Ports of Auckland Moving More Freight By Rail

Ports of Auckland did a press release back in September that didn’t really get picked up on:

Working with KiwiRail, Ports of Auckland has doubled the rail services between its Waitematā seaport and Wiri Intermodal Freight Hub.

The increased service starts this week and will bring the port to the doorstep of importers and exporters in South Auckland, potentially reducing the number of trucks coming into the seaport and opening up more space to handle growing volumes.

Ports of Auckland General Manager Commercial Relationships Craig Sain said, “This is just the beginning. With our developments in Palmerston North and Wiri, we’re on our way to make more effective and increased use of rail to improve our service offering.”

“Containers moved by rail was up by 64% in 2013/14, but it is still a small percentage of the total containers coming through the port. We’d like to see this number grow over the coming years,” he said.

In 2010, with the opening of the Wiri Intermodal Freight Hub, KiwiRail ran four services of 23 wagons a week in each direction. Over time, this number increased to eight services and starting today there will be sixteen services a week.

“There is ample capacity on the line to the Port to increase services further and we will continue to work with KiwiRail to get the most out of the line,” Mr Sain said.

KiwiRail General Manager Sales – Freight Alan Piper said, “Ports of Auckland’s drive to increasingly move freight by rail to its Wiri inland port has seen a rapid increase in growth of daily services this year. This is a great example of KiwiRail working closely with its customers and provide flexible growth capacity to enable more use of rail to transport goods around the country.”

Now sixteen services a week may still not sound significant, but each train can haul about 70 twenty foot equivalent containers. Each train is at least 35 trucks off the road.   Take a look at this video – it’s been sped up 4x, since the train is so long:

 

With freight volumes increasing though, the need for a third track on the Eastern Line (in particular between Wiri and Southdown, with an estimated capital cost of between $50m – $70m) becomes more apparent as passenger services are increasing too. Kiwirail might argue that Auckland Transport should contribute to the cost, but I’ve heard that Kiwirail charge Auckland Transport a track access fee in excess of $18m annually .

As the owner and landlord of the Auckland rail network, it would be fit the current charging model for Kiwirail to invest more in the network, and recover the costs through an increased charge in exchange for higher passenger rail frequencies.  This needs to happen before the opening of the CRL if Kiwirail wants to continue to grow its freight operations.  Would it be too much to ask that the Goverrnment’s contribution to the CRL be in the form of a capital injection to Kiwirail, so that not only the CRL track could be built, but the third main as well?

On the other hand, $50m – $70m is at the bottom end of NZTA’s project expenditure, so perhaps it could be included as a line item in the freight focussed East-West connection project.

Government Says No To Napier – Gisborne Rail

Minister of Transport Gerry Brownlee, along with Economic Development Minister Steven Joyce, issued a press release on Wednesday stating there is little evidence to support the reinstatement of the Gisborne – Napier railway line:

Transport Minister Gerry Brownlee and Economic Development Minister Steven Joyce today released a study of the East Coast region’s economic potential over the next 30 years.

The East Coast Regional Economic Potential Study assesses the region’s economic performance and barriers to development, and models five economic growth scenarios along with their implications for transport infrastructure and the skills needed.

Mr Brownlee says the study shows the economic importance of maintaining and boosting the road network in the East Coast, particularly in Gisborne.

“There will be an increase in logging freight over the next decade and improved roading will be vital to support that and other industries,” Mr Brownlee says.

“The study illustrates the need to develop further capacity for heavy vehicles on State Highway 35 north of Gisborne and to maintain the quality of State Highway 2 between Gisborne and Napier, and northwest of Gisborne to the Bay of Plenty.

“I will be asking the New Zealand Transport Agency to review its plans for these highways in light of this study.”

The report also concludes there is little evidence to support the case for reinstatement of the damaged rail line from Gisborne to Napier.

“When operational, rail only accounted for 2 to 3 per cent of freight from the region and the report finds no clear evidence of a significant economic impact following its closure,” Mr Brownlee says.

To provide context, a map of the area shows the distances involved in the region:

Hawke's Bay and Gisborne

Hawke’s Bay and Gisborne

 

It is a distance of 214 km from Napier to Gisborne, and it takes about 2 hrs 40 minutes to drive according to Google maps.  Tolaga Bay to Gisborne is 55 km.

