Auckland Transport Late October Board Meeting

The Auckland Transport board meet today and other than the outstanding patronage results, here are the other items on the on the agenda or in the public reports of note. Firstly the closed session which once again contains quite a few interesting topics including:

  • Newmarket Crossing – This is the Sarawia St level crossing issue.
  • Penlink Designation – AT have been looking to make changes to the existing designation to Penlink although hopefully this doesn’t mean it is moving any closer to actually being built.
  • CCFAS2 – AT are being very secretive about just what the second CCFAS is looking at.
  • Integrated Fares Business Case
  • Amendments to Statement of Intent 2014-17 – perhaps they’re correcting for the really low rail patronage targets.
  • Parking Consultation Analysis – the feedback from the draft parking strategy consultation a few months ago.
  • CBD/West Transport – I’m not sure what this is about but I was told it is confidential as involves property acquisitions (or the potential for them).

On to the items that are in the public session. From the board report:

AT are responsible for developing a region wide wayfinding system. Some of it has started to appear and they say the next stage will see precinct specific signage go through user testing and stakeholder feedback in January and February next year.

Construction of the Wolverton to Maioro cycle route will happen over the year end school holidays

AT say after reviewing feedback to the consultation on cycling routes through Wynyard they are now looking at alternative options. You may recall these are the cycling routes that many of the local marine businesses complained about claiming the loss of parking would destroy their businesses despite them having off street parking and the on-street parks being empty a large amount of the time.

AT are still working on the new Otahuhu Bus-Train interchange however they seem to be getting more vague about when it will be completed. This is important as the roll out of new network for South Auckland is reliant on the completion of this interchange and when announced at the end of last year was planned for mid-2015. In August they said the bus portion was targeted for completion in July 2015 with the rail upgrade completed by the December 2015. In September they said the target for completion was by the end September 2015 although this wasn’t specific to modes like August was. Now they are saying the interchange is scheduled for completion in the last quarter of 2015 and aligned to the new network. This suggests a delay both for the interchange and for the bus network rollout.

There are now 29 of a total 57 EMU’s now in Auckland with 24 unit’s with provisional acceptance (up from 20 in the September report). They say two more are due to arrive in November and another seven in December. Regular train users will have seen the EMUs start to be stabled at the old Auckland Railway station as Wiri only has the capacity to store 28 trains.

Strand Stabling Yard in use

Strand Stabling Yard now in use, photo by Jonty

There is more detail about the upcoming timetable change which will be the first major one for a number of years. It will come in on the 8th December and as we found out last month all services from Pukekohe or Papakura will go via Newmarket and all services from Manukau will be via Glen Innes. The services on the Manukau line will increase to 10 minute frequencies and should also hopefully include some longer trains. Now AT are also stating that weekend trains to Onehunga will also see improvement moving to a 30 minute frequency (it would be good if they did 30 minute frequencies on weekdays too). Early testing of electric trains on the Western line has also commenced after Kiwirail finally finished in September, over a year late.

The first stage of AMETI is now effectively complete. The new road parallel to the rail line and which includes a 220m tunnel next to the station, named Te Horeta Rd, opens to traffic this Sunday 2nd November and there’s a public open day on Saturday 1st from 11am to 3pm. A separate paper to the board shows some before and after photos. AT say there is still expected to be some minor works on the project till early next year and that the final cost for this stage is expected to be $212 million compared to the project budget of $239 million. Here is a video from AT of the road.

HOP use as a percentage of all trips remained at 71% after jumping strongly in July and August following the change in fares from early July despite AT selling 15,000 new ones in September. AT say that now almost 420,000 have been sold with around 56% of them registered. The exact figures aren’t clear but it appears that HOP use for rail and bus is approximately 79% and 69% respectively. We’re now almost two years since HOP first started rolling out so this got me thinking about how the uptake of HOP compares to similar situations overseas. Back in May 2013 AT received this report from Deloitte doing just that. In the absence of the actual data behind the graphs, I’ve manually added approximately where HOP is and as you can see the result looks pretty good. I would suggest to AT staff that they might want to highlight this fact.

