Post CRL Train Operations

Auckland Transport’s decision to not build Newton Station as part of the CRL project, instead upgrading Mt Eden, potentially has some impacts on future train operating patterns that are worth analysing and discussing further. Our preference for operating patterns, prior to the change, is shown in the Congestion Free Network map for 2020 – the immediate post-CRL period:


There are numerous small variations you could make to which lines link with other lines – should the western join with the southern instead of the eastern? Should the Onehunga Line go via Parnell instead of Grafton? Should Mt Roskill to Panmure be the “short runner”?

However, there are some pretty basic concepts here – most importantly that this is a Metro style operating pattern with our assumption being all trains stop at all stations and that we’ve tried to keep the patterns as simple as possible. For example, all trains on the inner part of the western line go straight into the CRL tunnel with journeys to Newmarket either being provided for by staying on the red line right around the city centre, or transferring services at Newton.

After seeing the response to the CRL changes on Friday we gave AT a bit of a push to publish just what their thinking was around how they would run trains after the CRL was built. To their credit they published it that afternoon.

At first glance the plan looks fairly simply however as I’ve looked at it more it’s raised a number of questions for me. These include

  • Do we really need a west-south service?
  • Can the Onehunga line cope with that number of trains?
  • Do we really need so much service between Newmarket and Penrose?
  • Can Newmarket cope with that number of trains?
  • How confusing will it be with the Red line doubling back on itself?
  • Does Manukau have enough service?
  • Does the Western Line past Henderson have enough service?
  • Does the Eastern Line have enough service?

Do we really need a west-south service?

So of course, not having Newton any longer – and having Mt Eden station removed from the “Grafton to K Road” direct rail connection, means that west to Newmarket trips which AT say currently make up about one third of western line trips would need to be provided for in one of four ways.

  1. Staying on the train right through the CRL and Parnell to Newmarket
  2. Changing trains at Karangahape Road from an inbound western line train to an outbound train travelling from the city to Grafton and Newmarket
  3. Providing a direct rail service from the west to Newmarket
  4. Running a shuttle between Mt Eden and Newmarket

Auckland Transport has seemingly chosen option 3 of the above, with their preferred train operating pattern showing a direct service between the west and Newmarket – then onto Otahuhu. This is the purple line on the map. At first glance the purple service seems potentially quite useful – providing that one seat ride from the west to Grafton and Newmarket, as well as recognising “not everyone wants to go to the city centre”. The question is though, “will the level of demand for the purple line be high enough to justify reasonable frequencies?”. And if not, for example if it is only run at three trains per hour, then it’s not good enough to expect people to just turn up and go and therefore won’t it be faster to just transfer at K Road?

It’s also worth remembering that just because 1/3rd of trips on the line are currently to Grafton/Newmarket, it’s not a massive number overall and won’t grow as much as trips to the city centre. I’d also point out that it doesn’t serve all West-Newmarket trips, my wife for example is now travelling to Grafton but as we catch the train from Sturges Rd it would still mean a transfer for her.

Other considerations include:

  • How many additional trains are necessary to operate the purple line and is there value for money from purchasing those trains solely for this line?
  • Are additional turnaround facilities required at Henderson and Otahuhu for these services, and how much will they cost?
  • How much will it actually cost to operate the purple line and how might that compare to say changing the New North Road buses so they directly serve Newmarket?

I don’t know the answer to these questions but they are ones that AT really need to answer.

I think my preference is to serve the west to Newmarket trips through a combination of transfers at K Road (which isn’t that much further out of the way than Newton would have been) and perhaps a Mt Eden to Newmarket shuttle. It still means a transfer but without the time penalty of going all the way to K Rd first.

The next three questions are all interconnected.

Can the Onehunga line cope with that number of trains?
Do we really need so much service between Newmarket and Penrose?
Can Newmarket cope with that number of trains?

