Back in January I made a request to Auckland Transport asking what had been done/planned to improve travel times on the rail network, the response I received was very positive and if able to be implemented fantastic for rail users. You can view the entire response here.
The highlight is the section on dwell times, which remarked that CAF have been hard at work testing different options to reduce the dwell times with one option possibly allowing 20 second dwells. Whether this option is feasible outside the depot however is to be seen.
CAF have recently undertaken timed tests in the depot for different opening and closing options – for the time from wheel stop till power is back onto the traction motors. It can be achieved in 20 seconds, plus the actual door open time depending on the open and close method. A modification has been implemented that has further reduced the time required to make the traction loop by 2 seconds – which is a good improvement to bank.
AT also asked KiwiRail and Siemens (signalling company) to look at improving network travel times by optimising the ETCS (European Train Control System) signalling to allow increased line speed. The sections reviewed looked to be centred around the Westfield – Newmarket – Britomart section of network. As someone who uses the Southern Line I can understand this with line speeds feeling very slow considering the track alignment, zero level crossings & geometry. In a section where next the southern motorway you feel you should be putting the pedal down leaving traffic in the dust, instead you find yourself limping along.
Full Speed Ahead
The areas AT believe line speed can be increased are (up – towards north, down – towards south)
- #3a: Line Speed Increase NAL South (Westfield Junction to Newmarket) – (saves 10 sec Up, 15sec Down)
- #3b: Line Speed Increase OBL South (Westfield Junction to Newmarket) – (saves 15 sec Both)
- #3c: Line Speed Increase NBL (Newmarket to Britomart) – (saves 20sec Both. But addition of Parnell station will negate.)
- #8: Sarawia St in-fill balise (Reduction in delays approaching 203 signal) – (saves 10 sec per train crossing to Platform 1)
- #9a: 304 Signal approach clearing removal (eliminates risk of Up EMUs stalling at Neutral section).
- #9b: 204 Signal approach clearing removal (eliminate the need for trains to slow to 20/km).
Overall the time savings of this could result in travel time savings for
Southern Line – Up Main Services of 70sec & Down Main Services of 35sec
Onehunga Line – Up Main Services of 65sec & Onehunga Down Main Services of 35sec
Western Line – Up Main Services of 30sec & Western Down Main Services of 20sec
However some of travel times may be negated by the opening of Parnell station, however Southern Services will of course have that offset by the closing of Westfield.
They are also looking at adjusting the level crossings to allow higher line speeds, this will be very useful if implemented for Western Line users.
Modifying the level crossings to support higher speed operation will result in the level crossing alarms operating for longer until the trains start running at the higher speed.
It mentions the potential reports to be done in the future for other sections of the rail network, hopefully we will see further optimisation in the future.
Tomorrow is the first Auckland Transport board meeting of 2017 and so as usual, I’ve scoured the board reports for any interesting information. The very first thing I noticed wasn’t even in a report but was the meeting timetable for the year. In past years there has always been a monthly meeting (except for January) but not it seems they’re moving to having a meeting every 6 weeks. I’m not sure of the reason for the change and one thing it could do is also mean we don’t get information like ridership data as regularly which would be a shame.
Closed Session agenda
The closed session is of course where all of the interesting discussions take place and despite being two months since the last meeting, there’s surprisingly not that much interesting on the agenda.
Items for Approval/Decision
- Draft Statement of Intent 2017/18 – 2019/20
- Advanced Bus Solution next steps
- Delivery of Transport Networks for Growth
- Quarterly report to AC
Items for Noting
- AT Rollover Designations
- CRL Update
- Speed Management Update
- AT Deliverables:
- Results for Projects completed to 31 December 2016
- Tasks for completion by 31 March 2017
The most interesting of those is the Advanced Bus Solution item. This relates to the NZTAs investigation into a bus alternative to AT’s proposal for light rail on Dominion Rd and to the Airport.
There are quite a few things from the main business report and the order of items relates to where they appeared in AT’s report.
Every month AT list the projects that were approved for funding by the NZTA. There are usually a few items but one this time stood out. Almost $40 million is going on business cases for projects in what will be greenfield growth areas. This is from the TFUG work. As a comparison, a detailed business case for improvements to Lake Rd was also approved at a cost of $630k
Transport Network for Growth (Detailed Business Cases for North, North West and South) – this activity was approved with conditions for $39.5 million
Technology – There are a number of technology updates:
- It appears AT are working on a new version of the AT Hop website
The AT HOP Web Rebuild project is on schedule to be delivered by 24 April for the rebuild of the Customer Web Portal, and the Customer Contact Centre Web Portal. This project will deliver a better online experience for our AT HOP customers.
- It appears there will be more public information available
The EIM (Enterprise Information Management) team has launched an initial instance of a public GIS (map-based information) information website and an open GIS data website. The open GIS data capability allows customers to access and download authoritative GIS datasets. The initial 20 datasets will continue to be expanded upon as we move forward with new datasets being uploaded regularly.
- And more mobile app improvements
Metro AT Mobile Application: The new AT Metro mobile application is in the final stages of end user testing prior to launch. This will be followed up with seven other items of additional functionality over the next few months including the addition of Train and Ferry services.
Newmarket Crossing – AT note they’ve got an agreement in principle with the appellants for the Newmarket Level Crossing project which will see Sarawia St closed and a bridge built between Laxon Tce and Cowie St.
Smart City – AT are going to conduct a ‘smart city’ technology trial in Devonport. It’s currently going through procurement.
A trial of smart city technologies in conjunction with UI is being developed for the Devonport Ferry Terminal, Bus Interchange and Park-and-Ride precinct.
Technologies to be trialled include, CleverCiti Parking Sensors for real time parking tracking in the Park-and-Ride area (144 spaces), SMIGHT smart poles for integrated sensor capability (including integrated cleverciti parking sensors, environmental sensors, wifi and electric vehicle charging).
Integrated analytics combining parking data, pedestrian data and AT-HOP data will help to build a picture of how people drive, walk/cycle or use buses and ferries to get to or from Devonport and improve our understanding how people integrate these modalities (e.g. arrive by car, take a ferry or a bus, arrive by ferry and then walk/cycle, arrive by ferry and then drive off in a car etc).