HOP usage compared to other cities estimation

In a good move AT now have an agreement in place with Budgetary Agencies which allows them to give out a free HOP card as part of the assistance they give to clients.

Photo of the Day: Hobson Bay

HOBSON BAY_3329

I recently had the privilege of spending a day on a cliff top above Hobson Bay. As a student I lived for a year over the Parnell end of the bay so this was both a reminder of that for me and the experience of a different angle onto the view. And how lovely it is, no wonder properties on these cliffs command such high prices. And, at least for me, the view is considerably enhanced by the constant activity across the bay both on land and water. The crossings that cut off the seaward end of the bay are far enough away to be interesting activity rather than invasive neighbour [cf St Mary's Bay]. A six lane freeway on the landward side of the rail line, however, would be a hideous intrusion. And will never happen. The planned walking and cycling boardwalk will be a fantastic addition and well used.

A few observations:

Of the four kinds of trains running on the line at the moment the loudest and by far the least mellifluous are the loco hauled passenger services, then the DMUs, I was surprised with how little noise the freighters made, perhaps this is because they seemed to be going fairly slowly. The EMUs are a flashing delight. The movement of the tide adds visual interest and changes the reflection of the sound considerably. A jetskier in the bay below at high tide was the worst intrusion on the day.

Spot the yellow and blue caterpillar:

HOBSON BAY_3301

HOBSON BAY_3309

Two EMUs crossing:

HOBSON BAY_3442

lovely at low tide too:

HOBSON BAY_3449

old v new, not for much longer:

HOBSON BAY_3536

Electric Trains from Manukau from tomorrow

Electric trains start rolling out on the Manukau line from tomorrow however unlike the Onehugna Line not all services will switch over at once with them only starting on off peak services before being introduced over the course of a month to peak services too.

The roll-out of electric trains in Auckland steps up next week with the introduction of the new trains on the Manukau Line.

Initially electric trains will run on some off-peak services, they will be introduced to all services over the next month.

Auckland Transport’s Chief Operations Officer Greg Edmonds says the new trains have been very popular since their introduction on the Onehunga Line in April but with any transition we should be prepared for “teething problems.”

“We want to ensure our customers who use the trains to Manukau are getting a reliable service so we will be gradually increasing the number of electric trains over the next month.”

Meanwhile, testing continues across the rail network following an intermittent power fault which saw some Onehunga services affected. Mr Edmonds stresses there are no safety issues associated with the fault.

From memory this is actually slightly ahead of schedule which is good.

PT RESOLUTION EMU_6484

Photo by Patrick Reynolds

I’m sure those on the eastern line can’t wait for them to roll out as I frequently get reports of people having to wait for 2 or 3 trains before being able to get on board at peak times. At this stage AT are just rolling out the EMUs on to the existing timetable however there is hopefully going to be a timetable improvement in the coming months that will boost the number of services from Manukau.

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Why are the electric trains so slow?

In the first week or two of the Onehunga Line’s switch to electric trains there were major issues with the trains keeping to timetable, apparently due to overly conservative speed restrictions being put in the trains as part of their safety systems. It seems like the Onehunga Line’s bugs are sorting themselves out in more recent times, but a further article yesterday highlighted that it might be a long time before we see the trains providing their promised speed boost:

Auckland’s new $400 million electric trains will run as slow as their diesel counterparts for at least another year, Auckland Transport says.

Auckland Transport spokesman Mark Hannan said the electric trains would reach their full potential after all 39 diesel passenger trains were removed from the network.

“We can’t really get the proper benefit from them until the full rollout when everything is electric, which will be the middle of next year,” Hannan said.

Also, new timetables will need to be introduced and software controlling the trains’ speed, called European Train Control Systems (ETCS), will need to be reprogrammed to improve transit times, he said.

