ATAP ASAPs – Third Main

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.

Third Main

Third Main

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:

  1. Is a freight curfew put into place effecting KiwiRail’s business & competitiveness?
  2. 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.

Third Main Slide

Third Main KiwiRail

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.

ATs rail assets and costs

Occasionally Auckland Transport will publish reports that originally went to their closed after they’re no longer deemed to be confidential. One of these released recently was a deep dive into ATs rail infrastructure and contained quite a bit of interesting but somewhat wonky information, particularly around rail related assets AT have.

With rail, Kiwirail own the tracks, signalling and overhead lines while AT own the trains, stations and other amenities associated with providing rail service.

The paper only looks at the AT aspects. In total, there are 57 electric trains, 10 diesel trains (for the Papakura to Pukekohe services), 40 stations across the network with 55 individual ticket gates across four of them and AT say there are 34 more on order. In total AT’s rail assets are valued at just under $1 billion and a breakdown of that is below.


In an age where multi-hundred dollar and even billion plus transport projects are now common, it seems almost quaint to remember that Britomart only cost a few hundred million to build. It would be interesting to see how the project would have stacked up under the current economic assessment criteria given what we know has happened since it was completed.

On the stations, they say as most are relatively new/recently upgraded as part of improvement works, they have a somewhat artificial “as new” state. Although interestingly they also say that while they’re functional, they “lack the amenity value expected of modern platforms. In particular, there is limited protection from the weather on or approaching most stations“. This is an issue I raised the other day. They also say

Renewals begin from 2021. Station cost for older stations is limited to cleaning and minor maintenance (approximately $150,000 pa) while platforms containing escalators / lifts, glass finishes and on-platform amenities (such as Panmure) rise to approximately $750,000 pa. Total station maintenance cost is approx. $3 million pa.

Below is their forecast for the condition of rail assets out to 2028.


For the trains, the purchase agreement will see the manufacturer CAF responsible for maintaining them based on a rate per train/ kilometre. AT say the cost for the EMUs last year was $12 million and is expected to be $13.5 million for the 2016/17 year due to the increase in services. The document also points out that the trains ran 3.8 million km last year.

On top of these maintenance costs, AT say the annual depreciation is $42.5 million

As mentioned earlier, Kiwirail are responsible for the tracks, signals and overhead lines. AT pay Kiwirail a track access fee to cover their portion of the costs of running the network. For the first time the details of how it is determined how much AT pay is available. This is shown below.

  • Track use split – based on kilometres per annum, changed to 89.5% AT / 10.5% KiwiRail (was previously 88% / 12%)
  • Track maintenance split – based on gross tonne kilometres per annum, changed to 66.3% AT / 33.7% KiwiRail (was previously 56% / 44%)
  • Overhead Lines Maintenance – 100% AT, KiwiRail do not operate electric locomotives in Auckland

While we don’t know the exact figures for these costs, the total amount AT have paid since 2013 along with the budget for the year to June are shown below.


Given the general state of the tracks, clearly a lot more investment is needed. It would be interesting to know how much more Kiwirail would need to spend to get the tracks up to a decent condition

Seemingly in addition to the tracks, the ongoing costs to support the ETCS (European Train Control System) are expected to be about $1 million per year.

AT don’t say how much it costs to run things like CCTV or the HOP infrastructure at stations but do say the OPEX of gating stations is about $500,000 per year primarily due to needing to man the gates.

Looking forward, the report notes that ATAP suggests up to $3 billion of investment will be needed over the next 30 years and includes up to 63 more trains, a second depot, level crossing removal and of course a third and even fourth main in the south. The ATAP table describing this is below.


The major issue though is that other than the CRL, currently only around $150 million has been budgeted in the Council’s Long Term Plan. This along with the investment since AT took over in 2010 is shown below. As you can see, AT spent $737 million from November 2010 to June 2016 but if you exclude the EMU related costs, it equates to $164 million.



All up an interesting paper, if you’re interested in some of the behind the scenes costs for rail in Auckland.

October 16 AT Board Meeting

Tomorrow the AT board meet for their penultimate meeting of the year and it looks like it will be a big one with a lot on the agenda of their closed session.

Closed Session

I’ve added my thoughts after many of the items.

