Following the weekend rail shutdown, Kiwirail have now been able to complete and liven up the wires between Wiri and Newmarket (inlcuding Onehunga). As such they are now kicking into higher gear warnings about live wires across the network.
A safety campaign has been launched this week warning Aucklanders they won’t get a second chance if they get too close to the overhead wires which will power the city’s new electric trains.
The first of Auckland’s new electric trains has now arrived in Auckland. Over the coming months these will be tested around the network in preparation for train services in 2014.
The overhead wires are now live 24/7 and potentially deadly to anyone who may get too close or come into contact with them, says KiwiRail Project Management Office General Manager Murray Hood.
“As with ordinary power lines, the overhead power system on the rail network is built so that people doing ordinary things near them are perfectly safe,” said Mr Hood.
“Only reckless or mischievous behaviour poses a danger.
“Sadly, experience both here in New Zealand and overseas shows that some people ignore all safety advice and take risks with serious and usually fatal results.”
The overhead wires that will power the trains carry 25,000 volts, which is 100 times more powerful than that used in homes.
“You do not even need to touch these wires to be electrocuted – electricity this powerful can arc or jump across gaps so it is important to keep away and make sure anything you are carrying is also well clear,” said Mr Hood.
“So it is critical that the public must treat these lines as live and extremely dangerous at all times.”
An awareness campaign to get this message out has been developed by KiwiRail, Auckland Transport and Transdev – the three organisations which deliver commuter rail services in Auckland. Launched this week the campaign includes billboard, radio and newspaper advertising as well as a video available on YouTube and Facebook. A link to the video can be found on the KiwiRail website – www.kiwirail.co.nz.
“Transdev is tremendously excited about this new era for Auckland rail but it’s vitally important that everyone who travels on or near the train tracks heeds these important warnings about electrified overhead wires,” said Transdev’s Electrification Programme Lead Mike Yeoman.
“You can help us share the safety message. We encourage parents to talk to their children about staying well clear of the overhead wires and taking care around trains and stations, the rail network is no place to play.”
There have been several incidents on the electrified section of the North Island Main Trunk railway line that runs between Hamilton and Palmerston North in recent years.
“Invariably, these have all involved young men trespassing on the rail corridor and getting too close to the overhead wires. At best those that survived received serious burns,” said Mr Hood.
In 2003 a young male trespasser died after climbing on top of a stationary train in a freight yard in Hamilton. And in 2007 another trespasser received serious burns, again after trespassing in the same area.
The wires have meant the introduction of height restrictions at the 31 level crossings on Auckland roads within the electrified area. However, most road users will not be affected by these height restrictions, as most vehicles and loads would not exceed them.
Most level crossings will have a height restriction of five metres, however 11 crossings will be lower at 4.25 metres. Roadside signs will warn of the presence of wires and display the height restriction at each level crossing.
Motorists with loads exceeding the height restrictions will need to apply to KiwiRail for written permission to use a level crossing.
There is more info here.
At the transport committee meeting on Wednesday Kiwirail provided an update on electrification progress while Auckland Transport had an update on what is happening with the EMUs.
The presentation was broken down into three areas looking at the key pieces of work remaining to be done. These are signalling, traction (wires) and operational preparedness.
The new signalling and train control systems have now been completely installed and are operational. They said about 18 months ago there were an average of over 100 faults a month to either the signalling system, points or other systems associated with controlling the trains. This is down to about 50 a month and is expected to go lower still. My understanding is that this number includes any small issue and often they may not even affect passenger trains but even so it still seems like a lot. The one piece of work left to complete is the automatic train protection system which will help prevent accidents as it will stop trains from going through red signals. We don’t currently have this system on the rail network although I believe that AT are retrofitting our existing trains with it even though they will only be used for another few years. The new EMUs will come with it already installed.
The wires are the most visible part of electrification. Kiwirail say they their contractors have now completed all of the mast foundations and have over 70% of the masts in place (2785 out of 3825). If you look at a part of the rail network that has already been electrified you will see that there are three wires that make up the system. One is an earth wire, one is a catenary wire and the other one is the wire the trains connect to get power. All up there will eventually be 550km of wire on the network and so far 355km have been installed (~65%). The parts left to do are the western line from Mt Albert to Newmarket, Newmarket to Britomart, the eastern line from Westfield to Britomart and a bit around Papakura.
