This is AT’s official future vision for the Rapid Transit Network in Auckland. I feel the need to show this again in the context of a number of uninformed views about the CRL popping up again, as one of the chief misunderstandings is to treat the City Rail Link as a single route outside of the network it serves.
All successful transport systems are designed through network thinking and not just as a bunch of individual routes, this is true of our existing and extensive motorway network just as it is true for our rapidly growing Rapid Transit one. The Waterview tunnel is not being built just so people can drive from Mt Roskill to Pt Chev, and nor is the CRL just to connect Mt Eden to downtown.
The CRL is but one project on the way to a whole city-wide network, as is clearly shown below, and as such it doesn’t do everything on its own.
But then having said that because it is at the heart of the current and future city-wide network it is the most crucial and valuable point of the whole system. That is true today and will continue to true for as long as there is a city on this Isthmus. In fact it is hard to overstate the value of the CRL as by through-routing the current rail system it is as if it gives Auckland a full 100km Metro system for the cost of a pair of 3.4km tunnels and a couple of stations. This is simply the best bargain going in infrastructure in probably any city of Auckland’s size anywhere in the world and is certainly the best value transport project of scale in New Zealand. Because it is transformational* for the city and complementary to all our existing systems, especially the near complete urban motorway network.
Additionally the capacity it adds to the region’s whole travel supply is immense: taking up to 48 trains an hour this can move the equivalent of 12 motorway lanes of car traffic. All without flattening any place nor need to park or circulate those vehicles on local roads and streets. And all powered by our own renewably generated electricity. This is how the city grows both in scale and quality without also growing traffic congestion.
This map will evolve over time as each addition is examined in detail. For example I expect the cost-effectiveness and efficiency a rail system over the harbour, up the busway and to Takapuna to become increasingly apparent well before this time period. In fact as the next harbour crossing, so we are likely to see that in the next decade, otherwise this is that pattern that both the physical and social geography of Auckland calls for. Additionally Light Rail on high quality right-of-ways, although not true Rapid Transit, will also likely be added in the near term.
Welcome to Auckland: City.
* = transformational because it substantially changes not only our movement options, the quality of accessibility between places throughout the city and without the use of a car, but also Auckland’s very idea of itself; we have not been a Metro city before: It is doing things differently.
Matt suggested adding this more recent version. I agree this is a good idea, it shows just how quickly ideas are changing in Auckland right now. This is a very fluid and exciting time for the city as the new possibilities are becoming acknowledged by all sorts of significant players. It remains my view that extending our existing rail system is better for Mangere and the Airport, but that taking AT’s proposed LR across the harbour in its own new crossing is a really good option:
And just this morning we get wind of these very big changes for those making plans for Auckland. It looks like the funding roadblocks [pun intended] for the necessary urban infrastructure that the growing and shifting Auckland needs may be melting away….?
Auckland Transport have announced that construction will start next year on an upgrade to the Pukekohe Station, turning it into an interchange with the buses that will serve the area.
Construction will begin in the first half of 2016 on the upgrade of Pukekohe Station to a new bus-train interchange.
The project, being delivered in partnership with the NZ Transport Agency, is expected to cost about $13 million.
The upgrade will feature a park and ride for about 80 vehicles, a six-bay bus interchange, cycle parking, a covered walkway and a new canopied pedestrian over-bridge linking buses to trains. Auckland Transport is about to begin work on detailed design.
The new bus-train interchange is at the heart of the new public transport network to be rolled out across Pukekohe and Waiuku by October 2016. New bus services, operating every 30 minutes, seven days a week from 7am to 7pm, will connect to trains at the interchange.
Temporary bus stops will be in place during construction to allow the new network to operate smoothly until the interchange is completed in mid-2017.
The new public transport network is designed to maximise the efficiency of the entire public transport network between buses and trains and provide more frequent journeys to get around south Auckland and the rest of the region.
Franklin Local Board Chair, Andy Baker, welcomes the proposed changes to Pukekohe Station.
“We all know about the pressures of growth in the wider Pukekohe area and the challenges we currently have with our rail based public transport.
“The upgrade of Pukekohe station is incredibly important as we try to make travelling by rail more attractive to people and this is actually something that we can control.
“Creating the ability for people to transfer between buses and trains, together with the improved bus networks in Pukekohe will hopefully reduce the need for people to park their cars in and around the station.
