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Newmarket Station Square

Four years ago the wonderfully upgraded Newmarket train station was reopened after being transformed from a run down and sorry excuse for a station to gleaming masterpiece that’s worthy of being our second busiest train station. Before and after photos below thanks to Craig:

Newmarket Before

Newmarket After – There are of course wires through here now too

However there has always been one big disappointment and that is the ongoing saga that is Station Square – the barren and soulless attachment to the station. To be fair at least there has been some minor improvement with the square. The Waitemata Local Board invested just over $50,000 to improve it by adding some trees and tidying up the very worst bits of the station access out to Broadway. All up 9 planters with attached seating have been added to the square with Magnolias and Nikaus planted in them. When I was there were at least some people hanging around and relaxing in the square which is positive and something wouldn’t have happened in the past.

Newmarket Station Square Feb 2014

While planters have helped the centre of the square a little bit, it’s a lot harder to do anything about buildings that surround the place. In particular the low roof heights that help to give almost a claustrophobic felling. At least most of the shops seemed to have been let out – although many weren’t open despite it being mid-afternoon when I was there.

Newmarket Station Square Feb 2014 2

As well as the trees the other small positive improvement is that the ugly back of the building out to Broadway has been covered up. You can see what it used to look like in this post from a few years ago.

Newmarket Station Square Feb 2014 3

That trellis is only really a short term solution though and the exit from the square out to Broadway is still far too narrow (and ugly). The lane isn’t exactly inviting from the other side either.

Newmarket Station entrance 2

A few years ago the council were meant to have been in negotiation with the owners to buy the building on the left in the image above (right on the image before that) with the goal of demolishing it to make a proper entrance from Broadway. When I asked the council a few months ago about what was happening they refused to tell me anything, they wouldn’t even say when they might be able to say something. The thing that annoys me is that this isn’t a new issue, the problem has been known about for 4 years and yet still nothing seems to be being done about it.

Further while this sits in limbo nothing has been done about making the station more visible from those walking along Broadway. The only thing that points to the station is the sign in the photo below which is difficult to read unless you’re standing directly under it. Even the car park has bigger and easier to read lettering than the train station (Newmarket station is on the top blue strip on the sign to the right of the Politix store).

Newmarket Station entrance

The council need to get moving and sort this station out. It is the second busiest station on the network and Broadway is the main street of Newmarket yet for someone walking along Broadway it is almost impossible to find – and if they did find it you might think twice about walking down that alleyway. Rail passengers and Newmarket deserves better.

88 Broadway

Late last year we saw designs for a development over the Newmarket rail junction making use of an otherwise empty space (other than the trains) and also providing a second a crucial northern connection to the Newmarket station. It contained a mix of retail, residential and commercial space based around a pedestrian lane and public space. In my mind the proposal wasn’t perfect, especially with how the connection to the train station was relegated to a back alleyway and many didn’t like the architecture but it did seem to be a decent example of the type of development we should be aiming for.

The old plan

The old plan

However disappointingly the developers now appear to have thrown that plan out and are going to market with a new one that in my mind is considerably worse. The plan now seems to have morphed into one that is almost exclusively about apartments set in a gated community. Here is the marketing spiel.

With excellent access and an exciting offering of retail and residential accommodation, 88 Broadway will attract visitors from a wide catchment across the Auckland region.

Benefiting from excellent public transport links providing connections to the city centre, West Auckland and South Auckland, 88 is uniquely placed adjacent to the Newmarket train station and link bus network. Both run regular services to the CBD, Mt Eden and further south.

88 Broadway is centered around public transport, with a pedestrian connection to the northern concourse of the train station and bus stops at the Broadway entrance. Making access simple and easy for getting to work or university and for all visitors to 88 Broadway is something we have considered very carefully here.

Served by good motorway access with nearby connections to the Northern, Southern and Western motorways, 88 is also on the bus route to the airport. There is plenty of parking incorporated into the 88 Broadway development and additional parking facilities are available in the neighbouring buildings for visitors travelling by car.

Sleek and new from the ground up, 88 Broadway is reflective of a different attitude toward design and architecture which reflects a new way of life.