Associated with the wires are various pieces of work around making the network safe. Kiwirail say that 90% the earthing and bonding of elements in and around the rail network is complete while they are 60% of the way through installing the screens (like the one below) on bridges to help prevent access to the wires.
The work will continue over the rest of the year and into another extensive rail shutdown over the Christmas period. They said the rail network would be closed from 26 December through to 19 January which is almost four weeks. I sometimes wonder if these large shut downs will ever end and one of my greatest fears is that Kiwirail will get so used to doing all of their normal maintenance tasks in these shut downs that they will become the norm even after electrification is finished.
In addition to the weekend and Christmas shut downs, there have also been shutdowns on Mondays to Thursdays in the evenings. I have heard that these will now be extended to Friday and Saturday nights however there has been nothing official from AT or any of the other agencies involved.
It’s worth noting that there is a shut down this weekend which will see the wires from Westfield to Wiri completed and livened up. That will mean all AT will be able to test the new train all the way from Wiri to Newmarket and along the Onehunga Branch line.
The only part I found interesting in this section was that Kiwirail have decided that they won’t be maintained the wires themselves and as such will be contracting out the work to another company who they are currently under negotiation with. While they will be working on behalf of Kiwirail I do worry about the fact there will be yet another player being involved in keeping the network running.
As most readers will have known by now, the first of our new electric trains are now in the country and it is tucked away at Wiri going through initial testing. AT say the next two trains will arrive together in November then we will start getting two a month until November 2014. From December 2014 things ramp up even further and there will be four per month arriving until all 57 are here which should be around July 2015 (which is earlier than originally planned due to CAF opening an additional production line)
The first three trains will undergo testing for 3-4 months to ensure all bugs are ironed out. After that trains 4-9 are expected to take about two months to test while after that they will take about 4-5 weeks before being ready to be used in service or for training. Testing will take place at night or during some weekend shutdowns when there are no other services on the tracks so don’t expect to see one while waiting for a train.
The first passenger services are still on track for April and will start on the Onehunga Line. The key reason for waiting till then is that they need a about 7 trains in the country first. Three are needed for Onehunga services (two operational and one spare), another 2-3 are needed for training purposes and another few will be going through testing. Trains will be rolled out on a line by line bases and will only happen when there are enough to replace all of the services on a line in one go to avoid mixed running a mixed fleet where possible. Following Onehunga the Manukau services should start running with electrics a few months later in mid 2014. Both Onehunga and Manukau are shorter runs with less services so not as many trains are needed to be operational. The Southern line will be the next to go electric at the end of 2014 and the Western line will be the last to change over.
You will notice on the diagram above that after the services on a line are replaced, that a few months later there is a timetable upgrade. This is to get the lines eventually to what is proposed below. AT said that the shuttle services to Papakura would begin in the end of 2014 once the southern line services were replaced.
However while those of us out west in particular will have a while to wait before we see the new trains, AT also said that there may be the opportunity to at least replace all weekend services with EMUs in September next year. I’m also hoping that as the other lines start converting to electrics, that a few trains will be freed up to boost western line frequencies in the interim.
AT also say that modelling has taken place to look at timetable impacts of the new trains and they expect they will be able to deliver time savings of around 12% on a run. That means a trip from Papakura to Britomart would drop from 53 minutes to 45-49 minutes (I’m guessing depending on if stations like Westfield and Te Mahia close as proposed). Of course AT won’t know the exact time savings until they can actually test the trains in real life.
We are really starting to get into the business end of this project but unfortunately that also means a lot more disruption. Looking at current plans there is a weekend shutdown every 2-3 weeks from now up until Christmas and that is something that will not be doing any favours for patronage and people’s views on the service. If there is one advantage to the pain, at least now we are starting to see the light at the end of the tunnel.
Last week we broke the story that electrification is running late and that the wires won’t be installed by the time the first trains arrive as previously promised. My post raised the attention of the Herald who have since run a few articles regarding it (one of which isn’t online). As a result of the extra attention Kiwirail provided quite a bit more information about what was happening. Here is their email.
This is an international scale project with many complexities. There have been challenges getting enough access onto the rail corridor amongst the increasing number of passenger and freight services operating in Auckland to build the traction system, which has meant it has taken longer to complete this part of the project than initially envisaged – there are many more trains running now than when the project was confirmed and finish dates set. This is a tension that we always need to manage.
Having said that we are working closely with Auckland Transport and this will not affect the introduction of the new trains into service.