It’s not clear from the announcement whether the Onehunga line is being duplicated. Based on discussions I’ve had I’m going to assume that because it’s not core to the CRL so it probably isn’t being done. We currently only run two trains per hour on the line however I understand that with a little work it’s likely we could run three trains per hour on it. Unless AT are planning worse frequencies than now it would mean some of the blue western line trains would have to terminate somewhere and the most likely place for that is at Newmarket. With both the red and purple lines travelling through the station would there really be enough capacity for that to happen. This is exasperated by the fact that a terminating train would have a period of layover longer than what Western Line trains currently do for the driver end change. It seems that if you do terminate trains at Newmarket you get capacity problems at the station but if you send them on down the line to terminate elsewhere the line south of Newmarket may have their own capacity constraints and you end up with the situation of it seeming like stations between Penrose and Newmarket would be serviced by many more trains than the stations on the CRL. With the exception of Ellerslie most of those stations don’t do that well for patronage despite the level of service they have.

How confusing will it be with the Red line doubling back on itself?

I realise we already kind of have this issue so perhaps it’s nothing to worry about but it just seems to me that having a line double back on it’s like this one does risks creating confusion, especially for those trying the system for the first time. Going by the current way we label services – which lists the final destination – it means a person at a station between Westfield and Puhinui wanting to go to the city would actually have to catch a train destined for Manukau or Papakura which seems a bit counter-intuitive.

On a slightly related note AT talking of closing Westfield and Te Mahia. I assume they’re on the map because the final decision hasn’t been made rather than because they’re necessarily staying.

Again another similar set of questions.

Does Manukau have enough service?
Does the Western Line past Henderson have enough service?
Does the Eastern Line have enough service?

While some lines have double ups that significantly boost capacity it seems that Manukau, the Eastern Line and the Outer Western Line miss out. Does this plan deliver enough capacity for those stations? Because we are now sticking with the same number of trains we will have by the end of next year/early 2016 that suggests they might not get more than the six trains per hour they will have post electrification. Bringing it back to the west-south service what if we provided those trips by one of the other methods suggested. Could we use them to boost frequencies on the lines mentioned that at this stage don’t seem to get any frequency benefit from the CRL. This situation would change when we order an additional batch of new trains – now scheduled for around 2025.

All up the plan does answer a number of questions but also creates a lot of questions.

Express vs All Stop Trains

There has been a bit of comment on the blog recently questioning how Auckland runs it’s rail system. In particular around the whether the city should be running express trains or not. In this post I’m going to look at some of the positives and negatives on both sides of the argument. I’m mainly going to be thinking about this from a post electrification point of view so just looking at the network between Swanson and Papakura.

The Auckland’s rail network seems like it’s at a funny size, it’s neither a metro type system made up of lines 10-15km in length but with the exception of Papakura and Pukekohe isn’t really a super long distance commuter network either. Instead it’s somewhere awkwardly in between and made worse particularly on the western line by close station spacing which can make trips quite slow. A trip to Swanson is 27km while Papakura is 31km. We also know we also know from the comparison of the Auckland and Wellington networks that the average trip is about 13.7km in length.

Auckland Rail Network

The key benefit to express services is speed. We know that the vast majority of people are going to the city centre and so if we can get them to that destination faster it can help make services more competitive attractive. More attractive services should also mean more patronage which is obviously a good thing.

But how much time do they save. The figures below are from old timetables from when Auckland used to run express trains.

Southern Line

From To Stopping At Minutes Saving
Papakura Britomart All Stops 53
Papakura Britomart Manurewa, Newmarket 38 15
Papakura Britomart All stations to Otahuhu 45 8

Western Line

From To Stopping At Minutes Saving
Swanson Britomart All Stops 53
Swanson Britomart All stations to New Lynn, Newmarket 49 4

As you can see the savings on the southern line aren’t too bad for the first of the express services on the southern line however the train is only able to achieve that by only stopping at 2 of the 14 stations along the way. In the case of the second express service the train stops at 8 of the 14 stations along the route. On the western line is actually quite small despite skipping all of the closely spaced inner stations, it skips seven stations all up.

Skipping stations isn’t ideal but can be worked around, especially if like New York where there are extra tracks which means the express services don’t affect the frequency of the all stopping trains. However in Auckland that isn’t the case. Further due to the limitations of Britomart we can only run 20 trains per hour on the network divided up as 6 trains per direction per hour on the Western, Southern and Eastern lines and 2 trains per direction per hour on the Onehunga line. Any express train that we run has to come at the expense of one of those services and that’s where the problems really start to come in as any express trains end up lowering the frequency to stations not served by both running patterns.

