There have been a couple of articles in the Herald in the last few days that are worth talking about.
On Friday there was the issue of faults with the new electric trains.
Auckland’s new electric trains are still being bugged by computer software and braking problems, which have brought engineers out from Spain in search of remedies.
The city’s transport authority disclosed this week it is trying to bring forward from August the completion of its rollout of its $400 million fleet of electric trains, after continuing disruptions from diesel breakdowns.
But it is not just the old trains that are causing trouble, leading to a reduction in punctuality on all the city’s railway lines except for the Onehunga branch.
Rail workers are concerned some of the new trains are having to be shut down for their on-board computers to be reset, and that a sophisticated new control system designed to prevent collisions “has a tendency to randomly apply” emergency brakes when passing certain signals.
One industry source said in a message received indirectly by the Herald this morning there had been breakdowns on the rail network causing disruption “every day” for the past three weeks.
The emergency braking problem caused chaotic scenes at Britomart and Newmarket stations in the morning commuter rush in December, when a driver’s unfamiliarity with the new system prompted him to disable several other systems on board his train, disrupting 15 other services.
Auckland Transport chief executive David Warburton told his board this week, in his monthly business report, that Siemens Spain had undertaken a two-week investigation in New Zealand and was “working to improve ETCS [European Train Control System] reliability.”
It seems there has been a number of issues that have arisen with the trains, as the also herald notes in the article there were issues with how restrictive the new signalling system was when the trains were first introduced and it seems further improvements are due. I’m aware there have also been issues with the power supply and with the doors, both of which have been fixed. The latest issues seems to include some gremlins in the traction systems – something I’m sure will be ironed out.
I guess for me the thing is that while this is very concerning and annoying, this isn’t uncommon when brand new systems are installed. Even in mature networks new machines or parts of the network will tend to have issues. As an example the new trains in Wellington had to be pulled from service a number of times over a few years due to issues that arose.
While the outcome for passengers tends to be the same – delays and frustration – that’s quite different from the issues with the aging diesel trains. As I understand it, for them there’s often a difficult decision between temporarily patching up issues and properly fixing them – which could be quite costly – when the trains will likely only be used for another month or two.
In effect we seem to have both fleets of trains (electric and diesel) at opposite sides of a bell curve. The electrics have a lot of faults but they are getting better and more reliable and it is likely that soon faults will become much rarer while on the other side the diesels are getting more and more unreliable and that in part is also be accelerated by their pending replacement. Unfortunately what isn’t changing is the poor communication when things go wrong. Perhaps what AT and Transdev need is some more transparency in the matter and to explain to the pubic exactly what is going wrong. If the public were more aware of what the issues being faced are then they might be more accepting of the situation. In lieu of that that faults are leaving people with bad experiences and driving people away from using trains.
The second piece was related to the property purchases for the City Rail Link.
Plans for Auckland Transport’s ambitious $2.4 billion City Rail Link project are gathering speed, as it secures more real estate along the route.
An AT spokeswoman said the council-controlled authority had now bought 58 of the 70 surface properties it needs, spending $85 million securing the route – a critical part of Auckland’s biggest transport project.
That means AT now controls 83 per cent of the properties it needs and the full-steam-ahead approach has seen big progress since last year.
The update indicated 23 new property purchases were concluded in the past nine months, as owners agree to sell their land and buildings for the rail route’s progress.
AT’s relatively rapid pace is a big advance from the middle of last year when it had only concluded 35 surface purchases and spent $35 million.
Some politicians have questioned why all the pricey real estate is being bought well before Government funding as AT closes deals on the properties along its 3.4km Britomart to Mt Eden route.
AT’s biggest sticking point appears to remain the valuable Mt Eden Life Church, a property which it has been negotiating on for some time: the spokeswoman said the purchase of that big property near the Mt Eden Station, between the bottom of Flower St and Mt Eden Rd, was yet to be concluded.
Part of that issue is finding the Christians a new property. The spokeswoman said that was very much part of the deal and that no sale would be concluded until it was resolved.
“The issue is finding an alternative site. Negotiations are under way,” she said of 95 Mt Eden Rd.
The church has a number of businesses and owns several properties to the north and south but that property is the heart of its church operation.
That seems like good progress and given the rise in land values Auckland has been seeing – especially in and around the city centre – it is probably a good thing that they are buying the property now and not waiting until the government commit funding by which time the costs would have likely increased dramatically. The biggest risk is that it’s quite possible that when the government do help fund the project they will ignore the property purchases and enabling works (cut and cover tunnel to Wyndham St) and only fund 50% of the remaining costs.
I’m not an expert on the Public Works Act but is it normal for a public organisation to have to find alternative sites for current occupants? I guess that’s likely the easiest thing instead of forcing a sale but seems like it could end up quite costly.