The ETCS is a protection system to assist train drivers and ensure advised speeds and signal rules are adhered to and to prevent collisions. If drivers operate trains outside a designated speed range the system intervenes to limit speed.

The restrictions created by running mixed electric and diesel fleets is understandable, as otherwise the electrics would soon catch up to any diesel train ahead of them and throw out timetable consistency. The issue with ECTS is more worrying though, as this should have been sorted out a long time ago to ensure the promised 10 minute faster journey times between Britomart and Swason/Papakura are delivered.

Adding to this worry, the train drivers’ union RMTU doesn’t seem to think the electric trains will be able to deliver the promised speed increase without a major upgrade to the signalling system:

But the Rail and Maritime Transport Union (RMTU) said the 57 new electric trains would not be able to speed up until a costly upgrade of the ETCS software.

RMTU general secretary Wayne Butson said Auckland Transport had bought the cheapest, entry-level ETCS software.

The only way to increase speeds would be to upgrade to more expensive versions, which could handle trains running closer to each other, he said.

“I’m told that Auckland would operate a lot better if it purchased two or three versions higher,” Butson said.

Train drivers were frustrated they could not operate the trains to timetable, he said.

“We believe that it was a foreseeable issue.”

I’m not sure just how true this is as the same signalling systems is used in a number of countries including on some high speed lines while the stand two levels up is still under development so it’s not like we could have brought that. Also leading me to be cautious about Wayne Butsons comments is that the signalling system wasn’t brought by Auckland Transport but by Kiwirail (who own and run it) and the contracts for the system were signed before AT even existed.

If true that the signalling system is causing extra delays though then this is a screw-up of unbelievable proportions. We did not spend $1.1 billion on rail electrification and new trains to find that we can’t run them faster than the old ones because someone got cheap and nasty with the system. I sure hope the responsible parties sort the issue out to ensure the 10 minute time savings can be delivered as promised – otherwise a lot of heads will need to roll.

Photo of the Day: Harmonic Testing

On Sunday morning Transdev/Kiwirail conducted a large scale test of our electric trains. I understand the trains had been creating harmonics through the lines. This wasn’t affecting trains but was creating impacts outside the network – although I’m not sure of the full extent of the issue. The test saw seven 6-car EMUs running between Papakura and Britomart via the Eastern Line which I believe is the most electric trains that have run on the network at any one time so far. When two EMUs are joined together they have the capacity to comfortably carry 750 people although during an event or during a busy peak I suspect that number could be closer to 1,000.

These photos were taken by Patrick Reynolds taken from the Pt Resolution Bridge.

PT RESOLUTION EMU_6484

PT RESOLUTION EMU_6454

PT RESOLUTION EMU_6435

PT RESOLUTION EMU_6404

And this one is from Alex Burgess of one crossing the Orakei Basin

Double EMU Orakei Basin

FASTER FFS! – Part 2

Last week on the first day of operation there were a number of complaints about delays on services that used our new electric trains. At the time I said it wasn’t surprising that some small teething problems were probably to be expected and that if they continued then it would be concerning if they were still happening days later. Throughout the week we kept getting reports of slow or delayed trains and I experienced it myself yesterday when I took a trip to Onehunga with some of my fellow blog writers. Particularly noticeable was the incredibly slow crawl into both Tepapa and Onehunga Stations.

I had heard late last week of the reason for this and today it was reported in the Herald.

Speed controls on Auckland’s new electric trains are overriding their drivers to make them slower than the diesel clunkers they are replacing for $520 million.

Auckland Council infrastructure chairman Mike Lee says trains are up to 10 minutes late as a result and has accused rail operator Transdev of running them “too conservatively”.

The train drivers’ union shares the view and will meet Transdev to discuss the issue this week.

“They don’t seem to realise that what the public wants is speed,” Mr Lee told the Herald. “We have got to go as fast as we can – every second counts if we want to win the competition with cars.”

