Auckland Rapid Transit Network

This is AT’s official future vision for  the Rapid Transit Network in Auckland. I feel the need to show this again in the context of a number of uninformed views about the CRL popping up again, as one of the chief misunderstandings is to treat the City Rail Link as a single route outside of the network it serves.

All successful transport systems are designed through network thinking and not just as a bunch of individual routes, this is true of our existing and extensive motorway network just as it is true for our rapidly growing Rapid Transit one. The Waterview tunnel is not being built just so people can drive from Mt Roskill to Pt Chev, and nor is the CRL just to connect Mt Eden to downtown.

The CRL is but one project on the way to a whole city-wide network, as is clearly shown below, and as such it doesn’t do everything on its own.

But then having said that because it is at the heart of  the current and future city-wide network it is the most crucial and valuable point of the whole system. That is true today and will continue to true for as long as there is a city on this Isthmus. In fact it is hard to overstate the value of the CRL as by through-routing the current rail system it is as if it gives Auckland a full 100km Metro system for the cost of a pair of 3.4km tunnels and a couple of stations. This is simply the best bargain going in infrastructure in probably any city of Auckland’s size anywhere in the world and is certainly the best value transport project of scale in New Zealand. Because it is transformational* for the city and complementary to all our existing systems, especially the near complete urban motorway network.

Additionally the capacity it adds to the region’s whole travel supply is immense: taking up to 48 trains an hour this can move the equivalent of 12 motorway lanes of car traffic. All without flattening any place nor need to park or circulate those vehicles on local roads and streets. And all powered by our own renewably generated electricity. This is how the city grows both in scale and quality without also growing traffic congestion.

AT Rapid Transit Network - 2041

This map will evolve over time as each addition is examined in detail. For example I expect the cost-effectiveness and efficiency a rail system over the harbour, up the busway and to Takapuna to become increasingly apparent well before this time period. In fact as the next harbour crossing, so we are likely to see that in the next decade, otherwise this is that pattern that both the physical and social geography of Auckland calls for. Additionally Light Rail on high quality right-of-ways, although not true Rapid Transit, will also likely be added in the near term.

Welcome to Auckland: City.

* = transformational because it substantially changes not only our movement options, the quality of accessibility between places throughout the city and without the use of a car, but also Auckland’s very idea of itself; we have not been a Metro city before: It is doing things differently.


Matt suggested adding this more recent version. I agree this is a good idea, it shows just how quickly ideas are changing in Auckland right now. This is a very fluid and exciting time for the city as the new possibilities are becoming acknowledged by all sorts of significant players. It remains my view that extending our existing rail system is better for Mangere and the Airport, but that taking AT’s proposed LR across the harbour in its own new crossing is a really good option:

RPTP potential LRT + RTN Map

And just this morning we get wind of these very big changes for those making plans for Auckland. It looks like the funding roadblocks [pun intended] for the necessary urban infrastructure that the growing and shifting Auckland needs may be melting away….?

Treasury Tweets


Celebrating the 57th electric train

Today Auckland Transport celebrated the arrival of the last electric train – of this first batch. The celebration also included a visit by Prime Minister John Key

EMU Celebration - 1

Auckland Transport has officially marked the arrival of the last of the city’s 57 electric trains with a function at the Wiri Train Depot attended by the Prime Minister.

The last three trains from Spanish manufacturer CAF landed on the wharf last week and are now going through final checks at the depot prior to certification.

Auckland Transport chairman Dr Lester Levy says it’s been a swift journey since the contract for the trains was signed in October 2011. “In less than four years we have seen 57 three-car trains roll-off the production line in Spain, they’re all here now and they’ve been delivered on time and on budget.”

Dr Levy says more than 14 million trips are now being made on the Auckland rail network each year. “That’s fantastic considering that in 2003 when Britomart opened less than three million trips were being taken each year.”

He says this project has had excellent support from the Government including a $500 million loan to fund the electric trains and the Wiri depot. “There has also been a government grant of $90 million and one of $40 million from Auckland Council, we would like to thank them for their support.”

