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Electrification officially turned on

Yesterday the switch was officially flipped on electrification of the Auckland rail network  - well at least the on the section into Britomart. Unfortunately I wasn’t able to make it so am relying on reports in the media and from others who were there. Firstly the official release from the government

Transport Minister Gerry Brownlee welcomes today’s switching-on of overhead lines into the Britomart Transport Centre as a milestone for Auckland’s transport network.

“Electrification is a key element of the government’s focus on supporting a cohesive, efficient transport system for Auckland,” Mr Brownlee says.

“Today is a milestone for three projects which represent a total $1.7 billion government investment – the upgrade of the network to enable 10-minute peak frequencies (Project DART), the Auckland Electrification Project, and the purchase of 57 new electric trains.”

Mr Brownlee says while Aucklanders made 10.7 million trips by rail across the city in the year to January 2014, the upgraded and electrified network, along with new electric trains, will encourage many more people to take the train.

“This will play a big part in tackling congestion, and will also substantially increase the size of the rail fleet, providing spare capacity for future growth,” Mr Brownlee says.

“I want to commend KiwiRail, Auckland Transport and TransDev Auckland for their efforts in deploying safety and protection measures across the network, and safety education.

“It is particularly pleasing to see children learning rail safety in the classroom, which will help them keep safe around our rail network, both now and in the future.

“The government is investing around $1 billion a year on roads and public transport to meet the transport needs of Auckland’s growing population and to improve the transport system’s contribution to economic growth.”

It’s sad to see the government are still bundling together the spending on project DART, funding for which was approved long before they were in office (as was electrification funding). Of course they don’t do the same thing when talking about roads otherwise they would would be constantly talking about $4 billion they are spending on the Western Ring Route alone before you consider all of the other upgrades that have been happening to the motorway network over the last decade or so.

On to more positive things. At these types of PT events we’ve become quite used to hearing government politicians mention the PT project then proceed to talk at length about the efforts to upgrade the cities roading network. John Key’s speech ditched  that and he actually spoke very positively about the importance of it. Here’s some quotes from his speech:

“There’s nothing magical about Aucklanders using public transport,”

“If it’s there and it’s efficient they will use it.”

“So today I think is part of the solution to making sure that we can grow as a city, cope and do well and to do that if we want Auckland, and indeed New Zealand to be efficient and competitive on the world stage we actually have to have good access to public transport”

Here’s some tweets from Patrick who was at the event

Many readers love to blame the government for a lack of investment in PT, particularly around the CRL. I’ve long thought that John Key and the real problem is those who give him advice on transport, namely Steven Joyce and Gerry Brownlee, something highlighted by the Fran O’Sullivan from the Herald last year after the government agreed to the CRL (but obviously not the timing).

Our friends from Generation Zero were also at the event pushing for the Congestion Free Network.

There was also an interesting bit of timing with this announcement. Professor Peter Newman is in town and he is a man who was instrumental in getting the Perth rail network electrified and extended and has long suggested we do the same.

Lastly the countdown to the first services is now definitely on and with  the first normal services starting to Onehunga on April 28, a mere 26 days away. Now people are seeing the trains out and about, plus with AT now advertising them I think the excitement for these trains will only keep building.

EMU Newmarket from AT

Photo of the day: Britomart pedestrian tunnel

While I do use this entrance from time to time when the weather is really bad, I like so many others much prefer to cross outside of Britomart.

Photos are credited to oh.yes.melbourne

Photo of the day – Takutai Square

http://www.flickr.com/photos/eyeonauckland/10694144046/

Photo is credited to oh.yes.melbourne

Barring up Britomart

Most of you are probably back at work today after what I hope was a good break and probably trying to ease back into a usual routine as slowly as possible. If you are a person who normally catches the train to work that routine is almost undoubted still disrupted thanks to the rail network still being closed north of Newmarket on the Onehunga, Southern and Western lines while closed north of Westfield on the Eastern lines. In those places the network is being kept closed so that work can continue on getting the rail network wired up for electrification. The focus this shutdown has been on getting Britomart and parts of the Eastern line wired up.