He said drivers were frustrated at being overridden by a new automatic European control system to restrict them to 10km/h when arriving at Britomart through its tunnel, or 15km/h when approaching Onehunga and Te Papapa stations from up to 200 metres away. That compared with a 25km/h limit for the old diesel trains at Onehunga and Britomart.

The top permitted speed for the three-car electric units on open tracks is 110km/h – about 20km/h slower than Mayor Len Brown says they are capable of.

Rail and Maritime Transport Union organiser Stuart Johnstone confirmed the delays and said drivers were becoming frustrated with the electric overrides on what were otherwise “very good trains”.

Although the new control system was “a good safety device to have”, he believed it needed recalibrating.

I think Mike might be a quick to blame Transdev as the track speeds are set by Kiwirail but that these trains are being kept slower than the clunky old diesels is a disgrace.

Auckland Transport have claimed they and Kiwirail are just being conservative over the implementation of a new system for safety reasons.

Chief operations officer Greg Edmonds said it was “entirely correct” for the train control system to be configured conservatively to start with.

and here on Radio NZ tonight

or here.

I can understand that answer but the reality is Auckland Transport have been testing these trains almost every day since September last year. In fact at EMU launch they talked up the fact that in testing they’ve clocked up over 25,000km already. Testing was where they should have been sorting out issues with the signalling systems and line speeds, not leaving it till after they started carrying passengers. Put simply it’s not good enough and we didn’t spend $1.1 billion on electrifying the rail network and buying state of the art trains to run them slower than the existing trains.

So sort it out Auckland Transport. These trains need to be FASTER FFS.

What happened to rail frequency increases?

Over the last few years we have been concerned the rail network failed to meet its patronage targets. A key reason for this would be the failure of Auckland Transport to implement rail frequency improvements over the past few years. With the start of EMU services this week it is surely time to start increasing frequencies. First though a quick look back at what happened to the planned improvements.

In 2006  ARTA promised the frequency of the western line would increase to a train every 10 minutes in the peak.

She says when the double-tracking of the Western Line is finished in 2009, train frequency will increase to a service every 10 minutes during peak times.

I also remember this being said a few years later not long before double tracking was completed.

 

Back in December 2011 Auckland Transport highlighted a number of proposed rail frequency increases that could be achieved with the diesel rolling stock:

 -Introduction of train services to Manukau, following the completion of track and signalling works by KiwiRail in the second half of 2011. Initial service offering will be 3 trains an hour during the peak and two trains an hour at all other times.

-Introduction of 6 trains an hour from Henderson during the peak Monday to Friday on the Western Line. The infrastructure works to allow this level of service were completed in August 2010 and patronage has now grown to a level that warrants this service capacity.

-Western Line services will operate a half-hourly service between Swanson and Britomart during the core of the day on both Saturdays and Sundays.

-Onehunga Line services will be increased to half-hourly throughout the day and at a weekend, to accommodate further growth.

-Increased frequency of services from Pukekohe to every 60 minutes during the day midweek in response to customer demand.

Some of these frequency increases have been achieved such as 30 minute weekend services on the Western Line and services every 60 minutes during weekdays to Pukekohe. However 2.5 years on we still have hourly off-peak services to Manukau, 15 minute peak frequency on the Western line and hourly Onehunga services.

It is difficult to figure out what happened to these service improvements. Auckland Transport Board papers suggested they were to be discussed at a March 2012 meeting, but this was is a closed sessions and the documents have not been made public.

Again in August 2013, in one of my first posts on Transportblog I highlighted an Auckland Council report that suggested a number of frequency increases that could help meet patronage targets. It included this handy summary of the aforementioned issues:

 The completion of the interim train fleet took place in 2010. Since then, some limited improvements have been able to be made to rail services, such as running key peak western line trains with 6-car sets; commissioning the Manukau Branch Line and improving interpeak services to Pukekohe, through the reallocation of existing rolling stock to best match supply and demand. However, no new capacity will be able to be added until the start of the commissioning of the electric train fleet in April 2014. This means that since 2010, patronage growth has been constrained by the inability to add peak capacity.