City Centre Roads – AT now report to each meeting how the city centre roads are coping with the disruption caused by the CRL and other road works. This is related in part to resource consent conditions for the CRL. Once again though we see that despite the disruption, most streets monitored are actually performing better than before the works (blue is the baseline). This continues to show that AT has a lot of scope to drastically change the city once the CRL is complete and refocus road corridors more towards people on foot, bike and bus.
New Network – For the first time we’ve got some information about how the new network in South Auckland is performing. It appears that the number of trips in December are up significantly on last year, including a lot more people transferring. For some reason they’re reporting on trips and transfers separately rather than just reporting on journeys which is what they should be doing. The information by suburb shows that Otahuhu has seen significant change which will almost certainly be due to the newly upgraded station
Integrated fares – over successive fare changes, AT have constantly increased the price of monthly passes well above other changes in what has felt like a deliberate attempt to be less customer friendly to some of their best customers. The report, written before the most recent increase in price suggests monthly pass numbers have been slashed by a third.
Bus train monthly pass ($200) sales have stabilised with (~5,000 per month down from 9,500 per month) many passengers migrating to stored value.
March Madness – For perhaps the first time, AT are introducing additional capacity ahead of annual March Madness. They say 34 extra peak trips will be added to the NEX this month while Birkenhead Bus are introducing double deckers to Onewa Rd. As we highlighted the other day, they’re also boosting rail capacity as part of the new timetable due mid-March. Not related to march madness but they also say double deckers will be introduced from New Lynn to the city along Great North Rd on June 11 when the new bus network rolls out in West Auckland.
Train Stations – There are a number of changes to train stations planned.
- AT have previously said they’re looking at gating a number of stations later this year. One of those was Middlemore but they’re now saying those plans are under review “to align with the planned third main line“. Hopefully that means we’ll see some progress on that project soon.
- AT plan to install a new LCD based information displays at Parnell, Remuera and Greenlane which will display additional information around approaching trains that are not stopping (as also mentioned in the post the other day). They will also eventually have automated PA announcements for this too. I hope these new displays could be rolled out elsewhere to display information like how many cars the next train has etc.
- They say a working group has been formed with Transdev and other stakeholders “to progress the opening of platform-2 at Newmarket Station for passenger use” by Easter this year. This is excellent news and well done to Harriet for pushing it.
Hibiscus Coast Station – AT have had a long battle to get resource consent for the full Hibiscus Coast Station. They now have approval and are starting by building the park & ride (till November) followed by the station building itself which isn’t due for completion till April/May 2018. In my mind they should do those projects the opposite way around.
Bus Priority – It appears AT are looking at more widespread bus priority across the city including for all frequent routes which is excellent news but that’s tempered by knowing they’ve been behind in implementing what they’ve said they would and are yet to fix what should be easy wins with extending bus lane hours.
A strategic bus priority plan is being developed to scope completion of citywide bus priority network over the next 3 years and extended over 10 – 15 years for the Frequent Network identifying high level budget requirements and key risks.
Customer Satisfaction – AT’s quarterly customer satisfaction survey is looking promising, especially for trains which they say recorded the highest result ever
City Centre Buses – AT say they’ve been reviewing the city centre experience for bus users to look for ways to improve it and improve bus use. Recommendations included:
- make existing bus stops more visual to customers
- to prototype and test new customer signage at two bus stops (two sided info-boards),
- better utilise the space on the reverse of passenger information displays to display key bus stop information.
Information Displays – AT have been trialling digital displays on a train and some buses but it hasn’t been a hit with passengers.
On-board digital screen trial (five buses and one EMU). The initial feedback from customers during the trial was mixed, which was validated with further customer centred testing via Customer Central in December. On-board journey and wayfinding content was valued more by new and irregular bus users. For regular commuters most used their own smart-device as a means of journey entertainment
There’s certainly a lot going on including a lot I didn’t cover. Have you read the report and picked up on anything else I missed?
In just under a month’s time, on 12 March, Auckland Transport will introduce a new rail timetable. There are a couple of significant changes that we know will come with this timetable:
- Westfield Station will close
- Parnell Station will open, served initially by Southern Line trains with Western Line trains only stopping in evenings and weekends.
- Onehunga line trains will skip Greenlane and Remuera stations. This is said to be to speed up services enough that it frees up a 3-car train.
- Speeds on the other lines will also be improved, enough that it frees up an additional two 3-car trains.
- In total the changes free up three 3-car trains, which will be used to boost capacity on some peak services.
From what we hear, what won’t be included in this timetable change is any improvement to frequencies, which is desperately needed off-peak and weekends, especially in the South where the new bus network has already been implemented.
The issue of train speed is something we’ve talked about a lot recently, such as Stu’s excellent post on the economic benefits of speeding up our trains, and a guest post on how our trains are slower than even steam trains used to be. I want to focus on it again in this post.
If you recall, when we moved to electric trains Auckland Transport actually slowed down the timetable. They padded it out to make the punctuality results look better, especially as the old diesels started to break down with increasing frequency. Following the initial services that were converted to electrics, there also turned out to be a number of issues with the signalling system, other infrastructure and operations (such as dwell times), which prevented trains from being as fast as they should.
In July 2015, Auckland Transport released a report outlining all of the work they intended to do to improve train reliability and speed. From what I understand, not all of it was eventually implemented, for a variety of reasons. However, much of the work they did do has contributed to the record highs we currently experience for punctuality and reliability. In the 12 months to the end of December, 98.6% of all trains arrived at their final destination and 96.5% of those did so within five minutes of the schedule. That’s up from lows in mid-2015 of round 96% and 83% respectively, and some individual months were considerably lower again.
So what can we expect with this new timetable? In their board reports, AT have said
Train 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.
We’ll have to wait to see just how big the speed improvements will be, but we’re hearing they aren’t significant – perhaps a 3-4 minute improvement on the current timetable at best. If correct, then in our view that’s simply not good enough. And if that is the case, AT’s lack of action mean serious questions need to be asked by those charged with overseeing and managing the organisation, especially seeing as the train network has been all-electric for over 18 months now. Also remember that speeding up services was something the council recently outlined as a key expectation of Auckland Transport.
- ensuring full value is obtained from council’s very large investment in rail electrification by reducing journey times, particularly through shorter dwell times at stations and more efficient rail operations
But just how fast should our trains be? We’ve made plenty of our own estimates in the past, so with this post I’m going to look at some official estimates of what should be achievable.