Items for Approval/Decision

  • Panuku Framework Plans – I assume this relates to AT working with Panuku Development Auckland on plans for the areas they’re focusing on redeveloping.
  • Dominion Road Bus Lane Improvements – When AT announced they were looking seriously at light rail for Dominion Rd, the planned upgrade that was about to go ahead was put on hold but now that ATAP appears to have pushed LRT out, it’s important that AT make some improvements to the bus lanes now. Hopefully this means they’ll be extending the lanes, including through intersections rather than stopping short like now and extending the hours of operation.
  • Road Stopping
  • Clonbern Road Carpark – AT have indicated previously that there’s a redevelopment proposal for the carpark they own on Clonbern Rd, Remuera.
  • Execution of Deed by Directors – Lease of upper levels CPO – Presumably this is for after the CRL works have finished.
  • Execution of Heads of Terms – Lease of Land
  • 2017 Annual Fare Review – It will be interesting to see if AT propose any fare changes given they’ve just made some with the introduction of Simplified Fares. If they do make changes, past years indicate they would be implemented in January.
  • Rail Operator – In the main board report it is mentioned that AT are currently conducting a periodic efficiency audit as part of the rail passenger services contract terms of reference
  • SaFE

Items for Noting

  • CRL Procurement Update – I assume this item related to AT holding a day long industry briefing on the main works of the CRL later this month before tender documentation goes out next year.
  • MRT/LRT Update – One of the outcomes from ATAP was the use of the term Mass Transit instead of Light Rail for several projects. Essentially the NZTA are busily trying to show that a bus only solution to capacity problems can be found but my guess is they will do so by ignoring the capacity issues on city centre streets.
  • Parnell Station Update – It appears that Kiwirail have already started some works to move the old Newmarket Station building to the site, presumably this will update progress.
  • Procurement Update

Business Report

Moving on to the items that got my attention in the main business report, in the order appear in the report.

AT say the handheld devices used by ticket inspectors to check HOP cards are at the end of their life and they have a project underway to replace them.

The Mt Roskill Safe Routes is now complete and due to be officially opened on Wednesday while the first stage of the Glen Innes to Tamaki Dr path – from Merton Rd to St Johns Rd – will open on 16 December.

In a piece of great news, it appears AT have agreed to remove the left turn slip lanes from Nelson St onto Fanshawe St as part of the project to extend the Nelson St cycle lanes. Dealing with this intersection is what has delayed the project by so long as I understand some of the traffic engineers were more concerned about vehicle flow than the safety of people. Construction of this section is planned for March 2017


The Nelson St/Fanshawe St intersection

AT are hoping mediation will solve the appeal by Cowie St residents against the bridge that will replace the Sarawia St level crossing. If it doesn’t, the environment court appeal is set down for February.

The Half Moon Bay ferry terminal is progressing with the wharf works due for completion in January and the land side works in April.

As mentioned this morning, double deckers are due to be rolled out on Onewa Rd in February next year. AT say DD mitigation works also planned for Gt North Rd in Feb 2018 and Manukau Rd in June 2018.

AT say they’re on track to meet their target of rolling out 19km of bus lanes this financial year, despite them later in the report claiming to have a target to roll out 26km this year.


The roll-out of the new bus network in West Auckland is scheduled for 11 June 2017. AT are in the middle of assessing the bids for the Central and East networks and have now gone to tender for the North Shore services.

We’ve mentioned before that AT are finally looking at boosting capacity of services prior to the regular March Madness. There’s a little more detail about what this entails.

  • For the NEX they say approximately 25-35 extra peak trips will be added in January-February 2017 – but it doesn’t say what timeframe those extra trips are over i.e. per week/month.
  • They say Birkenhead Transport have the fastest growing bus patronage after the NEX and as well as double deckers being added in February, eight additional peak trips will be added to the timetable.
  • On rail they say “Further line speed, interlocking works and signalling works to improve journey times are being targeted for the March/April 2017 timetable recast.” – although this does also suggests the new rail timetable might be being pushed out a little.

On Friday 21 October, they say for the first time ever had 100% punctuality and reliability on trains.

I continue to hear more and more complaints about Skybus since they took over the commercially run airport service around a year ago. Being a fully commercial service they sit outside of AT’s control so it’s interesting to see that they continue to be the worst performing bus company in Auckland.


A trial a Park & Ride run by Wilsons Parking will take place on Esmonde Rd at the Harbourside Church. It will be interesting to see how popular this is, perhaps cars stuck as part of traffic on Esmonde Rd, and seeing buses wizz past in the bus lane might decide to pull off and park up.