Cool and modern. Open and exciting. At 88, the architecture shines. White, wood and glass. Light and air. The exhilaration of a new urban lifestyle. Perfect as a quiet place to retreat with friends, or in private.

Internal Zen Courtyard
Three buildings
Harbour views
A unique sense of community
Minutes from the CBD by electric train

As you would expect with marketing material, it generally sounds pretty good, especially as they are including about how easy it is to access the city by train. As usual though the devil is in the detail – but first here are some images of the proposed development from the street and from the inside looking out.

88 Broadway - Street View

88 Broadway - Internal View

As you can see in the image below, the private courtyard and the town houses in the image above is situated on top of what appears quite a large car park, one that takes up a huge amount of the site. There is some retail – but not a huge amount – however my main concern is just how the development hooks in to the train station. It kind of get the feeling that once again access is confined to a narrow alleyway somewhere around where the word rangitoto is -although hopefully I’m wrong. Not only that but the entrance appears quite narrow and as such not suited to the huge volumes of people that could potentially be using it to access northern parts of Newmarket.

88 Broadway - Plan

Auckland Transport apparently have to build the new connection to the station however it is unsure when they might do this or what it will look like.

One thing I definitely won’t criticise the development on is the apartments. There is a huge range from single bedroom apartments up to four bedroom apartments and townhouses with over 150m² of floor space. It’s good to see a greater variety of dwellings of offer. As you would except in this location, the prices aren’t going to be cheap. I did see a price list before they updated their site and from memory even the single bedroom apartments were over $400,000 with the four bedroom apartments and townhouses at around $1.4 million.

For the time being there is of course the small matter of the railway junction that will be under the site. The developer has told me that they are expecting to start the piling for it within a month or so, presumably both they and Kiwirail will be hoping that to get as much of it done possible over the summer shutdown.

How much rail in Newmarket has changed

Today is a bit of a history day. Despite the running down and removal of our PT system over the decades we know that new life is currently being breathed into it so I believe it is important to remember just how far we have come in a relatively short space of time. One of the areas to see the most dramatic change has been to the rail network around Newmarket which was changed from a run-down station into a fairly amazing looking interchange (although we need the station square fixed up). These photos hopefully reflect that (and thanks to Craig for them).

Newmarket Station

Before

After

There have also been some massive changes to the area around Grafton. Previously a single track snuck through an area that is now home to one of the busier stations on the network.

Grafton Station Before

Before

After

Looking up the hill towards Grafton

Before

After

Broadway Junction Development

Thanks to SolR in my post yesterday the possible closing of Sarawia St we have some more information what may happen with the area above the Newmarket railway junction. We saw a different design for it earlier this year but not much other information about the project. But it seems that things are kicking up a gear with the developers saying construction is planned to kick off early next year with the development completed by 2015. While the architecture might not appeal to everyone’s tastes, I think it is a great example of the kind of development we need to be thinking about for our town centres around the region Auckland. By building over the junction it makes great use of a site that otherwise can only serve one purpose. One of the best things thought is that it appears to also provide a new connection to the Newmarket train station which would bring more of the Newmarket area within easy walking distance of the station. Looking from Broadway, here’s roughly what things look like now:

And here is what things will look like if this gets built:

The development will be quite mixed including retail, office space, apartments and a hotel along a pedestrian plaza. I guess my biggest concern is that pedestrians wanting to access the station have to walk along what appears to be a narrow walkway at the back of the development. It would be nice to have seen that key pedestrian area and shops could have extended all the way to where the station access was.

If this lives up to the hype the developers have put into their presentation, it could be an outstanding example of the kind of urban developments want to see around the region so hopefully they can get this off the ground.

Fare Gates Appear

Users of Newmarket train station on Friday night would have seen some new additions to the station. On the concourse above the platforms the first fare gates have started to be installed ready to be used when the real HOP system finally goes live. Thanks to reader Alan Wilkins who sent me these photos (I had been planning a trip to get some but this saved me from having to do so). We can see four gates, the middle two appear to be bi directional with a HOP reader on each end while the outside two are unidirectional and I assume that which ones sides are in operation will change depending on peak flows.