This report made a number of suggestions for how Auckland Transport could increase rail services and thus increase rail patronage.

Improved interpeak and weekend rail services. As noted above, until electric trains start entering service from April 2014, there will be no increase in peak train capacity. International research shows that the improvement of non-peak train services can lead to stronger increases in patronage than peak capacity improvements. Substantial improvements to non-peak service levels form part of the roll out of electric trains. There may be opportunities to advance non-peak service improvements in advance of electrification such as extending Sunday train services west of Henderson (which currently has no Sunday train service) and improving weekend frequencies to half-hourly.

Since this report we have had half hourly frequencies and Sunday trains to Swanson added, however none of the other earlier suggestions have been actioned.

Some people may be thinking, what is the problem, electric trains will solve all of the issues. This is true in some sense. If AT sticks to the Regional Public Transport Plan they produced then by the end of the rollout in 2015 we should have 10 minute peak services and 15 minute off peak and weekend services on all lines except Onehunga. This is import because improved frequency is considered one of t he biggest drivers of patronage. However the EMU rollout will not be complete until ‘Mid/Late 2015’ which is anywhere from 12 to 18 months away. It is essential that we keep making moves in the short term to increase patronage, especially with the pressure from the government over patronage targets for the City Rail Link.

EMU's launched on Monday, pity about the timetable

EMU at Onehunga on Monday

While the EMU’s have now been launched on the Onehunga line , they are still operating on their old hourly off-peak timetable. This seems very strange considering the advertising and public relations effort that is surrounding the launch of the trains. It will not send a very good message if people new to rail in Auckland turn up to the ride the EMU but have to wait 55 minutes. Hopefully soon from Auckland Transport we will see a new, faster timetable with 30 minute frequencies all day, 7 days a week. Next up for EMU addition is the Manukau Line, probably in September. It would be great to see frequency increases at the same time, certainly moving to a 30 minute service from Manukau during the day, which will give a service every 15 minutes all day along the main Eastern Line, rather than the current stupid 30-10-20 arrangement. There has also been some suggestions from Auckland Transport that we would see full EMU service on the weekends, which would be very exciting. This would benefit from improved timetabling as well, dependent of course on if we had enough EMU’s in the country.

While the the Western line will be the last to be electrified, I would hope that the diesel rolling stock deemed surplus from EMU operations was used to increase capacity on the services that remained dieselised. This would be a great time to increase Western Line frequency to every 10 minutes at peak, and every 15 minutes all day. Another good area for improvement is evening services which currently finish ridiculously early. Currently the last Western Line train leaves Britomart at 9.53pm, Onehunga at 9.30pm, Southern Line at 10.10pm and Eastern Line at 10.40pm though this only runs to Otahuhu. The latest train should be pushed back at least past 11pm.  This can be done with diesel operation on the Western and Southern Line, and in tandem with EMU timetable improvements on the Eastern and Onehunga lines.

EMU delays

There’s been comment on it already in my post from this morning on the EMU launch but I just wanted to address the issue of the delays to the Electric train this morning. The herald were quick to jump on it.

Auckland’s gleaming new electric trains launched into business at 5.48am today – and quickly experienced delays.

Much fuss was made this morning as the first trains to enter passenger service headed out of Onehunga with regular commuters outnumbered by transport officials, politicians and journalists on the 72-metre train.

However a combination of driver nerves and possible problems with the retraction of the door steps meant trains were running up to 25 minutes late this morning.

Special ambassadors on board the train told passengers they were sorry for the delays but there were a few teething problems.

They then reportedly asked passengers for their patience while the drivers got used to the new trains.

One official at the Onehunga station told the Herald the delays were due to a problem with the automatic steps which were not retracting properly.

A press release from Transdev at 9.30 confirmed some Southern & Onehunga lines are experiencing some minor delays.