“Similarly, we want to really promote the use of bicycles to get to and from the station, especially with Pukekohe being a relatively flat and easy place to bike around. I am keen to see additional things like a coffee cart or café at the station and a reflection of our history there as well.”
Councillor Bill Cashmore says it’s great that improvements are on the way for Pukekohe commuters.
“It’s a huge growth area and I’m pleased to see we are finally getting a transport interchange that will be able to cope with the increased demand.”
Auckland Transport Project Director, Nick Seymour, says the new interchange will make it easy to use the new bus services being introduced with the new Pukekohe public transport network.
“Pukekohe Station will be at the heart of the area’s new public transport network, so one of our priorities is to provide a modern and accessible interchange that connects commuters both locally and to the wider region.”
Key features are likely to include:
- A six-bay bus interchange
- A covered walkway between the new bus stops and station over-bridge
- A new canopied pedestrian over-bridge, linking the buses with the rail platform and Station Road with stairs and lifts thereby making it more accessible
- A park and ride facility for approximately 80 vehicles
- Cycle parking facilities
- Plans to provide public toilets within the interchange area
- Improved pathways leading to the interchange
- Improvements to the Manukau Road and Custom Street and Harris Street intersections to aid bus movements.
A public information day has been organised on 14 October 2015 at Pukekohe Station from 5 to 7 pm for members of the public to speak with the project team and get their questions answered.
Auckland Transport will also be engaging with mana whenua, Franklin Historical Society and the Franklin Local Board to identify possible opportunities to incorporate cultural and historical connections into the design.
Here is the confirmed bus routes that will serve the Pukekohe area
Now if we could also get some wires strung up between Puke and Papakura along with some additional trains to run on the tracks that would make things even better.
A presentation by Kiwirail (from page 41) to the Auckland Council Infrastructure Committee provides some interesting insight into the future of the Auckland Rail Network. Unfortunately the council don’t record the infrastructure committee and put it on online so we can’t see exactly what was said by the CEO of Kiwirail but the presentation which has been uploaded to the council website does give an indication.
For the most of the presentation the slides appear to be a fairly typical business presentation talking about how they’re performing and supposedly changing their business to be more customer centric. The most interesting parts are the last four slides which highlight that there’s a lot more to do to improve the rail network than just the City Rail Link. The first of these is below and gives an indication of what needs to be addressed.
Auckland strategic issues & opportunities
- 23% pa Metro Growth
- Freight growth into Auckland
- Port of Tauranga
- Ports of Auckland
- Network Resilience
- Funding Shortfalls – DART perception/reality
- Integrated land transport planning (AT/NZTA/KR)
The remaining slides show how the network needs to be operating within the next year or two, how it will need to be working in the future and finally how an indication of specific pieces of work needed to realise the vision along with some cost indications.
For the short term it appears the need is to get the Western Line up to 10 minute frequencies, improve network performance and get more freight trains through South Auckland. On the latter point it the image suggests at least two freight trains an hour in each direction at peaks south of Otahuhu.
Moving forward to the future and by 2041 you can see a lot more trains will be on the network thanks to the City Rail Link. At peak times there would be 18 trains an hour on the Western Line in the peak direction plus 12 an hour on both the Southern and Eastern lines. There are also more trains on the Onehunga Line and more freight trains along with higher performance requirements. In a way this highlights one of the biggest benefits of the CRL, it allows us to get a lot more use out of our existing rail corridor. I personally remain disappointed they don’t plan on increasing frequencies past Henderson and I still feel like AT are trying to complicate the future train plan too much, especially with the Henderson to Otahuhu trains.
The most interesting slide – to me at least – is the last one showing a whole range of projects needed to get the network up to spec. It suggests that prior to the CRL opening around $400 million is needed not including level crossings or the Onehunga line which will be for some of the items on the list here plus I suspect a lot of catch up maintenance that still hasn’t happened yet. As you can see some of the urgent items include:
- More cross overs,
- more signals
- Infill balises (transmits the signals to the train)
- Getting freight trains using the new signalling system
- Level crossing closures
- 3rd main between Westfield and Wiri
Some of the more interesting items I can see include:
- What appears to be three different options for getting 6 car trains to Onehunga – extending the current platform, reconfiguring the station or a new platform at Neilson St.
- Changes to the eastern end of Britomart – getting more trains through Quay Park perhaps
- Extending the third main all the way to Pukekohe.
