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Electrification project running late

While the integrated ticketing project seems to have been an ongoing saga for some time now, it might not be the only public transport project that is running into trouble at the moment. Lately I have been hearing from a wide range of people about another high project that could be in trouble, electrification. Just to ensure there is no confusion it is probably worth reminding everyone that the electrification project I am referring to relates to the physical infrastructure being installed, this part of the project is being managed by Kiwirail. As far as I am aware, the electric trains and depot, which are managed by Auckland Transport, are on track with the first unit well into the construction phase and due to arrive most likely in September.

The electrification project itself has consisted of a number of smaller projects:

  • Signalling – The overhead wires had the potential to interfere with the existing signals we had so the entire network needed to be re signalled to prevent that from happening. Regardless Auckland’s previous signalling system was fairly ancient so needed replacing anyway. I believe that with the completion of track works at Papakura this is now completed.
  • Clearances – Many of the bridges that crossed the rail network didn’t have enough height to allow the wires to run under them. This has been resolved by either lowering the tracks or replacing the bridges. This has now been completed although work is still going on for the new Ellerslie Panmure Highway bridge as part of AMETI.
  • Traction – This is the actual masts and wires.

Completed wires out near Swanson (thanks Geoff)

As mentioned the signalling and clearance works have been completed or are very close to being so, the problem is with the traction side of things. The traction contract was signed in mid January 2010 just before the new Newmarket station opened however even in the announcement I can’t find any information as to just when it was due to be completed. It has actually been surprisingly hard to find out exactly when the project was due to be completed but these.

Mr Quinn gave an assurance that with the news today of the consortium winning the tender, the work will be completed in 2013 in time for the first delivery of new electric trains

  • This was from just over a month after the traction contract was signed.

 “The infrastructure has to be completed before the rolling stock arrives in 2013,” he says.

The last section to be electrified will be the eastern line with all the infrastructure completed by the end of 2013

How long will it take to electrify the entire network?

KiwiRail is working to a deadline of 2013 to complete the infrastructure for electrification. The first masts started appearing on the Western Line in 2011, and the work is being completed in phases.

  • There was also this slide in a presentation to the councils Transport Committee in October last year confirming that the wires would be completed by August. Note they also state that the section of Newmarket to Swanson would be energised in March yet currently there are no wires between Newmarket and Mt Albert

TC - Oct 12 Presention 3

KiwiRail is using its last big summer shutdown of the region’s rail network to rearrange tracks at Britomart and two other locations before spinning the final segments of an electrical web which by August will cover about 85km of lines from central Auckland to Papakura in the south and Swanson in the northwest.

Basically everything I can find points to the wires being completed later this year but unfortunately that doesn’t match what I have been hearing recently so I went directly to Kiwirail to find out what they say. Here is their response:

The project is  on course for completion in first quarter 2014. As you  may know the sections of overheads on the Onehunga branch and the NAL between Penrose and Newmarket  have been commissioned.   The next section to be commissioned will be Penrose to the Wiri EMU depot, which will be in the third quarter of this year.  Beyond that we are working closely with Auckland Transport to ensure we align commissioning  further of sections of  OLE with their programme for  delivery and commissioning of EMUs.

It’s obviously quite clear right from the get go that the project won’t be completed this year and first quarter 2014 could mean the wires aren’t finished till almost April, up to 7 months late. Reading between the lines there is more concerning news with revelation that by the time the first train arrives, it is likely that the only section of wires fully completed and commissioned will be the section between the Wiri depot and Newmarket. I also suspect it means we are unlikely to see any wires up in Britomart until next year. That means it is unlikely that there will any electric train services till later in 2014 as there would still be quite a bit of time needed for testing and driver training, after all we don’t want our drivers misjudging things and ploughing into the end of the platforms.

Here is Kiwirail’s latest update from the 18th of March. Since that time I believe that the work has primarily focused on the section around the Westfield Junction.

Electrification Progress - 18 March

All up this is very disappointing and given the current slow progress, I fear that even the completion date of first quarter 2014 could slip further. Further motorway projects these days always seem to come in both ahead of time and within budget, why is it we can’t do the same for PT projects?

52 comments to Electrification project running late

  • Mr Plod

    Matt, this is sad but not unexpected as the answer to your final questions is; “that our PT projects are one-offs and we don’t come into them with the experience of having done it all before, unlike motorway projects which are built by an industry of experienced contractors, that we keep feeding”

    • The traction contract is being carried out by a consortium of Hawkins Infrastructure and Laing O’Rourke, they should have enough project management experience to do this.

      • Alphatron

        Allegedly KiwiRail has not been able to provide HILOR with the amount of uninterrupted overnight track access that was in their contract, mainly due to freight train running, so HILOR has fallen behind schedule

    • Nick R

      Also I think that motorway projects have the luxury of setting realistic, even conservative, budgets and timeframes. I guess PT projects don’t.

  • Another summer shutdown ahead?

  • AC

    Indeed this is not surprising. I wonder if there has been a single PT project that has been completed on time within the last few decades in Auckland.