The data for this comes from a document I was given by the EMU project team in early 2013. The document includes a lot of detailed technical information from train manufacturer CAF, such as acceleration and braking profiles. Importantly for this post, it also includes modelling just how fast the trains should be. In fact, it goes further, showing how CAF’s proposal compares to the original requirement from Kiwirail (the government initially put Kiwirail in charge of the EMU tender but it and the team were later transferred to AT).
The modelling shows exactly how fast both Kiwirail and CAF say the trains would be between stations, including dwell times. For the Western and Southern lines, the modelling includes trains stopping at Parnell, while for the Southern and Eastern lines it includes stopping at Westfield. Onehunga times weren’t included in the part of the document they provided me. For the purposes of this post, I’m only going to show the times listed as being Kiwirail’s Requirement, but in all cases, CAF estimated their trains would be up to about 30 seconds faster over the entire journey. The modelling is also done for each direction of each route, but for the purposes of this post I’ll just list the times to Britomart (the differences in direction are minor).
First up, I’ve replicated the tables from the documents. One of the things that immediately stands out is that with the exception of Newmarket, all stations are expected to only have a 30 second dwell time. Even off peak at a quiet station, AT can’t achieve that kind of time. Newmarket is expected to have a 1-minute dwell for Southern line trains and a 2-minute dwell for Western line trains.
That’s fairly detailed, so next I cut the results down to compare them to our current timetables, remembering that current timetables are rounded to whole minutes. It’s also worth noting that on the current timetables, the Southern and Eastern lines have a two minute variation in travel times. In both cases I used the lower of the two.
Now I appreciate there’s always going to be a difference between some modelled results and what can be achieved in real life, but the difference between the current timetable and what was required of tenderers is, as Trump says, yuuuge.
In fact, the savings are so big they’re CRL sized – in the info published by AT about the CRL, they list New Lynn to Britomart as improving from 35 minutes to 27 minutes. Under the required times from Kiwirail above, which don’t include the CRL and include stopping at Parnell as well as Westfield, the trip is supposed to take ….. 27 minutes. Or course, that doesn’t negate the time saving benefits of the CRL. These time savings would then stack on top, so New Lynn to Britomart should be as low as 19 minutes post-CRL. Think about what impact that would have on how people choose to get around.
A really important advantage of getting speeds close to these required levels is that it would free up more trains, which could then be used to further increase capacity on the network. Or course, with times so much faster, that capacity will certainly be needed for all the extra people that will want to use the services.
It’s perhaps worth pointing out that we don’t know what happened along the way of buying the trains, and it’s possible that for budget reasons that AT had to make some compromises in design – but I’d certainly hope not.
I imagine there are still a number of improvements that could be made to improve travel times – such as eliminating level crossings on the Western Line – but in my mind, the biggest opportunity is improving our horrifically slow dwell times. That will likely require a mix of both physical and operational changes.
Coming back to the question of how fast our trains should be, I think that if we could get within 2-3 minutes of what was originally expected (and remember CAF said their trains would exceed those times), then I suspect we’ll be doing well.
Every week we receive numerous press releases related to transport and we only tend to comment on a few of them. Here are a couple that piqued our interest but not quite enough for a full post of their own.
Recently Auckland Transport announced they had put the first tender out for the rest of the CRL project (after the early works currently underway). This week they announced they’ve put up the tender for the construction of the tunnels and two new stations.
Largest City Rail Link tender process starts
The largest component of the City Rail Link (CRL) project – the construction of the tunnels and new stations – took a major step forward today with the release of its first tender documents to the industry.
The project is picking up speed with Expressions of Interest sought only a fortnight ago for the design, procurement, installation and commissioning of all tunnel track work and rail systems between Britomart Station and the Western Line at Mt Eden.
There will be two new stations as part of the build of the underground rail line linking Britomart with the existing western line near Mt Eden. The new stations will be near Aotea Square with entrances at Wellesley and Victoria Streets and a station in Mercury Lane, just off Karangahape Road. The present Mount Eden train station will be extended and redeveloped.
Tender documents sent out today are for the tunnel and station works that involve:
- Aotea Station: Cut and cover construction of a 15m-deep, 300m-long underground station and plant room box, including platforms, lifts and escalators to street level, plant rooms housing station and tunnel equipment, full station fit-out and entrances at either end at Victoria and Wellesley Streets.
- Karangahape Road Station: Mined construction of a 32m-deep underground station, including platform tubes and 150m-long platforms, lifts and inclined escalator to street level, plant rooms housing station and tunnel equipment within two shafts, full station fit-out, entrance at Mercury Lane and provision for a future entrance at Beresford Square.
- Tunnels: Twin-bored tunnel construction (circa 7m diameter) between the Mt Eden station and the southern end of Aotea Station.
- The provision of maintenance services for the new stations.
CRL Project Director Chris Meale says today’s development shows the considerable progress being made.
He says that as well as the tenders rolling out for future construction, current works are well underway. The 2m-wide tunnel boring machine simultaneously excavating and installing a new stormwater pipe under Albert Street has finished the first leg of its journey.
The nine-storey-high piling rig working in Albert Street has already dug more than 140 of the 376 piles required.
“What will be a highly efficient and reliable transport choice for Auckland is now visibly taking shape.”
The tunnels and stations contract being sent out today will be procured using a Design and Construct model with a lump sum price based on a bespoke contract.
They also put out a few new high quality images of the stations.
Aotea Station – Wellesley St
Karangahape Rd – Mercury Lane
Hot on the heels of Auckland Transport announcing it was going to trial two electric buses in Auckland, operator NZ Bus announced they were trialling some BYD electric buses in Auckland and Wellington
BYD’s all electric battery bus, with fast re-charging
NZ Bus to begin trial of BYD electric bus
NZ Bus to begin trial of BYD electric bus in Auckland and Wellington
NZ Bus will this week begin trialling its new BYD eBus in Auckland and then in Wellington, as another part of its strategy to lead the transition to electric-powered public transport in New Zealand.
NZ Bus Chief Executive Officer, Zane Fulljames, said that the trial will enable NZ Bus to assess whether this fully electric bus, which is proven in other markets across the world, can meet the challenges of New Zealand’s unique topographical landscape and the specific requirements of bus networks in Auckland and Wellington.