The study referred to in the press release comes in two parts.  The first is a desk-based review of available research and analysis of economic data, which runs to 197 pages. The second is a relatively lightweight 141 page document called “Economic forecasting and transport and skills implications“.  The Transport and freight section of the second document on page 33 contains an analysis of heavy commercial vehicle (HCV) use, and also talks about proposed plans to use Tolaga Bay as an inland port for Gisborne’s Eastland Port.  Bear in mind that traffic counts on the state highways in the area are low, with around 3,000 veh/day or less away from the main urban areas of Gisborne and Wairoa.

report-hcv2

Storage space at both Napier and Gisborne is an issue for logs, but it isn’t clear from the report why Tolaga Bay has been chosen as the inland port for Eastland Port, who made the decision, or why the Government has effectively chosen to subsidise Eastland port by upgrading the road to HPMV (“big truck”) standards. The last sentence looks like consultant-speak for “upgrading SH2 between Gisborne and Napier to support heavy trucks will be bloody expensive and will have ongoing high maintenance costs”.

The report states that logs currently make up 97% of export traffic through Eastland Port.   There are very few imports.

The Port of Napier exports a slightly less volume of logs and timber than Eastland Port – 1.4m tonnes vs 1.9m tonnes annually. However Port of Napier imports a significant amount of fertiliser, lime and cement.

The report sets out rail freight flows between Gisborne and Napier, before the line was mothballed in 2012:

report-rail-freight

Note that 2011 rail freight volumes were less than half of the 2005.

The report goes on to make assumptions about future economic growth over the next 20 years, including oil and gas production encouraging between $11bn and $85bn worth of investment.  The report does not analyse how likely either of these scenarios are.

Page 75 of the report looks at the role of the railway between Napier and Gisborne:

report-rail-role

The report’s conclusion on rail is:

We also emphasise that, even if rail services are reinstated, the majority of freight traffic and surface passenger transport will continue to travel by road. The possible resumption of rail services does not detract from the need to improve the road network to ensure the resilience and reliability necessary for providing attractive linkages in the region and minimising the effects of distance from the neighbouring cities and the rest of the country.

Not everyone shares KiwiRail’s pessimism about the viability of the line, however.  A  report by BERL in December 2012 called KiwiRail’s analysis “very conservative”, and there are fundamental flaws with the way KiwiRail have determined profitable freight volumes. That report states that the cash flow neutral tonnage is only 226,000 tonnes per year.  The same report also states:

The spending on the Napier to Gisborne road in the last ten years has totalled $102 million. In the last four years it averaged $14.8 million per year. If the number of trucks, and heavy trucks at that, increased by 33% to 38% because the rail line is not available for wood freight, the annual spend on the road can be expected to increase at least proportionately, namely by $4.9 million to $5.6 million per year. This indicates that it would likely be in the national interest to make the capital expenditure required on the rail rather than having to increase spending on the road, and suffer the negative externalities on the road.

In their Draft Annual Plan, the Hawke’s Bay Regional Council is proposing to invest $4.5m in the Napier Gisborne Rail Establishment Group, which estimates that $10.7 million will be needed to finance capital and operating budgets, including $5.3 million to buy rolling stock, $2.4 million for working capital and a $3 million disaster contingency reserve.

A 51 per cent shareholding from the regional council is proposed, with a contribution of about $5.46 million through to the 2018-2019 year, with investors from Hawke’s Bay and the Gisborne region holding the remaining 49 per cent interest in a holding company, which would be formed especially for the purpose.

Submissions on the HBRC Annual Plan close on Monday 12th May.  You can find out more and make your own submission here.

Business groups still pushing for East-West Motorway

The decision made on the East-West link a few months ago not to run a motorway through the suburbs of Mangere was a significant victory for the community. However it also made a lot of sense as the majority of the transport problems are on the northern side of the harbour. Subsequently AT have also effectively ruled out any options that involve creating a new bridge between Mt Wellington and Highbrook. My understanding is the current plan is a variation of option two and would see a new road created along the foreshore from roughly Captain Springs Rd through to Silvia Park Rd (which would be upgraded) and have direct south facing motorway links added. This is shown below with the new sections in blue and the upgraded section in red.

East-West Jan 14 option

Overall I think this is the right outcome for the project as it does enhance connectivity while making better use of existing infrastructure (the motorway and Highbrook Dr) while also likely costing significantly less than some of the other plans originally proposed. A case of probably getting 80% of the benefits for what may be 20% of the cost.

Immediately after the decision I heard there was quite a bit of anger from the road and business lobby groups who wanted a full motorway. The press release from the Auckland Chamber of Commerce (who I believe had been shown the plans along with other business/road lobby groups) contained a little bit of that anger calling the proposal only a partial solution. Their “other key requirements” would see the road turned into a full motorway between Onehunga and Highbrook. Also notice the use of the term RoNS to try and make the project sound more important.