When the first two trains arrive in September they will be able to run immediately beneath tested and powered up wires to begin their commissioning process. You have found the map I was referring to yesterday on our website which shows where the wires are already in place.
We expect to have traction infrastructure in place across the bulk of the network by Xmas, with the rest being completed over the summer block of line in January.
During the first three months of 2014 the focus will then move to finishing works and testing – so the network will be ready for AT’s planned introduction of the new trains into service in April.
Testing and tuning of the infrastructure will need to continue through until 2015 as it will need to have full length trains running beneath it frequently – this is after all brand new infrastructure.
The project is also on course to complete within budget – $500 million.
To confirm what we have already told you, signalling and clearance work is completed, and the Onehunga branch and the NAL between Westfield and Newmarket have been tested and commissioned. Wiring is already in place around the network as per the map on our website.
The next section to be commissioned will be Westfield to Wiri, which is where the EMU maintenance depot is, which is scheduled for early September, in time for the new trains. Beyond that we’ll continue to liaise with Auckland Transport so commissioning of further of sections of OLE lines up with their commissioning schedule.
As part of this part of the project we are also systematically putting up screens on bridges and other structures to prevent accidental contact with the overhead wires, and carrying out other necessary safety measures such as earthing and bonding.
We’d appreciate some mention of the safety aspects of the project too please – these wires carry 25,000 volts, so the public need to be treat the overhead wires and the fittings that carry them as live and dangerous at all times. The system is designed so that people doing ordinary things will not be affected – only reckless or mischievous behaviour could be dangerous. KiwiRail and Auckland Transport are working on a public safety campaign with regard to this.
There are now height restrictions at level crossings in the Auckland area – these are signposted at each crossing. These restrictions don’t affect ordinary motorists or pedestrians but those in vehicles or towing loads that exceed these restrictions must choose an alternative route or will need to gain permission to use the crossing – information on how to do that is on our website.
Unfortunately it sounds like the need to get the wiring finished is likely to mean another extensive rail shut down this Christmas. This is despite Kiwirail saying in an internal staff newsletter in December that shutdown at Christmas last year would be the last big one.
Almost certainly as a result of these delays, there are now going to be impacts on some evening train services starting next week. MAXX is now advising:
Buses replace trains weeknights from Monday 27 May
Dates: From Monday 27 May until further notice.
Times: From 8pm until the start of service the next morning, Sunday to Thursday
Buses will replace trains south of Otahuhu on the Southern and Eastern lines
These closures are required to enable KiwiRail to carry out major works associated with the ongoing upgrade and electrification of Auckland’s rail network.
Click here for the rail bus timetable
Please check timetable very carefully.
For further information on Rail Bus services (including rail bus stop locations),
please click here
Buses will be marked RAIL BUS. All valid tickets and passes currently accepted on trains will be accepted on Rail Bus replacements.
Buses cannot accommodate bikes, scooters or large personal items.
We apologise for any inconvenience caused
I certainly can’t wait for this project to be finished. Having a network that isn’t shut down at nights, weekends and at Christmas along with having faster, reliable and more frequent trains is going to have massive impacts on people’s perceptions of trains as well as patronage.
While the integrated ticketing project seems to have been an ongoing saga for some time now, it might not be the only public transport project that is running into trouble at the moment. Lately I have been hearing from a wide range of people about another high project that could be in trouble, electrification. Just to ensure there is no confusion it is probably worth reminding everyone that the electrification project I am referring to relates to the physical infrastructure being installed, this part of the project is being managed by Kiwirail. As far as I am aware, the electric trains and depot, which are managed by Auckland Transport, are on track with the first unit well into the construction phase and due to arrive most likely in September.
The electrification project itself has consisted of a number of smaller projects:
- Signalling – The overhead wires had the potential to interfere with the existing signals we had so the entire network needed to be re signalled to prevent that from happening. Regardless Auckland’s previous signalling system was fairly ancient so needed replacing anyway. I believe that with the completion of track works at Papakura this is now completed.
- Clearances – Many of the bridges that crossed the rail network didn’t have enough height to allow the wires to run under them. This has been resolved by either lowering the tracks or replacing the bridges. This has now been completed although work is still going on for the new Ellerslie Panmure Highway bridge as part of AMETI.
- Traction – This is the actual masts and wires.