An example of how services could run was suggested by Dave B in this post.

It is possible to mix limited-stop and all-stop services without any overtaking, but it does disrupt the cherished ’10-min interval between trains’.
Take the Western Line: The express departs Britomart at, say, 00, 20, 40 past each hour, skips Parnell, bypasses Newmarket, first stop Grafton, then selected stops only, from there to Swanson. The stopper leaves Britomart at 02, 22, 42 and proceeds all-stops via Newmarket as now. It arrives at Swanson 2 min before the next express. The stopper takes 55min, the express 49min.

So say you wanted to go to Baldwin Ave, a station that would be guaranteed to be bypassed by any train running an express pattern. Using Dave’s suggestion above it means you only have the option of a train once every 20 minutes. That’s definitely not a turn up and go frequency but one you have to consult a timetable on to prevent long delays. Some suggest that people will only need to do that once however if they’re anything like me their travel doesn’t always happen at the same time. As an example I don’t leave work at the same time every day and arrive at Britomart with the intention of just catching the next train that leaves.

In addition to what’s already been mentioned is also the issue of the New Network which has been designed as an integrated PT network rather an a mode focused one. It will see a lot more bus feed a greater number of passengers on to rail services. Providing consistent and easy connections between those services will be another important step in building patronage.

The decision about whether to run express trains or not is going to differ for each city and for Auckland the decision is between having trains that are frequent but that stop at each station along the way or having lower frequencies but with some trains having faster trips. For me with the system we have I think that we are right to focus on getting frequency rather than speed. Faster speeds *should* come with the electric trains and the faster acceleration they bring will help narrow the gap between the two options further. My position would likely be different if we had the infrastructure and capacity to support express services that don’t get caught behind the train service in front but tat this stage that seems like something.

Can Cameras reduce fare evasion?

Transdev have announced they are going to trial body mounted cameras in a bid to further lower fare evasion.

Fare evasion is an ongoing issue for public transport throughout the world – and Auckland is no different. Transdev has a team of around 50 Ticket Inspectors checking train customers at stations and on trains to ensure they are travelling with the correct ticket and, as part of their revenue protection efforts, Transdev is committed to a programme of ongoing improvement.

With fare evasion currently between 4 and 5 per cent and revenue lost to fare evasion estimated at almost $1.5 million dollars per year, additional measures are required to make travel costs fairer for everyone.

As a result, Transdev is equipping a small group of Ticket Inspectors with body worn CCTV cameras to use in a three-month operational trial. These Ticket Inspectors will also have ‘Network Bans’ to issue to non-compliant people travelling or attempting to travel on the train.

The use of the cameras and network bans will be evaluated at the end of the trial period, for example

  • What did the public think of the use of the cameras and network bans?
  • Were the cameras and network bans effective in reducing fare evasion rates?
  • Did the cameras influence the behaviour of fare evaders, either positively or negatively?
  • Did staff find the cameras a useful tool?

Additionally it is also anticipated that the cameras will also provide a strong deterrent to anyone considering abusing or assaulting a staff member or other customers in the vicinity.

The cameras will capture high quality audio and video of interactions, and will provide the opportunity to take a still photograph of a fare evader to support a network ban.

The use of the cameras (and footage) will be in full compliance of the Privacy Act 1993 and best practice guidelines set out by the Privacy Commission

From what I’ve noticed fare evasion seems to have been changing in recent months. School kids which were a huge source of evasion seem to be using HOP much more, at least in the mornings. That’s obviously a good thing however I also suspect there’s been an increase in evasion further out on the network. On the western line in particular it seems there are a lot of people making shorter trips e.g. from Henderson to Sturges or Ranui that are not buying tickets. Those people also seem to be becoming more cautious which is perhaps hiding some of the fare evasion. By that I mean they are checking the train before they get on for ticket inspectors and if they see them get on at a station along the way they will get off the train to avoid being checked.

Personally I can’t see cameras or network bans being that effective overall. As it is the chance of seeing a ticket inspector seems fairly small and I often find I will see them in clusters. I get times when it seems I get them on every trip but then I won’t seem them for another month or so. I also wonder what the chances of ticket inspectors remembering each person that’s been filmed without a ticket or banned. Those determined to fare evade will continue to do so.