Fare gates will be installed at both Newmarket and Britomart and the thinking is that as most trips pass through one of these stations on their journey then the majority of people will be forced to tag on/off at some point. Over time though I suspect we will see a lot more trips beginning and ending on other parts of the rail network so hope that we can eventually roll them out to a few other key stations too. I believe that New Lynn, Manukau and the new Panmure station have all been designed to allow them to be installed in the future.

Edit: After reading some of the comments I am now convinced that there are only three gates here which means that there will either be a barrier installed out to the wall by station square or there will be a manual gate. Due to the layout of Newmarket station there will be other gates but these are just the first ones installed.

Fixing Newmarket’s Station Square

In the last decade we have seen some massive improvements to our PT system, especially on the rail network with things like the duplication of the western line. Thankfully we have also seen a shift in thinking and it has been realised that we need more than just functional improvements and that well designed infrastructure is also important in attracting people to use PT. Most stations have now been upgraded nicely and common design (although I’m sure we would all like to see more shelter) and at a few locations we have gone further and created some really impressive stations. Britomart was the first but we can now add New Lynn and Newmarket to that list.

Newmarket Station ©Patrick Reynolds 2010

When it comes to Newmarket station though, one sore point since it opened has been station square which has a number of issues, one of which is below.

Station Square exit to Broadway

A report to the Waitamata local board  (in the same agenda as the Fort St report) looks at what the issues are and what some solutions are to fix them up. Here is what some of the report had to say:

Newmarket Station Square was purchased to provide a space that could function as a mixture of:

  • a transition and waiting space for rail passengers;
  • a civic square for community activities and events;
  • a public open space area for respite from the busyness of the commercial streets;
  • a pleasant outlook and “backyard” for local high rise residents, while retaining its public use, look and feel.

However, Station Square has faced challenges in becoming what was envisaged following its opening early in 2010 and has a number of fundamental design issues. The space is isolated from surrounding streets with little visible reference to the adjacent shopping centre. There exists a conflict of public/private interests created by private development forming the built edge to Station Square.  The design is barren, uninviting and uninteresting, and there are severe restrictions on the amount and positioning of any fixed elements as Station Square sits over a car park roof.

Newmarket is a very busy station with thousands of students and commuters waiting in and walking through Station Square at certain times during the working week. Station Square’s visitors are mainly transient, making their way to or from a train or apartment. The most visible exception to this is the use of Station Square by young people on weekday afternoons as a gathering space, while they wait for trains after school finishes.

and

Given its location behind Broadway and fronting the Newmarket rail station, Station Square is a key open space for Newmarket. As a business centre, Newmarket continues to grow rapidly, outstripping other retail centres and operating as a strong retail and shopping magnet. The population of Newmarket town centre is growing rapidly, thanks to the construction of new apartment buildings, of which the L&Y development adjoining Station Square is one example.

This significant growth in population will continue to place pressure on the relatively small amount of open space available within walking distance of the Newmarket town centre. Major projected business growth in Newmarket will continue to attract more shoppers and workers into the town centre, who want open spaces and parks for lunch and relaxation, putting even more pressure on the available open space.

Modelling suggests that 3000 commuters will alight at Newmarket during the morning peak by 2016, with 800 of these exiting the station at one time in the busiest 10-minute period. It is estimated that 50-80% of commuters exiting the rail station will do so via the link out to Broadway. The majority of buses travel along Broadway and the town centre is most easily accessed by this link, hence most transfers are and will continue to be via the Broadway walkway.

And here are some of the recommendations to improve the square, the most costly of which is the first one but it is perhaps the most important (I’m not going to put the all of the recommendations up simply due to the size of some of them.

 1. Visibility and legibility

1.1. Improve access and signage

There are two designated pedestrian links giving access to Station Square in addition to the main concourse into the upper level of the railway station, which provides a direct and secure covered access from Remuera Road into the station. These are illegible entries with very poor amenity on both the Remuera Road and Broadway entry points.  Visitors from Broadway will walk past the backs of buildings, service alleyways razor wire and poorly lit dog-legs before arriving at Station Square.

