Our unbalanced transport spending

The madness of our current transport spending priorities have been highlighted a lot in recent weeks, even getting a pretty good airing on the National Party aligned Kiwiblog, thanks to a superb Guest Post by Green Party transport spokesperson Julie-Anne Genter. Behind the scenes, Labour Party transport spokesperson Phil Twyford has also been digging up a whole pile of interesting information through written questions to Minister of Transport Gerry Brownlee. In particular, a series of questions compare the amount of money NZTA is spending on new and improved state highways in Auckland, Wellington and Canterbury with the amount of money being spent on public transport infrastructure in each of those three cities.

I think it’s good to focus on NZ’s three biggest cities, as obviously that’s where the need for public transport infrastructure is always going to be most concentrated. The numbers are, shall we say, mind-bogglingly lop-sided: While it’s important to remember that rail track infrastructure is not included in PT infrastructure spending – for some strange reason – there’s a huge imbalance here. The public transport infrastructure funding pool is used for things like integrated ticketing, bus priority projects, ferry terminal upgrades, rail station improvements and similar projects. Let’s put the difference between the two funding totals in another format: Even I am surprised to see how unbalanced the spending is between these two funding pools.

HOP on your phone

Thinking of buying a new smart phone, it might be a good idea to get one with an NFC chip in it because AT and Thales are trialling using NFC with the final (real) hop. That would mean you wouldn’t need a separate Hop card and would just need to swipe your mobile phone to pay for your PT trip. It’s also a world first for Thales meaning we could actually be leading the world on something PT related. Here is the press release:

Auckland Transport, Telecom and Westpac to trial Mobile Wallet

Paying for services through your mobile phone is closer to reality after Telecom, Auckland Transport and Westpac have announced plans to start trialling a mobile wallet system from May in collaboration with Gemalto, Thales and Paymark.

In a major milestone for the development of mobile payments technology, the trial will involve some 30 staff from the six organisations. Trial participants will be able to use a mobile phone to make “tap and go” payments to access public transport inAucklandand make purchases at a small selection of retailers.

In a world first, Thales will be using its near-field communication (NFC) application throughout Auckland Transport’s final smart card ticketing system, HOP, before deploying it globally across all networks and banks. The trial, which utilises Telecom’s XT network, is expected to enable participants to pay forAuckland’s buses, trains and ferries through their mobile phones.  The phone will communicate with the HOP terminal to complete the transaction without having to swipe or insert a card.  

Auckland Transport’s Chief Executive, Dr David Warburton said:

“Mobile phone technology makes the option of paying for transport services using a device the majority of New Zealanders carry with them every day, a natural choice reducing the number of cards customers have to carry. We look forward to working with our technology and service partners in this trial.”

And in aNew Zealandfirst, the trial will also use a Westpac credit card to top up a Telecom XT Prepaid account, using Paymark’s infrastructure.  This will make it easier for customers to add credit to a prepaid card without having to go online or pay in a store.

Telecom CEO, Paul Reynolds, said that the days of people having to use multiple plastic cards to pay for goods and services were quickly becoming numbered.   

“As we have seen with developments in mobile phone technology, people quite rightly expect their phones to offer more versatility and functionality and simplify their lifestyles.  And we’re absolutely committed to developing the mobile wallet through our investment in building a common trusted services manager forNew Zealand. 

“The information gained from this trial will be invaluable for developing a mobile wallet with the kinds of innovative products and services that our customers can expect on the XT network.”

Westpac General Manager Customer Technology and Services, Jim Stabback, said the trial is a step toward Kiwis joining the growing global trend of banking via mobile phone.

“This is an important part of Westpac’s innovation pipeline and it’s an excellent opportunity to build further capability in this area as theNew Zealandbanking industry moves toward a mobile future,” Mr Stabback said.

For the trial, Gemalto will provide the essential network infrastructure required for near-field communications including its Trusted Service Management platform (TSM).

