Over the last few years we have been concerned the rail network failed to meet its patronage targets. A key reason for this would be the failure of Auckland Transport to implement rail frequency improvements over the past few years. With the start of EMU services this week it is surely time to start increasing frequencies. First though a quick look back at what happened to the planned improvements.
In 2006 ARTA promised the frequency of the western line would increase to a train every 10 minutes in the peak.
She says when the double-tracking of the Western Line is finished in 2009, train frequency will increase to a service every 10 minutes during peak times.
I also remember this being said a few years later not long before double tracking was completed.
Back in December 2011 Auckland Transport highlighted a number of proposed rail frequency increases that could be achieved with the diesel rolling stock:
-Introduction of train services to Manukau, following the completion of track and signalling works by KiwiRail in the second half of 2011. Initial service offering will be 3 trains an hour during the peak and two trains an hour at all other times.
-Introduction of 6 trains an hour from Henderson during the peak Monday to Friday on the Western Line. The infrastructure works to allow this level of service were completed in August 2010 and patronage has now grown to a level that warrants this service capacity.
-Western Line services will operate a half-hourly service between Swanson and Britomart during the core of the day on both Saturdays and Sundays.
-Onehunga Line services will be increased to half-hourly throughout the day and at a weekend, to accommodate further growth.
-Increased frequency of services from Pukekohe to every 60 minutes during the day midweek in response to customer demand.
Some of these frequency increases have been achieved such as 30 minute weekend services on the Western Line and services every 60 minutes during weekdays to Pukekohe. However 2.5 years on we still have hourly off-peak services to Manukau, 15 minute peak frequency on the Western line and hourly Onehunga services.
It is difficult to figure out what happened to these service improvements. Auckland Transport Board papers suggested they were to be discussed at a March 2012 meeting, but this was is a closed sessions and the documents have not been made public.
Again in August 2013, in one of my first posts on Transportblog I highlighted an Auckland Council report that suggested a number of frequency increases that could help meet patronage targets. It included this handy summary of the aforementioned issues:
The completion of the interim train fleet took place in 2010. Since then, some limited improvements have been able to be made to rail services, such as running key peak western line trains with 6-car sets; commissioning the Manukau Branch Line and improving interpeak services to Pukekohe, through the reallocation of existing rolling stock to best match supply and demand. However, no new capacity will be able to be added until the start of the commissioning of the electric train fleet in April 2014. This means that since 2010, patronage growth has been constrained by the inability to add peak capacity.
This report made a number of suggestions for how Auckland Transport could increase rail services and thus increase rail patronage.
Improved interpeak and weekend rail services. As noted above, until electric trains start entering service from April 2014, there will be no increase in peak train capacity. International research shows that the improvement of non-peak train services can lead to stronger increases in patronage than peak capacity improvements. Substantial improvements to non-peak service levels form part of the roll out of electric trains. There may be opportunities to advance non-peak service improvements in advance of electrification such as extending Sunday train services west of Henderson (which currently has no Sunday train service) and improving weekend frequencies to half-hourly.
Since this report we have had half hourly frequencies and Sunday trains to Swanson added, however none of the other earlier suggestions have been actioned.
Some people may be thinking, what is the problem, electric trains will solve all of the issues. This is true in some sense. If AT sticks to the Regional Public Transport Plan they produced then by the end of the rollout in 2015 we should have 10 minute peak services and 15 minute off peak and weekend services on all lines except Onehunga. This is import because improved frequency is considered one of t he biggest drivers of patronage. However the EMU rollout will not be complete until ‘Mid/Late 2015’ which is anywhere from 12 to 18 months away. It is essential that we keep making moves in the short term to increase patronage, especially with the pressure from the government over patronage targets for the City Rail Link.
While the EMU’s have now been launched on the Onehunga line , they are still operating on their old hourly off-peak timetable. This seems very strange considering the advertising and public relations effort that is surrounding the launch of the trains. It will not send a very good message if people new to rail in Auckland turn up to the ride the EMU but have to wait 55 minutes. Hopefully soon from Auckland Transport we will see a new, faster timetable with 30 minute frequencies all day, 7 days a week. Next up for EMU addition is the Manukau Line, probably in September. It would be great to see frequency increases at the same time, certainly moving to a 30 minute service from Manukau during the day, which will give a service every 15 minutes all day along the main Eastern Line, rather than the current stupid 30-10-20 arrangement. There has also been some suggestions from Auckland Transport that we would see full EMU service on the weekends, which would be very exciting. This would benefit from improved timetabling as well, dependent of course on if we had enough EMU’s in the country.
While the the Western line will be the last to be electrified, I would hope that the diesel rolling stock deemed surplus from EMU operations was used to increase capacity on the services that remained dieselised. This would be a great time to increase Western Line frequency to every 10 minutes at peak, and every 15 minutes all day. Another good area for improvement is evening services which currently finish ridiculously early. Currently the last Western Line train leaves Britomart at 9.53pm, Onehunga at 9.30pm, Southern Line at 10.10pm and Eastern Line at 10.40pm though this only runs to Otahuhu. The latest train should be pushed back at least past 11pm. This can be done with diesel operation on the Western and Southern Line, and in tandem with EMU timetable improvements on the Eastern and Onehunga lines.