Transport Minister Simon Bridges says the Government is committed to working with Auckland Council to see Auckland succeed. “The arrival of these trains marks the culmination of the Government’s $1.6 billion, decade-long investment in three Auckland metro rail projects.

“Over the next three years, $4.2 billion will be invested to build a robust, future-proofed transport system for Auckland.”

Dr Levy says Auckland now has trains that are of international standard. “The quality trains, along with a boost in the number of services means more people are seeing rail as an option.”

The first electric trains began operating on the Onehunga line in April 2014 and the network from Papakura in the south to Swanson in the west went all-electric just a few weeks ago on 20 July.

“We know many of the trains are already full at peak time but now that all 57 trains are here we will get more double trains operating to help ease the situation.”

Mayor Len Brown says “We’ve busted the myth that you can’t get Aucklanders out of their cars and the electric trains are fuelling the success. But their popularity means we’re becoming the victims of our own success. At the existing rate of growth, we will reach train service capacity by 2016. This emphasises the urgent need to get cracking on building the CRL.”

Each train has seating for 232 passengers and standing room for more. The trains have wider doors making it easier for passengers.

The central carriage is at platform level for wheelchairs, prams or bikes and automatic ramps mean a seamless transition between the platform and the train.

Open gangways between cars mean passengers can move from one end of the train to the other.

Some facts and figures:

  • The supplier, CAF used equipment from Japan, Germany, Austria, Switzerland and Spain – taking the best from the world to create trains specifically for Auckland.
  • It takes more than 15,000 hours to fabricate and assemble one electric train unit, there is 110km of wiring in each unit.
  • Each train is tested for 1000 hours on the tracks.
  • The maximum operating speed is 110km/hr, however, the average operating speed will be less than this.
  • To provide improvements to efficiency each train has regenerative braking, allowing braking energy to be fed back into the 25kv supply – a recovery of up to 20% of the energy used.
  • Noise reduction: the 25kV power supply means that the trains are very quiet both externally and internally – a very important consideration for people living and working near the rail network.
  • There’s no air pollution from the trains because they are electric and there are no exhaust fumes.
  • Rail patronage in Auckland grew 21.7% in the year to the end of June, that’s two and a half million more passengers than in June last year.
  • The number using all public transport in Auckland reached 79 million in the year to June, an increase of 9.5% or on average 19,000 extra boardings per day.

I was secretly hoping that John Key might announce the government were bringing forward the City Rail Link, electrification to Pukekohe or even just the ordering of more trains but sadly that didn’t happen. Below are the speeches from Lester Levy, John Key and Len Brown (sorry audio quality isn’t the best)

Lester Levy

John Key – I particularly liked his comments that he doesn’t think Aucklanders are any different to people in the rest of the world and will use PT if good quality options are provided. Now if only the government will follow up that with appropriate funding to enable that to happen.

Len Brown

It is fantastic that all trains are now here – although it will be a few months before all are on the tracks. One thing mentioned in Lester’s speech was that the EMUs were seeing much improved reliability and punctuality. To highlight that yesterday saw 99% reliability i.e. only three services from over 500 failed to run and 95% punctuality meaning that only 5% of services were later than 5 minutes to their destination. That’s a dramatic improvement on what we’ve had in the past.

Of course the next thing we will need is more trains. As mentioned sadly there was no announcement of that because as I understand it, it will take about 2 years to get new units built and delivered. Given the rapid growth in patronage that means we will probably need to be ordering those very soon. On patronage I don’t have July figures yet but I’ve been told they are very good and in addition August is looking good so far too.


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.


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.

Dropping the Dwell

On Monday July 20 – less than a month away –  for the first time all services on Auckland’s rail network¹ will be fully electric as the roll-out of EMUs reaches its next milestone. Having all trains being electric should at least remove the issue of increasingly unreliable diesel trains from the network however it will also present it’s own problems. One of the biggest of these is travel times.