“Gemalto is excited to be the technology partner in this strategic trial. Our goal is to provide an open, interoperable and neutral NFC ecosystem for operators, banks, service providers and merchants. This allows them to provide not just secure mobile contactless payments, but also a variety of new services such as loyalty and e-couponing in a fast, secure and convenient manner,” said Tan Teck Lee, Chief Innovation and Technology Officer & Asia President.

“Having been involved in over 50 NFC projects, we look forward to sharing our knowledge and experience withNew Zealandas it transforms its payment environment.”

Earlier this month Telecom, Vodafone, 2Degrees and Paymark announced a joint venture to launch a TSM which will provide a common solution for theNew Zealandmarket to encourage consumer uptake and avoid confusion.  The technology and solutions prototyped in this trial will ultimately be available to all New Zealanders, across all mobile operators, via the TSM.

I’m very please with this announcement, well done AT and Thales and if we could just get the real hop rolled out we can start living in the future. I guess it also means I will have to start working on a business case to convince the wife that I need a new phone soon.

March rail drop: temporary blip or not?

Matt’s post a couple of weeks ago noted an incredibly rare event for Auckland: a month where rail patronage was actually lower than the same month the year before. In March 2012 there were 1,047,347 journeys on the rail network – a decline of around 70,000 from March 2011. There were a number of mitigating factors for this drop – such as one less work day, fewer special events and an additional weekend when parts of the network were closed. However, it was still disappointing to see a decline as (outside December and January network closures) it is many many years since rail patronage actually went backwards when compared to the same month a year before. Here are the detailed numbers for March 2012:

 While the Onehunga Line saw a small increase in ridership, the Western and Southern/Eastern lines saw a similar level of decline – just under 7%. I must say this was particularly surprised for the Western, which has otherwise seen a pretty steady increase in ridership over the past year (somewhat boosted by the Rugby World Cup in September and October): In comparison, the Southern/Eastern line has seen much lower growth in more recent times, meaning that the decline was perhaps a bit more expected: By including Onehunga Line riders, the graph above hides what the more detailed tables have shown to be very low rates of growth on the southern and eastern lines for most of the last year.

There are a couple of things changing on the rail network over the next couple of months which will make future rail patronage totals interesting to observe.

  •  With Manukau Station open, I will be looking forward to seeing whether that has much impact on the numbers. I suspect the low current level of service, combined with not many buses yet being integrated with the station, will mean that Manukau won’t have much effect for now.
  • The fairly sharp increase in rail fares as of today and whether they impact on ridership. Rail no longer has a cost advantage over buses for single journeys so it will be insightful to see the extent to which people chose to catch the train based on cost, rather than the other advantages it may offer over the bus (or disadvantages, as the case may be).

To do a little bit of rough predicting myself, I’m guessing that we’ll see low levels of patronage increase on the rail network over the next few months unless petrol prices rocket up further from their current levels. The timetable improvements which coincided with Manukau Station opening were incredibly disappointing: we’re still waiting for 10 minute peak frequencies on the western line, still waiting for 15 minute inter-peak frequencies on the main lines, still waiting for something better than hourly weekend services on the western line and still waiting for trains to travel beyond Henderson on Sundays on the western line. Pretty much all of this was meant to have happened by now, and until it does I struggle to see why patronage would improve much.

In the longer run though, I certainly doubt we’ve reached saturation level in terms of demand for rail travel. This is for a number of reasons:

  • It seems as though Auckland Transport is doing some good work on redesigning Auckland’s bus network to have services feed into rail, rather than wastefully compete with it. In places like Perth, Vancouver and Toronto, close to half of passengers using rail arrive at their stations on the bus, showing huge potential for growth from this area.
  • The service improvements outlined above should actually happen at some point in the relatively near future.
  • The rollout of integrated ticketing should boost rail use, even in advance of a redesigned bus network, as people are able to use the same ticket for the bus as they do for the train.
  • The arrival of our electric trains will make rail travel much faster and more pleasant.
  • The likelihood of petrol prices continuing to increase means that driving will become increasingly less affordable and attractive from a pricing point of view.