A trial park and ride facility is being prepared for opening on 28th November at Esmonde Road, Takapuna. The facility is owned by the Harbourside Church and will be operated by Wilsons Parking Ltd. AT Metro are facilitating the additional bus stops, services, promotion and planning of this initiative and will be monitoring the uptake and impact of this site on traffic patterns in and around Takapuna. The initiative is also linked to parking consultation activities in Takapuna and offers alternative parking options for both inbound and outbound vehicles



Forward Programme

An indication as to some of the things going up to the board and board committees in the next month.

  • Electric Vehicles in transit lanes
  • Train Capacity
  • Mangere future streets
  • Strategic PT Network
  • 2016/17 Budget realignment
  • MRT/LRT Update

There’s certainly a lot going on.

October-2016 Patronage

Ridership figures for public transport in Auckland during October are now available and they continue to grow, driven almost exclusively by huge growth on the Rapid Transit Network (RTN) – the rail lines and the Northern Busway.

Compared to October-2015, total ridership this October increased by 2.7% with just under 7.3 million trips taken, but within that figure the use of the RTN has continued its double-digit growth and is up 16.3% (rail up 16.4% and busway up 16.2%). This kind of great growth is to be expected as it reflects the RTN continuing to establish itself as the core of the PT network. Now over 26% of all PT trips in the region happen on the RTN and the RTN will continue to grow in the future as it usage tends to follow a fairly simple and proven formula; high frequency services + high capacity vehicles + dedicated infrastructure = great PT use. The graph below shows the growth in the RTN and the overall PT growth over the last decade or so – at the start of the graph, the RTN accounts for just 10.5% of all trips vs 26.3% now.


But the RTN isn’t the only PT that’s been growing though, ferry use has continued some steady growth, inching ever closer to 6 million annual trips and a milestone that’s likely to be achieved any day now. AT also say the Mt Eden Rd and Onewa Rd bus services continue to see good growth which is positive. The former has seen the introduction of double deckers relieving some of the overcrowding issues that were seen earlier this year while the latter has also seen some improvement, Onewa Rd services are also due for more capacity early next year with AT saying double deckers are due to be introduced on some Birkenhead Bus services in February.

But the good news stories are partially balanced by other parts of the bus network which continue to see declining use. AT say the buses in the southern area continue to perform poorly and with bus services from the west which were heavily impacted about a year ago by the bus stop changes related to the City Rail Link works. It’s possible some of the changes from both the south and the west are a result of people migrating to the rail network.

For the south at least, it will be interesting to see how the numbers change over the coming months in response to the introduction of the new bus network that went live at the end of October. These kinds of changes can often take at least a few months to bed in before ultimately bearing fruit. Even if growth happened immediately we also may not see it unless AT split their patronage reporting out (which I hope they do).

Here is the detailed table they publish with the results.


It should be clear by now that growing the RTN is essential to the future growth of PT in Auckland. As such, AT really needs to put pressure on themselves to deliver on RTN expansion because at the moment it all seems to be moving at a glacial pace and the AMETI busway is a prime example of the heel dragging that has plagued the organisation. AT are only just now going for consent on the Panmure to Pakuranga section. The recent ATAP reports calls for that busway to be built as far as Botany within the next decade as well as the first parts of the North-western Busway, but both projects only seem to be in very early stages.

Here are a few other graphs from the stats report that we like to keep an eye on.

Farebox recovery has slipped again but is still well within the target range for the year and we expect to see some improvement from the implementation from the new network.


HOP use is down a little on recent months but it’s positive to see it’s use on buses continue to grow.



Parking occupancy continues to remain high. This is interesting because as you can see both on-street and off-street usage is near the top of their respective target ranges and so based on AT’s policy, suggests prices will need to go up in the future.


Where’s the Shelter

Yesterday my train to town had door problems at Avondale station, ultimately resulting in the service being cancelled and all passengers forced to disembark and wait for the next train. Along with all the other issues and frustration that usually go along with faults on the rail network, this episode had the added bonus of it pouring with rain as hundreds of people were kicked off. This once again highlights one of the big bugbears I have with our rail stations, an almost complete lack of shelter at most of them. This resulted in a sea of umbrellas as people tried to shield themselves from the elements.


