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FASTER FFS! – Part 2

Last week on the first day of operation there were a number of complaints about delays on services that used our new electric trains. At the time I said it wasn’t surprising that some small teething problems were probably to be expected and that if they continued then it would be concerning if they were still happening days later. Throughout the week we kept getting reports of slow or delayed trains and I experienced it myself yesterday when I took a trip to Onehunga with some of my fellow blog writers. Particularly noticeable was the incredibly slow crawl into both Tepapa and Onehunga Stations.

I had heard late last week of the reason for this and today it was reported in the Herald.

Speed controls on Auckland’s new electric trains are overriding their drivers to make them slower than the diesel clunkers they are replacing for $520 million.

Auckland Council infrastructure chairman Mike Lee says trains are up to 10 minutes late as a result and has accused rail operator Transdev of running them “too conservatively”.

The train drivers’ union shares the view and will meet Transdev to discuss the issue this week.

“They don’t seem to realise that what the public wants is speed,” Mr Lee told the Herald. “We have got to go as fast as we can – every second counts if we want to win the competition with cars.”

He said drivers were frustrated at being overridden by a new automatic European control system to restrict them to 10km/h when arriving at Britomart through its tunnel, or 15km/h when approaching Onehunga and Te Papapa stations from up to 200 metres away. That compared with a 25km/h limit for the old diesel trains at Onehunga and Britomart.

The top permitted speed for the three-car electric units on open tracks is 110km/h – about 20km/h slower than Mayor Len Brown says they are capable of.

Rail and Maritime Transport Union organiser Stuart Johnstone confirmed the delays and said drivers were becoming frustrated with the electric overrides on what were otherwise “very good trains”.

Although the new control system was “a good safety device to have”, he believed it needed recalibrating.

I think Mike might be a quick to blame Transdev as the track speeds are set by Kiwirail but that these trains are being kept slower than the clunky old diesels is a disgrace.

Auckland Transport have claimed they and Kiwirail are just being conservative over the implementation of a new system for safety reasons.

Chief operations officer Greg Edmonds said it was “entirely correct” for the train control system to be configured conservatively to start with.

and here on Radio NZ tonight

or here.

I can understand that answer but the reality is Auckland Transport have been testing these trains almost every day since September last year. In fact at EMU launch they talked up the fact that in testing they’ve clocked up over 25,000km already. Testing was where they should have been sorting out issues with the signalling systems and line speeds, not leaving it till after they started carrying passengers. Put simply it’s not good enough and we didn’t spend $1.1 billion on electrifying the rail network and buying state of the art trains to run them slower than the existing trains.

So sort it out Auckland Transport. These trains need to be FASTER FFS.

61 comments to FASTER FFS! – Part 2

  • Neil

    Good on the Herald to break this story. Seems Kiwirail wants to keep the Auckland system slower than Wellington. I cannot see why there needs to be caution on the Onehunga line as no one else is using it.

    • True. The “we must be cautious while we mix with DMUs” argument really doesn’t fly when the slowest sections by far are in EMU-only territory (between Penrose and Onehunga)

  • Does AT have any real commitment to the customer? Obsession seems to be with process not outcomes. FFS.

  • Yes I first heard this on Checkpoint and was wondering – really AT really.
    They better have it sorted by next year when the EMU’s make their debut on the Southern Line and get a real work out on the network. Otherwise might as well just go back to the old ADK’s with them doing 85km/h once up to speed…
    Hmm might be a tad embarrassing too. Noting Mark Lambert’s comments about the EMU’s and diesels (most likely so the EMU does not run up the backside of a diesel) I wonder how this pans out when a freight train is in front of an EMU. Slow boat to China I am not looking forward to it.

  • Jon Reeves

    I say AT sort the BS out now otherwise pull the EMU’s off the track and put the older, but faster DMU’s back on. Does SNCF run new TGV’s slower than existing ones? NO!