  • Christopher T

    You have to wonder if the delay is in anyway related to the fact that KiwiRail are laying off experienced staff in order to meet government diktats as to its profitability. As writers on this blog have observed numerous times, motorways don’t have to be profitable; why should rail infrastructure. And it’s not as if KiwiRail are doing it out of the goodness of their heart: they’re creaming a small fortune out of Auckland ratepayers with ‘track access fees’, locomotive leases, the supply of LEs, etc. In return we seem to be getting a pretty sub-standard level of service. Time for AT to introduce more stringent penalties in the contracts it signs with KiwiRail?

    • Alphatron

      AFAIK there is no contract between AT and KiwiRail for electrification as KiwiRail’s AEP work is funded directly by the Crown

  • Will

    On a somewhat related note have you heard any updates on how the Parnell station is coming along? I haven’t seen or heard anything more recent than a September timeframe but there does not appear to be a great deal of work happening in that area.

  • To what extent can the delays on the Western Line be explained by the delays in finishing the Mt Albert upgrade? The first can’t go ahead until the second is completed.

  • Greg N

    Motorway projects never end so the builders just keep redefining what “completion” of the project means to come in on time and budget.
    So when they run late or over budget, they cut the previous project into multiple phases, then redefine the deliverables for the phase they can complete,
    and then trumpet that they’ve come in on time and on budget – knowing full well that the next bucket of money is waiting in the wings for the “Second phase” to begin.

    For the Electrification project, its pretty clear that this means all the entire Auckland region is electrified, you can’t chop that up into smaller pieces and get away with it like you can with a motorway project.
    [EMUs won't work is the obvious sign of a lack of electrification].

    Same with double tracking and all those other “hard” PT projects – you can’t fudge the numbers or project completion, because they’re .binary projects – they are either finished or they’re not finished.

    Given that AT is running no trains every other weekend, and partial or full shutdown of the rail network are de-rigour these days, whats the hold up? They haven’t even put the uprights for the overhead wires along the Orakei basin part of the Eastern line yet either, and thats normally the first thing to go up (the concrete bases for them are all poured and sitting there waiting, and have been for nearly 9 months now).

    For proof of what I mean with motorway projects, the Newmarket Viaduct project was to run for 4 years – 2008 to end 2012. Completion was set for end of 2012.- even ahead of schedule they were saying.
    Come the end of 2012 the Viaduct while built still had a mess of clean up and site remediation work still ongoing around it.

    You wouldn’t notice this as the big things like the new motorway viaduct lanes were opened, and Big Blue Gantry Crane disappeared from the skyline in November 2012 as “planned”.
    – but the packing away and all the other work was still ongoing up until Christmas and beyond.
    .
    The same is true of the new pedestrian curvy shaped bridge over the Motorway and Railway linking Dilworth Ave/Mt Hobson Aves on the northern side with Mauranui Ave on the southern side
    – work on that was supposedly completed before Dec 2012. Well, the bridge couldn’t be used (even by stairs) until a few months back.
    And it has only just opened the use of its ramp on the Dilworth Ave side in the last month, about 4 months behind schedule.
    But unless you used that bridge you’d never know as you drive past. You couldn’t walk, take your wheelchair or bike over that bridge until recently with a large detour needed via Market Road to cross the motorway as a result..

    And the stringing of the wires on the NIMT from Remuera Station by Market Road to Newmarket has only just been completed.
    Perhaps some of that could be laid at the feet of the Viaduct project (which it runs under) – but the wires could have been strung way sooner than they have been. So maybe its just taking longer than planned?
    A lack of resources doing the work? or lack or pre-planning on managing to issues? or a combination of both.

    • “A lack of resources doing the work? or lack or pre-planning on managing to issues? or a combination of both.”
      From what I have been hearing, poor project management is causing a lot of the problems.

  • gazzamac

    kiwi rail = kiwi fail; here’s a strange idea, finish at least one line on time!

    • Max

      Mmmh, as people have pointed out – if you (are forced to) keep cutting staff and costs, you get less efficient project management. Motorway projects work in a (comparatively speaking) bubble of luxury.

  • jonno1

    A bit harsh I think to blame KiwiRail for the delays; sure they’re the principal but ultimately the contractor has to be relied upon to do the work. I believe that skilled resource is a big issue. Even when the wires are up there’s a lot of registration work to do before trains can run.

    Having said that, assuming the first EMUs arrive on time there’s still an awful lot of testing to do, both in the depot and on the tracks. My understanding is that the Manukau line and the Wiri-Newmarket section of the NAL will be used for this. Ultimately of course speed tests will be required from Papakura to Swanson and on the eastern line before the EMUs go into service.

  • Paul in Sydney

    After testing and bedding in of the EMU’s, what do you think will be the first service to see action? Onehunga-Britomart

  • Hood

    Onehunga – Newmarket will be first, I have heard from more than one source that the overhead wires and the exhaust fans can not exist at the same time as the wires will be too close to the fans, looking forward to seeing how they work out the change over!

    • Steve D

      Won’t they still need the exhaust fans for the Northern Explorer?

    • I think your source is incorrect, never heard anything like that myself and I don’t see why it would be a problem. They aren’t even overhead wires inside Britomart, but rather solid bar.