I suppose the really interesting question is how long will a short-term lull in patronage growth last, before these longer term improvements really kick in. It may turn out that March was just a “one-off” event and we’ll return to double-digit growth rates in rail patronage from April onwards. We may see the promised service improvements actually happening in the next few months – which should boost off-peak patronage in particular. We may actually see integrated ticketing finally happening (which does remind me, what is happening with that?).

Clearly are a lot of unanswered questions and a lot of guesswork on this issue. However, one thing is for certain: the longer it takes for rail patronage growth to return to 10%+ year-on-year, the harder Auckland’s task will be in convincing central government that the City Rail Link is a worthwhile project. And that is worrying.

How to Explain our Rail Capacity Constraints

Peter’s post the other day highlighting the capacity of the rail network and why we need the CRL got me thinking that about how this critical piece of information is not only missing from Auckland transports marketing of the project but just how hard it is to get that message across to the general public. Part of the problem I find is that people don’t understand how the rail network can be at capacity given how many people it could potentially move so to explain the capacity issue to people you either need to talk to people about it in person or get people to read a few paragraphs about it. Both of those are difficult to do when there are so many people that need to be communicated to for a project like this and the waters also get muddied by electrification and the extra capacity that will deliver.

So how do we solve this, one thing I have been thinking about is a graph to show the capacity constraint that exists today and how it would be affected in the future by the various projects. These numbers won’t be 100% right but do give an indication as to the kind of capacity constraints we will have. The blue line is the rough capacity of the rail network at peak times in the peak direction while the red line is the number of trips using the network in the AM peak, the future AM peak numbers come from some of the work done for the CRL business case.

The first step in the blue line represents the change in capacity with electrification while the second step is the capacity of the network once the CRL is built, in reality that wouldn’t all come on stream straight away as it would depend on how many trains we had. It is also worth pointing out that some of those shown in the red line will be in the counter peak direction. While some of the numbers in here might need tweaking, the real general trend of the graph is what we are expecting to see and the point of this post is to show a different and perhaps easier way of explaining the capacity problem.

Are there other ways that people can think of that would be useful for AT to use to help to easily explain why the CRL is needed?

New cycle superhighways for Auckland?

A short while ago I asked for an update on the Auckland Harbour Bridge shared cycleway and walkway from the good folks running the Getacross campaign, Kirsten Shouler sent me the following summary of the project and it’s current status:

Since May 2011, NZTA and the AHB Pathway Trust have committed significant resources to identify and finalise the optimal design for a walking and cycling Pathway on the Auckland Harbour Bridge. NZTA has now signed off on the structural feasibility of the Pathway concept design. NZTA has advised they won’t allocate funding through the NLTP to construct walking and cycling access across the AHB, but they will permit the construction and operation of the Pathway as a community facility.

What happens to the Pathway now is in Auckland Council’s hands. On May 15, Auckland Council’s Transport Committee will decide the future of the Pathway project. A potential funder has been identified, and a naming rights sponsor lined up. There is virtually no cost to Auckland Council but we need Council on board as a project backer to finalise the contracts.

The AHB Pathway Trust is asking for Council to consider  the Pathway proposal as a transformational project and as a Public Private Partnership (PPP) which is funded by revenue from a toll on users and the sale of naming rights to the Pathway.

The Pathway is an example of a private initiative which has a very strong foundation, including agreement with NZTA and a robust business case….It will:

resolve the most critical gap in Auckland’s walking & cycling network

  1. provide a flagship project for uptake of walking and cycling in Auckland (similar to the way Britomart Station provided a catalyst for rail patronage)
  2. deliver a significant tourism attraction that will encourage longer stays by visitors to Auckland
  3. use an innovative funding proposal in line with goals of with Getting Auckland Moving & the Auckland Plan
  4. provide projected net surpluses  – which are estimated to be substantial
  5. enable Auckland Council to take ownership of the Pathway once the construction loan is paid off.

