This is a guest post by reader Malcolm McCaskill based in Hamilton, Victoria.
When visiting Auckland earlier this year, I was surprised how slow the trains were compared with those here in Australia. To see what travel times should be achievable when the dwell time issue is resolved, I assembled timetable and distance data from Auckland, Wellington, Melbourne and Perth, using publicly available timetables and distances between stations from Google Earth. I then used linear regression to develop a relationship for each line between travel time for an in-bound morning peak service and distance between stations. The best relationship was for Wellington’s Kapiti line, which explained 97% of variation, and had an intercept of 1.0 (minutes per station) and slope coefficient of 0.85 (minutes per km). This implies that for each station the combination of deceleration, dwell time and acceleration adds one minute to travel time, and that without stations the average speed would be 71 km/hr. This regression approach was much less successful for other lines, because there was less variation in station spacing. For example on the Eastern Line it only explained 11% of variation. So I used the Kapiti relationship as a benchmark to compare the other lines, calculating travel times using these coefficients from the distance between stations. For all lines except Kapiti, timetabled travel times were unusually long when approaching the terminal station, so I did the calculations for the station before the terminus, because it is not a dwell time issue, and instead one of platform availability. How did Auckland perform ?
Auckland’s Eastern Line is currently timetabled to be 4.2 minutes slower (13%) than the Kapiti benchmark, while the Western Line was 8.8 minutes slower (20%). Melbourne’s Pakenham line was marginally faster (2%) than the benchmark, while Perth’s Fremantle line was 21% faster.
So we would expect that if the dwell time project looks to Wellington for optimal practices, Auckland should achieve travel time improvements of 13-20%. However if it looks to Perth there should be further travel time improvements in the order of 21%. Achieving times similar to Perth should be quite feasible, because like Auckland, its trains are powered by a 25 kV AC electrical system, which enables both regenerative braking and much faster acceleration than the 1.5 kV DC system used in Wellington and Melbourne.
Faster travel times are not simply an issue of passengers travelling faster. It is the equivalent of increasing the fleet size without having to purchase more trains, while also increasing the productivity of train crews, leading to a reduction in subsidies.
This benchmark approach is also useful to estimate travel times post-CRL travel times. From New Lynn to Britomart travel times would decline from the current 34 minutes to 19, or a saving of 15 minutes, while the travel time to Aotea would be 17 minutes. This is equivalent to halving its distance from the CBD.
[editors note] when the new Western line timetable goes live in May we may see some improvements in travel times while AT have say the next timetable change (likely next year) will see them incorporate many of track, signalling and operational improvements being implemented.
Along with the important issue of local point to point access of new cycling and walking infrastructure, as discussed in this cross-post with Bike Auckland [remember to submit by Thursday, especially if you are local] there is also the issue of increasing access to important Transit stops, especially RTN Stations, to improve their value. Below is a screen grab from MR Cagney’s excellent ‘Catchies’ work on Auckland’s existing RTN Station catchments. The shaded circles describe a 1km ‘as the crow flies’ diameter from each station, the coloured blobs show the actual 1km reach once street and walkway patterns are added. These then are a sort of visual description the difference between catchment theory and practice on the Auckland RTN.
Both Meadowbank and Orakei Stations exhibit some of the most limited catchments on the whole network [comparable to ferry wharves, which are by nature only half a circle] both are particularly severed from their potential local catchments by natural and artificial phenomena. In Orakei’s case development immediately around the station, much better and more frequent bus services, and increasing local road suitability for cycling and walking, are the answer to increasing its reach. For Meadowbank however, only one of those options is available; it will never have a major bus service because it is in a secluded valley away from the road network, and nor is the surrounding land able to be developed. The only way to improve its performance is to improve its walking and cycling connections, and here with the GI to Tamaki cycleway there is surely the opportunity to do just that.
Orakei, Meadowbank, and Glen Innes Stations on the Eastern Line
Especially to reach across the valley to Selwyn College in particular.
The Pourewa Valley section of the GI-Tamaki Shared Path. The Selwyn College playing fields are visible above the Path as it kinks away from the rail line.
The new shared path does offer potential connections up the valley and even though they will be beyond the classic Station 800-1000m catchment range, I have little doubt they would be used as the experience of starting and ending the work or school day with a walk or ride through the verdant Pourewa Valley is pretty attractive. Additionally the bus or driving alternative can be subject to congestion especially through the natural pinch points of our folded topography. The utility of network will of course increase dramatically once the CRL is open too; what a great way for people in this neighbourhood to get to Eden Park for example.
