Follow us on Twitter

City Rail Link – not if but when?

An interesting article in the NZ Herald on Tuesday, noting some comments made by Transport Minister Gerry Brownlee and Auckland Council head planner Roger Blakeley, in relation to the City Rail Link project. Starting with Brownlee:

Transport Minister Gerry Brownlee told a transport summit in Wellington yesterday that the case for the $2.86 billion rail link would be stronger in 2030 than the council’s target.

This is quite a shift from what Brownlee seemed to be saying in his immediate response to the release of the City Centre Future Access Study, where I think his key quote was this:

Transport Minister Gerry Brownlee says the Sinclair Knight Merz report “City Centre Future Access Study” released this afternoon by Auckland Mayor Len Brown is a useful addition to the debate on long term transport management in central Auckland.

“It also falls some way short of convincing the Government it should provide financial support to any fast tracking of the proposed City Rail Link (CRL),” Mr Brownlee says.

“In a nutshell the report says the case for building the CRL is weak now, improves somewhat if it’s built closer to 2030 – based on some extremely optimistic assumptions about employment growth in the Auckland CBD – and even then would only provide about 20 per cent of the additional transport capacity needed to deal with increased congestion.”

My understanding is that the purpose of CCFAS wasn’t to justify when the project should be constructed but rather to look at the impact the CRL and other transport options would have on providing for continued access to the city centre in the medium to long term. Fully understanding when the project should happen is the task of a detailed business case – which seems to be the next step for the CRL to take.

Dr Blakeley noted in the same article that waiting until 2030 for the project was “untenable”:

Speaking at the summit today, Auckland Council chief planning officer Roger Blakeley responded that such a delay would be “untenable”.

He said further delays to the rail link would limit employment, growth and economic benefits.

“I’m aware that the Minister of Transport Gerry Brownlee said yesterday that, in his view, the case for the city rail link is stronger at 2030 rather than 2020.

“The council and Auckland Transport’s view is that it should be implemented by 2021 … We think that it’s untenable to have New Zealand’s only international-sized city with traffic at speeds at peak in the morning reduced to around 7km/h.”

From a pure “can we find a way to provide sufficient transport capacity to meet demands up to 2030″ perspective we probably could delay construction of the CRL to that point. We can turn most streets in the CBD over to bus-only operation, we can run more trains directly between the west and the south, we can make all trains (aside from Onehunga services presumably) six cars long at peak times and so forth. We might get through.

Of course the down-side of that approach is missing all the transformational benefits of the City Rail Link, not just for the city centre but for the whole of Auckland. Stations along the western line simply won’t be “close enough” (in terms of travel time) to the city centre to stimulate intensification. We’ll probably see the employment targets for the city centre (where the most productive jobs are located) missed and lose out on the agglomeration benefits for all of Auckland and New Zealand that increased employment density would provide. We’ll lose the opportunity to reallocate street space in the city centre to pedestrians, thereby making it a less attractive environment. We’ll lose the improved connectivity between major regional centres on the rail network and the increased frequencies throughout the rail network that the City Rail Link enables. We’ll see further extensions to the rail network like a line to the airport and the Mt Roskill spur line pushed back another decade, and so forth.

In essence, I feel that building the City Rail Link by 2021 reflects the project’s key role in transforming Auckland into the world’s most liveable city and significantly boosting our economic performance. Finding a way to “get by” until 2030 simply views the project from a narrow transport perspective and really only in terms of it providing increased capacity to the city centre. Let’s just hope that the detailed business case looks at these wider issues when finding an answer to the question of “when”.

On the bright side, I think it’s a step in the right direction to even have Brownlee focused on the “when” question rather than the “if” question.

34 comments to City Rail Link – not if but when?

  • Karl

    Saying network extensions like the line to the airport would need to be pushed back is emotive rubbish. If anything they could be brought forward because funding might then be available that was otherwise spent on the CRL.

    This is especially the case when we have stupid services running like the 2 car train Im currently on which had people standing since Takanini. The network doesn’t need the CRL until we get less incompetent organizations running it

    • Mr Anderson

      CRL opens up the capacity in the network for those extensions to be possible. No CRL, no airport rail (unless you want to spend $1.5b and only be able to run a train every half an hour along it).

      • Karl

        Or people transfer at Penrose – which as a station would need an overhaul, but not a 2.5 bln one.