Hopefully no-one lost an eye

Many stations only have 10-15m of shelter so improving on this would have several benefits, including:

  • It would improve customer satisfaction
  • When it rains, passengers tends to huddle together under the meagre canopy. Larger canopies would also help spread passengers out along the platform.

So what’s the story AT, will we ever get some decent shelter at stations?



Earthquake recovery

The impact of Sunday’s earthquake and its aftershocks have been astonishing to see, especially the damage caused by slips along State Highway 1 and the rail line around Kaikoura. They are numerous and many are absolutely massive. I suspect the impacts of this quake will be felt for some time, and not just to the areas physically impacted. Here are a few thoughts that have been rolling around in my head in response to the event.


There’s a road under there somewhere


Firstly, the size and scale of damage suggests it is going to take many months, maybe even more than a year, and likely hundreds of millions of dollars to repair. As a comparison, the huge Manawatu George slip in 2011 took 13 months and over $20 million to fix (yesterday Simon Bridges suggested it was actually around $35 million). Some of these slips look just as big, if not bigger and of course there are a lot of them. On top of that there are about seven of road and rail bridges that need repairing.

Transport Minister Simon Bridges has already said that both the road and rail lines will be repaired simultaneously which is a good sign. I had wondered if there was a real chance the government might have just cut that rail line but I guess given the rail line is right next to the road, they’ll be having to dig it out anyway. I do like the fact that the NZTA and Kiwirail will be working closer together and hope it’s something we see more of in the future. Below is a video of Bridges talking about the various issues yesterday.


One of the interesting comments he makes is that the agencies plan to not just put the road back as it was but where possible improve it too. I presume that could mean there’ll be some localised realignments but I also wonder if it means structures like rock slides – as seen in Arthurs Pass. It certainly doesn’t seem like a cheap option given how much might be needed.

Image by Greg Hewgill

The biggest barrier to substantial changes to the road is likely to be the sheer cost of it all. To put things in perspective, in the year to the end of June, the NZTA spent just $2.1 billion on new or improved state highways and on road maintenance ($1.67b on new & improved and $461m on maintenance). Assuming a similar level of spend this year, fixing this road is likely to take up a decent chunk of that spending and the big question is where that money comes from.

Bridges said that up to around $500 million might able to be found within existing budgets and a decent chunk of that comes from emergency works budgets. For example the National Land Transport Programme has a budget of $154 million over the 2015-2018 period for emergency works on State Highways. Unfortunately, the snapshot data is a bit old but indications are that a lot of that funding might still be untouched. There are also local road emergency works buckets too. But even combined these budget buckets don’t seem like they’ll be enough and so it appears inevitable that the improvement and maintenance buckets will need to be looked at too. This raises the obvious question of what projects get delayed as a result, although I can think of a few I’d like to see delayed *cough*East-West Link*cough*.

Former Auckland Mayor Len Brown has also said that he felt Christchurch earthquakes of 2010 and 2011 were a factor in government taking so long to support the City Rail Link, although there’s more to it than just that. While the scale of  the damage to infrastructure doesn’t seem as extreme as Christchurch following its large quakes, could dealing with this quake have flow on effects in getting the government to fund their share of ATAP. Similarly, what does it do to the chances of light rail down Dominion Rd moved up the priority order.

One thing we can be thankful for with these slips is that at least it appears no one has been caught in them. I guess that’s a function of it being at midnight and the fact the road only carries very low volumes of traffic with fewer than 3,000 vehicles per day traversing the road, of which about 20% of them being heavy vehicles.


The end of auto top-up blacklisting

Auckland Transport have finally fixed what was perhaps the biggest issue with HOP, the blacklisting of cards when an auto top-up fails. Below is the email they sent to users of auto top-up on Friday

Great News: We’ve made some changes to improve the Auto Top Up service.

You asked, we listened!

Following customer feedback about the Auto Top Up service, from today, 11 November 2016, the following changes are happening:

1. You’ll still be notified when your Auto Top Up triggers but you’ll also be notified if we’re unable to collect the payment.

2. We’ll try up to 3 times to collect the payment and keep you posted throughout.

3. If we’re unable to collect the payment, your Auto Top Up will be cancelled and the top-up amount (that hasn’t been paid for) will be removed from your AT HOP card, however we will no longer cancel your AT HOP card.