In many ways this isn’t surprising and there always seem to be these kinds of teething issues that crop up when something so new happens. It’s happened after signalling and track upgrades and after station upgrades. For example there was a huge problem a in early 2010 the day the new Newmarket Station opened. The reality is that while these teething problems are a pain and very disappointing, they do tend to be very temporary and limited to the first day or two. If we are still having problems in a few days then we need to be getting concerned.

The EMU Launch

Electric train services are finally a part of the city with the first ones running earlier this morning and yesterday I went along to the official launch of the trains. The first thing I noticed was that Auckland Transport had set up stalls and activities for kids including shutting down the central part of Gore St through the Britomart Precinct, a much better use of it in my opinion. I don’t actually know why we need that road open but that’s perhaps a discussion for a different day.

EMU Launch - Gore St Play

Auckland Transport clearly really wanted to promote the electric trains as futuristic and had a number of promo girls (and some guys) dressed up like something out of The 5th Element.

EMU Launch - Promo 2

 

One thing that was definitely noticeable at the launch was the number of politicians present. They were there representing most of the major parties and at a local level a heap of councillors and local board members. Perhaps the one that surprised me the most was seeing John Banks there.

As with all of these types of projects there are numerous speeches and I understand that Auckland Transport has filmed them all and will be putting them online later today. Before the speeches started a group of dancers in silver suits and masks entertained to some Daft Punk. It started getting a bit odd though as it just kept on going and going and ended up feeling like it carried on for far too long – not that it distracted too much from mood of the day.

EMU Launch Dancers

On to the speeches there were a couple of highlights and some lowlights too.

  • First up was Ngarimu Blair who is a Trustee on the Ngati Whatua o Orakei Maori Trust Board and also on the board of Waterfront Auckland. He opened the launch on behalf of iwi and got a cheer when he said they want to see the CRL started asap and completed in 2020.
  • Iñaki from CAF was next to speak and talked about how good the trains are.
  • A lady from the Blind Foundation spoke about how they had worked with AT on improving the trains to make them more accessible for people with disabilities.
  • Lester followed with what was essentially his op-ed piece to the herald on Saturday.
  • The next speech was perhaps unsurprisingly the oddest of all. Gerry Brownlee talked about the need to invest in other nodes too (yes he said nodes, not modes). He then proceed to talk about how the government was doing just that by fast tracking a number of motorway projects around the region. I think the crowd were stunned in to silence by this that there was an eerie silence. I must of missed something as after Gerry’s speech David Warburton who was emceeing the event made a comment that he wasn’t referring to Gerry as the Fat Controller.
  • Len was the last to speak and was as enthusiastic as ever and clearly directing a few comments towards Gerry about the need for the CRL. He ended by calling on more people to get off the parking lots of the motorways and on to trains, buses and ferries (missed cycling though) which would free up roads for commercial traffic.

After a brief reminder from Warburton about just how much effort had gone into the production and testing of these trains it was time to head down to the platform for the cutting of a ribbon (of which I understand Cam’s son was involved) and then the first official ride.

As always seems to happen, everyone was piling on to the first carriage available and so Patrick, I and others headed to the middle one which has the advantage of level boarding and more space due to longitudinal seating. Acceleration out of the station was super smooth as was the trip around the back of Vector arena. After clearing those curves though the driver was able to open the train up a bit and the acceleration was such that people had to hold on. In other words these things have a lot of power and of course that will be needed to get trains up the CRL, although they’ve been designed with enough power so that one EMU will be able to push another completely dead one up the grade. Someone on a later trip filmed the acceleration and you can hear people surprised it as well as see the speed increase out the window from about 3:40 onwards.

The only problem was the acceleration and speed was that it seemed so short lived as it seemed the frustrating Sarawia St level crossing didn’t work in our favour and we almost had to completely stop as a result.  It’s perhaps a shame the eastern line wasn’t able to be used for a race across Hobson Bay.

