A couple of days ago I wrote a blog post on the changes being proposed to the Western Line’s timetable. I was critical of two aspects of these changes:
- I criticised the three minute lay-over at Newmarket on the grounds that it just adds to the length (time-wise) of Western Line trips, which have already been inconvenienced in terms of time compared to how things were when the Newmarket West temporary station was in operation.
- I criticised the PM express train skipping Newmarket, on the grounds that it would be confusing (the AM express train will stop there) and inconvenient for people living further out west who work in Newmarket (they will have to catch the all stopping train).
ARTA kindly responded to my post by providing me with a bit of further information on why the changes are being made. I think it’s worthy to share that, so that the issue can be properly examined:
The change to the afternoon limited stop service has been made on the basis that there is another train there 2 minutes afterwards, and therefore a viable alternative is available for customers. Whilst this will result in an extension to journey times for those travelling to the more westerly stations of 5 minutes overall (excluding the 2 minute later departure time from Newmarket), there is an alternative for customers.
The all stop service also has lower loadings than the current limited stop service. Figures show that over 200 passengers currently board the 5.30pm service on departure from Britomart, which when complimented by an additional 80 passengers or so at Newmarket, means that currently there are nearly 300 passengers on the service on departure from Newmarket.
In comparison, the all-stop service has approximately 150 PAX boarding at Britomart and a further 30 getting on at Newmarket, meaning that there are less than 200 passengers onboard on departure from Newmarket.
The stop at Grafton was included in the schedules of the limited stop service to provide an alternative for the 20 or so passengers who currently catch the 5.44pm departure from Boston Road (thus again easing the distribution of passengers between the two services).
The changes effective from Sunday 11 April, will help to assist in smoothing out loadings between the two services, and will potentially make the new 5.31pm service more attractive (due to increased seating availability) for customers from Britomart heading further west.
The removal of one train from the mix at Newmarket during this busy period around 5.40pm will add robustness to schedules, and improve operation through the area. Stability of timetable performance is important, and is one of the key things which these changes are seeking to achieve.
For clarity, the change to the limited stop service is only on the evening time, the morning service is not changed because we realise that in doing so would’ve resulted in a 20 minute gap in services to Newmarket on the Western Line during the busiest part of the morning peak.
Finally, we have also adjusted the most westerly stopping patterns of the limited stop service and the 5.33pm all stop service ex-Britomart. The limited stop service will now terminate at Swanson, with the 5.33pm service continuing through to Waitakere (instead of Swanson). This continues to provide a direct Newmarket to Waitakere service for customers at this time of day, albeit with an extended journey time of 5 minutes overall (excluding the 2 minute later departure time from Newmarket).
Careful thought and consideration was taken to ensure that these changes cause the minimal amount of inconvenience for customers, as we worked together with Veolia to add robustness to schedules.
As I said in my original post, it would seem as though the main driver for the change to the PM express train is so that a huge crunch on Newmarket station at around 5.40pm can be avoided. And it certainly will be a good thing to see the system not grind to a halt as the poor signalling staff have to thread a pile of trains through a junction that, contrary to what KiwiRail claim, already seems to have insufficient capacity to handle the number of trains through it that are required (goodness knows how shocking things will be in a few years time when we have many more trains running on the system). It will also be advantageous for people catching the PM express train from Britomart, as they’ll be able to avoid the Newmarket mess – and one will imagine their trips times might decrease reasonably significantly as a result of this.
Smoothing out passenger numbers has some benefits I suppose, although at the same time perhaps the 5.33pm train could have just terminated at New Lynn and used a smaller ADL train (I imagine the all-stopping train is pretty dead past New Lynn as everyone would have been on the express).
However, in the end it seems that what we really need to do is to completely overhaul the Western Line timetable so that the 5.40pm Newmarket crunch can be avoided without having to inconvenience the 80ish passengers that currently use the express from Newmarket. I guess it remains to be seen whether this change will be temporary – until the timetables are overhauled in July when the Onehunga Line will (supposedly) become operational – or whether it’s more permanent. If it is permanent then I really think we need to build that missing rail link at Newmarket that KiwiRail claimed was “unnecessary”, or do something to improve the capacity of the Newmarket junction. Otherwise we’ve just spent about $30 million on building a junction that can’t even do the job.