Urban Change: Evolution or Revolution?

“Change is the law of life and those who only look to the past or present are certain to miss the future”


Life is nothing but change, and cities being concentrations of human life manifest this fact in their physical fabric: They are constantly changing, always incrementally, sometimes abruptly. Positively and negatively. Investment versus entropy. Governments, local and central, are charged with understanding the forces at work behind this law of life and responding wisely with our taxes to attempt to maximise the potential positive outcomes within this reality for all citizens.


Dresden 1945: Catastrophic change

There is plenty of evidence that suggests there is a need for substantial change in transport infrastructure investment now in Auckland. This evidence is broad based and essentially adds up to the fact that the conditions that set the policy of the last 60 years no longer hold:

  • It is clear that demand growth is shifting away from driving towards the Transit and Active modes
  • It is clear that spatial arrangements are shifting including a substantial revaluing of the centre
  • It is clear that demographics of the city are changing to smaller households and denser communities
  • It is clear that the city’s growth path is continuing; Auckland now is already city sized and getting bigger
  • It is clear that environmental and geographical constrains are tightening; resource constraints in Transport sector ever more pressing
  • It is clear that the urban motorway programme of the previous era is nearing completion; we are in a new phase
  • It is clear that newer generations just don’t share the older ones’ ideas of what is important in urban form and how to move

It is in this context that we have developed our Congestion Free Network summarised here.

However while there is clear evidence that we live in a period of discontinuity from the previous era this does not mean that what was built up during this era should be abandoned or not maintained. Quite the contrary in fact. One of the primary aims of shifting our capital investments away from the urban highway network is to build up the complementary networks to such an effective and attractive level that will keep the highways functioning well and with more efficiency. And in this our programme is not only low risk and high value but also very different from the late 20th Century revolution that it builds on. If there is one lesson to learn from the last great shift in transport investment in Auckland it is to be sure to keep what you already have and build on it; not to disregard the last system in order to focus totally on the next one.

Let’s have a look back.

The decision last century to invest in a system of urban highways for Auckland became over time a total commitment. We not only invested nearly every penny of new investment into this system starving any alternatives we also actually removed existing alternatives.

Here is a view of the leafy and desirable old suburbs of the Auckland Isthmus:

Old 'tram built' suburbs of Auckland, from Mt Eden

Old ‘tram built’ suburbs of Auckland, from Mt Eden

And here is a map of the system that made this urban form:

Auckland Isthmus tramlines

After the second world war Auckland faced the three interrelated problems. It was growing, there had been little investment in infrastructure for decades, and it lacked financial resources. To that can be added that capital investment was dependent on a suspicious government that faced, as ever, competing demands. One critical area that this came to a head was our electric tram system. While by any measure it was a huge success, carrying huge numbers of people and at around a net operating profit, it was in desperate need of catch up investment both in the machines themselves and extension to new areas.

In the context of the times the car offered a way out of this problem. There were very few of them in the 1950s, and while their uptake was expected to grow this was also expected to remain manageable. It was argued that buses could replace the trams with the advantage of operating without fixed routes and be more easily extended to new areas and at lower capital cost to public finances. All true. But really this was a way to give Auckland’s relatively narrow roads over completely to private vehicles, as no priority was allowed for the tram-replacing buses. Contrast with Melbourne: where they not only kept the more appealing trams but took advantage of wide boulevards allowing separation of trams and traffic on many routes, plus tram priority systems at intersections where they are mixed.

Relying on the car could be rationalised as cheaper too, simply because the machine and fuel costs were privatised, and that petrol taxes were to be the source of road funding. Lost in the reasoning was the fact total reliance on driving is the most expensive way of ordering a city’s movement. So while the car/road system had a good funding mechanism [fuel excise] this does not mean it is the best system economically, and this is still true today . It would require ever more enormous sums and in fact add to the ratepayer burden and not relieve it as road taxes have never covered all road costs. Let alone other burdens of this system like parking and the loss of rateable land etc.

And motorways are subject to the laws of inverse success over time: they are best when they’re new, they never get better as they attract more users. Below, rural Penrose with new motorway 1963- nice flow.

Road traffic, new Southern Motorway, Penrose, Auckland. Whites Aviation Ltd :Photographs. Ref: WA-59290-G. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand. http://natlib.govt.nz/records/23080156

Road traffic, new Southern Motorway, Penrose, Auckland. Whites Aviation Ltd :Photographs. Ref: WA-59290-G. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand. http://natlib.govt.nz/records/23080156

Part of the world view of Modernism was a faith in the completely fresh start: The Brave New World. This is evident in art movements, new philosophies, individual building projects, but also at the urban planning level. That there was a huge desire for new beginings is not surprising after the experience of the first half of the century with two extremely destructive world wars and a devastating Depression. Auckland, although it didn’t come out of the war with whole areas of the city wiped clear by bombing it did have plenty of proximate bare land, and in the city itself the buildings and structures of the colonial era were now ageing and dated compared to what seemed possible in the new American-style future. It was ripe for this ideology of ‘rip it up and start again’.

