Battery powered trains for Pukekohe

Since the majority of the Auckland network went electric last year, people travelling to and from Pukekohe have had to catch one of the old diesel trains as a shuttle from the end of the wires at Papakura. As I understand it the main reason the wires weren’t extended further than Papakura was the cost. It might be one extra station but it would represent about 36km extra of track to wire up.

Coming to the western line soon

Could battery powered trains be coming to Pukekohe

The diesel shuttle is ok as a short term solution but long term we’re going to need to do something about extending electric trains south of Papakura, especially as there is a ton of growth planned for the area with tens of thousands of homes to be built in close proximity to the rail corridor. Electrifying the line was included as part of the Transport for Future Urban Growth consultation recently.

TFUG - Draft Preferred Plan - South

We’ve seen in the past that electrifying this section of track isn’t cheap and combined with new stations to serve those developments and AT have estimated it at over $100 million – I’ve seen some estimates as high as $140 million. Even so the business case we saw in 2012 suggested the economic return was ok with a BCR of 2.1.

At some point, last year I think, there was a suggestion that Auckland Transport were looking at an alternative solution to the traditional stringing up of wires, getting trains with batteries attached. Now it seems AT are talking much more publicly about that with a report from Radio NZ suggesting that this idea is looking more and more promising.

Auckland rail commuters could be riding in battery-powered trains within a few years if the city’s transport agency can find the right technology – and the money.

Auckland Transport said a new fleet of electric trains with large battery packs would be able to serve towns beyond the end of the electrified network.

The agency has been working for more than a year on the project, along with the Spanish train-builder CAF,which supplied Auckland’s 57 new electric trains.

Adding four-tonne battery packs to a new fleet of electric trains is being studied as a cheaper option to extending electrification to the southern town of Pukekohe.

Commuters there have to shuttle in ageing diesel trains to reach the electric trains at Papakura.

Project manager Lloyd Major said battery-powered engines were cutting edge technology, but a new generation of batteries developed for electric cars made it more viable.

“Consequently we looked at the feasibility of doing it in Auckland. The Spanish manufacturer CAF is very confident, to the extent that six months ago we thought we’d need to build a prototype, but now we think it’s more about just finding the right battery.”

There’s perhaps a little irony if it was due to the development of electric cars that battery powered trains became a viable solution, and it’s an interesting solution at that. I don’t know anything about the financials behind option but I imagine it could save tens of millions if not more from not having to run wires and that would obviously be a good thing – although it should be noted that electrification to Pukekohe should really be being paid for by the government like they did with the rest the Auckland network.

The report says that AT would need about 18 trains to serve Pukekohe (and the southern line) and that would also allow the trains currently used on the line to be freed up to bolster the capacity of other services around the network so pursuing such an option could see train capacity improved faster.

While I’m sure there is still plenty of work to be done to see if it is feasible, the idea seems like it could be a good one. Who knows perhaps it might also one day allow trains to travel further afield such as to Pokeno which sits outside Auckland’s boundaries.

What do you think of the idea of battery powered trains?