Whenever the issue of evasion comes up we get a lot of comments about the need to gate stations. One thing to remember in this is the cost of doing so. At $1.5 million a year in fare evasion, gating all stations would cost more the evasion it stops and so there needs to be a balancing act. To me combination of gating key the destination stations along with the roving ticket inspectors dealing with other parts of the network seems to be the right balance. Back in March we revealed AT plan to install gates at another 8 stations over the next few years and that should help immensely. It’s also worth noting that even in systems that are fully gated fare evasion still happens so it isn’t something that will ever be able to be completely eliminated.

Rail Network Gating

Auckland and Wellington Rail metrics comparison

I’ve criticised Auckland Transport in the past for having so many items on their closed agenda. For example this was from their meeting on Tuesday:

Items for Approval / Decision

i. Rail Deep Dive
ii. Pitt Street Lease Expiry
iii. Relocation and Disposal of AMETI Property
iv. Investment Framework
v. Draft Election Policy

Items for noting

i. RLTP/LTP Update
ii. Internal Management Audit
iii. Health and Safety – May Report
iv. CRL Update
v. AMETI Communications & Engagement StrategyUpdate
vi. Glen Innes Tamaki Cycleway

I still stand by that criticism however I also have noticed that AT have been pro-actively releasing papers from the closed sessions after they are no longer considered confidential. This is a good thing and I think more council and government agencies should take this approach.

One of the papers that has been released from the April meeting is a fascinating comparison of a wide range of metrics between the Auckland and Wellington rail networks. The authors note that it can be very difficult to do a proper comparison due to issues like

  • the length, layout and topography of the two networks
  • how the services are operated
  • the differences in the age and types of rolling stock
  • the maturity of the Wellington network vs the rapid change being experienced by the Auckland network.

As such it is far from a complete comparison but does provide some useful bits of information about the two networks.

First up is a comparison of some key statistics.

AKL vs WLG Key Metric Comparison

The metrics show that Wellington rail commuters are generally travelling a lot longer than those who use trains in Auckland (23.7km per trips in Wellington vs 13.7km in Auckland). On a cost basis Wellington commuters also pay more however that reverses when you compare the average fares to the average distance travelled. On a per KM basis users in Wellington pay about 15c per km compared to 21c per km in Auckland.

Perhaps the most important difference is the operational costs. On a per km basis the difference will be even far more pronounced however we don’t have the number of service km’s that were run to do that comparison properly. Further on the report does break down the operational costs further though.

AKL vs WLG OPEX Comparison

There are a number of significant differences between the two cities. Some of these are explained as:

  • Fuel costs are obviously a lot higher in Auckland due to running diesel trains. The diesel cost was $3.86 per service km compared with an equivalent energy consumption of $1.22 per service km in Wellington. These should come much closer together once electric trains are rolled out across Auckland.
  • Labour costs are considerably higher in Auckland. The authors aren’t able to give a definitive answer for this but suggest a combination of factors might be at play.
    • The mixed fleet meaning Auckland had two separate driver rosters (Loco drivers and DMU drivers) combined with now former situation where some drivers were hired from Kiwirail at a premium rate (it changed in January this year). This is also thought to have led to an increase in driver training costs.
    • Slower trains which means increased trip times for services and therefore more crew hours are needed.
    • Auckland’s costs include all of those incurred by Transdev whereas it is suspected that in Wellington some support roles and corporate overheads are effectively absorbed by Kiwirail.
    • Different fare collection staffing models. They note that it wouldn’t be possible to replicate Wellington’s fare collection model without potentially a lot more staff and/or fare leakage.
  • Station expenditure is higher in Auckland. Britomart alone costs about $3.5 million per year to run and all stations in Auckland have more extensive use of CCTV and security patrols.
  • Higher rolling stock maintenance costs due to the aging diesel fleet including approximately $5.7 million to Kiwirail for facilities, management overheads and hiring the diesel locomotives. The cost per km to service Auckland’s trains is $7.32 per service km vs 2.71 per service km in Wellington. The Auckland costs are expected drop significantly after electrification.

The one area Auckland does seem to exceed in is with the customer satisfaction scores which are significantly higher than those in Wellington. I suspect there’s a heap of reasons behind this and perhaps one is Aucklander’s are more accepting of crappy infrastructure/services as we don’t have the history of high quality to look back on.