As you can see it all sounds like very promising stuff. They have NZTA on board allowing the structure to be added to the bridge and private funder ready to pay for construction. All it needs now is the OK from Auckland Council and the pathway becomes a reality. Fingers crossed for May 15th, great job Getacross!

Now it would have been good if the various agencies responsible for transport in Auckland could have somehow funded this out of their not insignificant budgets, but there’s no point splitting hairs if this PPP model is the one that actually gets it built. At the end of the day a small charge for a great ride and a wonderful view isn’t such a bad thing… although I must wonder if we’ll have the dubious honour of the only bridge in the world where it is free to drive across but a tolled for those on foot!

Anyway, this pathway will make an excellent addition to the transport and tourist infrastructure of our city, and as Kristen says it will end up in the hands of the people once the construction loan is paid and the investors have made their money back. Looking at that list of benefits, I really think numbers 1 and 2 are the killer outcomes of this project. As a shoreboy I can say I would love the opportunity to walk or ride into the city and home again, and there is obviously a huge problem where a full quarter of your city cannot access the other three-quarters without using motorised transport (or a lengthy swim!). But the flagship-project effect is perhaps even more important, it’s one thing to simply meet the current demand for walking and cycling, it’s another altogether to open that option up to a lot more people, to advertise it, promote it and to make it a real part of the way people get around our city.

Like most other Aucklanders I cycled around my neighbourhood a little as a child, but gave it up in my early teens in favour of being driven – and later driving myself – everywhere instead. For a good ten or twelve years I didn’t give cycling another thought, not until I moved to Melbourne. There I chose to live car free and could do so relatively easily with a transit pass and some comfortable walking shoes, but in some cases I found it quite time consuming to make trips across town that were a few kilometres in length. They would take thirty or forty minutes on foot, and often just as long on the tram once you factor in a little wait time and a connection or two. The solution I discovered, along with thousands of other Melburnians, is cycling. Cycling has gone from strength to strength there, not only in sheer numbers but also in image. Hipster kids aren’t concerned with cool cars, but you should see the flash fixies and cruisers lined up at the pubs and cafés all over inner Melbourne every afternoon. In Melbourne riding bikes is not only effective, its fashionable too.

They may be latte sucking hipster douchebags, but they're latte sucking hipster douchebags who ride bicycles.

One thing I noticed in Melbourne is that they have well used shared cycleways along every motorway, rail and river corridor in the city, and quite frankly there’s no reason we can’t do the same. We already have our own prototype along the Northwestern Motorway, and a few other short sections, so why can’t we do the same on the motorways and rail lines to the north, south and east too?

The great thing about shared cycleways is that they are very cheap to build: all you need is about two metres or so of spare width out of a corridor, the design geometry is pretty lax and if you get stuck in a tricky pinch point there’s no real problem diverting the route onto a nearby street or using a pedestrian crossing. As a general guide a price of $1 million a kilometre would be generous for a cycleway, yet there is so much potential for benefits. The Northwestern Cycleway currently carries over six hundred people a day, one wonders if you could add anything like that to the motorway for a mere million per kilometre? The BCRs of cycle projects must be huge!

At this point I should probably make a little observation. In Melbourne I used just regular streets and roads to travel about on my business, and only occasionally used the flash cycleways for a bit of sport on a sunny day. So is this the right path to take? Instead of corralling cyclists into off road paths so they can get out of the way of good honest car drivers, should we aim to normalise cycling on road so that people can just ride anywhere they so chose? Well yes and no. The ability to safely and easily cycle on any street to any destination should be the end goal, but we can’t get there without off road cycleways. The simple fact of the matter is that cycling is currently a niche mode in Auckland and it’s really only done by enthusiasts. To broaden the appeal and normalise cycling we need to get normal people on to bikes, and the best way to do that is to provide a safe and easy network of cycleways. Perhaps people start riding on them for a bit of fun, or they buy a commuter cycle to fly past the motorway traffic, but at the end of the day they get a bike and start riding it. Once we have that off road network stretching out to the four corners of the city, then it’s time to get serious about on street riding.

