Rail Safety and Level Crossings

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.

Level Crossing and Track Casualities

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.

Auckland Rail Crossings

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.

Auckland Rail Crossings - impact of frequencies

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

Newmarket Crossing May 2015

Newmarket Crossing Cross Section

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.

 

Do we have enough trains – part 2

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.

Full EMU

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.

Do we have enough trains?

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).

carriage-allocation

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.

Train Capacity 2

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.

And

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.

Getting to an all electric network

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.

AT-ARTA-Image-TrainsAtBritomart

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.

EMUs at the Depot

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.

Auckland Rail Patronage 1990-2015

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.

EMU + Rail improvement action plan 1 - Jun - Sep

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.

Auckland vs Perth Patronage - 2015

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.

Rail Faults and Level Crossings

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).

Signal failures:

  • 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.

Auckland Rail Network Points Faults

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

AKL + WLG Rail Network Faults

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

AKL Level Crossing Incidents

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.

All Electric from July 20

A few weeks ago in a post about dwell times I mentioned that from July 20 all services all lines will be operated by electric trains (with the exception of the Papakura to Pukekohe shuttle). Regular rail users may have started to see advertising appear on platforms announcing the change and as part of that there are also new timetables with tweaks made to all lines – the Eastern line is almost completely unaffected.

The new timetables can be found here

Just having a quick look through them I’ve noticed a few things worth to noting:

Western Line

It seems that all Britomart bound weekday trains leave about 1 minute earlier than the current timetable. Swanson bound trains are mostly the same with a few exceptions.

In April AT increased the overall journey time to Britomart by three minutes. They’ve now shaved one minute off that. Let’s hope with the other improvements they’ve highlighted as coming over the next six months or so that can come down much further.

There has been a change to the timing on parts of the timetable. Most noticeable is that is an extra minute at Newmarket station for the driver to walk the length of the platform – although this comes from less time allocated between Grafton and Newmarket.

As has long been heralded, the introduction of an all-electric fleet will see trains no longer stop at Waitakere. Interestingly AT have decided to leave Waitakere in the timetable but shown as a bus replacement. I wonder if this is just a transitional thing until the next timetable change. On the change AT say

Electric trains will end at Swanson on the Western Line. A connecting bus service (route 139) will operate between Waitakere and Swanson departing from:

Waitakere

  • Bus stop on Township Rd outside Waitakere Station

Swanson

  • Bus stop in the Swanson Station car park

There doesn’t appear to be any changes to frequency or how late the trains run.

Southern Line

As mentioned the Southern Line changes see the introduction of a diesel shuttle between Papakura and Pukekohe – this is something that already occurs on weekends. Britomart bound there appears to be either a four or nine minute window to transfer services. Assuming trains are on time then in the evening peak those heading toward Pukekohe have a roughly a 7 minute window to transfer.

July - 15 timetable Puke Shuttle

The departure times and running times from Papakura and Britomart seem unchanged.

Onehunga Line

Departure times from Onehunga on weekdays are all three minutes earlier while running times in this direction have been reduced by one minute.

There appears to be no change for departure or running times for trains from Britomart to Onehunga.

While most of the changes are fairly minor – the tweaking of times suggests this could be about improving when trains reach various junctions – the timetable change is significant as with the changes to Waitakere and Pukekohe it likely represent the final structure of the rail network until City Rail Link is built. That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t see more improvements though. We know that improvements to frequencies need to come with the roll out of the new bus network and of course Western line desperately needs to move to 10 minute peak frequencies.

Further, the completed roll-out of the electric trains removes one of the major issues AT have mentioned – running a mixed fleet – this means they should be able to focusing on the long list of changes they’ve identified to improve the reliability and speed of services over the coming year – the next few months are shown below but head to the link for the next year.