However, this walkway will be in use until the widening and development of the access. Auckland Council approved funding by committee of $700,000 in 2011 towards the necessary relocation of the existing toilets and to redevelop shops 29 and 30, which are retained in council ownership. Negotiations have been completed with the owner of the property on Broadway but still awaiting legal confirmation.

Meanwhile, better signage is needed to signal the access ways to Station Square and then on to the station.  The Newmarket Business Association has some suggestions for this. The upgrade of lighting along the walkways is also recommended.

Options for improvement:

  • Develop the access way to Station Square from Broadway as soon as the deal is completed between Council and the owner.
  • Improve entry signage to Station Square.  Suggestions have been made to the Local Board by the Newmarket Business Association to install signage.
  • Upgrade lighting along access ways including catenary lighting.

1.2. Improve sightlines and surveillance

There are no clear lines of sight between Station Square and outside streets as all accesses are dog-legged, contributing to the impression of isolation.

The balconies of the surrounding apartments that overlook Station Square on three sides, together with the few tenanted shops on the ground floor, provide intermittent passive surveillance. However, the solid concrete canopy over the shops denies any real connection between the residents and people in Station Square.

The railway station has security cameras that are monitored at Britomart Transport Centre by Auckland Transport. The CCTV coverage only includes a small area outside the station at the bottom of the steps into the square. There are no security cameras in the general square vicinity.  The few bench seats in the corner are insufficient to provide ongoing natural surveillance and encourage the necessary activity to relieve the space of its barren emptiness.

Suggestions for improvements

  • Design of the new Broadway exit creates a direct line of sight into Station Square from Broadway
  • Ambassadors for Station Square and to develop and support positive relationships between retailers, residents and visitors, paid for by Council.
  • CCTV installed to cover the Remuera Road and Broadway exits and the open area of Station Square

2. Activate the square

2.1. Work with local business association to bring in appropriate retail activities

Suggestions for improvement:

  • Work with the Newmarket Business Association to encourage retail development that will provide activity and colour on the reserve edge and enliven the space.
  • Work with businesses to design a market that works within the weight limits

2.2. Activation

Suggestions for improvement:

  • Make Station Square into an arts area
  • Programme activities in Station Square that target youth
  • Bring in more soft landscaping as part of Station Square

3. Amenity and design improvements

Green Station Square and create seating spaces

There is a seating area in the southwestern corner close to the shops but there is no other amenity to encourage apartment residents or the public to use Station Square for recreation.

Station Square is a designated open space and the potential exists for developing an ‘oasis’ in the town centre for the recreation and relaxation of visitors and workers. Station Square sits over an underground carpark, leading to severe restrictions on the amount and positioning of any fixed elements, and any greening of the space would require planter boxes.

Any redevelopment of Station Square must investigate options to solve the ‘fundamental’ problems above and in the safety assessment, rather than providing simply a ‘paint and paper’ of the existing space.  While the options outlined in this report will provide some quick, relatively inexpensive ‘fixes’ to the square’s design itself, they will not in themselves solve the social problems currently plaguing the space.  It must also be noted that a structural engineer needs to be engaged prior to any development of these solutions, as the location and strength of structural beams and pillars will dictate the design above, and these were not known at the time of drafting the concept.

Suggestions for improvements:

  • Pursuing initiatives for greening the space and adjacent buildings
  • Install a high quality, covered hardwood seating area in the middle part of Station Square
  • Position steel/timber planters, planted with 400L deciduous trees and low underplanting, with seats on two sides of selected planters
  • Consider installing interactive/brightly coloured sculpture

Getting this square and the surrounding commercial businesses working is really important and hope that the council are able to quickly get any outstanding issues resolved because at the moment the place is a bit like a school report card, has lots of potential but doesn’t deliver.

A Northern Exit for Newmarket Station?

An interesting development could be about to happen at Newmarket. Equinox Capital Group is advertising a building that is to be built over the Newmarket triangle, the air rights to which were sold off a number of years ago. Here is what they say about it:

Uniquely positioned above the Newmarket railway lines, 88 Broadway is unlike anything New Zealand has seen before.

An innovative development combining approximately 15,000m2 of commercial space 2100m2 of retail space fronting onto Broadway and 130 apartments, 88 Broadway promises to be something exceptional.