There’s certainly room along the Northern Motorway once the bridge crossing is complete, there are a few sections of board walk along the eastern rail line that could be extended into a route all the way from Panmure to Quay St, there is space along the Southern Motorway for something similar down to Otahuhu and beyond. In fact our city is covered with transport corridors that could have a smooth concrete path added to one side, it should be a requirement of any new or upgraded motorway to build one in. Another interesting idea I had heard is about the potential to leverage off the electrification works on the railways. Apparently they have had to establish a series of small access roads and work sites all along the railways to install the new equipment, so why not link up a few of these access ways and pave them into long corridors for cyclists and walkers? It can’t cost a lot and the pathway would still provide excellent access for maintenance crews in the future.

So what’s holding us back on these cycle superhighways, why aren’t we spending the relative pittance to cover our city in a network of cycling and walking paths? It might only take a few tens of millions to get a thousand commuters off the road at peak times, so why the hell not? Let the commuters of Auckland burn fat instead of oil, and perhaps even have some fun while doing it!

NZTA Confirms Puhoi to Wellsford Route

The NZTA has announced its preferred route to build a motorway from Puhoi to Warkworth which is part of the Puhoi to Wellsford Road of National significance. The route makes a few changes to what was announced about a year ago and said to be due to them having refined the engineering and environmental issues along feedback from locals from consultation. Hidden in the information is news that they plan to start building the motorway in 2014 with a completion date for this section of 2019. Reading through the announcement and various bits of information it raised a lot of questions but first, here is the new alignment aldong with the key changes:

We have already seen that the previous alignment would require some absolutely massive earth works along with multiple viaducts and I don’t think that this has changed much. The first question I have comes from the yellow box at the bottom of the image where they quote that Auckland, Hamilton and Tauranga generate 36% of the countries GDP. The problem with that is Auckland alone currently generates 37% of the countries GDP so getting basic facts like that wrong is not a good start. Here is the key part of the media release:

As the main road link for the freight industry, the new route will better connect Northland to the markets of Auckland and the central North Island to stimulate economic growth in Northland and the Upper North Island.

NZTA State Highways Manager for Auckland and Northland, Tommy Parker, says the agency’s traffic modelling shows that the average number of vehicles travelling between Puhoi and Warkworth each day is expected to increase from an average of 19,700 in 2012 to Puhoi and Warkworth to 31,300 per day in 2026.

“Drivers will make significant time savings on an Auckland-Whangarei journey in 2026 when the Puhoi to Warkworth section of the RoNS is operating, and these time savings are expected to be greater for heavy vehicles carrying freight.

“A divided motorway with a central median barrier will also greatly improve safety, eliminating the kind of head-on collisions which have claimed four lives on this stretch of highway since 2006.”

It seems that with this project you really need to read between the lines because what they aren’t saying is often just as important as what they do say. They claim that 31k vehicles will use the route by 2026 but the key thing here is that it is across both routes, not just the motorway. I also wonder if that increase in vehicles is based on the same growth projections used in other projects and still get used despite traffic volumes being static or even reducing over the last 7 years.

They claim that there will be significant time savings for vehicles but the key thing here is that the benefit is only for drivers coming from further north, that is because the only connection to Warkworth will be on the northern side of town. That time saving benefit was estimated in the past to only be about 5 minutes and those that live in the town will have to drive North to get to the motorway before heading South again which means for many that there will be little to no time saving benefits over what they have now.

