Auckland Transport’s decision to not build Newton Station as part of the CRL project, instead upgrading Mt Eden, potentially has some impacts on future train operating patterns that are worth analysing and discussing further. Our preference for operating patterns, prior to the change, is shown in the Congestion Free Network map for 2020 – the immediate post-CRL period:
There are numerous small variations you could make to which lines link with other lines – should the western join with the southern instead of the eastern? Should the Onehunga Line go via Parnell instead of Grafton? Should Mt Roskill to Panmure be the “short runner”?
However, there are some pretty basic concepts here – most importantly that this is a Metro style operating pattern with our assumption being all trains stop at all stations and that we’ve tried to keep the patterns as simple as possible. For example, all trains on the inner part of the western line go straight into the CRL tunnel with journeys to Newmarket either being provided for by staying on the red line right around the city centre, or transferring services at Newton.
After seeing the response to the CRL changes on Friday we gave AT a bit of a push to publish just what their thinking was around how they would run trains after the CRL was built. To their credit they published it that afternoon.
At first glance the plan looks fairly simply however as I’ve looked at it more it’s raised a number of questions for me. These include
- Do we really need a west-south service?
- Can the Onehunga line cope with that number of trains?
- Do we really need so much service between Newmarket and Penrose?
- Can Newmarket cope with that number of trains?
- How confusing will it be with the Red line doubling back on itself?
- Does Manukau have enough service?
- Does the Western Line past Henderson have enough service?
- Does the Eastern Line have enough service?
Do we really need a west-south service?
So of course, not having Newton any longer – and having Mt Eden station removed from the “Grafton to K Road” direct rail connection, means that west to Newmarket trips which AT say currently make up about one third of western line trips would need to be provided for in one of four ways.
- Staying on the train right through the CRL and Parnell to Newmarket
- Changing trains at Karangahape Road from an inbound western line train to an outbound train travelling from the city to Grafton and Newmarket
- Providing a direct rail service from the west to Newmarket
- Running a shuttle between Mt Eden and Newmarket
Auckland Transport has seemingly chosen option 3 of the above, with their preferred train operating pattern showing a direct service between the west and Newmarket – then onto Otahuhu. This is the purple line on the map. At first glance the purple service seems potentially quite useful – providing that one seat ride from the west to Grafton and Newmarket, as well as recognising “not everyone wants to go to the city centre”. The question is though, “will the level of demand for the purple line be high enough to justify reasonable frequencies?”. And if not, for example if it is only run at three trains per hour, then it’s not good enough to expect people to just turn up and go and therefore won’t it be faster to just transfer at K Road?
It’s also worth remembering that just because 1/3rd of trips on the line are currently to Grafton/Newmarket, it’s not a massive number overall and won’t grow as much as trips to the city centre. I’d also point out that it doesn’t serve all West-Newmarket trips, my wife for example is now travelling to Grafton but as we catch the train from Sturges Rd it would still mean a transfer for her.
Other considerations include:
- How many additional trains are necessary to operate the purple line and is there value for money from purchasing those trains solely for this line?
- Are additional turnaround facilities required at Henderson and Otahuhu for these services, and how much will they cost?
- How much will it actually cost to operate the purple line and how might that compare to say changing the New North Road buses so they directly serve Newmarket?
I don’t know the answer to these questions but they are ones that AT really need to answer.
I think my preference is to serve the west to Newmarket trips through a combination of transfers at K Road (which isn’t that much further out of the way than Newton would have been) and perhaps a Mt Eden to Newmarket shuttle. It still means a transfer but without the time penalty of going all the way to K Rd first.
The next three questions are all interconnected.
Can the Onehunga line cope with that number of trains?
Do we really need so much service between Newmarket and Penrose?
Can Newmarket cope with that number of trains?
It’s not clear from the announcement whether the Onehunga line is being duplicated. Based on discussions I’ve had I’m going to assume that because it’s not core to the CRL so it probably isn’t being done. We currently only run two trains per hour on the line however I understand that with a little work it’s likely we could run three trains per hour on it. Unless AT are planning worse frequencies than now it would mean some of the blue western line trains would have to terminate somewhere and the most likely place for that is at Newmarket. With both the red and purple lines travelling through the station would there really be enough capacity for that to happen. This is exasperated by the fact that a terminating train would have a period of layover longer than what Western Line trains currently do for the driver end change. It seems that if you do terminate trains at Newmarket you get capacity problems at the station but if you send them on down the line to terminate elsewhere the line south of Newmarket may have their own capacity constraints and you end up with the situation of it seeming like stations between Penrose and Newmarket would be serviced by many more trains than the stations on the CRL. With the exception of Ellerslie most of those stations don’t do that well for patronage despite the level of service they have.
How confusing will it be with the Red line doubling back on itself?
I realise we already kind of have this issue so perhaps it’s nothing to worry about but it just seems to me that having a line double back on it’s like this one does risks creating confusion, especially for those trying the system for the first time. Going by the current way we label services – which lists the final destination – it means a person at a station between Westfield and Puhinui wanting to go to the city would actually have to catch a train destined for Manukau or Papakura which seems a bit counter-intuitive.
On a slightly related note AT talking of closing Westfield and Te Mahia. I assume they’re on the map because the final decision hasn’t been made rather than because they’re necessarily staying.
Again another similar set of questions.
Does Manukau have enough service?
Does the Western Line past Henderson have enough service?
Does the Eastern Line have enough service?
While some lines have double ups that significantly boost capacity it seems that Manukau, the Eastern Line and the Outer Western Line miss out. Does this plan deliver enough capacity for those stations? Because we are now sticking with the same number of trains we will have by the end of next year/early 2016 that suggests they might not get more than the six trains per hour they will have post electrification. Bringing it back to the west-south service what if we provided those trips by one of the other methods suggested. Could we use them to boost frequencies on the lines mentioned that at this stage don’t seem to get any frequency benefit from the CRL. This situation would change when we order an additional batch of new trains – now scheduled for around 2025.
All up the plan does answer a number of questions but also creates a lot of questions.