- A new Mt Smart station – this seems odd giving the close proximity to Penrose.
- Shifting the long distance services back to the Strand – surely this will not be good for the usage of them.
- Different options for reconfiguring Henderson station.
- A grade separated Westfield Interchange
- An upgrade to the junction at Newmarket
To me the considerable amount of work still needed to get the rail network up to speed is reflection of the level of neglect the network suffered from for decades.
Interestingly I suspect related to all of this, a week ago Auckland Transport posted this on their tender website although it has now disappeared.
This RFI sets out to identify a company or individuals who will be able to best provide AT with rail infrastructure design and constructability knowledge, for on-going commissions on the Auckland rail network.
Auckland Transport requires a Rail / Track geometrics, signalling and overhead line design and rail constructability consultant with at least 20 years experience in the provision of design and constructability services within a live operating environment. New Zealand experience is preferred with an intimate knowledge of the Auckland network an advantage. Experience working with KiwiRail is necessary.
This capability will be drawn upon on a regular basis to provide design and constructability services for modifications to the Auckland rail network such as:
- New stations and Park & Rides
- Grade separations
- Modifications to stations
- Level crossing upgrades
- Additional stabling facilities
- Additional mainlines for freight
- Extensions to electrification
- Signalling Modifications
- Track realignments
As you can see there’s a lot more than just the CRL to do to the Rail network.
The Sydney city centre is fantastic. It’s vibrant, varied, exciting:
And, like all successful cities, full of people. So how do they all get there? Of course some are there already, the City of Sydney has some 200,00 residents, but many journey in each day from the suburbs.
The streets are full of traffic, most are not like the part of Pitt St shown above, where pedestrians have priority:
The Bridge is full of traffic:
And there’s a couple of road only tunnels that were added next to the bridge, the Eastern Distributor, the Anzac Bridge, and many other roads in, so in just one of the AM peak hours 25,000 people drive into, or through, the Centre City on a weekday morning.
But that’s nothing. It’s only 14% of the total, just over twice the number that walk or cycle [source]:
80% arrive on Public Transport. Over 100,000 in that one hour on trains [2011/12]. Because they can.
They would have to, it would be spatially impossible to have such a vibrant city centre if any more than a small number accessed it by private car. There would no space for anything but roads and parking if they tried. No space for the city itself, nor for quiet places away from the hustle:
So while Sydney streets feel very busy with cars, and they certainly have priority to almost all of them, they aren’t actually as central to the the functioning of the city as they appear. There’s just is no way Sydney would be the successful, dynamic, and beautiful city it is without the investment in every other means of getting people to and through the city. Especially high capacity, spatially efficient, underground rail. And nor would the streets be able to function at all if more were forced to drive because of the absence of quality alternatives.
And more is coming too. Next month a second much bigger Light Rail project begins to add to the current one, and a new Metro line with new harbour tunnels is also underway. Driving numbers will likely stay steady into the future, but the city will only grow through the other systems. City streets are vital for delivery and emergency vehicles, but really successful city cities don’t clog them up with private cars to bring in the most essential urban component; people. That’s just not how cities work; even though that may be the impression given by the sight of bumper to bumper traffic on city streets.
And successful cities always appear congested; the footpaths are busy, the stations are crowded, and the traffic is full. Because they are alive and attractive for employment, commerce, entertainment, habitation; in short; urban life. This is the ‘seductive congestion’ of successful urban economies. To focus on reducing traffic congestion without sufficient investment in alternatives for people movement is to misunderstand what a city is and how they work. Sydney is not perfect, but it has a thriving and vibrant, properly urban centre built on properly urban movement infrastructure.
All else there stands on the quality of this investment.
Is Auckland getting ripped off when it comes to the cost of running rail services? Councillor Mike Lee has long thought so and has frequently raised the issue by way of comparing the costs of running the Auckland and Wellington rail networks – $125.6 million vs $85 million in the financial year to 30 June 2014. At that time rail patronage was also almost identical in each region. He has frequently blamed the way rail is set up saying:
A contributing factor may lay in the fact that in Wellington services are a matter between the Wellington Regional Council and KiwiRail. In contrast the Super City’s rail services management system is a complex, unwieldy ‘too many cooks’ arrangement of Transdev, KiwiRail, and of course Auckland Transport (AT) – which is demonstrably too expensive, inefficient, and allows too much room for dodging accountability.
