In September the final report of the Auckland Transport Alignment Project (ATAP) was released, many of you may have read about it, or most likely have heard about it. The Indicative Package was the below projects + 3 separate tranches of 21 Trains which were separated into three decades. First Decade – 2018-2028, Second Decade 2028-2038, & Third Decade 2038-2048. Please note that the package is indicative & some projects will likely move around subject to funding, changes in circumstances & individual business cases.
While we’ve talked about ATAP a lot in recent months, this series is concentrated on what I like to call the ATAP ASAP’s, decade 1 projects which really need funding As Soon As Possible. The first ATAP ASAP I am going to write about is the third main between Westfield & Wiri.
What is the third main
The third main is a proposed & semi built third track south of Otahuhu. Initially this would be to the Wiri Junction (where the branch line to Manukau starts) but eventually to Papakura & potentially onto Pukekohe. ATAP suggests a fourth main will eventually be needed too. The need for a third main is due to this area being of prime importance to both freight & passenger rail and is one of the busiest sections of rail in the country. The third main would give extra capacity by allowing freight trains to run separately of the passenger network allowing both freight & high passenger train frequencies to run.
So why is the third main between Westfield & Wiri an ATAP ASAP
It is because at this point freight and passenger services on the Eastern & Southern Lines share the current two tracks. In the past this hasn’t been as much of an issue as frequencies of both freight and passenger services were lower but both have increased in recent years and will continue to do so in the future. For example as part of the New Network, Auckland Transport need to run trains on the three main lines at a minimum of every 15 minutes Monday to Sunday 7am-7pm – but more so during the week – as shown in their Regional Public Transport Plan.
This is needed, the New Network focuses running bus services more frequently by using transfers to expand coverage. Many public transport trips may now require a transfer to a train so only having a train only every 20 or even 30 minutes would be frustrating to the people who need to transfer.
For most of the network sharing tracks is fine, either freight does not use the tracks heavily during the day or space still exists to fit in freight services however this is not the case south of Otahuhu. If properly implemented, the new network would see 12 passenger trains per hour running in each direction on weekdays, one every five minutes. Even on weekends there would be at least 8 services in each direction per hour. The question is, how feasible it is for KiwiRail to fit increasing freight services on the existing tracks. If they can, great, though given how the project has been described in the past, I am not optimistic they can. So a choice needs to be made:
- Is a freight curfew put into place effecting KiwiRail’s business & competitiveness?
- Are New Network Train Frequencies able to be put into place, or will they have to be reduced at certain times?
If the latter, I hope AT still increase the frequency of the Western Line trains, there is no reason they can’t be increased & just because we cannot increase in some areas doesn’t mean which shouldn’t increase the frequency in any area. Also frequencies wherever possible on the Southern & Eastern should be implemented wherever conflict would not seriously arise such as on the weekends.
So what would it take to complete the Third Main
Not much as I wrote before, it is already semi built from Otahuhu to Middlemore and from Puhinui to Wiri. KiwiRail in a presentation in 2015 said it would cost $50m to complete, with an additional $3m required to add traction (electrification so electric trains could use it too). I imagine a big chunk of the $50 million would be the upgrading of Middlemore Station realigning the platforms to accommodate the third main. The cost was revised to $55-$65 million recently, as mentioned in this article. It would also allow KiwiRail to not just continue services but to add another 6 peak freight services.
Spending $55-65 million to dramatically increase the capacity and resilience of one of the most strategic transport corridors in the country is an outrageously cheap sum. We need to get on with the project ASAP.