Completed wires out near Swanson (thanks Geoff)
As mentioned the signalling and clearance works have been completed or are very close to being so, the problem is with the traction side of things. The traction contract was signed in mid January 2010 just before the new Newmarket station opened however even in the announcement I can’t find any information as to just when it was due to be completed. It has actually been surprisingly hard to find out exactly when the project was due to be completed but these.
Mr Quinn gave an assurance that with the news today of the consortium winning the tender, the work will be completed in 2013 in time for the first delivery of new electric trains
- This was from just over a month after the traction contract was signed.
”The infrastructure has to be completed before the rolling stock arrives in 2013,” he says.
The last section to be electrified will be the eastern line with all the infrastructure completed by the end of 2013
How long will it take to electrify the entire network?
KiwiRail is working to a deadline of 2013 to complete the infrastructure for electrification. The first masts started appearing on the Western Line in 2011, and the work is being completed in phases.
- There was also this slide in a presentation to the councils Transport Committee in October last year confirming that the wires would be completed by August. Note they also state that the section of Newmarket to Swanson would be energised in March yet currently there are no wires between Newmarket and Mt Albert
KiwiRail is using its last big summer shutdown of the region’s rail network to rearrange tracks at Britomart and two other locations before spinning the final segments of an electrical web which by August will cover about 85km of lines from central Auckland to Papakura in the south and Swanson in the northwest.
Basically everything I can find points to the wires being completed later this year but unfortunately that doesn’t match what I have been hearing recently so I went directly to Kiwirail to find out what they say. Here is their response:
The project is on course for completion in first quarter 2014. As you may know the sections of overheads on the Onehunga branch and the NAL between Penrose and Newmarket have been commissioned. The next section to be commissioned will be Penrose to the Wiri EMU depot, which will be in the third quarter of this year. Beyond that we are working closely with Auckland Transport to ensure we align commissioning further of sections of OLE with their programme for delivery and commissioning of EMUs.
It’s obviously quite clear right from the get go that the project won’t be completed this year and first quarter 2014 could mean the wires aren’t finished till almost April, up to 7 months late. Reading between the lines there is more concerning news with revelation that by the time the first train arrives, it is likely that the only section of wires fully completed and commissioned will be the section between the Wiri depot and Newmarket. I also suspect it means we are unlikely to see any wires up in Britomart until next year. That means it is unlikely that there will any electric train services till later in 2014 as there would still be quite a bit of time needed for testing and driver training, after all we don’t want our drivers misjudging things and ploughing into the end of the platforms.
Here is Kiwirail’s latest update from the 18th of March. Since that time I believe that the work has primarily focused on the section around the Westfield Junction.
All up this is very disappointing and given the current slow progress, I fear that even the completion date of first quarter 2014 could slip further. Further motorway projects these days always seem to come in both ahead of time and within budget, why is it we can’t do the same for PT projects?
The Coastal Pacific is KiwiRail’s scenic rail service that operates both ways between Picton and Christchurch on a daily basis.
In 2011 it had a major revamp, with new carriages featuring panoramic windows like the one below as well as a new café car.
However, last week KiwiRail announced that the Coastal Pacific scenic rail service between Picton and Christchurch was moving to a seasonal timetable, and would not be operating from 6th May to 26th September:
“The Coastal Pacific is losing almost $3 million annually, due in most part to a significant drop in the tourism and domestic travel market to and from Christchurch after the earthquake. These losses are highest through winter,” says KiwiRail’s General Manager, Passenger, Deborah Hume.
“Winter demand for KiwiRail Scenic’s long distance passenger services (May through September) is much slower than the summer tourist season. For the Coastal Pacific service, the drop in demand in these winter months is even more pronounced than the TranzAlpine, as this train serves a less well known and travelled route. Added to this, since the February 2011 Christchurch Earthquake, travel to and from the city has dropped significantly due to the loss of tourist related facilities and accommodation.
“Very low numbers of people used the train during last winter, although there was an increase during the school holidays. However, KiwiRail needs to sell 130 seats on each service to break even, and on some days only 30 people were on board.
To be losing three million dollars a year seems like a staggering amount, but it isn’t clear from the press release which costs are direct costs and which costs are contributions to KiwiRail’s fixed costs such as track access fees.
The management and cost accountants among you will know that as long as revenue from the service is covering the direct costs of operation and is therefore making a contribution to overheads, then in the short term it is viable for the service to continue.