We took our lead from the zeitgeist, and the zeitgeist was all California [well, the Autobahn, actually, but no one was admitting that].

Furthermore the beginning of this new project coincided with a rise in prosperity, price controls being lifted from private car sales, and the price of crude oil fell every year from 1947-1970 in real terms. Driving boomed in New Zealand as it did all across the western world and use of the new bus network declined proportionately. And then fell into a downward cycle of falling investment, declining quality of service, and uptake. The buses were never as accepted as much as the trams and nor could they ever command the control of the road as well either.

So when in 1976 Prime Minister Robert Muldoon exploited the divisions in the many local authorities in Auckland to kill Auckland Mayor Robinson’s ‘Robbie’s Rapid Rail’ Auckland was committed, by central government, to a bold ‘double-down’ on an urban motorway centred road only transport network.

What had began as a just part of the city’s movement systems as advised by North American consultants in the 1960s became an extreme and monotonal driving-only all-in bet. Bold, ambitious, and in terms of the communities and places in its path; pitiless. All directed by central government, with local concerns overruled.


Whole areas of the city have never recovered from the burden of hosting this land hungry and severing system; in the most affected areas land value still remain low and land use poor. They have been sacrificed for the convenience of those from other, further out parts of the new city. Around 50 000 people were relocated and 15 000 buildings removed. This was a revolution, with winners and losers.

Newton then and now

Meanwhile investment in complementary systems froze. The bus network was stuck in aspic; even though it began carrying ever more people from the mid 1990s as the city grew and began to exhibit the kind of urban realities that make driving less optimal for more and more citizens. Each time the rail network won hard fought and tiny investments; second hand trains from Perth, Britomart Station, ridership leapt in response. But still no meaningful investment in extending these parts of systems into an actual Rapid Transit Network has been able to be wrestled from successive governments this century. Although important steps towards such a system were undertaken first by the last Labour led government by funding Project Dart, a long overdue upgrade of the rail network, and the construction of the Northern Busway, and the current National led government by enabling electrification to follow through a mixture of grants and loans to Auckland Transport. And, critically, AT and AC’s multi year overhaul of the bus system and introduction of the integrated ticketing.

Yet the future still looks no different, in fact central government’s programme is one of an aggressive return to the ‘revolution’ of the late 20th Century with no new Public Transit infrastructure funding at all, just enough to contribute to operate what’s already there: [chart of spending categories for the whole country 2015-2025]

2015 GPS - Spending graph

Proposed transport spending distribution in millions.

Yet despite the huge sums spent on more lane space the growth in driving has stalled, in contrast to uptake in the underfunded Transit mode: [VKT: Vehicle Kilometres Travelled].

VKT vs PT Trips per Captia 4


So it is very hard to understand this policy in terms of evidence, is its based on a nostalgia for the driving boom years of last century?, or perhaps it is simply an inability of our institutions to understand change and adapt to it?, or worse are the huge sums of public money in this sector subject to capture and control by special interests?: Big Trucking, Civil Construction, Consultants and Financiers, and Land Development Interests?

It is time to build balance into our city’s movement options and to do this we need a change in where spending is directed. And properly understood this is not another revolution but rather a return to moderation and balance and away from the current orthodoxy which is lopsided in the extreme. The current policy of investing so disproportionately in the driving mode is a revolutionary policy, but not seen as such because it has become an orthodoxy. We shouldn’t be surprised with its extremity as it is a 20th Century programme, from that age of extremes and extreme ideologies. Which while at times exhilarating, it also meant much was lost, like Auckland’s tram network.

Our position is that this kind of lurch is not what Auckland needs now but instead we should build on what we have by adding to the underdeveloped Active and Transit modes while maintaining and more efficiently utilising the mature driving resource.

Green GPS Funding graph

Above is a comparison of the proposed Green Party and National Party transport policies [for the whole country]. Note that the major difference is about what to build next, and that both plan to maintain current assets. We can change from extremity to balance without losing what we have. And it is long overdue:

Robbie's Rapid Rail MW

by Architect, Cartoonist, and National Treasure: Malcolm Walker

Photo Of the Day: What Affordable Housing Looks Like

This is the just completed Merchant Quarter in New Lynn, designed by Jasmax, it offers one bedroom freehold apartments from around 250k, as well as larger ones. I believe the new owners are about to move in.