    AT, seriously, stop pissing around with our $600 million trains. Absolute incompetence by management in this case, Greg Edmonds included.

  • Sailor Boy

    I don’t get it. How have they not realised this yet? Surely they figured out that the train was going slow during testing?

    • Yes, now we know why “faster” was pulled from the advertising at the last minute. But rather than replace it with “slower” they chose “better”. Is slower really better?

      They obviously know about this before the launch, but why did they not find out about it until it was too late to fix? 25,000 km of testing and they don’t find this issue till the last minute?

  • Barb Cuthbert

    Thanks for this item, Matt.
    Our city is buried in publicity about our new trains. While I hate to think what the budget for this is, it was presumably justified by the overall cost of the trains and potential public benefit. It is farcical these issues were not ironed out during the months of test runs.

    We don’t need this when we are trying to get the Govt on board with the CRL.
    Where is the management accountability?

  • exaucklanderinsydney

    Thank god they didn’t push the ‘faster’ aspect when they were advertising, cause the whole mess has been a complete disaster. What the hell have they been doing for the last several months, did they do no route testing at all?! Surely all this should have been known beforehand. For these trains to be the same speed or slower than the current fleet is not acceptable. The stupid thing about all of this is that there is nothing wrong with the trains themselves, which are just waiting to be pushed to their limit, but the stupid management over cautious signalling system that only needs a recalibration.
    I know they have to stick to the same timetable untill a new one is produced, but that should mean that the trains should be waiting on the platforms cause they’re EARLY, not 10-15mins late.
    Can AT not get anything right FFS?

  • Jon Reeves

    AT has turned into an undemocratically elected bunch of bureaucrats. We need to elect a new Govt. which will review the set up of COO’s, AT included.

    At least with the old ARC the public could have their say and heads would roll should things go pear shaped. Now AT officials hide behind a large grey wall. This current scenairo is almost like AT is trying to sabotage the good work over the past few years (and that from the defunct ARC).

    Not a good look AT.

    • The board of directors have all been appointed or reappointed by the council as the original terms set by the government all expired. With some of the changes recently there does seem to be improvement slowly creeping through and I would suggest that it’s not a quick thing to make cultural changes but I am confident it will happen.

  • bbc

    Both EMUs I caught in the weekend from Ellerslie to town were 10-15 minutes behind their scheduled time, I’d assumed they’d have sorted out the problems one week in so it’s interesting to hear what the cause is. Seems incredibly short-sighted and indicative of the mismanagement in AT.

  • Barney

    Maybe some of the former NZR railway men could be pulled in from retirement to show the smart arse good old boys network how to run a train service.

  • Is this sort of thing normal during a commissioning stage e,g, does Air NZ run a new plan slower and then come in to land slower? I have newer noticed, but do new Mainfreight trucks run at say 80kph?
    And what was the lengthy trial period for that AT had a train running?

    But I am not going to knock AT as they are on a huge roll -their first 600m of bus lane in the last 3 years -superb. I must sit closer to the driver tomorrow to see what speed they are moving at during the commissioning period.

  • Charles

    I suspect the ECTS is malfunctioning. I’ve been on a train that air dumped in the Britomart tunnel and also one on the Strand bridge and from the passenger perspective they were already going slower than normal. Assuming that the drivers are professional and safety oriented (which is in my view a very solid assumption) there is some technical nonsense going on here. Luckily the reset seems to be fairly quick.

    • MrV

      The train will be doing what it is programmed to do. As far as I can tell the system install was ETCS Level 1.

      • Charles

        Doing as programmed, but are the inputs as expected, and are there any unforseen conditions? The exact constellation of equipment and data won’t exist anywhere else. Some unexpected outputs are not out of the question.

      • jonno1

        Yes, ETCS Level 1. Not sure whether it’s working entirely as intended though. In-service operation of a complex system will always raise issues not found in testing. There will no doubt be other issues too, but they will be resolved.

