2015 Station Boarding Results

Auckland Transport announced yesterday that annual rail patronage has now passed 14 million trips after reaching 13.9 million by the end of June. While it’s great to see the growth that’s occurring overall, it’s also interesting to know where it’s coming from – and by that I mean which stations are people coming from and going to. Recently Auckland Transport kindly provided me with the the station boarding stats for most recent financial year – 1 July 2014 through to 30 June 2015. This follows on from them providing the same data for the previous year meaning we can now start to compare the changes.

Before delving into the results it’s important to note that they don’t cover every single trip. Not included are trips from the likes of special events, missed tag on/offs and a small number of pass options e.g. the child monthly train pass which still uses a paper ticket. That means for the last year the data covers 12.4 million trips out of the 13.9 million in total that were taken (89%).

As expected Britomart dominates the results with trips to or from the station accounting for 60.2% of all rail trips. What’s more the percentage of trips to or from Britomart is increasing as it accounted for 57% of trips in 2013/14. By comparison the next busiest station is Newmarket with just 12.6% of trips. Note: as there are a large number of trips just between these two stations, the total trips involving both of them is 68.2%.

The map below shows comparatively how many boardings occurred at each station across the network. The orange is where the Southern and Eastern lines combine and the purple where the Southern and Onehunga lines combine.

Station Boardings 2015

Things get more interesting when you compare how stations have changed from one year to the next. As the 2013/14 data only covered 83% of trips I’ve adjusted it to make a more fare comparison. Some of the interesting things to note from it are:

  • Manukau has had massive growth of well over 120% more boardings compared to last year – this is likely due to the opening of the MIT building above the station and the increase in services thanks to the introduction of electric trains.
  • Panmure has also had a big year growing 71% over the last year and like Manukau it’s likely related to the station upgrade and better, more frequent services.
  • The average growth across the network was 22%, Other than the two above, the stations that grew faster than the average were (in descending order):
    • Newmarket
    • Britomart
    • Newmarket
    • Papatoetoe
    • Puhinui
    • Sylvia Park
    • Onehunga
    • Penrose
  • Conversely at some station boardings actually fell. These were:
    • Waitakere – which is now closed
    • Te Mahia
    • Fruitvale, and
    • Swanson
  • The Eastern line Stations of Glen Innes, Panmure and Sylvia Park are now all in top 10 stations
  • New Lynn has remained the third busiest station despite having much less frequency than all the other stations in the top 10, imagine how busy it would be with 10 minute frequencies like those Eastern Line stations.
  • It appears the idea of downhilling is still growing. This is where people from on the Western Line get off at Grafton and bus/walk/cycle from there to Uni or other places in the city then carry on down hill to Britomart to catch the train home.

The table below shows the boarding and alighting data for each station. You should be able to filter the columns to get different views of the data.

Like last year the data also breaks information down further allowing us to see just how many trips went from each station to each other station on the network. I’ll look more closely at that in a separate post and reader Aaron Schiff who made this fantastic visualisation of the data is already working on updating it with the latest results.

From what is above, what do you make of the results?

Lastly I hope that one day we can get the Northern Busway stations included in here as well.

Do we have enough trains – part 2

Late last week I asked the question of whether we have enough trains. The post has resulted in a lot of discussion however some of the answers I received from Auckland Transport left me asking more questions. In particular

CAF has committed to supplying 46 EMUs for weekday operations. That number is sufficient for 12 of the 34 train sets required to operate the timetable to be doubled as 6-car trains.

So I sought some clarification around why only supply of 46 EMUs. AT have now have now provided that clarification confirming that the 46 was just to implement the services we have now and an additional six sets will be available for service once the roll-out has been completed.

The 46 sets is what CAF has confirmed they can supply to daily service as at 20 July. This does not include two additional EMUs that are held on standby ready to inject into service operations to smooth service recovery following disruption. A further three EMUs are not available as they are waiting for replacement ETCS equipment which has long lead times. These are expected to be released for service over the next few weeks. Three EMUs are “maintenance spares” which allow CAF to take the trains out of service for lengthy periods for major maintenance.

Capacity will be increased from the three trains currently out of service plus the three to be delivered next week. Once the accelerated delivery schedule is complete and all 57 EMUs have been accepted into service, up to six existing 3-carriage trains could be increased to 6-carriage trains (based on the current timetable).