Coming to the western line soon

Coming to the western line soon

One of the most absurd situations we find ourselves in is that despite the new trains capable of much faster acceleration, deceleration and top speeds, they’ve actually been slower than the lumbering diesel trains they’re replacing. There appear are a couple of key causes for this.

  • Long dwell times at stations
  • An overly restrictive signalling system – particularly around level crossings

Both of these issues have a greater impact on the Western Line than the rest of the network as the frequent level crossings and closely spaced stations combine to prevent the EMUs from using their speed advantages to make up much time. Things are bad enough that at the end of March AT added three minutes to western line timetables so the stats didn’t look as bad to more accurately represent what customers can expect. I wanted to see just how bad the dwell times are and so over the last few weeks I’ve managed to have a few EMU journeys on the Western Line so I’ve taken the opportunity to conduct some tests.

Firstly here are some points worth noting about my testing.

  • The times are only for stations between Henderson and Grafton and a couple of trips on an EMU were only to Kingsland.
  • I took the time from as soon as I saw and felt the train stop to the time it started moving again.
  • Some trips were on a weekend when trains aren’t as busy. This is useful as it gives a more baseline comparison that isn’t affected by high passenger loads

So how do they compare?

The performance of electric trains seems to vary quite a bit. On a weekday morning the train averaged just over 1 minute per stop with the longest being at New Lynn. Things were a little better on weekends with an average of around 50 seconds per stop. No matter what way you look at it those are crazy numbers and there’s no way it should take that long compared to how international systems perform – or even compared to the diesel trains. Even on busy morning the trains the diesels averaged around 40 seconds per stop, considerably quicker than their electric counterparts – providing they weren’t overloaded.

So what’s changed to increase dwell times so much. As part of recording the times I hadn’t intended to do so but I started noticing some trends around how long things took. A rough example of what I saw is below using some of the faster times I witnessed.

EMU vs Diesel Dwell Time

Straight away you can probably see a few notable things going on.

  • With the diesels a good train manager will have the doors opening almost immediately as soon as the train stops and within 1-2 seconds passengers will be boarding the train. With the EMU’s there’s a 2-3 second delay before the button even lights up to allow the door to be opened. .
  • Once a door button is pushed it also takes longer for the doors to open and close, this is especially the case for the middle trailer carriage which has to wait for the little platform to extend. .
  • Another quirk is that some TM’s will signal to the driver as their door is halfway closed. It seems with the EMU’s this may not be possible and that they may have to wait for the doors to be closed before alerting the driver. .
  • With the diesels the driver is free to leave as soon as the signal is given to depart – although there is usually a slight lag as the engine powers up. With the electrics there is a long till the EMU can move. I’ve been told by staff the onboard systems have a minimum 5 second delay before the traction system will engage.

As you can see it appears a lot of the issues are primarily technical ones with the design of the trains themselves, the five second delay before the train can leave is particularly absurd.

With the roll-out of EMUs across the entire network almost complete AT, CAF and Transdev need to turn their attention to addressing these issues with urgency. This is because dwell times can have a huge impact on on-time performance. At say 16 seconds per station that equates to an extra four minutes per journey.

While a lot of the issues are technical I think some potential quick solutions could be implemented by changing how staff manage trains. One is to start encouraging faster boarding/alighting by leaving the doors open for a shorter period of time. Currently people can be quite pedestrian in getting on/off trains and TM’s don’t like to hurry people up.

Another potential solution is to shift the TMs out of the trains themselves and have them stationed in the rear cab of the train. This is quite common on many overseas systems. They could then close all the doors at once while checking out the cab door. This would save the time of them closing their door separately while still allowing them to check the doors are clear. This would mean they aren’t roaming the carriages but considering they don’t ever do anything to provide customer service anyway then it’s no great loss i.e. most won’t even ask someone to take feet off seats or turn loud music down.

These two measures along could easily shave up to 10 seconds off dwell times.