  • Charles

    Incidentally,it’s a bit hard to buy the idea that the restrictions enhance safety. Here we have an operating protocol that increases crew workload both by forcing observance of a different speed limit and by causing emergency stops/resets all over the show. All this while learning the new trains which is itself a stressor. Stress level goes up, chance of a real error goes up too.

  • The EMU’s are not getting much above 75km/h as well, as the drivers are keeping below the 80km/h speed limit to avoid risking an emergency braking if they slightly exceed the authorised 80km/h. Same on curves, 50km/h curves are being taken at 45km/h, etc etc.

    The 10km/h at Britomart, Te Papapa and Onehunga is just bizzare, when all the diesel trains are allowed to do 25km/h.

    And the politicians and media keep harping on about 110km/h and 130km/h capability. They are not getting anywhere near the three digits!

  • Christopher Randal

    I take it that nobody here has ever been involved in a product implementation where there is such huge change?

  • MrV

    The problem here is clearly not with the trains but with good ‘ole NZ management style. Instead of getting in qualified help, the ‘she’ll be right’ attitude kicks in so the public must wait until they’ve figured out how to work them properly. Paying themselves 6 figures in the meantime though.

  • Ari

    I don’t see the problem. The blog complains about AT putting vehicle effeciency over cyclists safety, now you complain about AT putting safety before efficiency! How about some consistency and not changing your mind all the time about what you want?! (Yes I know, different posts by different people) You can’t have it both ways. Safety is more important than efficiency. Especially when introducing a new system. However, if they keep these restrictions on over several months, then it is retarded.

    • Safety needs to be ensured but the question is why this checking want done as part of the testing that’s been going on for the previous 8 months

    • Slowing the EMU’s to 10km/h through Te Papapa is hardly about safety by any reasonable definition of the word. Where else in the world do trains slow to 10km/h on a mainline that has nothing wrong with it, and in fact is all new infrastructure?

      I would challenge anyone to explain how such a very low speed can be justified, especially when the authorised track speed there is greater than that.

    • If this is a safety issue, why are we not sacking or immediately retraining the train drivers for running the existing trains at unsafe speeds?

  • Alphatron

    Mike Lee is grandstanding as usual, but would be the first to put the boot in if there was a safety issue. The reality is that this is the first time that an Automatic Train Protection system that monitors speed as well provides overrun protection has been used in NZ and all the parties involved (KiwiRail, Transdev and AT) are all going up a fairly steep learning curve, so it’s unsurprising that conservative positions are being taken initially. The issues being experienced here have been fairly common teething troubles when such systems have been introduced elsewhere.

    My take on this is that the line speed limits for curves set by KiwiRail are in many cases very conservative and in practice have probably not been closely observed by train drivers on the DMUs and loco hauled trains, but now the ETCS ATP system is forcing these limits to be complied with. However having an ATP system that prevents overspeeds should enable KiwiRail ‘s track engineers to be comfortable with authorising Curve speeds for EMUs that have a reduced buffer between normal operating speed and the speed that a train could derail at.

    • Yes but surely this could have been addressed as part of testing?

      If they knew they still need to be cautious then why didn’t they tell the public this earlier.

      • Patrick R

        Yes at the very very least this is a comms fail. Although more than that it speaks of a hierarchy where customer relations is not taken seriously.

        If technicians make every decision we will end up with a technically perfect but probably functionally useless service.

    • A conservative implementation would set the speed limits higher than target. That way you don’t risk it kicking in when you don’t want it. A higher limit is closer to no limit. So you are closer to the current system, so you are implementing less change in one go.

      Once your knowledge on the tolerances involved grows, you can set the limits closer to the desired top speeds.

      You are still safer than without the system, and as experience is gained you become even more safer.

      I have never heard these being an issue on new trains in Europe. leaves on the track yes, automatic train braking no.