        Although for 2.5 bln we could make a pretty nice new city centre at Penrose

        • Mr Anderson

          Transfer onto the already overloaded southern line trains you mean?

          • Karl

            Which wouldn’t (currently) be overloaded if we increased the carriages or frequency; given that we’re not *currently* running either at full capacity.
            At what point that capacity is reached is the whole debate around 2020 vs 2030 vs 2040 – so stating as a *fact* that those trains would be at capacity is disingenuous and undermines the credibility of the argument.

          • Richard D

            Karl, I am not sure why you think the southern line has spare capacity for more services. Britomart doesn’t work properly now, never mind add more services to it.

          • Karl you are comparing what exists now, not with what will exist after electrification. The introduction of electric trains is forecast to see massive jumps in patronage to the point that by 2021, or just after it, the network will once again be at capacity. There is no space on the network to handle trains from the airport without the CRL unless you cut services that exist from elsewhere around the network.

  • Richard D

    “we can make all trains (aside from Onehunga services presumably) six cars long at peak times and so forth.”

    The Onehunga line seems to have been built (and continues to be built) with no eye on the future. That said, I can’t think of any technical reason for it not to be able to cater for 6-car operation, nor indeed two track throughout allowing much better than half hourly frequencies. It would just be a matter of cost – a lot more than it would have been if things had been built in the first place with that level of operation in mind as the end state.

    • Onehunga was comparatively cheap to do which is why it is the way it is. The station location is where it is because that was the easiest way and they intended it to be dug up and done again when it came time to build a line to the airport. If we had of built the line to the standard it is needed to be in for an extension to the airport it would have increased the cost probably 10 fold and would never have happened..

    • Onehunga is designed to take an EMU train of three carriages, but not six. Better than half hourly frequencies isn’t just a matter of cost, at least not for the Onehunga Line. From Penrose onward there is no capacity for more than two trains an hour from Onehunga. So sure you could do some double tracking and increase frequency, but you’d have to take trains off the Southern Line to run the extra Onehungas instead.

      The EMUs will create a large increase in capacity and reliability, and allow the existing network to run to it’s utmost capacity. But they only go so far, and only with the existing network.

      • Richard D

        Nick, between Penrose and Britomart it would be easier to fit three Onehunga trains an hour than it is to fit two.
        The Southern is on a 20 minute pettern currently (dovetailing onto the Manukau and Eastern 20 minute patterns). You need one path in each 20 minute Southern pattern for the first Onehunga path and a second path in the pattern for the other Onehunga 10 minutes later into the 20 minute pattern.If the Onehunga were on 20 minute frequency, then in any 20 minute period the Onehunga would only need one path.

        If the southern has Britomart departures xx:11, xx:31, xx:51 then a 20 minute frequency Onehunga would take one path in each 20 minute cycle, ideally at xx:01, xx:21, xx:41 to give a ten minute pattern overall.

        With a 30 minute frequency though, an xx:01 Onehunga departure would mean there is also a xx:31 departure – which is a clash with the Southern. That’s why you end up with an xx:16 and xx:46 pattern for the Onehunga service giving overall intervals of 15, 5, 20, 5, 15 minutes.

        Worse than that now you can’t plan anything into the xx:06, xx:26, xx:36, xx:56 paths unless they are stand-alone or you want to put everything else off-pattern (and such additional services would now be completely tied to the Onehunga pattern.)

        Having an overall service pattern that is a mix of 15, 20 and 30 minute frequencies wastes capacity. It is much much more efficient if everything is on the same frequency.

  • Dave

    Sure, Onehunga Station is currently only long enough for 3 cars. However Te Papapa Station is already long enough for 6, indicating the longer-term intention to make the whole line 6-car capable.
    Also, frequencies could easily be increased to double today’s simply by bringing into use as a crossing-point, the existing Te Papapa loop.

    Britomart also could possibly have more squeezed in and out of it by separating out the eastern and southern/western services as follows: Eastern to use Platforms 1+2 and down-main only; Southern/Western to use P3-5 and up-main only (this is now possible with the recent track changes at Britomart). Trains would have to operate bi-directionally over the two approach tracks and be timetabled in “flights” with two easterns and 3 southerns/westerns following each other in, then back out, with minimal dwell times at the platforms. (The station would “breathe in and breathe out”, as it were!). All layover dwells and recovery-time would have to occur at the outer termini.
    This would involve a complete re-casting of the timetable which would have to be focussed solely around making Britomart work. This would be undesirable in many ways, and such a service would probably be quite fragile in practice and prone to seizing up.
    The only real answer is to turn Britomart into a through-station as-per the CRL plans.