All up a fairly fascinating report and while Auckland doesn’t look good in many of the metrics the good news is that improvement are on the way. The Auckland network should move much closer to that of Wellington from an expenditure point of view in coming years as the electric trains are rolled out and the savings they provide. That is likely to also be influenced by the re-tendering of the rail services which I suspect will attract a number of bidders from international rail operators as well as Kiwirail.

Transdev is hoping to secure a longer contract from 2016 following the transition to electrification, although Scott expects to face competition. Auckland Transport is asking prospective operators to attend a market sounding event on July 2 where it is seeking interest for the city’s passenger rail services for mid-2016

Manukau Redemption

It is very hard to consider Manukau City Centre up till now as anything other than a planning failure. Or at least an indictment of the auto-centric policies that it manifests. Despite huge investment in driving and parking amenity, siting at the confluence of motorways and arterials, and many efforts to stimulate growth and development there, it has conspicuously failed to thrive for the decades since this plot was plucked from its bucolic obscurity and chosen as the poster child for the decentralised centre idea. Sure it has not entirely failed; it has bumbled along with the help of central and local government investment [IRD, Courts, police, City Council, etc etc, all built here to give it a reason to be].

Along with the clear contradiction in its conception: A centre designed by those who believe that having a centre is a bad thing, it has long been clear that wilfully siting the place just too far away from the nearby main rail line [because cars were the only future] has long been a critical mistake. Which is why we now have the less than ideal work-round of the stubby branch line with its currently suboptimal low frequency and poor siting.

However, help is at hand. In one bold move the first MIT campus building looks like it really could go a long way to redeem this whole series of poor decisions. That is a lot to ask of one building and it will take more time and other changes to the area, in particular the planned bus interchange station, but the quality of this project gives real hope for Manukau City Centre. How so?

1. This is a TOD, Transport Oriented Development, of the first class:



It’s not just handy to the Train Station: It is the Train Station. And this is no accident, as with the coming Bus Station, there is a lot of thought behind this integration; obviously the new facility will bring a new source of users [up to 5000 students, plus staff], but that each of these public amenities are so well intertwined that they will feed off each other; MIT will benefit from the people passing through its flagship campus to use the transit amenity and visa versa, in a virtuous circle:

“Weaving the train station, bus interchange and education institution together is our way of welcoming people into the space, encouraging people to look around and interact with the building without barriers. If the travelling public can see members of their own community studying, it’s a daily reminder that this education is a real, accessible possibility for them too.”

-MIT Chief Executive Dr Peter Brothers

The building opens to students in September, just as the new Electric trains start on the Eastern Line, and a new better timetable in October.

2. This is a fine building; and it has been shaped in many ways by the architects’ determination to mesh with the Station below. The six story atrium is a powerful space with a light touch, because of the train trench below both the inverted gable of the roof and the floors around the space are suspended from above, floating lightly from hangers rather than resting on columns:



All that structure that’s not in the Atrium is clearly visible elsewhere in the building, particularly in the exterior ‘diamond brace’ pattern, but also in this massive cross brace at the entry; dramatic, sculptural, and reassuring.


3. It’s just the beginning. This the first of a series of MIT buildings planned for the space above the Train Station. When complete they will not only occupy currently low value land, bring thousands of more students to enliven the Centre, and all with plenty of alternative options to driving, but also act to contain Hayman Park; providing it with a useful barrier to the busy arterials and tough weather from the south, but will also provide people and eyes onto this currently rather formless and underused public space. Even more important the expansion of the campus this way will help pull the balance of the whole Manukau Centre towards the Transit Stations and help mitigate the suboptimal siting of them on one edge of the Centre. Buildings instead of parking and space over the station here:


4. View through the brise soleil and part of the exoskeleton down on to the site of the coming Bus Station; shifting the balance:


5. Humanising a dreary part of town. Here’s the side facing the Park, this will have food outlets and will bring life and containment to this end of Hayman Park:


5. AT and AC have put the previously flabby Davies Ave on a road diet too. As outlined here when announced. So there is a real chance of this area becoming a rare island of peopled civility between the big box vapidity of Lambie Drive and the standard dreariness of the mall over by Gt South Rd.