In addition to dwell times I also particularly noticed the issue around signals. This is especially the case when there is a level crossing next to a station – like there are in at so many stations on the Western Line.

Without getting too technical, signals are red if the barriers are up to stop trains from going through the crossing. To not inconvenience cars too much in case drivers get impatient and go around barriers, they aren’t set to close till the train is on the platform. The issue is that because the signal is red the new train control system means trains can’t approach a red signal at speed. As a result when there’s a level crossing next to a station trains have to basically crawl up to it – again making trains slower than they need to be. This isn’t an issue with the diesel trains.

The ultimate solution is that we need to get these level crossings removed either by closing roads or grade separating them. In the short term perhaps other solutions need to be investigated such as closing the barriers sooner and having booms that cover the entire crossing rather than just half the crossing like they do now.

Regardless of the solutions, all those involved in the rail system need to work on solutions to speeding up these new trains with urgency.

¹ with the exception of Papakura to Pukekohe

Comparing Capacity

It seems Auckland Transport is slowing getting better with simple advertising. First we saw the nice, simple and effective Bus Lane poster. Now it’s the rail network and City Rail Link’s turn. On AT’s Facebook Page for the CRL this image has appeared highlighting the capacity of our new trains.

AT Rail Capacity Image

I think AT are on the right track with this by highlighting the capacity however a couple of quick thoughts it would be good for them to consider.

  • Why not just talk about 375 people per EMU being moved free of congestion.
  • Using the car comparison a car occupancy rate of 1.3 seems a little high, a rate of 1.2 is probably more realistic and would mean ~312 cars off the road.
  • There’s no mention that at peak times many (not all) trains will consist of two EMUs. Based on ATs figures that means 576 cars off the road.
  • Why not highlight what that means at peak times. We know that if AT run the network to the full capacity they plan which is a train every 10 minutes on the Eastern, Southern and Western line plus half hourly on the Onehunga line that would equate to 20 trains per hour at Britomart. Most of those at the height of the peak will be 6-car trains. Based on ATs figures that works out to around 10k-15k vehicles of the roads over the 2-hour morning peak.
  • Taking the line of thinking above further, the CRL is said to allow for up to 24 trains per hour per direction or a total of 48 trains an hour. Assuming by then all trains would be 6-cars in length that’s a total capacity of almost 28,000 people who could be moved free of congestion and with much better frequency than we have today.

Overall a good effort from AT though it also opens up a lot of opportunity for expansion.

Electrics out west

It seems we’ve hit a tipping point with the roll out of electric trains in which they are now sometimes being used to cover for services that have broken down. Presumably this means the pendulum is starting to swing positively for the number of drivers who have been trained to drive them. So far I’ve heard of a few isolated services on the Western line having been run by EMUs and last Friday morning my regular morning service to Britomart was replaced by a 6-car one. I believe it was the first time one has been run out west in the morning peak and I made a number observations I thought would be worth sharing.


I’ve been on the EMUs plenty of times before and know they are far superior pieces of kit compared to what they’re replacing however most regular passengers on the Western Line have probably only seen them at Newmarket or Britomart. In the past I’ve overheard conversations on the train and at the platform by passengers looking forward to them.

Friday was a wet and miserable day and most of the 80 odd passengers at my local station were huddled under the single small shelter the station has. Perhaps because of this most people on the platform didn’t realise the service was an EMU until it was almost at the platform. It was when they did realise that was notable. There was an audible gasp and flurry of happy small talk. Suddenly everyone I saw had smiles on their faces. What’s more this wasn’t an isolated incident as I’ve heard similar stories from people on platforms at other stations too.

It didn’t end there. Upon entering the train passengers would basically stop in amazement looking up and down the carriages. I heard the words like ‘wow’ and ‘isn’t this nice’ many times on the trip to Britomart. The smiles continued all the way to town.