I guess only time will tell if the extra six trains will be enough to cover the capacity constraints at the peak and shoulder peak periods.

Full EMU

My 6-car train was pretty full last night

Note: the comments of first post contained a lot of discussion around buying extra carriages or bringing back the old diesels. There is no need to rehash those arguments again.

Ponsonby Rd Public Realm

Ponsonby Rd has pretty serious pretensions to being Auckland’s premier shopping and cafe strip, and it sure does attract very high volumes of people. However the amenity for these people is very poor. Both in terms of its form but also in terms of its upkeep. Overall I think its fair to say that like many places in Auckland pedestrians are clearly low on the radar for those who have been charged with forming and maintaining this street. Certainly compared to the constant and loving attention AT gives the roadway the footpaths are in a shocking state [see below]. At many times of any day there are as many or more people on the footpaths than in vehicles, yet both the quantity and quality of the public realm that is afforded to people not in cars is more than suboptimal.

PONSONBY ROAD_9128

Yet there’s lots that’s great here and with just a few well executed tweaks and it could be really fantastic. The street is among the best forms of public realm there is; and it is clear the goods and services on offer here and the opportunity for a good old fashioned paseo or passeggiata along this natural sunny ridge attracts all sorts, young and old, and at all times of the day and night. Ponsonby Rd has such great natural attributes and a near constant activation; the dull moments like the bank and fire station or parking lots aren’t too bad or too long. And anyway are likely to be improved. The length of it is worth walking; from K and Gt North all the way to Jervois and College Hill.

But despite these attractors the pedestrian realm is fractured and perilous. Any attempt to use the footpath, and let’s not forget that is the only way to access the shops and cafes, involves a constant yielding to fellow citizens in vehicles. And not just at the crossings of the narrow side streets but also on the many moments where the footpath itself is also a vehicle crossings. Frankly it is outrageous that the previous Council ever allowed a fast food business to run a drive-in facility that crosses the pavement twice across such a busy pedestrian place. And don’t start me on the terrible informal extra road they’ve allowed opposite the top of Franklin.

Ponsonby Rd- lot 3

The Richmond/Picton intersection; we believe all modes would benefit from this returning to a Barnes Dance pattern. Certainly it would be safer and better for pedestrians.

Above: The Richmond/Picton intersection; we believe all modes would benefit from this returning to a Barnes Dance pattern. Certainly it would be safer and better for pedestrians.

And a great city walk is a powerful thing, commercially, socially: as an attractor for local business, it is the ‘public playroom’ for residents and visitors alike. I’m not advocating for more land here, just for the quality of what’s already available to be better connected, defined, and available for people doing that most valuable thing: walking.

The prime opportunity is for this public realm to be stitched together across the various interuptions. Firstly for each of the minor cross streets to have their priority reversed and become extensions of the Ponsonby Rd footpath by raising the surface up to footpath level in a continuous line. This would clearly communicate to drivers the need to proceed with great care when turning, and to yield, as some already do, to the more vulnerable pedestrian. Some of the wider cross streets like Vermont are already narrowed and planted with good trees, but continuous blacktop invites fast and careless driving by some impatient or inobservant drivers. This can be fixed, as can the crossings at the major intersections.

So a group of us have got together to outline a number of improvements we would like AT and AC properly investigate along this well trod path.

1. Raised pedestrian tables on the minor side streets inline with the footpath.

2. Reinstating the Barnes Dance at the Richmond/Picton intersection with Ponsonby Rd

3. Ped crossings at the existing refuges at the mid blocks.

4. Enforce the existing 40kph speed limit.

5. Ban U turns.

6. Implement the Ponsonby Rd plan

There’s a petition here: http://www.actionstation.org.nz/ponsonby-for-people

And I would like to add; complete the return of the London Plane trees along the length of the street so we will get fully a joined up architecture of these great street trees along the route.

Add your thoughts on these or other possible improvements and feel free to nominate other streets that you think would benefit from this sort of upgrade. And note this post is deliberately focussed on the pedestrian realm as the cycling, traffic lane, and PT issues are covered in the masterplan, but also so the pedestrian realm can be discussed in its own right.

Do we have enough trains?

