Missed News Roundup – March-17

Every week we receive numerous press releases related to transport and we only tend to comment on a few of them. Here are a couple that piqued our interest but not quite enough for a full post of their own.

Parnell Station opens

While the first services started using the station on Sunday, Monday saw the official opening of the new Parnell Station. Currently only the Southern Line stops there regularly with the Western Line only stopping in the evenings and on weekends. We’ve talked a lot about the station in previous posts so don’t need to re-litigate that here. As it stands the station is bare bones and AT even warns that it’s not recommended for mobility impaired passengers.

Photo by Alex Burgess from https://www.nzrailphotos.co.nz

The station currently has platforms, shelters, ticket and AT HOP card readers and an underpass to link the platforms.

When stage one is complete later this year the station will be equipped with electronic gates, CCTV, improved access, mobility parking, and upgraded connections to Cheshire St and to Nicholls Lane.

Refurbishment of the exterior of the heritage former Newmarket Station building will also be completed by KiwiRail.

When the station is complete and receiving full services up to 2,000 passengers a day are expected to get off the train every morning and head to the universities.

I’m personally a little skeptical that the station would see 2,000 people in the morning peak any time soon.

New Ferry for Devonport

Fullers have leased another ferry to support the Devonport Service

As tourism figures continue to rise in Auckland, so do passenger numbers on popular ferry routes. Fullers is introducing a new vessel, Capricornian Surfer (Cap Surfer), dedicated to Devonport. A unique destination, the charming seaside village of Devonport is a bustling visitor hub, but also services more than 1,000 commuters who rely on Fullers ferries daily.

Cap Surfer will begin service in the next couple weeks, complementing Kea. Since 1988, Kea has been the favourite vessel of the route with efficient boarding through side doors. Similar to Kea, Cap Surfer has side-door loading and four engines, allowing it to manoeuvre in the same way when docking. This will help keep the Devonport service running to schedule.

“We acknowledge some service interruptions on the Devonport run this summer, and want to let our passengers to know that we’re listening. We’ve leased Cap Surfer from Australia specifically for Devonport, freeing up other vessels not always suited to the Devonport route,” said Fullers Chief Executive Douglas Hudson.

Cap Surfer’s modern amenities:

The $6 million vessel is capable of carrying up to 380 passengers. It’s currently being fitted with a new café and bike racks, after 40 additional seats were installed on the back deck. Cap Surfer is spacious and comfortable, with big windows and air conditioning. The 35-metre EnviroCat uses less fuel per passenger than a small four-cylinder car. Its systems are computerised and fully integrated.

Crew training is currently underway, being led by Cap Surfer’s Australian crew while she was servicing the Gladstone to Curtis Island run in Queensland.

Designed to navigate shallow waters, Cap Surfer will also be able to service Half Moon Bay on low tides.

What’s next for Kea?:

As Kea closes in on 30 years of service, Fullers is investigating options for her future – while keeping a pulse on rapidly evolving technology, including electric ferries.

“By leasing a modern ferry for two years, we’re able to evaluate alternative propulsion technology and its suitability for Kea’s eventual replacement. Though Kea is a highly reliable vessel, we need to be looking ahead. Retirement isn’t imminent, but when the time comes, we’ll have a well informed decision on what technology to include in a vessel purpose-built for Devonport,” said Hudson.

 

AT saving water

Bus and Train stations might be a little dirtier than usual for the next few weeks

Auckland Transport to limit water blasting

Auckland Transport is doing its bit to help conserve water.

Following silt infiltration of dams in the region, Watercare Services is calling on Aucklanders to reduce water usage by 20 litres per person, per day until the end of March.

In response Auckland Transport has asked its maintenance contractors to limit water use and to carry out water blasting only if it is absolutely necessary.

“We have scheduled cleaning for facilities such as bus shelters, train stations and platforms but we’ve asked that water blasting only occur for hygiene reasons for the next few weeks,” says Tony McCartney, Group Manager Assets and Maintenance.

“We expect that this could save thousands of litres a week. As a result, some facilities may be a little grubby but this is for the greater good of all Aucklanders,”  Mr McCartney says.