“As a business we are committed to leading the industry towards an electric-powered bus fleet, as was reflected in our announcement last year to invest NZ$43m in Wrightspeed electric powertrain technology to be retrofitted to buses in our existing fleet.
“Trialling BYD eBus technology is about looking at options for the future in terms of our ongoing fleet replacement programme,” said Mr Fulljames.
The makers of the eBus, BYD Company Limited, operate across 6 continents, 48 countries and regions, and 200 cities. They are the suppliers of the largest electric bus fleet in Europe and are in fleets across Canada, USA, Chile, China, Singapore and Australia.
NZ Bus’ trial of its BYD eBus is expected to last up to three months. The BYD eBus may not attract attention as it travels Auckland and Wellington bus routes, given that it looks much like a conventional diesel or diesel-hybrid bus, but people might notice that it is significantly quieter.
In parallel with the BYD eBus trial, NZ Bus is also well underway with the process of retrofitting Wrightspeed electric powertrains to its existing bus fleet at its workshop in Wellington.
“As a major transport operator, NZ Bus has the scale for investment of the kind these initiatives represent. We are committed to continuing to lead the industry and contribute to reducing New Zealand’s carbon footprint through innovation,” said Mr Fulljames.
And finally, Mayor Phil Goff has kicked off The Auckland Bike Challenge
Mayor Phil Goff challenges Aucklanders to get on their bikes.
The Auckland Bike Challenge kicks off today and Mayor Phil Goff is encouraging Aucklanders to join the 2,500 people who have already registered for the free month-long event.
Bigger and better than last year, the Auckland Bike Challenge run by Auckland Transport is now part of NZ Transport Agency’s nationwide Aotearoa Bike Challenge.
The Auckland Mayoral Office has two electric bikes and Mayor Phil Goff is looking forward to getting on his bike during the challenge.
“Living out in Clevedon means cycling to work’s a bit tough for me, but I enjoy getting to meetings and events in the city on my bike, and use it when I can,” he says.
“Cycling’s a great way to get around our city. It’s a joy being out of a car in the fresh air, getting fit and reducing our carbon footprint.”
The Mayor says Auckland Council is committed to helping more people get out of their cars and on to bikes, and is investing in new world class facilities to make cycling safer and more accessible.
“The Quay Street Cycleway, the first stage of the Glen Innes to Tamaki shared path, the Mt Roskill Safe route and the award-winning pink Lightpath on Nelson Street are very popular,” says Mayor Goff. “We will continue to invest in safe cycleways across the city to reduce congestion and pollution and make Auckland an even better place to live.
“The 2017 Bike Challenge is your opportunity to explore our beautiful city and to see it in a new way. I look forward to seeing you out and about and on your bike this summer.”
The Auckland Bike Challenge is a fun, free workplace competition that encourages people to give cycling a go during the month of February 2017.
More than 270 Auckland organisations have signed up and will compete against similar-sized businesses within the Auckland region and nationwide.
Run by Auckland Transport and supported by the Sustainable Business Network, Healthy Auckland Together and Auckland Regional Public Health Service, the event supports workplaces encouraging staff to ride for at least ten minutes during the month of February.
Rides are recorded online, and there are prizes up for grabs for both businesses and individuals.
There’s still time to register for the Auckland Bike Challenge at www.lovetoride.net/auckland. The website includes a live leader board to track results, information on prizes and easy ways to encourage others to participate.
Ian Reynolds 1946 by Brian Brake
My father, Ian Reynolds 1922-2005, was an architect (as was my mother). He was also a what was then called a Town and Country Planner. After returning from working in England after the war he spent the rest of his career as partner in a big multidisciplinary practice in Auckland (missing the city of his youth: Wellington. Office in Wakefield St, where the AUT business school is now). There he was responsible for a chunk of our post-war modernist heritage, as well as a lot of planning work. Especially at the University of Auckland, master-planning the campuses and involved in the campaign to retain the city one, which thankfully won out. Notable design work includes the School of Engineering and the Thomas Building both on Princess St, his practice also designed the School of Architecture while he was head of the architectural division.
In 1967, which is of course now 50 years ago, he was interviewed by the Herald about transport in Auckland (in full below). And it makes for a pretty interesting read, surprisingly relevant still, perhaps alarmingly so. I’m pretty sure his 1967 self would be very surprised that we are only now getting round to building the Rapid Transit Network he describes from the De Leuw Cather report. Although later of course he witnessed the defeat of Robbie’s Rail, and much else that should have given life to the 1960s plans for balanced transport networks. The interview shows a clear vision of that possibility, and how that would have led to a different more urban pattern of development for Auckland than we currently have:
Readers will no doubt feel that indeed; some apples don’t fall very far from the tree, yet re-reading this I am amazed now at how little I ever discussed these issues with Ian. I think on his side that was because of a sorrow felt by the idealistic modernists of his generation about the development of Auckland in the later part of the last century. Interestingly for many there was a move into environmentalism from urbanism (not that either phrase were current at the time) as centrally directed motorways and private land speculation took over completely from state planning and housing investment. Perhaps that is where this generation’s lasting legacy can be seen. Especially evident in the careers of two of Ian’s colleagues; captured perfectly in this obituary of planner FWO Jones (known even to us kids as ‘Fwo’) and the just recently deceased KRTA partner Dave Thom, who was very active in the national parks programme, and in making the theoretical case for environmentalism as a core practice of engineering internationally.
But it must be remembered that the denser city was always considered the necessary corollary to the protected wilderness, as this keeps the city from spreading so much into the country. The term sprawl is after all the shortened version of urban sprawl. His generation did achieve much in protecting key wild places, but I think Ian keenly felt that on urban form they suffered a life long defeat. So it would be good to show him Auckland now, the last ten years since his death have seen a profound change. I think he would be gratified by many of the trends; the full return of the university to the city, the strong revival of inner city living (though not so much the design of many of the buildings), the rail revival (he was a dedicated train user; taking the overnight train to Wellington regularly instead of flying, which he loathed, he was also an equally dedicated pipe smoker; which got him in the end).