      • Mike

        It’s not about the new trains, it’s about the new signalling system. Other systems have had problems, eg the less sophisticated TPWS in Britain:

        “One area where TPWS has turned out to be more trouble than it prevents is at terminal platforms. A too restrictive 10 mph speed limit on the approach to the buffers in a terminal platform has meant an increase in the time for a train to clear the routes into the terminus. At many termini in the UK, this has seriously affected capacity at peak times and has the effect of reducing the number of trains arriving and departing.” – from http://www.railway-technical.com/sigtxt7.shtml

    • Waspman

      This doesn’t explain electric trains limping into some platforms (and leaving) at what could only be described as a brisk walking pace. I mean its safer to not get out of bed in the morning if this is the attitude.

  • obi

    “We have got to go as fast as we can – every second counts if we want to win the competition with cars.”

    I don’t think rail safety measures put in place by rail managers should be critiqued by politicians. If a politician advocated ” “We have got to go as fast as we can – every second counts” as a road safety policy and pressured NZTA managers to raise road speed limits above what they considered safe, then everyone would conclude they were irresponsibly unsafe. The politician would also own every crash and death from vehicles traveling faster than the limits that experts considered safe, but weren’t as fast as the politician wanted.

    “The train drivers’ union shares the view and will meet Transdev to discuss the issue this week.”

    Seriously? This is like the truck driver’s union meeting NZTA to tell them they should be able to drive their trucks faster.

    • Not really, most truck drivers are owner operators, for them speed is profit. Train drivers get paid the same whether their driving at 20kmh or 130.

    • Greg N

      And in fact the Truck Drivers *are* and have been meeting with NZTA to lobby for exactly that, and in lieu of getting that, they are successfully demanding that larger loads be permitted so the same truck can carry more per trip (HPMVs) and the “new improved” “50Max” HPMV 9 Axle trucks. (http://www.nzta.govt.nz/vehicle/your/50max/docs/50max-questions-and-answers.pdf )

      In effect getting the same outcome (more $ per trip).

      And isn’t that same argument used as a rationale why more RONS are needed – to save a few minutes per trip?

    • “If a politician advocated ” “We have got to go as fast as we can – every second counts” as a road safety policy and pressured NZTA managers to raise road speed limits above what they considered safe, then everyone would conclude they were irresponsibly unsafe” – If politicians really cared about safety then legislation would be passed like in Europe to make the default speed limit 30km/h. Right now it is 50km/h and it is very difficult to get it lowered.

      Or even better, they would adopt the Swedish aim of Vision Zero (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vision_Zero), no traffic deaths at all. Of course, this would involve lowering speed limits and making short journeys slower by car and faster by bicycle or public transport. That is something no Labour or National politician is brave enough to say – so people keep dying, especially children.

  • Jon Reeves

    Slow again today. Caught the 12:10 at Greenlane ( arrived at Greenlane 12:16) then arrived 7 minutes late into Britomart. If AT cannot get off peak services right then what chance do they have with peak time services?

    I believe 2 weeks is enough to sort out their act. So AT, after all your testing you publicly told us about, sort it out by this Monday. Passengers are all noticing the delays, cancellations and it a very poor look.

  • mfwic

    Does anyone have inside knowledege on this? Is it the calibration of the safety management system or are the trains not as fast as expected with a full load? If it is truly that they dont want to rear end a DMU well surely they would match speed with DMU’s not go slower.

    • Trains can easily do over the maximum in service speed of 110. I got a ride on one during testing with a full load of sand bags and the thing got up to 110 without issue. The problem seems to be the conservative settings in the signalling system.

  • Paul in Sydney

    This is just the next stage in bedding in the new EMU’s, forcing them to run at slower speeds is not ideal, but all part of the process. Onehunga is just one big testing site, probably another reason why they didn’t increase the frequency. Baby steps, all in good time – its still coming – patience even

    • Patrick R

      Yes this is probably the case. I guess I for one am guilty of being a tad impatient to see the new trains whizzing around as it does feel like I’ve been waiting, well, all my life, for Auckland to catch up with other cities in this area… Here’s to a speedy (ha!) resolution of this issue and a much smoother roll out on the other lines.