Herald agrees on Wellsford Motorway

While not strictly a press release, this seems worthy of inclusion. An editorial by the Herald appears to agree with much of the criticism we have regarding the proposed Warkworth to Wellsford motorway route that was announced recently, they sum up with this:

It appears the cabinet is determined to proceed, regardless of evidence which ought it give it reason to pause. Transport Minister Simon Bridges responded to calls to scrap the project by arguing that the four-lane highway was a “game changer” , economically and socially.

He pointed out the road, which could shave seven minutes off the journey between Wellsford and Warkworth, was incredibly popular in Northland.

Roads, in particular links which could cost as much as $2b, should not be constructed on the basis of popularity. That is not a reassuring sign for completing the project, in time and within budget.

July AT Board Meeting

Auckland Transport’s latest board meeting is board meeting is on as this post is published and here are the things I found interesting.

Closed Session

The closed session normally contains what appears to be the most interesting items at the meeting. My comments about the items in italics

Items for Approval/Decision

  • CPO/Britomart Group Agreement – I wonder if that relates to the suggestion to eventually build a permanent building behind the CPO.Cooper & Co Britomart Western Site visual 1
  • CRL Procurement update
  • Park and Ride – I’m not sure what this entails, new Park and Rides, changing how they’re managed?
  • Rail Procurement – I assume this relates to the procurement of services, if you recall they stopped the tender process last year.
  • AT Technology Strategy
  • Road Stoppings & Real Estate Inventory Optimisation
  • Newmarket Level Crossing – Confirmation of NoR
  • AMETI – Stage 2A Acquisition of land

Items for Noting

  • EMU Project update
  • Parking Future Platform update – I’m guessing this relates to the parking app we saw in the parking strategy video a few months back.
  • Insurance update
  • Unitary Plan verbal update – I’m not sure if any of the AT staff have been involved in the closed group reviewing the UP recommendations and if they were if they would be talking about this or just the UP process in general. 

 

Business Report

Moving on to the main Business Report and as usual I’ll just work through the report in the order highlighting the bits I find interesting.

RLTP Variation – AT have made a variation to the three-year Regional Land Transport Programme (RLTP) to include the Matakana Link Rd which suggests they’re planning on it being worked on within the next few years.

Strategic Initiatives

  • Work on the indicative business case for the NW Busway is expected to start in August.
  • AT say they’re working with the NZTA on integrating rapid transit options for the North Shore with the Additional Waitemata Harbour crossing route protection.
  • A preferred network for the greenfield growth areas has been decided and will now be presented to the council. I assume they’ll be fairly similar to the draft networks that were proposed. They’ll now have Indicative business cases created.

Lincoln Rd – AT have lodged a resource consent application for the large widening of Lincoln Rd. They expect it to be open for submissions in August.

Lincoln Rd Feb Design - Universal

Parnell Station – Kiwirail plan to move the old Newmarket station to the site in November and it will then undergo an external refurbishment till April 2017. AT will also be doing work at the station including adding footpath connections and ticket gates. It hadn’t been clear before that they would be gating the station but it makes sense that they should be doing. They haven’t said yet when services will start stopping there

Parnell pic June15

Otahuhu Bus/Train Interchange – AT say passengers will start using the new concourse from early October but the station will offically open on 29 October. They will also now be building a third platform, which is required for the CRL so means it can be done preventing disruption again in a few a year’s time.

New Network – AT are currently evaluating tenders for the West Auckland routes and will soon be launching tenders for Central, East and North Auckland which once awarded should allow the majority of the city’s new bus network to be implemented by the end of next year.

Bus performance and capacity – AT’s figures show bus reliability and punctuality are down on the same time last year and that a “A consolidated 12-month plan has been developed to address this and to manage capacity increases.” It’s interesting to see that Skybus which is a commercial service and outside of AT’s control performs considerably poorer than the other bus services. Conversely the Northern Express which has been gross contracted is the best performer, although the much better infrastructure helps here too (note: other services are generally net cost contracts until PTOM comes in)

2016-06 - Bus Performance

Fare evasion and Security – AT say “Strategy discussions are progressing with Police around an enhanced joint approach to Metro security and fare enforcement.

Other

A few other things that I noticed that caught my attention.

Parking – the monthly indicators show parking occupancy in the city centre remains high both on and off street. On street parking prices in the city will be going up soon.

2016-06 - Parking Occupancy

Forward Programme – This gives an indication as to what is being discussed in future board committee meetings and at the next meeting. One interesting item to the next Customer Focus Committee is that AT are looking to change the T&Cs of AT HOP top-ups.