The reason I mention all this is that it was a remarkable reaction considering the actual service provided was no different to the ones these regular passengers have used for years. People were excited to be using the train and it was the piece of kit that transformed their experience. Perhaps it was just because it was something new or perhaps it signified that that the years of disruption, delays and frustration are coming to an end – that Auckland is finally growing up and delivering a modern transport solution. When was the last time these passengers were this excited about PT in Auckland.

Reactions such as those that I witnessed are priceless for Auckland Transport, something no advertising can buy. They are also bound to be repeated across the rail network as more and more services become electric over the coming months. People sharing their positive experiences with friends, family and co-workers will help fuel future patronage growth. This is of course likely to be a large contributor to what is known as the Sparks Effect (strong patronage growth after electrification).

Coming to the western line soon

Coming to the western line soon

Electrics on the Western Line

Other than seeing people reactions I was also very keen to see just how the trains performed on the western line given AT had already slowed down the timetable prior to their introduction. Overall the train was 5 minutes late into Britomart but that was after being held up at a few signals and in the Britomart tunnel for a few minutes to wait for a platform. Without those hold ups the train would have been fairly close to being on time.

The issues with dwell times are known and obviously need to be worked through. This includes a new one I’ve heard about in which there is a built in 5 second delay between the doors being closed the driver being able to move the train (one the western line that adds alone adds over 1 minute to trips to/from Swanson).

Perhaps most positively I got the distinct impression that if the restrictive signalling system can be addressed – something that should be much easier once all services are electric – that considerable time savings could be achieved. Unlike the diesel locomotive’s which sometimes feel like they are struggling on the hills and curves the EMUs feel like they take them in their stride. I almost got the impression that the frequent restrictions for things like level crossings would have made driving the train feel a bit like driving a high powered sports car in rush hour.

All of this gives me hope that over time AT, Kiwirail and whoever operates the trains can get them faster and faster.

EMU Rollout

In related news, I’ve heard that from now onwards all weekend services on all lines – where there are wires – will be run by electric trains.

A year ago today – Auckland’s first electric trains

A year ago today transport in Auckland was forever changed as the first electric trains started carrying passengers – although they didn’t start running in normal service till the following day.

EMU Southern Motorway -

Electrifying Auckland’s rail network is something that had been on and off the transport agenda for almost 90 years. There’s a more detailed history of how we got to the current point in this post however briefly the first talk of electrifying the network originated in the 1920’s and were associated with the Morningside Deviation (early version of the CRL). This came about as electric trains would have been needed to operate in the tunnel. It was the extra cost for electrification – which they said would need to extend between Papakura and Helensville – which helped to kill off the tunnel plan. Calls for the network to be electrified have been made at other times – such as in the 1930’s when the Wellington network was being electrified and as part of other CRL type schemes.

It wasn’t until the mid 2000’s after Britomart opened that we started to get serious about electrification with the then Labour government finally approving it in 2007. After the current government came to power they decided to review the project however thankfully a year later agreed to carry on with the project.

Since they launched not everything has been plain sailing for the new trains or the network. We quickly learned the trains were running slower than the old diesels they replaced which turned out to be a mix of the overly restrictive new signalling system and longer dwell times thanks to the door operations. As of today some of these issues have been addressed although there definitely seems to still be room for improvement. Over the year there has been a few other issues too such as power fluctuations on the network affecting trains and traction issues – both of which are now meant to be fixed.

In August the trains started running from Manukau – initially just off peak before all services were electric a few months later. In December Auckland Transport significantly increased the number of services to Manukau while at the same time splitting out the southern and eastern line services so all Eastern line trains go to Manukau and all Southern line trains to Papakura/Pukekohe. We’ve also seen a few electric services on the Southern line and a couple of isolated ones on the Western line and Auckland Transport have announced all services between Swanson and Papakura will be electric by the end of July.


According to the most recent AT board report we now have 50 of the 57 trains ordered in Auckland and an ever increasing number have passed their tests and are available to be used

We might be only a year in however we’re already seeing the Sparks Effect occurring with significant increases in patronage on the lines that have electric trains running. The graph below shows the rolling annual patronage on the Onehunga line which you can see has really kicked up a gear from May 2014 onwards (May was the first full month of operations).