Probably the main problem with overhead electrification is the visual impact of it – although in a way it kind of acts like an advertisement of a high quality PT service at the same time. Personally I have found that in most places the impact hasn’t been too bad and the installation is certainly far less intrusive than some other overhead systems I’ve seen. However when it comes to the visual impact, Britomart and the Eastern line across Hobson Bay are arguably the two most challenging sections and the ones where people are most likely to complain. I was out yesterday and so made a slight detour to see how work was progressing.

Eastern Line

The reason I think this section is difficult is that I suspect there are some local residents between Quay Park and the Purewa tunnel for whom any change to the visual landscape will be unacceptable. Along this part of the route it isn’t just houses primarily next to the rail lines that would notice changes but quite a lot all around the bay and the view in the area often plays a large part in property values.

The wires themselves were only installed as far east as Judges Bay however the masts extended all the way past Orakei station (I decided not to both going further as had other things to do). My feeling is that while the wires weren’t installed yet, the masts showed that the visual impact on the area probably isn’t going to be too significant. For example looking from Ngapipi Rd for example across Hobson Bay they certainly didn’t seem to be an issue.

I didn’t get any photos of this section but Luke C got this one looking across Judges Bay. The visual impact across the causeway is similar to what the masts around the Pt Resolution Bridge look like in this shot.

Electrification masts - Judges Bay - Luke

Britomart

Britomart is of course a completely different challenge. One of my favourite things about the station is how open and light part of the station is; it’s like a giant cavern. The risk with electrification is that it the infrastructure makes the station appear cluttered and I understand it has been something the project team have been very well aware of. I remember talking to someone involved with the project a few years ago and they said that early on they were putting a lot of effort in to the station to ensure they got it right.

One of the decisions that was made was that instead of running wires into the station – like across the rest of the network – instead a solid bar system would be used that removes the need for catenary wires thus reducing clutter. The system will also be used in the CRL tunnels once those are built meaning a smaller sized tunnel can be used compared to what would be needed to support catenary wires.

Now that the infrastructure is going in we can finally see what the station is going to look like. Here are a couple of photos of the works although they didn’t come out that well.

Electrification in Britomart

Electrification in Britomart 3

Next week the trains from everything but the eastern lines will return to Britomart, it will be interesting to see what passengers think of the changes.

Photo of the day – Te Ara Tahuhu Walkway

Photo is credited to oh.yes.melbourne

Photo of the day – Britomart concourse entrance

The entrance to the underground concourse from Queen Elizabeth Square to Britomart. Personally I much prefer walking out of the front doors of Britomart and crossing the road rather than use this (unless it’s really pouring with rain).

Photos is copyright to Sydney

Photo of the day – Atrium on Takutai

The Atrium of the Westpac and Ernst & Young buildings. The eastern entrances to Britomart are down the stairs/escalators to the left and right.

Photos is copyright to Sydney

Photo of the day – Britomart haze

The haze at Britomart from the diesel fumes. I can’t wait for the day when we only have electric trains stopping at the station.

Britomart Haze

Speaking of electric trains, reader Gianfranco sent me these photo’s showing our second electric train being unloaded yesterday. Have also heard that testing on the first EMU is going well and they have even had it up to just over 122km/h – although the trains won’t run that fast with passengers on board.

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A single electric train would be able to carry more people that all of the cars in that last photo (at normal occupancy rates).

Photo of the day – Takutai Square

Photos are copyright to Sydney and Craig.

Britomart’s Birthday celebrated with news part of CRL to start Early

As mentioned yesterday, Britomart is now 10 years old and Auckland Transport and the Council decided to celebrate that milestone today. I caught an early (for me) train into Britomart this morning to have a look at the celebrations. Here is Len arriving at the station.

10th Birthday - Len Arriving at Britomart

Many people would have received some cake as they arrived this morning. Here is what it looked like before being cut into small pieces. I’m told the cake weighed 60kg and contained lights and the number on the top rotated.