 

Is there anything else you’ve seen in the reports you’ve found interesting?

Newmarket Crossing gets green light

Auckland Transport have announced that they’d received consent for the Newmarket Crossing project which should also mean they can start getting on with the Parnell Station.

AT has received approval from independent planning commissioners for the construction of a bridge to replace Sarawia Street level crossing. AT has 30 working days to review and formally accept the recommendation.

AT sought consent for this last year and the bridge that will link Cowie St in Newmarket with Laxon Tce allowing for the Sarawia St level crossing to be closed.

Newmarket Crossing May 2015

The crossing needs to be closed as AT/Kiwirail say its proximity to the Newmarket Junction and rail safety procedures limit capacity and flexibility on the line between Newmarket and Britomart. AT have also said in the past that getting the level crossing closed is required before the Parnell Station can be opened.

In a tweet earlier today they suggested that with the consent issued they will start construction on the project later this year.

Of course that would assume there is no environment court appeal and given the attitude of some of the residents so far, I wouldn’t rule that out.

On the Parnell station, the platforms were completed last year but the station is waiting for Kiwirail to move the old Newmarket station building to the site as it was intended to be part of a faux heritage precinct but that’s now been scuttled after the Mainline Steam sheds were demolished to make way for a retirement village – although that’s better than an earlier suggestion for the site of bus parking. It also needs other station features like lights, signs and hopefully some shelter on the side opposite the old building.

Parnell pic June15

Another thing missing and that so far AT have no intention of providing is some way convenient to get across the tracks. If the station gets developed as AT say on their website, the only option will be a minimum 230m detour up to the existing underpass although if you were coming from the proposed access to Nicolas Lane it will be about double that.

Of course pretty everything about the planning for the Parnell station has been wrong. It should have been a few hundred metres further north with access from the end of Heather St which is closer to where more people live or are going for work or education along with an easier walk to Parnell. A few hundred metres can make quite a lot of difference, just look at the impact of Grafton Station compared to its predecessor of Boston Rd.

Parnell Station Alternate Location sketch

Lastly we’re hearing suggestions that only Southern Line trains will stop at Parnell although this hasn’t been confirmed. Based on discussions I’ve had in the past I assume this relates to modelling showing that if all trains stopped there it would have severe impacts on rail capacity and reliability.

A Parnell Rail Station by June?

One of the projects that is sitting in the pile awaiting funding is the Parnell Train Station. The project has been one that seems to always be just around the corner. The tracks in the area were lowered in 2011/12 in one of largest Christmas shutdown’s we’ve seen to enable the station to be built but that never happened and constant delays have ensued. One of the major problems is the cost which is estimated at close to $20 million.

That’s definitely a lot of money however with its proximity to Parnell, the rapidly developing area around the old Carlaw Park and with it being the closest station to much of the University it has the potential to be one of the busiest stations on the network. The plans would see the old Newmarket station that is currently in storage moved to the site and restored with the intention of tying in with the mainline steam site.

Parnell Station

There are a number of other images in this post. With funding currently dependant on the outcome of the LTP discussions I had assumed it the project had been placed in stasis. However it now appears that might not be the case.

Deep in the agenda for the council’s Parks, Recreation and Sport Committee next Tuesday is an item about Auckland Transport seeking approval for works within the Auckland Domain in relation to the Parnell Station. The approval is needed because some of the construction works would happen outside the rail corridor and in the Domain itself. It says that AT seeking approval for the works on what will be stage one of a revised version of the station and consists of just the platforms and paths. Crucially it says that AT are wanting this part of the project done very quickly with construction complete by June this year. This sounds a lot like they’re trying to use up some remaining budget.

My first reaction was that this seems like a very proactive move from AT, rather than waiting for the funds needed for a large redevelopment, get in there and at least get something underway and working. However upon looking at what’s just what’s planned – or in this case what’s not – I’m now less convinced. The works to be constructed within the rail designation are:

  • The proposed platforms are to be constructed adjacent to the existing Mainline Steam building, as shown in the attached plan. Both platforms are 5.0 metres wide and approximately 16.0 metres long. [presumably a typo and they mean platforms 160m long]
  • New pedestrian pathways from the existing underpass to the platforms. CCTV operation and lighting of the platform.
  • Platform seating, service points, station signs and necessary accessibility considerations (stairs/ramps).