There is so much that is still accurate in the document, both happily and otherwise, I think he is right both about our relative lack of corruption and waste, but also the dominance of political expediency over good policy in transport and urban form:
Here he refers to the ‘Morningside Deviation’ the 1940s version of the CRL suffering the same fate (see here for earlier schemes):
It is important to remember that at the time of the interview the population of Auckland was around half a million, so the arguments then are even more pressing now there’s another million souls living here. And some concerns have disappeared completely, such ‘inner city decline’. Of course had the described bus/rail system been developed alongside the motorways the pattern of the city’s development would be different; less sprawl, more complexity, not radically different just less monotone. A city of greater variety and one less entirely dominated by traffic. One that pushes less aggressively into the surrounding countryside… Instead we have built one network entirely, the motorway system, and largely one developmental typology, low density dispersal, and the city is poorer for it. And now we must urgently add the missing complementary Rapid Transit Network, as those 1960s planners quite correctly foresaw would be required to prevent a road only system choking to death on its own overuse. At least as the city is three times the size it is so the cost is now affordable; if only we would stop so expensively adding to the one now complete system….
Sketching in Kendal 1950
We normally get our monthly dose of ridership stats from Auckland Transport’s regular board meetings but with the holiday season, the next meeting isn’t till mid-February. Thankfully, AT have already updated their public facing data, which despite not as comprehensive as the board reports, it does allow us to see how we performed in December. The good news is that we performed well. Here are some highlights.
Compared to December 2015:
- Total Ridership was up 4.9% with a total of 6.12 million trips.
- Use of the Rapid Transit Network continues to grow impressively and increased by 16.2% to 1.68 million trips. The share of PT trips on Rapid Transit is quickly rising. Within that RTN figure:
- the Busway was up 10.7% to 325k
- the Rail network was up 17.6% to 1.35 million. On a 12-month rolling basis, Auckland passed 18 million trips in December only four months after hitting 17 million.
- Ferry trips were up 4.5% to 601k trips, continuing the steady growth we’ve been seeing for some time now.
- Other (non busway) buses continue to struggle, up only 0.6% to 3.84 million trips.
Here are the 12-month rolling results showing the impressive growth in the RTN, particularly over the last few years.
On the topic of ridership, there have long been a couple of things that bug me about the results we see on a regular basis that help to misrepresent some of the results. So I set out to see if I could change that.
1. Rail Ridership and the RWC
Ridership as a whole, but particularly on the RTN has been increasingly solidly for some time with a notable exception around 2011/12 and is most prominent if looking at the rail numbers which showed a roughly 10% reduction in usage. Of course the primary reason for this was the 2011 Rugby World Cup. But just how significant was the RWC or did people genuinely stop using the trains?
I recalled seeing some numbers in old patronage reports estimating the impact of the RWC on a monthly basis so I went back and got those results and adjusted the graph accordingly. Here’s what the rail graph looks like once that RWC ridership is taken into account.
Now as you can see, adjusted for the RWC numbers it becomes there was more a case of the rail network not growing anymore rather than fewer people using it. But you can also see that there’s still a little dip in the results. That’s because right as the impact of the RWC was wore off (both October 2012), AT introduced HOP to the rail network which changed how tickets were counted. Trips using the old paper tickets were counted when the ticket was bought so people could buy a 10-trip ticket and it would be counted immediately in AT’s numbers but the owner of the ticket could still be using it months later. Of course, AT gave people time to use up their old paper tickets. By comparison, HOP trips are counted when they occur.
Taking this impact into account is much more difficult than the RWC but if we were able to, I’d suggest it would all but remove that remaining dip leaving a relatively flat line through to mid-2013 when numbers definitely started rising again.
2. Change in Busway counting
Last year AT changed how they counted the busway. Prior to that point they only counted ridership on the Northern Express even though many people caught buses like the 881 all the way along the busway or local buses used the busway for a small part of their journey. AT’s change was to also include trips from other services that used the busway, assuming they boarded or alighted at a busway station.
The issue is that if you just look at the current information, it appears there was very rapid growth from about mid-2015 – although that doesn’t change the fact during the last year we’ve seen 20%+ growth at times. So going back over some old AT reports I was able to find the differences and separate out some of the differences between the two metrics. The result is below and shows a difference of about 500k trips annually.
Now, neither of these results mean a lot in the overall given the stellar rise of PT in Auckland since the times mentioned but I found them interesting none the less so thought I’d share them. What do you think of them?
I’m also interested in your thoughts about what is usually the busiest time of the year that is coming up soon and culminating in March Madness. My anecdotal observations have been that despite schools still being out and roads relatively empty, that PT is already feeling noticeably busier than last year, suggesting we have a huge March coming up.
We also haven’t covered the numbers from Wellington recently so here’s a quick update to the end of November.
- The bus numbers remain relatively flat with only very small growth in bus use on a 12-month rolling basis.
- Wellington has been doing better with rail ridership recently with the 12-month rolling result up just over 7% compared to the year before to 13.1 million.
This is a guest post by Wellington commenter Guy Marriage
Do the locomotion with me.
I am surprised and a little disappointed that there has not been much discussion here over KiwiRail’s decision to axe the electric locomotives on the main trunk line. If that sort of discussion should happen anywhere, it really should be on Transport Blog, and so I’ve written this piece so that the questions can be raised and debated amongst a group of knowledgable people, willing to share their opinions, in a sane and rational manner, as you always do.
So let’s run over a few facts first. Currently we have an electrified section of the main trunk railroad, from Hamilton to Palmerston North. We also have suburban rail that is electrified in Auckland’s districts, and metro rail in Wellington’s regions are also electrified. Wellington’s region of electric motive power is, however, starkly different.
KiwiRail’s current mode of transport is (admittedly highly inefficient) to have to run diesel locomotives from Auckland to Hamilton, change to electric for the middle run to Palmerston North, and then change back to another set of diesel locomotives for the run into Wellington. That’s tedious, time-wasting, and a silly state to be in for anyone, so we can understand that KiwiRail wants to make a change and just have one set of power for locomotives all the way through. Their argument is that by buying a new set of all diesel locos, it gives “customers more of an incentive to shift their freight on to rail which is a more sustainable option for the country” (Peter Reidy, CEO KiwiRail, DomPost, 20 Jan 2017).
Although KiwiRail used to be a separate business from OnTrack, the Government has merged them since 2012, so while for a few years Toll and then KiwiRail had no control over the track network, its my understanding that now they are more in control of their own destiny. And that destiny, they clearly see, as being reliant on diesel for locomotion, rather than electricity.