2015-03 Onehunga Line Patronage

Splitting out the Manukau line patronage is a bit more difficult due to the changes made in December – although it appears the Eastern line is growing even more strongly. When looking at the Southern, Eastern and Onehunga lines combined compared to the non-electrified Western line the difference in growth recently is quite clear with the former accelerating away – although I’d expect the Western line to grow strongly once services start too.

2015-03 Southern Line v Western Line Patronage

While it hasn’t been completely smooth sailing I certainly think the change has been a welcome improvement and I would expect services and reliability to continue to get better over time as every little issue gets worked through.

EMU Faults and CRL Properties

There have been a couple of articles in the Herald in the last few days that are worth talking about.

Double EMU Orakei Basin

Photo by Alex Burgess


On Friday there was the issue of faults with the new electric trains.

Auckland’s new electric trains are still being bugged by computer software and braking problems, which have brought engineers out from Spain in search of remedies.

The city’s transport authority disclosed this week it is trying to bring forward from August the completion of its rollout of its $400 million fleet of electric trains, after continuing disruptions from diesel breakdowns.

But it is not just the old trains that are causing trouble, leading to a reduction in punctuality on all the city’s railway lines except for the Onehunga branch.

Rail workers are concerned some of the new trains are having to be shut down for their on-board computers to be reset, and that a sophisticated new control system designed to prevent collisions “has a tendency to randomly apply” emergency brakes when passing certain signals.

One industry source said in a message received indirectly by the Herald this morning there had been breakdowns on the rail network causing disruption “every day” for the past three weeks.

The emergency braking problem caused chaotic scenes at Britomart and Newmarket stations in the morning commuter rush in December, when a driver’s unfamiliarity with the new system prompted him to disable several other systems on board his train, disrupting 15 other services.

Auckland Transport chief executive David Warburton told his board this week, in his monthly business report, that Siemens Spain had undertaken a two-week investigation in New Zealand and was “working to improve ETCS [European Train Control System] reliability.”

It seems there has been a number of issues that have arisen with the trains, as the also herald notes in the article there were issues with how restrictive the new signalling system was when the trains were first introduced and it seems further improvements are due. I’m aware there have also been issues with the power supply and with the doors, both of which have been fixed. The latest issues seems to include some gremlins in the traction systems – something I’m sure will be ironed out.

I guess for me the thing is that while this is very concerning and annoying, this isn’t uncommon when brand new systems are installed. Even in mature networks new machines or parts of the network will tend to have issues. As an example the new trains in Wellington had to be pulled from service a number of times over a few years due to issues that arose.

While the outcome for passengers tends to be the same – delays and frustration – that’s quite different from the issues with the aging diesel trains. As I understand it, for them there’s often a difficult decision between temporarily patching up issues and properly fixing them – which could be quite costly – when the trains will likely only be used for another month or two.

In effect we seem to have both fleets of trains (electric and diesel) at opposite sides of a bell curve. The electrics have a lot of faults but they are getting better and more reliable and it is likely that soon faults will become much rarer while on the other side the diesels are getting more and more unreliable and that in part is also be accelerated by their pending replacement. Unfortunately what isn’t changing is the poor communication when things go wrong. Perhaps what AT and Transdev need is some more transparency in the matter and to explain to the pubic exactly what is going wrong. If the public were more aware of what the issues being faced are then they might be more accepting of the situation. In lieu of that that faults are leaving people with bad experiences and driving people away from using trains.

The second piece was related to the property purchases for the City Rail Link.

Plans for Auckland Transport’s ambitious $2.4 billion City Rail Link project are gathering speed, as it secures more real estate along the route.

An AT spokeswoman said the council-controlled authority had now bought 58 of the 70 surface properties it needs, spending $85 million securing the route – a critical part of Auckland’s biggest transport project.

That means AT now controls 83 per cent of the properties it needs and the full-steam-ahead approach has seen big progress since last year.