So missing from this list we obviously have the station building – which I’m not that keen on anyway – but more importantly it seems no shelter at all. In addition there will be no pedestrian over-bridge, something I’ll cover shortly. Below is the current plan.

Revised Station 1 - Feb 15

Other than the missing shelter and pedestrian bridge the other thing that surprises me – but perhaps shouldn’t – is that it seems there’ll be a substantial area for car drop off and turn around. Surely the last thing we want to do is encourage people to be driven to the station clogging up those narrow and steep streets.

Along with the shelter, perhaps the most serious issue is the lack of the pedestrian over-bridge between the platforms. Without it means the only way for someone coming from the western side of the station to access the eastern (southbound) platforms is via the existing underpass over 100 to the south of the platforms. That means all up it’s around a 400-500m detour. That alone will put a lot of people off using the station. In fact I think it’s so serious it could backfire on AT and playing right into the hands of the anti-CRL brigade who will hold it up and say the same thing will happen with that project.

I should add I’ve long been lukewarm on this project as I’ve thought the station has been placed in the wrong location. The site was chosen for its proximity to the Mainline Steam site – after some desired a sort of heritage precinct – it’s straight line proximity to Parnell – ignoring the steep and narrow streets – and it was also argued that it would be a museum station again ignoring the steep hill between the two locations.

Instead I’ve long thought it should be on the outcrop slightly further north that’s now used as a carpark. It would have provided easy connections to Heather St for an easy walk to the Parnell main street, to Parnell Rise for good connections to Link buses, better connections to the current and future development in the area. Further a path along the rail line would have still provided very easy access to the Mainline Steam site.

Parnell Station Alternate Location sketch

Unfortunately it’s probably a bit too late for this as the cost in both money and disruption to change now would likely be too great. I can probably live with the current planned location and have no issue with AT looking at where it can cut costs – such as dealing with the station building later. However it the plan is for the station to be so basic as to exclude shelter and easy access between the platforms then I have to ask why bother at all.

Parnell Station a step closer

Auckland Transport have announced that the Parnell Rail Station has moved a step closer after being approved to go into detailed design.

A rail station at Parnell is a step closer with the Board of Auckland Transport approving the commencement of the detailed design phase.

The development of a railway station in Parnell has been proposed for a number of years. It will improve services to Auckland University, the Domain and to Parnell.

Patronage forecasts for 2016 show around 2,000 passengers will get off at Parnell during the morning peak, three-quarters of those are expected to head to the University area. Parnell is predicted to be one of the busiest stations in Auckland.

Auckland Transport chairman Dr Lester Levy says the time is right for the station to go ahead. “The re-alignment of the track and re-signalling in the area is substantially complete, now let’s build a station for all the people who work, live in or visit the Parnell area.”

The Board of Auckland Transport has approved $1.5 million for the detailed design phase, the estimated budget for the completion of the remainder of the project is $15.4 million.

The station is due to be completed in late 2015.

Parnell Station

2000 passengers in the morning peak is quite a substantial amount. As a comparison Britomart currently has about 6,000 passengers arrive in the morning peak. I don’t know what other stations currently have during that time but my guess is it could even be higher than Newmarket is now. The modelling also seems to confirm that there isn’t actually that much demand for a station for trips to Parnell or the Museum yet those were the markets focused on when deciding the station location.

I also notice that it says the station will be completed in late 2015 which seems to be another slippage from a few months ago when it was said it would completed in April 2015.

While it will be good having this station open one thing I also want to see is what Auckland Transport are going to be doing to upgrade the connections to Parnell itself. At the moment the backstreets behind Parnell are absolutely horrible places for pedestrians, narrow streets full of cars and carpark entrances. The two photos below are of Cheshire St looking North and South from the entrance to the Mainline Steam site where the station will be located.

Cheshire St

Cheshire St 2

Parnell Station delayed

The Parnell Train station has been delayed once again and is now not due to open till April 2015. Auckland Transport has given no explanation for the delay which was announced to a special council committee dealing with the station and its impact on the Domain. The last time the committee met was back in 2011 before major works were undertaken to re-grade the tracks through the area to allow for the station to be built and this meeting was to start the process of sorting out pedestrian access from the station. Here is the executive summary of what was presented.

2. This Committee was established to make decisions as landowner about works on the Domain relating to the Parnell Rail Station.