      • There likely will be a transition period between diesels and electric. All EMU’s wont arrive at once, nor will all the drivers be trained at once. Or will they store all the EMU’s until they are ready to switch over? Some how I could see this happening! And if Britomart can’t handle diesel trains post electrification there no chance of trains to Hamilton post CRL!

  • Hood

    Word is the Northern Explorer will be using the Strand platform.

  • Stacy C

    Very accurate looking article though Matt L. Good to see such a positive analysis from someone monitoring the works. Being involved with the project myself, and driving around the rail network here in Auckland while the works are carried out, I see the same sought of outcome. There is no panic though. There is no reason for them to bring the sole EMU into passenger service this year(although we would all like it to be), as you say a lot of driver training and testing to take place, and additionally, the completion of the western line(mt albert – Newmarket), and the eastern line(westfield junction – Auckland) are supposed to be completed last which would coincide with the arrival with the last of the EMU delivery. What is the happenings with Papakura to Pukekohe though?

  • I was a regular train user but the interuptions caused by the years and years of electrification works forced me back into my car. Last time I took the train (due to car serving) the trip took on average 50 minutes, the schedule says 41 minutes and the previous express train used to take 36 minutes. Was electrification really necessary? Why not a modernised fleet of diesel locomotives?

    • Yes it was necessary for many reasons. Among other benefits, electric trains are cheaper to buy and run than diesel ones, so much so that over the live of them, they are still cheaper even when you include the infrastructure. Also without electric trains we wouldn’t even be able to think about the CRL which means the rail network would be limited in capacity with no ability to run higher frequencies in the future.

    • harminder

      One very important reason is to reduce our dependence on oil and vulnerability to external oil shocks. More details here:

      http://transportblog.co.nz/2012/08/23/goodbye-pork-pie-the-demise-of-major-industries-and-its-implications-for-new-zealands-electricity-and-transport-sectors/ – “… the impact of Tiwai and Kawerau would be felt most immediately through a fairly large fall in NZ’s electricity price. … A wider implication of a large drop in the price of electricity, however, (and the one that is probably more interesting to the readers of this blog) is that electric transport would become significantly less expensive. That means that Wellington’s trains and trolley buses, and Auckland’s soon-to-arrive EMUs for that matter, will be relatively less costly to operate.”

      http://transportblog.co.nz/2012/08/28/oil-strike/ – “When making decisions around investment in new transport projects the analyses should include calculations of whether or not they help us to significantly change our lives and businesses in ways that reduce our dependence on imported oil. So clearly this would privilege all forms of electric propulsion, but also the much more efficient rail and sea freight over truck freight. As well of course urban, provincial, and intercity public transport. But especially active and electric urban modes where there is growing demand and a high number of, frankly, low value car journeys that could easily be substituted if appealing alternatives were more available.”

  • May need a bit more information but yes I can believe that electric trains would require less maintenance over a diesel locomotive.

    How will the frequency of service ever increase for the Southern line as it is already very congested with trains? The southern line is shared with the main North Island trunk, the Manukau line, Onehunga line, Eastern line at Westfields, Newmarket line and merged back with the Eastern line prior to Brittomart. Those are six switched sections making it nearly impossible to put more services on with or without the CRL?

    • Sailor Boy

      Major constraint on that route is at Britomart, not on the sections further South. Also, we can quite easily build an extra freight line on the main trunk to allow maximum capacities. Theoretically we can do 15tph Eastern, Western, Southern, and airport/Onehunga. Not that I ever se our timetabling being good enough, Maybe 12.

    • Toa.

      Frequency from Papakura will be 6 trains per hour once the new trains are all operating. Every 10 minutes. This rate will then be joined by the same number from Manukau, and a couple from Onehunga. After the CRL is built that will double, a train every 5 mins. With those frequencies you can throw your timetables away.

      The new trains will be better in every way; cleaner, quicker, quieter, newer [more reliable], and yes cheaper to run and to maintain. Running on clean homegrown 80% renewable electricity. They also should have free wifi and screens with realtime info on board. Off peak [nights and weekends] services must improve significantly too.

      There is absolutely no doubt that these trains along with new connecting and more frequent bus services and integrated ticketing and fares are the best near term improvement for Ak’s Transport issues. Because, of course, this network is completely separate to the overused motorway one. And this is proven and appealing technology that works the world over. We just need to improve the service levels on this existing and underutilised system and then sell it’s advantages properly.

  • Sailor Boy

    Are all of our stations able to handle 6 car btw?

    • Onehunga cannot. The platform will be lengthened at some point, either with the double-tracking associated with the CRL or when airport rail happens. Not sure about Manukau, but since that station was going into virgin ground I can’t think of a good reason why it wouldn’t be. Onehunga was making use of the existing infrastructure and getting the necessary platform length for six cars would have required resource consent and that would’ve held up the project. Going with three-car trains wasn’t an imposition on the line given its operating model, and meant that the re-opening of the line could be undertaken with minimal regulatory effort.

  • Chris Randal

    I’ve been to Manukau only once but my impression was that a 6 will fit with plenty of room to spare.

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