Merchant Quarter is step along the way of the planned revitalisation of New Lynn metropolitan centre begun by Waitakere City Council and continued by Auckland Council. A process to transform a declining and depressed area into a vibrant and more successful contributor to the city as a whole. The apartment tower itself is a privately funded development, the Council, with AT, NZTA, and the [previous] government through Project Dart have invested in the massive transport changes at New Lynn and now it is up to the private sector to develop the built environment. The Council have also invested in the public realm with both streetscape upgrades and open space. Below is a small urban park with works by Peter Lange referencing the area’s long history of brick making.

The plan aims to enable the addition of 20,000 new residents to the wider area by 2031. And right now, apart from the train and bus station, it is pretty empty; it’s not hard to see how ready New Lynn is for thousands more people and what a powerful economic transformation they will bring.


The new apartment building sits directly above a multi level carpark and is connected to a large medical centre by air bridge. It is also, of course, directly adjacent to the New Lynn Train and Bus Interchange Station:


Above is a view of the apartment building from the Train Station. On the other side is the New Lynn Library and of course all the retail glories of LynnMall. Below shows the Medical Centre. At the ground floor spaces are all activated and open to the street with retail.

So not only are the dwellings affordable here but clearly so are their occupants’ likely transport needs. And importantly, this comes with a rich abundance of movement options. The people who choose to live here can buy or rent car parks in their building, and for any experience or service not within an easy walk, they have a huge range of increasingly higher quality movement options. This type of living choice will score very highly not only for walkability but also by any Housing/Transport affordability metric.


This is a very good and important addition to the mix of dwelling options for Auckland. It will not suit everyone just as detached houses at the end of a long drive does not suit everyone, and nor does it need to. It is great at last to see the market  being able to diversify beyond the monotony of  ever more distant new greenfields developments.

Just as important are the considerable efforts by all parties here to provide as high quality features as possible for the lower end of the market. In recent decades this has been a segment that no one has properly addressed; we have either built luxurious but expensive apartments or cheap and nasty ones. Both types are clearly visible in the central city. It is really important that the both the Council and the private sector close the door on that regrettable chapter, and find way to insist on and enable higher quality at all market segments.


The next stage is for duplex terrace-house style dwellings directly on top of the corten steel clad carpark building. These seem to me a rather strange conflation of the suburban and the urban, rather curiously suspended in space, but I guess that’s one way to deal with such an enormous carpark? They will however provide yet more dwelling variety and with all of the locational advantages of the adjacent apartments.

Merchant Quarter Stage II

Update. It seems the internal layout has not worked that well for some. One buyer (only) has apparently objected to a column placement, claiming they didn’t know about it. Gleefully reported in the Herald. We’re sure to hear more on this, I hope it gets resolved.


The government’s annoying funding myth

Over the last few weeks there has been a renewed media focus on Auckland’s transport issues. This has been spurred on by  two main events the first was the Green Party launching their Reconnect Auckland campaign and the second was the announcement of alternative funding options to help pay for future transport projects.  Along with that it has seen a resurgence of an annoying myth that members of the government like to perpetrate. In an effort to try and make their transport policy sound more balanced than it actually is they love to state that the government has invested $1.6 billion into the rail network. Government MPs talk about it on social networks or at meetings, Gerry Brownlee mentioned it in his recent interview on Campbell live and Steven Joyce, repeated it this morning on The Nation (on TV3).

Now $1.6 billion certainly sounds like a lot of money and of course it is. It is also true that it the amount of money that central government has, or will be spend on rail up until the electrification project has been completed. The issue I have is that a decent proportion of the money was approved or spent before the current government even came into office. So let’s look at the figure a bit more closely, the $1.6 billion can be boiled down into three key areas:

  • $600 million for Project DART
  • $500 million for the electrification infrastructure
  • $500 million for the new electric trains

As the government are using the total figure to suggest that they are investing in a more balanced transport system, the question becomes whether the money was invested by the current government or not, so lets have a look.

Project Dart

Amongst other improvements it included double tracking the western line, various station upgrades, the Newmarket Station and changes to the junction, the New Lynn trench and station, reinstating the Onehunga Line, building the Manukau branch line. Kiwirails page on the project also states:

The 2006 Budget included funding of up to $600 million for rail infrastructure improvements to speed development of the Auckland network.

So yes this was paid for by central government but as you can see, funding started before the current government came to power which was late in 2008. Of course not all funding is spent in one year and as Brownlee said the other day, they didn’t cancel it. But even if they wanted to, how much could they have cancelled anyway?  Well probably not much.

Interestingly the funding for this project was kept out of the normal transport budget and instead is listed under the finance budget. The government’s budget documents for the  2006/2007 financial year shows that the money was to be spent over a four year period and it was only the fourth year that National had any control over the budget. By then pretty much all of the various aspects to the project were either already completed or well under way meaning it was probably impossible to cancel anyway.