There are quite a few other things that could have a big impact on this road.  The NZTA have said that they haven’t made a decision yet on whether it should be tolled. Their experience with the existing motorway from Orewa to Puhoi  is that even though that piece of road has greater time savings than this new section is expected to deliver, about 30% of traffic still uses the old free route. Using that ratio as an example it would mean that we would still see about 10,000 vehicles per day using the existing route and the motorway would carry about the same amount of traffic as the existing road does today. I believe that would mean it is carrying less traffic than any other motorway in Auckland and less than most arterials.

They have also said that at this stage they won’t be building an interchange at Puhoi which would have interesting outcomes.

  • The residents on Puhoi and Mahurangi West would no longer have direct access to the motorway. They would instead be forced to use the free road which takes longer and is more dangerous.  I wonder if that has been taken into account in the BCR.
  • As there is a big impact on vehicle numbers if the road is tolled, no interchange at Puhoi means that the NZTA either have to toll the whole motorway from Orewa to Warkworth or remove the existing toll. If they take the latter option they should include the remaining debt that the toll is currently paying into account as that would still need to be paid and so it should be added to the costs for the project.
  • The NZTA is going to get this consented via a board of inquiry like they did with Waterview, and you can be sure that the locals of Puhoi and Mahurangi West will want ramps built. Given the mitigation that was required for that Waterview with things like vent stack locations, I suspect the locals will have a good chance of winning but that raises another question. Part of me thinks that the reason for not including ramps at that location is that the NZTA know their time savings estimates are bogus so are going to try and force as many people as possible to use the motorway as that would make the old route much longer once again.

So what about the financial and economic aspects of the project, this is what the NZTA has to say:

  • Estimated costs for the Puhoi-Wellsford project are $760m for Puhoi-Warkworth and in the order of $1b for the Warkworth-Wellsford section
  • The Puhoi-Warkworth section has a BCR of 1.5 and the overall Puhoi-Wellsford project has a BCR of 1.0

From memory $760m is a little cheaper than when the route was announced last year but still bloody expensive for how many people will use it daily. The total cost of the project has increased though from $1.65b to 1.76B. The more interesting thing is the Benefit Cost Ratio (BCR), it isn’t clear if this includes things like wider economic benefits or what discount rates have been used, one thing we can be sure of is that they will be the best case scenario. Taking these numbers at face value they suggest the section to Warkworth is marginally ok but that the section from Warkworth to Wellsford has a BCR of only 0.6. This once again highlights one of the biggest problems with the RoNS, to get some of the bad and uneconomic parts built, they are lumping them in with other projects to bring their scores up. The NZTA hasn’t actually released that much information so I think an OIA request will probably be in order to get a copy of the latest business case.

Other than the costs, there also has been no new information the section from Warkworth to Wellsford. The indications are that they still can’t find a workable route through what is one of the most geologically unstable regions in the country. Perhaps the people working on it also know how stupid the project is and are trying to delay it as much as possible because if spending $760m on a road that currently carries only ~20,000 vehicles per day is bad, spending $1b on a road that carries less than 9,000 vehicles per day is just madness.


One assumes this is a temporary arrangement! Photo credit to Geoff from here.

What to do about Takapuna?

Out of all the metropolitan centres proposed in the Auckland spatial plan (Albany, Takapuna, Westgate, Henderson, New Lynn, Newmarket, Sylvia Park, Botany, Manukau and Papakura), Newmarket and Takapuna really stand out as ones with huge potential for redevelopment to happen sooner rather than later. This is because, at least at first glance, they’re market attractive places for intensification. Newmarket’s almost a second city centre and has seen enormous apartment construction over the past decade – and has a lot of potential for further development to occur, while Takapuna has fantastic views, is pretty close to central Auckland and sits in the midst of the North Shore – which, by in large, is a place where people want to live and work. In the long-run, Takapuna could become something like Auckland’s version of North Sydney – a mini city centre all of its own.