The new electric trains have by in large been a fantastic addition to Auckland. This is not to say that there haven’t been implementation issues however they are things that I expect Auckland Transport, Transdev, CAF and Kiwirail will iron out over time – though perhaps not as fast as we’d all hope for. One issue that is already emerging and that will be much harder to fix is the issue of whether we have enough capacity or more specifically did AT buy enough trains?

Auckland is getting 57 new three-car electric trains or 171 carriages. That is up from what was around 148 carriages with the old diesel fleet however as each carriage is also longer it equates to an overall capacity increase of something like 40% (sorry can’t remember the exact number).

carriage-allocation

A single three-car EMU is meant to have a total capacity on part with one of the four-car trains they’ve replaced. In addition there should be enough trains that a number run as six-car trains with a capacity that eclipses anything we had before.

Train Capacity 2

However despite this increase in capacity it seems we’re still having a lot of issues with trains that are over full. This tends to be on the fringes of the peak. It’s something that’s come up on social media a few times such as yesterday where trains on both the Southern Line and Western Line were affected by trains so full, they left hundreds waiting for a following service.

And

There have been many more experiences like these in the last few weeks.

What’s more with the growth in patronage that’s been occurring and with what’s projected – from the fact they are better trains, that within a few years there will be the new bus network that will see a lot more people transferring to trains to complete journeys and with integrated fares – this will only become more and more common. Trains too full will put people off using them and that will affect the entire PT network.

I’m also aware that there are still a few more trains yet to enter the country, I imagine they could help a small amount – although AT are also meant to be increasing frequencies on the Western line to match those on the other main lines, six per hour.

With this in mind I put some questions to AT about capacity. Here’s the response I got

CAF has committed to supplying 46 EMUs for weekday operations. That number is sufficient for 12 of the 34 train sets required to operate the timetable to be doubled as 6-car trains. In determining where the 6-carriage trains would be best utilised, AT reviewed passenger demand profiles which show that in the morning passenger boardings and alightings peak 07:45am to 08:30am. Given this, and demand profiles observed from other sources the allocation to services of these 6-carriage trains was prioritised to those service scheduled to arrive at Britomart within this time band.

A 3-carriage EMU has slightly fewer seats than a 4-carriage SA train (234 seats on an EMU versus 250 seats on a 4-carriage SA), however an EMU is better equipped to cope with standees as passengers can move through the train rather than being “compartmentalised” in a single carriage. On the Western Line the planned capacity supplied during the peak hour under diesel operations (the four trains arriving at Britomart between 07:44am and 08:30am) was a 5-carriage SA train (312 seats) followed by three 6-carriage trains (384 seats each). These four services have been replaced by 6-carriage EMUs with seating capacity of 468 per train. The net result is that on the Western Line during the peak hour (four service arrivals at Britomart 07:44am to 08:30am) the EMU capacity has increased by 408 seats, or 28%, when compared to the planned capacity under diesel operations.

The two services either side of the peak hour were previously programmed with 4-carriage SA trains, which is more of less the equivalent to a single 3-carriage EMU. In periods of service disruption which results in delays or cancellations it is possible that the trains will not be operating in sequence as planned and a single EMU may turn up at about the time that a double EMU would normally operate. That will result in crowded conditions and may mean that some passengers may not be able to board. Over the next few weeks AT will be monitoring demand to determine the services that should be prioritised for 6-carriage trains once all 57 EMUs have been fully commissioned.

Unfortunately they didn’t answer about whether the final three sets due to arrive soon will be on top of the 46 mentioned above. There’s also no answer on where trains to increase frequency on the western line to six per hour – like promised would happen in 2010 – will come from. On that, I expect the answer is they won’t come from anywhere. Instead that AT will keep the western line frequency at the level it is now till after the CRL is built as it’s likely the works around Mt Eden will limit capacity during construction.

Could it be that the biggest risk to meeting the CRL targets is AT not buying enough trains to handle the demand and the disruption the CRL construction itself will cause. What is clear is we’ll need the CRL asap if we don’t want the rail network to cease up in the next few years.

AT July Board Meeting

On Monday the Auckland Transport board hold their next board meeting and as I normally do, I’ve gone through the reports to see what’s being discussed. Starting with the closed session we have a number of topics that could be quite interesting. These include:

Items for Approval/Decision

  • Regional Passenger Transport Plan (RPTP) –  I assume discussing the changes based on the updated RPTP consultation they conducted recently
  • Media Advertising – Given it’s coming from the PT team it seems to be about how AT advertise PT in the media.
  • CRL Business Case Summary – This should be interesting. I wonder if it is something new that will soon be released to the public or is a rehash of the old business cases.