DART Funding

To me there is no way that the current government can claim the $600 million spent on Project DART as their spending or that they had anything to with it.


This includes new signalling, modifying existing infrastructure like bridges and of course the wires themselves. Funding for electrification was initially included in the 2007 budget and was separate to the funding allocated for Project DART.

Electrification Funding

Now from memory the government intended to pay for the Auckland work via a regional fuel tax which would work in conjunction with one the region would also impose to fund other projects, including new trains. When National came to power they stopped the regional fuel tax and put a hold on the electrification project. They eventually agreed to let it go ahead and paid for it out of the nationwide fuel tax increase. It is however quite clear that funding for the project was initiated in 2007, over a year before National came to power.

Electric Trains

There is obviously not much point in paying $500 million for electrification without trains to run under the wires. As mentioned, the original electrification proposal was to see Auckland pay for the trains out of a regional fuel tax imposed by the regional council. The national governments cancelling of that fuel tax took that funding option off the table. When they finally agreed to let the project go ahead it was announced that the trains would be paid for by way of a loan that Auckland would have to pay back (without the extra source of funding). Worse still was that even after paying back the loan the proposal meant that Auckland still wouldn’t own the trains, Kiwirail would, however this has now changed and Auckland will own the trains directly.

Since then there has been some positive news, it was announced that Auckland would end up getting more electric trains that first proposed, that was partly possible due to better than originally expected exchange rates along with the government kicking in an extra $90 million. The NZTA are also going to contribute to the loan payments in the same way they provide money for PT operating costs however oddly it turns out that the government appears to be clipping the ticket on the loan by charging a margin on top of their cost of funding.

EMU painted 3

The first EMU will be here in a few months time

So when the government states that they have invested $1.6 billion in to rail in Auckland, it is frankly untrue. In fact the only new funding they seem to have provided is the extra $90 million they provided to buy extra EMUs and the 50% share of funding for loan repayments. Other than that all of the funding is the same as what was agreed to before they came to office.

Rail Patronage vs Projections

With the release of the station boarding data in the post yesterday by Mr Anderson, and the recent sluggish patronage growth, its perhaps worthwhile looking at how things are going compared to projections. Again we can look at the supporting report for a lot of information as AT/AC attempted to answer one part of Steven Joyce’s question relating to evidence of patronage growth, particularly in the morning peak.

First of all, anyone who has followed this blog for long enough will know about how rail patronage has increased. In 2003 before Britomart opened rail patronage was sitting at about very low base of 2.5 million trips per annum, since that time it has shot up to over 10 million trips per annum now. While it is off a low base, it has easily outstripped population growth and the report says it has seen per capita usage jump from 2.2 trips per person to 7.3. over the same time morning peak patronage has increased very strongly going from 1,012 people arriving at Britomart during the two hour peak to 6055 in 2012. What the report notes is interesting however is that the percentage of off peak patronage growth, particularly in recent years has outstripped the level seen during the peak which is useful for showing that the improvements aren’t just about getting more peak users but that there are benefits off peak too.

It is pretty clear that that there has been some pretty big increases but the next question is if the increases were a result of a cannibalising of bus patronage. So the reported looked at the AM peak numbers and compared those with private vehicle numbers over time and from that we can see that both rail and buses have increased there share when it comes to accessing the city centre although for some reason ferry patronage wasn’t included which would explain why private vehicle usage is at 56% when the 2012 numbers were 50:50 between PT and car.

CCFAS Modeshare 1990-2012

But what about those projections, well each of the projects over the years have had some form of projections attached to them. In 2001 when the council of the time was putting its case together for Britomart the report notes that the current transport model used was still being developed however it was working enough to get some basic results. There appear to have been two years that were modelled forecasting 10 and 20 years out (2011 and 2021) and the numbers are below:

Britomart Projection Numbers

Britomart Projection Numbers Graph

So with the exception of outbound passengers in the morning peak, the actual numbers are considerably higher than even the 2021 projections (40% higher than 2011 prediction and 15% higher than 2021). In fact the change in daily patronage out of the station just between 2010 and 2011 was greater than what was predicted to occur between 2011 and 2021. What’s more the author of the report notes that the projections included the network and frequencies being in a similar state to what they are in now and included electrification.

The next set of projections come from the 2006 rail development plan which is what really kicked off project DART and electrification. While it appears we are tracking at less than what was forecast, there are some fairly important reasons for that. The forecast was based on by now there being more frequent services and importantly was based on electrification being started almost straight away and completed in 2011. It was however delayed by both the previous and current governments and we are now not expecting all the trains to roll out to the network till 2015/16. The report notes that the 2016 forecast patronage has now been revised up higher from 15.7 million trips to 17.3 million.