4. If the removal of the unsuccessful top-up amount puts your card into negative balance, the card will need to be topped up to a positive balance again before you can use it for travel. A negative balance can be cleared by topping up your card by $5 (minimum top up) or by the value of the negative balance, whichever is greater.

5. You then have the option to update your payment details and set up a new Auto Top Up.

We hope these changes will enhance your AT HOP experience.

Cancelling the cards of probably some of your most loyal customers, potentially leaving them stranded and forcing them to shell out $10 for a new one had to be one of the worst customer experiences an organisation could come up with. As such this is a huge improvement, it’s just a shame it’s taking this long.

Now let’s hope they can fix some the other user unfriendly features.

Photo of the Day: The Crystal Palace

Britomart extension taking shape

Britomart extension taking shape

Increasing capacity on our trains

Ridership on Auckland’s trains has experienced fantastic growth over the last few years, increasingly a staggering 70% in just three years to 17.3 million trips as of the end of September. The positive thing is that the growth remains strong at nearly 20% per annum. Growth has been so impressive that it is ahead of what was projected to occur with electrification, despite the electric trains not coming into service around two years later than expected in the business case.


The good news is the forecast for the future looks bright. The new bus network that’s just been rolled out in South Auckland and over the next 18 months will be rolled out to the rest of the urban area. That, combined with the recently implemented Simplified Fares will likely see a lot of people transferring to trains as part of their journey and should continue to help drive ridership over the next few years. No one knows just what the maximum capacity of the rail network will be prior to the City Rail Link but previous modelling has suggested somewhere in the 20-25 million range.

But there are definitely some clouds on the horizon in the form of capacity constraints. Already we get reports of services at, or close to capacity during peak times and as patronage rises that will only get worse.

Packed Train

How will trains cope with another 5 million+ trips a year on them?


Ultimately we need more trains, both to increase the length of our existing trains so more run as six-car sets and to run more services. But there are two main issues with this.

  • Even if Auckland Transport placed an order for more trains today, it will take at least two years before we see them on the tracks and carrying passengers. Based on current trends we don’t have that long.
  • To run additional services it requires the completion of the City Rail Link (and other associated infrastructure like signalling improvements). That isn’t expected to be finished until 2022/23 and until that happens, peak frequencies can’t change from what they are now. Note: Because the CRL makes services more efficient, AT have said in the past they think they have enough trains to run services once the CRL opens. They’re absolutely kidding themselves if they think that’s true.

So here are a couple of thoughts on what we can do to address this and ensure there is still enough capacity to enable ridership to grow.

Speed up the trains we have

Our trains are so stupidly slow it feels George R.R. Martin writes books faster. The sad fact is that right now, the timetable with brand new electric trains is slower than it was with the clunky old diesels. Through a combination of archaic operating process and poor technology they are often both slow between stops, especially approaching stations, and have incredibly long dwell times at stations. My perception on some of this may be clouded by being on the Western Line which often has a level crossing right next to the station.

We know that over the last year or two, numerous signalling, track and train improvements have been made to enable faster, more reliable services but so far those improvements haven’t been reflected in the timetable and sometimes feels like services are being kept slow just to avoid getting ahead of schedule.

The good news is that some improvements are coming. AT say a new timetable is due in March which should finally capitalise on the improvements mentioned above. The benefit of that is it will free up a few more three-car trains to allow more to run as six-car ones. Here’s what AT say about journey times with the new timetables:

Run times on the Southern and Eastern Lines with electric trains will be shorter than previous pre-electronic train control system (ETCS) signalling with diesel trains, with equivalent times on the Western Line due to large number of rail level and pedestrian crossings and speed limits at these crossings.

But nothing appears to be being done about the dwell times which can often exceeding 50 seconds even for minor stops. This was a video I shot while in Tokyo of one of the metro lines showing a dwell time of just 20 seconds from the time we stopped till we were underway again. Admittedly not all trains were this fast but this is what AT should be aiming for.

One process used in Japan that we could fairly easily adopt is to have the train manager in the rear driving cab of train checking the doors/platform are clear rather than the process we have of the TM closing all but one door, checking they’re closed then closing his door before the train can leave. At stations on curves giving poor visibility, screens linked to CCTV cameras can assist TM and we already have this at a couple of stations, such as Fruitvale Rd station. Even a few seconds saved at each station can add up significantly.

Saving time not only frees up more trains to boost capacity but also helps make trains more attractive in general.