Auckland Transport have looked at the differences in the past and come to the conclusion that the differences will largely iron out once electrification is finished however I don’t think Mike has ever been happy with that – and he seems to have an intense distrust of AT and Transdev in particular.
The Council’s Finance Committee tomorrow are presented with the outcome of that review which has found that when you account for the differences in the volume and nature of services provided, the costs aren’t all that different. Further it needs to be remembered that for FY14 Auckland had only had electric trains running on the Onehunga line for a few months. As such the efficiency of the Auckland network is only expected to improve – especially when combined with the growth in patronage expected. Here is what he found:
As mentioned above the costs in Auckland are much higher. The biggest single difference comes from labour costs – more on this soon – and train maintenance. The latter should have been reduced substantially with the arrival of the electrics.
So what causes the costs to be so much higher in Auckland. One major aspect is that there are considerable differences in both how many and how services are run. The report notes that in Auckland services are run stopping at all stations along the way. By comparison Wellington runs multiple short and long run service patterns on most of it’s lines. Boiling down the results they’ve been measured on the basis of how many full line services they equates to. Using that measure Auckland ran 2210 services per day while Wellington ran 1778. This highlights that one of the main reasons for the difference in cost is simply a difference in service provision.
Another factor identified was the level of dead running. Basically if services in Wellington terminate somewhere they can immediately go to a stabling yard nearby. In Auckland they often have a lot of travel some distance to get back to a stabling yard and all those trips add up to over 200,000 km per year. I suspect some of this has already been improved through the use of the newish stabling yard at the old railway station.
All up when adjusting for all of these factors the report says that the Auckland network is only approximately 7% more per hour to operate and that’s before taking into account the impact electrification will have.
On the other side of the ledger is the revenue from passengers. The report notes that the fare structures are fairly similar between the two cities however the average fares are quite different at $2.65 for Auckland vs $3.72 for Wellington. The main reason for the difference is that trips in Auckland are generally shorter. It had almost 1 million trips (9%) that were one or two stages while in Wellington the main lines of Kapiti and Hutt Valley most trips are a minimum of three stages due to the local geography and design of the system.
Overall it suggests that rail in Auckland isn’t as bad as the headlines often suggested which is good news
I’m sure this is a topic that will come up again and now the electrics are rolled out then for the future we should finally have more accurate figures to work with. One thing we do already know is that the subsidies are coming down with the subsidy per passenger km coming down.
This week is rail safety week – the week people are once again reminded not to do stupid stuff like cross the tracks when a train is coming. Sadly the need for it was highlighted once again last week after a man died after being hit by train at Walters Rd in Takanini. I believe it is the fifth death on the rail network in Auckland this year alone with other incidents occurring at Morningside, Orakei, Papatoetoe and Puhinui.
Rail Safety will be in the spotlight in August during Rail Safety Week in the Australasian-wide initiative to raise awareness about rail safety and encourage safe behaviour around trains and tracks. KiwiRail and TrackSAFE NZ are proud to support the week which runs from 10-16 August.
Every year there are hundreds of near misses between vehicles and trains – and every one of those is, in reality, a ‘near hit’. If you’d like to get involved you can find out more at http://www.tracksafe.co.nz/media/rail-safety-week
Rail Safety Week is an annual Australasian campaign which aims to increase awareness of the need for people to take care around the rail network. This is the 9th year the campaign has been run in New Zealand. Each year a number of stakeholder organisations come together to promote the key messages to target audiences and ensure the event is a success.
It aims to improve awareness of the need to be safe around the rail network, and what safe behaviour is. While Rail Safety Week is held from 10-16 August 2015, the goal is ongoing safer behaviour around the rail network.
This year’s key message is ‘Expect trains’. It aims to address complacency and distraction which are known factors that contribute to unsafe behaviour around the rail corridor. It will encourage people to stay alert around the rail network, whether at a station or a level crossing.
The chart below shows the number of casualties at level crossings or other places where people are on the tracks across the entire country for the 10 years to the end of 2014.
While it will be difficult to prevent every single incident, the one area we can easily target for improvement is at level crossings. Looking just at Auckland, within the electrified area there are around 45 crossings in total, 31 road/pedestrian crossings and 14 pedestrian only crossings – although some of these have multiple legs, for example at Papatoetoe. As you can see on the map below the majority are on the Western line with the rest are primarily along the short Onehunga Line with another cluster around Takanini.