2006 Projection Numbers Graph

Electrification had been forecast to be completed in 2011

We also have projections for Onehunga, which ended up opening later than expected (from memory it was initially said that it would open in 2009 but didn’t open till late 2010. Even so AM actual numbers seem to be a little bit ahead of projections while the all day numbers are not far off.

Onehunga Line Projections

This post is starting to get a little long so tomorrow I will look at some of the reasons that have been identified as being responsible for the increase in patronage but it is pretty clear from reading through the report so far that we seem to constantly underestimate rail patronage. As the same modelling is being used, that means it is quite likely that projections in the CCFAS and the original business case have also been underestimated and that could have significant impact on the outcome of the economic analysis.

Rail timetable improvements from March

Auckland Transport’s CE report for today’s board meeting confirms that increases in train frequency – and the opening of the Manukau station – will occur in March (let’s hope at the very beginning of March to take advantage of the year’s busiest month).

Planning is being finalised for the introduction of an enhanced passenger rail timetable for March 2012 as a step change towards the planned service levels set out in the Rail Development Plan. Due to constraints on train movements at Britomart it is not possible to make adjustments to the timetable on one route without affecting the arrivals and departures of trains on all other lines. Therefore, rather than a piecemeal approach that would require frequent service changes, the opportunity has been taken to develop a robust timetable that includes many of the planned service improvements that were assumed to be in place ahead of the introduction of electric trains.

I’m glad that a full review of the rail timetable is occurring. We will be stuck with this timetable for quite a long time (with perhaps only the opportunity to increase off-peak frequencies) so it makes sense to get it completely right. These are the main elements of the improvements:

  • Introduction of train services to Manukau, following the completion of track and signalling works by KiwiRail in the second half of 2011. Initial service offering will be 3 trains an hour during the peak and two trains an hour at all other times.
  • Introduction of 6 trains an hour from Henderson during the peak Monday to Friday on the Western Line. The infrastructure works to allow this level of service were completed in August 2010 and patronage has now grown to a level that warrants this service capacity.
  • Western Line services will operate a half-hourly service between Swanson and Britomart during the core of the day on both Saturdays and Sundays.
  • Onehunga Line services will be increased to half-hourly throughout the day and at a weekend, to accommodate further growth.
  • Increased frequency of services from Pukekohe to every 60 minutes during the day midweek in response to customer demand.

The peak time improvements (western line to six trains per hour and Manukau station services) were well signalled a long time ago, and effectively mean the completion of Project DART. I’m also very happy to see that some thought has gone into improving off-peak frequencies – when there are trains available. Getting half hour frequencies on the Western Line on weekends is incredibly overdue, as is the extension of Sunday services to Swanson (they currently terminate at Henderson). I’m also really pleased to see Onehunga trains going to half-hourly services all the time (except evenings I guess).

One thing that’s probably worth Auckland Transport emphasising is that this is not only the “mature” timetable pre-electrification, but it’s also pretty close to our mature timetable post-electrification (probably more trains will go to Manukau and further on the Western Line). That’s because, with the two extra trains into Britomart from the west, we have used up our final two slots. Until we get the City Rail Link built, this is it.

Busting an annoying transport myth

One thing that perpetually annoys me is when Steven Joyce rolls out the “we’re spending $1.6 billion on rail in Auckland so please stop complaining about all the money we’re spending on roads.” We see this line being trotted in in some of the Questions and Answers section to the Government Policy Statement:

It is also important to note that the majority of central government funding for public transport infrastructure is provided outside of the National Land Transport Fund and so not included in the GPS. Most of this funding is for metro rail. To date more than $2 billion in Crown appropriations has been agreed, of which $1.6 billion is for Auckland and $485 million for Wellington. 

It is true that $1.6 billion is being (and has been) spent on upgrading Auckland’s rail network over the past few years (and over the next few years). The money is comprised of:

  • $600 million for Project DART
  • $500 million for the infrastructure side of rail electrification
  • $500 million for new electric trains

So in total that is $1.6 billion. But there are two important questions to follow this up with: how much of that is being funded from central government and how much is being funded by this central government.

Looking first at Project DART, the rail project in Auckland that included double-tracking the Western Line, building Newmarket, New Lynn, Onehunga and Manukau stations – and other upgrades to the network. This $600 million project was actually funded in the 2006 budget – according to the Project DART website:

The 2006 Budget included funding of up to $600 million to fund these improvements and speed development of the Auckland rail network.

The project is the most significant redevelopment of the rail network in New Zealand since the 1980s.

So this passes the threshold for being funded by Central Government, but doesn’t pass the threshold of having been funded by this government.

Turning next to the infrastructure side of electrification – which includes stringing up the wires, raising a few bridges, putting up poles, building electrical sub-stations and so forth. According to the electrification webpage, funding for this was set aside in the 2007 budget:

In the 2007 Budget the Government announced its support for the electrification of Auckland’s rail network, and gave ONTRACK the funds to build the necessary infrastructure…

…Planning and concept development started immediately and physical work began in 2008.