The update indicated 23 new property purchases were concluded in the past nine months, as owners agree to sell their land and buildings for the rail route’s progress.

AT’s relatively rapid pace is a big advance from the middle of last year when it had only concluded 35 surface purchases and spent $35 million.

Some politicians have questioned why all the pricey real estate is being bought well before Government funding as AT closes deals on the properties along its 3.4km Britomart to Mt Eden route.

AT’s biggest sticking point appears to remain the valuable Mt Eden Life Church, a property which it has been negotiating on for some time: the spokeswoman said the purchase of that big property near the Mt Eden Station, between the bottom of Flower St and Mt Eden Rd, was yet to be concluded.

Part of that issue is finding the Christians a new property. The spokeswoman said that was very much part of the deal and that no sale would be concluded until it was resolved.

“The issue is finding an alternative site. Negotiations are under way,” she said of 95 Mt Eden Rd.

The church has a number of businesses and owns several properties to the north and south but that property is the heart of its church operation.

That seems like good progress and given the rise in land values Auckland has been seeing – especially in and around the city centre – it is probably a good thing that they are buying the property now and not waiting until the government commit funding by which time the costs would have likely increased dramatically. The biggest risk is that it’s quite possible that when the government do help fund the project they will ignore the property purchases and enabling works (cut and cover tunnel to Wyndham St) and only fund 50% of the remaining costs.

I’m not an expert on the Public Works Act but is it normal for a public organisation to have to find alternative sites for current occupants? I guess that’s likely the easiest thing instead of forcing a sale but seems like it could end up quite costly.

Electric trains now from Papakura

Some good news yesterday with the first electric trains carrying paying passengers now operating from Papakura. Like what happened with the Eastern Line, we’re seeing services start off offpeak only and then over time as any issues (which hopefully there shouldn’t be) get addressed – and

It’s great to see them being rolled out and I suspect we’ll see them go fully electric down south in the next day or so.

While it’s great that these are being rolled out, I can’t wait for them to be on all services

On this day… electrification contract signed

Transportblog is now nearly six years old and there are now over 4,000 published posts by many people. One of the downsides is that often it seems like some great posts get lost over time in the archives that are still relevant to us today and useful to shed some light on again. In order to do so, we’re establishing a semi-regular feature that will go back into the archives and dig up a post that occurred “On this day…” in a previous year. We’ll then add some comment to the bottom of the post that provides a bit of hindsight to the previous post and what relevance there might be. It should be an interesting feature.

This “on this day” post comes from 2010:

Within a rather interesting NZ Herald article on what rail works have been progressed during the holiday period, there’s also mention of a rather important upcoming milestone in the rail electrification project – the signing of the contract for the main electrification works. Here’s the relevant parts:

Transport Minister Steven Joyce will announce a key contract for the region’s $1 billion electrification project on Thursday, as well as formally opening Newmarket’s $35 million replacement station, ready for trains to start using it the following Monday…

… The contract to be announced by Mr Joyce next week will be for the supply and installation of train traction wires and their masts within a $500 million Government funding envelope for electrification infrastructure, from which $90 million was committed last year for track signalling.

A further $500 million of government money has been allocated for electric trains, for which KiwiRail is finalising specifications before inviting bids from international suppliers.

The electrification project will begin in stages between now and 2013, starting on the sections of railway between Otahuhu and Britomart, and between Newmarket and Morningside.

For a long time the pessimistic part of my brain could not believe that electrification would happen until I saw the signing of the contract for the wires to go up. That happens Thursday – so there’s definitely no turning back now!


Back in 2010 this point in time seemed like a long way away but here we are. The milestone for completing the electrification works passed pretty quietly towards the end of last year and while it was late, it does not appear as though the electrification works have held back the rollout of electric trains which have been happening since April last year.

2015 will be an exciting year for Auckland’s rail system, as electric trains are introduced to the two “big lines” of the system, the Southern and the Western. I suspect we will continue to see rapid patronage growth throughout the year.