen Street itself – were upgraded in recent years yet fully kept their traffic. Furthermore, where spaces in Auckland’s CBD are car dominated, they are really really car dominated. Hobson Street is perhaps the worst example:800px-Fire_Engine_On_Hobson_Auckland Yup, that’s a one way street which is around 6 lanes wide. Surely we can do better than this? Surely Auckland deserves better than having its main street being a four lane highway, and many of its other inner-city streets being massively wide multi-lane oneway streets that actively encourage people to drive at 60kph or more along them.

Surely the CBD is for people. Why can’t we make it a more people friendly place?

More Details on the Electrification Announcement

Well interestingly enough the more I dig into today’s electrification announcement, the better the news is that I come across. As I outlined in my very brief previous post, the long-awaited funding for Auckland’s electric trains has finally been approved – as a loan to KiwiRail from the government. I’m not really sure about the long-term impacts on KiwiRail of this money being a loan, rather than a grant – but for now I think we’ll ignore that aspect as it’s not particularly important. The reaction from the ARC is very positive, and I agree that this is a pretty historic moment – nothing now will stop Auckland’s railway system from being electrified:

Public transport in Auckland is set to take a huge leap forward following the Government’s announcement today of $500 million for electric trains, says Auckland Regional Council (ARC) Chairman Mike Lee.

“This is an historic moment for Auckland. Fast, frequent, efficient and modern electric train services can now be a reality,” he says.

“The announcement is of major importance for public transport and Auckland itself. The decision will not only significantly improve the quality of Auckland public transport but also change the way Aucklanders view public transport and their city.

“I believe Auckland’s new electric train fleet will be something Auckland will be proud of.”

Mr Lee says all this has not come easy, but good things never do.

“Auckland has been waiting for this announcement for more than 60 years. Electrification of Auckland rail was first proposed in the 1940s, but advanced plans were ditched on two occasions in the mid-1950s and mid-1970s.

“Users and supporters of public transport in Auckland should be hugely encouraged by today. The decision by Transport Minister Steven Joyce will help the city solve its transport issues and provide significantly greater numbers of people with viable public transport alternatives to their cars.

“This is great news for everybody. The Government and Transport Minister Steven Joyce are to be congratulated for finally delivering on their promise.”

Some of the concerns I had previously have also been allayed by a bit of detail that wasn’t in the initial press release, but can be found in the Ministry of Transport’s Questions and Answers release. Of particular note is this one (and of particular interest is the bit that I have bolded):

What is this announcement about?

The government has approved funding of $500 million to enable the procurement of new electric trains for Auckland.

The $500 million will initially be provided to KiwiRail as a loan. Final decisions as to whether the funding will be provided as a loan or equity will depend on other work on KiwiRail’s capital structure.

Work is already underway on electrifying the urban rail network – a $500 million project to erect power lines, provide new signalling and adapt bridges for electric power cables. This next lot of funding will enable the procurement of up to 114 new electric trains to operate on the modernised network.

Now while ARTA’s original tender was for 140 trains, while an August “Working Group” report sliced this back to 75 trains due to budgetary constraints. The 114 trains will each be four metres longer than the previous trains, which makes up for a lot of the “loss”, as trains will now be able to run as three car sets rather than four car sets without much loss of capacity. While perhaps this isn’t quite as good as the original proposal (in that a three 24m car train is only 72m long whereas a four 20m car train is 80 m long) but it is certainly miles better than what we were looking at in August.

It will be interesting to see where the savings have come from that have allowed more trains to be ordered though. The government has been very keen to repeatedly say that funding for electrification is absolutely capped at $1 billion for infrastructure upgrades and rolling stock. The previous Working Group report put the emphasis on getting the infrastructure right, even if that meant cutting back on the number of trains. This latest plan would suggest that balance has shifted the other way, and if the budget hasn’t been increased it will be interesting to see what infrastructure upgrades have got the chop to allow the funding to be freed up for the trains themselves.

Nevertheless, I think that’s a worry for another day. For now we can just feel happy about things.