We expect it will take about five years to electrify the Auckland network, and the Government has indicated that it wants the project completed by 2013.

So this is basically in the same situation as Project DART: yes, funded by Central Government outside the NLTF, but once again not funded by this government.

Finally, if we turn to funding for Auckland’s electric trains, it doesn’t even pass the very first base of being “outside the NLTF”. The very reason public transport services funding has actually increases in the Government Policy Statement is because this money will go into repaying the loan for the electric trains. Loaning $500 million to KiwiRail to pay for these trains, which Auckland Council and NZTA will need to repay, is quite different to actually giving the $500 million for the trains. So the trains aren’t being paid for outside the NLTF, they aren’t being paid for by Central Government – and obviously not by this  government.

So really, I’m struggling to find a single cent that this government has set aside for passenger rail in Auckland.

Rail rolling stock: looking ahead

Broadly speaking, there are two distinct types of trains in Auckland: the “Diesel Multiple Units” that we bought second-hand from Perth in the mid-1990s and the locomotive hauled carriages that were bought second-hand from the UK and then significantly refurbished, and now get hauled around by locomotives leased off KiwiRail. Some of those locomotives are 40-50 years old, while some of the Perth DMUs also date back to the 1960s (the ones without air-conditioning, known as the ADKs). (Note to rail nerds, I haven’t forgotten about the SX). Below are a couple of carriages from an SA train:

Up until around the time Britomart opened the rail network was pretty much solely operated by the ex-Perth DMUs. The impending patronage boom that Britomart was to bring (and obviously has brought) meant that additional capacity was required, and the SA/SD trains have provided that over the past few years. When there are debates about whether or not to sell the Port of Auckland, it’s worth remembering that the dividends on profits from the Ports are pretty much what has paid for the purchase and refurbishment of all the SA/SD trains that now form the majority of Auckland’s rail rolling stock.

But that’s enough history, the point of this blog post is to look forward. In the near future, it seems that we will have the last of the SA carriages coming online within the next couple of months to add capacity to the southern and eastern lines, now that their platforms have been lengthened to accommodate six carriage trains. This was outlined in a recent Auckland Transport media release:

Longer trains are being added to the rail network to help cater for the increasing popularity of Auckland’s public transport, which was up eight per cent for the year to 30 April.

From 17 July trains will use five and six carriages on the southern line, following the completion of platform extension works. Six carriage trains began operating on the Western Line last September. Longer trains allow more passengers on each service.

It’s worthwhile to note that under the current plans, these will be the last additional bit of rail rolling stock capacity that will be added to the network until electrification in 2013/2014. Unless we can find some ‘stop-gap’ measure to get more trains (or longer trains) on the network, my understanding is that from July this year until the new electric trains are operational in 2013/2014 we will have to manage with the same number of trains. An interesting prospect if rail patronage continues to grow at 10-15% a year. This issue was noted in Auckland Transport’s April business report:

I‘m still yet to quite figure out how the further optimisation will work in early next year. Not only will this include the improvement of peak time frequencies on the Western Line from a train every 15 minutes to a train every 10 minutes, but it will also include the introduction of trains to Manukau Station – presumably achieved by extending all the current ‘short-runner’ services to Otahuhu all the way down to Manukau before terminating them there. With the longer running time between Manukau and Britomart compared to between Otahuhu and Britomart, there will clearly be an increased number of trains required. I’m starting to think that having six carriage trains could be a pretty short-lived exercise – as from next year the carriages will need to be distributed to a larger number of trains.

As I have discussed previously, the concept of having fare differentiation between peak time rail travel and off-peak travel is a good one. Shifting some of the “peak of the peak” into times just before and after the main crush of passengers means that you can use your existing rolling stock more efficiently and effectively. Adding off-peak services is pretty easy as you don’t need more rolling stock and you don’t need more track capacity – you just need to work the system at the peak level for a bit longer. Getting 15 minute inter-peak frequencies on weekdays, longer peak-time frequencies in the evenings and at worst half-hour frequencies on all lines at weekends would be easily and quickly achievable without having to purchase any more rolling stock. Having hourly weekend frequencies on the Western Line, and no trains past Henderson on Sundays, it just downright stupid – as the Western Line passes near five large shopping centres (city centre, Newmarket, St Lukes, New Lynn and Henderson) and could be hugely popular on the weekend.

But even with fare differentiation and better off-peak services, I think by the time we get close to the rollout of the new electric trains on the network things are going to be pretty squashed. Which is why I have found the never-ending delays to the electric train procurement process so utterly infuriating.