As well as being a safety issue, crossings cause disruption for road users including creating localised congestion and while trains have priority through crossings, the extra signals and procedures needed for safety can impact on train operations. What’s more, the number of trains operated on the network is only going to increase in the future, initially as a result of electrification and later from the City Rail Link. As such removing level crossings has the ability to improve a number of areas in the transport network. So what’s happening with level crossings?
Auckland Transport have developed an evaluation criteria based on the approach Melbourne is using and with input from the NZTA, Kiwirail, Transdev and the Council. The have used this to assess all level crossings within the electrified area to determine the priority for removal or grade separation. This criteria includes looking at aspects such as how long the barriers will be down and safety risks. The highest priority crossing is Sarawia St which is the crossing that has the highest number of train movements through it in the country – more on that below. AT say that a number of crossings close together will need to be dealt with as packages. As such the crossings with high priority are:
- Southern NIMT – Walters Road, Manuroa Road, Taka Street, Spartan Road
- Western Line – Normanby Road, Porters Ave (within CRL footprint)
- Western Line – Morningside Drive
- Western Line – Woodward Road
- Western Line – St Jude Street, Chalmers Street, St Georges Road
- Western Line – Glenview Road
- Western Line – Bruce McLaren
As far as I’m aware this isn’t in any particular order and AT say more work is needed on each of them such as traffic modelling, design and costing as well as business cases. They also won’t say just what option – removal or grade separation – they’ve selected for each crossing as some will require property purchases – the extent of which won’t be known until more design work is done.
As an example of the work that’s already happened the table below shows the impact on some of the crossings from the proposed train frequencies with electrification. The western line crossings obviously assume having 10 trains an hour however it’s not clear just when that will happen yet – if at all. As you can see many of the crossings will end up being closed for more than 20% of the time with Sarawia St up to 62% of the time. The reason some crossings on the same line have different figures is because this takes into account not just frequency but also the service pattern. That’s because at some crossings the timetable means the trains will pass through in each direction at about the same time which can reduce the amount of time the barriers are down while at other crossings this won’t happen.
The one crossing that is being working on right now is Sarawia St – or the Newmarket Level Crossing as AT call it. There AT plan to build a bridge to connect Laxon Terrace with Cowie St. In the last board report, it said staff are looking to get approval from the board this month to lodge a notice of requirement for the project. This is likely to be fiercely opposed by some of the Cowie St residents who don’t like the idea.
AT’s proposal is for a two lane bridge that is narrowed via chicanes to keep speeds low
Outside of Newmarket there is nothing in council or AT plans for at least the next three years. After that the council’s Long Term Plan does list $26 million to improve crossings in the seven years after 2018 – although with most grade separated crossings likely to cost $5-$20 million that budget won’t go very far.
Late last week I asked the question of whether we have enough trains. The post has resulted in a lot of discussion however some of the answers I received from Auckland Transport left me asking more questions. In particular
CAF has committed to supplying 46 EMUs for weekday operations. That number is sufficient for 12 of the 34 train sets required to operate the timetable to be doubled as 6-car trains.
So I sought some clarification around why only supply of 46 EMUs. AT have now have now provided that clarification confirming that the 46 was just to implement the services we have now and an additional six sets will be available for service once the roll-out has been completed.
The 46 sets is what CAF has confirmed they can supply to daily service as at 20 July. This does not include two additional EMUs that are held on standby ready to inject into service operations to smooth service recovery following disruption. A further three EMUs are not available as they are waiting for replacement ETCS equipment which has long lead times. These are expected to be released for service over the next few weeks. Three EMUs are “maintenance spares” which allow CAF to take the trains out of service for lengthy periods for major maintenance.
Capacity will be increased from the three trains currently out of service plus the three to be delivered next week. Once the accelerated delivery schedule is complete and all 57 EMUs have been accepted into service, up to six existing 3-carriage trains could be increased to 6-carriage trains (based on the current timetable).
I guess only time will tell if the extra six trains will be enough to cover the capacity constraints at the peak and shoulder peak periods.
My 6-car train was pretty full last night
Note: the comments of first post contained a lot of discussion around buying extra carriages or bringing back the old diesels. There is no need to rehash those arguments again.