Incorporating elements of water and light into its architecture, this modern, green-star-rateable building allows for the easy flow of road, train and pedestrian traffic into and through the development.

In keeping with the overall design, the multi-level office building is filled with light and provides the perfect workplace environment. With Auckland’s continuing traffic congestion and the move to commute via public transport, 88 Broadway’s direct link to trains and buses gives it instant appeal.

From the sounds of things this would give us another exit from the Newmarket platforms which would only help to boost the northern part of Newmarket as a result of making it much more accessible. I also like how much the location to PT has been promoted and not a single mention of carparks. Lets just hope the council lets them get around those stupid parking minimums.

I would like to see more developments over our rail lines. A couple of other key places we could do it would be over Grafton Station, Around Mt Albert probably the best candidate in New Lynn.

Exciting ideas in Waitemata Local Board plan

Digging through the details of how Auckland Council operates is quite a challenging task: what is the responsibility of the council, what is the responsibility of any of the CCOs and how on earth do these “local boards” fit into the whole thing? In the debates and discussion over the formation of Auckland Council, it was probably the issue of the local boards that got more attention than anything else – how much power would they have? Would they be similar to a community board? Would they be more like a small council, but without some planning and transport functions? Would they have the opportunity to levy targeted rates? Would they have dedicated staff?

It’s probably fair to say that many of these issues remain somewhat unresolved. It would seem to me that the local boards still feel as though they should have more powers and responsibilities, but at the same time they’ve been surprised with the willingness of the Council and the CCOs to listen to what they have to say. So it seems as though what the role of the local board has become is something of a mixture: they have direct responsibility and the opportunity to fund a few things, but for many of the larger issues their main role will be through advocacy and being the ‘link’ between the community and whatever agency (be it the council or a CCO) actually carries out the issue raised.

An important part of this process appears to be the creation of Local Board Plans. Each plan sets out the priorities and wishes the local board has for what happens in their area over the next three years. There are 21 different draft plans and they’re all currently open for submissions until August 8th. It is important to note that the ability of the local boards to ‘see through’ the wishes they have for their area are limited – because they aren’t the funding agency in many cases – but the plans do have statutory weight and will be really important for influencing things like the Auckland Spatial Plan, the 10 year Long Term funding plan and the next Unitary Plan.

For me, the most interesting draft Local Board Plan is the one created by the Waitemata Local Board – because that is where I both live and work. The board is a pretty exciting bunch of people, particularly in terms of their transport vision which appears pretty consistent with what I talk about on this blog. So there are some really great ideas – and also some really useful “little things” that the board’s plan proposes in relation to transport. One thing I am particularly impressed by is the local board’s determination to get involved with little details of how streets are designed – to ensure that they work for all users, and not just for drivers. It is often little improvements that can make a big difference. Here’s what the plan says on this matter:

We support innovative approaches to reduce traffic congestion and enable walking and cycling. This includes public bike-hire schemes, car sharing and developing travel plans for businesses. Where streets have a number of traffic issues, we would like to see whole-road solutions that provide for a quality street design. Two examples of this are Richmond Road in Grey Lynn and Parnell Rise in Parnell. We will work with Auckland Transport to complete feasibility studies of the roads and implement their findings. 

Board member Christopher Dempsey highlighted the stupidity of Parnell Rise’s design a few months back in a report he put together. It will be interesting to see what comes of that. The plan also says some exciting stuff about walking and cycling – including mention of pedestrianising Queen Street on Sundays (I wonder where that idea came from?):

Cycleways and walkways for commuting, everyday trips, and leisure are important to our communities. We want to provide more opportunities for our people to undertake these healthy and environmentally-friendly activities that help to reduce traffic congestion. Simple actions we want undertaken are increasing bike parking in our local shopping areas and the installation of advance stop boxes (where bikes can safely stop at intersections) with feeder lanes.