The order of electric trains (well, my understanding of it) includes 35 three-car electric multiple-unit trains, plus a number of electric locomotives. The locomotives are necessary for the obvious reason that we have a large number of SA/SD trains around Auckland at the moment and not only would it be stupid to get rid of them when they have a lot of life left, but also that we don’t have enough money to purchase sufficient EMUs to operate the network alone. My understanding is that at peak times the EMU trains will generally be “paired up” to form six carriage trains, and will operate on the Eastern and Western lines. Single three-carriage trains will operate on the Onehunga Line, while the Southern Line will be served by the current SA/SD trains, but pulled by new electric locomotives rather than the ancient diesel locos that pull them along at the moment. Because there will be a lot of SA carriages available, my hope is that the current platform lengthening exercises being undertaken on the Southern Line will provide for eight-car trains to be operated.

One great irony of electrification is that it won’t actually result in any more trains being operated on the rail network at peak times – compared to what we’ll have in early next year. Until the CBD Rail Tunnel is constructed, Britomart can only handle around 20-21 trains per hour – which means six from each of the three main lines plus two from Onehunga. Of course electrification will enable the trains to be faster, quieter, smoother and longer – which will add capacity to the system – but until we build the CBD tunnel our ability to get more trains into the city at peak times is constrained.

Furthermore, the desire (and need) to operate the network as efficiently as possible will mean that the mixing of diesel and electric trains is likely to be avoided wherever possible – as the diesels obviously accelerate slower and would therefore “hold up” electric trains. So that means all trains from beyond Papakura and Swanson will only be shuttle trains to the end of the electric line. The newer of the Perth DMUs (known as the ADLs) should fulfill this function fairly effectively, and they could serve out to Hupai (or beyond if demand was there) on the Western Line and also potentially beyond Pukekohe on the Southern Line.

So in the period between electrification and the opening of the CBD rail tunnel (so say between 2014 and 2021 if we’re optimistic about the CBD Tunnel) the new electric trains will be used in combination with SA Trains being hauled by new electric locomotives, plus the use of some of the DMUs for shuttle services. Additional capacity could be added (if the trains were available) by running services between the Western and Southern lines directly, without having to have every train go into Britomart. I know that maximum loading points on the Western Line generally occur between Mt Eden and Grafton station as many Western Line users have their destination at either Grafton or Newmarket. So that’s a potential way of squeezing the most out of the system up until around 2021 when the need for the CBD Tunnel will be dire.

Now, if we look at rolling stock requirements post-CBD Rail Tunnel, things become rather interesting. In the CBD Tunnel’s business case a rather bizarre operating pattern was suggested: The option above requires a lot of additional trains, so an interim option was considered that would utilise the existing number of post-electrification trains: I thought both options were far too complicated, and suggested my own operating pattern:

One big spanner in the works of all this is the likelihood that the SA Trains won’t be able to operate through the CBD Rail Tunnel, because it’s too steep (and also something to do with fire-ratings). EMUs can generally handle steeper gradients than locomotives, because the train is being driven from more points – kind of like how a four-wheel drive vehicle provides more control on slopes than a two-wheel drive vehicle. Because the CBD Tunnel is going to be very much at the maximum end of track steepness, it seems that in all likelihood it will only be EMUs that can operate through it.

That gives us a bit of a headache about what to do with all our electric locomotives and SA/SD trains – that still will have a lot of life left in them come 2021. I wonder if Wellington would be prepared to swap some of its Matangi Trains for loco-hauled SA/SD trains? It’s an interesting possibility.

Measuring the economic impact of Auckland’s rail upgrade

Measuring the benefits of transport projects is usually done through a process of comparing how long it took someone to get from A to B without a particular project, how long it is expected to take from A to B with that project, compare the difference, apply some value to the time, multiply it up by how many people will benefit and get a big round number. This methodology has its own flaws (what if people just travel further, rather than taking quicker trips), but it also potentially ignores many of the benefits that enhanced transport access can provide. What if a particular project encourages employment to concentrate in a city centre and thereby generates agglomeration benefits? What if people owning property in a particular place see their land values skyrocket through enhanced accessibility? These are all benefits, but not necessarily benefits that are frequently captured.

An interesting study by Motu Research attempts to capture and quantify some of the benefits from transport projects that tend to be ignored – looking at the example of the upgrades to Auckland’s Western Railway Line. Further to that issue, the paper also analyses the ‘anticipatory’ nature of these impacts: the extent to which house prices started increasing even in advance of completion of the upgrade – because people knew it was coming. It’s important to note that the benefits analysed were only those in the former Waitakere City.

A summary of what is analysed is outlined in the introduction: A bit more on the findings is outlined below:
So there seems to be a statistically significant impact. I suppose the real question is what the level of that impact was – and potentially how we might ‘tap’ that effect to help fund future projects.