3. At its meeting in November 2011, this committee approved 2954m2 of Domain land to be set aside for enabling works and the future western platform for the Parnell Rail Station. The Committee’s approval was subject to conditions, including New Zealand Railways Corporation and Auckland Transport entering into an Access Agreement with Auckland Council.

4. Enabling works were undertaken over the close line period in December 2011 – January 2012. Additional works for the pedestrian underpass, planting and pedestrian realignment on the Domain was undertaken during February – September 2012.

5. Construction of the station was intended to take place during December 2012 – January 2013. Auckland Transport expect that the majority of works will now take place in December 2014 – January 2015 with the station open by April 2015.

6. Auckland Transport is proposing to undertake preliminary engineering works for the station platform during the close of line in December 2013 – January 2014. To do so it requires confirmation of the general location of the platform on the Domain and pedestrian access routes through the Domain. Any preliminary engineering works on the Domain will be presented back to this committee for approval by September. The platform is in same
location as indicated on drawings presented to the Committee in 2011, but details of connections through the Domain were not defined at that time.

7. Auckland Transport proposes three new connections from the western platform through the Domain (refer Attachment A). Each connection provides the opportunity to access different parts of the Domain and recognises that they serve different functions.

  • Route 1 (‘woodchip yard’) is the most direct route to the main part of the Domain.
  • Route 2 (‘Watercare access road’) can be made fully accessible and provides access to the Tennis Centre, University and to the main part of the Domain via Lower Domain Drive.
  • Route 3 (‘Carlaw Park’) opens up a part of the Domain that is largely unused and provides access to Stanley Street from Carlaw Park Lane.

8. Details of the structures will be presented for consideration and approval of this Committee by September.

9. Auckland Transport has requested the opportunity to make a presentation to provide the Committee with an update on station design and consultation which will follow on from this report.

The report attached to the agenda goes into how the three routes proposed above were chosen.

I think it is really disappointing that this station has once again been delayed again as it has a huge amount of potential to really help boost patronage by providing a station in an area with a lot of activity. In saying that I still think the station is in the wrong location and as such doesn’t make the best use of its potential. I feel it should be about 200m further north with one end providing a connection to roughly the intersection of Heather St and Bedford St, instead putting more weight on having a station next to a bush clad gully. As this map shows there is very little connection to the north of the station to the commercial and residential areas around The Strand.

Parnell station catchment

At the meeting Auckland Transport also gave a presentation in which they have showed some new images of what the station may look like. First up is the top down view of the concept design.

Parnell Concept Design

And now time for some pretty graphics, here is the design looking north.

Parnell Concept Design - Aerial

And looking from the platform down the proposed extension of Nicholls Lane which would provide excellent access to the business park at Carlaw Park as well as to the University using the new pedestrian and cycle path up through Grafton Gully.

Parnell station - Nicholls Lane

And what the western platform may look like

Parnell station Domain Platform

And lastly from Nicholls Lane looking up at the station.

Parnell station - from Nicholls Lane

All up it looks like it will be a very unique station, just as shame it isn’t a little further north to provide even greater pedestrian connections.

Parnell Track Work Completed

The rail network fully reopens tomorrow following the longest shutdown that I am aware of (yes I am aware that trains have been operating on some sections for a few weeks now). The bit that needed the most time was between Britomart and Newmarket where the tracks needed to be lowered quite a bit to enable a flatter section to be built for the new Parnell station. The works have actually been brought forward by a few years due to the fact they would have become much more expensive if we had waited till after electrification had been completed. Thanks to Geoff in the CBT forum, here are some photos of the works as of Sunday 15/01.

Looking down from the top of the Parnell Tunnel

The site of the new station (the tracks weren't finished at the time)

The new underpass

And from the other side

As you can see there is quite a bit of work that has gone on to lower the tracks through the area and now that the work is finished the station can start to be built. That work is meant to happen over the course of the year with the station itself is not likely to open till the end of the year or early next year, here’s a reminder of what is proposed to eventually be at the site. I would also hope that something is done with the blank walls of the underpass to help keep the graffiti away.

Parnell Station’s design details emerge

For a number of months I’ve felt rather uneasy about the proposed Parnell Station. On the one hand I think a station in the vicinity of Parnell makes a lot of sense – particularly one that could serve the university. But on the other hand I have been worried whether the actual proposed location for the station misses the golden opportunity for it to become a de facto university station.