However, Takapuna has a pretty major flaw: it’s not on the rapid transit network. The Northern Busway (shown in blue below), while relatively nearby, does not actually serve Takapuna at all: 
While it’s only 1.3 km from Takapuna to Akoranga Station – as the crow flies – land use patterns, the street network and the harbour make the actual walking distance close to twice this: and clearly outside what we can realistically expect people to do. Bizarrely, most of the prime land right next to Akoranga Station is empty fields and a golf driving range – perhaps one of Auckland’s poorest examples of land-use and transport integration.

Most of the “future rail network” maps that we’ve come up with on this blog over the past week have proposed a kind of spur from Akoranga to service Takapuna. This is clearly shown in the network Matt came up with: As we’re learning with the Manukau Station, spurs have some frustrating geometric consequences. Because Manukau City is not “on the way” for south-to-north trips, even if we were to build a southern link (enabling trains from the south to head onto the Manukau branch) we would find ourselves with some annoying operating patterns. Do we run trips into the spur and out again, inconveniencing everyone who wants to travel ‘through’? Do we terminate trains from the south at Manukau, thereby creating a situation where we’re going to magically need more platforms to run decent frequencies? Do we just run a shuttle train back and forth linking Manukau with the main line? All are sub-optimal solutions. All result from it being on a spur.

Theoretically we could put Takapuna “on the way”, if some future underground railway line following something like the alignment shown in green below: I’m just guessing that constructing this green line would be really expensive and/or incredibly technically challenging. Plus, we still don’t get around the issue of making the passengers take a pretty significant detour if they’re actually not travelling to or from Takapuna.

An alternative links into ideas that have also previously been proposed on this blog about keeping the Northern Busway beyond Akoranga Station and just building rail between Takapuna and the city. You end up with something like this (with purple being your railway line): 
If our Takapuna to city line is built as a Vancouver-style Light Metro, trains might be heading each way along it every couple of minutes – which combined with high frequencies along the Northern Busway mean that transfers are unlikely to be problematic. This arrangement provides really well for trips between Takapuna and the city and pretty well for both trips between the northern North Shore and the city (faster rail travel times would make up for any transfer time loss) as well as trips between the northern North Shore and Takapuna.

Wellington Power Failure Kills Auckland Trains

The entire Auckland train network was shut down during the evening peak today due to a power failure in Wellington. In this case it wasn’t a power failure from government ministers who would probably like nothing more than to close the network down but a problem at Kiwirails train control centre. The Herald reports:

KiwiRail has apologised for the widespread disruption, which was caused by a power outage in its National Train Control Centre in Wellington.

The outage affected all radio and signals in Auckland, requiring all trains services to be halted.

KiwiRail chief executive Jim Quinn said KiwiRail was working closely with Veolia in order to get trains moving again.

Mr Quinn said an urgent investigation is underway to understand the cause of the outage. “We are taking the situation very seriously,” he said.

The outage only affected the Auckland metropolitan network and train services elsewhere in the country were operating as scheduled.

Trains in between stations were forced to pull up into platforms, allowing passengers to disembark, after the outage.

Veolia Transport said it was trying to source as many rail bus services and taxis for customers on the network as it can.

The fault at KiwiRail’s National Train Control in Wellington, which controls Auckland signals and radio control, occurred about 4pm.

Limited services on the Eastern line started running just after 5pm, with all signals back up and running by 5.30pm.

Kiwirail only recently moved operations for the Auckland network down to Wellington which was done as part of the new and meant to be state of the art signalling system. Some imediate questions that come to mind are,

  • Where are the back up systems and why did they fail?
  • Why was Auckland the only region affected?
  • What are the disaster recovery plans and how long would Auckland be without train services if there was a serious earthquake in Wellington?
  • Is Kiwirail going to compensate Auckland Transport for this, after all we are paying them ever increasing amounts in track access fees.
  • Does this get added as just one fault to the list?