But first, it’s worth having a read through the theory behind the idea that rail improvements will boost property values. This is broadly summarised below – although the study itself goes into quite a bit more detail: Interestingly, the house price benefit seems to largely occur within the pedestrian catchment of the train station – and most particularly when the station wasn’t constructed with “park and ride” users being prioritised:
There’s a lot of complicated maths in the way the effects are all worked out, and the study splits the railway stations in the west into three groups: those around New Lynn, those around Henderson and then Ranui & Swanson as a third group. The result show a definite uplift in house values in the areas around the stations compared to similar areas during the post-announcement period: after around 2005 when it was known that the rail upgrade would go ahead. The graph below averages out the two time periods to make the “jump” clearer:

Interestingly the biggest increases were for the stations closest to the city. It makes one wonder what effect the CBD Rail Tunnel might have on property values in the Grafton to New Lynn corridor along the Western Line: as that project will shave a huge chunk of trip times to the city centre.

When the value uplift is aggregated, you can some pretty big results in terms of the impact the project has had:
Now remember that this type of ‘benefit’ is not even included in the typical cost-benefit analysis. It’s also worth thinking about what the value uplift of the CBD Rail Tunnel might be – as typically rail projects have a greater effect on commercial land values in city centre than they do on residential values. We could be looking at some pretty massive numbers that haven’t even been given consideration in the business case for that project.

I suppose my final point of interest is in how this value uplift could potentially be used as a funding mechanism for rail infrastructure projects like the CBD Tunnel. Perhaps if a proportion of the value uplift was taxed (by way of a targeted rate or some sort of capital gains tax) then the revenue raised from that tax could help repay loans that were taken out to fund the project.

In any case, the article is certainly an interesting read – both in terms of identifying a benefit from rail projects that seems to have been previously overlooked, while at the same time also potentially highlighting a possible source of revenue. After all, if you owned property in the CBD you’d probably prefer it increased in value by 100% as result of the CBD Rail Tunnel, even if you saw a third of that taxed, than if it didn’t increase at all because the project could not go ahead.

Baldwin Ave station – just about done

Baldwin Avenue station on the Western Line has been closed for the last six weeks or so while the station has been completely rebuilt. I took some photos of the “work in progress” back during the holidays. The official station opening is on Tuesday, so I went out there today to see how things look: There’s nothing particularly special about the design of the station – it’s pretty stock standard. However, it’s good to see another of Auckland’s train stations being brought up to scratch. Mt Albert station is pretty much the only one on the Western Line that remains in exceedingly poor condition. The signage is pretty clear about where the different platforms are. I hope that there’s room to put in real-time arrival time clocks in the relatively near future. Baldwin Ave used to be a really weird station, with the platforms quite “off-set” from each other. I think it’s actually potentially quite an important station, because it sits in the middle of a residential area that’s actually extremely difficult to serve with buses – because there is just a maze of little streets and no arterials aside from New North Road and Carrington Road at the edge of the area. It also has good access to Mt Albert Grammar School – and certainly it seems a lot of school kids use the station.

Update: there’s some discussion in the comments about pedestrian access to the station so I’ve added a couple more photos to show the situation a bit more clearly:

Rail upgrade work underway

The NZ Herald reports that the rail upgrade work taking place over the next couple of weeks – which will involve significant improvements to big chunks of the network in preparation for electrification – has swung into action:

About 200 rail workers threw themselves into a hectic summer construction programme throughout Auckland yesterday, including erecting the first of 3500 power supply masts for the $1 billion electrification project.

Several masts were erected through the Newmarket railway junction and above a new platform being built at the Baldwin Avenue station on the western line, as work began elsewhere around the region demolishing bridges and lowering tracks to create enough head-room for electrification.

I went to the cricket match at Eden Park yesterday and there were a number of KiwiRail staff around Morningside Station doing upgrade works.

Although five bridges are being replaced between Papatoetoe and Papakura and the 800m Purewa railway tunnel is being lowered this summer, Mr French he said the premier job of the season was probably the re-signalling around Quay Park.

That is needed to ensure trial runs of “bi-directional” Rugby World Cup rail operations can take place early in the New Year, in which trains will run in the same direction on both sets of tracks from Kingsland Station.

The first such trial is due on February 19 for a rugby clash between the Auckland Blues and Canterbury Crusaders at the opening of the Super 15 season at Eden Park.

I would agree that the signalling work at Quay Park is the most interesting and useful part of the upgrade works that will happen over this break. Not only will it allow bi-directional running of trains for one-off events like matches at Eden Park, it will also enable Britomart to handle a few more trains at peak times. That should it won’t be too long before we can have 10 minute peak frequencies on the Western Line.

I’ll try to get out and about – particularly around Baldwin Ave station – over the next week and a bit to take some photos of what’s happening.