Items for Noting

  • Infringement Revenue – I assume this will be discussing what happens with infringement revenue
  • LRT Stakeholder Engagement Plans – AT are continuing to progress their LRT plans (and a tender closes today for a Technical Advisor for the project) and so engagement with stakeholders is bound to increase. This appears to be information on how they’ll do that engagement.

On to the main report and first up are the project updates.

Te Atatu Road Upgrade – It appears that since the report was written the contract for this $30 million project has been awarded to Higgens Contractors and work starts 4 August. The project effectively widened to provide a flush median and sporadic on road unprotected cycle lanes and shared paths as well as replaces the roundabout at the intersection with Edmonton and Flanshaw Roads with signals.

K Road Cycleway – Around a year after we last heard anything there’s finally a mention in the board paper. Unfortunately it doesn’t give us info on when it might actually start being built.

K Rd Cycleway

An artist impression from last year. I believe the design has evolved a lot since this

Eastern Rail Cycleway (Glen Innes to Tamaki Drive) – The report says the NZTA should be awarding the contract to construct the first stage from Glen Innes to St Johns Rd by the end of this month while design and consent works continue on the rest of the project.

Onehunga Mall Streetscape – Construction starts mid-August on an upgrade of Onehunga Mall. The first improvements will be to the footpaths.

Onehunga Mall Streetscape Upgrade Concept

Onehunga Mall Streetscape Upgrade Concept impression

Mission Bay Street Upgrade – An upgrade of Tamaki Dr in front of the block of shops to the east of Patterson Ave in Mission Bay is also planned. The report just says they will be widening of a section of Mission Bay’s town centre and I can only assume they mean of the footpaths. Consultation will happen this year but construction won’t start till next year after the Christmas season. This is what a local board report says

The proposal is to widen the footpath, by removing the car parks along that stretch of Tamaki Drive. There will be a new mobility park installed in Patterson Ave, as a result of removing the existing mobility car park. Parking on Patterson Ave will remain as it is, with exception of the allocation of the mobility park. This will require the use of two existing car parks.

Ōtāhuhu Bus-Train Interchange – The detailed design is complete. There is currently a tender out for construction which closes mid-August and be awarded in September. Completion is now not till June 2016 and the new network for South Auckland continues to be on hold till this project is finished.

Otahuhu interchange

AMETI – Movement appears to be happening with the extension of the busway from Panmure to Pakuranga along with discussions of how it travels through Pakuranga

Lodgement of the Stage 2A NoR for the busway from Panmure to Pakuranga (Ti Rakau Drive) is pending resolution of the cultural mitigation process; this is expected by late July to permit on-going dialogue between lead iwi Ngati Paoa and other relevant iwi.

A joint review of the AMETI delivery strategy with regards to the timing of the Reeves Road flyover and Stage 2B (busway between Pakuranga and Botany) components has been carried out between AT, Council and the NZ Transport Agency, with final dialogue scheduled for July.

Newmarket Crossing (Sarawia St Level Crossing) – AT say in August they will be seeking approval to lodge a notice of requirement for the project however that means it will still have to go through a considerable process before it is built. This is important as AT claim it’s the one thing that’s stopping them from being able to increase the frequency on the Western Line.

Newmarket Crossing May 2015

On to other areas

Some new ads for the benefits of bus lanes. This is an area I think AT have been doing very well in lately.

Bus Lane Ads 2015-07

Moving on to the projects and initiates that make up AT’s key strategic priorities.

Ticketing and Fares – AT have giving some a high level summary of the response to the integrated fares consultation a few months ago. All up 1556 submissions were received and the broad results are below.

  • Do you think the proposed zone boundaries are about right? Yes 60% No 20%
  • Do you think the proposed products are about right? Yes 51% No 37%

We won’t know the final outcome and any changes that would be made till later this year.

Electric trains – In total 54 trains are in the country and of those 47 have been accepted for carrying passengers. The last three sets arrive early August and all trains will be on the network by the end of the year

New Network – at the time of writing the report there were over 1000 submissions on the network for the North Shore. Consultation for the Isthmus and East Auckland is being targeted for September/October. The first area to go live will be Hibiscus Coas in October this year.