Auckland Transport has released further details on the proposed design of the station and the exact location. Once again this is a bit of a mixed bag as it confirms the station is a bit far “up the hill” compared to where I had envisaged an ideal location, but on the other hand it highlights some really good opportunities for enhancing connections between the station and its surrounding area – including possibilities for connections through to the university that are a lot better than I had originally envisaged.I know I keep going on about how important it is for the station to connect well with the University, but there are many reasons for my focus on this matter. The key reason is simply patronage. Parnell is going to be a destination station rather than a station where people get on the train in the morning – unless you live across the road from both the station and work across the road from Britomart it’s unlikely to make any sense to catch the train into the city. I guess people working elsewhere along the southern and western lines and living in Parnell may use the station, but largely I think it will be people travelling to Parnell which will provide the bulk of the station’s patronage.

Who will those people be? Well there’s a lot of employment within the wider area – as you can see in the above aerial photograph. The Carlaw Park redevelopment has created a lot of office space, there are many offices just off Parnell Road (as well as many other offices just to the north of the earlier image). Plus, of course, there are the two universities with their 50,000+ students who generally catch public transport a lot more than your average person. On the one hand, this means fewer trips diverted from cars than you might typically get from serving office areas, but on the other hand if we could offer students a rail alternative then that makes life a whole heaps easier when it comes to operating buses from the west, south and southeast more efficiently through turning them into feeder services.

Measuring “how far are the stations from the universities” is a pretty complicated task because if you put both Auckland University and AUT together they cover a pretty large chunk of the eastern part of Auckland’s CBD. However, the Auckland University library is a fairly useful central point, with the current distance from Britomart station (via the quickest route which is possibly not the most commonly taken route as it’s rubbish for pedestrian safety) comes to around 830 metres: This includes a pretty steep walk up Emily Place (or through Albert Park if you’re coming up from the Queen Street entrance to Britomart), so while I’m sure plenty of students do take the train the current situation is not particularly ideal for them.

If you measure from the proposed Parnell Station location to the library, you come up with a surprisingly similar distance – about 20 metres further if it was possible to easily travel up through the business school: What makes me feel better about the proposed station location is the very building I just mentioned though – the university’s business school which opened in the past few years. Apparently the opening of this building has led to a quite significant shift in what might be thought of as the university’s “centre of gravity” – with many more students having classes in this part of Auckland University. In terms of access to AUT, probably Parnell and Britomart would continue to be equidistant, and the great opportunity there relates to Aotea Station on the City Rail Link.

Looking at a few more details of Parnell Station, I quite like the effort in the design to integrate the station with its surrounding area: 
The design of the Nicholls Lane extension will be, in my opinion, critical to the success or failure of the station – to ensure that it has two key frontages – to Parnell village in the east and to Carlaw Park, the universities and the city centre in the northwest. The project’s vision also relies on the station being a catalyst for significant brownfield redevelopment in areas with immediate proximity to the station on its eastern side – the part of Parnell between the railway line and Parnell Road.

Overall, having seen the design ideas I do feel comforted about this project. While I think it would be smarter for the station to be located further “down the hill”, to give better access to the universities in particular, clearly a lot of thought is going into the broader design plans for the area – to ensure the station integrates well with its surrounds and isn’t just a small station down the bottom of a neglected gully, which is what the area feels like now. I feel that, if a number of other things fall into place (like the station being a catalyst for redevelopment in the immediate area, like the centre of gravity of the university continuing to shift southeast and like better pedestrian connections across Stanley Street/SH16) Parnell Station could turn out to be a success after all.

When to close the rail network?

An article in Thursday’s Herald highlighted an interesting conundrum facing Auckland Transport – do they want the rail network shut down in the week before Christmas, or do they still want it closed on the day of the Big Day Out music festival? As the rail electrification project starts to really do some of its more serious works, it seems that the length of time the network needs to be shut over Christmas is being extended – while the preparatory works for Parnell Station also require an extended track closure between Britomart and Newmarket. I don’t necessarily have a problem with this, as it seems better to get as much done during the times the network can be reasonably closed, compared to either having endless weekend shutdowns or having the project take forever to be completed.

Auckland Transport is rethinking a plan which would disrupt commuter trains in the busy pre-Christmas week, after being challenged about alleged preferential treatment for Big Day Out concert-goers.