The Eastern Line is a tremendously fast and competitive option as shown by the modal comparison chart for Panmure below, but the reach of its stations certainly need work. Panmure itself has now got great bus connection and Glen Innes is currently in a walking and cycling improvement work programme.
Sylvia Park pretty much only serves the mall and desperately needs new connections to the east:
With work all these stations could add even greater value to the network, now that the train service, at least at the peaks, is frequent and high quality. The Eastern Line has been a star improver since electrification, but it still has capacity for more of its stations to push up the leader board. This can only be achieved with detailed work to remove the very real barriers to entry all along the network. Even a secluded and arguably poorly placed station like Meadowbank can be improved when an opportunity like this Shared Path comes along.
AT have kindly sent us the Train Station HOP data for for the last two calendar years. Note that these data are incomplete, not including those travelling on legacy paper tickets, transferring, or on special event services. See here for Matt’s mid year post where on these data were then.
As expected these are great numbers; there’s spectacular growth across the network. Highlights include:
- Manukau City takes off now MIT is open: 118% growth jumping in rank from 24th to 13th. Strong growth is likely to continue once the Bus Interchange there opens.
- Panmure is the next big mover, leaping up 52%, from 12th to 5th. I guess we can expect a similar burst at Otahuhu too once the new Interchange is up and running.
- Britomart adds a million new movements each way. The top 10 stations are now over 400k, last year only 3 were.
- Next year should see Britomart over 5mil, Newmarket 1 mil, and most of the rest of the top 10 over 500k.
- Grafton still the most asymmetrical station other than Britomart; 69k more alightings than boardings, showing that downhilling is still strong there. This is people heading to the city via Grafton but returning via another route, many likely using Britomart, which shows more some 169k more boardings than alightings.
Here’s the top 15 ranked by 2015 boardings. The positive movers are all on the Eastern Line, which has had the new trains the longest, and biggest upgrade in frequency. And the biggest two movers have shiny new stations: Manukau City with the new MIT above, and Panmure with a new bus interchange. The Eastern Line also has very good bones; it has no level crossings, is fast, straight and direct and now some good attractors to unlock those advantages. As well as the two stations mentioned above, the mall at Sylvia Park is clearly drawing customers by train, which adds to the long strong destinations of Papatoetoe, Middlemore, and GI. Even the minor stations on the line improve well over the year: Puhinui the 3rd highest proportionate change at 43.9%, Meadowbank; 5th, 33.0%, and Papatoetoe, by no means minor; 6th, 31.3%. Papatoetoe still the forth busiest station in 2015, but will it be overtaken by Panmure this year? Which would be impressive as Papatoetoe has twice the number of services. It is clearly time that businesses took advantage of all those people at Panmure station; it’s still sitting in a land-use desert.
It’s pretty clear what works; investment in stations and interchanges [Panmure], alignment with land use [Manukau City], and improved service. I think it is likely that the Eastern Line still has more growth in it, as the results of improvements to frequency and capacity on the Western Line planned for this year may not fully come through until next year. If we have learnt nothing else from the changes to places like Sylvia Part and Manukau City is that it can take a little while for these changes to be reflected in pax numbers. Although the lower growth percentages from Western Line stations does suggest they are being held back by capacity and frequency constraint [exception: Avondale; jumping 29.3% up one place to 16th busiest].
What else can we learn from these data?
The more I look at the events and data of 2015 the clearer it becomes that this has been a profoundly significant year for Auckland. It is my contention that this year the city reached a critical turning point in its multi-year evolution back to true city pattern. I have discussed this change many times before on this forum, most notably here, as it is, I believe, an observable process that has been building for years. Generally it has been gradual enough, like the growth of a familiar tree, as to easily pass unobserved, but now I think it has passed a into a new phase of higher visibility. The group who see it most clearly are people returning from a few years overseas. Many ex-pats express surprise and wonderment at the myriad of changes in quantity and quality they find here on returning.
Changing City: New apartments with views over the city and harbour, a Victorian school and park, 20thC motorways, and the new LigthPath.