Even so, all up it seemed everyone was thoroughly impressed with the new trains. You can see the AT press release here but the most interesting part is really the facts and figures at the bottom

  • There are now 12 electric train units in Auckland. Seven have been commissioned – that is, they have their registration and warrants with five more about to be tested.
  • The supplier, CAF has 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 are 110km of wiring in each unit.
  • Each train is tested for 1000 hours on the tracks.
  • To create the weight of passengers while we were testing the trains, we used 1800 20kgs sandbags on each train.
  • To date we have trained 47 drivers, 86 train managers and 13 supervisors.
  • We have spent 3008 hours on driver training and 1504 hours on theory.
  • Drivers have spent 752 hours on the electric train simulator.
  • To date we have driven more than 25,000kms with the electric trains during testing and commissioning.

A couple of other things that caught my attention about the day:

This poster which Auckland Transport had kids (and a few adults) painting. I’m guessing there were multiple versions of it.

EMU Launch - Painting

The bike and pram parking. I like this development from Auckland Trasnsport at events.

EMU Launch - Bike Parking

AT were selling a limited edition HOP card to celebrate the new trains. I’m not sure whether to keep it as a souvenir or actually use it ;-)

EMU Launch - HOP Card

The new uniforms for staff. It looks ok on staff in the EMU’s but a bit out of place when a driver is sitting in a bulky locomotive. It’s clear that AT are owning the customer service brand even though the staff work for Transdev which is an interesting change. I’ll post about this separately.

EMU Launch - Uniforms

All up I think Auckland Transport did a really good job of organising the day which had the added bonus of further activating Takukai Square. If there’s one complaint I have it’s not about the launch but that Auckland Transport have yet to do anything to boost the frequency on the Onehunga line off peak. This week particularly is likely to be busy and additional services would be welcome. After all hourly frequencies are so old fashiond.

So did you take a ride on them yesterday (or today). If so what was your experience like? After the break some images people sent to me of themselves on one of the trains.

Continue reading The EMU Launch

The Rail Electrified

Generations dreamed the wires,
Doubters shook their heads in scorn.
Brave men vowed that they would build it
From their faith electrification was born.

There it spans the miles of track
Speeding millions on their way
Glimpse of vision, hope and courage,
Portal to a brighter day.

Adapted from “The Bridge at Mackinac” by David Barnard Steinman

Looking forward to seeing these at Britomart

Looking forward to seeing these at Britomart

Today is a day that we’ve looked forward to for a long time, the official launch of electric trains in Auckland (of course tomorrow is even more important with the first day services will run). I’ll cover off the launch tomorrow and if you’re attending send, tweet or facebook us pictures of you on the train and we’ll add them to the post.

For today though I thought it would be good to look at the long road to electrification. The earliest proposals originated in the 1920’s as it was necessary to be able to get trains up the grade of the Morningside Deviation which was the original plan for the City Rail Link. The additional costs to electrify the network were part of the justification for dropping those earlier tunnel plans. One of the reasons the costs were so high was that they proposed to electrify all the way to Helensville. There were similar occurrences in the 1940’s, 50’s and 70’s and unfortunately no-one seemed to think to separate out the projects like is now happening. As mentioned earlier this week, we came incredibly close to actually having our rail network closed down but thankfully it survived and with investment has started to thrive.

The current push for electrification really started in 2006 when the Auckland Regional Transport Authority (ARTA), one Auckland Transports precursor organisations, created the rail development plan. It was a 10 year plan to revitalise the rail network and make use of the untapped capacity it held. Core to the plan was the upgrade to the rail network that had started a year earlier known as Project DART. That included double tracking the Western Line, upgrading the Newmarket station and the Newmarket junction, the upgrading of other suburban stations and the building of the Manukau spur line (reopening the Onehunga Line came later).

The plan noted that the electrification of the rail network was a key policy decision. If Auckland was to go down the track of upgrading the network then there was only so long the existing trains (and proposed SA sets) would last and that new rolling stock would be needed. ARTA investigated the difference between buying new diesel trains and electrifying the system. When compared in a business case that took into account whole of life costs, electrification came out slightly ahead of buying new diesel trains. One thing not included in that assessment but that also helped in tipping the favour towards pushing for electrification was that if Auckland ever wanted a CRL that electrification was required for it so buying new diesel trains with a 35-40 year life would have prevented the CRL until we bit the bullet and electrified.

