At the transport committee meeting on Wednesday Kiwirail provided an update on electrification progress while Auckland Transport had an update on what is happening with the EMUs.
The presentation was broken down into three areas looking at the key pieces of work remaining to be done. These are signalling, traction (wires) and operational preparedness.
The new signalling and train control systems have now been completely installed and are operational. They said about 18 months ago there were an average of over 100 faults a month to either the signalling system, points or other systems associated with controlling the trains. This is down to about 50 a month and is expected to go lower still. My understanding is that this number includes any small issue and often they may not even affect passenger trains but even so it still seems like a lot. The one piece of work left to complete is the automatic train protection system which will help prevent accidents as it will stop trains from going through red signals. We don’t currently have this system on the rail network although I believe that AT are retrofitting our existing trains with it even though they will only be used for another few years. The new EMUs will come with it already installed.
The wires are the most visible part of electrification. Kiwirail say they their contractors have now completed all of the mast foundations and have over 70% of the masts in place (2785 out of 3825). If you look at a part of the rail network that has already been electrified you will see that there are three wires that make up the system. One is an earth wire, one is a catenary wire and the other one is the wire the trains connect to get power. All up there will eventually be 550km of wire on the network and so far 355km have been installed (~65%). The parts left to do are the western line from Mt Albert to Newmarket, Newmarket to Britomart, the eastern line from Westfield to Britomart and a bit around Papakura.
Associated with the wires are various pieces of work around making the network safe. Kiwirail say that 90% the earthing and bonding of elements in and around the rail network is complete while they are 60% of the way through installing the screens (like the one below) on bridges to help prevent access to the wires.
The work will continue over the rest of the year and into another extensive rail shutdown over the Christmas period. They said the rail network would be closed from 26 December through to 19 January which is almost four weeks. I sometimes wonder if these large shut downs will ever end and one of my greatest fears is that Kiwirail will get so used to doing all of their normal maintenance tasks in these shut downs that they will become the norm even after electrification is finished.
In addition to the weekend and Christmas shut downs, there have also been shutdowns on Mondays to Thursdays in the evenings. I have heard that these will now be extended to Friday and Saturday nights however there has been nothing official from AT or any of the other agencies involved.
It’s worth noting that there is a shut down this weekend which will see the wires from Westfield to Wiri completed and livened up. That will mean all AT will be able to test the new train all the way from Wiri to Newmarket and along the Onehunga Branch line.
The only part I found interesting in this section was that Kiwirail have decided that they won’t be maintained the wires themselves and as such will be contracting out the work to another company who they are currently under negotiation with. While they will be working on behalf of Kiwirail I do worry about the fact there will be yet another player being involved in keeping the network running.
As most readers will have known by now, the first of our new electric trains are now in the country and it is tucked away at Wiri going through initial testing. AT say the next two trains will arrive together in November then we will start getting two a month until November 2014. From December 2014 things ramp up even further and there will be four per month arriving until all 57 are here which should be around July 2015 (which is earlier than originally planned due to CAF opening an additional production line)
The first three trains will undergo testing for 3-4 months to ensure all bugs are ironed out. After that trains 4-9 are expected to take about two months to test while after that they will take about 4-5 weeks before being ready to be used in service or for training. Testing will take place at night or during some weekend shutdowns when there are no other services on the tracks so don’t expect to see one while waiting for a train.
The first passenger services are still on track for April and will start on the Onehunga Line. The key reason for waiting till then is that they need a about 7 trains in the country first. Three are needed for Onehunga services (two operational and one spare), another 2-3 are needed for training purposes and another few will be going through testing. Trains will be rolled out on a line by line bases and will only happen when there are enough to replace all of the services on a line in one go to avoid mixed running a mixed fleet where possible. Following Onehunga the Manukau services should start running with electrics a few months later in mid 2014. Both Onehunga and Manukau are shorter runs with less services so not as many trains are needed to be operational. The Southern line will be the next to go electric at the end of 2014 and the Western line will be the last to change over.
You will notice on the diagram above that after the services on a line are replaced, that a few months later there is a timetable upgrade. This is to get the lines eventually to what is proposed below. AT said that the shuttle services to Papakura would begin in the end of 2014 once the southern line services were replaced.
However while those of us out west in particular will have a while to wait before we see the new trains, AT also said that there may be the opportunity to at least replace all weekend services with EMUs in September next year. I’m also hoping that as the other lines start converting to electrics, that a few trains will be freed up to boost western line frequencies in the interim.
AT also say that modelling has taken place to look at timetable impacts of the new trains and they expect they will be able to deliver time savings of around 12% on a run. That means a trip from Papakura to Britomart would drop from 53 minutes to 45-49 minutes (I’m guessing depending on if stations like Westfield and Te Mahia close as proposed). Of course AT won’t know the exact time savings until they can actually test the trains in real life.
We are really starting to get into the business end of this project but unfortunately that also means a lot more disruption. Looking at current plans there is a weekend shutdown every 2-3 weeks from now up until Christmas and that is something that will not be doing any favours for patronage and people’s views on the service. If there is one advantage to the pain, at least now we are starting to see the light at the end of the tunnel.