The dramatic pattern of the MIT building’s expressed structure cuts a fine figure in the watery winter light. Very pleased MIT upscaled the original plans to seven stories from four. That would have been too squat on such an empty site [They're subletting some of the space they don't currently need].

And finally this is exciting because it is a concrete example of an engaged and motivated client working well with Auckland Council, Auckland Transport, and talented designers like Blair Johnston and the team Warren and Mahoney coordinating Transport Planning and Land Use, public and institutional investment, and good design for an all round better result.

What all of Auckland needs and hope for Manukau City Centre yet.

The building is officially opened later today. And on Saturday there’s an open day with free train travel:

MIT Manukau’s Open Day Festival

10am – 5pm on Saturday the 28th of June

Manukau Train Station & MIT Manukau

Cnr Manukau Station Road & Davies Avenue

Manukau CBD


Free train travel to and from the Open Day + Free entry – everyone is welcome.


Photo of the day: Everyday Auckland

Britomart this morning. This now ordinary reality for many is perhaps still too new for some, especially for those who don’t visit the city, or who are stuck in the past, as Auckland is changing really fast. The great news is that because this is change born of growth we can decide what shape we want this young city to take. In particular by choosing which infrastructure we invest in. Do we want more successes like Britomart for example, or just more motorway?





Photo of the Day: Tagging post congestion

New Lynn yesterday afternoon. Gating can’t come quick enough not only to combat fare evasion but also to smooth passenger flows. Not at rush hour and only one train disembarking.



Rail Station HOP usage

Last week I looked at station boarding data which had been provided to me by Auckland Transport. The way it was provided showed the number of people that tagged on with HOP as well as the number that brought paper tickets. This allows us to work out how many people are using HOP both across the entire rail network as well as at an individual station level. The results paint a very different picture of the rail network than what the boarding data did.

The table below sets out the percentage of trips that used HOP and just to recap from last time, the data excludes fare evasion along with travel made on legacy tickets & passes, special events, group travel, incomplete HOP transactions or transfers. I’ve ranked the data by the top performing station.

HOP usage by train station

Some of the things that stand out for me in this data are:

  • The numbers bounce around a little which I suspect is due to differences in the make up of each month e.g. I suspect that commuters are probably stronger users of HOP than those who take one off weekend trips. If that’s the case then months with a higher number of weekend days would impact on the numbers.
  • There’s probably not enough data yet to be sure but there does seem to be a slight increase in the percentage of people using HOP. That’s the trend I would expect to see as the system becomes more mature and accepted amongst customers.
  • Grafton is way out at the top of the list and been there constantly. This really surprised me but then I wonder if this is the result of a lot of school kids simply not tagging on or buying a ticket at all. That might help explain why the number of people using Grafton seemed quite low compared to the numbers of people that seem to use it every day.
  • Related to the point about Grafton. December saw the percentage of people using HOP spike upwards for most stations. I wonder if there is any relation to fewer school kids using the trains then.
  • Most of the bottom 5 stations for HOP card use are all stations that had less than 10,000 boardings per month, the exception being Henderson (which had 28k in March). In many ways Henderson isn’t a surprise as it’s not uncommon to see queues of people lining up for a ticket machine.

All up the numbers show some positive signs of increases but the question is, what can be done to really get those currently without hop on to it.

Rail Station boarding stats

We know rail patronage is now at alltime highs having passed 11 million trips in March however there’s an interesting question as to which stations are those trips are coming from.

It’s been a long time since we last saw data that showed how many people board trains at each station and in the past Auckland Transport obtained the information by sending out people to stations for one day a year and manually counting everyone who turns up to catch a train. From memory that day was/is sometime in May. The last data we saw gave us the table below.

2003-2012 station boardings-800px

One of the big advantages to HOP is that it provides Auckland Transport with massive amounts of data on people’s trips which can be used for all sorts of interesting analysis. One of those things is to provide them with more frequent information about how many people are using rail stations.