The new electric trains have by in large been a fantastic addition to Auckland. This is not to say that there haven’t been implementation issues however they are things that I expect Auckland Transport, Transdev, CAF and Kiwirail will iron out over time – though perhaps not as fast as we’d all hope for. One issue that is already emerging and that will be much harder to fix is the issue of whether we have enough capacity or more specifically did AT buy enough trains?
Auckland is getting 57 new three-car electric trains or 171 carriages. That is up from what was around 148 carriages with the old diesel fleet however as each carriage is also longer it equates to an overall capacity increase of something like 40% (sorry can’t remember the exact number).
A single three-car EMU is meant to have a total capacity on part with one of the four-car trains they’ve replaced. In addition there should be enough trains that a number run as six-car trains with a capacity that eclipses anything we had before.
However despite this increase in capacity it seems we’re still having a lot of issues with trains that are over full. This tends to be on the fringes of the peak. It’s something that’s come up on social media a few times such as yesterday where trains on both the Southern Line and Western Line were affected by trains so full, they left hundreds waiting for a following service.
There have been many more experiences like these in the last few weeks.
What’s more with the growth in patronage that’s been occurring and with what’s projected – from the fact they are better trains, that within a few years there will be the new bus network that will see a lot more people transferring to trains to complete journeys and with integrated fares – this will only become more and more common. Trains too full will put people off using them and that will affect the entire PT network.
I’m also aware that there are still a few more trains yet to enter the country, I imagine they could help a small amount – although AT are also meant to be increasing frequencies on the Western line to match those on the other main lines, six per hour.
With this in mind I put some questions to AT about capacity. Here’s the response I got
CAF has committed to supplying 46 EMUs for weekday operations. That number is sufficient for 12 of the 34 train sets required to operate the timetable to be doubled as 6-car trains. In determining where the 6-carriage trains would be best utilised, AT reviewed passenger demand profiles which show that in the morning passenger boardings and alightings peak 07:45am to 08:30am. Given this, and demand profiles observed from other sources the allocation to services of these 6-carriage trains was prioritised to those service scheduled to arrive at Britomart within this time band.
A 3-carriage EMU has slightly fewer seats than a 4-carriage SA train (234 seats on an EMU versus 250 seats on a 4-carriage SA), however an EMU is better equipped to cope with standees as passengers can move through the train rather than being “compartmentalised” in a single carriage. On the Western Line the planned capacity supplied during the peak hour under diesel operations (the four trains arriving at Britomart between 07:44am and 08:30am) was a 5-carriage SA train (312 seats) followed by three 6-carriage trains (384 seats each). These four services have been replaced by 6-carriage EMUs with seating capacity of 468 per train. The net result is that on the Western Line during the peak hour (four service arrivals at Britomart 07:44am to 08:30am) the EMU capacity has increased by 408 seats, or 28%, when compared to the planned capacity under diesel operations.
The two services either side of the peak hour were previously programmed with 4-carriage SA trains, which is more of less the equivalent to a single 3-carriage EMU. In periods of service disruption which results in delays or cancellations it is possible that the trains will not be operating in sequence as planned and a single EMU may turn up at about the time that a double EMU would normally operate. That will result in crowded conditions and may mean that some passengers may not be able to board. Over the next few weeks AT will be monitoring demand to determine the services that should be prioritised for 6-carriage trains once all 57 EMUs have been fully commissioned.
Unfortunately they didn’t answer about whether the final three sets due to arrive soon will be on top of the 46 mentioned above. There’s also no answer on where trains to increase frequency on the western line to six per hour – like promised would happen in 2010 – will come from. On that, I expect the answer is they won’t come from anywhere. Instead that AT will keep the western line frequency at the level it is now till after the CRL is built as it’s likely the works around Mt Eden will limit capacity during construction.
Could it be that the biggest risk to meeting the CRL targets is AT not buying enough trains to handle the demand and the disruption the CRL construction itself will cause. What is clear is we’ll need the CRL asap if we don’t want the rail network to cease up in the next few years.
Today marks the first time in Auckland that all train services on a normal weekday will be run by electric trains. While I’m sure there are bound to be more teething issues as a result, it represents a significant milestone in the progress towards a better and more balanced transport system for Auckland. However while I’m glad to see the back of the old diesels, without them we also wouldn’t be in the situation we are today. It’s clear that earlier investments in both the diesels and the network achieved enough patronage growth that they helped convince officials and politicians to agree to spend over $1 billion, to electrify the network and buy new trains. With that in mind, I thought I’d once again take a bit of a look at the history of the rail network and what led us to this point.