      • Rob Mayo

        Country lines in Japan that have been converted from DMU to EMU services, in the 2-3 months prior to new service launch, on Sundays, the new trains are slotted into the scheduled timetable and are loaded with rail staff and their families with those services run free of charge for them plus any member of the public using those particular scheduled services on the day….so that come the launch day, the new service is well bedded in.

        • jonno1

          A good approach Rob, but it wasn’t practicable in this instance as the final section of line was permanently livened only two days before service. Prior to that it was live only at night. Things will improve with the rollout as experience is gained. As Paul said above, the Onehunga service is still a test site in reality.

          • Christopher Randal

            The original KR electrification schedule had the job completed before the arrival of the trains. That would then allow the testing to have been done across the whole network and may have caught this problem rather than just have a short distance on which to test.

            I do know that an SA set was used to test ETCS overrun protection but the loco hauled and DMUs were not fitted with the target speed bit.

          • Why was the launch not delayed when the electrification project was delayed? If this electrification delay is really the reason, then AT would have known long ago that there was not enough time for testing, yet they decided to launch anyway and test on the unsuspecting public.

          • Mind you we would have been bitching if the launch was delayed too….!

  • Waspman

    Unless these very capable trains have the trainer wheels removed qick smart, (set up by the kind of people who put a high viz vest on to go to the letter box) they will be nice, shiny, new and very slow expensive machines. Onehunga is a baby version of the western line and we may as well have a leisurely hour and a half one way out there if things don’t change. And I reckon we will lament the passing of the diesels too if things remain the way they are!.

    • Hidden.

      So what exactly WAS done in the testing phase considering this is an important component? Also what’s with the very slow door release times at the platforms? Wasn’t this tested too?
      Who do we have to blame for this? AT or Transdev?

      • The slow speeds are not about the EMU’s as such, but rather the safety system installed in them. Had they installed the system in the DMU’s and SA’s (as was considered), the same issue would exist with them as well.

        Apparently there are parts of the Western Line slated to have the same very slow 10km/h station approaches for when the EMU’s get out that way too.

        One thing is for certain – if they don’t increase these safety limits significantly, there will be no faster timetables for the EMU’s. On the contrary, they may need to add time to the current timetables.

        • Errol Cavit

          So what makes it safe for current trains to enter stations at 25km/h, but new units must be controlled at 10km/h? If it is temporary, when is it going to be reviewed? Does the temporary phase apply to newly served stations, or will things be ok everywhere after bedding in at Onehunga?

          Why does AT think people will put up with vague responses rather than real explanations?

  • Richard Horner

    Perhaps somebody needs to read the instructions if all else has failed?

  • Imagine if all cars had a system that automatically hit the brakes a 48km/h on local roads, 98km/h on the motorway, and 30km/h going round corners!

  • Craig

    Some of the comments here are a tad hyperbolic. It was certainly disappointing that the train ran quite slow on the first day and the schedule was a bit off the first week or so. It seems to be getting back now to the half decent levels that the system was running at prior to the changeover.
    As a daily commuter from Onehunga I’d say that running on time is more important than however many seconds might be saved running faster on the Onehunga branch, or accelerating faster between Greenlane & Ellerslie, for example. Not that I don’t hope they’ll hit the gas in the future but it’s not a big issue at the moment.

    My own personal whine is the changes they’ve made to the announcement system. They seem to have had a bit of staff turnover and the new staff are a bit more antsy (though they are starting to settle). And they’ve got rid of the excellent old announcements and replaced it with another more irritating voice that keeps reminding you to press the green button. I’m hoping they’ll roll back to the old recordings eventually. As for the incessant reminders to get your HOP card ready…

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