The ARC’s most recent Transport and Urban Development Committee meeting looked at the options for extending some services on the Western Line to Huapai. After the unfortunate (but not altogether unforeseeable thanks to the slowness of our trains) failure of the Helensville rail service, it seems as though some more realistic options are being looked at to extend some rail services from Waitakere township out to Huapai – a growing settlement to the northwest of Auckland.
The ARC report outlines a number of different options as well as their cost, for running trains to Huapai:
First things first, I think it’s very promising to see that we’re not likely to go with the failed Helensville model of only one train a day each way. That unfortunate experiment gave people only one option, and only catered for one type of passenger (someone working in the CBD). Having a number of different services should give people more confidence to use the service, as they know they have a range of options to get home.
As shown in the table below, adding more services vastly increases the number of people likely to use the train – because of the greater flexibility offered. It would be pointless to go to all the trouble to just attract 26 passengers, as estimated by Option 1:
As you can see, all the options require a fairly hefty subsidy (the costs are net of income from fares). But remember at the same time these are likely to be pretty long trips – so the benefits through reduced congestion are likely to be at the higher end of the $17 peak hour benefit to road users that typical rail trips provide. Taking that into account, the proposal might well have a positive benefit-cost ratio – and it would be interesting to see such an analysis undertaken.
The ARC report discusses the merits of the different options, and comes to a conclusion that I find myself agreeing with:
However, one thing that requires careful consideration is the fact that the Western Line has now lost its express train – which used to be non-stop between Newmarket/Grafton and New Lynn. This express train was the Helensville service, when that service operated. The lack of such a train means that rail trips from Huapai to Britomart are likely to be well over an hour in length – potentially reducing its attractiveness to commuters. It makes me wonder whether the decision to remove the Western Line express train was somewhat premature.
Looking through the minutes of the meeting, there is an interesting addition that I think deserves comment.
Resolution (c) adds an interesting new idea into the mix, the idea of a rail service that enables west-to-south trips and doesn’t add to the growing problem of a maxed-out Britomart in terms of its train capacity. As I have noted previously, by early next year (once Western Line trains are bumped up to 10 minute peak frequencies) Britomart will be at capacity, so it will not be possible to add any further capacity to any of the rail lines (in terms of more trains, we can of course still make the train longer) until we build the CBD rail tunnel. However, a Huapai to Tuakau (or wherever) service that doesn’t enter Britomart doesn’t add to this problem, so could be in addition to the 10 minute frequencies on the existing lines that we will be having by early next year.
It would be interesting to see how many people do change between the Western and Southern lines at Newmarket at the moment, to get some sort of gauge on the attractiveness of such a service. With a lot of workers in the west and a lot of jobs in the south (and vice versa to a lesser extent) I imagine there is the potential for such a service to be useful. But, as I noted above, the real benefit is that such a service can add capacity to the Western and Southern lines even when Britomart has been maxed out. With a train every 4-5 minutes between Newmarket and Britomart (western line plus southern line plus Onehunga line services) and an integrated ticketing system that doesn’t require extra fares to be paid, perhaps the thought of changing lines at Newmarket won’t be so horrible either.
It’s good to see some thought going into the long-term future of Auckland’s rail services, and a bit of creative thinking into how we might get around the Britomart capacity problem in the medium term while we build the CBD rail tunnel. It will be interesting to see whether this proposal advances.