Suspecting a significant amount of the claimed “loss” was in fact fixed cost charging, I asked KiwiRail if they could provide a bit more detail, which they have done:
TOTAL REVENUE 3,404,925
- People Related Expenses 403,429
- External Services 302,441
- Lease and Rentals 42,715
- Materials & Supplies 248,754
- Incidents, Casualties & Insurance 6,051
- Other Expenses 86,225
- Track Access 790,144
- Hook & Tow 2,349,051
- Mechanical 798,662
- Corporate Overheads 216,481
- Allocated Costs (Including insurance, marketing, finance and administration, HR, management, website, general operational expenditure etc) 1,183,908
TOTAL EXPENDITURE 6,427,860
There still isn’t absolute clarity about which of these expenses are fixed cost charges imposed by Kiwirail, but the internal charges that really stand out though are the “Hook & Tow” of $2.3m, the “Allocated Costs” of $1.2m and the “Track Access” fee of $790K. Combined, these transfer charges add up to $4.3 million and so are the major reason why the Coastal Pacific is “losing” $3m. (That figure of $3.4m in revenue from the service must be very pleasing for KiwiRail, by the way.)
From what I understand Hook and Tow is a cost recovery for the use of the locomotives that haul the scenic carriages. This seems excessive when the cost of a brand new diesel locomotive is just $4m. Presumably there is a distance based charging formula involved here, and also possibly a salary component for the engineer.
Track access fees seem high, but then it is a relatively long stretch between Picton and Christchurch, and there are fewer services to spread the cost over. As for “Allocated Costs” it isn’t clear if these are direct costs that relate to the operation of the service or if they are simply a contribution to head office expenses.
For comparison, someone has helpfully pointed out the projected costs of the Capital Connection for 2013/14 on the Better Transport forum:
- Hook and Tow – $843,028
- Track Access – $219,924
- Mechanical Costs – $368,640 (I presume this is for the carriages and genset van)
- Allocated Costs – $357,502
- Labour – $305,903
These figures were sourced from page 33 of this Greater Wellington Regional Council document.
Obviously the Capital Connection and the Coastal Pacific services are very different, but you do have to wonder about KiwiRail’s internal charging formulae. Presumably the Coastal Pacific won’t be required to make a fixed cost contribution during the period that the service isn’t running. It would be interesting to know if the freight services have to pick up the track access fee to compensate over winter.
This isn’t to say that the decision to cut the Coastal Pacific during the winter months was the wrong one (and obviously Kiwirail have access to the needed marginal direct cost data to make the call), but to blame a drop in tourism for a loss of $3m seems the wrong thing to be putting in a press release, as it feeds the public perception that regional rail can never be “profitable” in New Zealand.
The now annual Christmas rail shutdown has started for some parts of the network. The rail network closes fully for Christmas day and from Boxing day all lines will be closed as works are done to upgrade the network until Monday 7 January when parts will reopen. Crucially though, Britomart will stay closed while works are done in there and like last year when the line between Newmarket and Britomart was closed, passengers will be need to catch a bus for that final part of the journey.
Here is a bit of a summary of the works taking place around the network this Christmas:
- In Britomart, the new track arrangements will enable trains from both main lines to access all platforms, and run on either of the two tracks in and out of Britomart. This will enable much more flexible train movements in and out of the station, faster recovery from operating incidents, fewer delays as trains wait to get into the station and allow for further timetable improvements.
- The footbridge at Point Resolution in Parnell will be replaced.
- In Panmure work continues on the new Panmure Station and the old Ellerslie Panmure bridge will be demolished so that it can be rebuilt higher and wider to cater for electrification.
- At Otahuhu, major work is happening to re-arrange and upgrade the junction so that freight trains can enter and leave the Otahuhu rail yards at much faster speed and that should help to minimise delays for commuter services.
- At Papakura work continues on upgrading the station
- Between Papakura and Westfield, Kiwirail are expecting to finish stringing up the overhead wires. They are focusing on this section over the closure as it is the busiest in terms of normal train movements so the hardest to close. By the end of the shutdown they expect 60% of the network will have been wired up ready for our new electric trains.
- Out west at Mt Albert work is going on to upgrade the station. The old ramp from Carrington Rd has already been removed and works this shutdown will include getting all of the piling completed for the new pedestrian bridge
- Screens will be installed on bridges that cross over rail lines around the network to help prevent people from getting to the wires. More on this below.
- There will also be all sorts of other typical maintenance tasks carried out all around the network.
