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Testing Auckland’s trains

One of the biggest developments that has occurred this year has been the arrival of our first electric trains. There are now four in the country and the depot is filling up so fast that in a few weeks time they will have to start storing the trains outside rather than keeping them wrapped up inside. The first three units have been undergoing different stages of testing while the fourth which just arrived this week is starting to be set up. 


Back in October Auckland Transport were kind enough to invite me for a ride on along when the first of our new trains took its first tentative steps with run outside of the depot. Back then the train was only being run slowly however it was already evident just how much better these new trains would be compared to what we have in use today. Since that time we’ve heard that the engineers have had the train up over 122 km/h which is faster than they will be allowed to run in normal service

On Tuesday both Patrick and I, along with TVNZ and Radio NZ were lucky enough to be invited back for another test run – this time running at full speed – so that we could experience just what the trains were like. The train we were on had been loaded up with sandbags which were there to represent passengers and so they could more accurately test how it would perform under various conditions. They had taken some of them out for the test run we were tagging along on but at the height there were 1776 sandbags piled up in the train with each one weighing 20kg.

EMU Sandbags

The good news is that even loaded down with a full load of passengers these trains performed superbly. You could really feel the acceleration when taking off from a stop yet the train was quiet and smooth while doing so, not noisy and jerky like our current trains. In fact the performance was so good that I was surprised at one point when I found out we were already travelling at 110km/h – although this may have been partially related to the testing taking place at night so it wasn’t possible to get any sense of speed from just looking out of the windows.

For one run the engineers dropped us at Papatoetoe Station then took off back down the track so that they could come through the station at speed to help give a sense of just how fast the trains are travelling. You can see this in the One News piece.

EMU Testing - One News

There’s more good news in that while there have been a few issues that have arisen out of the testing, nothing has been major and none of the trains tested so far have had a break down while out on the tracks, something which even some of the experienced engineers were pleasantly surprised with. This hopefully bodes well for how these trains will perform in the years to come.

I think it also needs to be mentioned that despite so many different companies and agencies involved in operating trains in Auckland, they appear not only to be getting on but actually working well together. There are heaps of companies or agencies involved at all levels. There is Kiwirail who own and operate the tracks, Auckland Transport who effectively pay for the services, Transdev who run the trains, CAF who are building and maintaining the trains and the NZTA who are the safety regulators. Again this gives me hope that AT will be able to fix and improve the services  once these trains really start coming on-stream from April next year.

All up it was great to be able to experience these trains at their maximum permitted speed. These trains are truly impressive to ride on and I suspect that the general public will be pleasantly surprised when they finally get to have a ride on one.

Lastly its really nice to see that we can have a PT project that is (so far) actually being delivered on time with a good result. Congratulations to all of those involved.

12 comments to Testing Auckland’s trains

  • George

    Congratulations to all involved. Great work, and I hope it proves a shining example to those who make decisions.

    If only Auckland Transport was properly focused on a genuinely clean, efficient, and 21st Century transport network. (Rather than trying to ram an unnecessary and unplanned motorway through my community.)

  • John Polkinghorne

    Is it just me, or does the front of the train look a teensy bit like Iron Man’s helmet?

  • We can add the train drivers’ union to the list of those involved, harmoniously. I had a long chat with the driver and while he’s working really long nights on the testing [often through to dawn, at no additional pay], he was keen to stress how much of an improvement the new trains are, and just how stretched the old bangers are.

    Also I think everyone, from supporters to detractors, and of course the general Transit user, is going to blown away by just how smooth, quick, and quiet these puppies are. In fact that tinny sound of other people’s iPods is going to be really obvious!

    Still most of all I look forward to the day that this experience is humdrum, quotidian, and these trains are just a part of Auckland’s furniture. Although I suspect their quality will mean that they will change the place of both local passenger rail and the role of Public Transit in general in Auckland, and therefore our City’s whole idea of itself.

    • George D

      Yes, I don’t get to thank the drivers like I do on the buses. I’d like to see and hear more from them!

      Perhaps it would be good to talk to them about how they think Auckland’s train operations and network could be improved? A call for postings?

  • CAF technicians monitoring the test train’s performance:

  • Exaucklanderinsydney

    If they’re anywhere near as smooth and quiet as Sydney’s new Warratahs (and I expect they would be) then yes they will be a massive difference from the diesel fleet that Aucklanders are used to. II would suspect though that these would accelerate and decelerate faster than the trains here being single level and on a superior power supply system. The new trains here quite often have to dwell at stations as they get ahead of the timetable.
    Can’t wait to visit when these are in service.

    • Ran Derson

      We’re quite used to trains dwelling at stations here. Platform not available. Queues getting into/out of Britomart. Drivers changing ends.

      But I for one will welcome delays due to running ahead of timetable.

    • Ours are extremely grunty for single deck six car trains. Two power cars per three car unit, with extra powerful motors. All designed to fly up the 1:33 grade of the CRL tunnels (infact they are designed to be able to haul both themselves and a second disabled train up the grade!). End result, plenty of juice on tap.

  • jonno1

    Great trains and excellent progress to date. In practice, cooperation between disparate parties involved with engineering infrastructure projects is the norm, or at least in my experience with subdivisions, motorways, power projects and rail projects. Engineers are pragmatists by nature and look for the optimal solution in a given situation. There can be commercial implications, but usually these are resolved without rancour, with “fair and reasonable” being the unwritten guideline.

    • Dave B

      It’s politicians who all too often interfere and screw things up.

      • jonno1

        Haha, fair point, although in my experience it is bureaucrats who are the bigger problem. Pre-lodgement meetings (where applicable) or planning meetings are essential. It helps if your client is a Requiring Authority; anyone else can expect roadblocks at every point of the process – that must be a core component of Town Planning 101.

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