The council organisation has approved a month-long closure of the line between Britomart and Newmarket, starting in the week before Christmas, so KiwiRail can lower tracks for a new station to be built at Parnell.

Its timing is to ensure the new duplicate tracks will be in place in time for it to run trains to the annual Big Day Out festival at Mt Smart on Friday, January 20.

But the plan to bring forward the traditional annual rail shutdown by a week has Auckland Council transport chairman Mike Lee questioning the transport subsidiary’s priorities.

I must say that the idea of having the Britomart-Newmarket section of the rail network closed in the week before Christmas makes me rather uncomfortable. This is a pretty busy time of year, certainly busier than you would expect late January to be. Which leaves the issue of the Big Day Out – but I would question whether we should put attendees of an event ahead of regular commuter. Mike Lee thinks so too, and also wonders whether Big Day Out trains could be routed via the Eastern Line, with just a small reverse from Westfield to Penrose:

“It seems to be putting the needs of those who have to get to venues [commuters to their workplaces] below those who just want to get to a venue [for the Big Day Out],” he said.

“We owe loyalty to our regular western line working commuters – they should come first.”

Mr Lee, who is an Auckland Transport board member, said he was all in favour of an early start on preparations for a Parnell railway station.

But he wondered why trains to the Big Day Out could not be re-routed around the eastern railway line via Glen Innes to Westfield, and then double back a short distance to Penrose.

That would allow the Parnell work, and hence the shutdown of the Britomart-Newmarket railway link with its major disruption to services including all western line trains, to be delayed until Christmas.

As we’ve learned from the Rugby World Cup, buses are fairly effective at providing services to events – perhaps more effective than trains in that they have some flexibility to recover if something goes wrong. So I would certainly prefer to see the network remain open until Christmas.

Parnell station a reality?

I haven’t seen it confirmed elsewhere yet, but the well informed Auckland Trains blog says that Parnell station – on the site of the Mainline Steam sheds – is to proceed.

Auckland Transport’s CEO David Warburton has confirmed the go-ahead for the planned new station. Construction will begin during the Christmas rail closedown and it should be operating by August next year…

…The niche station, at the foot of the Domain near the steam train depot aims to to service the major tourist destination of the Auckland War Memorial Museum and highlight and promote the historic Parnell village and the area around it.

The full station and necessary track work will cost $14m.

Key elements of the design include side platforms with the usual train furniture on the western platform but to add to the heritage aspect will be the use of the old original Newmarket heritage station, which was removed a few years back to make way for the new Newmarket station.

The old Newmarket station building will be relocated to the site to add to its heritage theme at a cost of $1.10m.

It would be refurbished and relocated on the eastern platform. The old Newmarket Station building and signal house which has been locked away for years need to be brought back to remind us of Auckland’s rail history. Mainline Steam has offered to use the old station building as offices or use it as some other feature.

In order to meet rail and platform gradient requirements the rail track will need to be re-graded over approximately a kilometre of track and crossover points critical for access to The Strand will need to be relocated. Modification of the access tracks to the Mainline Steam Depot is also required.

It’s certainly great to see another addition to Auckland’s rail network, while I am also very pleased to see the Newmarket train station being returned to the rail network – and hopefully put to good use.

I still have a couple of questions about the precise location of the proposed station though. I worry that it’s too far to the south – limiting its potential use as a university station, a potentially massive market. While it may work as a niche destination station, I do wonder whether if it were pushed a bit further to the north it could end up serving both the universities (via a pedestrian bridge over Stanley Street) and the growing employment node in northern Parnell (and around Carlaw Park). I wonder whether Auckland Transport ever modelled the potential patronage from different station locations. Nick R did a good post on this matter last year.

The second potential concern I have is what effect the station might have on the robustness of the rail network. We are already squeezing every drop out of our network’s capacity through the Britomart-Newmarket corridor (or at least we soon will be) and I worry that putting a station on an already fragile network may lead to service reliability problems.

Both these concerns aren’t impossible to overcome. Ensuring the robustness and reliability of the rail network is a technical issue that can probably be sorted out through extra signalling and points equipment, while if the station is long enough its northern end may link easily with Carlaw Park and potentially the university. So I will withhold final judgement until I see these details. If they can be worked out then it’s certainly great to see Auckland’s rail network further improved.