Below is a summary of evidence for 2015 being the year Auckland returned as a city, in fact the year it crossed the Rubicon onto an unstoppable properly re-urbanising path. Later I will add another post on how 2016 and beyond is certain to see the city double-down on these trends, and why this is very good news. This transformation is observable in all five keys areas:
DEMOGRAPHICS. New Zealanders returning in big numbers are one of the key metrics of 2015. Along with new migrants and natural growth, the other change driving Auckland’s demographic strength is fewer people leaving, all of which, of course, are a vote of confidence in the city as a place to want to live and to likely fulfil people’s hopes for a better future. Population growth for the year was at 2.9%, the strongest rate since 2003, the strongest in the nation, and biggest raw number on record. See here for Matt’s [Population Growth in 2015] and Peter’s [Why is Auckland Growing?] posts on these issues.
And importantly for my thesis many more people are moving into the centre, particularly into new apartments. This is a evidence that the The Great Inversion is happening in Auckland as it is all over the developed world; the return of vitality to centre cities all over. Auckland’s urban form is reverting to a centred pattern; with proximity to a dense centre as a key determinant of value.
TRANSPORT. The huge and sustained boom in rail ridership way in advance of population growth is the headline transport news of 2015, and is the result of the upgrade in quality, frequency, and reliability of the service brought by the new electric trains. Sustained growth of over 20% is very strong; this year every four months an additional million trips have been added to the running annual total; 13 million in March, 14 million in July, 15 million in November. I am not overstating it to say that these numbers change a great deal: They change the argument for further investment in rail systems in Auckland, and significantly they change growth and development patterns across the city:
Elsewhere on our Public Transport systems the news is great too; The New Bus Network is just beginning, and is already showing huge growth in the few areas it is in effect. This year we have also seen new ferry services, including a new private Waiheke service that means there is much more like a real turn-up-and-go service there [started late 2014]. Ferry modeshare is holding its own at 7% which is a strong showing given the explosion in rail and bus numbers.
Importantly AT is now routinely rolling out long overdue bus lanes across the city. And now that they are doing this confidently and more consistently, surprise and anguish about this more efficient re-purposing of roadspace by car drivers has fallen away to nothing- there surely is a lesson there.
So total PT ridership cleared 80 million annual trips this year, for an overall growth of 8.1%, a rate running at nearly 3x population growth, evidence of a strong shift to public transport at the margin. Growth that is certain to continue despite capacity issues becoming pressing at peak times on both buses and trains.
HOP card use also became strongly embedded this year [except on the ferries] which is another sign of a maturing system.
More population and a growing economy of course means more vehicles and more driving on our roads, [see: What’s Happening to VKT?] but because of the powerful trend to Transit outlined above the per capita number is flat to falling. This is a historic shift from last century when the two tended to move strongly in lockstep.
Another discontinuity from last century is that GDP and employment growth have also separated from driving VKT, as shown in the following chart from Matt’s post linked to above. Another sign that the economy too is shifting on the back of public transport, and not driving as much as it was last century:
So whereas investment in the rail network has been answered by an extraordinary boom in uptake the multi-year many billion dollar sustained investment in driving amenity has not led to massive uptake. It is hard to not conclude from this that 1. We are far from discovering the latent demand ceiling for quality Transit; only the degree of investment will limit it. And 2. Driving demand in Auckland is saturated; this mode is mature, well served and not the area to invest in for new efficiencies or growth.
2015 also saw the launch of the Urban Cycleways programme; a multiyear government led investment in infrastructure for walking and cycling. This, like the Transit boom is another shape changing departure from the past. Although the active modes are not well counted [what a culture counts shows what it values] it is clear that the shift back to the centre is also accompanied by a growth in active mode transport. This is one of the great powers of Proximity; the best trip is the one that isn’t need because the potential traveller is already there, or near enough to use their own steam:
DEVELOPMENT. All over the city investment is going into building projects of various kinds, the retirement sector is particularly strong, as is terrace house and apartment buildings, all three at levels not seen for a decade and together support the argument that Auckland is not just growing but also changing shape into a more more city-like pattern, as John Polkinghorn has kept us up to speed on all year on the Development Tracker:
Significantly there is also renewed investment into commercial projects especially in the City Centre, led by Precinct Property’s 600 million plus Downtown rebuild and tower, and Sky City’s massive Convention Centre and Hotel project between Hobson and Nelson. Additionally Wynyard Quarter is also moving to a new level soon with a mix of Hotel, Residential, and Commercial buildings. Somewhere in the region of 10 billion dollars of projects are underway or close to be in the City Centre. And as Peter clearly illustrated recently this is in no small part due to improved regulatory conditions [The High Cost of Free Parking].