AT have now provided me with some of that data allowing us to see the number of tips per station. The data is different to above in that instead of just showing the patronage for a single day it shows the total for an entire month i.e. all of March. It shows the number of HOP card tag-ons, tag-offs and the number of paper tickets issued for each station on the network however it doesn’t include travel made on legacy tickets & passes, special events, group travel, incomplete HOP transactions or transfers, it also won’t include any patronage where there is fare evasion. The data AT provided is for each month back to July last year (although the August data appears to be incorrect so I’ve ignored that. It’s important to point out that each month has a different number of working days, weekends, public holidays and rail network shutdowns it’s impossible to compare changes at a station month to month but rather only how each station compares to the others on the network.

For  the purposes of this post I’m just going to focus on total boardings so I have combined the tag-on and paper ticket issued data. I’ll look at the breakdown of these figures in a separate post as there is some quite interesting results within that. I’ve ordered the stations by their patronage in March and the colours represent the main line that serves the station with Britomart and Newmarket as purple as they serve many lines.

Station Boardings - Mar 14 (1)

There’s a couple of things I’ve noticed from looking at this.

  • Completely unsurprisingly Britomart is by far the biggest station for patronage and has 4-5 times more boardings than the next best of Newmarket.
  • A few years ago New Lynn was consistently about 5th or 6th for patronage. Now it is firmly in the number three spot and significantly above Middlemore and Papakura, the latter of which used to hold the number 3 spot.
  • December is a short month for patronage due to less school trips, Christmas and the other network shutdowns. Yet despite this Sylvia Park saw a huge increase in patronage. Guess it shows people will catch a train to go shopping.
  • The tag-off data is generally fairly similar (but not the same) as the tag on data. The most significant place where there is a difference between the two occurs is at Grafton and I hear it’s due to something called “downhilling”. Basically people (often with bikes) will get the train to Grafton, ride along Park Rd and Grafton Bridge then ride downhill to their destination in the CBD. To get home they will continue riding downhill to Britomart. As an example of the of this, in March 17,000 people tagged on at Grafton yet 22,000 tagged off. At the same time Britomart had nearly the same difference in reverse with more tagging on than off. No other station has such a discrepancy.
  • The bottom 3 stations, all of which are slated to be closed, remain with stubbornly low patronage. Combined they probably account for only about 1.5% of all trips
  • While all stations saw increases in March compared to the other months, the station with the biggest change is Panmure. This is positive to see at the newly upgraded interchange. I suspect in coming months/years this trend will continue and we will see the station rise much higher in the ranks

I’ve also put together this map with the size of the circle (area) representing how many boardings the station has.

Station Boardings Map - Mar 14 (1)

As mentioned earlier there is more to look at with this data and I’ll do that in a separate post. I also hope that this data is something that Auckland Transport start providing on a regular (monthly) basis.

I’ve also been looking at how a number of other cities produce their patronage data and my favourite that I would love to see AT emulate is the BART system in San Francisco. They produce monthly reports in an excel file that is generally published by the 5th of each month. What’s really neat is they provide the data as the average weekday/Saturday and Sunday boardings separately and do so in a matrix that allows you to see how many people travelled from each station on the network to each other station. I know AT already have this data so hopefully they can start releasing it publicly.  I would also love to compare the train stations with those on the busway.

What happened to rail frequency increases?

Over the last few years we have been concerned the rail network failed to meet its patronage targets. A key reason for this would be the failure of Auckland Transport to implement rail frequency improvements over the past few years. With the start of EMU services this week it is surely time to start increasing frequencies. First though a quick look back at what happened to the planned improvements.

In 2006  ARTA promised the frequency of the western line would increase to a train every 10 minutes in the peak.

She says when the double-tracking of the Western Line is finished in 2009, train frequency will increase to a service every 10 minutes during peak times.

I also remember this being said a few years later not long before double tracking was completed.


Back in December 2011 Auckland Transport highlighted a number of proposed rail frequency increases that could be achieved with the diesel rolling stock:

 -Introduction of train services to Manukau, following the completion of track and signalling works by KiwiRail in the second half of 2011. Initial service offering will be 3 trains an hour during the peak and two trains an hour at all other times.

-Introduction of 6 trains an hour from Henderson during the peak Monday to Friday on the Western Line. The infrastructure works to allow this level of service were completed in August 2010 and patronage has now grown to a level that warrants this service capacity.

-Western Line services will operate a half-hourly service between Swanson and Britomart during the core of the day on both Saturdays and Sundays.