The North Island Main Trunk line (NIMT) has 411km of electrified line running at 25kV at 50 Hz AC power, undertaken as part of Muldoon’s “Think Big” projects in the mid 1980s. Wellington’s metropolitan area has in total 95km of electrified track, but this is a DC system running at 1.5kV and so is not compatible with the NIMT system – it was installed way back in the last century. Auckland’s trains however, being electrified later than Wellington’s train network, were deliberately designed to also run on the same system as the NIMT – an AC line running at 25kV. So that leaves a gap of just 81km from Auckland to Hamilton currently without a suitable electric power system for freight locos and there is a similar-sized 80km gap from Palmerston North to Wellington’s northern reaches at Waikanae.
KiwiRail’s argument against buying new electric locos to replace their existing EF electric locos is that it is inefficient to have to change over to diesel and back, as well as that having more freight going by rail is just generally better for the country too. While Reidy does not address the claim that electric power will generate less emissions than diesel, he claims that as more freight will get routed via rail this will automatically be better, whether powered by diesel or not.
Others may disagree with him. The Green Party certainly disagree with him, with Greens spokesperson on Transport, Julie-Anne Genter, saying on 21 Dec 2016 that “New electric trains are cleaner, quieter, and have lower fuel and maintenance costs over their lifetime. They’re also powered by local renewable energy rather than imported oil. Diesel trains will also cost more to operate long-term, which could encourage more freight to move off rail and onto dangerous trucks on the road.”
Those comments are absolutely right, in that electric locos are capable of pulling bigger loads, at faster speeds, and if you have a renewable source of energy (as we mostly do), then emissions are severely reduced. And who wants a fine spray of diesel dust all over our 100% clean green country? Well, near 100% anyway. Maybe 80%. Maybe 50%. Let’s skip the details, OK?
It is a political decision, of course, whether to spend more money on electrification of the two remaining sections of track, but it is one that needs to be carefully debated. Clearly KiwiRail have debated it in house, but we (the public) haven’t been privileged to see the outcome. Their last “Sustainability Report” is from 2014.
But there is another way of looking at this as well. Auckland’s reach, always slightly beyond its grasp, is outwards to the north (but blocked by the issues of harbour crossings) as well as to the south (unblocked and at the edge of a big fat highway). At just over an hour away by car (127km), Hamilton is already on the edge of becoming a commuter town for Auckland (the current drive is the killer commute) but Palmerston North is just a little too far away (140km) from Wellington at a more realistic two hour commute. But while Wellington’s reach is unlikely to ever reach to Palmerston, it is certain that the Waikato is already deeply involved with Auckland and there is a strong argument to be made that in order to preserve the agricultural lands at Pukekohe etc, the NIMT should be electrified all the way through to Hamilton, not just for freight, but for passenger rail too.
Much as I dislike the expression “no-brainer”, this decision really is one that can be easily made. The land is flat. The tracks are already in place. The need for suburban rail is rising relentlessly in Auckland. There is already a nascent need and want for a decent public transport link from Auckland to Hamilton, something not currently served by either buses stuck in traffic nor the current once or twice a day train. Flying between the two is just not an option. Wouldn’t it make a lot of sense to at least electrify the network continuously between the Waikato and the outer reaches of Auckland, so that trains could all operate continuously in the region solely on electric power?
Yes, there is a branch line to Tauranga that is diesel powered too, and yes, there needs to be a separate decision about that as well, but the electrification of the main line is the priority, not just for now, and not just for KiwiRail, but for New Zealand, and for the rest of our lives. There is a strong argument, to me at least, to just change the power source once, in Palmerston North, and keep all those diesels down south, and allow a fully electrified rail system to flourish up north. Yes, of course I want the section down here to be converted to electric as well, but I realise that the problems with the current DC vs AC lines may mean that is a problem for the too-hard basket right now. But at least for now, it seems to me, KiwiRail and its 100% owner, the NZ Government, is doing our country a gross disservice by proposing that the existing electric NIMT is effectively mothballed or scrapped. There is a huge amount of money that has been invested in this incomplete network that is effectively going to be completely wasted if it is not used. We need, as a country, to be thinking better and more long term than this. We need, I believe, to start by electrifying the remaining NIMT between Hamilton and Auckland.
Note: we’re all volunteers with limited time so if you ever feel like there’s something we should be discussing, be like Guy and draft a guest post.
This is not a post about Busway’s vs Rail as modes, but a fun comparison of my experience on the Northern Busway to our Rail Network.
I recently went to the North Shore for an appointment where I had the pleasure of using the Northern Busway. I had not used it for some time, well before Double Deckers were a regular occurrence. As a person who usually uses the rail network it was interesting comparing my experiences, so I decided to create list of where I think each excels.
- The dwell times – The dwell times are good even on the Double Decker’s, as a rail user it was pleasant for it to feel like a stop, not a whole century.
- The motorway alignment – I swear nothing is more awesome than sitting top deck watching yourself race past all the cars at standstill on the motorway, you partially have that experience on the Southern, but the long dwells kinda ruin it.
- Double Decker’s – That view of the Waitemata from the top deck going over the bridge.
- The stations – I like the stations, they feel accessible, easy to use/transfer (when the bus turns up on time, curse you 881) and many have extra useful amenities inside.
- The ride – Smooth and so quiet, except the ADL’s to Puke but they are the fun part of any trip the Puke, though understand the people using it would rather have the Class AM’s for everyday use.
- Single deck – Yes I know I said I loved the Double Decker’s but it can get quiet frustrating having to wait for people who only used the bus for a short distance coming down from the top deck, use the bottom for short journeys >:(
- Speed – It’s always fun on the Eastern when you speed through the Meadowbank-GI section especially the Purewa Tunnel.
- The Stations – We’ve not got some fantastic stations. Britomart & New Lynn are my favourite, there is something about underground stations under fantastic architecture, and I always love coming into the New Lynn trench. Grafton is ok but I rate it 0/10 would not try Wifi through again.
- Fully separated – the Busway is great but it can be frustrating when it ends, you have some bus lanes on the Motorway but not in all sections, and when I was using the NEX a car was using the Bus Lane slowing us up around Onewa Interchange.
So what are your favourite strengths of the Northern Busway and the rail network?