    • Nick R

      The Te Papapa loop along wouldn’t do it, you’d need to an additional loop off Penrose junction too, and probably two tracks at the Onehunga terminus. Still no use as long as there are no slots to head further north.

      That is exactly how Britomart operates already Dave! Tracks one and two are accessed bidi from the north track in from the eastern, Tracks three, four and five are accessed bidi from the south track in from the Southern and Western. Trains are platooned to come in and out in flights.

      It’s really all been maximised already, in preparation for the EMUs.

      • Richard D

        Tidal flow is less efficient than right line running. When you have finished breathing in you are neither breathing in nor out, and similarly when you finish breathing out. That pause at either end of the cycle wastes capacity. Also, such a method of operation is very fragile – it doesnot cope well with late trains. Late trains cannot just come in off-pattern and wait for a platform-end-conflict to clear. They have to wait out past Quay Park junction for the next ‘exhale’ to clear.

        The reason you might see it used frequently is becuase the bidirectional signalling gives flexibility in digging yourself out of a hole when it is all going wrong. Also, if you get the same train each day, it may be that sending one particular train wrong road just works, so it is done..

      • Dave

        @ Nick R : A 15 min Onehunga frequency would be possible with trains crossing each other at Te Papapa loop and then between Ellerslie and Green Lane. To achieve this would require a 9-minute layover at Onehunga to line up with the next crossing at Te Papapa. Likewise a 10min frequency could operate with trains crossing at Te Papapa and just north of Penrose, with a 4-min layover at Onehunga. But you are right, this takes no account of the need to squeeze more paths into Britomart.

        With regard to the operation at Britomart, accessing P3 from the Up Main independently of movements on the Down main has only been possible since the recent changes at Christmas/New year. No changes to the timetable have been made since this, so the service pattern is largely as-before which was not based around bi-di running. Certainly bi-di moves are used by train control when expedient in practice, but the current timetable was not cast around regular use of these. So most trains still approach on the up line and depart on the down line and have to cross from one to the other at the station throat.
        Therefore I maintain that in theory at least, more paths could be squeezed in and out of Britomart by planned flighting/bi-di running as I previously described, and minimal turnaround times. But this would be at the expense of service-robustness. It will be interesting to see just what form the eventual EMU berthing pattern will take.

        • Dave, is that actually feasible when there would be six trains an hour in each direction Penrose, Ellerslie and Greenlane from the southern line?

          As for Britomart, my understanding is that achieving the theoretical 20 trains an hour to Britomart was not actually quite possible in practice, and that the recent track works will be met with a new timetable that takes advantage of them as the EMUs are delivered. You are right that they will be able to squeeze a few extra trains an hour, but that only allows them to actually run the 20tph schedule they’ve long planned for electrification.

          • Richard D

            Nick. It would be completely unrealistic to plan to operate Britomart at 20 trains per hour. That would mean that every path is used: there would be no spare ones for recovery and no flexibility to flex patterns in order to overcome timetabling issues elsewhere. Timetabling 20 tph at Britomart would mean no flexibility in dealing with Newmarket or Westfield junctions, and any late-running peak train would mean that every subsequent train in the peak would also be late.

            A rule of thumb would be that any network operating at at over 75-80% utilisation, the ability to make good paths across the whole network is compromised, and that journey times will need to be extended maintain performance and get paths through other junctions..

            That said, moving the Onehunga from half hourly to a 20 minute pattern would actually make it easier to timetable in conjunction with the 20 minute pattern of the Southern, Eastern and Manukau services..

          • Richard – My understanding is that the recent changes to Britomart increase the number of slots to 24 tph with the post electrification timetable of 20 tph.

          • So a theoretical capacity of 24tph and an operational one at 83% of that, 20tph. Seems reasonable.

            Hence 10 min frequencies [6tph] on southern, eastern, western lines, + 1/2 hourly [2 tph] on the O-line.

            Bring it on!