Up until recently, trains in Auckland were not that widely used, and could best be described as being in a fairly constant state of decay. That’s the result of a few things including:
- Up until the mid-1950’s most of the population was covered by trams, trains only served outlying areas.
- In 1930 the main train station was moved from where Britomart is now (but on the surface) to the now old Auckland Train station next to Vector Arena. That made trains an inconvenient mode for most.
- Despite repeated attempts over many decades to improve rail, nothing ever got off the ground and no real investment was put into the system.
- During the same time we put huge investment into the motorway network and making it easier to drive.
Due to the factors above – and likely others – patronage continued to decline. Usage of rail was so low that in the 1980’s serious consideration was put into ripping up the tracks alongside the southern motorway and turning them into more lanes. By the early 1990’s patronage was reached its lowest point, barely scraping above 1 million trips a year. However it was about this time that a turnaround started and it was all the result of one man and some amazing luck. You can read the full story here but the short version is:
He had been tasked with shutting the network down but after looking at the operation he worked out he was able to cut costs and start turning a profit and extend the contracts. At the same time Perth was just finishing electrifying their own rail network and had no use for their old diesel trains allowing most of them to be brought at scrap value for use in Auckland. The Diesel Multiple Units (DMUs) started plying the tracks in 1992. Within a few years patronage had doubled to over 2 million trips per year – higher than it was for most of the 1980’s and late 1970’s.
A DMU (left) and SA set (right) at Britomart
Things really kicked up a gear in 2003 when Britomart opened, once again returning trains back to the city. The growth in patronage was too much for the DMU’s to handle and so from 2004 the first of the SA sets started arriving. These are the refurbished carriages – originally from the UK – that are hauled by freight locomotives and which became such a common sight on the rail network in Auckland. In total over 100 carriages were refurbished over a five year period.
Both the DMUs and SA sets represented a big step forward compared to what had existed before and growth continued as more services kept being added. In 2006 this was further boosted by the government agreeing on Project DART (Developing Auckland’s Rail Transport Network) which saw the double tracking of the Western Line as well as station upgrades such as Newmarket and New Lynn, the reopening of the Onehunga line and the building of a new line to Manukau. Impressively despite frequent and often massive disruption as a result of the major works being undertaken, patronage continued to rise.
In 2010 after delaying electrification to re-evaluate it and cancel a planned regional fuel tax that would have paid for the trains, the current government agreed to fund electrification and give the council a loan to buy the new trains. This meant that from 2011 onwards the rail network continued to be plagued by significant disruption however despite this patronage kept rising. The only exception to this was in 2012/13 when the after-effect of two significant events kicked in at the same time. One was the boost that came from the Rugby World Cup (~400,000 trips) and the second was a change in the way patronage was counted as a result of the introduction of HOP. However since then patronage has once again risen again – more than making up the lost ground.
The plan was to buy 38 trains and then separately buy some electric locomotives to haul the SA sets around for another decade or so however in 2011 the government agreed it would be better and cheaper over the long term to buy an extra 19 trains and run a single uniform fleet – plus the SA sets couldn’t run through the future CRL for safety reasons. All of this meant we’re getting a total fleet of 57 trains.
The first Electric Train (EMU) arrived in August 2013 and entered service at the end of April 2014. They then slowly started to be rolled out to Manukau line services in August before being rolled out to all services in December. This year we’ve already started to see electric trains on some Southern and Western line services. While the full roll out to all lines has only been completed today the impact of the new electric trains has been extraordinary. For example in the 12 months to the end of May patronage on the Eastern Line is up a staggering 43.7%. As I understand it, of the 57 trains we ordered, all but the last few are in the country with the final ones arriving in August.
Photo by Patrick Reynolds
The chart below shows the history of rail patronage over the time-frame above including some of the significant events mentioned. Of note is it includes the 2014/15 result (to the end of June) which AT has confirmed to me as 13.9 million over the year. That’s up almost 22% over the 11.4 million trips to the end of June 2014. That level of growth puts us well on track towards the target the government have set for an earlier start date for the next major rail project – the CRL. Current estimates see that figure being passed in around 2017/18.