EMU + Rail improvement action plan 1 - Jun - Sep

Just what happens to the old diesel trains remains to be seen. The AT board report says some have already been retired and sent to Taumaurunui for storage – presumably until AT can find someone to buy them. Si if anyone wants a nostalgia trip on the old diesels I’d suggest you do so quickly, they have less than two weeks left before being retired from service.

More on the National Land Transport Programme

Last week the latest iteration of the National Land Transport Programme was announced. This is largely a business as usual plan, dominated by the big spend on a few massive state highways projects. However there are a few things to be celebrated, especially for cycling, and even more in the language and thinking in the supporting documents. This was repeated at the launch too, especially in the words of NZTA CEO and AT Board representative Geoff Dangerfield, and NZTA Auckland/Northland Regional Director Ernst Zöllner.

BRITOMART JULY 15_3344

The high level aims are all strong and commendable. The focus on ‘economic growth and productivity, safety, and value for money’ are incontestably valuable. If they were to add ‘resilience, energy security, and environmental performance’  it would probably be a perfect list. But of course this is really set by the Government Policy Statement.

Dangerfield was his usual clear and persuasive self, setting a high level context and skilfully bating away questions. Zöllner was particularly articulate about both the dynamic nature of the situation in Auckland and the unformed quality of Auckland’s PT networks; especially the incomplete nature of the core Rapid Transit Network. Both noted the strong growth of PT ridership numbers, which will see a rise in the PT opex spend.

Here’s what the agency says about the Transit and Active modes, in the Providing Transport Choices document:

NZTA The role of PT.
And
NZTA Economic Growth through PT

All incontestable good sense, and exactly the sort of points regular readers here would recognise, especially the emphasis on the value of the high quality own-right-of-way Congestion Free networks of rail and dedicated busways.

People using public transport on high-quality public transport services with a dedicated right of way, like the Auckland Northern Busway or metropolitan rail networks, can now enjoy fast, efficient journeys on comfortable modern buses and electric trains, while freeing up road space for other people and freight.

There remains, however, some considerable daylight between this analysis and the actual projects being funded. This is especially the case with the comparatively tiny sum of $176m for Public Transport Capital Works in Auckland out of a total $4.2 billion spend over the three year period in the region [~4%] and $13.9 billion nationally. This sum [half of which is from the Council’s Transport Levy] will bring much vital kit, like the Otahuhu, Manukau City, and Te Atatu bus interchanges. But is a long way from fixing those big gaps in the RTN network. In response to my questions on this they quite reasonably countered that some funding for bus capex is in other budgets, notably under the AMETI programme, as part of the North Western massive highway works, and the Northern Busway extensions.

However the two Busway sums do not result in the construction of even one metre of additional RTN. For the Northern Busway the previous minister deleted construction of the proposed extension from the accelerated motorway package [a loan to be met from future NLTF], so all we are left with is ‘future proofing’ and no one can ride on a busway that has only been future proofed for. On the Northwestern we do get the improvement of bus shoulder lanes and a station at Te Atatu; but no RTN. AMETI is the best of the bunch, but that’s only if the proposed BRT does happen instead of the place-ruining flyover that appeals more to some entitled voices there.

Then we come to the great problem that the National Land Transport Fund is barred from investing in rail infrastructure yet Auckland is now showing the huge value of using this separate network for moving increasing numbers of people completely outside of traffic congestion. And some RTN routes are clearly best served by rail. Just as well the Council has the courage to just get on with the CRL first stage by itself so at least this vital gap at the heart of the RTN is getting a start.