Capacity – The first two of Howick & Eastern’s 15 double deckers have come off the production line in Scotland. They will arrive for testing in October and then the remaining ones will be built in Tauranga. Ritchies have 18 double deckers on order and I’m aware one is already on the network.

Infrastructure – There are a number of bus priority improvements that are due to start or be completed this month

  • Onewa Road T3 lane (city bound) – construction progressing and due to be completed in July
  • Park Road bus lane (hospital to Carlton Gore Road) – consultation completed; construction due to commence in July
  • Parnell Road bus lane (St Stephens to Sarawia Street – outbound) – consultation completed; construction due to commence in July
  • Manukau Road/Pah Road transit lanes – internal consultation completed – external consultation commenced
  • Great North Road bus lanes (New Lynn to Ash Street) – final concept plans completed – consultation underway
  • Totara Avenue signal removal – improvements to New Lynn bus interchange; construction due to be completed in July
  • Esmonde Road bus lane – construction to commence July

Customer Experience – Some more things for bus users not to look forward to

AT’s partner for bus shelters, Adshel, are launching 35 digital screens at prominent Auckland bus shelter locations, in a move that will offer advertisers unrivalled impact and targeting opportunities and in line with global leaders like London, San Francisco and Stockholm, where roadside digital advertising has seen large demand. Spanning sites across the Auckland CBD and key fringe suburbs such as Ponsonby and Mission Bay, the new format provide more opportunities for advertisers, and this will increase the revenue share available for AT.

June-15 Patronage

We learned the other day the patronage results for rail in June, now we have them for all modes and once again they are extremely good – helped a little bit by there being an extra business day compared to June last year. The results are also significant as June is the end of the financial year so the results are what are compared against targets and compared against other metrics.

For the 12 months to the end of June, patronage was 79.25 million trips which is up 9.5% on the 2014 result. That’s an increase in almost 7 million trips over the course of a year and given the strong weekday growth probably represents around an extra 30,000 trips being taken each working day. When you think of it this way it’s not surprising that so many trains and buses have been full to the point of leaving people behind.  The changes for individual modes were:

  • Bus (excluding Northern Express) – 57 million trips, up 6.6%
  • Northern Express – 2.8 million trips, up 17.2%
  • Rail – 13.9 million trips, up 21.7%
  • Ferry – 5.5 million trips, up 8.3%

2015-06 - Total Patronage Chart

2015-06 - Patronage Table

As you can see from the numbers above the Rapid Transport Network (rail and busway) continue to shine with stunning levels of growth once again highlighting that investing in frequent and high quality services is really pays off. And of course the growth is likely to continue strongly following the roll-out of the electric trains on Monday – which should really help drive up patronage – and the Northern Busway which is about to get a capacity and free advertising) upgrade in the form of new double-decker buses which should improve (the new network for most parts of Auckland doesn’t start rolling out till next year).

The results meant that AT smashed it’s patronage targets for the year – although in fairness the Council had agreed to lower them to stupidly low levels. The Long Term Plan sees some much rougher targets

2015-06 - Patronage vs targets

And here’s an update as to how rail patronage is tracking vs the 20 million trip target the government set back in 2013

2015-06 - Rail Patronage vs Govt Target

 

The patronage increases along with the roll-out of the electric trains on the rail network are clearly having an impact on subsidies with the per passenger kilometre figures continuing to fall.

2015-06 - Subsidy per PAX KM

Not everything is good news though. On the rail network the key stats of punctuality and reliability are some of the worst I can remember seeing. If such poor outcomes continue it must surely start having an impact on patronage at some point.

2015-06 - AKL - Rail Punctuality

 

Things are a bit brighter for buses with results improving since AT started using actual data to monitor where buses where – as opposed to AT being provided data from the operators. While they might be much smaller than the other companies, Urban Express are out performing them on these stats.

2015-06 - Bus Reliability

Overall it’s been a pretty good year for patronage growth in Auckland. Let’s hope that the same thing happens again this new financial year and that AT and the bus companies have the ability to respond to the capacity needed

Changes to CBD Parking costs

Auckland Transport have announced that the price of parking in their city centre carparks will be changing. Currently their Downtown, Civic and Victoria Street car parking buildings have an hourly cost of $3 which is capped at $17 for the day. They also have evening rates of $2 per hour capped at $7.50 for the Downtown and Victoria St buildings and $8 for the Civic building. The reason for the different cap for the Civic building is it more frequently fills up from events.