As mentioned above, screens are being installed across the network to help prevent people from getting close to the wires. Elsewhere in the country these are usually just a boring wire mesh but in Auckland, work has been done to make them more interesting and attractive. Here is what they look like.
For the various timetables and info, go here, are the key dates to remember are:
- Saturday 22 December to Monday 24 December 2012: Otahuhu to Pukekohe on Southern Line, Eastern and Manukau Lines closed with Bus Replacements.
- Monday 24 December: Reduced peak service on Southern / Eastern Lines.
- Tuesday 25 December 2012: No rail or rail bus replacement services.
- Wednesday 26 December 2012 to Sunday 6 January 2013: Full network closure. Bus Replacements operating across all lines.
- Monday 7 January to Sunday 20 January 2013: Eastern Line (Westfield to Britomart) and Newmarket Branch Line (Newmarket to Britomart) including Britomart closed with Bus Replacements.
I can’t remember the last time we didn’t have a Christmas shutdown however thankfully this one should be the last. In an internal staff newsletter Kiwirail describe this shutdown as the last big push. That is because my understanding is that they need to have everything ready for when our new trains arrive. I’m looking forward to a time when we don’t close our rail network for weeks on end every single year.
A few months ago we learned just how fragile our train system is, even after re signalling it when the the whole system was brought to its knees due to a faulty power supply that that fed the desk from which the Auckland network is managed from. Last night something similar happened once again with some sort of signal fault once again taking out the entire Auckland network for a period of time during the rush hour.
Auckland train services are starting to move again after hundreds of Auckland train commuters were left stranded at Britomart Station.
An announcement was made about 6.25pm that no trains were running due to a signal failure in Auckland. The failure was originally reported as being in Wellington.
By 7pm, Auckland Transport said signals were now operational, but passengers should still expect “significant delays”.
It was originally reported as being another fault in Wellington however Kiwirail is now saying the fault occurred in Auckland. Regardless of where the fault originated it is pretty shocking that we have now had two faults that have taken out the entire network at such a critical time, especially considering the system is virtually brand new. This kind of problem is clearly not a good look and just last month at the Auckland Transport board meeting staff promised that we wouldn’t see any repeat. My guess is there will be some sort of investigation that occurs where there are a whole pile of fingers pointed and some small changes will be made but once again no one will really be held accountable.
In may ways it is a real shame as it contributes to taking the gloss off what is meant to be a pretty high quality and advanced system even compared to many other places around world. What has been installed is a European Train Control System Level 1 (ETCS Level 1) although some parts of it aren’t even active yet and are waiting on the arrival of our new trains to take advantage of the new features. One thing that has gone live recently is an automatic signalling where a computer controls most of the mundane tasks of running the network freeing up staff to deal with the more complex issues. It is the first time that the system has been used in New Zealand and here is a bit of an explanation as to how it works:
Automatic Route Setting works within the following way: a computer database holds the master timetable for the Auckland network. The data includes train numbers, train types, all stop times, platform allocations and routes.
Operational Planners then programme preset “commands” and “check conditions” to set points and clear signals.
These commands are saved as “triggers” and associated to a particular location on the track. When a train is detected at that track location, the computer identifies the train number, and therefore its route.
The logic then looks at the “check conditions” (such as making sure other trains have passed or the train crew have operated a train-ready device) and if they comply, it will clear the relevant signals for the correct path. All this happens in seconds.
If the conditions for a particular command are not met, then the system will retry for up to five minutes before alerting the Train Controller that the route will not clear.
Over time, more and more trigger locations will be set throughout the network.
For example, a southbound train arriving at Ellerslie will trigger a command to set the route at Penrose to go to or from Westfield. Those signals will be set by the computer if it sees no other trains in the way.
If there is another train present, the train will trigger another request when it reached a second trigger closer to Penrose Junction. If there is still another train in the way, that command will keep trying until the track is
free or five minutes expires.
This means the train is getting the correct route as quickly as possible after the track is free.
Kiwirail gave an update to the transport committee last week on progress with electrification in Auckland. Some of it was fairly detailed and it used a lot of acronyms but I will try to pull out the bits that I think are interesting or important. First up there are still a handful of projects that are still going on as part of Project DART which was the project that also included double tracking of the western line. There may be a little bit of a typo on here though as my understanding is the Britomart arrangement is happening over Christmas this year and that is also what is mentioned later on in the document.