ECONOMY. Cities exist simply because of the advantages for humans to be in close proximity to each other for transactions of all kinds; financial, cultural, social, sexual. And Auckland is beginning to show real possibility of opening up an agglomeration advantage over the rest of the country now that it is really intensifying. The latest data on Auckland’s performance shows a fairly consistent improvement over the last five years
POLITICS. Two major political programmes begun this year will have profound impacts on Auckland for decades to come. The first is the Auckland Transport Alignment Process. Something we haven’t discussed on the blog because we are involved in it and are awaiting the first public release of information which will be soon. Then we will certainly be discussing the details of this ongoing work. But the importance of this process is already clear; it is a reflection of a new found acceptance but the government that Auckland’s economic performance matters hugely to the nation and that transport infrastructure investment is, in turn, critical to that performance. We are of course striving to make the case for a change in the balance of that investment in Auckland away from a near total commitment to urban highways now that motorway network approaches completion [post Waterview and Western Ring Route] and that the evidence of success from recent Transit improvements, particularly to the Rapid Transit Network, is so compelling. There are hurdles here in the momentum and habits of our institutions and politics but also huge opportunities to really accelerate our cities’ performance across a range of metrics through changing how they are treated.
The other political shift is another we are yet to cover in depth but soon will, and that’s the agreement in Paris on Climate Change. This does indeed change a great deal. The city and the nation will have to ask the question of all decisions around urban form and transport how they fit with the new commitment to reduce our carbon intensity. This will clearly lead to a further push for higher density and greater emphasis on Public and Active Transport, as these are current technology and long term fixes to this global challenge. Unleashing further the urban power of proximity and agglomeration economies. So much of the conversation around New Zealand’s carbon intensity is around the agricultural issue and this tends to ignore the opportunities our cities offer, particularly Auckland, and particularly the Auckland transport systems, to this problem.
Cities are emerging as the key organising level that are most able to react to this problem as discussed here in The Urban Planner’s Guide to a Pst-COP21 World:
In many ways, Melbourne’s experience represents a coming-of-age of the urban sustainability movement. The private sector is listening to cities and responding. Now it’s up to cities and national governments to continue the conversations that began at COP21 and continue the evolution.
“The commentary for a long time has been ‘nations talk and cities act.’ We’ve been part of that dialogue too. That’s changing now,” said Seth Schultz [director of research at C40 Cities]. “National governments are coming to organizations like ours and saying ‘help us. We get it.’ I want to change the trajectory of the conversation. Cities are a vehicle and everyone should be getting in that vehicle and joining in for the ride.”
So in summary 2015 has seen:
- Completion of Electrification of the Rail Network and the New Trains
- The start of the New Network
- New Interchange Stations
- New Buslanes
- Improvements to Ferry services
- Start of the Urban Cycleways Programme
- CRL start
- Paris COP 21
I will follow this post with another looking ahead to what is going to be a huge 2016/17. Here’s a short list to start with:
- Fare Integration
- Further Interchange Stations
- Western Line frequency upgrade
- New Network rollouts
- Queen St Buslanes [so overdue]
- More Cycleways
- SkyPath underway
- CRL seriously underway
- Huge city developments begin
- ATAP concludes
- Council elections
- Progress on Light Rail [it could be closer that many expect]
For all the frustrations and compromises that we’ve highlighted over the year I think it’s very clear that there are many very hard working and dedicated people in AC, AT, NZTA, and MoT and their private sector partners and it is their collective efforts in a very fast moving and changing field go a long to making Auckland the dynamic and exciting city it is fast becoming. I am keen to acknowledge their efforts. Onward.
I also want to personally thank my colleagues here at the blog, as it has been another big year for us, Matt, Peter, Stu, Kent and John, from whom I continue to learn so much, it doesn’t look like we are going to be able to give this up anytime soon…
Also I would like to shout out to colleagues over at Bike Auckland, our sister site, they’ve had a fantastic year, so cheers to Barb, Jolisa, Max, Paul, Kirsten, Ben, Bruce and the rest.
And of course to y’all, the reader, you are what really makes this thing work, so if what we do here makes any kind of difference, ultimately that’s because of you.
Kia ora tatou…
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.
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:
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….?
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
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)
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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
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.
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.
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
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.
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.