“Auckland needs a full solution with an efficient and safe new road between SH1 and SH20 that eliminates traffic lights and intersections for trucks, avoids community severance and has a minimal impact on the industrial zoned land in the area,” said Auckland Business Forum chairman Michael Mr Barnett

“A partial solution is not acceptable. Given the national significance to the economy of the activity in the area, funding concerns should not restrict the design, consenting and construction by NZTA in an urban RONS basket.

“We need a complete solution presented covering freight as well as cars and buses and which can be consented and built by 2021 or earlier.”

This is in line with Prime Minister John Key’s confirmation last June that resolving the transport problems in this part of Auckland will be the Government’s next major focus for the Auckland transport network.

Other key requirements include:

  • At the western end – an upgraded Gloucester Park interchange with SH20 at Onehunga to eliminate heavy trucks having to enter the Onehunga retail area and local streets – Neilson, Onehunga Mall and nearby rail overbridge, Selwyn St, and Gloucester Rd;
  • At the eastern end – a full road interchange with SH1 adjacent to Mt Wellington that provides efficient, safe on-off south and north facing ramps;
  • Efficient connections to freight transport and distribution businesses located in the Southdown area, including along Great South Rd towards Penrose and Otahuhu;
  • Supports an east-west bus service and safe cycleway that is separate from heavy road traffic.
  • Protects the need to connect to AMETI and Highbrook, either as part of the project or in the future.

“To meet these requirements we suggest the best solution to date is a new road built along the northern shoreline of Manukau Harbour and which then cuts inland to link with the Southern motorway. This option avoids community severance and taking up valuable industrial land in a business growth area of Auckland that needs more land not less.”

It’s worth remembering some of the business community were also behind the suggestion of an 8-lane horror show which included over 4km of tunnels.

East-West Business Assciation proposal

So Auckland Transport made the correct decision and scaled the project down to what it should have been in the first case. Case closed right? Well it appears the business/road lobby aren’t going to give up that easy. This is an email sent to a number of people last week following on from an East-West Link discussion held by the Penrose Business Association. If you read the invite you will see they are also referring to pushing the option above.

Yesterday’s PBA’s “East West Link” meeting held at Turners Car Auction was very successful and well attended by an excellent cross section of business’s located between Onehunga and Highbrook including representatives from Road Transport, AA, EMA and the Auckland Chamber of Commerce.

As we move forward from this meeting the Penrose Business Association is keen to arrange a bus trip to explain at first hand to senior politicians and officers from both central and local government as well as business the range of roading opportunities that should be considered as we work towards finding the best solution to service one of the most important economic engine rooms in New Zealand.

It is only when you have the opportunity to visit these sites that you understand the scale of the transport operation that exists within our community which is largely out of site.

The transport companies shift some 15,000 cars from the Port of Auckland to Penrose each month, 4 container trains that depart MetroPort bound for Tauranga each day (currently down to two trains because of a locomotive shortage) and its only then that you realise how important a highly efficient transport system is and if done correctly brings significant savings for all of New Zealand.

To determine the interest level for the site visit please advise by return email if you wish to join the proposed bus trip which we propose to operate within the next 5 weeks.

I guess the point is that with this project in particular we’re going to continue to see a sustained push to make it larger and larger. Although in some ways this next suggestion might fall into that basket too.

A new Inland Port

You may recall this post where I looked at the East-West link and how it seemed to be primarily benefiting the Port of Tauranga through their Metroport operation. This suggestion looks at how the East-West Link could also help the Ports of Auckland.

When looking at the land around the area on Google Maps you may have noticed a large area covered in cars. This is shown in Green in the image below and the land happens to be owned by the Ports of Auckland Ltd (POAL). This is important because as you may know POAL currently run an inland port in Wiri however I understand that site is leased from Kiwirail and is smaller than what exists at Onehunga.

On the Northern side of the harbour much of the foreshore has already been reclaimed except for one section just to the east of the POAL land. With the East-West link going through this area along the foreshore and in a fairly straight line it would leave that section in yellow that hasn’t been reclaimed as a bit of an oddity. That raises the question of whether we could make use of it. Well there might just be a decent use for that area if it was reclaimed, most likely at the same time as the road was built. 

In addition to above, it would be quite useful for the rail network (in black) if we also grade separated the Westfield Junction, thus reducing one potential point of conflict on the network. At the same time as building the East-West link we could do that rail grade separation and perhaps more interestingly we could use that reclaimed section of land to provide a direct connection to POALs land (shown in Purple). That direction connection could allow POAL to shift their inland port operations to their own land, thereby reducing their operating costs and allowing them to compete better with the Port of Tauranga. Alternatively they could operate both. The new land could also provide a additional storage space in its own right.