I’m sure these and other questions will be answered as part of the review, hopefully that review is made public. About the only positive thing to come out of this is so far is that for a brief time today we actually had integrated ticketing.

Rail tickets are accepted on the following Buses: NZ Bus, Metro link, Waka Pacific, Howick & Eastern and Go West.

CBD Growth: What Counts?

Pronouncements on Auckland by Unitec’s Dushko Bogunovich’s are consistently curious to say the least, not many urban designers seem so anti urbanist. Generally they are best puzzled over then ignored, but his latest effort, dutifully reported by Anne Gibson in the Herald, deserves a brief response. The baffling outburst is here. Basically he is trying to claim that by repurposing an office block into apartments in Vincent St nothing is being gained. Because there won’t, he argues, be a net gain of humans in the inner city. Here is his math:

“Does he not realise that the conversion leaves the physical density the same as before and keeps roughly the same number of bodies in the CBD as before, only the bodies were there eight hours during day?

Where to start? Well there clearly will be an increase in residents in the inner city through this move, and they may or may not also all work in in the CBD, this can’t be known, although it is not a long stretch to assume that some or even most will, as it would be probably be a little odd to decide to live right in town but commute to, say, Takanini. Odd but not impossible, and just fine if that’s what occurs. This is of no consequence. What really matters is that a whole block of commercial space will be withdrawn from that market and because of this will help to encourage demand for new construction elsewhere in town. And at the same time a bunch of new grocery-buying, theatre-going, who-knows-what doing people will be moving in. Now as we are told in the original article that BECA, the current tenants of this block, are moving up the road to the old ARC building and not out to the suburbs, we can safely conclude that this will indeed increase net amount of ‘bodies’ in the city.

Beca staff will soon leave the block which is still their international headquarters even though only a handful of staff remain, after divisions gradually shifted to the former Auckland Regional Council headquarters on Pitt St.

So the complete reverse of Bogunovich’s next claim:

“Now they will be there eight hours at night. And that this is yet another sign significant businesses are decentralising rather than compacting in the city?”

This development is clearly putting a small squeeze on the availability of commercial space in the CBD, removing an older lower value block from the market and giving it a new use. Bringing construction and new residents into town which will support new and existing businesses there. Put it this way: If every current office block in the CBD was converted to apartments then demand for new office space would clearly grow, stimulating construction as well as increasing the economic life of the CBD as the needs and desires of these new residents are met.

So of course this is an encouraging move and exactly the kind of thing the Council wants to see. Churn in existing buildings is a sign of economic activity and dynamism in a market. And this sort of repurposing is exactly what we’ed expect to see as a start of vitality returning to the CBD residential market. Is this what so angers the anti-intensivist Bogunovich? Roger Blakeley in the earlier Anne Gibson article here:

“This is music to our ears as we look to quality residential development in the city centre and other centres as part of the quality compact city in the Auckland Plan.”

Quite. But also this but also from the developer:

“Three Malaysian and Singaporean investors have bought apartments.

“They are very impressed with the growth in Auckland City amenities, for example the Auckland Art Gallery, Wynyard Quarter, Britomart and the strategic plan for Auckland City.”

Vincent St is a great location for apartments, so handy to all those amenities. They could also have mentioned just how close these new apartments will be to not only the new Aotea station but especially to the K’rd one on the City Rail Link…. especially useful for when these new city residents wish to visit the rest of the isthmus, including Takanini.

Vincent St and Greys Ave

Public housing on Greys Ave and other residential on the Myers Park side. The sheds at the lower end currently used for that most valuable of resources; parking, are surely due development. The building in question ‘A’. Just out of shot on the left is the building that BECA are moving to; bit of a stretch to call this decentralisation. Both streets ennobled by London Planes, arguably the greatest of street trees. It would be lovely to see the gaps on these streets planted.