Further on it is mentioned that all of the bridge clearances have now been resolved with the exception of the works associated with AMETI which we heard will be resolved over Christmas this year. Signalling has also been completed although there still work to be done around Papakura as the upgrade there continues. When it comes to the overhead wires themselves (traction) it seems like good progress is being made with ~75% of the mast foundations having already been installed and over a third of the masts in place.
It has however taken some to get to this stage so I guess things will go up pretty quickly over the next 10 months as everything is planned to be completed by August next year when the first of our new trains arrive.
We will of course see another large network shut down this year with no trains being able to get to Britomart from Saturday 22nd Of December till Monday 21st of January. There will be some trains running to Newmarket but it will be very similar to last year with shuttles from between there and presumably Grafton to town. I am really looking forward to these long summer shut downs being a thing of the past. Here is the work planned for the shut down this year.
The owners of any heritage cars or buildings will tell you that it costs a lot to keep them operating in good condition. Well it’s not surprising that the same is true for our trains, some of which were actually museum pieces before Auckland bought them and put them back to work for another 20 years. Well its been about a year since we last heard about it so is time that we were reminded by the NZ Herald. In an article today they say:
Auckland trains are costing almost as much as the region’s buses to run, even though the buses carry almost five times as many passengers.
Council transport chairman Mike Lee is blaming a lack of competition, in which train operator Veolia had its management contract extended for more than two years in March without public notification.
Although the trains made a record of almost 11 million passenger trips in the year to June 30 – compared with 2.5 million when Britomart opened nine years ago – that cost ratepayers and the Government $105.7 million.
It was well up on $87 million for 9.9 million passengers the year before, after hefty increases in track access charges paid to KiwiRail and in Veolia’s management fee.
Buses cost $110.9 million, but made 54.7 million passenger trips.
Wellington, with a simpler operating system under which KiwiRail runs electric trains as well as maintaining the tracks, spent $73 million on 11.3 million trips.
Now first I agree that $105 million is a huge amount of money and a simple way to think about it would be to divide that by the 11 million trips a year to come up with a pretty high per passenger payment. Of course that amount ignores fares, which probably come to somewhere in the $30-40 million a year range – with that money going directly to Auckland Transport (rather than the situation with most bus contracts where the operator pockets the fares and gets topped up with a subsidy). It also ignores the fact that rail trips are, on average, much much longer than bus trips. This is noted in the article:
Average rail trips of about 16.5km are also longer than bus rides of 6.6km, and transport planners point to the far greater congestion relief given to motorists by trains, as buses share roads with cars and trucks.
The concerning bit is more in relation to where this $105 million goes and the rate of increase we’re seeing. This is best highlighted in the NZ Herald graphic that accompanies the article:
The really big jumps are in the amount paid to Veolia, which more than doubles between 2010/2011 and 2012/2013. As the actual number of trains in operation hasn’t doubled over this period (in fact it’s hardly increased at all) this is difficult to understand. The other big area of increase relates to track access charges – basically a payment to KiwiRail for one public entity to utilise the network of another public entity. A big money-go-round.
I also presume the big jump in 2011/12 might have something to do with all the train services provided during the World Cup and perhaps the beginning of loan repayments for the new electric trains – even though the operating cost savings they bring are not yet being enjoyed.
And this is the critical thing here. At the moment our trains have a ticketing system from the 1950s that requires a huge number of staff members on each train. It also has trains from the 1960s and the huge maintenance bills that must come with them. But all this is due to change over the next few years: integrated ticketing should result in a far less labour-hungry operating model for the rail system while the new electric trains will be far far cheaper to operate and maintain compared to what we have now. Rail operating costs will look ugly for a couple of years yet, but the real focus should go on ensuring that these costs come down – even while rail services are further improved to become an integral part of the frequent transit network – as a result of electrification and integrated ticketing.
Hopefully we’ll also finally see the rail contract going out to tender and an operator come in that’s far better than Veolia.
Just a quick public service reminder that the last two “Talk Trains” sessions are tonight at Britomart, 5:00pm to 6:00pm and tomorrow night at Newmarket, 5:00pm to 6:00pm.
Senior managers from Veolia Transport, Auckland Transport and KiwiRail, will be at the sessions to answer questions customers may have about a wide range of topics from infrastructure, to timetables, maintenance, seating and the future of rail.
Every year we hold these sessions at key stations to find out what our customers want and discuss how we can improve train services to make rail the preferred public transport option.
Ticketing and on-time performance are two issues that come to mind…