If you’ve been reading TransportBlog for a while, then you may have noticed that the term “dwell-times” crops up relatively frequently. The term describes the average time that trains are stopped at stations. In several previous posts, we’ve discussed how average dwell-times on Auckland’s new electric trains are approximately 50-60 seconds per stop. In contrast, best-practice dwell-times on rail systems overseas are in the order of 20-30 seconds per stop, so 20 – 40 seconds faster than ours.
In this recent post, I suggested something “had to be done” to shorten dwell-times, to which one commenter (quite reasonably) asked “why“. I was surprised by their question, because to me the benefits of reducing travel-times by 30 seconds per stop seemed obvious. It means that we take Auckland’s trains out of the steam age and into the electric age.
Upon reflection, however, I realised that it wasn’t immediately obvious how apparently small delays of 30 seconds per stop would incur economic costs that warranted action. This realisation motivated me to write this post, in which I attempt to estimate some of the economic benefits of shorter dwell-times on Auckland’s train.
Note that this post does not consider how we might go about reducing dwell-times, and I’d like to ask people who comment not to de-rail the post with such technical matters. The point I’m trying to convey, and which I am interested in discussing, is the economic benefits that flow from running trains faster. Similar arguments apply to efforts to close small intermediate stations, such as Westfield and Te Mahia.
When I think about reducing dwell-times, four obvious sources of economic benefits spring to mind: 1) Reduced costs; 2) Existing user benefits; 3) New User Benefits; and 4) Decongestion benefits. Let’s now dive into the data (hand-waving?) ….
Cost savings: The total cost of running Auckland’s rail services is likely to be in the order of $125 million p.a. Various factors contribute to these costs, but major componenets are likely to be:
- Staff, including drivers and train managers;
- Operating costs, such as fuel, mainenance, and track access charges;
- Asset depreciation, especially on the rolling stock, electrified infrastructure, and depots; and
- Station operations, such as ticketing and security services.
Different places account for these costs in different ways, which can end up making things quite complex. To simplify things, it’s common to analyse public transport costs in terms of three underlying drivers: 1) vehicle-kilometres; 2) vehicle-hours; and 3) peak fleet requirements. These cost drivers are, more-or-less and to varying degrees, what determine the costs of the services that we operate. Shorter dwell-times won’t, of course, affect the distance that trains travel, even if they will reduce vehicle-hours and/or peak fleet requirements.
To estimate the cost savings from shorter dwell-times, I assumed that measures are taken to reduce dwell-times by 30 seconds per station. If I assume there are 15 stations on the average rail run from Swanson/Papakura/Manukau to the City, then this saves 7.5 minutes on every 55 minute run, or ~14%. I then assume that one-third of this 14% reduction in (in-service) vehicle-hours flows through to the operating cost bottom-line, that is, shorter dwell-times reduce total costs by 4.5%.
Given a total annual spend of $125 million p.a. on operating rail services in Auckland, normal practice dwell-times would reduce costs by $5.68 million p.a. If I then assume an 8% discount rate over 30 years, then this has an NPV of $69.1 million.
That’s the first example of how an apparently small number can lead to a large number when you take a network-wide, long-run perspective …
Existing user benefits: The second effect of shorter dwell-times is to expedite journeys by rail. That us, existing rail users will also benefit from faster travel-times. Current rail patronage is about 18 million journeys p.a., which is predicted to grow to 40 million in a post-CRL world. For the sake of simplicity, let us assume that Auckland averages 30 million rail passengers per year over the next 30 years.
Moreover, I now assume these passengers travel an average of 15km per rail journey. If I assume rail stations are spaced, on average, at one station per 3km, then this implies there are 4 intermediate stations per journey (NB: Remember that users will not benefit from faster dwell-times for the last station). Saving 30 seconds over 4 stations equates to a time saving of 2 minutes per journey. If I assume a value-of-time of $10 per hour, then we can monetize the value of these time savings as follows: (2/60) hours per journey x $10 per hour x 30 million journeys per year = $10 million p.a. This has an NPV of $121.6 million. Happy train users are valuable train users.
New User Benefits: Faster trains will, of course, also attract new users. Let’s assume the elasticty of demand with respect to in-vehicle travel time is -0.50. That is, a doubling in travel-time leads to a 50% decline in patronage. In turn, this means that the 14% reduction in travel-time associated from shorter dwell-times would be associated with a 7.0% increase in patronage, or an additional 2.1 million journeys p.a. If I now apply the rule-of-half, that is 2.1 million x (2/60) x $10 per hour x 0.5 = $0.35 million p.a. Or $4.3 million over 30 years.
Decongestion benefits: Some of the additional rail journeys undertaken as a consequence of faster travel-times would have otherwise been loaded onto the road network. This in turn means congestion would be higher. If I assume that 60% of new rail journeys occur in peak periods, and that 25% of these journeys would have otherwise been placed on the road network, then this suggests faster dwell-times diverts 315,000 vehicles off congested roads every year. If we again assume the average rail journey is 15km long, and that decongestion benefits are valued at $0.40 per kilometre, then I find that decongestion benefits are valued at $1.8 million p.a., or $23.0 million over a thirty year period.
Let’s summarize the estimated economic benefits of faster dwell-times:
- Cost savings of $69.1 million
- Existing user benefits of $121.6 million
- New user benefits of $4.3 million
- Decongestion benefits of $23.0 million.
Yielding a total of $217.9 million. I must acknowledge these are extremely rough and ready estimates and I could well be wrong and/or out by a decent margin of say +-50%. So don’t anyone go quoting me to the decimal point.
Notwithstanding their approximate nature, the order of magnitude of the estimate is significant. To put it in context, an economic benefit of $217.9 million is equivalent to approximately $7.3 million for every second we cut from average dwell-times. Another way to look at it: I understand the total cost of Auckland’s new trains was in the order of $500 million. Cutting 30 seconds per stop is then worth approximately half of the cost of buying completely new trains. This seems plausible to me; I suspect that a large component of the anticipated benefits of electrification would stem from faster journey times, which have not as yet materialized (NB: In some ways you could argue it’s impressive Auckland has achieved so much patronage growth despite the slow travel-times.