Order more trains now

This one seems kind of obvious but given the two-year lead time for trains, it’s essential we order more as soon as possible. We know there’s already been talk within AT about the need for this and it also appears they’re also looking at tying it in with decisions around how to deal with Pukekohe. One solution talked about is buying up to about 10 battery powered trains to enable electric services to be extended without the high cost of extending the wires. That in turn would free up some units to allow more services to run as six-car trains. The key issue though is funding and who pays for it as these trains don’t come cheap. Each train costs something like $10 million to build so we’d probably need at least $100 million now and more after the CRL.

Spread the peak

Currently AT consider the peak to be 7am-9am and 4pm-6pm but even within those times there is a ‘peak of the peak’ and it is at those times where capacity is most constrained. AT should be looking at how they can encourage more people to travel at different times, both for addressing capacity constraints but also for attracting more people to use services. The first step will be to improve off peak services so they run at a minimum of every 15 minutes all day but AT’s own statutorily required Regional Public Transport Plan calls for even better with services at a minimum of every 10 minutes on the three major lines.

RPTP rail frequencies

We’re hoping the previously mentioned March timetable change will see improvement on this matter.

Another important thing they could do to encourage off peak travel would be to implement off peak fares, offering a discount for travelling at times when the network isn’t as busy. Of course, not everyone can shift when travel but some can and the added benefit of this is it could attract more people to use PT.

Reconfigure the trains we have

Of all the options at AT’s disposal, perhaps the fastest, cheapest and easiest might be to reconfigure the trains. Our trains are currently configured to focus on longer distance trips by squeezing as many seats in them as possible. Each three-car train has around 230 seats and of which just over 2/3rds are set to face forwards of backwards with the remaining, including the low floor section of the middle car, set up as metro style sideways seating. The trains are also said to carry 143 people standing although at a squeeze I’m sure they’ve carried more.

There’s a good reason so many PT systems use sideways seating and that’s because it enables a lot more people to fit in each vehicle and while I was in Japan I noticed even most medium distance trains travelling further than Pukekohe were configured exclusively this way. It also doesn’t lose all that many seats because sideways seating takes up some of the space otherwise needed for leg room. As a comparison, the low floor section of the middle car has 16 seats on each side, although half of them can fold up to enable bikes, prams or wheelchairs to more easily fit in, while the centre section of the two end cars has 20 seats per side.

Initially converting just the centre sections of two end cars in each train would lose just 16 seats from a train but gain a huge amount of additional space for people to stand. I also understand the seats are designed to be easily changed. If you catch a train you may notice the current directional seating is cantilevered off the walls. This means there’s are no poles to move or marks to be left on the floor and changing the seats is simply a case of changing a bracket to turn the seats around. It would probably also have the added advantage of stopping vandals from scratching the backs of seats. If needed, we could do the same with the rest of the seats on the trains.

EMU Interior June 2

This is an old image, the trains have vertical poles between each pair of seats for those standing to hold

I realise not everyone likes the sideways seats but I’m sure most would rather be able to get on a train them be so busy they’re forced to wait for the next one. We should probably consider doing this on some buses too, the red Citylink would be a prime candidate.


SMART Alignments Observations

I recently read through the Jacobs prepared alignments for AT for the SMART (South-western Multi-modal Airport Rapid Transit) project. In it contains the proposed alignments for HR (Heavy Rail), BRT (Bus Rapid Transit), LRT (Light Rail Transit), as well as a Hybrid option. I would recommend giving them a look but they’re big files so perhaps not on your phone.

HR alignment

The first thing I noticed was for some reason the line names are wrong, I assume this was a mistake. The other and far more serious observation is the lack of a flying junction at Penrose, anybody who passed through here knows that trains can sometimes be sitting for minutes waiting for a free path. And this is with just 8 trains per hour (TPH) each way. I wouldn’t want to imagine the issues at the Penrose junction if trains are running 12-18tph each way. I assume a flying junction would theoretically be possible, though the Great South Road flyover would mean some serious thought would have to go into it, as well as money.


SMART HR Penrose

The route from there is basically what you expect, some level crossings are trenched, while others just closed. In a separate, low cost option some level crossings are simply upgraded to be safer rather than removed.


SMART HR Te Papapa

One important change is the Onehunga Station would be moved between Galway St and Victoria St. After passing through the current station site, the line continues over the overbridge currently being removed, and then under the SH20 Bridge to the western side of SH20.