Cycling in the area must be made safer. We want cycleways and walkways designed with eight and eighty year olds in mind, to make them safe, accessible and enjoyable for everyone. We want dedicated connected cycleways and quality road design that rebalances the priority of road users to all modes of travel (including cyclists, pedestrians, skaters and mobility scooter users). We support simple and effective ways to make cycling safer and easier. For example, we would like to see a designation of two-way cycling on existing one-way streets. We will also work for better connection between existing routes, including extending the northwestern cycleway into the city centre. We support a walkway and cycleway over the Auckland Harbour Bridge.

We support the expansion of shared spaces (such as Darby Street) for vehicles, cyclists and pedestrians in the city centre. We would also like to see trial closures of streets for walking and cycling, such as making Queen Street a car-free pedestrian boulevard on Sundays.

I hope that the push to making cycling safer extends to the importance of making cycling feel safer, through the provision of really high quality cycling infrastructure – rather than the half-hearted “paint on a street” that seems to make up the majority of cycle lanes in Auckland at the moment. The plan also notes a couple more road safety/amenity issues that I’ve pushed hard for in the past: two-waying Hobson and Nelson streets and lowering the speed limits on neighbourhood streets:

Improving pedestrian and cycling safety is a priority, with slower traffic on residential streets, upgraded footpaths and pedestrian-oriented street design. We will strive to increase the number of low speed zones around our area, and improve street design, such as making Hobson and Nelson streets two-way. We will work alongside schools to provide a safe environment for children to walk and cycle to school. We would like to see an audit of intersections in our area to make them safer, and easier to negotiate by pedestrians. 

Let’s hope the audit of intersections includes the complete lack of a pedestrian crossing of Kitchener Street next to the Victoria Street carpark.

Unsurprisingly, it says the right things about improving public transport:

Public transport must be easy to access, comfortable, affordable and run on time. To achieve this, we want integrated and synchronised public transport so people can move easily and quickly between different buses, trains and ferries. Public transport must be accessible to all. It must be easy to use by people with pushchairs, mobility scooters and bikes. It also must be priced to be attractive and accessible. In respect to the provision of buses, one size does not fit all. We promote a mixed size, environmentally-friendly bus fleet. We support the increased use of bus lanes to improve the efficiency of buses.

We support greater use of trams and trains in our area. The city centre Rail Link is essential to achieving an integrated transport network. We wish to see a tram from Britomart to the Wynyard Quarter and beyond and support a heritage railway station in Parnell.

Probably the one thing I would add to the list of PT priorities is how essential it is to find a more efficient way to manage buses in the city centre. At the moment they really clog up the streets at peak times – partly due to a lack of bus lanes but also due to the way the routes are structured in the city centre and the fact that just about every route begins and ends here, rather than passing through. This leads to a huge number of buses in the afternoon just ‘waiting around’ polluting the city before they even start their run. With the number of buses in the city inevitably due to increase significantly over the next 10-20 years (especially if the City Rail Link is delayed due to a lack of government support) it will be utterly essential to handle these buses efficiently.

The plan also says good things about parking policy – highlighting the fact that dedicating so much land and space to parking can really blight the city. But perhaps the best thing the plan says is actually hidden away further towards the end of it:

We will take opportunities to improve and develop new public spaces, including improving access from Station Square to Broadway in Newmarket. 

And they’ve got funding for this too. At long last there will actually be a visible connection between our second busiest train station and one of the city’s main shopping streets. It’s completely bizarre that it’s taken this long, but at least it is happening.

Overall, it is a really good plan. I’ve taken a bit of a look through many of the other plans and generally they seem quite good too – with the main exception being the Orakei Local Board Plan: because they’re still obsessed with getting rid of the Remuera Road bus lanes.

What’s wrong with this picture?

Anyone able to guess where this might be? Source: http://www.flickr.com/photos/craigsyd/with/5113726486/

Believe it or not, this is the sole pedestrian link between Auckland’s second busiest railway station and the main shopping street adjacent to that station. This is the link between Broadway and Newmarket train station.

If you didn’t know exactly what you were looking for, you would miss this. In fact, I’ve missed it a few times even though I knew exactly what I was looking for. Where’s the signage? Where’s the visual clues that we spent tens of millions of dollars building this flash new railway station?

Why does Auckland so often screw up on the easy stuff when it comes to rail infrastructure?

Why is the Western Line so slow?