The case for near term investment in PT and especially for completing the RTN can be summarised thus:

  • current demand growth of 20+% on Auckland’s Rapid Transit Network,
  • the RTN is showing improved operating cost effectiveness as it grows,
  • the strongly voiced value the agency sees in quality PT networks especially their positive effects on traffic congestion and economic growth,
  • the well known relationship between what is invested in and what then grows in use plus the positive externalities of increased PT use,
  • and the observed sub-optimal nature of the city’s current PT networks in both quality and extent, ie the clear opportunities for improvement.
So despite the good work being undertaken by many in all our transport agencies: NZTA, AT, and MoT, there seem to be structural problems that are leading to important opportunities being missed in our only city of scale. It is this context that I wrote to NZTA Auckland and Northland Director Ernst Zöllner with concerns about two specific projects that embody these issues. As this post is already quite long I will run the letter tomorrow morning in a follow-up post…

Airport Transport Plans

Following up last week’s Mangere/Airport RTN post, reader Martin B pointed to this recent AIAL Masterplan: pdf.

Airport terminal

Here are the key Landside Transport pages:

Airport Transport

Map of the future precinct; white dotted lines indicate the rail line and the white rectangle the station:

Airport Masterplan

Good to see both northern and eastern routes are being planned for, however they are completely missing a trick by not taking the station right into the Terminal building (04). We know that AIAL are planning for the line to be cut and cover through their property so why not take it all the way to under the yet-to-be-built Terminal building? Seems pointless to insist that rail users stop just short enough from their destination to have to drag bags across a couple of roads. Interestingly this places the station with the proposed massive new parking buildings.

I have used trains to get to airports all over the world and by far the best have stations fully integrated into the terminals. Given this is a completely new integrated domestic and international terminal building surely it wouldn’t be difficult to future proof for this. Especially as they are claiming they are to reduce congestion while providing 20 000 carparks. The RTN route and service will need to be as good as possible to make sure it attracts as many users as possible to help keep those approach and local roads flowing.

After all, isn’t the plan for a streamlined seamless experience?

What’s being done to fix rail reliability and speed

Last week I wrote about the issue of dwell times on the new electric trains and how they combined with other factors mean the EMUs that are meant to be much faster are have instead actually ended up being slower. Rail users will also be acutely aware that the performance of trains has been appalling in recent months – on that it’s been reported that while the withdrawal of the old diesel trains will remove one of the causes of unreliability, the new trains are having teething problems and will need 6-12 months of bedding in.

That very same afternoon as my dwell time post the AT board papers were published online and an attachment at the end of the business report deals directly with the issue of train/rail performance by showing what is planned to improve it over the next year. The initiatives are broken down by month and in to four key categories – Operations, ETCS (the signalling system), Rail Infrastructure and EMU Reliability Plan.

All the initiatives are shown in the images below – although they can be hard to read so click to enlarge or open the AT report (1.03MB) and scroll to the last three pages – however here are the things that most stood out to me.

  • A range of fixes for the new trains over the next few months which should improve their reliability.
  • Improvements to signalling could provide significant savings including
    • potentially 30 seconds per train from addressing how the signalling system deals with level crossings (from August)
    • faster line speeds on the Onehunga line saving 15 seconds (September)
    • faster line speeds on Southern Line to Penrose saving 20-25 seconds (September)
    • faster speeds around the curves behind Vector Arena saving up to 30 seconds per train (October)
    • faster speeds on the curves on the rest of the network, this most affects the western line where savings could be 15-30 seconds (November)
    • additional balise to speed up dwell times at some stations and improve timekeeping between Britomart and Newmarket
  • Reviewing door opening and closing procedures to reduce dwell times (September), prior to that they are considering having doors opened and closed automatically at peak times.
  • Changes to rules for drivers which could save 20 seconds per train (October)
  • Hiring platform supervisors for Newmarket to improve punctuality (November) and extra drivers to reduce the need for some drivers to change ends on Western Line trains saving up to 2 minutes (December)
  • Closing Westfield Station saving 2 minutes per train
  • A new timetable in May next year that will provide a minimum of 15 minute frequencies between 7am and 7pm, 7 days per week. This will be to tie in with the roll out of the new bus network in South Auckland.
  • New platforms at Henderson and Otahuhu to be able to turn back trains running late – this may be good for train operations but not necessarily good for passengers if you’re travelling to a station past Henderson or Otahuhu.