As we’ve discussed in other posts, the trench at Kirkbride is not designed to allow HR at road level due to the grades involved, therefore it must go over the top.


Kirkbride Grade


Kirkbride Trench

Towards the end is where the real issue arises however, it requires a long tunnel, under the new proposed runway all the way to an underground station by the terminal. The Airport want to lock their plans in now and would be unlikely to allow the line’s construction after the new runway is built. As such this section would likely need to be built before the actual line was funded, this would create a need to accelerate funding either in part or full, not that building it sooner would be a bad thing.


SMART HR Tunnel Part 1


SMART HR Tunnel Part 2 (Potential Business Area Station)


SMART HR Tunnel Part 3


SMART HR Airport Station

Compare this to the length of Light Rail tunnel needed


SMART LRT Tunnel Part 1


SMART LRT Tunnel Part 2

LRT Route Alignment

Light Rail (LRT) is now AT’s preferred mode, so what does the alignment look like. The first worrying thing about the route is the large park & rides, right next to a rapid transit route on land that could easily handle transit orientated development. The very concerning part is at Denbigh where houses would need to be demolished to build the Park & Ride. Surely stations in areas such as this should be more focused on bus feeder services & active mode improvements to improve catchment rather than Park & Rides. At Mangere surely a more mixed use development could occur by the station.


Denbigh PnR


Three Kings PnR


Mangere PnR

The second worrying part is getting onto SH20, where additional homes would need to be purchased & demolished. There are surely many other ways that we could achieve access to SH20 without requiring the demolishing homes, I am sure a transit engineer among us would be able to draw them.


SMART LRT Access to SH20

Looking at the alignment down SH20, it looks unlikely that both LRT and the proposed Avondale-Southdown line – which the designation is for – could both fit in. Kiwirail allowing AT to use the designation could be a big sticking point for LRT line. However, this route would not preclude an Mt Roskill spur from being built as LRT is only east of the Dominion Rd flyover.




Mt Roskill Spur

The LRT route continues down SH20 onto Princes Street with two potential alignments around the Lagoon.


From there it elevates over the top of the existing station at Onehunga, possibly joining with a future line from Manukau Rd.


The LRT route then travels down the old rail corridor towards the port and above the NZTA’s planned roadsfest. Like at Onehunga Lagoon there are two options, one is next to the motorway bridge and it crosses onto the western Side of the Motorway south of the harbour. The second option swoops under the bridge like the Heavy Rail option.


Apart from that the route is similar to the video posted by Auckland Transport recently on LRT for SMART.

BRT route alignment

Now I give fair warning, the following images may cause distress, face palming & nightmares. The route starts with an underground bus station at Wellesley Street, it then continues to an at grade Symonds Street station. It’s not clear where the portal is but it’s unlikely to be pretty.


SMART BRT Wellesley Street Station


SMART BRT Symonds Street Station

From Symonds Street it continues to an at grade Khyber Pass station before an underground bus station on Broadway. Not sure how I feel about an underground bus station at Wellesley & Newmarket to be honest :/ maybe we can rename it from Broadway to Busway 😀


Next down Manukau Rd, Pah Rd, and Queenstown Rd with well-spaced stations at Clovernook, Bracken Rd, Inverary Ave, Greenlane West, Pah Rd & Mt A Rd where it joins parallel SH20 Southbound in a new Busway where in parts it becomes a literal Sky Bus.


SMART BRT Connection to SH20



Similar to the LRT route, it continues down Princes Street into an Elevated Bus Station above Onehunga Station. Then onto SH20 where it has shoulder bus lanes over the bridge and connects to an elevated Mangere Bridge Bus Station, which if you can look closely doesn’t have any Park & Rides which the LRT had?


SMART BRT Onehunga

Lastly it follows the LRT route until Kirkbride where it transitions a BRT median down SH20A, which is rerouted around the end of the runway, until it gets to Tom Pearce Drive


SMART BRT Airport Station

Hybrid Option

The last option which is the Hybrid option, it simply combines the BRT from Onehunga, to an upgraded Onehunga Line, this would thus require transferring to/from HR.


And finally, here are finally “controversial” benefit cost ratio tables from the report, first the main one with Costs & Benefits assuming a 6% discount rate, and the second testing against 4% & 8%




SMART BCR’S with Discounts