          • Yes Richard that was precisely my point, the schedule requires 20tph and the recent works now allow that to be achieved in practice. So the new theoretical capacity is something like 24tph, but you can’t plan to actually run it at 24tph because you have zero ability to recover from delays.

    • Wai

      Actually we should not at the Britomart Bottleneck only, also Newmarket messes up the system. Trains have frequently to stop and wait until the trains reversed towards or from West in particular if only one of those is late. A little hope is that they don’t do the silly reversing anymore when Parnell Station is built. But nevertheless, unless Britomart does not get to a through station, it is fairly impossible to increase capacity significantly. I am also not sure about the benefit of more carriages. Atm, when sitting in a 6 car train, it is incredible slow compared to the 4 car ones. In particular on the part between the City and Newmarket the 6 car trains maybe speed up to 20 kmh, what again messes up the whole timetable. Maybe the electric trains improve that as they have more hps but at this stage for the next 1-2 years until all old trains are replaced I do not believe that hanging some more carriages does really help as it affects the reliability.

      • Dave

        @ Wai : You will find the performance of the new EMUs much improved over the existing diesel sets. There will be no difference in performance between a 3-car EMU and a 6-car as the power-to-weight ratio will be the same. With the SA/SD diesels, the difference between a 4-car and a 5-car set means the locomotive has to haul an extra carriage. The 6-car SA/SD sets I believe are supposed to have a more powerful loco attached.

  • Warren S

    CRL Open Day – I have just returned from the first CRL Open Day at Beca’s, 21 Pitt Street, where a goodly number of friendly Auckland Transport staff were in attendance answer questions. I had seen almost all the information provided previously (on this blog) but my wife certainly enjoyed seeing it without having to peer at a small computer screen. I made an ‘on the spot’ submission in favour of the CRL which they were pleased to have because most people who make submissions are against things. Suspect they need to beef up their lobbying by influential people to the political decision makers
    i.e. Brownlee,Joyce and co.
    The only disappointment was the relatively small numbers of the general public present for the 3/4 hour period I was there.

    • JeffT

      I had an invite to the Reserve Bank’s Auckland update/discussion so I couldn’t get to the CRL Open Day. I shall get to the one in March? Very interested to have a listen and provide a submission.

  • M. Lee

    I would be a lot more comfortable seeing the “holiday highway” deferred to 2030-ish. That would free up some money!

    • Karl

      Id just like to see initiatives like this funded via toll lanes. Just toll the extra capacity, leaves the existing free capacity while leaving the budget intact. Also gives more rigor to any business case as it becomes highly apparent when traffic volumes don’t rise to expected levels

  • JeffT

    On the discussion of the Onehunga line, I think the two carriage service is a great service. It definitely gets full at peak hour! but it trundles back and forth in a reliable fashion compared to it’s longer route colleagues. A real success story in the current operating environment.

  • Malcolm

    I think a change in government is the only way its going to get built at all! National arent going to do a thing.

    • Steve s

      Yes, although the previous lot had nine long years, with the regional fuel tax idea being very late in the piece. Remember a certain (Labour) PMs comment about no one living within cooee of a train station? The CRL funding the current opposition talk about seems to be about all, little feedback for the southern airport loop from Onehunga and connecting Puhinui, which would build some robustness into the southern line, allow for express trains to the city and the possibility for airport links with Hamilton and Tauranga, cities which are growing rapidly. Interesting as South Auckland is one the most impoverished areas so you would think would be a priority. 20 years time will be too late as the land values near the airport will make that route unfeasible. The lack of urgency is amazing – no wonder so many people leave New Zealand.

      • “The previous lot” took nearly six years to be convinced of the value of rail – though unlike the current lot they still contributed hugely to the do-over of Britomart despite rail being one-and-a-half feet into the grave – but once they were convinced they went all out: Project DART, electrification, pretty much everything of significance that’s happened to Auckland rail is thanks to “the previous lot”. The sole exception is the Parnell station.

  • simonr

    Gerry Brownlee and Stephen Joyce two rail haters along with those deadbeat Auckland Councillors where will they be in 17 years put out to pasture and we will be paying the price yet again for their shortsightness .probably they will be hanging around Britomart when the first electric train starts running taking credit for it

    • I would almost guarantee that Brownlee, or even Key will be there to claim credit for the EMUs when they start running. Of course it is election year so they will talk it up even more.

Leave a Reply