East-West KR Siding option 1

The impact of such an idea could be quite large. With more capacity and a direct link it would allow POAL to shift a lot more freight by rail which helps reduce the number of trucks on our roads. Let me know what you think of the idea.

Rail network shutdown to begin

Today is the last day this year you can catch a train in Auckland with the two network shut for Christmas tomorrow and then into the note annual Christmas shutdown. The full rail network will be closed till January 5th with partial closures depending on the line from then onwards.

The eastern line north of Westfield will suffer the most this year by being shut completely all the way through till January 20th. This is a bit of a change from the last few years where the western and southern lines have been the ones most affected. It’s also with noting that while the other lines return return earlier, they will be running on a reduced timetable. The details are below

Train services in Auckland will be replaced with rail buses over the Christmas-New Year period as preparation work steps-up ahead of the launch of Auckland’s electric trains.

Over the holidays the lines will be closed so vital work can be done to get the rail network ready for Auckland’s new state of the art trains. This work includes electrification preparations on the lines between Newmarket and Britomart; various platform extensions needed for the longer new trains; work at Ellerslie needed because of motorway widening being undertaken by NZTA; finishing touches on the new Panmure Transport Interchange and general maintenance work on the network.

Up to Tuesday 24 December 2013

Evening rail network closure between Otahuhu and Manukau/Papakura/Pukekohe. Buses will replace trains.

Christmas Day

No train or rail-bus services.

Thursday 26 December to Sunday 5 January 2014

Rail replacement buses will operate across the rail network.

Monday 6 January to Sunday 12 January 2014

There will be a partial shutdown with buses replacing trains.

The Western Line will be closed between Newmarket and Britomart, shuttle buses will operate between Grafton and Britomart.

The Southern and Onehunga Lines will be closed between Newmarket and Britomart with shuttle buses operating.

The Eastern and Manukau Lines will be closed between Sylvia Park and Britomart. All Eastern Line train services will be diverted to/from Newmarket. A train service will operate between Manukau and Sylvia Park. Bus replacements will operate between Otahuhu and Britomart via the Eastern Line.

Monday 13 January to Sunday 19 January 2014

The Western, Southern and Onehunga Lines will be open with a special timetable.

The Eastern and Manukau Lines will be closed between Sylvia Park and Britomart. All Eastern Line train services will be diverted to/from Britomart via Newmarket. A train service will operate between Manukau and Sylvia Park. Bus replacements will be used between Otahuhu and Britomart via the Eastern Line.

Monday 20 January 2014

Full train services resume on all lines.

Saturday, 25 January to Monday, 27 January 2014 (Anniversary Weekend)

Buses replace all trains

From Tuesday, 28 January 2014 until further notice

Monday to Friday from 9pm all Eastern/Manukau Line services will be diverted via Newmarket – Bus replacements between Britomart-Otahuhu via Eastern Line.

Once the trains are back up and running we should see the wires finally extended into Britomart and with the eastern line shutdown a substantial amount of the wiring up on that section too.

image

The other interesting thing is that after Auckland anniversary weekend we will be seeing the eastern line closed earlier at nights, again so that the writes can be installed.

Rail users in Auckland have been putting up with network shutdowns for years now. I can’t remember the last time the network wasn’t shut at Christmas. As a result of them – and other the shutdowns throughout the years – we are getting a substantially upgraded rail network which will soon be running modern electric trains. Something that seemed impossible 10-15 years ago.

However while we have accepted the shutdowns up until now. My big concern is that Kiwirail have become too accustomed to them and that after the upgrades have been completed we will continue to see large shutdowns occurring for network maintenance. Kiwirail need to be moving towards  maintaining the network like other overseas cities do by doing that work at night, not closing the network every long weekend and Christmas/New Year. It is something I’ll be keeping a close eye on going forward.

Electrification wires now powered up

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.

Electrification and EMU update to Transport Committee

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.

Electrification

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.

Signalling

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.

Traction

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.

Electrification Progress - Sep 13

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.

Bridge Screens

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.

Operational Preparedness

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.

Electric Trains

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.

 EMU Introduction timeframe

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.

Post Electrification frequencies

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.

More on Electrification Progress

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

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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.

Electrification project running late

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

TC - Oct 12 Presention 3

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.

Electrification Progress - 18 March

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?

Is the Coastal Pacific Really Losing Money?

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.

CoastalPacific

 

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
EXPENDITURE

  • 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

EBITDA        -3,022,935

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.

 

Well that’s it for another year folks

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.

Bridge Screens

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.