-Onehunga Line services will be increased to half-hourly throughout the day and at a weekend, to accommodate further growth.

-Increased frequency of services from Pukekohe to every 60 minutes during the day midweek in response to customer demand.

Some of these frequency increases have been achieved such as 30 minute weekend services on the Western Line and services every 60 minutes during weekdays to Pukekohe. However 2.5 years on we still have hourly off-peak services to Manukau, 15 minute peak frequency on the Western line and hourly Onehunga services.

It is difficult to figure out what happened to these service improvements. Auckland Transport Board papers suggested they were to be discussed at a March 2012 meeting, but this was is a closed sessions and the documents have not been made public.

Again in August 2013, in one of my first posts on Transportblog I highlighted an Auckland Council report that suggested a number of frequency increases that could help meet patronage targets. It included this handy summary of the aforementioned issues:

 The completion of the interim train fleet took place in 2010. Since then, some limited improvements have been able to be made to rail services, such as running key peak western line trains with 6-car sets; commissioning the Manukau Branch Line and improving interpeak services to Pukekohe, through the reallocation of existing rolling stock to best match supply and demand. However, no new capacity will be able to be added until the start of the commissioning of the electric train fleet in April 2014. This means that since 2010, patronage growth has been constrained by the inability to add peak capacity.

This report made a number of suggestions for how Auckland Transport could increase rail services and thus increase rail patronage.

Improved interpeak and weekend rail services. As noted above, until electric trains start entering service from April 2014, there will be no increase in peak train capacity. International research shows that the improvement of non-peak train services can lead to stronger increases in patronage than peak capacity improvements. Substantial improvements to non-peak service levels form part of the roll out of electric trains. There may be opportunities to advance non-peak service improvements in advance of electrification such as extending Sunday train services west of Henderson (which currently has no Sunday train service) and improving weekend frequencies to half-hourly.

Since this report we have had half hourly frequencies and Sunday trains to Swanson added, however none of the other earlier suggestions have been actioned.

Some people may be thinking, what is the problem, electric trains will solve all of the issues. This is true in some sense. If AT sticks to the Regional Public Transport Plan they produced then by the end of the rollout in 2015 we should have 10 minute peak services and 15 minute off peak and weekend services on all lines except Onehunga. This is import because improved frequency is considered one of t he biggest drivers of patronage. However the EMU rollout will not be complete until ‘Mid/Late 2015’ which is anywhere from 12 to 18 months away. It is essential that we keep making moves in the short term to increase patronage, especially with the pressure from the government over patronage targets for the City Rail Link.

EMU's launched on Monday, pity about the timetable

EMU at Onehunga on Monday

While the EMU’s have now been launched on the Onehunga line , they are still operating on their old hourly off-peak timetable. This seems very strange considering the advertising and public relations effort that is surrounding the launch of the trains. It will not send a very good message if people new to rail in Auckland turn up to the ride the EMU but have to wait 55 minutes. Hopefully soon from Auckland Transport we will see a new, faster timetable with 30 minute frequencies all day, 7 days a week. Next up for EMU addition is the Manukau Line, probably in September. It would be great to see frequency increases at the same time, certainly moving to a 30 minute service from Manukau during the day, which will give a service every 15 minutes all day along the main Eastern Line, rather than the current stupid 30-10-20 arrangement. There has also been some suggestions from Auckland Transport that we would see full EMU service on the weekends, which would be very exciting. This would benefit from improved timetabling as well, dependent of course on if we had enough EMU’s in the country.

While the the Western line will be the last to be electrified, I would hope that the diesel rolling stock deemed surplus from EMU operations was used to increase capacity on the services that remained dieselised. This would be a great time to increase Western Line frequency to every 10 minutes at peak, and every 15 minutes all day. Another good area for improvement is evening services which currently finish ridiculously early. Currently the last Western Line train leaves Britomart at 9.53pm, Onehunga at 9.30pm, Southern Line at 10.10pm and Eastern Line at 10.40pm though this only runs to Otahuhu. The latest train should be pushed back at least past 11pm.  This can be done with diesel operation on the Western and Southern Line, and in tandem with EMU timetable improvements on the Eastern and Onehunga lines.