EMU + Rail improvement action plan 1 - Jun - Sep

EMU + Rail improvement action plan 2 - Oct - Jan

EMU + Rail improvement action plan 3 - Feb - Jun

It’s nice to finally see laid out just what is planned to be done to improve services for customers both in terms of reliability and journey times as many of the issues listed are ones that have been raised numerous times already. It seems that for the Western line in particular the combined time savings could stack up to be a decent amount

While I understand many of the specifics won’t be known until the initiatives are rolled out, perhaps AT could try and pre-empt customer any frustration from slower trains by publishing some of the key points from the document above in a general public focused way on their website and at stations around the network.

Mangere/Airport Rail 2.0

Below is AT’s proposed post CRL rail running pattern. Quite complicated, with some peak only services and an infrequent 3tph [trains per hour] Henderson-Grafton-Otahuhu crosstown service. One feature of this design is that the 6 tph Swanson-CRL-Onehunga service [core Western line service] has every second train stopping at Newmarket, so it becomes 3tph from there to Onehunga. This is because the branch line from Penrose to Onehunga isn’t able to take any higher frequency, but also because there probably won’t be the demand on this little line to balance that of the whole of the western line, unless it is to be extended. And at 12tph there is plenty of action south of Newmarket- a train every 5 minutes each way.

Post CRL running pattern

Another notable feature is just how important Otahuhu is becoming. It’ll have 18tph both directions at the peaks; a train every few minutes each way [correction: actually 21 tph in the peak direction]. A frequency only matched by the Centre-City underground CRL stations. So it will be a great place to connect; that frequency kills wait times and connection anxiety, but also it offers a one-seat ride to everywhere on the network bar the last three Western Line stations and, unlike Newmarket, there is space for an expanded track layout for all these train movements [plus dedicated freight lines]. Add the fact that as you read this, thanks to the Council’s Transport Levy, a bus interchange station is being built there too, it’s becoming a real busy hub.

So picture this; How about adding the heart of Mangere and the Airport to the list of direct Otahuhu rail connections?

MANGERE-AIRPORT LINE

The Line

Here’s how it could go, there are a couple of options at the northern end, but otherwise around 9km of track over flat terrain pretty direct to the Airport. And, importantly some very good points along the way to serve the local community and add catchment to the service. On the map above I am proposing new stations at:

Robertson Rd

Mangere Town Centre/Bader Drive

Montgomerie Rd

Airport Terminals

The first two are close together but serve communities separated by SH20, and both are on good perpendicular bus and bike routes to expand that catchment. Mongomerie is also at a junction for good bus connection and is in the middle of the growing employment area north of the Airport. So residential, employment, and the community, education, and retail of the Mangere Town Centre too. Importantly this would act as a way to reconnect the community flung apart by the motorway severance. More on local impacts below.

Otahuhu is 25 minutes from Britomart, a number that should come down when AT and their operator sort out their currently overlong dwell times, and would be around 10 or so minutes from the Airport Terminals. 35mins from the heart of the city? Even cabinet ministers from the provinces would see the point of that congestion free journey when [say] going to meet us at the Ministry of Transport or NZTA in the city. But also such a fast and direct service would make taking it by connection from the North Shore viable, improving options for what is currently an expensive and congestion prone journey by any mode.

And in terms of running pattern it’s already sorted: send all 6tph of the western line on to through the CRL, Otahuhu, Mangere and the Airport. An immediate 10min all day frequency, through the busy Ellerslie and Newmarket hubs, direct to Remuera and Parnell, all the city CRL stations and every point on the Western line. Easy transfer at Otahuhu for every other station and connection point on the network. Uber to any station on the network with your bags, and you’re on your way in comfort and at speed right to the Terminal, and out of the vagaries of Auckland traffic and cost and hassle of parking. Personally I would prefer that transfer to the one people make now in their thousands at Airport Park’n’Rides.

