It seems like only yesterday and at the same time forever ago that Auckland finally rolled out electric trains across the region (except for Pukekohe). Yesterday marked one full year since electric trains rolled out to all lines. Electrification was the result of a strategy a decade in the making but the originated in dreams and discussion going back to at least the 1920’s.
Since going all electric the results have been fantastic and the constant increases in train use have been both impressive and staggering. In the last year alone patronage has gone up by 2.9 million trips and AT say that over the last 12 months just under 17 million trips have been made, an increase of over 20%. The sparks effect in action. The growth has been so strong that we’ve surpassed usage predictions originally set a decade earlier despite implementation occurring two years after initially planned. Those predictions expected us to hit about 15.7 million by the end of the June 2016 (rounded up to 16m). Instead we surpassed that mark in April and as of 30 June hit 16.8 million trips in one year.
Shortly after all services went electric, the final of the 57 trains we ordered arrived in the country but it definitely won’t be the last. With growth exceeding expectations and a lot more expected, even before the CRL is complete, we’ll soon need some more.
AT are also keen to having electric trains run all the way to Pukekohe but doing isn’t cheap and estimated at over $100 million just for the infrastructure. As such, AT have been working with supplier of the trains to investigate the option of battery powered versions. As I understand it they would be exactly the same trains as we have with about 10 fewer seats in the middle/trailer car which is where the four-tonne battery along with associated equipment would go. By being otherwise identical it means that in the future if we ever did install wires the batteries could be removed and the trains would be identical to what we already have. As the services would go all the way through to the city, buying a batch of them would then free up some of the current trains to add capacity to services. One of the biggest issues is that even if the government approved funding for the trains tomorrow they would take at least two years to get here.
Below are some figures from AT.
- Patronage has risen by 2.9 million trips
- Trains have travelled 3.8 million kilometres over the last year
- There are now 158,000 rail services operated a year
- The busiest time on the network is between 7.30 and 8 on weekday mornings
- Britomart is the busiest station and at peak in the morning there are 6,500 passengers using the station an hour
- Punctuality for services has improved from 82 to 96 percent – although some of that is due to lengthened timetables
- For the year to April (the last data available at the time of writing), farebox recovery has increased from 30.4% to 37.7%. The cost per passenger km travelled has decreased 27% from $0.469 to $0.343.
But while there has been some great news as a result of the move to electrification, we still haven’t yet seen much in the way of speed improvements and the train timetables are slower today than they were with diesel trains. This has been due to a combination of factors including dwell times, line speeds, signalling issues etc. Last year Auckland Transport started working on a big list of initiatives to improve the trains including making them faster and more reliable. Some of those tasks have been completed and are contributing to the improved performance figures but others, such as improving dwell times remain a distant dream.
I understand the next timetable change, which is likely to be in February, will finally incorporate the benefits from some of the initiatives into improving performance. Whether that will include any changes to dwell times remains to be seen.
Overall the improvements to rail services and the network have been considerable and very welcome. AT’s target for this year is for rail patronage to hit 19.5 million trips. With the growth we’re seeing and what can be expected in the next few years following integrated fares and the new network we should see that mark easily reached.