10th Birthday - Cutting the Cake

But the most interesting thing about the morning was Len Browns speech. Precinct Properties – the owners of the Downtown Shopping Centre – want to demolish the mall and redevelop the site which is likely to start 2016/17. The council is in the process of negotiating with them to build the CRL tunnels through the site at the same time so that they don’t have to hold the development up or go back and do it later on. This is significant for many reasons, first of which is that it means the CRL is officially being started in 2016 but that isn’t the only thing. It means that Auckland Transport no longer need to purchase the entire site saving around $80 million.  This is even more significant as while AT would have been able to resell the empty site once they had finished with it, my understanding is that one of the quirks of our economic assessment criteria prevents the resale of future unneeded land from considered in the Benefit Cost Ratio calculations. The map below shows the designation that Auckland Transport is seeking:

CRL Downtown site

News that the a section of the tunnel will begin earlier than the rest of the project in order for a development to occur is also extremely similar to what happened with Britomart itself. Back in the late 1990′s the tunnel connecting the station to Quay Park was built before the station itself was even agreed upon and when it was far from certain that it would even happen and was done to enable the land above it to be developed.

But this announcement won’t be without its own challenges. Auckland Transport had initially intended to use the site as a works yard – something Precinct weren’t happy about in their submission on the designation (pages 34-38).

Submission Precinct Properties

Not having the site available could mean that AT will have to reassess how the build the project or alternatively buy another site to use. This perhaps represents one of the key reasons that Precinct are keen to get an agreement, and their development under way as soon as possible.

However while it might present some challenges for AT, it also presents some interesting opportunities. At this stage the plan only seems to be to build the tunnels under the actual mall site however there is potentially a lot of value in extending the tunnel a little bit on either side.

An extension under Customs St could mean the intersection is sorted out before Quay St is hopefully narrowed down and made more pedestrian friendly. It would mean that when it comes time to dig the rest of the tunnel that Customs St can be unaffected which I’m sure would help greatly with traffic flows. It also means that permanent changes – like hopefully a busway – could be made to Customs St before the CRL is built.

At the other end, extending the tunnel under QE2 Square, the bus only section of Queen St and connecting the tunnel into Britomart itself could bring even bigger benefits. It would allow the tunnels to be used to store trains which could increase the capacity of the station enough to enable another couple of trains per hour to use it. That could potentially allow for upgrades and higher frequencies on the Onehunga line to be brought forward separate of the CRL or alternatively a new rail spur to Mt Roskill. It would add capacity by having one train enter the station, dropping off passengers at the platform then carrying on into the tunnel stub to end its journey. Because the points don’t need to change another train could follow through right behind and terminate at the platform like what happens now. The first train could be parked up in the tunnel until it is needed again in the afternoon peak where the reverse happens. In the off peak there wouldn’t be the capacity limitations like there are at peak so services into Britomart wouldn’t be as constrained.

With these two small extensions it also means that the entire northern end of the CRL project is completed and can then be largely immune from the disruption that will occur when Albert St is dug up. It also means we can put in place some permanent infrastructure for buses through the area .

Here is a press release from Precinct Properties on the issue:

Precinct CRL negotiations with Auckland Council

Scott Pritchard, the Chief Executive of Precinct Properties, said today the company has entered negotiations with Auckland Council with a view to coordinating the timing of works at the Downtown Shopping Centre with the building of a tunnel at the site for the City Rail Link.

“We welcome the chance to work together with the Council as obviously it would make a lot of sense to coordinate timing so they can advance works for the CRL tunnel at this site at the same time as we develop the Downtown Centre.”

While it was still early days, he said the company’s work at the Centre would deliver on a long-held vision of building on the natural advantages of the location to create an attractive new precinct with quality office space and a new level of retail experience.

“We have had a strategy of focussing on the harbour-front area for some time. This is a unique location right on the waterfront and near Auckland’s transport hub. It offers an exciting opportunity to create a special area in the heart of the city to attract people into Queen St.”

Precinct has been a long-standing supporter of the City Rail Link and the Council’s City Centre Masterplan

Precinct will seek world-class input into planning for the location. But the process is still at a very early stage, with actual physical works not expected to begin until 2016.

As well as the CRL we will be closely following what develops on this important site.