The hourly charges aren’t changing but from 1 August AT will increase the caps at the three carparks. The changes are:

  • The day rate in the Downtown, Civic and Victoria Street car parking buildings will increase from $17 to $24.
  • Evening and maximum rates: Civic: Flat fee of $12 (post 6pm). Victoria and Downtown: Increase from $7.50 to $10.

The rationale for the changes is below

  • Historically AT has subsidised people to drive into the city at peak times, which is adding to congestion.
  • AT is continuing to move towards the customer pays for their stay approach. This replicates AT’s central city on-street parking approach
  • Our prices are increasing further to dis-incentivise people from driving during one of the busiest times of the day (am peak).
  • AT anticipates this move will free up some peak hour occupancy in its off-street parking facilities while continuing to provide for short stay users encouraging turn-over and availability
  • The removal of the Early Bird option in December 2014 has not had the desired impact in changing customer behaviour. A further step is needed to assist in modal shift behaviour from cars to public transport, walking or cycling.
  • Additional note: AT has a small percentage of off street car parking spaces in the central city and region wide. Downtown: 1937 spaces. Civic: 939 spaces. Victoria Street car park: 888 spaces.

On that last point, the chart below just how few carparks AT has compared to what else is in the city centre. In addition there’s likely to be significant increases in carpark supply over the coming years from new developments – the biggest of which is the new Convention Centre for which SkyCity want to add over 1,400 spaces. A number of other developments are adding 200-300 carparks each.

CBD Parking Supply

I suspect there could be one more reason why AT are pushing this now and that’s related to the CRL. Starting later this year AT start the enabling works which will see the CRL tunnels dug along Albert St as far as Wyndham St (actually tunnelling won’t begin till next year). This is going to cause immense disruption to buses and cars and as such it makes sense to try and reduce that as much as possible. Shifting more people to public transport is one way of get more capacity out of the transport system. I guess if you think about incentivising change as a case of using carrots and sticks, this change represents AT using a bigger stick.

Of course none of these facts are likely to matter to those who use the carparks and I expect there will be howls of outrage about the change – in fact I’d be surprised if it hasn’t yet been picked up by the likes of the Herald (I wrote this on Sunday). I suspect that in particular they’ll come under attack for being so honest about their desire to get more people out of their cars and using public transport. The reality is that’s kind of been happening for a long time now.

Data from the council’s annual Screenline Survey shows that from 2001-2014 all of the growth in trips to the city centre in the AM peak has come by way of public transport and most of that via the Rapid Transit Network (Rail and Busway). The number of people driving has actually declined slightly. Unfortunately despite the survey being conducted annually since the 1980’s we don’t have any data for 2015 as the council stopped it in a bid to cut costs. Hopefully AT will find a way to replicate the survey with data from systems like HOP and traffic counters as it provides an incredibly useful measure as to how various initiatives are working.

CBD Transport Change CBD Transport Change #

 

Getting to an all electric network

Today marks the first time in Auckland that all train services on a normal weekday will be run by electric trains. While I’m sure there are bound to be more teething issues as a result, it represents a significant milestone in the progress towards a better and more balanced transport system for Auckland. However while I’m glad to see the back of the old diesels, without them we also wouldn’t be in the situation we are today. It’s clear that earlier investments in both the diesels and the network achieved enough patronage growth that they helped convince officials and politicians to agree to spend over $1 billion, to electrify the network and buy new trains. With that in mind, I thought I’d once again take a bit of a look at the history of the rail network and what led us to this point.

Up until recently, trains in Auckland were not that widely used, and could best be described as being in a fairly constant state of decay. That’s the result of a few things including:

  • Up until the mid-1950’s most of the population was covered by trams, trains only served outlying areas.
  • In 1930 the main train station was moved from where Britomart is now (but on the surface) to the now old Auckland Train station next to Vector Arena. That made trains an inconvenient mode for most.
  • Despite repeated attempts over many decades to improve rail, nothing ever got off the ground and no real investment was put into the system.
  • During the same time we put huge investment into the motorway network and making it easier to drive.

