Broadly speaking, there are two distinct types of trains in Auckland: the “Diesel Multiple Units” that we bought second-hand from Perth in the mid-1990s and the locomotive hauled carriages that were bought second-hand from the UK and then significantly refurbished, and now get hauled around by locomotives leased off KiwiRail. Some of those locomotives are 40-50 years old, while some of the Perth DMUs also date back to the 1960s (the ones without air-conditioning, known as the ADKs). (Note to rail nerds, I haven’t forgotten about the SX). Below are a couple of carriages from an SA train:
Up until around the time Britomart opened the rail network was pretty much solely operated by the ex-Perth DMUs. The impending patronage boom that Britomart was to bring (and obviously has brought) meant that additional capacity was required, and the SA/SD trains have provided that over the past few years. When there are debates about whether or not to sell the Port of Auckland, it’s worth remembering that the dividends on profits from the Ports are pretty much what has paid for the purchase and refurbishment of all the SA/SD trains that now form the majority of Auckland’s rail rolling stock.
But that’s enough history, the point of this blog post is to look forward. In the near future, it seems that we will have the last of the SA carriages coming online within the next couple of months to add capacity to the southern and eastern lines, now that their platforms have been lengthened to accommodate six carriage trains. This was outlined in a recent Auckland Transport media release:
Longer trains are being added to the rail network to help cater for the increasing popularity of Auckland’s public transport, which was up eight per cent for the year to 30 April.
From 17 July trains will use five and six carriages on the southern line, following the completion of platform extension works. Six carriage trains began operating on the Western Line last September. Longer trains allow more passengers on each service.
It’s worthwhile to note that under the current plans, these will be the last additional bit of rail rolling stock capacity that will be added to the network until electrification in 2013/2014. Unless we can find some ‘stop-gap’ measure to get more trains (or longer trains) on the network, my understanding is that from July this year until the new electric trains are operational in 2013/2014 we will have to manage with the same number of trains. An interesting prospect if rail patronage continues to grow at 10-15% a year. This issue was noted in Auckland Transport’s April business report:
I‘m still yet to quite figure out how the further optimisation will work in early next year. Not only will this include the improvement of peak time frequencies on the Western Line from a train every 15 minutes to a train every 10 minutes, but it will also include the introduction of trains to Manukau Station – presumably achieved by extending all the current ‘short-runner’ services to Otahuhu all the way down to Manukau before terminating them there. With the longer running time between Manukau and Britomart compared to between Otahuhu and Britomart, there will clearly be an increased number of trains required. I’m starting to think that having six carriage trains could be a pretty short-lived exercise – as from next year the carriages will need to be distributed to a larger number of trains.
As I have discussed previously, the concept of having fare differentiation between peak time rail travel and off-peak travel is a good one. Shifting some of the “peak of the peak” into times just before and after the main crush of passengers means that you can use your existing rolling stock more efficiently and effectively. Adding off-peak services is pretty easy as you don’t need more rolling stock and you don’t need more track capacity – you just need to work the system at the peak level for a bit longer. Getting 15 minute inter-peak frequencies on weekdays, longer peak-time frequencies in the evenings and at worst half-hour frequencies on all lines at weekends would be easily and quickly achievable without having to purchase any more rolling stock. Having hourly weekend frequencies on the Western Line, and no trains past Henderson on Sundays, it just downright stupid – as the Western Line passes near five large shopping centres (city centre, Newmarket, St Lukes, New Lynn and Henderson) and could be hugely popular on the weekend.
But even with fare differentiation and better off-peak services, I think by the time we get close to the rollout of the new electric trains on the network things are going to be pretty squashed. Which is why I have found the never-ending delays to the electric train procurement process so utterly infuriating.
The order of electric trains (well, my understanding of it) includes 35 three-car electric multiple-unit trains, plus a number of electric locomotives. The locomotives are necessary for the obvious reason that we have a large number of SA/SD trains around Auckland at the moment and not only would it be stupid to get rid of them when they have a lot of life left, but also that we don’t have enough money to purchase sufficient EMUs to operate the network alone. My understanding is that at peak times the EMU trains will generally be “paired up” to form six carriage trains, and will operate on the Eastern and Western lines. Single three-carriage trains will operate on the Onehunga Line, while the Southern Line will be served by the current SA/SD trains, but pulled by new electric locomotives rather than the ancient diesel locos that pull them along at the moment. Because there will be a lot of SA carriages available, my hope is that the current platform lengthening exercises being undertaken on the Southern Line will provide for eight-car trains to be operated.
One great irony of electrification is that it won’t actually result in any more trains being operated on the rail network at peak times – compared to what we’ll have in early next year. Until the CBD Rail Tunnel is constructed, Britomart can only handle around 20-21 trains per hour – which means six from each of the three main lines plus two from Onehunga. Of course electrification will enable the trains to be faster, quieter, smoother and longer – which will add capacity to the system – but until we build the CBD tunnel our ability to get more trains into the city at peak times is constrained.
Furthermore, the desire (and need) to operate the network as efficiently as possible will mean that the mixing of diesel and electric trains is likely to be avoided wherever possible – as the diesels obviously accelerate slower and would therefore “hold up” electric trains. So that means all trains from beyond Papakura and Swanson will only be shuttle trains to the end of the electric line. The newer of the Perth DMUs (known as the ADLs) should fulfill this function fairly effectively, and they could serve out to Hupai (or beyond if demand was there) on the Western Line and also potentially beyond Pukekohe on the Southern Line.
So in the period between electrification and the opening of the CBD rail tunnel (so say between 2014 and 2021 if we’re optimistic about the CBD Tunnel) the new electric trains will be used in combination with SA Trains being hauled by new electric locomotives, plus the use of some of the DMUs for shuttle services. Additional capacity could be added (if the trains were available) by running services between the Western and Southern lines directly, without having to have every train go into Britomart. I know that maximum loading points on the Western Line generally occur between Mt Eden and Grafton station as many Western Line users have their destination at either Grafton or Newmarket. So that’s a potential way of squeezing the most out of the system up until around 2021 when the need for the CBD Tunnel will be dire.
Now, if we look at rolling stock requirements post-CBD Rail Tunnel, things become rather interesting. In the CBD Tunnel’s business case a rather bizarre operating pattern was suggested: The option above requires a lot of additional trains, so an interim option was considered that would utilise the existing number of post-electrification trains: I thought both options were far too complicated, and suggested my own operating pattern:
One big spanner in the works of all this is the likelihood that the SA Trains won’t be able to operate through the CBD Rail Tunnel, because it’s too steep (and also something to do with fire-ratings). EMUs can generally handle steeper gradients than locomotives, because the train is being driven from more points – kind of like how a four-wheel drive vehicle provides more control on slopes than a two-wheel drive vehicle. Because the CBD Tunnel is going to be very much at the maximum end of track steepness, it seems that in all likelihood it will only be EMUs that can operate through it.
That gives us a bit of a headache about what to do with all our electric locomotives and SA/SD trains – that still will have a lot of life left in them come 2021. I wonder if Wellington would be prepared to swap some of its Matangi Trains for loco-hauled SA/SD trains? It’s an interesting possibility.