Yesterday I caught up with a bunch of fellow transport enthusiasts and we all trundled out to Swanson Station, near the end of the Western Line, to have lunch. It was a good chance for me to actually see all the Western Line (with day-passes we all caught the train out to Waitakere station after lunch and then rode it back to town), as I hadn’t been past Henderson in a great number of years. It also drove home to me just how slow the Western Line actually is. According to the timetable, a trip between Waitakere station and Britomart takes 58 minutes to cover a track that’s around 30km long – so an average speed of around 30 kph. Of course, as we know in recent months the Western Line has very much struggled to even meet this timetable, so the average speed is likely to have been even lower than 30 kph.

This incredibly low speed compares interestingly with other lines in Auckland and Wellington. The southern line, between Britomart and Papakura, is 33km long and takes 52 minutes to run – giving an average speed of around 38 kph. The eastern line is much faster again, and can complete the Westfield to Britomart run in a similar time to what the southern does: even though the track is quite a lot longer. The Pukekohe express train can actually do its 51 km trip in 54 minutes: meaning that it’s actually a faster trip than a Western Line train – even though it’s around 20 km longer! (Yes, I do realise it’s an express train.) In Wellington, the 48 km long Paraparaumu Line takes 55 minutes for an all-stopping service – an average speed of 52 kph. But perhaps most indicting is the realisation that all-stops running times on Auckland’s train system now are around 5 minutes slower than they were back in the early 1990s – despite all the investment we’ve made in the intervening time and despite the closure of a number of stations on the southern and eastern lines.

Now double tracking of the Western Line has been completed, I would have expected a significant improvement in the speed of the Western Line. The last bit of single-track, being the section between Avondale and New Lynn, was a common cause of delay – but obviously that’s no longer a problem so that should allow the trains to go a bit faster – right? Well seemingly not, as everything I have heard indicates that the next rail timetable – due to be released in September – will not “tighten up” the Western Line’s timetable to make the trains go faster. I suppose with a significant proportion of Western Line trains still struggling to even average 30 kph along its route, it would be premature to hope for a faster timetable?

I do recognise that the Western Line is challenging for trains, because it’s quite windy and therefore the trains can’t get up to top speed along much of it. However, there are still a number of things that make me think that at least 5 minutes could be shaved off the running time of this service, which when added to the 7-8 minutes that electrification is likely to save, would actually result in a pretty significant speed increase along the line. So here’s what I think could be done in the meanwhile:

  1. Eliminate the stupid 3 minute dwell at Newmarket. When Newmarket station was opened, we were promised that the end changes would be quick, because trains would have a “pilot” between Newmarket and Britomart – so the drivers wouldn’t have to change ends. Many months later and we’re still waiting. If this was brought down to a typical 30 second dwell, that’s two and a half minutes saved immediately.
  2. Speed up dwell times at stations. Yesterday was a perfect example of how time can be unnecessarily lost, as our train back into Britomart pulled into Kingsland station for some reason the doors didn’t open. The clippie looked blankly at the train manager who had to wander all the way up to the driver to tell him that he hadn’t pressed the right button to allow her to unlock the doors. Hopefully our new electric trains will have driver operated doors so that we don’t need people inside the train having to push their way through the crowds to open the doors (though I guess we might still have silly drivers who forget to push buttons to open the door). Even 15 seconds saved off each dwell would add up to a 4 minute gain across the whole line.
  3. To actually try to make the train go fast. Now this might be some slightly naive on my behalf, but for some reason it always seems as though Western Line trains just slowly chug along the line, rather than having the driver really try to push them hard to get to the next station as quickly as possible. This may be a result of the sharp bends, I don’t exactly know, but compared to every other railway line I’ve ever been on, the Western Line just seems so laid-back and unnecessarily slow. Even small gains could make a big difference here, a few seconds shaved off each trip between stations could add up to 3-4 minutes along the line as a whole.

So even with some pretty minor improvements, I actually think a huge amount of time could be saved off the running time of the Western Line. This would make a huge difference to the service’s popularity I think, and would hopefully mean that using the term “Rapid”, in Rapid Transit Network, wouldn’t feel like such a lie.