Due to the factors above – and likely others – patronage continued to decline. Usage of rail was so low that in the 1980’s serious consideration was put into ripping up the tracks alongside the southern motorway and turning them into more lanes. By the early 1990’s patronage was reached its lowest point, barely scraping above 1 million trips a year. However it was about this time that a turnaround started and it was all the result of one man and some amazing luck. You can read the full story here but the short version is:

He had been tasked with shutting the network down but after looking at the operation he worked out he was able to cut costs and start turning a profit and extend the contracts. At the same time Perth was just finishing electrifying their own rail network and had no use for their old diesel trains allowing most of them to be brought at scrap value for use in Auckland. The Diesel Multiple Units (DMUs) started plying the tracks in 1992. Within a few years patronage had doubled to over 2 million trips per year – higher than it was for most of the 1980’s and late 1970’s.

AT-ARTA-Image-TrainsAtBritomart

A DMU (left) and SA set (right) at Britomart

Things really kicked up a gear in 2003 when Britomart opened, once again returning trains back to the city. The growth in patronage was too much for the DMU’s to handle and so from 2004 the first of the SA sets started arriving. These are the refurbished carriages – originally from the UK – that are hauled by freight locomotives and which became such a common sight on the rail network in Auckland. In total over 100 carriages were refurbished over a five year period.

Both the DMUs and SA sets represented a big step forward compared to what had existed before and growth continued as more services kept being added. In 2006 this was further boosted by the government agreeing on Project DART (Developing Auckland’s Rail Transport Network) which saw the double tracking of the Western Line as well as station upgrades such as Newmarket and New Lynn, the reopening of the Onehunga line and the building of a new line to Manukau. Impressively despite frequent and often massive disruption as a result of the major works being undertaken, patronage continued to rise.

In 2010 after delaying electrification to re-evaluate it and cancel a planned regional fuel tax that would have paid for the trains, the current government agreed to fund electrification and give the council a loan to buy the new trains. This meant that from 2011 onwards the rail network continued to be plagued by significant disruption however despite this patronage kept rising. The only exception to this was in 2012/13 when the after-effect of two significant events kicked in at the same time. One was the boost that came from the Rugby World Cup (~400,000 trips) and the second was a change in the way patronage was counted as a result of the introduction of HOP. However since then patronage has once again risen again – more than making up the lost ground.

The plan was to buy 38 trains and then separately buy some electric locomotives to haul the SA sets around for another decade or so however in 2011 the government agreed it would be better and cheaper over the long term to buy an extra 19 trains and run a single uniform fleet – plus the SA sets couldn’t run through the future CRL for safety reasons. All of this meant we’re getting a total fleet of 57 trains.

The first Electric Train (EMU) arrived in August 2013 and entered service at the end of April 2014. They then slowly started to be rolled out to Manukau line services in August before being rolled out to all services in December. This year we’ve already started to see electric trains on some Southern and Western line services. While the full roll out to all lines has only been completed today the impact of the new electric trains has been extraordinary. For example in the 12 months to the end of May patronage on the Eastern Line is up a staggering 43.7%. As I understand it, of the 57 trains we ordered, all but the last few are in the country with the final ones arriving in August.

EMUs at the Depot

Photo by Patrick Reynolds

The chart below shows the history of rail patronage over the time-frame above including some of the significant events mentioned. Of note is it includes the 2014/15 result (to the end of June) which AT has confirmed to me as 13.9 million over the year. That’s up almost 22% over the 11.4 million trips to the end of June 2014. That level of growth puts us well on track towards the target the government have set for an earlier start date for the next major rail project – the CRL. Current estimates see that figure being passed in around 2017/18.

Auckland Rail Patronage 1990-2015

While the diesel trains have definitely served a purpose and helped improve rail use in Auckland. In the last eight months or so they’ve been increasingly unreliable as maintenance on them was reduced. At the same time there have been bedding in issues with the new EMUs. With a single fleet now it should mean that those involved in delivering train services in Auckland – AT, CAF, Kiwirail and Transdev – should be able to focus on addressing just one set of issues. At the end of June we learned of their action plan for the next year for this.

EMU + Rail improvement action plan 1 - Jun - Sep

One of the most interesting aspects of the Auckland rail story is the links with Perth. Not only did we buy their old diesel trains but they’re often cited as a case study by officials thanks to the significant uptake in rail use thanks to electrification and new projects.  At the time they went electric their system carried around 10 million passengers which is not too far off what our network was carrying when we first started running electric trains. It is hoped that we’ll emulate some of the success they’ve had – which has also come from building significant new lines. Here’s how patronage on the two networks look.