While the diesel trains have definitely served a purpose and helped improve rail use in Auckland. In the last eight months or so they’ve been increasingly unreliable as maintenance on them was reduced. At the same time there have been bedding in issues with the new EMUs. With a single fleet now it should mean that those involved in delivering train services in Auckland – AT, CAF, Kiwirail and Transdev – should be able to focus on addressing just one set of issues. At the end of June we learned of their action plan for the next year for this.
One of the most interesting aspects of the Auckland rail story is the links with Perth. Not only did we buy their old diesel trains but they’re often cited as a case study by officials thanks to the significant uptake in rail use thanks to electrification and new projects. At the time they went electric their system carried around 10 million passengers which is not too far off what our network was carrying when we first started running electric trains. It is hoped that we’ll emulate some of the success they’ve had – which has also come from building significant new lines. Here’s how patronage on the two networks look.
I believe that in a few years-time that electrification, just like with Britomart, will be one those projects we look back on and wonder why it took us so many decades to do, why politicians from all sides refused to believe it could work. Lastly I was in Britomart yesterday and it really is wonderful how quiet the station is now that we don’t have rattly old diesel trains in it. Thank you to everyone who has helped get us to this point.
p.s. next we need to get electrification extended to Pukekohe for a fully all electric network.
There can occasionally be interesting bits of information found within the written questions asked of government ministers and so I keep an eye on it from time to time. Going through them the other day I stumbled across a few questions that Green MP Julie Anne Genter had recently asked about the rail network. In particular about faults in Auckland and Wellington, and about level crossing incidents in Auckland.
On faults she asked about the number of point, signal and track faults (defined as rail breaks, buckles or pull-aparts) that had occurred each month for two years for each region and the results are surprising, especially in light of the answers to similar questions in the past.
In total for Auckland there were 544 faults in the 12 months to the end of June, almost identical to the year before which saw 548 faults. This is made up of 58 points faults, 460 signal faults and 26 track faults. The previous year saw 65 points faults, 462 signal faults and 21 track faults. The number of signal faults certainly seems very high considering that in the past we’ve had the following numbers in response to similar questions (the new system was rolled out from ~2011).
- Apr 07 – Jan 08 (10 months) 144
- Feb 08 – Jan 09 (12 months) 214
- Feb 09 – Jan 10 (12 months) 172
- Apr 11 – Mar 12 (12 months) 454
While the increase might be alarming at first I understand it’s actually a bit of an apples and oranges type situation. As I’ve been told the faults we see now are quite different to those experienced before the new system was introduced. In the past the faults could each cause significant disruption however now I understand they are mostly very minor and the result of what’s known as a dropped track – something that can be fixed remotely and with very little delay for trains.
What is good news is that points faults have reduced dramatically. The 58 over the last year compares very favourably with the old results below that were were around 4-5 times as high.
In Wellington the numbers for the most recent year were 80 points faults, 383 signal faults and 11 track faults with the year to June 2014 seeing 81 points faults, 554 signal faults and 27 track faults. As Wellington has a different signalling system I’m not sure if the same processes and impacts around faults apply.
Here’s a table showing all the numbers provided
As mentioned there was also information on level crossings. The data provided covers a 13 month period from 1 June 2014 to 30 June 2015.
7901 (2015). Julie Anne Genter to the Minister of Transport (30 Jun 2015): How many level crossing incidents, if any, have been reported by Auckland drivers per month from June 2014-2015, and at which crossings did these occur?
Hon Simon Bridges (Minister of Transport) replied: I am advised that there were 117 level crossing incidents reported to KiwiRail between 1st June 2014 and 30th June 2015 within the Auckland area (Pukekohe to Helensville); these records are only for designated crossings and do not include incidents involving trespassing. The definition of incident is in accordance with the Railways Act 2005 and National Rail System Standard 5: Occurrence Management. The list of crossings is attached
From what I can tell National Rail System Standard 5: Occurrence Management refers to collisions and near collisions. Below is the data provided where I’ve added totals for each crossing and colour coded it to highlight those with the highest number of incidents. As you can see the worst three crossings are
- Woodward Rd (this seems to be incorrectly labelled as a pedestrian crossing)
- Manuroa Rd
- Morningside Dr
The only crossings we know that are definitely planned to be removed are Sarawia St within the next 1-2 years and Normanby Rd and Porters Rd as part of the CRL.
As an aside, Simon Bridges and his office are clearly much more on to it in answering questions – his predecessors would often be weeks late before answering.