However despite the business case for an upgraded and electrified rail network looked good, it failed to win over then Finance Minister Michael Cullen. In response to questions in parliament he often used the same arguments against electrification and for the massive spend up in roading that his government were pushing that the current government do about the City Rail Link. That included the infamous line “buses need roads, too”.

Eventually Cullen was able to be convinced and in the 2007 budget a new appropriation was added providing $550 million towards electrification and a few other things.

Electrification Funding

The government would pay for the wires and Auckland was to pay for the trains that use them. From memory both would fund the cost of this by imposing a regional fuel tax on Auckland of up to 5c each. With this plans started to be made to get the projects needed underway and ARTA even got to the point of issuing an expression of interest document for 140 carriages, each 20m long. That would equate to 35 four car.

When National won in 2008 one of the first things they did was to scrap the regional fuel tax and put the whole project on hold pending a review of the whole project. A working group reviewing electrification came back with the most drastic change being in the trains themselves. Instead of the 20m long carriages they would 24m long carriages and operate in multiples of three. Considerably fewer trains (75 carriages) were to be ordered and to make up the numbers electric locomotives were to be brought to haul around the SA carriages.

In late 2009 the government finally announced that it was proceeding with electrification and thankfully didn’t scale back the EMU order quite as much as the working group suggested. They said they would loan Kiwirail $500 million to buy 38 new EMUs (114 carriages). In another change they agreed to pay for the infrastructure without imposing those costs solely on Auckland which in my opinion was actually a fairer way to do it. The contracts for the physical works were signed a few months later in January at the formal opening to the new Newmarket station.

For the EMU’s it would then be some months before we heard anything more. In July 2010 Kiwirail announced four companies had been shortlisted to build the trains, they were Hitachi Limited; Hyundai Rotem; Bombardier Transportation Australia Pty Limited; and a consortium of Construcciones y Auxiliar de Ferrocarriles, SA. (CAF) and Mitsubishi Corporation. However things got odder just three months later when Kiwirail expanded the shortlist by another six companies. Three of those were Chinese companies which led some people to claim that there was some sort of government interference in the deal. This wasn’t helped when in April 2011 it was revealed that Bombadier and three other companies had pulled out. Shortly after the list was narrowed to two companies.

In September 2011 we received some hugely positive news that the government had agreed to help fund an additional 19 EMUs bringing the total to 57 (171 carriages). That would mean we no longer needed to buy some electric locomotives to haul around old carriages. One of the reasons for this change was that Auckland Transport had been busy behind the scenes working out just what the difference to the whole of life costs would be. Additionally there were huge benefits to having only one type of train running on the network plus the electric loco/SA combination wouldn’t be able to work in the CRL due to the fire rating the carriages have. A month later we learned that CAF had won the tender to build the trains. This is the first image we saw of what they may look like.

trains1

Electrification itself has plodded along and sadly fell behind schedule. It was originally meant to be completed “before the rolling stock arrives in 2013). That was to be by September 2013 and it now doesn’t appear that it will be finish till about September this year – although Kiwirail say it hasn’t affected the roll-out of the trains though.

We continued following progress of the first train being constructed in Spain along with the Wiri depot that will maintain them with Patrick even visiting the factory in Spain last year. In late August last year the first train arrived in Auckland where it was trucked to Wiri to be commissioned and begin testing. I was even lucky enough to get some early trips on them during testing. As testing increased and more trains arrived they have become an increasingly common sight around the rail network. Here’s a video showing one entering Britomart as a test a few days ago

It’s been a long and sometimes uncertain path towards this point but from tomorrow they should be a permanent fixture of Auckland for decades to come. Thanks to everyone who helped get us to this point.