Auckland vs Perth Patronage - 2015

I believe that in a few years-time that electrification, just like with Britomart, will be one those projects we look back on and wonder why it took us so many decades to do, why politicians from all sides refused to believe it could work. Lastly I was in Britomart yesterday and it really is wonderful how quiet the station is now that we don’t have rattly old diesel trains in it. Thank you to everyone who has helped get us to this point.

p.s. next we need to get electrification extended to Pukekohe for a fully all electric network.

Panmure Public Piano

Brilliantly someone at AT has thought to install a piano at Panmure Station. Passing through in the afternoon lull it was really great to hear random members of the public bashing out tunes. Some were really good too. No one attempted Rach 3, and there were a few repeats of Chopsticks and wonky versions of Fur Elise, but there were also a couple pretty handy players. And the acoustics turn out to be great.

PANMURE STATION_4263

 

PANMURE STATION_4275

PANMURE STATION_4311

So if you have the skills why not head over to Panmure on the weekend and give the people a little love….? Or better still entertain the troops at rush hour.

All Electric from July 20

A few weeks ago in a post about dwell times I mentioned that from July 20 all services all lines will be operated by electric trains (with the exception of the Papakura to Pukekohe shuttle). Regular rail users may have started to see advertising appear on platforms announcing the change and as part of that there are also new timetables with tweaks made to all lines – the Eastern line is almost completely unaffected.

The new timetables can be found here

Just having a quick look through them I’ve noticed a few things worth to noting:

Western Line

It seems that all Britomart bound weekday trains leave about 1 minute earlier than the current timetable. Swanson bound trains are mostly the same with a few exceptions.

In April AT increased the overall journey time to Britomart by three minutes. They’ve now shaved one minute off that. Let’s hope with the other improvements they’ve highlighted as coming over the next six months or so that can come down much further.

There has been a change to the timing on parts of the timetable. Most noticeable is that is an extra minute at Newmarket station for the driver to walk the length of the platform – although this comes from less time allocated between Grafton and Newmarket.

As has long been heralded, the introduction of an all-electric fleet will see trains no longer stop at Waitakere. Interestingly AT have decided to leave Waitakere in the timetable but shown as a bus replacement. I wonder if this is just a transitional thing until the next timetable change. On the change AT say

Electric trains will end at Swanson on the Western Line. A connecting bus service (route 139) will operate between Waitakere and Swanson departing from:

Waitakere

  • Bus stop on Township Rd outside Waitakere Station

Swanson

  • Bus stop in the Swanson Station car park

There doesn’t appear to be any changes to frequency or how late the trains run.

Southern Line

As mentioned the Southern Line changes see the introduction of a diesel shuttle between Papakura and Pukekohe – this is something that already occurs on weekends. Britomart bound there appears to be either a four or nine minute window to transfer services. Assuming trains are on time then in the evening peak those heading toward Pukekohe have a roughly a 7 minute window to transfer.

July - 15 timetable Puke Shuttle

The departure times and running times from Papakura and Britomart seem unchanged.

Onehunga Line

Departure times from Onehunga on weekdays are all three minutes earlier while running times in this direction have been reduced by one minute.

There appears to be no change for departure or running times for trains from Britomart to Onehunga.

While most of the changes are fairly minor – the tweaking of times suggests this could be about improving when trains reach various junctions – the timetable change is significant as with the changes to Waitakere and Pukekohe it likely represent the final structure of the rail network until City Rail Link is built. That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t see more improvements though. We know that improvements to frequencies need to come with the roll out of the new bus network and of course Western line desperately needs to move to 10 minute peak frequencies.

Further, the completed roll-out of the electric trains removes one of the major issues AT have mentioned – running a mixed fleet – this means they should be able to focusing on the long list of changes they’ve identified to improve the reliability and speed of services over the coming year – the next few months are shown below but head to the link for the next year.

EMU + Rail improvement action plan 1 - Jun - Sep

Just what happens to the old diesel trains remains to be seen. The AT board report says some have already been retired and sent to Taumaurunui for storage – presumably until AT can find someone to buy them. Si if anyone wants a nostalgia trip on the old diesels I’d suggest you do so quickly, they have less than two weeks left before being retired from service.