Or if it’s preferred the 3tph currently intended to stop at Newmarket plus the 3tph of the crosstown service on from Otahuhu to make up the frequency. That looks overly fiddly and illegible to me, but that’s not important for this argument; the point is that Otahuhu in fact looks like a better point to connect Mangere and the Airport to the rest of the city than Onehunga, for both speed of service, and onward connections. And the added bonus of improving network efficiency by simply extending existing services.

Local Community

Of course the route is not free. the section between the SH20 interchange and Otahuhu station goes down a highway designation that NZTA still probably want and that the locals recently fought to keep as it is. Here:

Mangere Central

It is possible that the local community, if treated fairly and with respect, may see the advantages for them in having to this line in their midst. It is substantially different from a highway in terms of width, noise, pollution and benefit. The current residents would need to be rehoused to their advantage and the line would have to come with high quality and numerous crossing points and increased community access to the new stations and other destinations. It could be a catalyst for a whole lot of improvements in the area. But I can’t speak for them.

Otherwise it just faces the same route issues that the one sourced from Onehunga has. The refusal by previous decision makers, especially Manukau City Council, but also NZTA, and ARTA, to future proof adequately in their plans here means more expensive elevated solutions will be required over SH20A. However we are assured that the current Kirkbride Rd works allow for that and that the Airport company is similarly preparing for such a line. Otherwise it doesn’t look to face any unusual engineering challenge. Only the standard political and financial ones.

Interestingly here is report by BECA for ARTA from 2008 that features this route, with exactly the same station placements [can’t be too illogical then]. That found that Route 2B, as they called it, scored well:

BECA @B

BECA Airport Rail

But the report is complicated by the inclusion of the Avondale-Westfield line. One I never seen the point of in passenger terms and can not picture an efficient rail running pattern for, and that is only there because of an ancient freight designation. Also I find it odd that the report doesn’t analyse routes it terms of how services would use them.

Avondale-Onehunga-Penrose, and further, looks like it could be a more useful Light Rail service, once AT have their ‘four finger’ routes all ending along this line. The rest of the report is very dated and I’m sure would use very different ridership projections now.

I am confident about the utility and therefore the appeal of such a fast and direct line for Airport customers and employees, especially with such good onward connections and a turn up and go frequency. So long as the Sydney pitfall of putting a punitive fare on the Airport Station is not applied. Add the local residential, employment, and student catchments and bus connections, and this looks like a strong option without either the slow winding route from Onehunga, or the cost of crossing the Mangere inlet.

There is still the problem of the conditions that the Airport company are demanding; in particular a more expensive undergound route to future proof for a second runway to the north and to keep it out of the way of their new terminal plans. However AIAL also predict huge rises in passenger and associated business volumes at and around the Airport which means that they are going to find other more valuable uses for land than just car parking. And, despite the heroic showering of money on State Highways if this growth is still to only be served by single occupant vehicles and buses stuck with them then these roads and the local ones in the area are not going to work. A really effective Rapid Transit route and service is only going to be needed here with increasing urgency, and nothing will give the capacity and time competitiveness like hooking into the existing rail network that is already much of the way there.

Yes the capital investment will not be minor, but the outcome is both a permanent and extremely valuable for both the city’s efficiency and resilience. It will also add efficiency to the operations of the rail network, increasing utility and cost effectiveness by working those existing assets harder. The always senseless claim that ‘Aucklanders won’t use rail’ or other forms of public transport, has been proven wrong beyond any doubt since recent improvements and booming ridership numbers.  It really is time for certain groups to drop their blinkered knee-jerk rejection of this mode, as it is based on historic conditions and experiences that no longer apply in the new Auckland, and as it really is the best tool for this important job.

Like the Rail Network the Airport appears to be on a trajectory for 20mil passenger movements a year by 2020: It is long overdue that we get these two critical systems linked together for their- and the city and nation’s- mutual benefit.

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