Anyway, the main point is to demonstrate how small time savings can quickly add-up to large dollar values when you take a network-wide, long-run perspective. This is why we harp on about dwell-times and why it’s heartening to see Council putting pressure on AT to sort this mess out. Indeed, cost savings of $69 million above would go straight to Council’s bottom-line, as would approximately $100 million in additional fare revenue over 30 years (NB: This is not an economic benefit per se at it’s simply a transfer from passengers to Council — even if it is of course a fiscal benefit). These fiscal cost savings would result in either lower rates and/or improved services.
In our increasingly resource-constrained world, I consider frugality to be not just prudent, but indeed relatively noble. This is especially true when it comes to other people’s time and money. On this topic, Benjamin Franklin, once said “The way to wealth … depends chiefly on two words, industry and frugality: that is, waste neither time nor money, but make the best use of both.” Confucius put it even more succintly when he said “he who will not economize will have to agonize”.
Or, if you prefer the words of Bruce Lee.
On that note, I suspect my marginal utility of spending more time on this post is by now lower than my next best alternative option.
Have a good ‘un.
The first section of the City Rail Link, from Britomart to Wyndham St, is now well under construction. Yesterday Auckland Transport announced the first contract documents for the rest of the project have now gone out to the industry. This is for the all the rail related infrastructure that will eventually go in the tunnels, the filling to the CRL sandwich if you will. The tunnels themselves will go out to tender later as they need the winner of this contract to help finalise the documents for the tunnels to make sure they’ll all work together.
Expressions of Interest are being sought for the design, procurement, installation and commissioning of all tunnel track work and rail systems between Britomart Station and the Western Line at Mt Eden. The work involves the provisioning of track slab, track, overhead line, signalling, control systems, tunnel ventilation, fire strategy and communications system.
The successful contractor will be responsible for the integration of the systems with the existing operations at Britomart and Mt Eden and the new tunnels and stations being built for the CRL.
The documents, the first to be released to build the project past its current Britomart and Albert street sites, have been prepared as a result of the agreement between the Government and Auckland Council to jointly fund the project.
The C7 systems package will be procured using an Early Contractor Involvement (ECI) model followed by a Design and Construct contract.
Other packages to be released this year include one for the construction of the CRL tunnels and new city, Karangahape and Mt Eden stations and a further package for a stormwater diversion in Mt Eden.
The various contracts as part of the project are shown below
It’s good that we’ve reached a milestone, and will obviously be even better once these contracts are signed. The graphic below gives an indication of when that will be.
But the purpose of this post isn’t just about some PR fluff. The announcement prompted me to look and see if there was any new information about the project, and I was in luck, finding a number of new presentations on AT’s CRL Procurement page that came from an industry briefing at the end of November.
Below are some of the items that caught my attention from the documents.
One of the first things to strike me was this new map showing the rail network with and without the CRL and it raises some concerning questions. These include
- I count seven different service patterns for a what is a fairly basic four track network. This seems focused on running trains rather than making things easier for customers and so all this will do is make things more confusing for passengers when all that is needed is a simple two line network.
- Related to above, why are services shown as terminating still at Britomart and not through routing – which is the entire point of the CRL.
- The map shows most of the Western Line, west of Mt Albert, stuck with no additional frequency to get to the city whilst sending the same number of trains to completely avoid the city centre. The demand to the city will be many many times larger than those wanting to go west-south so what’s the point in investing $billions in infrastructure if we’re not going to use it to improve service for a large section of the rail network.
- The map shows another new service pattern running from Mt Albert to Otahuhu. How’s that going to work, are AT planning on building new platforms at Mt Albert?
- There is also an orange label for extra trains from the south but no line to match it.
You can see a larger version of just the post CRL map here.
Another perhaps clearer version of what is planned is shown in this operations diagram – note to AT: if your operations diagram is easier to understand than a more customer centric map then you’re doing it wrong.
An aspect of both maps that really annoys me personally is that there is no planned change to services past Henderson meaning what exists today is as good as it gets.
A document also contains the outcomes of some of the passenger modelling. The concerning thing here is that they suggest Aotea will only see 6,750 people exiting the station in an AM peak hour and 6,500 at Britomart. We know Britomart already sees over 10k exit over a two hour peak (of which most would be in a single hour) so these numbers seem way too low. I’m guessing this could be another victim of our transport models which like to think no one wants to use trains in Auckland and continually underestimates usage.
One quite concerning slide is this, suggesting the project now won’t be completed till 2024. It would be extremely disappointing if it slipped to then.
Part of the C7 contract will see changes made to the platform layout, making Britomart a four-track station (from five) so bigger platforms can be provided for the CRL though routed lines. As part of the C9 contract (Britomart East), changes will also be made to the station to improve access from the eastern end. I’m sure the design will be refined over time. This isn’t planned to start construction till after the CRL is operational.
Around Mt Eden, two new pedestrian bridges are being built across the network, one at the current level crossing next to the station linking into to Ngahura St (top) and one which will replace the Porters Rd level crossing (which is to be closed).
Speaking of Mt Eden, the project needs a chunk of land near the station to build the project but which can be later developed. This image shows the potential development for that land, adding thousands of new dwellings. It’s also worth noting that the value of this is something not captured in the formal economic case.
Also on development, the Wellesley St (Aotea) and Mercury Lane (K Rd) entrances are being designed to be built over. At the Wellesley St, they have allowed for a 17-24 storey building above and beside the station entrance while at Mercury Lane a 7-8 storey building is possible. I’m sure this image of Aotea is just to show the scale of what’s possible rather than any proposal.
At Aotea, the documents indicate some neighbouring land owners might want direct connections to the station. This includes to the NDG tower proposal (the current vacant site on Elliott St) and a potential link to Skycity. They’re also say this on future proofing for a potential North Shore Line.
The design also provides for future-proofing for the assumed alignment of a North Shore Line in Wellesley Street. It includes an adjustment of the size and location of piles that form part of the station box
There’s also this new image of the entrance on Victoria St. If you look closely you can see they’ve squeezed four lanes of traffic in but one thing that’s notable that’s missing is any cycleway – which is listed as an Urban Cycleway Fund project. See here for more information on why the AT design is poor.
In addition to the CRL itself, some of the wider network works associated with the project include
- adding the connection from west to platform 4 as Newmarket
- provisioning the additional platform at Otahuhu (the platform itself was built as part of the station works).
- additional platforms at Henderson to deal with services terminating there – this is shown below.
Have you had a look at the documents, is there anything else from them that stands out to you?